Farm of the Week: A campsite used by Johnny Vegas for filming and a 'lost' flooded village in the Washburn Valley

Newt pond excavation, managing a TV personality’s dreams, planting trees, running a popular campsite and tending sheep and cattle are all part of keeping their heads above water for a North Yorkshire farming couple.

Richard and Louise Pullan on their diversified farm in the Washburn Valley
Richard and Louise Pullan on their diversified farm in the Washburn Valley

Richard and Louise Pullan are tenant farmers at the 225-acre Break Folds Farm situated next to what was the hamlet of West End in the Washburn Valley, until it was flooded to form Thruscross Reservoir in the 1960s.

Louise said it is their location that has become one of the main assets in making a living from the farm.

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“The romance of the area really captivates our visitors. It was the view that entranced Johnny Vegas and his assistant Bev. This Washburn Valley area is still largely undiscovered although I think lockdown has helped put it on the map a little more with people looking for somewhere different.

The family have tried ventures including glamping, caravan pitches, a holiday cottage and a pizza bistro

“Our visitors love the story about the flooded village and when the reservoir gets low you can see the old church and walls popping out again.

“We have 30 tent pitches and after having initially started with the Caravan Club we joined Freedom Camping Club who are very like-minded to myself and Richard. It was through them that we became involved with Johnny’s Carry On Glamping TV show and his old buses and vintage vehicles.

“We now manage Johnny’s ‘Field of Dreams’ in a field where we normally have touring caravans. He is renting it from us this year.”

Breaks Fold is also still very much a farm, with a flock of breeding ewes and a small suckler herd, with cattle making a comeback. Richard is the fourth generation to farm on land that is owned by Yorkshire Water. He said the livestock operation is still the bedrock.

Louise with daughter Fay

“This has always been a hard-going upland farm with sheep and suckler cows. We have 75 acres of meadow land and the rest is rough grazing.

“We run a flock of 300 Swaledales and Mules. Half of the Swaledales go to the Swaledale tup to breed replacements with the other half to the Bluefaced Leicester to breed the Mule. The Mules are put to the Texel and we used a Beltex this latest time.”

When Richard was farming with his parents there had been a suckler herd of Charolais cattle and in more recent times Richard and Louise had a herd of Dexters that they sold at the beginning of the previous lockdown as they couldn’t afford to keep them.

“We started buying Hereford-cross cows more recently as things started picking up again and we have eight at the moment. We would like to get up to around 40-50 cows, put up a new shed and have a better set-up for them, as well as going to 400 breeding sheep. Having the sheep and cattle pays the rent, but the camping allows us to improve the farm.

Johnny Vegas' bus sits in the field he has hired for the filming of his TV show about glamping

“That’s why we diversified, so that we could afford to invest in the farming side. Our campsite revenue enables us to put up walls and gates, expand our herd and provide the appropriate equipment.”

Richard and Louise’s campsite started with a five-caravan site for tourers. Louise said it was inspired by her mum and dad.

“When I met Richard we both worked full-time elsewhere as well as running the farm. We were keen to keep our work at home and it was my parents who suggested getting in touch with the Caravan Club and running a five-van site.

“We moved more towards camping by putting our toes in the water with Le Grand Depart, the Tour de France, when we started with a pop-up campsite. Richard found a toilet block on Ebay for £500 and everything evolved from there.

“We never looked back and moved from the Caravan Club to the Freedom Camping Club. We now attract visitors from all over Europe and as far as New Zealand.”

The pandemic put paid to Richard and Louise’s most recent diversification enterprise, a woodfired pizza bistro that they started in November 2019 and had taken off in its first four months before restrictions put paid to it.

Louise said had they opened it six months earlier, when they had wanted to, it may have had ‘more wool on its back’.

“If we’d got it open in July it might have survived as it would have had more money in its pot. The feedback we were getting was really positive and it was heart-breaking letting staff go. The hardest thing I’ve ever had to do.”

Richard and Louise have reopened the campsite and Johnny Vegas’ ‘Field of Dreams’ is open too. They are now turning their attention to countryside stewardship activities.

They are part of the Mid-Tier Stewardship scheme and have also taken on Yorkshire Water Beyond Nature status. Richard said he is currently making newt ponds.

“We were contacted because we are in a thriving area for newts, as we have quite a lot of water and wet areas is where they populate, so we applied through our stewardship arrangement to put in three ponds. I’m on with the first one. They are all around 50 square metres and have to be a minimum of 1.3 metres at their deepest point with a shallow gradient into them.”

Planting 4,000 trees in Redshaw Gill where Richard and Louise are wanting to create a farm trail; improving footpaths, hedgerows and walls, has seen a greater working relationship with their landlords, Yorkshire Water, that has led to their recent involvement with the Beyond Nature project.

Louise said she and Richard have been encouraged by the response they have had to their environmental projects and diversification ideas.

“Yorkshire Water and in particular Lisa Harrowsmith have been very supportive. They understood the serious situation we found ourselves in having to shut our bistro.”

The next step on the farm is to change what was the bistro into a three-bedroomed cottage for holiday accommodation. Louise said she has enlisted Jane Field Lewis from TV’s Amazing Spaces.

“Jane is a good friend. She creates wonderful interiors, so it’s going to be something different. Maybe not quite as different as Johnny’s buses.”