On a trip to the North York Moors, Mark Bibby Jackson encounters in the Farmhouse a wonderful conversion with breathtaking views and great food that will eventually lead to Switzerland.
Reversing my car back down the private road I had just driven, I curse for not taking note of the telephone number for the Farmhouse where I am booked to stay. A wheelie bin becomes collateral damage in my attempts to navigate a three-point turn, as I curse everything and nothing. The lack of internet coverage – hadn’t I wanted to get away from it all? –, which prevents my operating Google Maps, does not help my mood.
Eventually, I admit defeat and ask directions from a passing local, as if Sat Navs and GPS had yet to be invented; only to discovery that the Farmhouse I am seeking lies beyond the gate from which I had just painstakingly reversed. After thanking her, and silently cursing my own stupidity, I discover that my turning skills have not improved with practice, finally to pass through the forbidden gate. In front of me unfolds the most spectacular view across the neighbouring valley – more Last of the Summer Wine than Wuthering Heights, and I know I will enjoy my stay even before the dogs bark their welcome.
Chris and Clare Carr moved to Goathland thirty years ago, before the North Yorkshire village achieved fame as the setting for the TV series Heartbeat and Nick Berry was charming his way to the nation’s heart. At that time the farmhouse was a mere cottage with a few out houses. An architect by profession, Chris had a vision for the place that extended beyond the traditional B&B. Buying up neighbouring fields, he planted orchards and hedges and started farming Aberdeen Angus. The couple ploughed all the money they earned elsewhere through restoring other cottages, into the place. When a few years ago they gave up farming, they discovered they had not made a solitary penny from working the land, indeed their first year’s profit came when they leased their fields to other farmers for grazing.
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Their tale in part explains why farming is dying in this part of the world, with the next generation deciding that the back operations, hip replacements and stooped backs that come with the job, are just not worth the lack of financial recompense. Their own children help them run the B&B and holiday cottages.
All this I learn – as well as how to hunt deer in Switzerland, but more of that later – over dinner on our second night. For, both Chris and Clare prove entertaining hosts over a dressed crab starter, fish pie and apple crumble – all prepared with fresh and local produce.
While you could argue the couple have failed to make their mark as farmers, the success of The Farmhouse is undisputed. The attention to detail, from the choice of paintings and furnishings to the L’Occitaine toiletries, is faultless. Seldom, if ever, have I stayed in a more comfortable and well-kept place. And, especially from my Pigeon Loft, the sweeping views across the farmland over the moors and dales are amazing.
It is over these fields that I venture the first evening in pursuit of Birch Hall Inn, one of the smallest, and finest, pubs in the area. Clare provides me with directions and warns that two members of the US marines staying here got lost on their pre-breakfast run – three days running. As I find first the river that flows at the bottom of their farm, and then pub – albeit closed – with little mishap, I fear for the navigational skills of the American military. Perhaps they are only all at sea on land.
Exuding an energy you seldom find in someone half his age, Chris explains his plans for the farm, which include a new contemporary glass fronted dining room, a functions barn for groups of 15 to 75 people, where they will run small events, and the conversion of a very old and remote field barn as a rather special retreat, accessible only by his own four-wheel-drive.
“We see ourselves as a destination, that will hopefully appeal to all age groups, but with a particular emphasis on couples and the 40+ group that are looking for that special place,” he explains.
As if this is not sufficient for a couple you might forgive to be looking forward to a peaceful retirement, Chris and Clare recently bought some land in Switzerland where they opened Chalet Charr, a small chalet which, judging from the photos Chris shows me, is at the tip of the top end of contemporary Alpine accommodation.
“We would like to be targeting discerning guests from the same 40+ age group, who have perhaps already experienced the big commercial ski resorts and who are looking for that special ‘secret’ place that satisfies the soul, if not the demands of the party-goer,” Chris says, adding that the chalet is available to individuals as well as to groups of four to eight people.
And don’t be put off if you cannot yet ski, for the couple only took to the slopes themselves in their 50s.
Our two-night stay complete, we depart with invitations to join them in Switzerland, although perhaps not on the piste. Invigorated and enthused, it’s now time to hit the road once more, hopefully this time without reversing into some wheelie bins.
The Farmhouse Photo Gallery
Orchard Farm, Goathland, Whitby, YO22 5JX
T: 01947 896391 | E: [email protected]
Bed and breakfast at The Farmhouse ranges from £115 for a room to £135 for the Pigeon Loft. Cottages are available from £595 for the week, or £395 for three nights. Supper costs £25 for three courses and includes a complimentary glass of wine.