It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that River Cottage has shaped my adult life: from watching the first episode of the original series I was hooked on Hugh’s story and inspired to grow my own fruit and vegetables, even though I was living in a 4th floor apartment in London at the time!

Our first visit to a River Cottage event sparked our love of the West Country and has eventually led us to relocate to Devon to create our own ‘good life’.

The second River Cottage handbook has been my bible for preserving produce that we’ve grown, and I have the whole handbook series proudly displayed in my kitchen!

Our most recent visit to River Cottage HQ has been to the 2019 Food Fair, and it was the first opportunity to take our two young boys along with us. It also made us realise that it was almost 10 years since our first visit to the Autumn Fair at Park Farm back in September 2009!

River Cottage Food Fair 2019

The view that welcomes you as you approach Park Farm is quite breathtaking. Set in a valley of rolling hills on the Dorset/Devon border, the site is truly a hidden gem.

Entering the site we were met with a range of stalls selling local produce and our first purchase was a bottle of chilli oil within minutes of our arrival! We quickly made our way to the ‘farm’ area so the boys could see all the animals (and Mummy had a poke around the polytunnels to pick up some growing tips!)

By the time we’d greeted and discussed the pigs and chickens, it was getting close to lunchtime so we headed down to the food area to try and avoid the peak time queues. The range of food on offer was huge – not unexpectedly as it is a Food Fair after all – but we were really spoilt for choice! Henry and Rich chose a traditionally made hotdog, whereas Sebastian and I opted for the River Cottage ‘Pot’ Noodles, which were absolutely delicious and prompted me later to dig out the recipe for DIY Pot Noodles in the River Cottage Veg Everyday book to add to our lunchtime menu!

Once we’d eaten we headed to the area that focused on activities for the children, and we weren’t disappointed! The boys headed straight for the ‘sand kitchen’ and sandpit before Henry and I tried our hand at making flags imprinted with wildflowers!

The boys dressed up in crazy costumes, met the alpacas, had their first donkey ride and the highlight of their day, watched entranced as the BubbleMan filled the air with giant bubbles!

When it was time for us to leave we literally had to drag the boys away, as there was much more than they would have liked to play with and get involved in! We didn’t even get chance to see the pottery workshop, face painting, play art, beeswax candle making, or the traditional games area.

We were blown away by how many child focused activities were on offer, we had been a little hesitant about taking such young children (aged 2 and 3.5) but if anything it was the opposite – there was so much on offer they didn’t know where to start! There was so much to entertain the boys that I didn’t even get chance to visit the main kitchen gardens… how your priorities change when you have children! I would have loved to take part in the guided tour, but fortunately I have been lucky enough to visit the gardens on previous visits – which links seamlessly on to the next part of this post! (see what I did there…)

Throwback to the River Cottage Autumn Fair 2009

Looking back on the photos from our first visit to River Cottage, it’s easy to see how far the brand and the events have developed and grown! The kitchen gardens were the focus of this event back in 2009, with a single marquee hosting talks from Hugh and friends.

At the 2009 event we were able to park in the top field and be chauffeured down to the farm by tractor, whereas in 2019 the main parking area was in a field across the main road – however at both events, we never felt crowded or rushed. The River Cottage team have the ability to make any event feel personal, relaxed and even intimate, with no long queues or missed opportunities to take part in the highlights of the day.

Our lasting memory of the 2009 Autumn Fair was seeing so many familiar faces who appeared in the original three River Cottage series. Ray the butcher, John the forager, Joy and Michael the chilli experts, and of course Hugh himself were all part of the early events, quite rightly enjoying their celebrity status! I’d love to read an update about the characters of the original series 20 years on, and find out how River Cottage affected their own lives!

Thank you Hugh and the whole River Cottage team for having such a positive impact on our lives!

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