Kids on Track Visit to Magdalen Farm, Dorset
18th-20th August, 2021
In January 2021 the charity, Allegra’s Ambition, offered to fund a residential visit for 10 Kids on Track children to Magdalen Farm in Dorset. We gratefully accepted and began the process of choosing the lucky children. We agreed quite quickly that as this was a residential trip it would be a good idea to choose from kids in our older age range, those who had already graduated from our camps. Most of the children who we invited are already on our mentoring scheme and so we were able to liaise with parents via our mentors, agreeing who would be suitable, who would benefit and who might find it just too challenging. Finally, we all agreed on 10 lucky children. We ordered hoodies and waterproofs for all, booked a mini-bus from Farleigh School, issued kit lists, prayed for good weather and of course negative flow tests. We were all set.
The morning of the 18th turned out to be rather overcast as we gathered in Andover for the start of our adventure but spirits were high and Kiki was there to wave us all off. Excited kids and slightly nervous tour leaders, Jules and Serena, stowed their numerous bags and belongings into the back of the bus, seats were bagged and we were off, making our way to the breathtaking Dorset countryside, albeit with a very welcome stop off to that charming rural cafe, Starbucks!
Magdalen Farm is set in the middle of 132 acres of stunning countryside on the edge of the River Axe, providing an enriching, learning environment for a variety of schools and charities. It gets very booked up and we were so lucky to be there. As we drove down the bumpy drive, the kids were fit to burst and they could not wait to hop off the bus and meet Dan, our leader for the next 3 days. We were shown to our gorgeous farmhouse, upstairs there were bunk beds for all – the only real nod to the 21st century being the large flat screen TV in the sitting room (much relief from various members of the team – they would be able to watch Love Island). After more excitement over choosing beds and reserving seats for Love Island later, we headed to the dining room to eat our packed lunches.
Next it was straight off to take part in an activity called “Low Ropes” – very baffling indeed. Turned out to be a series of games that largely involved leaping from tree stump to tree stump, working out how to leap if the gap was too large – this involved using planks of wood, basically a kind of Krypton Factor puzzle in the woods! Great team building stuff and an opportunity for leaders to shine and the more nervous to take part and have a go – upholding the Kids on Track mantra. In the next game we were up in the trees transferring buckets of water from one tree to the next without emptying the bucket and with only 2 people allowed on wires at the same time – again it was fairly brain taxing but this time circus skills were required. Much needed homemade ginger biscuits were then provided and then it was off to feed the animals. Excitement now tangible.
First of all we met the goats! Dan took us off to the barn to select long branches of leaves to give to the goats for their tea. At the moment the farm has over 20 of them and what a gorgeous lot they are. Knowing they were going to be fed, they practically stampeded us as we walked in, hiding our branches of leaves behind our backs. Once inside the gate we were able to hand over their grub. The leaves were ripped from their branches as hungry goats devoured them in minutes. After being fed, they were keen to be stroked and made a fuss of and we all thoroughly enjoyed getting to know our new friends – all of whom were named and adored by the staff at the farm. Then it was off to the pigs to give them their tea. Leaves were not going to cut it! Pigs are fed buckets of special organic pig food – think ‘Wotsit’ shapes but in a less lurid colour. All of us had our own bucket filled to the brim, ready to hand over to some very hungry pigs who literally bolted over to meet us. The pigs are kept in their own pens, each with their own sty and luckily for us there were two litters of piglets so you can imagine the squeals of delight as we met these real life Babes. We literally spent an hour cooing and ahhing, transfixed by these comical and rather enchanting creatures. Everyone handed over their buckets of nosh, all snaffled up in the trough – with many a piglet jostling for the best position.
Supper that night turned out to be “Pigsty Pie”, which seemed a little harsh given we had just been so enraptured by the pigs but having said that it was absolutely delicious and for those who wanted a veggie option there was also a wonderful “Veggie Pie” all served with beans and followed by lashings of the most incredible rhubarb crumble. Everything came straight from the farm.
Our final activity of the day was orienteering – not always the most popular of activities but this was brilliant. We were divided into two teams and then set off to answer clues and follow a trail around the farm, confusing our east with our west but somehow managing to navigate our way round whilst learning more about the wildlife around us. Finally, it was time for showers, cups of tea and coffee, Love Island for some and a game of Perudo for others. We all agreed – it had been a fantastic first day.
