Pigs are on their way, cushions have arrived, quirky gifts are in the old cowshed and 118 palates were satisfied last Sunday. If this doesn’t exactly sound like your normal farm environment then you’d be right. It isn’t. It’s Beadlam Grange, just two miles out of Helmsley, where the Rooke family continues to make the most of its location in one of the busiest tourist areas in Yorkshire.
Mark and Jenny Rooke have always been ‘people friendly’. With children under both her arms Jenny ran bed and breakfast accommodation and a holiday cottage for a number of years. They still have a small caravan and camping site they opened on the farm in 2002 and their children Peter and Helen are now adults.
The farm runs to 300 acres and is predominantly a livestock operation with a herd of 90 suckler cows from which they produce beef for sale in their farm shop and to eat in the restaurant-cum-tea room. They have their own butchers on site too. It’s a real plethora of activity here from welcoming the public to real farming, the way you might expect on the edge of the North York Moors.
Whilst Mark and Jenny were always aware of their location and the possible benefits from making the farm more than an agricultural enterprise it was the purchase of Beadlam Grange that proved the catalyst for today’s farm shop, tea room, mini vintage farm machinery exhibition, chocolate emporium and new this year, floristry and gift shop. Jenny explains: “When we had the chance to buy the farm in 2000 we had to borrow a lot of money and we quickly realised that farming on its own wasn’t going to take us where we wanted to be. We knew that we needed to do something else. We also knew that we produced really good beef and that if we set ourselves up in the right way we could make a better price than we would get elsewhere.
“Helmsley and the area around here is a real honeypot location where thousands visit either on their way to the coast and moors, or simply because they like it around here. But we didn’t just start out with no regard to research. We went further afield to see what others were doing in similar fantastic positions to ourselves. We felt that a farmhouse kitchen approach to food was our best option.”
But it wasn’t until 2007, partly due to foot and mouth disease in 2001, plus the gradual formulation of their plans, that their grand designs became reality.
“We’ve never looked back since we opened and from being purely a farming operation we are very much now in the people business and derive tremendous pleasure from doing a good job. Our lives have changed dramatically and we are certainly very busy. We get a great deal of local support from customers and we also employ a number of local people. Last Sunday we served 118 lunches and it’s not even Easter yet.”
Mark came to Beadlam Grange with his parents in 1962 when his father William took over the farm. William had previously tenanted an 80-acre farm on Lord Deramore’s estate in Heslington near York.
“I came here when I was six-years-old. This had been a dairy farm owned by the Feversham Estate and was a sizeable increase on the acreage my dad had been used to, but he never went into dairy cows. We have always bred cattle.
“What we are now doing and what we have done for the past seven years has worked very well. It has helped keep the farm going through some rough periods and now farming is bucking up. We received a Rural Enterprise Scheme (RES) grant that enabled us to transform our 285-year-old building into the farm shop and tea room. That really helped.”
Mark and son Peter run the farm between them. Peter wasn’t at Beadlam Grange all the time when he started but such is their farming operation now that he’s here almost 24 hours day. “I used to go off silaging on other farms but we are constantly growing. We have increased our cow numbers and we’re aiming to get to 100. It’s a commercial herd producing a lot of three-quarter bred Limousins. We have invested in Black Limousins in recent times and keep our own bulls. We recently sourced the son of a famous bull called Sirloin and another red Limousin from Driffield.
“Most of the beef from our herd is sold through the butchery in the farm shop with a few sold as stores and the best kept for breeding. We take our cattle to George Kirk’s family abattoir in Nunnington. It’s just four miles away so it keeps everything local.
“Our cattle are kept for up to 24 months and that means they get two summers in the fields.”
Peter is getting ready for the biggest change he has had to make to the farming set-up in recent times.
“We’ve had pigs on a bed and breakfast contract arrangement from John Mosey for a long time, but by increasing the suckler herd we have less space to accommodate the pigs. In the next month we will have 1,200 outdoor pigs so we’re getting the new insulated pig huts and runs organised. We get the pigs at around three to four weeks and have them for nine weeks before they move on.”
The cushions and quirky gifts come from Beadlam Grange’s newest attraction run by Mark and Jenny’s daughter Helen in what was once the dairy cow byre. It’s called Robert & Ruby’s in honour of two of the farm’s dogs.
“It’s an interiors and gift shop. We already get a huge footfall of country people and tourists. We’re trying to make this more of a destination where people feel able to stop for longer, have a meal and buy nice things. We opened last week and had a terrific reaction. I’ve made sure that we have plenty of unique, special gifts that you simply won’t find anywhere else such as cushions, pictures, ceramics and toys. Many have country themes. There’s also the new Bluebell Barn Flower Shop and the excellent Kala King chocolate shop.”