If you're looking for a way entertain your small people, you could do a hell of lot worse than paying a visit to Fisher's Farm Park in rural West Sussex!
Nestled in the leafy village of Wisborough Green, is Fisher's Farm, a family-run business that, according to its website, strives to be "the best family day out in Sussex" and, having been awarded "Gold" in The Beautiful South Awards for Excellence 2020/21 (Large Visitor Attraction of the Year), I'd say that they are well on their way to being just that.
We first visited the park back in July of last year when, having been cooped up and under national lockdown for over a year, my Little Miss (4) was chomping at the bit to be let out and to have a proper family day out. We went on a baking hot summer's day and had a completely brilliant time, so it was hardly surprising that ever since, she'd been begging to go back.
So, when we realised that this May Bank Holiday, we'd all have the time off together as a family of four, we made sure to book in and snap up some tickets for the farm park.
A word on tickets. Family days out are rarely inexpensive (and this is only going to be exacerbated as we witness the effects of the current cost of living crisis) and I have to say that I think Fisher's Farm is quite pricey, not only is the ticket price a little steep, but if your children want to ride a pony or play on the toy tractors, you then have to cough up the additional cost of that too. Add on lunch and your travel there and it does add up to being a pretty expensive way to spend the day.
It's worth noting that visiting on a week-day or 'out of season' is considerably cheaper than visiting during the holidays, including on Bank Holidays, as we found out!
However, and it is a big 'however', when I weigh that cost against the enjoyment factor on the part of both my children, I find it hard to be so miserly: they absolutely love it and would happily never leave, were they given the choice!
What is there to do?
In short, lots! (Click to see a video snippet of just what we did!)
How did we spend the morning?
On this, our most recent visit we booked tickets with an entrance time of 10.30am but, courtesy of the long queue to actually get in to the attraction, we weren't in and 'ready to go' until gone 11 o'clock.
Once you're through the ticketing process, you're given a map of the park and advised to snap a photo of the Timetable for the Day, so that you can have an aide-memoir as to what is going on when.
Because we'd been late in actually getting in, the queues for the 11am tractor and trailer ride were pretty long, so we decided that our first stop should be a visit to the ponies, pigs, goats, chickens and the (extremely flamboyant) peacock that are all housed around the central area of the park.
My Little Miss is in the 'Unicorns and Ponies Phase' that seems to be as key a developmental milestone nowadays as learning to walk, talk, read and write; she lives for anything equine and was, needless to say, itching to meet Pippi and Lollipop.
We then visited the Animal Encounters Barn which was full of animals to meet, many of whom were proudly guarding new-borns: there were several fluffy new lambs in the sheep pen, Jessie the cow had fostered an adorable orphaned Aberdeen Angus calf, and several tiny baby goats were wreaking havoc in their enclosure too; there were even some newly hatched chicks in the incubating area, much to the delight of my 18 month old who insisted on "cheeping" for the rest of morning!
After that, we decided to get ahead of the lunchtime rush, and we headed to the Farmer's Grill for a bite to eat...
Both times we've visited, we've chosen to eat at the Famer's Grill, which is a quick-service (although it's never been a desperately 'quick' process, I have to say) restaurant which serves your burger-and-chips-type meals. It's all right; it's not gourmet cuisine but it does the job. It's perhaps worth bearing in mind that the menu here is a minimal one, and if you're a fussy eater, or are someone with food allergies, you might be better considering the other options.
There are other food outlets available on site, including the Saddle Rooms restaurant (which offers a little more choice, and it's indoor seating), the Lucky Horseshoe coffee bar (handily located next to the soft-play play barn), the Ramblers Retreat (for all your small person's ice cream needs) and the Splash Attack Shack, for snacks and drinks. There are also several picnic areas for you to make use of.
How did we spend the afternoon?
After lunch, Little Miss spent some time enjoying the treehouse-style play area adjacent to the Farmer's Grill, before we all returned to the Animal Encounters Barn for the Small Animal Handling session.
Bouncing off their seats with excitement, my two were really chuffed to meet (and pet) a new baby pygmy goat, Fluffy the chinchilla, a huge grey rabbit (who Little Miss was convinced might actually be the Easter bunny because she was so big!) and a very sweet little guinea pig. For all of us, this was a real highlight of the day, and it would be lovely if Fisher's could introduce more opportunities for interaction with the animals, especially encounters aimed at young children; it's just magical watching them spend time with the animals and more opportunities to do this would be fab.
