Low Sizergh Farm on the edge of the Lake District prepares for Christmas
PUBLISHED: 00:00 04 December 2019
Christmas is a busy time at the National Trust's Low Sizergh Farm and the family who farm the land know they are a tradition for many other people.
Christmas started a long time ago for the Park family - they know they have an important role to play in the festive traditions of lots of other people.
Marjorie and John have been at the 341-acre Low Sizergh Farm since 1980 and now their son Richard and his wife Judith run the farm. Richard's sister Alison looks after the farm shop and café where people can find farm grown organic produce and high-quality food from other local producers. A third generation is also involved as Richard and Judith's son Matthew farms with them and Alison's son Joe is part of the kitchen team in the café.
There has been a farm on the site, providing food for the estate, since the 13th century. Today, there are 200 sheep and 170 cows and the latter's organic milk is sent to a cooperative and made into ice-cream and cheese. Raw, organic milk is also available from a vending machine.
The 1,600-acre Sizergh estate has been in the hands of the Strickland family, for more than 700 years. In 1950, they gifted the estate, which includes the family home, Sizergh Castle, and three farms, to the National Trust.
Food defines the seasons on a farm and Alison says Christmas preparations began in the autumn. Apples from the orchard were made into spiced apple chutney and damsons were turned into jam, damson cheese and pickled and put into sausage rolls. Alison says the damson cheese, a set jelly, tastes divine with a deeply flavoured hard cheese on a festive cheeseboard. They also made mincemeat, for mince pies and for sale in the shop, which this year includes mulled gin by local spirit-maker, Shellys Drinks, due to a fortuitous over-order last year.
The farm is next to the A591, taking visitors to the Lake District, and Alison adds: 'At this time of year people like to use local ingredients to make celebration meals that bit more special. I think the farm shop, friendly staff and its setting, creates a bit of seasonal magic.
'It's lovely to have become part of our customers' holiday tradition. People pick up their orders and turkey on the way to relatives. Our turkeys come from Yorkshire, where they are raised outdoors on a diet of fresh herbs and grass, making them award winning top turkeys. One year a couple walked for many miles through deep snow to collect theirs. Fortunately, my dad was on hand to take them, and their turkey, home again.
'Cheese is one of the best things about Christmas food, and we are known for our splendid cheese counter. Chris Sandham, a long-standing and much respected Lancashire cheesemaker, makes our own Kendal Creamy from our organic milk. It is always worth knowing where the milk has come from as milk from cows grazed on the fells in this area makes quite a different cheese from that made from cows grazing on the Solway, for instance.'
When the family do stop for Christmas, they have some traditions of their own to be followed. 'When I was little there was an agonising wait before we could open our presents,' Alison adds. 'Jobs like milking the cows, sorting out their feed and bedding had to be done first. Now, my brother admits that milking the cows on Christmas Day is actually quite a pleasure, even at 4.30am. The road is quiet and as long as there are no animal ailments, frozen pipes or machine breakdowns to sort, and the essential jobs are done, then it's into the farmhouse for a big breakfast.
'On Boxing Day there's a yew tree on the Sizergh estate that dates from Roman times that we like to visit. When the kids were little they were not always up for a walk, but when we would leave the path and head into the wood to seek it out, everyone became quiet. Its girth alone, which is about 10 meters, silenced any remaining chuntering and urged us to join hands around its trunk.'
The family regard the period between Christmas and New Year as down time. As long as "nowt dees or takes any 'arm", things are taken a bit easy on the farm says Alison and duties are shared out. Richard and Judith's daughters Hannah and Emily are assigned jobs if needed and Paul Seward, who has worked on the farm since he was 16-years-old, is integral to day-to-day life. His long service was recognised with an award from the Westmorland Agricultural Society.
Low Sizergh's farm shop, café and trail is open every day except Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Year's Day. For opening times and other information, including details of the Christmas food orders visit lowsizerghbarn.co.uk.