Breakfast the following morning was bright and early with some of us looking a little more bleary-eyed than others but all nonetheless ready for the day ahead. Fresh farm eggs, toast, cereals and lots of tea were all on offer. Then it was off to meet another visitor to the farm – a wonderful woman who was driving her pony and trap from Dover to Lands End raising funds for two nature-based charities; Pearce Coggan Foundation and Ambios, in South Devon. She still had quite a way to go on her journey but said she had enjoyed a comfortable night at the farm. Dan arrived and told us that once again the animals needed feeding but that this time we would also be meeting the chickens who hang out in a wonderful hen house called Hensington Palace. Quite a few of us were not originally hen lovers, but it has to be said but by the end of the session we were picking them up and giving them a whole lot of love. We collected a whopping 52 eggs. Dan then took us back to the barn and explained the difference between organic, free range and caged birds. We saw pictures of the living conditions for all three categories and knew where we would rather live.
River-exploration was next on the agenda and this proved to be hugely popular. We began by making rafts for three furry friends, a rabbit, a goat and a pig – sticks and string were provided and three groups had to make rafts for their soft toy which they would later race in the river. Welly boots were handed out to everyone and we marched off across the fields, clutching our precious rafts, to the river Axe. However, just before we got there we stopped off at what appeared to be a bit of discarded corrugated iron, left by some environmentally unaware delinquent, only to discover it had been left there on purpose with the intent of enticing snakes to come and hide underneath it so that they could then be shown to farm visitors like us. Dan explained all of this and lifted the metal to reveal, sure enough, a real life grass snake; he picked it up and was promptly squirted with a particularly foul smelling excretion which they use as their defence weapon, rather than poisonous venom. Fascinating but smelly!
Finally we arrived at the glorious Axe, shaded by huge Beech trees and with clear running water. We had buckets and nets and set to work collecting river specimens of various sorts and sizes. Once again, everyone was fully engaged in this activity, loving every moment and captivated by all they found. The raft race was seriously competitive with great cheers and groans of disappointment but in the end the rabbit won but drowned at the same time so the pig who remained dry and intact was crowned the winner. Everyone was soaking and welly boots, overflowing with water. We returned to the farmhouse for a quick change and then headed to the dining room for yet another superb home-cooked lunch.
The afternoon was spent in the woods, building dens, which we were told, quite firmly by Dan “had to be waterproof and big enough for a team to sleep in”. We were split into teams but it has to be said that the team with one particular adult leader was severely disadvantaged – she was clearly not a camper nor a builder. The other team, with their more experienced adult leader, produced a wonderfully water-tight immaculate looking den! For the rest of the afternoon, there were ropes to swing on, sticks to whittle and camp fires to light and we all had a busy, happy afternoon.
Supper was a vegetarian feast with cake and ice cream for pudding. We could not have eaten more! But after lighting the fire pit in the garden of the farmhouse we roasted marshmallows and just about managed to eat them as well. Dan had told us that we could go on a bat walk in the evening so at about 8 we set off in search of these protected, much maligned creatures. We had been given a bat detector – rather like a walkie talkie – and listened for bat sounds! Really it was just a lovely excuse for another walk around this beautiful site. Whilst walking one of the kids exclaimed “This really is like a painting,” pointing at the landscape around her and remarking on the stunning sunset. A simple phrase that evoked so much – encapsulating and revealing everything that Kids on Track and indeed Magdalen Farm is about. Needless to say we didn’t find any bats during the walk but later that night they were swooping silently in and out of the garden and we ran outside with the bat detector to listen to their extraordinary sounds.
On the final morning we had another animal feeding frenzy with the pigs and goats before saying a fond farewell. We spent a busy hour or two in the fields making arty crafty dream catchers, pressing leaves and flowers etc whilst some of the more energetic amongst us leapt on and off the farm zip wire, hurtling along at great speed. Finally, we tidied the farmhouse, gathered our belongings, packed our bags and bought souvenirs from the shop before making homemade pizzas in the farm courtyard’s pizza oven. Oh my goodness – best pizzas ever!
It was time to go home. We thanked the wonderful Dan and agreed we wanted to take him back to Kids on Track along with a goat or two and a few piglets but then thought better of it and so said goodbye and hopped back on the bus. We sang and played I-spy and the shopping list game most of the way home. What an adventure. What a trip. Thank you so much Magdalen Farm and thank you to Allegra’s Ambition for making it all possible.