Emotional tribute to farmer who 'lived like he'd die tomorrrow and farmed like he'd live forever'

Colin Boocock was a popular award-winning farmer. Credit: Tony Iley
Colin Boocock was a popular award-winning farmer. Credit: Tony Iley
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Legendary singer Fats Domino found his thrill on a very different hill to popular North Yorkshire farmer Colin Boocock, who always found his on Freebrough Hill on the edge of the North York Moors near the village of Moorsholm.

The iconic landmark where Colin was born and farmed was his domain and where his award-winning flock of Scottish Blackface sheep grazed for decades and has now given its name, and the name of his farm, to a new event that was held for the first time recently, the Freebrough Heart Ride.

Andrew Boocock leaning on a gate on the North York Moors above Danby where a plaque for his dad Colin Boocock is situated who died on a bike ride. Credit: Gary Longbottom

Andrew Boocock leaning on a gate on the North York Moors above Danby where a plaque for his dad Colin Boocock is situated who died on a bike ride. Credit: Gary Longbottom

Colin passed away earlier this year while out on a social mountain bike ride with friends from the Yorkshire Cycle Hub and the heart ride, that made its debut in late September, was held in his memory.

Fittingly for the man who I knew well, either having interviewed him when he won the Yorkshire Agricultural Society’s Farm of the Year Award for best farm under 100 acres twice consecutively in the 90s, or meeting up and having a chat at agricultural shows, the first Freebrough Heart Ride was a success socially, numerically and in its fund raising.

‘‘The response to the ride has been phenomenal,’’ says Colin’s son Andrew who, despite working in London, managed to organise the event with the help of family and friends of the hub.

‘‘It has been an incredibly tough time for myself, my mum Julia and my sister Emma as we try to come to terms with dad not being with us, and we felt it was really important to celebrate his life and what had been his new-found passion for mountain bike riding.’

‘‘Dad could lift any mood with his positivity and enthusiasm for life, farming and family. Celebrating life rather than feeling sad about things was always dad’s way. One of his favourite lines, that sums up his passion and character is: ‘Live like you’re going to die tomorrow; farm like you’re going to live forever.’ He did just that."

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More than 200 attended the after-party following the first heart ride, while 75 took part in the ride itself, with two courses of 24 and 11 miles for the varying ability and stamina of the mountain bikers. It started at Ainthorpe Rigg near Danby with a moment of quiet reflection, in which a commemorative plaque was placed marking where Colin had passed away.

The after-party was a much noisier, fun affair as Colin would have wished with live music and a charity auction that has seen the event raise more than £6,000 to date.

‘‘Colin’s cycling was his first real hobby,’’ says Julia, a retired teacher who first met Colin at Loftus YFC. The couple didn’t get together until a meeting in the local Jolly Sailor’s pub some years later.

‘‘The mountain biking was something different from farming, looking after sheep and cattle or the haulage work he’d added since 2001,’’ says Julia.

"He’d only been riding for a year-and-a-half, but he loved it and the company, the social side. He’d change out of his oldie farming gear into his cycling gear and was really enjoying it. He’d also just changed his bike for a newer version. It was his time for doing something for himself.’’

While Andrew continues to pursue his career away from the farm, Emma, who is a lecturer at Northumbria University in Newcastle, returned to Freebrough Farm.

Emma and her father had become a happy father and daughter sheep farming team in the past decade. Recent years had seen them move away from Scottish Blackface sheep that Colin had won breed champion with at the Great Yorkshire Show years ago.

The breed had made him a popular, well-known showman particularly at his local shows of Danby, Egton and Ryedale, following in the footsteps of his father Harry and grandfather Fred, but today’s flock, which is currently around half of the 150 ewes it used to be, is made up of Texel X and North of England Mules, as well as Emma’s own flock of Kerry Hill sheep.

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‘‘Colin was very realistic,’’ says Julia. ‘‘He didn’t dwell on things. He knew the Scottish Blackface sheep weren’t working well in the market. The bloodlines had disappeared and that was all part and parcel of why he had stopped showing them. Six years ago he also made the decision to give up with cattle.

“ He knew he couldn’t handle calving as well as lambing any longer and that he needed lambs that would command a better price at market, so with Emma he changed over to buying North of England Mules and crossing with the Texel.’’

‘‘Emma’s growing involvement in the farm with her dad was a source of great joy for Colin, something he hadn’t anticipated, and something that gave him renewed spirit.

“He’d had some dark times around the year of foot and mouth and when we’d had a bad experience with sheep savaged.

“His natural positive outlook always helped, as did his work he took on as a driver for a local haulage company, but he was elated when Emma told him that farming back home on the hill was what she really wanted.

“At one point he’d thought she didn’t have the interest and we had talked about leaving the farm and the hill but seeing them work and laugh together was wonderful for all of us.’

‘‘We’d been at North Sheep near Settle,’’ says Emma. ‘‘We came back to the farm and went to where everyone was gathering.

We went separately. I had a bike to pick up. There were 25 of us all together.’

‘‘At the Yorkshire Cycle Hub, based in Great Fryup there were initial thoughts of what could be done to celebrate dad’s life and discussions started over raising money for organisations such as the Great North Air Ambulance Service and Cleveland Mountain Rescue, both essential up here.’

“I think dad will be smiling down at mum and I at the moment, watching mum being my apprentice, as I was to him.’

‘‘Colin enjoyed his sheep judging,’’ says his wife Julia. ‘‘He judged at many local shows including Ryedale Show last year and the Great Yorkshire Show and Westmorland Show.’’

Philip Thurlow, owner of the Yorkshire Cycle Hub, who organises the fortnightly social rides that Colin attended, is hoping the Freebrough Heart Ride will become an annual event and encourage even more to take up the sport.

Julia and Emma would like to thank fellow local farmers Ruth and Andy Thompson for all their help since Colin’s death.