Hill farm diversification brings a new breed of Yorkshire holiday cottages

Restoring a 93-acre farm while making the property viable has been a 32 year labour of love for one family. Sharon Dale reports.

Chris and Clare Carr had no experience of farming when they followed their dream and bought a rundown 93-acre hill farm in Goathland 32 years ago.

Eyebrows were raised when they swapped their old life near Barnsley for a new one in the North York Moors but they are testament to how far enthusiasm, gumption and hard work can get you.

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The couple have since completely restored the historic landscape, created a large farmhouse from what was a small cottage, kept and bred sheep and cattle and, most recently, converted old farm buildings into stylish, upmarket holiday lets.

The latest venture has turned what was an unprofitable hobby farm into a viable business and could herald a way forward for hard-pressed upland farmers who may suffer even more if Brexit subsidies vanish.

“It has been very difficult to make a living from hill farming for a long time. It is a breadline existence and Brexit will make it worse. It is very sad,” says Chris, an architect.

“Diversifying in the way we have could help. I'd also like to see the government giving grants to farmers so they can preserve the landscape that the public know and love. That's what they do in Switzerland.

“This is a landscape that is essentially man-made and if it is left it will go back to scrub, rushes and forest within 50 years.”

Transforming their 93 acres, which was open land, took the best part of 20 years and its maintenance is ongoing.

It was a conservation project that has seen the couple put in hedges, trees, ditches and ponds, which have helped attract wildlife.

This work and their life-change began when Chris and Clare acted on a long-held desire to try their hand at farming.

“None of our families had farmed, so I'm not sure where it came from but our two daughters, Emma and Sara, were about to leave primary school and we just thought ‘it's now or never'.

“We often came up to the North York Moors with the children and we really wanted to bring them up in the countryside, where they could have ponies and be in an area with open access.”

They heard that Orchard Farm on the edge of Goathland village was for sale and snapped it up, even though it meant that Chris had to spend three hours a day driving to and from Barnsley, which was HQ for his architect's practice and his small development business specialising in barn conversions.

“I did that for 20 years. I'd set off at 6am and get back at 8pm but it was well worth it to be able to live here,” he says.

The couple renovated and extended the farm cottage and, after attending a weekend course on lambing, they bought a flock of sheep and went on to breed Aberdeen Angus cattle.

They recently sold the livestock to concentrate on their new hospitality enterprise and now let some of their acreage to a sheep farmer. The diversification began slowly when they converted a cottage on the edge of the farm into a holiday let.

Over the last four years they have converted two old farm buildings into upmarket holiday accommodation for couples.

“The holiday cottage business is huge and you are spoilt for choice but we saw a gap for luxurious retreats for two people. We call it self-catering with all the facilities of a luxury hotel,” says Chris.

“Guests can choose from a list of special features that include breakfast and dinner in the farmhouse dining room, access to special events, from beauty treatments and walking/bicycle tours to everything that the farm and the National Park have to offer.”

The Bull Pen is their latest property. It was designed by Chris and converted from an old cattle byre that had been used to house young bulls.

“The design philosophy was to retain the character and simple agricultural aesthetic of the barn, while converting it to create a luxurious, small hideaway,” says Chris.

As with all their properties, the Carr family has been hands-on, doing much of the work themselves. Including everything from carpentry and stonework to curtain making, painting and decorating.

Most of the walls in the Bull Pen are painted in Farrow and Ball's Lime White while the exterior woodwork is in Pigeon.

The property has one double bedroom with a discreetly placed cast iron roll-top bath.

“Baths in bedrooms don't often work well but we put ours in an alcove painted in very dark green so it is recessive and discreet,” says Chris.

There is also an en-suite shower room, a living/dining room and a kitchen with units from DIY Kitchens, which are topped with marble.

The floors are stone with flags from Dring's and in homage to the building's former use, there are reclaimed oak beams and the walls are rough plastered.

The pine batten doors are homemade and the furniture is a mix of handmade and antiques with a few new buys, including top-of-the-range beds from Whitby-based Beevers.

Clare, a seamstress, came up with the idea of using hemp sacking, which was fire-proofed and made into curtains. She also used coffee grain sacks to make floor cushions.

Outside, there's a private covered terrace and access to Orchard Farm land, which is home to 83 species of birds.

The Carrs' daughters have joined their parents in the holiday business, which they hope to expand.

“We all get a real buzz from sharing this beautiful place,” says Chris.

*For details on renting the Bull Pen or its neighbour, the Potting Shed, contact Gorgeous Cottages, www.gorgeouscottages.com