Down on a Victorian farm - a home grown visitor attraction on the Furness peninsula
PUBLISHED: 00:35 05 July 2013
The Victorian Farm was popular viewing on BBC, but one couple are turning traditional methods into a tourist attraction. Mike Glover reports
Six years of blood, sweat and even a few tears have enabled Charlotte and Alex Sharphouse to open up Old Hall Farm in Lancashire’s Furness peninsula as a year-round tourist attraction.
When they bought the 90-acre traditional Lakeland farm, at Bouth near Newby Bridge, it was derelict. The farmhouse had been abandoned and the land was neglected. The first job was to make the place habitable.
‘There wasn’t a door that wasn’t off its hinges or a gate that wasn’t held up by string or a roof that was weather-proof,’ said Charlotte.
But this passionate, dynamic couple had a set of skills that made them uniquely equipped to take on such a daunting task.
Charlotte is operations director of the Cartmel Sticky Toffee Pudding Company, where she has been for 13 years, seeing it grow from a cottage industry into to a major player with a £2.2million turnover.
Alex is an agricultural contractor with a passion for steam and he is responsible for engine and track maintenance at Lakeside and Haverthwaite Railway. Remarkably, the couple have maintained these full-time jobs while building Old Hall Farm in the way they imagined.
‘Our dream is to make such a success of farming sustainably that it will enable us to farm full-time and go against the trend of where a husband or wife have to find work elsewhere to support the core farm,’ said Charlotte.
Opening to the public means they can employ staff who will share the farming burden until such a time that they can give up their day jobs. ‘Alex always had a collection of traditional tractors and steam engines, and we always wanted a farm that enabled us to use his kit.’
The couple received planning permission from Lake District National Park Authority, not without a fight, back in October last year. Since then it has been full-steam ahead to get the farm ready for visitors.
What farming activities they see, depends on the time of year and the weather but from the car park, there is a series of standing core exhibits, each with its own fascinating story.
First off is the Chicken Shed tearoom. This is housed in a Victorian cabin that was surplus to requirements at Haverthwaite railway. Alex restored it with a view to housing the farm chickens in it.
Charlotte thought it was too good for that and with a lick of paint and modern equipment it is now a state-of-the-art tearoom. Likewise there is a farm produce shop, selling cheese, butter, milk, cream, meat and vegetables from the farm.
Here an important distinction has to be made. The farm demonstrates all the traditional methods of producing food, but 21st century hygiene laws mean modern equipment has been installed to process food for human consumption.
Two undoubted star attractions are bound to be shire horses: Troy who stands at 19.2 hands and weighs three-quarters of a ton, and his little partner, 18.3 hand tall Ben.
Most days they will be transporting muck for spreading, bringing in cut hay, harrowing and rolling the fields or other heavy tasks.
But during their breaks they will be on show to the public and the subject of talks. Across the yard are steam-driven forges and a saw-bench giving demonstrations and a shed housing steam ploughing engines, ploughs, water-carts, live-in vans, threshing machines and a host of horse-drawn implements.
There will also be videos that feature the work of the farm, so visitors can catch all activities out of season.
‘Alex is absolutely passionate about showing people how all these traditional machines work, rather than being housed in a museum,’ said Charlotte.
Other animal attractions include the herd of Herefords, for beef, and Jerseys, for milk, Gloucester Old Spot and Saddleback pigs in traditional pens, and rescue hens and ducks running free.
If the attraction takes off well-enough for the Sharphouses to give it their full-time attention, Charlotte wants to expand the traditional farm-grown food brand so it can be bought in shops.
Although these may be some way off, it would be foolhardy to bet against this dynamic duo putting it into practice.
How to find the farm
Old Hall Farm is open daily from 10am to 5pm until November 3 and during the winter it will open at weekends only, 10 to 4pm. Tickets cost £7.50 for an adult, children 5-15 £5, under-5s free. Family tickets cost £20. Well-behaved dogs on leads are welcome. The farm has a web-site: www.oldhallfarmbouth.com and Charlotte recommends potential visitors check what activities are being carried out on the day. The farm is off the A590 between Newby Bridge and Ulverston. Satnav users: LA12 8JA. Tel: 01229 861993.