We jumped at the chance to stay at Heath Farm when suggested by a friend even though it is only just 20 minutes from home. For once, I’m actually writing this blog post in situ, curled up on a very comfy sofa and waiting for my dinner to be cooked by Tom. Pretty much my only job is keeping the fire going – and to be honest, I’m not very good at that either.
We’re staying in Hazelnut Cottage, one of five on Heath Farm – it’s ideal for two people and its hygge is on point! The king size bed is nestled in between the ensuite bathroom and the fireplace, before leading into the kitchen. It’s so close in fact that it would be rude not to have breakfast in bed.
Heath Farm is owned by David and Nena Barbour and consists of 70 hectares. Back in the day, it was triple the size and the farm grew wheat, barley, oats, potatoes and oilseed rape, as well as keeping a herd of pigs and lambs. These were sold via the family butchers. By 1989, when farming fortunes looked shaky, the Barbours diversified selling the herds and converting the outbuildings into holiday cottages.
A joinery was set up on the farm to create much of the furniture and interiors for each cottage using stock acquired by the farm. The joinery still makes furniture to this day. Green tourism is an important part of the farm ethos – it’s evident by the eco liquid soap found in the kitchen – but the farm is shaped by an extensive planting plan aimed at improving the immediate ecology.
The cottage guide reads: “Since nuts had always been a consuming interest for David an acre of hazelnuts was planted along with 200 walnut and chestnut trees. He has even gone as far as to take walnut and hazelnut kernels to France to get them pressed for oil which he sells at farmers markets.”
Nuts continued to dominate the grounds at Heath Farm. To the original nut orchard, a further 80 hazels and some walnuts were planted in 2008. And a special millennium nut collection was added at the turn of the century which contains all the species which might possibly produce nuts in our climate including more unlikely varieties such as Ginko Biloba and Monkey Puzzle.
The grounds also include a further five acres of hazel for coppicing which produces long straight sticks for hurdle making and hedge laying. The guide suggests that this is probably the first planting of hazel coppice on any scale in Oxfordshire for at least 100 years.
As a guest, you might think that nuts run in the very blood of the occupants of Heath Farm. In fact, each cottage takes its name from one of the varieties found in the orchards, and as you open the door that woody aroma welcomes you in. We spent a good hour wandering through the acres, following the Ten Pound Oak Wood walk, by the time we got back we were ready to crack open that bottle of Pinot Noir we’d be saving.