A touch of splendour amongst the bluebells

It provides one of the most spectacular splashes of early summer colour anywhere on the Island. A carpet of bluebells spread out among picturesque woodland with the sun glistening off one of eight lakes, as a huge variety of wildlife make the most of the idyllic surroundings.

I have been invited along by John and Di Cleaver to their Newnham Farm, a 320-acre estate on the outskirts of Binstead, stretching down towards Quarr Abbey.

The setting is quite breathtaking at first sight. Fields you can imagine rolling down as a kid; tip-toe walks through woodland with a surprise at every fork. Swans nesting on top of a lake that is crammed with carp, and fished by just 14 fortunate invited guests.

Red squirrels running amok as if they own the place; badgers emerging from their sets to rummage for their next meal; moorhens wondering what all the fuss is about, and inevitably the unwanted and somewhat destructive predators.

But forget the foxes, magpies and crows that provide a constant threat to much of the habitat. This environment is a veritable feast for nature lovers, surrounding a farm home that has built a reputation as being one of the top three ‘bed and breakfast’ establishments in the whole of the country.

So how many times have you been likened to ‘Darling Buds of May’, I enquired. Di, John’s wife of 38 years, laughs: “Well, that’s the first time. But yes, we are quite lucky to live here, and we never get complacent about the surroundings.”

Lucky is a bit of an understatement, even though John still single-handedly farms 150 acres of arable land within the estate. There are also 36 acres of woodland, most of it ancient, but with parts that suffered badly when the Great Storm hit the Island back in 1987.

“There were 180-year-old oak trees just piled on top of one another,” John recalls. “We just didn’t know where to start; it really was just devastation.”

It took more than two years of painstaking clearance and replanting to restore the woodland to its former glory. Ironically because the woodland density was decreased, allowing more light in, nature took over and bluebells sprang up in their thousands.

There is also a jigsaw planting scheme, introduced to encourage people to join up historic woodland with corridors for wildlife. The farm fitted the criteria, a grant was provided, and now, six years on, the benefits are very much in evidence.

The farm was once the grange to the old monastery at Quarr, and three of the lakes are from the same era. The whole area is an ever-changing canvas, and so as not to spoil the beauty and charm, John and Di choose to open their land to the general public only occasionally. There were just two Bluebell Walks this year, one attracting 80 enthusiasts.

That walk tied in with raising funds for the Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institute (RABI), a national body of which Di is an Island committee member, and set up to help farmers and farm workers less fortunate than themselves. This year the walk swelled the funds by around £850.

The whole scene has evolved over many years, but with John and Di constantly adding their expert touch. That is very much in evidence inside Newnham Farm, where visitors from all corners of the globe arrive, eager to stay in one of the two vast en-suite rooms and sample Di’s culinary delights.

It is the ultimate get-away-from-it-all B&B, which began 14 years ago, and definitely with the wow factor. Di modestly points out: “I am very lucky because it’s a beautiful site to start. If I ran a tatty B&B in a place like this I would need a good smack!”

Locally produced food, from home-made bread to meat, salmon, milk, eggs and tomatoes are served up for the guests. Not surprising that Di, mother of three and grandmother of two, reveals: “We have met some lovely people and we like to think of them as a big extended family. People keep coming back year after year.”

The B&B received the ultimate accolade when it was chosen as the southern area winner by ‘Visit Britain’ and was placed third nationwide at an awards ceremony at the Savoy Hotel in London.

Clearly the vital ingredient of this highly successful venture is attention to detail. Whether it’s sitting inside the farmhouse kitchen or wandering through the acres of colour and splendour, it really is a reminder of how life should be.

And if ‘Darling Buds’ Pop Larkin ever visited Newnham Farm there is little doubt he would sum it up in one word – Perfick!