Former Dales shepherd reinvents himself in the workshop

Richard Walker has created a successful venture making everything from log stores to deer gates.  Pic: Steve Riding
Richard Walker has created a successful venture making everything from log stores to deer gates. Pic: Steve Riding
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ONE WAY or another someone who has the bit between their teeth generally succeeds.

Richard Walker always knew he wanted to be involved in agriculture. It’s in his blood.

His grandparents farmed above Hebden Bridge near Stoodley Pike; his aunt and uncle Jean and John Cheatham farm at Wath near Pateley Bridge; and he has a degree in agriculture from Askham Bryan College.

He has worked as a head shepherd in the Dales and early on undertook relief milking and sheep shearing.

It was through a sense of frustration that he came up with a new take on an existing sheep product that has led to the flourishing business he runs today, providing made-to-measure timber products for farms, the equestrian sector and the public.

This month he moved in to not two new premises, in Osbaldwick near York and Bishop Monkton near Harrogate, as he tries to meet a growing demand that his quality of work is generating. He smiles as he takes a well-earned sip from his cuppa, having just finished setting up a new cross country course near Thirsk.

“I was just sick of the lamb adopters that were on the market at the time and thought I could make my own that would be more suitable for the strong Mule shearlings we had that were kicking down the back doors.

“I was head shepherd for Anthony Hewetson at the time, one of the directors at Skipton Auction Mart. He had up to 2,000 breeding ewes when I worked there. I had no thought that what I was doing then would lead to where I am today but it has turned out well.

“The move here (Osbaldwick) is the best thing I’ve ever done as we now have the capacity to move the business even further forward.”

Richard’s aptly named Alcatraz lamb adopter; as there is little chance of escape, has become a favourite of sheep farmers in the north of England. Further commissions followed from his prototype and he was soon asked to manufacture other timber items such as gates.

“I’ve always been around farms and that means I tend to know the kind of timber products that people want, and eventually I started working for a firm that specialised in them.

“I then started my first business away from the company I’d worked for by renting a little barn from James Sykes near Tadcaster in 2007 before moving to Murton Lane opposite York Auction Centre where I was for six years.”

Stoodley Pike Limited, the new name for Richard’s business is a recent name change that he wanted for several reasons: “This is now totally my own venture. There are no partners or other shareholders and everything is down to me, plus my team that now runs to eight of us in total.

“I came up with the name Stoodley Pike partly because of my heritage, but also because I wanted something that sounded different.”

Richard lives with fiancée Laura Stoney at Paradise Farm on the Strickland Estate at Howsham near Castle Howard but they don’t farm there.

“I rented some land elsewhere at one time. We had 60 commercial Mule ewes but we don’t have them now. Bills needed to be paid and the sheep had to go. All of my concentration is on what we’re doing here and our new site at Cascade Garden Centre in Bishop Monkton where customers can see what we do and buy direct from us.

“We’ve developed a good network of outlets throughout Yorkshire and the north of England. Carrs Billington who have places throughout the north are one of the companies with whom we have a great relationship and we recently started supplying Cherry’s in North Frodingham. We also supply Jameson’s in Masham and Greentech in Harrogate.”

Log stores, goat sheds, tup shelters, game pens, deer gates, stables for hunts, chicken huts, planters and the Alcatraz lamb adopter are just some of the bespoke products in Richard’s ever increasing portfolio. He just has one unsatisfied customer. “Laura is still waiting for a hen house that she wanted. The only problem is that we keep making it for her and then someone comes along and buys it before we get chance to get it away for her!’”

Sharp skills still matter

Richard may have left his sheep shearing days behind him but he is on the Great Yorkshire Show’s sheep shearing committee and has been for the past ten years.

“There are shed shearers and show shearers,” he explained.

“I’m definitely a shed shearer. I could get a few hundred done in a day at one time.

“It was Richard Caton a very well-respected contractor who got me into shearing and Roger Charnley who taught me how to shear from a naturally left-handed to right-handed style.

“I also now judge the sheep shearing for young farmers events.”