“ Holmbush Farm / Faygate, nr. Horsham / West Sussex / RH12 4SE / Tel. 01293 851 700. „
My husband and I went with our son to visit Holmbush Farm last weekend and were really looking forward to it. Admittedly our son is a little young (4 and a half months), but he was more of an excuse for us to go and see the animals. However, most of the venue seems to be given over to a very large and carefully constructed play area. I realise that we did not make use of that and if he had been a little older, I am sure our son would have loved playing in it. The venue is named as a 'farmworld' and the animals seemed to be almost an extra in the venue. Whilst the play area was lush and green and created with care, imagination and an awful lot of timber. The animals were kept in a large barn in small pens on concrete floors and were not in that great a condition. I am no animal expert but I know that chickens and turkeys should have so many feathers plucked out of them whilst alive. The animals were in confined conditions and it showed. There was a large field outside that was completely unused and we just felt so disappointed that it had not been made more use of for pens etc whilst the animals had what seemed to be a miserable existence indoors. There were some geese and a couple of pigs outside that seemed much happier than the other animals. We had a look around the barn, went on a tractor ride that cost us an extra 80p each after the £7 per adult entry, then left without even a second look around the animals. We were there less than an hour and really do feel that it was not only extremely expensive for what it was but the animals were very badly cared for. The grounds also house paintballing and it really did seem that they whole place was run for maximum profit for minimum effort and the ones who really paid the price were the animals.
Needing to find some new places to visit through the summer holidays I jumped at the chance of an invite from a friend of mine to accompany her and her two children to Holmbush Farm. Upon arrival we parked easily in the fairly large free car park, although on a hot day I can imagine it being really busy and therefore parking may be a small problem, as I could not see another area that would be opened if excessive amounts of visitors were to bestow themselves upon the place. A two-minute walk takes you to the entrance of the farm and the main reception. This area is pretty small and the queue would be out the door if there was more than one family waiting to pay their entrance fee, which I have to say was pretty reasonable for somewhere like this. We went in on a family package for £17.00 for 2 adults and 2 children, and then paid for 2 children separately on top as this worked out slightly cheaper. For information purposes though it is £4.75 per adult and £4.25 per child with no age allowances for young children, which was a bit disappointing. Through the reception area you arrive in the tearoom, which I was actually very impressed with. It had a small canteen style counter, selling hot meals and a variety of cakes and drinks, as well as an ice-cream freezer. The prices were a bit steep here though and I would fully recommend taking a picnic lunch, as we did, if you dont want to spend a fortune. I did buy a few cups of tea though and at 90p a mug it would have been wiser to take a flask. However what I really liked about the tea was they gave it to you in a proper china mug and not a horrible plastic cup. Even if you were going outside you were allowed a mug and this was a refreshing change in places like this as it does make a difference to a decent cup of tea! There were about a dozen tables around the room and a large soft play area where the kids under 4 could play while you eat/drink. Our two boys we had with us were 5 and we let them in there but the staff came over and asked them how old they were. Five year olds being very honest told them the truth and they were asked to leave which was a bit harsh we thought as there were only about three other kids in there and ours were not being rough. However rules are rules I suppose. Outside the farm really came into its own and we spent 90% of the day in the main play area outside. They have a huge area dedicated to what I can only describe as a massive playground. The main difference being that all the apparatus was made from wood. It was big chunky climbing frames, bestowed with cargo nets and ladders and slides of all different colours and shapes seemed to pop out from every angle. There were three of these huge frames in the flat part surrounded by picnic tables, evenly spaced out so you could eat in relative privacy while still watching the kids. A few short steps away was a hilly area with huge mounds moulded into the land. On top of these it was a kind of kids adventure walk, with tunnels and houses resembling Dr Zeus style books. Again more climbing frame structures adorned the mounds although every one was different and it really made for a great adventure. To the side was a large sand pit well stocked with buckets and spades and just before the hilly area was a kids maze section made from low wooden fences. Remember the games you get in crackers were you have to get the ball round the course; it was similar in design to one of these. Most of the kids were just jumping over the fences but it was fun to look down on from a grown ups