This will be slightly different from most of my posts as it involves (i) children, and (ii) animals. I’m going to talk about Johnsons of Old Hurst, a rather wonderful farm and tea room located in Huntingdonshire, where my mother grew up.
I first visited when some Cambridge-based friends took me there, Claire being a regular visitor to the delicatessen. What I didn’t realise at the time was that Johnsons has been owned by the same family since 1899 – and that the current owner went to school with my mother during the 1950s. Cue, several months later, a reunion between my mother, Carole, and Christine, who hadn’t seen each other for 60-odd years.
I digress – but wanted to mention the above because it’s the kind of nostalgic coincidence that doesn’t come along very often. A working farm, Johnsons is educational as well as fun and my niece and nephew were transfixed by the many different species of animals and birds wandering around us – and the fact that we could go so close to them.
But first: the food. Johnsons has a fabulous tea room, which unsurprisingly has been packed every time I’ve been there. Featuring sumptuous home-made sandwiches, cakes and ice creams, not to mention speciality teas and coffees, there’s something to delight every palate (and I highly recommend the sticky gingerbread).
As for the shop: well, it sells fresh & speciality foods, pet supplies and cookware; it also incorporates a rather natty covered courtyard which regularly hosts tasting days. I’m not a meat eater, so eschewed the popular meat counter, revelling instead in the cheese counter – and debating how much fresh produce I could carry back to London. All I can say is that I’m not surprised that Johnson’s has been voted ‘Best Farm Shop in Cambridgeshire’ three years running by Muddy Stilettoes.
But it’s the farm’s animals which are its pièce de résistance. All areas are accessible to visitors, free of charge and as you wander around you encounter wallabies, storks, ducks, deer, owls, cows, donkeys, sheep, goats, fish and Patagonian mara. The latter, I’ve never seen before and are a highly entertaining cross between a kangaroo and a guinea pig.
And then there are the crocodiles. Yes, you read that right: crocodiles. In Huntingdon. And no, they do not roam the farm alongside the other animals. They have their own enclosed pool area and are looked after by reptile enthusiast Andy, who has implemented a breeding programme supported by the country’s top reptile experts.
Needless to say, my niece and nephew were captivated by these crocodiles, which include a baby – especially when two of them began snuggling up to each other like a couple of lovestruck teenagers. Do visit on a Saturday if you can, which is the day the crocs get fed.
This is a fabulous day out, for both adults and children. As well as the animals, there are play facilities including slides and bucket rides – and I love the farm’s stated remit of getting people to understand where their food comes from, “so they can better appreciate what matters when it comes to taste, animal welfare, provenance and service”.