The Robin Hood's Bay farmhouse B&B owners who found the Beast from the East more challenging than the pandemic

When the Beast from the East wreaked havoc on the Yorkshire coastline in February 2018 the tiny hamlet of Raw, near Robin Hood’s Bay, found itself aptly named.

The couple had no experience of farming before they bought their Dexter cattle

It is a time that pedigree cattle breeders and bed and breakfast accommodation owners Alan and Jan Adams recall all too well.

Jan said their holiday business has suffered due to the pandemic, but that nothing compares to that time of gale force winds and heavy snowfall.

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“We had a quite spectacular view of it arriving as we look out directly across the North Sea and could see the dramatic cloud formation as it approached. It really was quite frightening when it hit. Everything shook.

Jan collecting eggs

“It was so cold when it came that our water froze and our pump broke to pump the water from our spring. We were constantly carrying buckets of water from the spring to make sure our cattle were looked after properly.

“Dexters are a very hardy, native breed and rather like Highland cattle stay out in all kinds of weather, all year round, as they possess a shaggy outer coat and an under coat which helps keep them warm in winter, but they still need water like the rest of us.

“On maps we have the 600ft contour going through our gateway and we are above the snow line, so we always get snow in winter while just down below in Fylingthorpe you can usually see green fields.

“It was all white for that week. Fortunately, we also have lots of big hedgerows that provided the cattle with shelter.”

Jan Adams serving breakfast

Alan and Jan came to Skerry Hall Farm 22 years ago having initially moved to Sleights from north Nottinghamshire. Jan’s father had family in the area, and she had visited regularly with her parents.

The farming world was new to the couple, but over the past two decades they have made an impact on the Dexter breed, have successfully sold their beef and six years ago started taking in guests for their bed and breakfast letting rooms.

Jan said the North Yorkshire coast and countryside was where she always wanted to be and that farming came about as a result of their purchase.

“I’d always thought of this part of the world as my real home and when we bought Skerry Hall we also took on 25 acres of land, predominantly all hillside land and all high up.

“We started what was to become our Skerry herd of Dexter cattle by purchasing two cows and two calves through a contact with renowned pedigree Dexter breeder Penny Hodgson of Easingwold in 2004.

“Penny told us that having Dexters would become infectious and she was right.

“She gave us great advice and organised a bull for us to hire and then we bought one from her. Gradually, we bought in more good quality stock and began breeding our Skerry herd, which is now in the Dexter society handbook.”

The herd grew and Alan and Jan began selling Dexter cattle to other breeders and retailing their beef at farmers’ markets.

Alan, who worked in local government for 40 years until retiring 15 years ago, said it had been a steep learning curve.

“I’d never sat on a tractor, let alone drive one, but we got up to a herd of just under 50 at one time, with 17 breeding females.

“One of our greatest joys has been in providing others with cattle to start their own Dexter herds as we did and offering advice the way Penny did for us.

“Dexter beef is well known for its taste, which comes about from the cattle being slow maturing and grass reared. We have always taken our beef animals through to three years old. The marbling of the beef is exceptional and there has been research recently that shows scientifically that it has constituents that make it taste differently to other breeds.

“We have always cut out the middle man and sold directly. We started with the Murton Farmers Market at York livestock centre and we were at the very first Food Lovers Market in Malton and their May Festivals.

“Tom Parker-Bowles was our first customer the second year we attended. He came especially for a rib of beef as he said he’d missed out the year before.”

In recent years Alan and Jan have brought down their cattle numbers and have concentrated more on the holiday accommodation, converting part of their attached 17th century stable and cowshed that had been used for storage for many years to three letting rooms and the breakfast room.

Jan makes her own jams, marmalades, flapjacks and bakes cakes for their guests. She said this was meant to be their major source of income now rather than the cattle.

“Covid has intervened, but we have been open when we could be and we are back open from Monday next week if all goes according to plan.

"It has been a tough year, but both Alan and I are now retired and have our pensions.

“Our guests are predominantly in the older age range and they come here for the peace and quiet, for the walking and the wildlife. Some couples will spend hours in the garden with their binoculars, spotting all the different birds.”

Alan is secretary and plays for the Fylingthorpe quoits club. He said he and Jan both feel very fortunate to be living where they do and that their local community is very important to them.

“Jan and I enjoy meeting our guests and we have great friendships close by. Living here is secluded but not isolated.

“We probably know more people around us than some who live on a street with lots of houses.”

Alan and Jan’s reduced Dexter herd still includes two of their early purchases 17 years ago. Jan said they owe them nothing and have earned a happy retirement.

“Blossom is 19 and is the matriarch. Bramble was one of our first calves. They will stay here no matter what.”