Pennywell is an award-winning activity farm park in Devon, the largest tourist attraction of its kind in the South West of England. Situated off the A38 near Buckfastleigh, the organic farm is 20 miles from Plymouth and Exeter, 600 feet above sea-level and has views across Dartmoor National Park.
If you live in Devon, it is an unwritten rule that every summer you must willingly fling open your doors and blow up inflatable beds to prepare for the inevitable influx of acquaintances taking advantage of free B&B. Our friends had the good sense to move to the county and it would have been rude not to invite ourselves to stay, especially when they have kids too which means playmates for ours and no need to cram the car full of toys let alone squeeze in a travel cot or highchair.
Their six year old son’s eyes lit up when he heard the magic word Pennywell, always a good sign and far more reliable than reading random reviews on Trip Advisor. He was even more excited that he could come too as school was closed for the day because, in his words, “the teachers are having a bit of an argument and they need to have a chat.”
Off to the Farm
On the day of the strike, the sun thankfully decided to show up for work and stick his hat on. We pulled into the carpark at Pennywell just after it opened at 10am. Wincing a little, we then handed over £37.85 for our family’s tickets; two adults at £13.95, one child aged over 3 at £9.95 and free entry for the baby. Not a cheap day out and that’s before buying lunch, coffee or ice-creams. Pony rides are available to book at an extra cost of £3.50 but our daughter was deprived of that opportunity by her tight-fisted parents who didn’t want to part with any more cash.
Walking through the pets barn and into the farmyard, my first impression was that it actually looked like a real farm, albeit a very clean and tidy one with more colourful signs. We have been to similar attractions that have frankly tried too hard to create a fantasy theme park around the animals and it ends up feeling a bit corporate and artificial.
What to See and Do
When you look at the map and see the number of animals, attractions and activities to get round, it could feel daunting not knowing where to go first or how to make the most of your time but we were greeted by Farmer Mark who was on hand to answer any questions and point visitors in the right direction.
There are all creatures great and small from shire horses, cows and alpacas to guinea pigs, geese and hedgehogs. There is a willow maze, a railway, a soft play barn, trampolines and crazy golf. If you have younger children in tow, they would happily spend hours sitting in one sandpit playing with a digger or driving one little ride-on tractor so it is up to the grown-ups to maintain momentum and keep them moving.
Pennywell Farm has got this covered with a timetable of events written up on the blackboard. Every half hour, the activity bell rings and a voice comes over the tannoy telling you what’s happening and where to go. Goat-milking, lamb-feeding, egg-collecting, ferret-racing, treasure-hunting, pond-dipping; you can do any or all of these at no extra charge.
The Six Stamp Challenge
Each child is given a postcard on arrival and every time they turn up to one of the events and give it a go, their card gets stamped. If they collect six stamps, the card becomes a voucher to keep for your next visit when one child will be given free entry with a full-paying adult. Awesome idea for all concerned. The kids love the challenge of racing round with the reward of a stamp when they complete a task. For parents it’s worth keeping a brisk pace to see and do as much as possible as it not only makes the day out seem better value but saves you money on a return visit. Win-win.
Pigs in Blankets
One of our favourite activities was Piggy Cuddles. The Pennywell miniature pigs, born and bred on the farm, are wrapped up in a cosy fleece and the visitors sit on hay bales, patiently waiting for their turn at piggy pass-the-parcel. When I finally got my chance to hold that warm little bundle snuffling in my arms, I must confess it made me quite broody and I didn’t want to give him back. It was lunchtime though so I handed over the cute little pig and we headed to the café to buy ham sandwiches; the children were none the wiser but I chose tuna for a change.
Feeding the family
You are welcome to pack a picnic to scoff on the grass or at a table overlooking the absolutely glorious views of the surrounding Dart Valley. We bought lunch in Henny Penny’s Café and found it reasonably priced with a selection of simple, good old-fashioned food; it’s more iceberg and salad cream than rocket and balsamic drizzle. There were freshly-made sandwiches and salads, home-made cakes, cream teas and local pasties. The fridge was stocked with glass bottles from the Luscombe range of soft drinks which come from orchards just down the road; the citrusy St Clements was a refreshing thirst-quencher on a warm day. The children enjoyed a Pick ‘n’ Mix meal which can so often be “a bit of a swizz”, as my Mum would say, but it was fairly priced at £4.95 with a hot dog or filled roll, a carton of juice or milkshake and three snacks of their choice from the baskets containing fruit, jelly pouches, custard pots, raisins, Pom Bears and gingerbread men.
A good day out with kids usually involves some degree of humiliation for the grown-ups. I’m referring less to the meltdowns when it’s time to leave and the tantrums in the gift shop and more instead to the moment you have to show willing by throwing yourself into an activity that might make you look a bit silly. My husband saw the adventure playground and decided to channel Richard Gere in An Officer and A Gentleman, going for the assault course with gusto. All well and good showing off for the kids until he over-egged one of the obstacles and ended up face-planting into the bark chippings resulting in a scuffed forehead and a bruised ego. My physical feat was getting on board the Red Rocket Ride; I managed to dodge wearing the fetching plastic goggles in favour of my sunglasses but then I saw the size of the pods on wheels which are lined up behind a tractor to be pulled round the bumpy racetrack. Let’s just say I have long legs so the position I had to assume to fit into the small space and hold onto the steering wheel reminded me of when the midwife tells you to bring your heels to your bottom and relax your knees.
At the End of the Day
When we shelled out almost £40 on arrival, it did feel like a lot of money to spend but there is so much to see and do with so many activities included that we left feeling satisfied after a fun-packed few hours and wishing we could stay longer. If we go back this summer, we can save a tenner by using the stamped activity postcard to get a free child ticket or we can pass it on to someone else.
There are all kinds of special offers available to save you money so it’s worth checking the Pennywell Farm website before you travel and booking online to take advantage of deals they may be running such as a £5 gift shop voucher when you buy a child’s ticket or Bring a Friend for Free. If it rains while you’re on the farm, they generously promise a free ticket to come back another day even though there is plenty to keep you entertained under cover if the weather is wet.
We set off on the long journey home, leaving Devon behind and feeling lucky that the rain had stayed away that day so we were sun-kissed not soggy. Our friends’ four year old didn’t manage to stay quite so dry; they stayed on later into the afternoon and sent a text simply saying: “So, we took pond-dipping a bit too literally…”
The Motherload® Guide Rating: 9/10
Disclaimer: Pennywell Farm was not made aware of our visit in advance and did not supply free tickets. Reviews on The Motherload® are always honest and unbiased.
About Jill Misson
Mum of two girls who fortunately likes the colour pink. Jill works in radio, producing and presenting programmes which basically means she gets paid to talk. Loves baking and eating cakes but no longer gets to lick the spoon now she has little helpers.