Agriturisms in England
English farm stays from $30 per person
Thatched roof but free WiFi—that's the new age of farm tourism. Double B&B rooms start at £38 ($58) per person (including a Full English breakfast) at the aptly-named Thatched Farm in Suffolk, England (www.thatchedfarm.co.uk). Farm stay operations in England can range from the Field House B&B, a pair of B&B rooms in the 13th century Yorkshire farm (www.fieldhouse-bb.co.uk), to a cozy guest room and a full English breakfast at North Farmcote Bed & Breakfast in the Cotswolds (www.northfarmcote.co.uk), to Reddivallen Farmhouse, a stone cottage on an organic beef farm in Cornwall, not far from Tintagel, a.k.a. Camelot (www.redboscastle.com).
All of those charge around £30–£35 ($45–$52) per person per night—and that's about typical for a farmhouse B&B in England.
A self-catering cottage on a farm in the Lake District (or anywhere else) starts around £225–£350 ($340–$530) per week—that's from just $28 per person per night for a couple.
Many local tourist offices have lists of local farm stays.
Sadly, few are listed in general guidebooks—but there are often farm stay guides available in local bookshops.
You can always just look for signs on country roads, pointing down rutted dirt tracks toward a farmhouse set among the fields.
If you want to find and book a few before you leave, here are the best online resources for finding farm stays all across England:
Farm Stay UK (www.farmstayuk.co.uk) - Sometimes buggy site, but if you can get it to work it lists nearly 1,000 rural accommodation options in England (farmhouse B&Bs, self-catering rural cottages, campgrounds, caravans, and rural hostels).
Organic Places to Stay (www.organicholidays.co.uk) - B&Bs, rental cottages, caping slites, or homestays on working organic farms—including about 340 in England.
Visit Britain (www.visitbritain.com) - In the past, the official website has broken out farms under their accommodations listings. For unfathomable reasons, this is not currently the case (you have to root around the B&B listings to find them), but who knows? They might start giving us the option again in the future.
Feather Down Farm Days (www.featherdown.co.uk) - Six organic farms in England and Wales that use the Feather Down Days luxury tents (like a safari tent on steroids with a rustic touch—basically part cabin, part canvas) and ethos.
ECEAT (www.eceat.nl) - The European Center for Eco Agro Tourism is a Dutch concern selling guidebooks to agritourism establishments across Europe. Its sister site www.groenevakantiegids.nl (all in Dutch, but the details are easy enough to savvy) lists about three dozen in the U.K.
Become a farmhand; sleep for free - If you really want to get your hands dirty, sign up to become a temporary farmhand through one of two volunteer organizations: WWOOF (www.wwoof.org) and Helpx (www.helpx.net)...
The concept behind agritourism (or farm stays, or guest ranches, or farmhouse B&Bs, or rural tourism, or whatever you want to call it) is simple: you spend the night as a guest on a working farm. From there, though, the concept flies off in many directions.
Sometimes you just hole up for the night in a B&B converted from a farmhouse.
Sometimes you actually stick around to do volunteer work for a few days (a week, two months, a year), as with the worldwide WWOOF and Helpx networks.
Sometimes, just renting a cottage in a rural area where sheep wander past your window is enough to count.
Ideally, the property's owners live on-site and are farmers who derive the bulk of their income from agriculture, using this newfangled form of tourism merely to help make ends meet.
In some countries, the practice of agritourism is highly regulated; in others, it’s a wild west of opportunities, and you have to pick carefully to avoid spending the night in a barn atop a pile of hay (unless that's what you want—I've done that in Switzerland, and it's great).
Double rooms at a British farm stay operation run anywhere from $30 to $400, but usually around $70 to $160.
I've stayed at loads of agriturisms: vineyards and dairy farms, barns amid olive groves and frescoed villas next to horse stables. Each stay has offered me a different experience of farm life for a fraction the cost of a hotel.
Many agriturisms require a two- or three-night minimum stay (for some, a week).
Roughly half accept credit cards.
Sometimes you get four-star luxury and satellite TV. Sometimes you’re a straw's-width from sleeping in a stall.
Most, though, are just what you'd expect from a farmhouse B&B: simple comforts, solid country furnishings, and rural tranquility—barnyard noises excepted.
The hosts tend to be a sight friendlier than your average hotel desk clerk. Some invite guests to dine with them, family-style, in the farmhouse. One shepherd let me stir a bubbling pot of sheep's milk to help it on its way to becoming pecorino cheese. Vineyard owners love to crack open bottles of their best to guide you through the finer points of wine tasting.