How a sculpture trail, ice cream parlour and campsite helped a farming family ride Whitby's tourism boom

Badgers appearing out of tree trunks and a goblin’s voice coming from a little house in the woods are two of the many features on a new nature trail near Whitby.

Mike, Zoe, Chris and Matt all run the farm's businesses together

Chainsaw sculpted animals and birds from Harrogate-based sculptor Jonathan Sherwood are proving a striking and entertaining sight at the Shardlow family’s Beacon Farm in Sneaton.

The nature trail is the latest addition to the farm’s tourism business that has seen them leave behind their traditional farming roots of dairy cows and arable cropping in favour of ice cream, camping and holiday accommodation.

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Mike Shardlow said the launch of Beacon Farm Ice Cream in 1989 had begun showing him a way forward but that it was when his brother Alan passed away in 2000 that the move from farming as they had known it, had gathered pace.

Visitors to Beacon Farm

“We continued dairying for three years after Alan passed, but it became clear looking at the economics of dairy farming that we were better off increasing the campsite and concentrating on our ice cream business that was being neglected because of the cows.

“The tanker that used to collect our milk now brings it in from half a mile away, having collected it from a neighbouring farm and other local farms.”

Mike’s sons, Chris and Matt, now look after the individual aspects of today’s Beacon Farm operations. Chris said that although dairy farming was something he and Matt had grown up with the proximity of Whitby and tourism footfall had proved a better bet.

“Everyone here looks back on our dairy and arable farming days with fond memories, but ultimately the bottom line is what works for us. I’d seen how hard Mum and Dad had grafted and I could see where Whitby was heading on the tourism side. In our case it was better riding the tourism wave rather than an uncertain future in dairying.

The family have just opened up a new nature and sculpture trail in the woods

“With both myself and Matt on board we have more hands on deck and what we have is a much more manageable beast. Hopefully, we’ve taken some of the pressure off our parents.”

While everybody in the family helps each other, Chris and Matt are responsible for defined roles with Chris in charge of the ice cream business that includes production, deliveries and the ice cream parlour/tearoom; and Matt running the campsite, caravans, holiday cottages and now the nature trail. Matt said the greater focus on the campsite has helped.

“We’ve had a small caravan site of five vans many years. We also have five holiday cottages, but hadn’t had anyone dedicated to improving the campsite. I really enjoy looking after it and our visitors. We have gradually increased our capacity to 50 tents and better facilities.

“I’d had the nature trail in mind for the past few years and finally had the time during winter. It’s in an area of woodland where I had walked the dogs, but we’d never opened it up to others. We brought in a tree surgeon to assist with the health of the designated area of ancient woodland.

“We have mainly broadleaf trees - ash, oak and sycamore - and have left all the natural features. The wildlife includes deer, badgers, rabbits, frogs and insects and we have a birdwatching facility over a pond just outside of the woodland.

“The trail fits in with education, learning more about wildlife and nature; and leisure activity, as a lovely walk.

“We’ve included the wood-carved sculptures from Jonathan and another sculptor called Sam from Scotland, as well as mud kitchens, little dens for children to play in and the goblin cabin tucked away for children to find.”

The reaction already received from those who have visited since the nature trail opened last month has been more than Matt had even hoped.

“It was worth all those wheelbarrow pushes. We enjoy it, but hearing the positive feedback has been great. The carvings just blow my mind. They are all unbelievable and look lifelike.

“They are all free standing and include deer, a fox, badger and an owl. Jonathan has even been up since to show visitors how he carves them.

“People are rediscovering the countryside and are engaging more with the outdoors. We’ve just had our first school visit and everyone was in awe of the carvings and the walk itself.

“It’s also a good feeling being able to offer something different for those who live locally as we don’t charge for the nature trail.”

The Shardlows have invested around £15,000 in their mile-long nature trail. Mike said a new adventure playground for the camp site visitors had cost twice as much but that the trail would probably see more usage overall in the coming years.

“The trail has the potential to attract far more people, either those bringing children or just enjoying a pleasant walk. We’re already getting a lot of people asking where they pay to go on the trail, but so long as they stop for a coffee, slice of cake or some Beacon Farm ice cream that’s our payment.

“It’s a nice facility where people can come, enjoy and doesn’t cost them a fortune. We just might need a bigger car park.”

Mike, Chris and Matt make the decisions but Mike said they could not survive without the huge amount of teamwork that takes place, whether in the ice cream parlour, deliveries or any of their tourism ventures.

“It’s completely different to when my mum and dad first came to Sneaton in 1955 and when I came back from agricultural college in Bedfordshire in the 70s.

“We bought Beacon Farm in 1983 and at one time we had four farms and had 700 acres. We now have 70 of which we have 50 acres contract farmed.

“We couldn’t have built this up without the family, including my wife Zoe, and all of the marvellous staff we have and listening to our customers. As a family it is probably the best thing we have ever done and the nature trail is just brilliant.”