Stars of television, comedy, music, drama and sport descended upon them as the latest Celebs On The Farm contenders arrived on set to film the third series, hosted by stand-up Stephen Bailey and with Yorkshire farmer Chris Jeffery as judge.
The first two series had been filmed on the south coast for Channel 5 Star. The new series will appear on MTV in January and Ash was delighted when the show’s producers chose Stepney Hill, where he is the third generation to farm. Ash doesn’t fit the stereotypical image of a farmer and the producers loved that angle too.
“Dominic, the director, said he’d never seen a farmer who wore skinny jeans,” said Ash.
“They were taken with the farm and the facilities as soon as they came to have a look about four weeks beforehand. It all had to be organised really quickly because a second lockdown was imminent.”
John Tyson became a hit with the producers and the Celebs On The Farm cast over the fortnight.
Ash said: “He could do no wrong. The producers had heard of Dad’s talents in hedgelaying and dry stone walling and he led two of the challenges for the celebs. He became known as Farmer John and they all loved him. In the end there were three farmers here; Dad, me as Farmer Ash and Farmer Chris, as Chris Jeffery is known.
“We were all a bit starstruck. Myself, Nicola and Isabella, as well as our son Kye, daughter Kaitlyn and her boyfriend Rob who work in Sheffield and London. I can’t reveal all the celebs who were here, but they were the most natural and lovely people we have ever met and everyone was so nice and courteous.
“They would all help Nicola by bringing their pots back into the kitchen after their meal.”
Stepney Hill Farm is the ideal location for a TV show. Its gently rolling grassland, wildflower meadows and woodland in the distance offers scenic views and perched on the edge of Scarborough allows for appropriate accommodation for everyone, as well as livestock to look after and learn about.
“We have sheep, pigs and cattle on the farm,” said Ash. “I think what really clinched it was the function barn we built five years ago. It provided the base for their opening and closing scenes each day.”
Ash and Nicola went on their own ten years ago after Ash and his brother James decided to end a partnership that had seen them grow an agricultural contracting business together.
Ash said: “I’d come up with the idea of our own butcher’s shop on the farm. That wasn’t something either Dad or James could see working. They wished Nicola and I well, and we started taking our livestock through from field to fork, selling direct from the farm, which was our ambition.”
Nicola runs their highly successful tearoom with full-time chef Gina. It currently takes up the whole of what was the ground floor of their home on the farm. They built the barn and added a shepherd’s hut for holiday accommodation. Early this year they will be opening a new luxury holiday let with an extension to their home currently being built and a new purpose-built tearoom at the side of the function barn.
“Farming is at the heart of everything,” said Ash. “Nothing else would be here without the farm. Lambing experience days and school visits are also very important to us in additional business but also in educating the next generation. Our Open Farm Sunday attracts up to 1,800 visitors.”
Analysing what works and what doesn’t has brought about a recent change to Ash’s farming policy on sheep. He’s switching breeds.
“Having checked our costs I have bought 30 EasyCare ewes and 10 gimmer shearlings that will lamb this year alongside our Mules. We’ve had a flock of 160 Mule breeding ewes for a number of years.
“They give us the lamb and mutton we need to stock the butchery for the year. We go through around 220 lambs and 50 mutton either wholesale or retail.”
Ash expanded: “We have always bred our own Mules, buying the best three-crop Swaledale ewes out of Ruswarp Mart and putting them to a quality Bluefaced Leicester tup, but I’ve been very impressed by the EasyCare breed founded by Iolo Owen on Anglesey.”
He’s not about to let go of his Mules just yet but his intention of changing wholly to EasyCare will gather pace if all goes well this spring.
Pigs and cattle are bought in to feed the demand in the shop.
“I buy a couple of rare breed, free range, in-pig sows at a time from renowned breeder Ken Matthews in Ebberston,” said Ash. ‘They are Berkshire and British Lop breeds. They’re also great for our visitors when they’ve just farrowed.”
The Celebs On The Farm show came as a much-needed fillip to the crazy year Ash said he and Nicola and everyone has experienced.
“We worked so hard to make sure everything was right and hopefully it might do us some good in the future. In the first lockdown we lost all of our wholesale customers, as we supply meat to hotels and restaurants in the town, but our butcher’s shop was busy and we were doing home deliveries.”
Community involvement at Stepney Hill is another aspect of the farm. Ash and Nicola have given half an acre as allotments to First Light Trust, a charity that works with ex-Forces veterans of all ages and local businesswoman Sue Tipple organises them.
“It’s all part of our pursuit of food, farming and community. We also give use of our function barn to five charities a year, including St Catherine’s Hospice.”
Celebs On The Farm starts on MTV later this month.