Thursday, 12 August 2010

En route to the Emerald Isle

Every summer for the last few years, we've flown to Ireland to visit our relatives, who gather together each July to celebrate the family, remember those who have passed away, and, more recently, welcome a new generation of children.

This summer, conscious of the impact of flying on the environment, and, if I'm honest, determined not to give any more of my hard-earned money to Mr O'Leary, we decided to drive and take the ferry. Tully had assured me that it was possible to take a family across land and sea to the west of Ireland and still enjoy the trip. I promised R faithfully that we would stop at regular intervals for a break, and even ask for directions if we got lost; so, with the car packed full of entertainment for the under-fives, we set off on our epic journey.

I had forgotten how lovely England is, how green, and how wild. Something you certainly never see from the window of an aeroplane.

We'd agreed not to stop at motorway service stations or Little Chefs, but to find somewhere off piste for pit stops. And so, just off the A14, we found Manor Farm Shop Catthorpe, a pefect jewel of the English countryside. It's a working farm (they grow the wheat for Weetabix!) and has a farm shop and cafe where everything (bar the coffee, I guess) is either grown on the farm itself, or is sourced locally. It was fantastic, the food was amazing, the staff friendly, and they even had art & craft activities for the kids. R and I both opted for the superb Rarebit with Pear, A was delighted to order herself a gorgeously fluffy omellete with cheese and mushrooms, and G, who normally eats nothing but fruit, tucked into her beans on toast with some enthusiasm. She couldn't eat it all as the portions were so generous, but luckily kind Daddy stepped up to the plate and helped her out.

Not only was it the perfect stop-off, only a mile or so from the A14/M6 junction, it was a perfect example of how a well-thought out, locally-run, sustainable operation can beat the bland, ubiquitous national chains hands down. Well done, Catthorpe, ten out of ten!


  1. Hi Jon
    This pitstop sounds wonderful. It's really difficult to find out about good places to stop en route - how did you get to hear about this one? And we should think about creating a directory of recommended stopping points here in our own home patch. Recommendations, anyone, for the A11, A12, A47 and A140?
    All the best - Jane

  2. You've read my mind Jane! It was virtually impossible to find anywhere good. However, I do have a plan forming as to how we can change that...

  3. There's a similar place where the a17 meets the a1 called The Friendly Farmer. Organic produce and an amazingly large Sunday lunch every Sunday. They have a butchers (their produce) and a farm shop too onsite. Lovely :)
    Great post Jon x

  4. I received a nice reply from the Farm Shop, with a good "suggested reading":

    Thanks very much for your very kind review!

    We're glad you had a good time with us....we also hope you enjoyed your whole journey.

    There is actually a book detailing all the 'good' stop offs on motorways - we are hoping to start selling it soon. It's written by Hugh Cantile (

    Take Care, thanks again,