The Earth Trust at Little Wittenham is one of my favourite places in South Oxfordshire for outdoor family fun. The environmental charity manages and cares for over 1200 acres of beautiful mixed countryside as well as promoting outdoor and environmental learning.
We love walking at Wittenham Clumps where the easily recognisable landmarks provide great vantage points over the surrounding countryside and ample opportunity for kids to run wild, including on the old hill fort earthworks. Beth has also enjoyed a fantastic outdoor birthday party run by the Earth Trust and we are trying to get along to more of the fantastic family friendly events held by the Earth Trust over the year.
One of the highlights of the Earth Trust’s calendar are the annual lambing weekends. Members of the public can come along to celebrate the start of spring with a visit to the large barn of the on site working farm where the first of the season’s newborn lambs will make an appearance, some of them literally in front of the visitors’ eyes.
We went along today in a bid to get outdoors on what was otherwise looking weather-wise like a rather gloomy and uninviting Saturday. We discovered that several sheep had given birth just that morning and were lucky enough to witness another delivery during our time in the barn. For those not able to get a close-up view, the Earth Trust have installed monitors in other areas of the barn so that everyone can see if they choose to, no matter how little they are. Farmer Emma and a team of volunteers were on hand to talk the farm visitors through the lambing process and to explain everything from the significance of the markings on the sheep’s backs (red dot for one baby, blue dot for triplets) to some of the common challenges farmers have to deal with during lambing season (minimal sleep not being the least of them…).
Outside in the wider farmyard the children got to meet other farmers and their livestock. Beth’s favourite were the piglets and their mother. I rather sympathised with mummy pig. When we visited she had taken herself off with just two of her large brood for a bit of peace and quiet out of sight of both visitors and the rest of her piglets. What parent could blame her?! Bear on the other hand got a bit of a fright when he accidentally fed his little finger to a nanny goat. He wasn’t quite so keen on the goats after that…
As well as cooing over the baby animals, the lambing weekends are educational for children, but in a fun way. There are plenty of accessible information boards and the farmers and volunteers are on hand to take any questions from enthusiastic little people and their grown ups. Roo and Beth enjoyed the sheep trail – a treasure trail searching out information boards around the farmyard and Earth Trust grounds, stamping their sheets as they went and with a chocolate at the end for completion. Bear just enjoyed admiring the ‘trat-or’ – oh to have been big enough to climb inside and sit in the seat like his big sisters… Normally tractor and trailer rides are on offer but because of the muddy grounds after all the damp weather recently they weren’t running during our visit. Not that we missed them particularly – there was still loads to keep the children busy.
Other activities on offer included getting to milk a model cow, learning and seeing how wheat grows and is turned into flour (complete with impressively energetic demonstrations by the lead volunteer on that stand), making model sheep from clay and wool and getting to play at putting straw into sheep pens.
The most fun activity for the older girls though was undoubtedly the straw bales. It’s amazing how something so simple as a bunch of large straw bales piled up could provide so many hours of entertainment. Straw fights were in full swing when we got there and none of us left without a healthy helping of straw stuck in our hair. Forget the kids…leaping up and down the bales and dodging the handfuls of straw aimed at me by my grinning duo was a lot of fun. Bear on the other hand made a beeline for the ride-on tractors and toddler trucks and was pretty hard to extricate. We got there eventually but no without a decent amount of protestation!
We rounded the afternoon off with a visit to the orchard, to see the chickens and a clamber on the ‘natural’ playground – again, who needs slides and swings when you can haul yourself over giant logs? We were tempted by the cafe and BBQ where offerings of soup, tea ,cake and burgers looked welcoming in the dreery weather. We sadly also ran out of time for a mooch round the education centre where a collage project was in full swing for the kids. Another time…
As we left it finally began to rain in earnest. It had been grey and drizzly all day but we had barely noticed. What a great way to spend a damp March afternoon and welcome in spring?
If you would like to go to a lambing day at the Earth Trust then there is just one more this season – tomorrow (Sunday 25th March 2018). If you’re based in or near South Oxfordshire I can highly recommend it – you can find all the detail online here.