Village Focus: Thixendale’s cottage industries

Viewers by the thousand beat a path to Castle Howard two weekends ago to see a live version of the BBC’s Countryfile programme, replete with its menagerie of tame presenters.

Thixendale village

Some 16 miles further south-east, another familiar TV format was being played out to a smaller but no less enraptured live audience.

Most of those who had come to see Robert Fuller’s version of Springwatch had arrived by car; a few had interrupted their perambulation along the Yorkshire Wolds Way to watch his live video feed of barn owls and their chicks, along with assorted badgers, stoats and weasels in their natural habitat.

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This was no BBC spin-off. Fuller, a wildlife artist and a regular Country Week contributor, has for years operated his own network of nest cameras in his gallery in the quintessential Wolds village of Thixendale.

Thixendale village

“It’s been a busy few weeks. People have driven here from all over,” said Martin Walton, at the gallery.

“Some days we’ve been packed. We’ve had parties as big as 30.”

For a village whose population at the time of the last census was only 293, Thixendale is surprisingly rich in such cottage industries.  

At Raisthorpe Manor, a farm on the road out to Burdale, liqueurs are produced for the cocktail bars of Harvey Nichols. The estate’s rose and sloe gins, raspberry gin liqueur and pink grapefruit tonic were among the winners at the summer’s Great Taste Awards, at which they competed with 12,000 products from more than 100 countries.

“Back in 2000, we planted 20 miles of hedgerow, which we’re busy harvesting at the moment,” said Julia Medforth, who runs the operation at Raisthorpe.

The fruits and berries are used in a new range of Yorkshire tonics, and the farm’s output for Christmas will include novelty bubble gum and lemon drizzle flavours.

On the other side of Thixendale, award-winning, cold-pressed Yorkshire Rapeseed Oil has been produced for the last decade, and the village is also home to Simon Barrett, self-styled “Chilli Jam Man”, whose produce is on the menu at the chain of Revolution bars and restaurants. The icing on this year’s cake is the harvesting of grapes for the first time, by an enterprising farmer.

At the foot of a valley and roughly half way along the long-distance footpath through the old East Riding, Thixendale is one of the most charming pockets of the Wolds, and among the hardest to find. The only way in is on one of four single-track roads.

“If you go back 50 years, almost everyone here would have had something to do with agriculture,” said Steve Anstey, who has run the Cross Keys pub for three decades.

“That’s still thriving. But it is also now a haven for people who have retired from jobs in education.”