Those who watched Barry Cockroft’s YTV documentaries on Hannah Hauxwell will have seen wild and remote Baldersdale through the seasons.
Too Long a Winter saw Hannah struggle through deep snow drifts to get to her cows. Filming in summer captured nature in all its abundant glory. Through it all, the famous, rosy-cheeked Daleswoman lived alone in her tumbledown farmhouse with no electricity or running water and remained resolutely cheerful and thankful.
Chris and Hilary Lane were introduced to the vagaries of the weather in Baldersdale when they went to view Fell Syke Farm in 1979. The property sits a little further up the dale from neighbouring Low Birk Hatt, which was Hannah’s family farm.
The couple had been hunting for “somewhere out of the way with land” that was equidistant from Chris’s home town of Stokesley and Hilary’s parents’ farm in Cumbria.
“The first time we viewed Fell Syke there was a hell of a gale blowing and the sky was dark but we knew it was the place for us even though the house was damp and needed work. There was a romantic appeal.
“The second time we viewed the house, the weather was sunny and we were even more sure that we wanted to live here,” says Chris, who is now selling the property and its 30 acres overlooking the Balderhead reservoir for £590,000.
He and his wife were aware of their famous neighbour, whose harsh existence was first highlighted by an article in The Yorkshire Post 1970. It told how Hannah, then 44, ran her farm in the old North Riding of Yorkshire alone after the death of her parents and uncle.
Wearing ragged clothes and with no creature comforts save for a radio, she lived on as little as £240 a year battling all weathers while tending her stock and collecting her water from a stream. (Read More: Hannah at Low Birk Hatt)
TV producer Barry Cockcroft realised she was a star and the first of his documentaries was made, attracting worldwide attention. Too Long a Winter in 1972 began with Hannah leading a cow into a shed during a blizzard and it laid bare her simple, stark and isolated existence. Viewers were captivated and letters and gifts arrived from around the world, while workers in a local factory raised money to fund an electricity connection to Low Birk Hatt Farm.
Chris and Hilary were aware of their famous neighbour and met Hannah by chance soon after moving into their home 41 years ago. “She was reclusive so we rarely saw her but one day we decided to walk to the Spensleys, who lived at the neighbouring farm. We had our baby daughter, Miranda, in the pram.
“The Spencley’s used to get Hannah’s groceries and we met her there. She was very cheerful and one of my strongest memories of her is her being intrigued by Miranda and saying ‘This is the littlest person I have ever seen’.
“It was so sweet. I don’t think she’d ever seen a baby before,” says Chris, who got used to a steady stream of tourists keen to see Low Birk Hatt and hoping for a glimpse of Hannah.
“That went on for quite a while and at one point it seemed interminable. I used to joke that if I had a pound for everyone that came to the door asking where Hannah lived I’d be a wealthy man.”
Hannah’s decided to sell her farm at the end of 1988, three years after the Lanes moved to the area. Struggling to cope with the farm work, she moved to a cottage in nearby Cotherstone. This was documented in a follow-up documentary A Winter Too Many.
She later moved into a nursing home, where she never lost her happy countenance. She died in January 2018 and her funeral at Barnard Castle Methodist Church attracted worldwide attention. Her final resting place is at Romaldkirk church, the nearest village to Low Birk Hatt.
While many of us dream of living as Hannah did in a remote, wild and beautiful place, away from an increasingly busy world, Chris Lane believes that some caution is required.
“It’s not for everyone. When the weather is good it is an idyll but when it’s bad people ask why on earth you would want to live here.
“The broadband and phone signal can be sketchy too but we love it and it was a wonderful place to bring up our four children. They have very happy memories of growing up here.”
The children had to walk 100 yards up to the road to get a taxi, usually a Land-Rover, to take them to Romaldkirk where they caught the school bus. The nearest villages, Romaldkirk and Cotherstone are five miles away and the nearest supermarket is 12 miles away in Barnard Castle. “It isn’t just somewhere to live. It’s a way of life,” says Chris, 72, a keen runner and cyclist.
He and his late wife,Hilary, renovated and extended the 18th century, five-bedroom farmhouse, which has spectacular views over the reservoir. They also used the land to rear Texel sheep for a time.
“The house is structurally sound but it needs modernisation,” says Chris. “We have had a steady stream of interest from people who want to develop holiday accommodation and from people who have horses. For me, it is the right time to leave and to let someone else enjoy a place where our family was very happy.”
Fell Syke Farm, Baldersdale, is an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty in what was the old North Riding of Yorkshire and is now County Durham. It is for sale with the Liz Dennison estate agency for £590,000, www.lizdproperty.co.uk. Pictures of Fell Syke Farm by Marc Thorneycroft.
The house, which has many period features, has a utility room, kitchen/breakfast room, a bathroom, dining room, a sitting room and two further reception rooms. Upstairs are five bedrooms, a dressing room, ensuite and W.C. Outside, there are a number of barns and stables, a workshop and other outbuildings with potential for conversion.
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