Farm of the Week: Holmbridge family make the most of lofty location

Brian Colwill with a new-born lamb at Whitegate Farm.

Brian Colwill with a new-born lamb at Whitegate Farm.

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Rugged, spectacular, remote and at times bleak - just some descriptions befitting of Lower Whitegate Farm on its perch high above Holmbridge, south west of Holmfirth, home to the Colwill family.

Andrew and Lisa are the latest generation to take the reins following on from Andrew’s parents Brian and Lorraine. All four were on hand earlier this week full of pride in how their farm, butcher’s business, farmers’ market presence, brand new holiday accommodation and food/farming experience were creating firm foundations for the future.

“The view was the one thing that we’d never been able to sell before,” says Brian. “We would have wagon drivers coming up here on horrible winter days telling us they wouldn’t live here if they were paid to do so, but then on a beautiful day in the summer the same guys would then turn it around and say they would pay to live here.”

It’s all so different now. What was once a cow byre or mistle; and also a lambing shed; and a piggery, is the reason for Brian’s eulogising. Andrew and Lisa have been responsible for transforming the 1850’s farm building from its dilapidated state including a roof that was close to falling in to an eight bedroom holiday centre that can be booked by individuals and couples or all the rooms as oone family booking. It’s an impressive set-up. The rooms are modern, spacious and tastefully designed. The communal area for breakfasts and other meals is a big plus but it’s the views of Holme Valley, Holme Moss and West Nabb - one of the highest points in West Yorkshire - that offers a similar feeling to standing on a cliff and looking out to sea.

Andrew and Lisa are atuned to how a remote farm such as theirs can work today. They’re making use of the location, turning it to their advantage; have bought into contemporary tastes for local produce, native breeds and farmers markets; and their farm activity days are another example of how they earn a living from people as well as livestock.

Known locally as Coddy’s Farm the livestock side includes 280 fattening pigs on a bed and breakfast basis, 250 breeding Lleyn ewes and 35 Aberdeen Angus suckler cows with a few Dexters. The farm had 1,600 fattening pigs, 750 Texel X Mule ewes and 50 Aberdeen Angus X Friesian cattle but those days of heavy stocking are well behind them.

“We used to be having to help lamb nearly every Texel ewe,” says Andrew.

“But the Lleyns have such easy births. We have around 50 to lamb in early March with the rest lambing from the third week of April and they provide a very tasty meat. We switched from having our own pigs, bought in as stores at 30kgs and fattened through to 100kgs, when the bottom fell out of the market. We now fatten on contract so the pigs are not ours although we buy what we want for the butcher’s side of our business. We’ve moved a great deal closer to pure Aberdeen Angus cattle too.”

The catalyst for the move towards dealing direct with the public at markets, farmers markets, food fairs and shows came from a realisation that the family could enjoy a better standard of living from farming less stock. The butchery and life on a market stall beckoned.

“We built the butchery in 2005 and I became a butcher that year with the view to selling our beef, pork and lamb into wherever we could.

“We have a stall at Holmfirth Market twice a week and attend the farmers markets in Holmfirth every third Sunday and those at Cleckheaton and Littleborough. We also go to a number of shows and food festivals, supply cafés and restaurants, and now our own bed and breakfast visitors with our chef/butcher Lewis Myzak preparing all the food.

“We’ve been very fortunate to have had some great retired butchers work with us. We trade under the name Coddy’s Farm Shop but we don’t have an actual shop here just yet although customers do come here to buy direct too. We’re thinking about a farm shop and café for the future but the accommodation has come first.”

Lisa sees their future as a mix of the farm, butchery, farmers market stalls and accommodation.

“Each complements the other. People come here for the scenery, the walking, the countryside and we also give them our own forms of rural entertainment.

“We offer our visitors the opportunity to see how the farm works through Andrew’s ‘muddy boot farm tours’ and we open our gates to the general public for lambing time, but having this new place opens up a world of possibilities.

“We’re able to offer far more than simply a holiday. Lewis runs cookery courses and has shown our visitors how to cure a leg of gammon that they then took home, how to prepare a three-bird roast and managed a Pancake Day special at half term recently when children were encouraged to collect their own eggs (we have our own laying hens) and make their own pancakes.”

Lorraine’s parents Walter and Annis Needham bought the 94-acre Lower Whitegate Farm in 1964. Walter had served in India during the Second World War and having worked part-time for Hepworth Iron Company he first farmed at Cumberworth where he had pigs and poultry before making the move to Holmbridge to fulfil his lifetime’s ambition of milking cows.

Brian and Lorraine met at a ploughing match dance and have two other sons Stewart, who lives in Spain, and Ian, who lives locally.

Andrew and Lisa met through the Venture Scout movement.

Andrew studied at Bishop Burton College.

Lisa comes from Kirkburton and has a degree in Biochemistry from Manchester University. She worked for the Home Office in Leeds.

The couple have two children Anna, aged nine, and Emily, six.

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