A lesson in rural life with Earl

Children got a taste of the country on one of Yorkshire’s estates, as Lara Lambert reports.

Lord Halifax and children

Shouts rang out as 200 schoolchildren ran with wild, noisy abandon through the clipped parkland of the private estate of the Third Earl of Halifax.

Their laughter cut through the deep, respectful, hush that normally surrounds the secluded Halifax Estate in Garrowby, East Yorkshire.

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Guests of the Earl, the children had been invited from schools across East Yorkshire to see how the 20,000-acre estate is 
managed.

They were quickly sorted into small groups and led off for a guided tour of the stud farm, forests, hounds, gun dogs and pheasant stock.

Gamekeepers, dressed formally in waistcoat and breeches, forestry workers, horse trainers and kennel keepers stood at purpose built stands either side of the mown, tree lined avenues, ready to show the children how they normally fill their working day.

The “open day” had been organised and facilitated by the Hebden Bridge-based charity, Countryside Learning.

Its purpose to offer young people the opportunity to learn how land is managed and what constitutes rural employment.

“It’s important for them to learn what goes into making the countryside look the way it does and that it doesn’t just happen,” Gary Richardson, chief executive of Countryside Learning, said.

“Some of the children here are very local, some are even the children of the staff that work here, and others are from inner-city environments. But none would otherwise get a chance to see what happens here.”

Each year Countryside Learning organises open days for 330,000 school children across the country, including open farm events and estate days. “Einstein said that all pupils need to learn are the right conditions and this is what we are giving them here,” Mr Richardson added.

“Interestingly neither set of pupils here today is particularly more knowledgeable about the countryside than the other, despite the fact that half of them here only live down the road.”

This was evident as a small group of pupils from Bishop Wilton Primary School, based just two miles away from the Garrowby parkland, made their way towards the stud farm. As they walked, two nine-year-old girls discussed what a ‘stud’ might be. “The spikes on your football boots?” suggested one.

On learning that this was where horses were bred, she questioned: “To sell for meat?”

The schoolchildren, aged from eight to 11, came from two primary schools local to the estate, Bugthorpe and Bishop Wilton, as well as from Lakeside Primary in York and Thoresby Primary in Hull.

At the stud, where celebrities such as Mystic Meg and Dame Judi Dench stable their valuable racehorses, the children were shown a group of mares and young foals.

One girl, from Thoresby, said she had only ever seen police horses before.

The staff were taken aback. “It is so amazing that some of these children have never seen a horse before, or touched one, I really wouldn’t have believed it before now,” said the stud team captain Alan Ridger.

A peal of laughter rang out from the estate forest. “Timber!” yelled the children as head forester Sean chopped down a tree.

“It is so important that they see the trees and think that’s what a newspaper is made out of or where a piece of furniture comes from,” Lord Halifax said, heading towards a group of pupils huddled around two biddable gun dogs named Jessica and Lily.

“You never forget patting a pony for the first time, or stroking a dog,” he said, gesturing towards a girl who was stroking one of the spaniels soon after revealing she was scared of dogs.

“It is very rewarding to see all the children enjoying themselves,” explained Lord Halifax.

According to Countryside Learning, open days like this cost landowners an average of £2,500. Lord and Lady Halifax value their privacy and access to their estate is by appointment only.

But as they strolled through the parkland, accompanied by four gambolling Labradors, a kennel keeper sounding his hunting horn drew their attention.

The couple laughed as they watched the children pass the horn around, each child blowing out their cheeks furiously into in an attempt to get a sound out of it.

“I hope these children learn that the countryside is an adventure.

“A great place to be,” Lord Halifax added.