25 years of welcoming visitors to Woodhouse Farm

The Wardell family of Woodhouse Farm.
The Wardell family of Woodhouse Farm.
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Without question one of the most beautiful and largely traffic free sights in Yorkshire is the pastoral view of the River Derwent winding its way south from Malton with the remains of Kirkham Abbey adding a touch of splendour on the other side having left the busy A64 at Whitwell on the Hill.

It’s here that you enter a land that mixes strong growing arable country with livestock favoured grassland and where you chance across quiet hamlets and villages such as Burythorpe, Leavening, Kennythorpe and Westow.

Lucy Wardell, 18, and Ellen Wardell, 20, with some of their cattle.

Lucy Wardell, 18, and Ellen Wardell, 20, with some of their cattle.

The latter being where husband and wife Fran and Sarah Wardell run the family’s arable and livestock enterprise. This year also marks 25 years since Sarah started offering accommodation at Woodhouse Farm.

“We married in 1993,” says Sarah. “This house had six bedrooms and that offered us the opportunity to go into bed and breakfast to create a little more income. I started with just one room and we extended to two and then three.

“We’re currently at two bedrooms now, but for the past 13 years we’ve also had the cottage that we converted from being the old tool shed. It has two bedrooms and with a sofa bed can sleep up to six.

“One of the two bedrooms in the house can take up to four, the other one two.

Sarah Wardell in the on-farm B&B.

Sarah Wardell in the on-farm B&B.

“Like other bed and breakfast accommodation and cottages in the countryside we get a lot of repeat bookings. We have a German family that comes every year.”

Sarah makes a specific point of ensuring local produce is used wherever possible and not only is her accommodation rated by the AA as 4 star bed and breakfast she has also won an AA Breakfast Award for the past four years.

“I source everything locally and make my own bread and jams. The eggs are from the farm and all our meats come from a butcher in Norton.

“We make a point of setting up all our guests with a loaf of bread, eggs and a fruit crumble when they arrive at the cottage. I also have my own quality control team every morning with Fran and our daughters Ellen and Lucy eager to sample the goods.

“Every year proves slightly different for bookings. Last year they were slow coming in but we appear to be more in front this year. Our main time is from mid-April to the end of October.”

The farming operation that sees Woodhouse as the home farm runs to 630 acres with 540 owned and the rest rented.

Fran’s grandfather Frank (they were both christened Francis) purchased Woodhouse Farm in 1945; nearby Clifton Farm was bought in 1971; and 145 acres at Westow Grange was added in 2005. Other additional land has been added to make up today’s acreage.

“My dad Ron was involved throughout his life and passed away two years ago. My mum Doreen still looks after the hens and her dogs every morning. We lost my sister Lynn to breast cancer six years ago.

“Today we run a suckler herd of 30 cows, 330 breeding ewes and 400 acres of arable land. We’ve always had cattle. Dad used to buy stores, but we had sucklers 30 plus years ago and we started with them again in the last three to four years.

“We’ve dairy Blues that we put to a Blonde d’Aquitaine bull. All our stock is finished at around 13-17 months and sold at either Malton or York livestock markets. We calve from February to April.

“Lambing starts March 22 for what is usually three weeks. We’re on with Texel and big Suffolk X ewes and about 80 Mules put to the Texel and Suffolk tups. We put the Suffolk to the Texel and some Texels back to the Suffolk to get them a bit more stretchy.

“From last year’s crop we’ve had about 130-140 lambs away off grass and we’ve 380-390 getting ready to go currently running off stubble turnips. We also sell the lambs at York and Malton livestock markets. Our lambs go at around 45-55 kilos liveweight.”

While many farms have chosen to open bed and breakfast establishments in time for lambing Sarah doesn’t.

It’s all hands on deck for the whole family as she explains.

“The cottage is open but it’s too much for us with calving and lambing. We all play our part with both of those and it’s a manic time.”

Wheat, barley, oilseed rape and beans would be Fran’s favoured cropping but a wet back end put paid to that in autumn.

“This is a very good but also very wet farm,” says Fran. “We got most of the wheat in and it has grown okay so far, but we missed getting rape in so I’ve let a field for potatoes.

“We also stopped delivery of six-row barley. We tried as best we could to get everything in but it was just too wet for too long.

“We will be putting in some Propino spring barley and spring beans for the cattle for protein. We’re on with older wheat varieties JB Diego, Dickens and Relay this year. Costello did fantastic last year.”

Ellen and Lucy are both committed to the farm and its future. Ellen has also worked at the local pub the Blacksmith’s Arms in Westow for the past six years.

Lucy studied for her level 3 agriculture qualification at Bishop Burton College and currently also works one day a week at Raisthorpe Manor with Julia Medforth’s gin business.

The girls have their own livestock on the farm too.

“It’s more responsibility,” says Lucy. “Dad’s always encouraging asking what we think and when you have your own stock it’s a lot more disappointing if something goes wrong with your animals. I have one heifer and ten Texel X ewes. Ellen has two heifers.”

Ellen and Lucy are both members of Amotherby YFC and Ellen is secretary.

“Our club celebrated its 70th anniversary last year, mum’s B&B and cottage have a long way to go to catch up!”