The Government has just set up a £20m fund to speed up rural internet access. Roger Ratcliffe reports on the difference broadband makes.
Blogs – short for “web logs” or internet diaries – are running commentaries on the lives of their creators, and around the world there are estimated to be 156m regular bloggers.
Just a couple of hundred people live in Blubberhouses, straddling the A59 road between Harrogate and Skipton, but one of its residents writes an increasingly popular blog, and on a typical day it is read by people in 18 countries.
Christine Ryder started her blog last June, initially as part of a website to advertise her farmhouse bed-and-breakfast accommodation, and is astonished at its increasing success.
“People will think I spend all my time at the computer,” she laughs. “But it takes me no time at all to write my blog and whizz in the photos. Then I paste the blog web address into social networking sites, like Facebook and Twitter, and straight away people around the world are reading about life on in our particular part of rural Yorkshire.”
Christine helps husband Chris to run 700-acre Scaife Hall Farm, which comprises typical upland grazing for sheep and beef cattle. She is also a member of the local parish council, charity fund-raiser and a supporter of initiatives by local food producers.
Blogging about life at Scaife Hall, she says, would have been unthinkable three or four years ago when the dial-up connection to the internet was so slow. When sending photographs, she remembers leaving the computer during mid-upload to go off and deliver a sheep’s second lamb, then coming back and finding that the upload process was still unfinished.
“Now I just send and receive things without any trouble. We take it for granted now, although we still hear of some farmers who can’t get broadband. That must be a nightmare.”
Back in 1990, when she started offering three rooms for bed and breakfast, she had to pay for advertising or depended on the B&B sign at the end of the farm road. Anyone booking in advance got confirmation by post, which meant walking about 300 yards to the nearest post box, and sometimes a car journey if she was out of stamps.
“Now bookings are almost entirely done by email, and confirmations are sent back immediately.”
Scaife Hall was recently chosen as one of the Top 50 B&Bs in Britain by a national newspaper, and the blog has helped Christine to build up a following of customers from towns and cities who like to keep in touch with the changing seasons on the farm.
Her first blogs last summer included photographs of silage making, and then she moved onto recording the process of sheep shearing. The feedback she gets through something known as Google Analytics, which measures the number of people visiting her blog and from which countries, has told her that her most popular posts have been about sheep scanning.
Other blogs chronicle day-to-day life in a rural area. Last December’s spell of hard weather, for example, inspired her to write: “I think I’m going stir crazy! All this snow means my car hasn’t moved now for four days, which is unheard of! This afternoon, the sun came out and I decided I would go for a walk.
“I went to see the cattle on the edge of the moor who were all busy eating the silage Chris had taken for them. I then wandered up the hill towards the road. In some areas this proved to be a mistake as the snow was above the tops of my wellies!”
The arrival of a new Belted Galloway bull, Thomas, was duly reported, as was the visit by neighbour Peter Gudgeon with jars of heather honey from his beehives up on nearby Hanging Moor, as was the conversion of an old Shire horse stable into a small piggery to take three piglets from a farm down at Bolton Abbey.
On other days, simply the beautiful landscape inspires her to post photographs, like one Sunday last November when she nipped outside to capture the autumn colours for her followers around the world.
One of her latest posts reports that the local pub’s dominoes team, captained by husband Chris, had just won the Nidderdale Dominoes League.
“Because the audience is invisible, I almost forget that people are out there, reading what I write” Christine says. “Blubberhouses is quite isolated, though, and I think doing all this on the internet takes away that feeling of isolation.”