It’s a weird feeling, watching alpacas graze nonchalantly with the Mi6 Building and Vauxhall’s rapidly bulging skyline as a background. Surreal, really. But that’s exactly what I found myself doing this past Sunday at Vauxhall City Farm.
You see, Zara loved Hackney City Farm so much we thought we’d see what Vauxhall had to offer. And straight away, she’s in her element. It’s so much fun watching her experience new things. It must feel like her books have come to life, as she wags her finger, pointing enthusiastically at the horses, sheep and pigs and looking back at me, her eyes popping out of her head with bewilderment.
On first impression, the farm seems a lot more ordered than Hackney’s. Less rustic. Ducks, geese and retired battery chickens aren’t running about all over the place. Roosters aren’t puffing themselves up under your feet. And giant pigs aren’t lounging around in the corners of a muddy pen.
Instead, the immaculate-looking animals are squared away in neat, clean-looking spaces. It feels a bit more “zoo” like, but still comes across as a charming, independent city farm. The well-groomed horses look like movie stars, especially Billy, the farm’s immense “gentle giant.” When they reboot Black Beauty and cast Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Billy’s the horse to call.
The alpacas are the stars of the show, though. With their mop hairdos they all look like gnarly surfer dudes – or Scooby’s best bud Shaggy. And thanks to the 20p animal-feed gumball machines it’s easy to get their attention. Zara’s not sure what to make of them at first. We haven’t come across any curious animated alpacas yet. But she loves hanging out with them all the same – until we lift her up for a photo with them.
When we’re done checking out the leopard-print kune pigs, we head to the cafe for coffee and baked potatoes. The pond at the back is rammed with ducks, swans and the weirdest looking turkey I’ve ever seen. Zara looks at me like, “What the hell is that?” Turns out his name’s Trevor and he’s a Norfolk bronze turkey. He’s also a bit sensitive about his appearance, apparently, because there’s a note on his fence explaining why he “looks so weird.” The answer; caruncles and a wattle. The result; part Futurama Scammer Alien, part eccentric turkey diva.
After lunch we breeze through the farm one more time, say goodbye to the goats and head back to the Tube station. Back to reality. I still can’t believe these farms are all free, minus an up-to-you, non-compulsory donation – that you’re more than happy to make. They’re such awesome little oases. Little time-outs from daily city life.