Now, the hardworking couple are preparing to hang up their overalls at St Leonard’s Farm Park in Esholt, as they bid a fond farewell to the successful business that “has contributed to the cause of British farming”.
With true Yorkshire grit and determination, the husband and wife team worked tirelessly to turn what was an overgrown former dairy farm into an all-singing all-dancing visitor experience in the village made famous by Emmerdale.
The farm, near Bradford, opened its gates to the general public on July 28, 1995 - the same day as the couple’s fifth wedding anniversary - and attracted 37,000 visitors in the first year.
In addition to general admissions, milking cows twice a day, which visitors could watch, and running a gift shop and tearoom, they offered school and group trips, a school holiday club and private parties in their indoor play barn, which was built with part grant funding from The Rural Enterprise Scheme.
In 2013, the couple decided to downsize the business to gain a more balanced life.
Denise, 57, said: “Their business has been successful over the last 25 years. We have had a lot of lovely people through, but we just feel that it’s the right time to go while we have still got a good reputation.”
James, 54, was working on his parents’ dairy farm in Guildford, Surrey, when he met Denise while visiting Bradford.
Denise said: “We ended up courting long distance and I married him and moved to Guildford and worked with his mum on the family farm.
“My dad saw this holding advertised in The Yorkshire Post and we happened to be looking for our own place. It was the first one we tendered and we got it, so it was meant to be.”
While renovations took place, the family lived in a caravan for 12 months and sought planning permission to open the farm to the public. They modernised the milking parlour and made a living by leasing out their milk quota.
Their small dairy herd was sold in 2000 prior to the 2001 Foot and Mouth outbreak, which saw them unable to accept visitors for seven months due to national restrictions.
Denise said: “We had no income for seven months and we didn’t know if we would survive. But when we reopened, the customers we had built up supported us.
“I think what has been good about way we have run it is that we have met a lot of people and imparted knowledge at the same time. I feel like we have contributed to the cause of British farming. Farming is a way of life and we have loved it.”
Teamwork has undoubtedly been one of the keys to their success, with Denise working in the background running the business and “Farmer James” at the forefront looking after the animals, including chickens, goats and meerkats.
“We have been a good team all these years,” said Denise.