WHEN SARAH Wood swapped her Saturday nights as a barmaid in the bustling atmosphere of Cottingham near Hull for the tranquillity of the North York Moors she wasn’t sure it would last.
She was surprised that she stayed but now doesn’t think she would ever go back to street lighting and noise. There’s not too much of that where she lives at Easterside Farm, Hawnby with husband Alan and daughters Laura and Francesca, except for the odd bleat from the sheep.
“I gave myself 18 months when I came up here to work, initially as cook for the Mexborough family that owns the estate, but here I am now over 30 years on,” she explained.
“I couldn’t drive at the time either. I was 19 and had just failed my driving test the day before I was due to come. My mum brought me and she and my sister stayed at the pub that is now called The Inn at Hawnby.”
Sarah met local farmer’s son Alan having started working in the pub and it was her experience of catering that led to Easterside Farm becoming a well-respected bed and breakfast accommodation enterprise that this year celebrates its 25th anniversary.
Alan farmed in partnership with his father at Banniscue Farm until the foot and mouth disease year of 2001. It was a watershed time for Alan’s farming life as all of their livestock was destroyed as a contiguous cull.
“While Sarah and I have lived here since 1990 the main family farm was on the other side of Easterside Hill at Banniscue. It was quite a large mixed livestock farm including 80 suckler cows and between 700-800 Swaledale ewes. When we were taken about by the cull it was pretty devastating and for a while I just didn’t want to farm. I don’t like twiddling my thumbs and doing nothing so I became a postman for the Royal Mail for 18 months.”
Alan’s dad, Raymond, who now lives with Alan’s sister Linda in Carlton-in-Cleveland was over retiring age and although it wasn’t the way to go out of farming that anyone would wish for, he ended up going and the family relinquished the tenancy of Banniscue. It made sense because by then Sarah and Alan had invested heavily at Easterside.
“We tenant approximately 75 acres of grass and have a further 150 acres of moorland grazing, which is part of the Earl of Mexborough’s estate. We now run 180 Mule X Texel ewes that are due to start lambing on April 1, but it appears one of our ewes has started early as we have two lambs already.
“We buy in replacements as we are too small a unit to put money into breeding our own. I buy shearlings in October predominantly at Northallerton livestock market. I also sometimes buy in-lamb ewes or ewes with lambs at foot in May dependent upon the way prices have gone. We sell at Northallerton between October and January.
“It’s different to when I farmed with my dad. Back then we were largely producing stock to breed future stock. We’ve now changed to producing sheep as stores, something that is more produced to be in a butcher’s shop.”
Farming is still the most productive side of what Alan is involved with but he is also a part-time gamekeeper on the estate.
“I look after the pheasants the same way as I’ve always looked after any livestock and to me that means feed the animals before you feed yourself.
“We get the birds at 10-12 weeks old and when they first come I probably spend at least eight hours a day with them. I spend long evenings protecting them and fastening them up at night.”
In common with many farmers and those who earn their living in the countryside Alan isn’t complaining about the hours he puts in. He’s merely stating facts.
What he could have done without was needing a new knee that he had fitted last year. He doesn’t put the knee replacement down to excessive impact by his landing foot when bowling for Spout House cricket team either.
“I played a lot of cricket but I was a spin bowler so it’s more likely to have been the long term result of bumps and knocks from ewes. Handling sheep is sometimes not the best occupation in the world for your limbs.”
Sarah had designs on setting up a bed and breakfast establishment right from the start at Easterside Farm. It’s a walker’s paradise and with the popular circular walk The Inn Way to the North York Moors passing their farm, where the farmhouse has five bedrooms, it was just a matter of time before they would add a further strand to their business.
“When we arrived the property was in a bad state but we secured a grant and that helped in getting things under way.
“We now have three letting rooms in the farmhouse and a further two rooms in a converted building across the yard. Our accommodation is all en-suite and we also have Wi-Fi so we’re very hi tech! Although your mobile signal may struggle.
“The tranquillity is always commented on. We’re also just a mile from the pub so it’s within walking distance, although that does include 1-in-3 and 1-in-4 slopes either side of the valley. It is not an easy mile.”
So where does the farm’s name - Easterside Farm - come from, especially bearing in mind next weekend’s Easter celebrations?
“We assume that the name is probably a corruption of eastern side but I’d like to think it has something to do with the monks of Rievaulx and that they once held a service on the hill at Easter,” Sarah said.
Alan and Sarah have two daughters, Laura and Francesca. Laura has her own gun dogs, helps on the farm and assists her mum on the bed and breakfast business including baking cakes.
Meanwhile, Francesca is a manager at The Inn in Hawnby.