When a man(/mother/toddler) is tired of London, he is tired of life, so the tediously overused adage goes. Well I’m not at all ashamed to admit that sometimes I am bloody sick of London (and life, for that matter, but that’s a whinge for another day), so when the smoke, sirens and society in general become suffocating but getting the hell out of here isn’t an option, there are few things I like better than taking myself and Babu off to one of the capital’s many city farms – little countrified pockets of livestock and chill where the only faces are feathered or furry and the stench of pollution is replaced with a more than welcome eau de dung.
Believe it or not there are actually dozens of working community farms dotted all over London, from Hounslow to Holloway and Mill Hill to Morden, each one offering their own charismatic band of beasts, dedicated crew of staff and volunteers, and often a pretty decent programme of kids’ events to boot. Below is a selection of the best, from dinky local favourites to sprawling rural retreats on the city’s outer edges – all equally perfect for those days when all you want to do is stand around in puddles and pet a goat.
- Nestled behind the vintage clothing stores and curry houses of Brick Lane, Spitalfields City Farm is an oasis of calm, cats and homemade cake that feels worlds away from the hipster hotbed of neighbouring Shoreditch. Home to a menagerie of farmyard faves, SCF also boasts a yurt, a treehouse and even a bug hotel, as well as hosting twice-weekly Kids’ Kitchen cooking sessions (Shoreditch High Street).
- One of our favourites thanks to its brilliant cafe with well-stocked kids’ menu and reading corner, Vauxhall City Farm is an inner-city gem that’s just a hop across the river from Tate Britain. Founded by squatting architects in 1977, the farm is now home to a vast array of beasts, from alpacas to goats and guinea pigs, but it’s the amazing, super-knowledgable staff that make this place truly special (Vauxhall).
- Mudchute Park & Farm does a really splendid job of juxtaposing urbanity and rurality, offering 32 acres of countryside slap bang in the middle of the Isle of Dogs. Explore wetlands, woodland, open meadows and cosy enclosures before sitting down for a home-cooked nibble in the farm’s onsite cafe, complete with children’s activity area. Check the website for upcoming child-friendly activities (Mudchute).
- Granted not the biggest or most thrilling of London’s urban animal parks, Hackney City Farm makes it into our farm favourites list thanks to its on-site Italian restaurant, £5 all-ages kids’ pottery classes (plus a baby music class on Wednesdays) and close proximity to V&A Museum of Childhood. Animals include chickens, pigs, rabbits, donkeys, sheep and goats, plus a goose called Dorothy (Cambridge Heath).
- I can’t precisely put my finger on why the admittedly tiny Freightliners Farm is so great, but trust me on this one. Small but perfectly formed, this Islington treasure has a lovely, soulful aura that can perhaps attributed to it being the site of the original incarnation of Battersea Dogs & Cats Home. There are cows, goats, ducks and plenty of small furries, plus some cool street art out front (Caledonian Road).
- Perched on the Thames Path in Rotherhithe, Surrey Docks Farm is a particularly brilliant one for under-5s thanks to its Piglets club, which gives toddlers the chance to help out with tasks such as filling up the ducks’ water, feeding the rabbits, collecting eggs, nature treasure hunts and food growing. The farm also hosts baby music classes and is home to the popular Piccalilli Caff (Canada Water).
- Another good venue for babies and toddlers, Stepney City Farm in Tower Hamlets offers a packed under-5s schedule alongside its posse of farmyard friends. Expect family yoga, a family farm club and Frog Prince Baby Music class in addition to seasonal children’s events. The farm is also home to an award-winning cafe serving home-grown produce, a farm and plant shop, and a Rural Arts Centre (Limehouse).
Babu admires the street art outside Freightliners City Farm, Islington.