Children from Mablins Lane set off for pastures new last autumn when they spent a week getting their hands (and a whole lot more) dirty at Nethercott House, north Devon. The centre, opening its doors for the first time since the foot and mouth crisis, is part of a project giving urban children the chance to sample life on a working farm.
Visitors to the Farms for City Children project, set up and run since 1976 by children's author Michael Morpurgo and his wife, Clare, face a tough schedule. Work, divided into four sessions, starts at 7.30am with milking and feeding duties, and goes on (with meal times and rest periods) until 7.30pm. Wellies are essential as the children spend the day mucking out, tending to the animals and working in the fields.
Headteacher Stephen Webb says: "Each day is full and hard work, but the children thrive on the teamwork and challenges."
For most of the children, it is the first stay away from home without their parents, and opens their eyes to a very different life - one that goes on despite the absence of TV, Gameboys and Walkmans. Entertainment is limited to conversation, board games, reading and playing in the grounds, although Michael Morpurgo dropped by one evening to talk to the children.
By the end of their stay, the children had harvested 175 sacks of potatoes, enough to feed visitors to Nethercott House for the coming12 months.
Stephen Webb says it was the best residential he has ever been on. But rumours that he plans to plough up the playground and swap Year 6 for a herd of Friesians are unfounded.
For details of the scheme: www.farmsforcitychildren.co.uk Snaps by Stephen Webb
Ass you like it: Mablins Lane staff do some donkey work on a pre-visit weekend
Potato patch kids: Jamie, Richard, Thomas and Chris harvest the spuds
Field trip: straw and hay fly as the bullocks are fed
Don't try this at home: clipping the ram's hooves
Pizza the action: Lucy, Laura and Steph with resident chef Angelo
Press gang: pupils meet a reporter from the Mail on Sunday (seated)
Reporting for duty at 7.30am: and they're still smiling
Someone's got to do it: just how much muck do 150 cows make?