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The Butler family -
 Meon Springs farm house

Whitewool Farm – Hampshire South England

Words by Sindy Chan chansindy.cd@gmail.com

Images courtesy of Troy Nam with Hasselblad 

DSC03875 Shepherds’ hut Hawthorne

‘Utopia’

I woke up to the sound of morning birds’ after a sound sleep in my ’wagon train’ at Meon Springs.

The ‘wagon train’ is one of the six lakeside shepherds’ huts purposely-built for fly fishing lovers and holiday makers coming to stay Meon Springs, aka Whitewool Farm, in Hampshire South England.

Shepherd's hut - 'Hawthorne'
Shepherd’s hut – ‘Hawthorne’

A Fish Called ‘Rainbow’

Meon Springs has a four-acre fly-fishery, comprising of four spring-fed lakes.

I strolled down to the fishery lodge to watch early-rise fishermen making good catches of rainbow trout from the lakes, immediately tempted by a strong desire to taste fresh trout.

Meon Springs fishery lodge & resident swans
Meon Springs fishery lodge & resident swans
An early-rise fisherman with his rainbow trout catch
An early-rise fisherman with his rainbow trout catch

The Shepherd’s huts are well-equipped with kitchen facilities for guests to cook or barbeque. I was privileged to have Mrs Alison Butler of Whitewool Farm, cook me a freshly-caught rainbow trout .

The flesh of the rainbow trout is firm and chewy, with a notably distinctive taste. I ate half the trout in Alison’s ‘Meon Springs’ recipe – a fish so fresh that only salt and pepper seasoning (not even lemon), is needed to bring out the flavour. The other half I tried with a Japanese soya sauce which  added an appetising twist.

DSC03673 My rainbow turned gold

My rainbow turned gold!
My rainbow turned gold!

Meon Springs Cappuccino

When asking for fresh milk to make coffee at my hut, I was generously offered a 4-pint bucket.

“We have a herd of 430 dairy cows and plenty of milk,” said Tim, member of the fishery and huts management team.

I used my sumptuous supply to make cosy drinks such as “warm milk with honey”, and my ‘Meon Springs cappuccino’, created by slowly heating up 2/3 of a mug of milk and mixing with instant coffee.

It was time for a walk along the Meon Springs ‘milky way’.

Meon Springs mascot - 'Cowie'
Meon Springs mascot – ‘Cowie’

Follow the ‘Milky Way’

The farm’s ‘milky way’ begins at the fields where forage crops are grown to feed the cows, then I headed to the dairy to visit the herd, including calves. Cows are milked twice a day and all milk is supplied exclusively to Sainsbury’s.

Whitewool Farm is a traditional mixed dairy and arable farm owned by the Butler family since 1930. Arable farming is managed by Will Butler, brother of farm manager Jamie Butler.

Whitewool Farm dairy calves
Whitewool Farm dairy calves

Farm Breakfast with Neighbour

We experienced a contrasting weather change after arriving on a calm day which then turned wet and windy, and discovered just how resistant our little accommodation hut could be in such conditions. At dawn I drew the window blind to find Meon Springs covered by snow.

View from our hut
View from our hut

A neighbour staying at ‘Hawthorne’ offered to share a cooked breakfast with us – sausages with mustard and toast, neatly plated. What a heart-warming treat in this beautiful winter wonderland.

Share-cooked breakfast treat
Share-cooked breakfast treat

The story began …

I was most fortunate to speak with Nicholas Butler, father of Will and Jamie, who talked about the family farm from its early beginnings.

Nicholas Butler was 20 years’ old. One morning he was having breakfast with his father in their family farm in north Hampshire when they received a short-notice resignation from the then Whitewool Farm manager.

“My father said to me, you’d better go down and see. I came and have stayed ever since.” Nicholas recalled with a smile.

“There were sheep, cow and pig in the farm. Number of pigs had once grown. The pigs have gone, followed by sheep, and now we only have cows.” Nicholas said.

View to Whitewool Farm from Old Winchester Hill
View to Whitewool Farm from Old Winchester Hill

With Jamie Butler taking over as farm manager, the farm business has since diversified to include hospitality (shepherd’s huts & authentic Mongolian yurts), the fishery, corporate events, self-storage, as well as pheasant & clay shooting.

I was particularly touched by the idea of the Meon Springs Celebration Wood to encourage and facilitate people adopting trees for their loved ones.

Meon Springs Celebration Wood
Meon Springs Celebration Wood

Like Father Like Son

Nicholas and his wife are passionate about farming and sailing.

“We took our 13-metre-long wooden boat “Saluki” on a 3-week vacation sailing from England to France, Spain, and Portugal or as far as we could go”. Nicholas told me.

Seems to me that Will has more of his parents’ farming genes and Jamie has more of his parents’ travelling genes!

Jamie travelled around the world, working from farm to farm, to gain global experience.

“People like Jamie because he knows farming,” remarked proud dad Nicholas.

An Australian Connection

Over the years, the Butler family have embraced global agricultural interns to work at the farm. Peter Carter from Australia was one of them.

“Peter was to work in Whitewool Farm for several weeks but he ended up staying for three years.” Nicholas told me.

“Peter owns a big sheep station near Perth, Australia. When a mineral resource was found on his farm, Peter had to surrender the mining rights to the government according to Australian law, but he used his water rights to enter into a mining collaboration with the government.”

“When Jamie was travelling in the north of Australia working from farm to farm, he stayed at Peter’s farm.” Nicholas said.

Responsible Agriculture

Morning of a thousand dews
Morning of a thousand dews

Meon Springs fishery bailiff and fly-fishing coach Roger Greentree is a bird expert.

I asked Roger which bird species sang in a high pitched, clear voice each morning.

“Could be a Chaffinch, a Blue Tit or Great Tit. Or may be a Robin – very territorial little bird with a bad temper, ready to fight or kill any bird intruding its territory.” Roger told me.

There is a bird feeding corner outside the fishery which serves as habitat for winter migrating birds – a way that English farmers contribute to responsible agriculture.