Summer is properly underway at the county’s most popular farm attraction – Cogges.

The farm museum in Witney invites visitors to come and enjoy 20 acres of fresh air, sunshine and wide open spaces safely over the holiday season. And, says Autumn Neagle, as many of us won’t be going abroad for our holidays this year, it makes sense to visit the farm for a relaxing Cotswolds ‘hay’-cation!

Cogges reopened all outdoor spaces to the public on June 3 and has since welcomed over 6,000 visitors through the big red gates. There’s plenty for all the family to do – bring a picnic, feed the ‘socially-distanced’ farm animals including goats, chickens, pigs and ducks, see the sheep and ponies, play on the adventure playground, take a stroll in the beautiful walled garden or explore and discover hidden spaces around the grounds.

The Cogges Kitchen Café is open every day from 10am-3pm for baguettes and salads, ice cream, cool drinks or coffee and snacks, as well as craft beer. Visitors can even take home Cogges honey, straight from the farm bees and free-range eggs.

Although the events programme had to be Covid-cancelled back in March, the farm has announced new summer events.

The Woodland Holiday Club is back for ages 5-11, with creative adventures including den building, fire lighting, bug hunting, craft activities and camp fire cooking. The club will run on August 11, 18 and 25.

Under 10s, meanwhile, can get their dancing shoes and gnome hats ready for Gnora the Gnome’s Daytime Disco on Sunday, August 23, and Cogges regulars, The HandleBards return on the same day with an open air comedic production of Romeo & Juliet. Specially produced during lockdown, audience groups will be safely distanced in household bubbles and can bring a picnic.

Cogges has taken steps to provide an environment where visitors can relax and enjoy their time on the farm. Covid-safe procedures are established and working well, such as a one way system at narrow points, multiple hand-washing and sanitiser points and plenty of open space and picnic areas. There is a cashless system and people are asked to purchase tickets online in advance with a 10 per cent discount.

Colin Shone, Director said “We’re delighted to welcome everyone back for summer. The team and volunteers have worked incredibly hard to put measures in place so our visitors can enjoy their stay.

“Cogges is a beautiful place all year round, but it feels especially so now. It’s heart-warming to see visitors enjoying the space, surrounded by nature. The bees are busy in the gardens and our cheeky animals have really missed their public.

“They’re glad to be back, and looking forward to seeing visitors all as much as we are!”

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He added: “It’s so great to be open again. Cogges thrives on people and community and that is cause for celebration. It’s been a difficult time, we had to cancel all our events and weddings – my personal tragedy was the beer festival couldn’t go ahead – but it’s great to be open and making money again and we’re thrilled to be back. We have been blessed with the support of people in Witney and further afield, so we’re getting back on track.

“Weddings are on again and we’re booking for 2021. We even have outdoor theatre this summer, and people are coming back – come and see us!

“Things are a bit different. Safety is paramount so some of the indoors spaces aren’t fully accessible for the moment, and we have hand sanitiser stations and a one way route for sticky points so people can relax and enjoy themselves.

“There’s still so much to do though. We have 20 acres of outdoor space. New goats arrived this year, our legendary characters Jonathon, Louis and Timmy are a bit older now so we’ve put them in a more peaceful spot– but you can still visit them – plus the pigs, ponies, guinea pigs, rabbits and turkeys.

“The great thing about Cogges is in the detail. We’re finding that people have slowed down, that has been one of the benefits of what we’re all going through – we see much more of what’s around us, we got used to walking and taking in our surroundings without sounds of traffic and noise, concentrating more on the details – and there is nowhere like Cogges for detail from the house to the river, gardens and barns, everywhere you look, with the time and space to take it all in.

The Walled Garden is looking truly beautiful. The volunteers kept coming during lockdown as their daily exercise, only one at a time, but the gardeners wanted to make sure when people came back it was exceptional – and it truly is.

“We’ve had a bumper crop of apples, the bees are buzzing like crazy on the flowers, there are roses, lavender, the wisteria has come back for a second showing. It has never looked better.”

The farm is run by Cogges Heritage Trust, an independent charity, with a small staff and over 200 volunteers from the community.

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Income, which comes entirely from its visitor and business activities, has been severely affected during lockdown but assistance from the Job Retention Scheme, Bounceback Loan programme and a Retail, Hospitality and Leisure Grant, is helping to offset losses.

Chairwoman of trustees, Judy Niner, said “After nine years running the farm, the trust had been able to set aside some reserves for a rainy day. These are helping us weather the coronavirus storm.

“We are also fortunate to have already raised funds from the National Lottery Heritage Fund and other grant-makers, including West Oxfordshire District Council, to invest in new heritage interpretation, improved visitor and volunteer facilities and re-roofing of our wonderful barns. These will be ready for the 2021 season, to celebrate the trust’s 10th anniversary. With the support of our volunteers and the local community, Cogges will stay safe.”


1 Picnic

Everyone is going picnic-crazy this summer, so bring-your-own or pick up supplies from the café and picnic with a latte and loo. You could even get your lunch discounted Monday-Wednesday through the #EatOutHelpOut scheme in the café. Lunch at tables in the orchard, in the shade of the manor house lawn or go ‘wild’ in privacy in mushroom-shaped bubbles cut into long meadow grass. Listen to sounds of the river, ponies and sheep in the distance, and breathe.

2. Star in your own film set

The manor house has featured in films and TV shows from Downton Abbey, with Maggie Smith strolling around, to Keira Knightley in Collette. Imagine you’re in your own film set as you wander about the grounds.

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3. The gangs

As well as the goats, pigs, sheep and ponies, say hello to the tiny chickens and little white ducks, hilarious characters that wander about in gangs greeting people. Extra points for spotting the gang of farm cats.

4. Outdoor events

It’s great to see outdoor events coming back. Watch Shakespeare on the lawn, don your dancing shoes for a Gnome disco or kids can have fun in the outdoors with Woodland Club. Also spend a dreamy summer sketching Cogges’ animals, buildings and views with Art Club on Mondays from 2-4pm (£10). Bring your own pencils, sketchpads and something to sit on.

5. Game of Thrones

Spend a penny for luck! With 1,000 years of history on our doorstep, from the Domesday Book and Norman knights on the Bayeux tapestry, to kings Henry VII and VIII no less – there’s even a moat and zip-wire play-fort where the medieval house used to be.

Perhaps my favourite ‘hidden Cogges’ find are the ancient lavs (not the visitor loos I hasten to add). Explore and see if you can find them. There’s a great view from the window ‘slot’, something to contemplate during a moment to oneself in olden times. The floors may have been scattered with rushes and aromatic herbs and flowers for the smell, which sounds lovely – so there’s a clue! Happy throne-room hunting!