After the animal handling, we spent a disproportionate amount of time washing our hands (a post-lockdown 'hobbie' that my daughter has decided needs its own mini-show routine...) before heading off to join the queue for the tractor rides.
Again, another long queue for this one, perhaps that's down to it being a Bank Holiday, I'm not sure, but Little Miss had a go on the mini tractors whilst the boys waited in line so the time went quickly enough for her at least.
A top tip for the tractor ride: if you can be one of the first to grab a seat on the trailer, pick seats facing the goat pen and the pony rides; you get a MUCH better view of the farm as you're given the grand tour; the tractor does turn around before coming back past Caspar's barn, but if you sit on the side that begins by facing the Jumping Pillows, you won't get a decent view of the donkeys or the ponies further up towards Middle Field or in the Grazing Paddock; you will however get more shelter from the sprinkler system which will spray your fellow guests full in the face (something to note if you're bringing a small baby, as I was, the first time we came to Fisher's!)
Aboard the tractor ride, we were shown the rest of the farm and more animals that you don't see at all unless you take this trip: lots of sheep (and lambs!!), several different breeds of cows and of course, the beautiful fluffy highland cattle. My son isn't talking yet, but he is all about animal sounds, so he had a jolly good moo at the herds and thoroughly enjoyed himself!
Next up for my two were the Giant Jumping Pillows, which are essentially bouncy castles without the walls; obviously, both the kids adored these are spent quite a large chunk of the afternoon alternating between bouncing up and down on these, and the spring-less trampolines.
Littlest and Mr Scrummie paid a visit to the Glow Barn, a "sensory experience", jam-packed with all sorts of tranquil plinky-plonky music and twinkly lights/bubbles in every colour of the rainbow. This is a new addition to the park since we were last there, and has only been open since March 2022.
It looks brilliant. I have photosensitive epilepsy, so I gave the barn a wide-berth, but my husband said that Littlest absolutely loved it; comparing it to a maxed-out baby sensory class.
Little Miss and I met up with the boys again and the kids had - another - bounce on the Jumping Pillows whilst Mr Scrummie and I took the chance to have a sit down and a cup of tea (when did we get so old!?), after that we had a quick potter through the Enchanted Wood (a series of treehouses), a go (or two!) on the carousel and the teacups, before deciding we'd seen all we wanted to outside, and that with the skies darkening and rain clouds forming, it was time to "head in".
The children played in the, remarkably peaceful, Higgledy Village; with Littlest enjoying the Sensory Den and the wall-mounted glockenspiel, before they both moved on the Play Barn soft-play area, which has large jungle-gym type slides and soft play for older children, and a 'squishy farm' soft-play areas for those under 2 years old.
With two of our party getting increasingly over-tired and cranky (the kids were lagging too!!!) we decided at this point to pay a visit to the loos and head for home!
(One of many things about Fisher's Farm that gets a huge tick of approval from our family, is the existence of a Ladies' loo with Baby Change and a Men's loo with Baby Change: I can't count the amount of times my husband has gone to change a nappy and been embarrassed to find that only the Ladies is equipped with a baby change. I realise that it's a small point, but it's one worth noting if you are a family with young children in tow!)
What's the verdict?
Overall, I think Fisher's Farm is a really good family day out, my kids at least, absolutely love it.
It's a minimal-hassle place to take small children, and they really do cater for all ages: from teeny tiny little babies, right the way up to school-leavers.
For my money, I'd love to see more of the farm side of things, but perhaps that's the country girl in me. There is a lot to do play/adventure wise (we have never yet managed to squeeze everything there is to do into one visit) and it would be fab to see more of the animal handling or feeding type experiences made available to visitors.
As I've said, it isn't necessarily cheap, but I think the experience is worth the bigger price point; they do have an annual pass available if you're likely to make several visits in a year, but I'm not sure how much of a saving this actually is, for us at least. it wasn't worth it.
Most of the farm is completely flat and the pathways are predominantly tarmacked, so it's a pretty easy place to navigate with pushchairs and wheelchairs.
Bring a refillable water bottle and if you're visiting on a hot day do bring swimming costumes for the children as the Splash Attack is a great way to cool small people off. If you're going to need to go back and forth between the farm and the car-park, be sure to ask for a wristband from Reception.