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Like most townie couples, my wife and I would like a second house in the country. Like most townie couples, we haven’t a hope in hell of affording one.
Happily, Britain’s stay-at-home holiday market offers salubrious alternatives for cash-poor, time-poor people like us – short-stay rental properties within a couple of hours of London where you can have a taste of country living with a minimum of fuss.
One such is the Lodges at New House Farm, run by Nina and John Carter. John was a successful DJ in the Nineties who then got into the pub business. Now he and Nina have invested their considerable energies and talents into building six lovely lodges on their 12-acre farm in East Sussex.
We arrived on a Friday night, late, after a hellish week of work and family life (we have three exhausting children under 8). I took a train from Charing Cross to Etchingham (hour and a half).
Taffeta (wife) drove down with the children and picked me up. I instantly liked our lodge, which was unpretentious and well-appointed. Nina had kindly left us a tray of delicious food – eggs, milk, hot cross buns, good local grub – so we ate well and slept in late.
Gus, the five-year-old, came and woke us around 10.15 am saying: ‘I love the countryside!’ Why Gus, we asked, thrilled that he seemed to be getting into the spirit. ‘Because you get a telly in your bedroom.’
On that note, we decided we should get moving. Taffeta took the children outside where they bumped into Nina and her twin daughters feeding sheep and a miniature Argentinian Falabella horse called Manana. Our daughter Clemmie, a three-year-old ‘My Little Pony’ enthusiast, was deliriously happy. ‘A real horsie,’ she said, looking at the funny, three-foot high animal.
Nina showed us the ‘long barn’, which she said is popular for 40th birthday dinner parties. To our children, it seemed a perfect playroom, featuring as it did a pool table and bar billiards table.
We had to drag the sprogs out of there to go on a hearty walk. Taffeta, who fancies herself an animal lover, was surprisingly terrified when some cows approached us. She thought they were going to squash Clemmie, who was still busily riding Manana in her imagination. But the cattle just wanted to make grumpy noises and watch us walk away. Clearly, we have been Londoners for too long.
The boys, meanwhile, had picked up the severed spinal cord of some poor dead creature (a sheep, we think) and were taking great joy in its creepiness. They took it back to their school for ‘show and tell’ the next week.
Now hungry, we drove to the Bell in Ticehurst. Like many rural village pubs, the Bell is achingly trendy: full of beautiful people in wellies and Farrow & Ball paintwork. The food was delicious, the service perfect, but our experience was somewhat marred by our errant children. Clemmie managed to smash a large glass and then sobbed loudly for 20 minutes. Then my card got declined, which was embarrassing.
No matter: we drove back to the Lodge, plonked the children in front of the TV – their happy place – and Taffeta and I tried the hot-tub outside our front door. I’m a hot-tub sceptic but it was a pleasant and – dare I say – romantic experience: looking out over the High Weald with my wife in her swimming costume.
Nina also arranged for us to have a massage in the Potting Shed – again, not my thing. But the masseuse, Shelly from Shhh Holistic, was good fun and happy to talk instead of insisting on a deep spiritual experience. I even relaxed, briefly, which was unnerving.
That evening, the children made their own pizzas in the Long Barn and went to bed happy. Taffeta and I then had a three-course dinner, cooked and prepared by Aaron and Anna, who run a nearby café. John then helped serve it.
It felt odd being waited on by a world-famous DJ and enjoying it so much. But, then, I had surprised myself at how much I had enjoyed the whole weekend. Short holidays in Britain are great.