I come from a county where sheep racing is a thing.
I think that my new favourite activity may be watching sheep with teddy bears strapped to their backs race around a grassy race track, chased by a guy dressed as Little Bo Peep.
It’s a bizarre parody of horse racing. Sheep haven’t quite mastered the same supple elegance. They’re not built for speed in the same way as greyhounds are.
Watching them leap the little hurdles, with their fleeces rippling in the slipstream and teddy bears jiggling precariously on their backs, I couldn’t help but laugh.
As if that wasn’t enough, ‘Bo Peep’ (a young guy who looked as though this could be his Saturday job) had handed out little coloured cards before the race, so that everybody had a sheep to support. Grown adults leaned over the fence, hollering, ‘Come on you pink!’ at the top of their voices, getting more and more frenzied as the race progressed.
There were two choices, really: watch from a distance feeling slightly bemused, or pick a coloured card and yell encouragements at your sheep. You can guess which we did. (And if you can’t – well, let’s just say that our sheep won us a fridge magnet.)
But there’s more than just sheep racing at Walby Farm Park.
We took my goddaughter to the farm park for her 1st birthday, as a birthday treat for her, but also as an excuse for us to visit as well. (3 grown women, getting over-excited about the prospect of a farm. And we’d all grown up in England’s most rural county…)
Head past the front desk and indoor play area, through the cafe and out to the open space at the back, and the first sight that greets you is a row of trampolines. Great fun for adults – but also hilarious for a 1-year-old who’s never experienced such a thing before. And if that isn’t enough, there are swings, an obstacle course, and a water fight contraption that we avoided because of our long drive home.
But really, the place is about the animals.
I grew up in the countryside. I live opposite a farm. Seeing sheep in the fields and on the fells (and occasionally in our garden) is completely normal for me.
Despite all this, I loved seeing them at Walby Farm Park.
It was an opportunity to really stand and look at these animals. Usually, I pass sheep in the fields if I’m walking up to the village, or I see them out of the car window on my way to work. I very rarely take the time to just stand and admire them: to appreciate them as creatures in the way I would appreciate more exotic animals, like a lion or a kangaroo.
Living in Cumbria, I’m in danger of letting livestock and farming become part of the wallpaper, sucked into the landscape as something for the eyes to pass over as I gaze up to the rugged fells beyond. Walby Farm Park was a chance to remedy that, all be it in a very controlled & visitor-friendly environmment.
Oh, and there were also adorable goat kids and a bunch of fluffy ducklings to coo over. As if that wasn’t enough with the cute-factor, I was able to help my goddaughter bottle-feed a lamb. (And by ‘help my goddaughter’, I mean that I held her in one arm and bottle-fed the lamb with the other, while she watched, looking slightly put out that I’d given the lamb what she saw as her milk bottle.)
There were two logistical things that I think we did right on the day:
1: We got there early. By ‘early’, I mean around 10:30am, whilee the park was still fairly quiet. It started to get busier around lunch time, and although it never felt overrun (it was outside of school holidays, though it was a Saturday), there were queues for things like the zipwire & trampolines.
2: We took lunch. While the food at the park looked good, it wasn’t cheap, and there was a lunch time rush in the cafe. We took an enormous picnic & ate outside on the picnic benches.
Walby Farm Park isn’t cheap, but fortunately, my goddaughter was still just under 1, which meant she got in for free. Otherwise, the cost of taking a family would soon mount up.