perspective. There was a smaller sand pit within this area and another smaller climbing frame. The farm has scheduled sessions for holding the animals and our kids got to stroke a duckling and a baby chicken, although we did feel this was somewhat disorganised and the staff didnt really seem to know how to handle the children in terms of keeping everyone in order and making sure all the children had a turn. The area for stroking the animals was very small and therefore kind of spilled out into the main room, which made it difficult for order and kind of turn taking to be displayed. Our kids got fed up trying to see what was going on and left before the rabbits were brought out which is a shame, as they would have loved it. Again a similar story with the animal feeding sessions as it all sort of descended into a chaotic gaggle of kids fighting to get to the feed and get a turn or two. The animals inside the shed were adorable though and all of them looked very healthy and well cared for. I did feel that their pens were very small though and I would hope they get let out on a regular basis to stretch their legs and run around. You had the usual assortment of farm animals in goats, cows, horses, pigs and lots of smaller animals like ducks, mice, rabbits etc. As we went in August there seemed to be an abundance of baby animals just a few weeks old, which was really lovely to see, and again all the babies looked great. All the fences were pretty low level and widely spaced so little hands could easily find their way to touch and stroke any animal that was close enough and this was designed for this purpose so I was happy in the knowledge that my kids would not get their hands bitten although parental supervision is obviously recommended. At the bottom of the animal shed there was a little toy tractor track, which all the kids seemed to love and with around 15 tractors in there everyone got a turn pretty much whenever they wanted although they are more suitable for 4 years and above as my 2 year old daughter was not big enough to peddle and I had to go in and push her round. Twice a day they have real tractor rides and at 80p a trip it is well worth it if you manage to catch one. We didnt, much to the disappointment of the boys. This was mainly due to the fact that it is not announced, or not that we heard anyway. We should have been told when we entered what time they were and given a signal that it was time, like maybe a tractor whistle or a bell or something. The kids were so engrossed in the play area on both tractor outings that we all completely forgot about them and I think it would have better for visitors if some sort of warning could be given that they were ready. Overall we really enjoyed our day here and we made full advantage of the opening times of 10am to 5.30pm, leaving just before at 5pm. The kids had a fabulous time on the play area and this is where we spent most of the day, my friend and I sitting at the picnic benches talking, while the kids climbed from one thing to the next never seeming to run out of energy as they explored new areas and re-visited old ones. It was a pleasure to see them so enthralled with being kids in a way that did not include TV or Playstation and I will definitely be visiting here again. I cant compliment the designers of the equipment enough and if I had a big enough garden and enough money I would commission them to build something for me at home. Everything was really strong and sturdy and sanded down so there were no sharp edges or possible splinters. One thing they could have done with more of was sheltered areas to eat outside. There were only a couple and these were taken pretty quickly when a few drops of rain threatened to spoil the day but overall the picnic area is excellently laid out and more than adequate for the numbers there on the day we went. The tearooms inside and the toilets seemed to be newly refurbished and I was really pleased with the cleanliness of everything. I have been to farm restaurants before that resemble the animal pens (well not quite but you get the picture) and this was totally different, being clean, fresh and modern. There were toilets for girls, boys, disabled and a baby changing room although there was no loo in there. We saw quite a few disabled kids there too and it did not seem too difficult for their carers to guide the wheelchairs round the site. There is a path running right through the entire site made up from largish stones, which I found pushing the buggy on fairly easy, and all doorways were wide, and wheelchair/buggy accessible. This has definitely become a favourite with the kids and they both fell asleep in the car on the short drive home so that is testament to the power of getting them off the TV and into the fresh air. Although this is marketed as a farm I think the animals are only a small part of the appeal and whilst you may feel it expensive to spend £12 on, essentially a day at the park, this is an exceptional park and one that I enjoyed as much as the kids did. Just remember that you have to walk through the small gift shop to get out and if, like me, you are a sucker for the big eyes your kids make, then you may find yourself spending all that money you saved on bringing a picnic in the gift shop! You can find Holmbush Farm at www.holmbushfarm.co.uk It is well signposted on the A264 near Crawley West Sussex. 01293 851110.