Meet the North York Moors farmer whose rural cycling and fitness hub has brought a community together

Gearing up to stay where he was born in the dale that he loves so much has inspired one North York Moors farmer to get on his bike and he’s now inspiring his fellow farmers.

The Thurlows farm in Fryupdale

Phil Thurlow farms in Fryupdale where his father used to fatten cattle to take to market in Ruswarp. Phil said he yearns to bring back those days and hopes that his and his wife’s passion for cycling and running could prove instrumental in doing so.

Phil’s parents, Alan and Ruth, built a successful business in selling wood burning stoves out of premises in Pickering under the name Town & Country Fires.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

That’s where he still works today, but Phil said his ambitions are to live and work at home on their Yorkshire Cycle Hub business which began as an idea six years ago, reintroduce cattle and continue to make hay and haylage.

Phil Thurlow on one of his mountain bike trails

“My dad died eighteen months ago and it feels good being able to work on the land, I just want to do it even more.

“I love Fryup that much I want to spend all of my time here. I just love the valley and its people. It sets my heart racing and I never tire of its beauty and amazing views.

“It’s quite painful leaving here each day. We are so lucky to be able to live here.

“There are probably only around 75 people in the dale but it covers a bigger area than the whole of Pickering and it is often referred to as a hidden gem. It’s not somewhere you have to go through, it’s not on the way to anywhere.”

Its remote location and quiet country lanes that form a useful four-and-a-half mile circuit around the dale, plus his wife Sarah and he being keen cyclists, was the inspiration for the cycling venture that is increasingly now also becoming a running hub too.

Phil said he is looking forward to the day when he doesn’t have to go into Pickering every day.

“Growing up here, we had cattle that Dad would buy as young calves, fatten them and sell them at winter. As a boy I enjoyed rounding them up, feeding and getting them ready for market. I loved seeing the new stock coming off the lorry and into our field for the first time.

“But as the stove business picked up we were all needed at Town & Country Fires, myself, my sister Nina and Mum and Dad, and we weren’t around to be able to look after the cattle.

“They would occasionally wander off on to the moor and we would have to bring them back, so we had to change our farming and we moved into hay and haylage for the equine market.

“It’s all organic, no fertilisers used on it, and that’s quite reassuring when I’m delivering it to people with horses.”

Fryup Street Farm, where Phil grew up and still lives today, only runs to 25 acres and as such had never been enough to support the family full time, but the acquisition of a further 40 acres at Fryup Gill Farm six years ago opened up greater potential to do so.

Phil said the additional land had given their original hub concept greater impetus.

“We knew this was a good place for cyclists because the roads are quiet. Initially, we were thinking of starting out as bed and breakfast accommodation from Street, with a little tearoom but then Fryup Gill came up and that has allowed us to set up the café, workshop, accommodation and a shop selling bikes and ebikes, which are particularly popular at the moment, especially here in the hills.

“This was previously home to a breeder of Cleveland Bays and had a collection of stables built using telegraph poles, railway sleepers and corrugated sheets.

“We flattened the site and erected our Yorkshire Cycle Hub centre in keeping with the area using stone, pantiles, cedar wood and corrugated black sheeting.

“It has all become a lot bigger than we had planned and since we also now have some woodland it is also great for mountain biking.”

Local farmers from the dale and neighbouring moors and dales have become involved too, buying bikes and taking to the country lanes. Phil said he has been encouraged by how many from the farming community are now regulars at the hub.

“Everyone is either walking, running, cycling or swimming at the moment, especially since the pandemic, and we now have lots of local farmers who come here. It’s good for people’s wellbeing whether it is for fitness or the social aspect.

“We often see tractors or quad bikes parked up as farmers bring their bike with them or come on their bikes.

“Ideally I would like to spend more time on the farm or at the hub than go into Pickering. I’d definitely like to have cattle back, but at the moment I can’t commit to that.

“The best I can do is have my chickens. I’ve nineteen of them and we sell their eggs at the side of the road.”