How the Williamson family created an animal kingdom near Hull

There's more to life than potatoes. While this phrase may seem a little wacky, as though anyone would ever feel the humble spud was his or her epicentre, the world of supplying fish and chip shops along the east coast of Yorkshire for many years with what he hoped was the perfect chip had begun to fry the brain of Hull-based potato merchant Nigel Williamson.

The Willamson family, Nigel, Katie and Fiona of Barmston Farm and Holiday Park at Woodmansey with llamas Oliver and Elaine.

Nigel had test-fried Maris Pipers for years, issuing his customers with the colour chart equivalent of 50 Shades of Golden; he’d carried on the family trade, buying potatoes from farmers in East Yorkshire and North Lincolnshire and selling as a wholesaler, that had been in existence for nearly 100 years, but enough was enough. He was to be the last chip off the old block.

Today Nigel and his wife Fiona run a small but very popular holiday park in Woodmansey between Hull and Beverley tucked away between the River Hull and Barmston Drain next to the wildlife lovers’ lesser known delight of Figham Common where animals of all kinds play an increasingly important role in their lives.

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The move the couple made to Barmston Farm in 2002 followed by the shedding of Nigel’s potato business in 2011 has also removed what had become a rather annoying chip on his shoulder.

Fiona Willamson with two miniature Mediterranean donkeys, Marigoild (left) and her daughter Cuddles.

“I was the last remaining Williamson in the family business,” says Nigel.

“I’d followed my dad and his brothers. At one time we had 25 people employed but by the end there were just four of us plus three 18-tonne trucks. It wasn’t as though trade was going badly.

“It had changed over the years but I just woke up one Monday morning and decided it was time to change. By that Friday I’d given the customer base away for a case of Strongbow and committed myself wholly to the holiday park and fishing lake we’d moved to nine years previously.

“All the stress I’d felt under went straight away and I started enjoying life again. I just love leaving the main road and coming down the lane to our little oasis we’ve created.

Katie Willamson with twin one-week-old pygmy goats.

“We’re so close to what we call civilisation, have two Marks & Spencers within ten minutes of each other, a pub at the top of the lane and every amenity you could ever want nearby but down here all you ever really hear are the birds tweeting.”

Nigel and Fiona’s mix of animals, wildlife, fishing lake, holiday cottages and static caravans in a relaxed, tranquil and now well laid out setting has been achieved in stages and they look back on their arrival with fondness and affection.

“It needed a lot of work,’ says Fiona. ‘“I was very excited about its potential and with all we had to do in order to get it looking right it appeared as though it was an exercise in how much money we would spend, a money pit.

“Nigel continued with the potato business and I carried on working for the NHS as a physiotherapy assistant. We’ve worked hard to build the business up and our holiday-makers absolutely love it for family holidays and somewhere out of the way, but still somewhere easy to get everywhere.

Fiona Willamson with two miniature Mediterranean donkeys, Marigoild (left) and her daughter Cuddles.

“We had permission for five caravans and started with three taking that up to the five.

“This was once a dairy farm over thirty years ago and we converted the dairy building into a holiday cottage.

“We now have three cottages as we also converted old stable buildings. Everyone stays for short breaks of Monday to Friday or Friday to Monday or full weeks. We don’t have any who rent a caravan all year round.

‘We’re very popular with families, particularly younger families or grandchildren coming with grandparents during the main school holidays – and with couples aged 50-plus with dogs during the times when children are at school.

Katie Willamson with twin one-week-old pygmy goats.

“Our fishing lake is an attraction for the family as whoever is the angler can go out for the day with the family and then spend some time at the lake.

“They can also teach their children or grandchildren in a really pleasant environment.

“The lake is over three acres and having restocked it with thousands of pounds worth of fish years ago its populus now creates its own restock.

“We have some monster fish including carp in excess of 30lbs and many other species including rudd, roach, bream, perch, tench and gudgeon. We’ve also had the largest ever eel caught in the north of England and some of the biggest bream in the area.”

It’s mention of the animals though that sees that glint appear in Nigel and Fiona’s eyes. They love their breeds and species – and their next addition to the experiences they offer will feature their ever increasing menagerie.

“We’ve four llamas, three rheas (like ostriches but smaller), seven miniature Mediterranean donkeys with three due to have foals, twenty pedigree pigmy goats, two Shetland ponies called Kenny and Herbiem and ducks, chickens, giant rabbits, guinea pigs, African grey parrots and our own Labradors,” says Fiona.

“The Miniature Mediterranean donkeys are about 30 inches high and can’t be any bigger than 36 inches. They’re extremely affectionate. We sell the donkeys, llamas and pigmy goats offspring as through being breeders it helps pay for the herds.

“Our son Hugo won’t let me sell our latest miniature Mediterranean donkey foal called Cuddles as he’s become so attached. He’s also our champion bareback donkey rider!

“What we’ve found is what we take for granted with our animals is far from normal for our visitors.

“The children in particular but adults too love the hands-on experience they can have here, not just looking over a fence at them but grooming a donkey or pony or walking a pigmy goat.

“They can see first hand new life and life cycles.

“That’s why we’re now looking at offering children’s party experiences with one-to-one supervised interaction with the animals involving just the two of us and those who come for the party.”