Farm of the Week: Lambing proves a big draw

Fiona and Ryan, with their children Alfie, 4, and Freya, 2.
Fiona and Ryan, with their children Alfie, 4, and Freya, 2.
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Four year-old Alfie Jacobs is the perfect host at Summerfield Farm near Harome. He’s obviously already well on his way towards a career in catering and accommodation management as he pushes the biscuit tin towards me as I sit down next to him at the kitchen table.

He gets on to telling me how much he really likes Ryedale Show by which point his mum Fiona and her mother and father Isabelle and Basil Rickatson must be starting to wonder whether they are somewhat superfluous to my visit.

Basil’s father John bought the then 177-acre mixed farm, which used to be called Riccal Moor Farm, in the 1920s. Today it runs to around 134 acres that includes arable crops and sheep.

“At one time we had a suckler herd of Beef Shorthorn cattle, pigs and sheep,” says Basil. “We stopped keeping cattle in the early 80s and also gave up with pigs, although Fiona’s husband Ryan has recently started keeping a few Berkshires. We grow about 40 acres of winter wheat, growing the variety Einstein; and malting barley varieties Concerto and Talisman across 20 acres. We sell all of our wheat and barley to Argrain. We also grow potatoes on contract for Howard Raines. Our land is mainly Grade 3 moors land that varies between clay and sandy soil and runs next to the River Riccal.

“We have 50-55 Mule ewes that are put to the Suffolk tup and we try to fix lambing time around Easter each year as Ryan is a teacher at a local primary school in Helmsley. By having lambing when we do he is able to help while the children are not at school. We also have some hens and sell eggs at the farm gate.”

There’s another reason why lambing is timed for Easter. Isabelle and Basil run a caravan site on the farm and 30 years ago they started up with holiday accommodation in the cottage attached to the front of their farmhouse.

Isabelle explains: “It’d been empty for some years but when we married in 1979 we renovated it and lived in it ourselves. We moved into the farmhouse when Basil’s father passed away and in 1984 we decided to open it as holiday accommodation. Many of our visitors who come to stay in the cottage or who come on to the caravan site at Easter come specifically because it is lambing time.

“When we first started the caravan site it was £1 a night to stay and the sheep could graze in the field. It’s still only a five-van site now but you’re not allowed to have sheep there any longer. The rules and regulations attached to running a site have snowballed but that doesn’t mean that our visitors can’t see or touch the sheep. The children that come here love lambing time. They often feed some of the new-born lambs where our ewes have had triplets. Families keep coming back again and again every Easter.”

Isabelle was born in a little mining village called Lugar, near Cumnock in Ayrshire. She wasn’t from a farming family but she worked for Stephenson’s Dairy in her home county and has a love of Ayrshire cows. She first met Basil while visiting a friend on holiday in North Yorkshire.

“I’ve always been a keen caravanner myself so running the caravan site is something that I understood. Since coming back home Fiona has taken on the running of the site and the cottage.”

Fiona trained to be a teacher at St Martin’s College in Lancaster and spent three years teaching in an inner city school in London before returning home with Ryan. They have a two-year-old daughter, Freya.

“I’d never intended to live in London. Initially I went down there on a work placement but I loved it because we had a big group of friends. I played hockey and that’s how I met Ryan.

“When we moved back up here I started looking at what we could do to improve the bookings for the holiday cottage. We weren’t with Visit Britain and we didn’t have any star ratings even though we had regular visitors. It’s the kind of place that once you’ve been to, you tend to keep coming back to, but we wanted to get it even better and fuller throughout the year.

“We’ve put in a new biomass boiler that provides central heating for the farmhouse and the cottage. That will help us with those times during the autumn and winter months. We’ve had a great summer, been fully booked in September and we’re looking good for October.

“We’ve gone for star ratings and presently we’re two-star but we’re getting reassessed at Christmas and with all the work we have done, not just on the central heating but also redecoration, new carpets, shower, double glazing and a soon to be installed new kitchen, I’m hopeful we will achieve a three-star rating.”

Summerfield also has nature on its side as another draw for visitors. Basil and Isabelle are members of the RSPB and have hosted a Ryenats event where the local natural history society comes on to the farm.

The RSPB noted that Summerfield has up to 58 species of bird including everything from curlews, lapwings, tawny owls, bats, herons, geese, moorhens and kingfishers.

“We have a pond that came about when the river was straightened and we also have the fishing rights on our section of the river that is available to our guests. We’ve had reports of otters around there too.

“The river is a trout stream. All of our visitors can walk around the farm where they can get to see quite a bit of wildlife. We direct them a little so that they can walk along the riverbank.”

Isabelle is delighted that so many of their visitors come back each year.

“The people who are in the holiday cottage this week first came in 2004 and we’ve had a couple from Scotland who have been coming for more than 15 years. They all become more like friends.

“We’ve also found that because our two local pubs, The Star and The Pheasant, have become so popular for weddings we get booked for those wanting accommodation.

“It’s always very interesting seeing different people. This summer we had a young family from Belgium. They went to Ryedale Show and said they didn’t have anything like that over in their country.”

Basil has kept a diary for many years and Isabelle had dipped into it in anticipation of my visit. She found this piece of farming information particularly disturbing.

“I was astonished when I noticed that we sold corn for £118 per tonne and some for £146 per tonne back in 1984.

“That’s more than we’re getting at the moment!”