The winner of the family category of the 2012 competition enjoyed a week in a luxurious canvas cottage with his wife and teenage daughters on a working farm in Leicestershire
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Something stirs in the hot Leicestershire air. We watch as butterflies float from the treetops and fields to settle beneath the flysheet of our bungalow-sized safari tent. Within an hour, thunder-clouds lumber over the horizon and the deluge begins. It rumbles and hammers through the night. Cocooned under a cloud of duvets we discover the smugness that comes from having a bed to doze in as monsoon-like rain drums on the canvas above. The next morning brings sparkling, clean air, sunshine and the stunning revelation of a bone-dry tent.
We are at the Dandelion Hideway, a working goat farm with a hamlet of glamping tents hidden among the high corn and woodland. My family maintain that this can only be classified as camping because we have a canvas roof, such is the luxury of our wooden-floored lodge, which effortlessly combines comfort and utility. William Morris would approve. Everything in the tent is useful or beautiful. Often both.
Our teenage daughters are lodged next to us in a separate fairytale wooden treehouse with brass beds. There is no electricity or Wi-Fi anywhere. Not that this seems to matter. A woodburning stove warms the tent and acts as our cooker. A handily placed boiler pipes in hot water, tempting us to soak by candle-light in the roll-top bath.
This is a farm where you can get involved. The kids help with goat milking, collect eggs from the hen house and groom the docile Shetland ponies. Weekly tours led by John the farmer unlock the harder realities of farming in a world dominated by supermarkets. With feed prices going ever upwards and milk prices remaining static, it is difficult for farmers to make a living. John’s talk prompts us to shop more thoughtfully during the week and brings home the precarious nature of agriculture in our country.Nungwi Village
Most days we let roll by, knowingly doing not much at all. One of us is usually to be found lolling on the daybed waiting for the kettle to boil. I manage to reread a goodly chunk of PG Wodehouse in a rocking chair on the veranda. The girls devour books and chat, lounging for hours barefoot on the grass in the long July days.
We finally don footwear and head out to scope the locality. Strolling through fields of maize and tussocked water-meadows humming with dragonflies, along quiet back roads, we head toward the loose knot of Market Bosworth town. Our visit coincides with the Bosworth Rail Ale Festival (hinckleyandbosworthcamra.org.uk, next one 25-27 July 2014), where cheery train enthusiasts, huffing traction engines, real ale and Morris dancers come together to create a uniquely and charmingly bonkers slice of England.
The Battlefield Line named for the Battle of Bosworth Field, ends at Shenton station where we disembark from a 1930s carriage to visit the battlefield itself (family ticket £21.50). With the White Queen and Richard III back in the popular history headlines, the visitor centre admirably recreates the bloody demise of the king, as well as the life of the ordinary foot-soldier. But like most battlefields, it is now disarmingly peaceful.
The other end of the line heads toward the National Forest, a 200-square-mile chunk of arborial regeneration, where more than 8 million recently planted trees have turned the land from black to green.
A sudden burst of family energy finds us mountain biking in former open-cast mines at Hicks Lodge before a cooling swim in the outdoor pool in Ashby-De-La-Zouch and a long walk ending at Calke Abbey (nationaltrust.org.uk/calke-abbey, family ticket £26). Here, among the dust of dilapidated, once-elegant rooms, we get a feel for the rise, fall and reinvention of fortunes that knit together so much of the local history.
The Hideway is a comforting enclave to return to each night, and Sharon and John who run the roost have done their hosting homework, pre-empting every need. The on-site honesty shop is stocked with hard-to-resist local food and drink and, of course, goat’s milk and cheese. We dine simply on barbecues and salads, and the girls conjure up a Spanish tortilla from the eggs they collected.
Days float by and by the end of the week we have pared down daily life to that of a natural hedonist, enjoying the simplicity of living in a field – albeit in a luxury canvas cottage. We gather at dusk in the fading light to spy on deer, foxes and badgers emerging from their daytime cover, reclaiming their native realm.
• The trip was provided by the Dandelion Hideaway (01455 292888, thedandelionhideaway.co.uk), whose five family canvas cottages (each sleeping six) start at £394 for a four-night midweek break, £534 for a three-night weekend or £624 a week, including firewood
Read Graham’s winning entry for the 2012 competition here