We both liked the idea of buying a farm. Finding the right place is a challenge; prices in the south are ridiculous and the threat of a new railway or road being built close by is real. As a kid from Stockton I had been on many trips around the North York Moors, whether it was across the A171 to Whitby or looking for sticklebacks at Sheeps Wash. Later on I spent many happy days out walking, achieving Duke of Edinburgh awards with friends.
We did consider properties in the Dales and Northumberland. But buying a house on the Moors, with its warmer sandstone buildings, proximity to the coast and transport links won through. We still had to find the right place of course...
At one viewing we engaged a surveyor to help with a valuation. We moved on but a couple of months later in 2010 the same surveyor called with the details of a farm we ‘would either love or hate'. Nearly six years on and the house restoration is, hopefully, sympathetic to the original and the land is clear and month by month better organised.
Before we signed on the dotted line I was well aware that hill farming was not a path paved with gold. In fact the surveyor who prepared our valuation said in disbelief ‘you don’t want to be a hill farmer do you?’ The answer in my head was ‘not solely, no’, but that knowledge of the industry still makes the conditions people consider to be normal eye opening. Instead of describing the state of the house it is probably best to say that we now enjoy central heating, clean water and damp free living. I will add that I do not miss living in the caravan we used during the renovation, although it had a shower, which was an improvement on the house!
At the end of the transaction, many phone calls and a meeting in a pub car park more akin to a spy film the place was ours. The parcel of land varies in quality from the traditional hay meadows by the River Dove to the intakes up by the moor. We quickly fenced the area immediately around the house and yard and arranged with a neighbour to allow access for his cattle to graze the lengthening show of summer grass. That was the start of a relationship with John that endures to this day, based on a great deal of back scratching and a healthy amount of banter.
I recall one sunny afternoon taking in our view of the dale. I asked John to tell me again who lived in which house, who farmed where and so on. He happily started to point out the family farms and then reached a small cottage across the valley ‘don’t know them, they’re incomers!” Smiling, I turned to him and said ‘what, like us?’ He looked at me and slowly realised I was pulling his leg.
Hopefully, as we’ve mucked in to help, worked hard on ‘the spot’ we have eroded the incomer tag a little. It is transparent to me that country folk that visit the dale from further field still regard us as incomers. I always wait for the reaction when I answer the inevitable question ‘where did you come from’ and I say ‘London’. If I had a softer skin I might take it to heart, but I also enjoy knowing that I was born further north and am thereby more northern!
[Edited version of article originally published in the Esk Valley News in October 2013.]