One of the unexpected pleasures of running our holiday cottage has been rediscovering many of the fantastic places there are to visit in Northumberland. I’m sure we are all very familiar with often visiting attractions in other areas but not actually taking the time to remember and enjoy just what is on our very doorstep. We are now thoroughly enjoying some day trips very close to home and a recent visit to nearby Blanchland reminded me without doubt how lucky we are to have so many superb places to enjoy.
Blanchland is the prettiest of villages, and it is almost like stepping back in time, a quaint and peaceful village in the most tranquil of settings. Blanchland straddles the border between Northumberland and Durham and sits within the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Built from the remains of a 12th century abbey the village and the surrounding countryside are truly beautiful.
The drive from St Oswald’s Farm takes about 35 minutes and is a really lovely scenic route that crosses the fells to this tiny village. Once there parking is easy as there signposting to a large car park which relies on donations of £1 in an honesty box, this is definitely a clue to the laid back and relaxed atmosphere you will find here.
Blanchland (White land) got its name from the white habits worn by monks of the Premonstratensian order who founded Blanchland Abbey in 1165. Although the whole of the abbey doesn’t remain, the pretty parish church which is a Grade 1 listed building is well worth a visit.
The Lord Crewe Arms sits prominently in the ‘Square’ and is one of the oldest hostelries in the country dating back to the 12th century. It is a charming building steeped in history and with lots of features giving clues to its history and boasts the most magnificent fireplaces. This award winning hotel and restaurant are a definite must see, but it’s worth booking in advance if you wish to dine there.
We visited a lovely craft and gift shop, Jaspah Crewe, and were very tempted by the large range of handcrafted gifts, Blanchland isn’t the place for retail therapy as the only other shop is the pretty little post office which sits untouched by time.
If you’re looking for morning coffee or perhaps afternoon tea and are tempted by very large pieces of cake definitely head to The White Monk Tearooms. The tearooms are in the very grand old school building, there’s loads of tables inside and if you visit on a warm sunny day there is space outside to sit as well.
Blanchland today is entirely owned by The Lord Crewe Trustees, a charity established in 1721. The village was previously owned by the family of the Bishop’s wife, Dorothy Forster, whose nephew was General Tom Forster and co-leader of the English Jacobite army of 1715. The ghost of Tom Forster’s sister, also called Dorothy is said to haunt the Lord Crewe Arms as she waits in vain for her brother’s return from exile. Eeek!
The houses in the Square all with dark red painted doors looks uniform and neat and very pretty and so well kept. The village has been used as a set many times for films and TV series…you never know you might just bump into a famous face!
The surrounding countryside just makes you want to see more and there are many short walks, circular walks, the Blanchland Geotrail and plenty more to enjoy. Details of all the walks in the area can be found on the North Pennines AONB website. Alternatively the post office has lots of leaflets about the area and details of the walking routes.
Nearby is Derwent Reservoir which is the second largest reservoir in Northumberland. The reservoir is a popular place to fish for trout and you will also find a picnic area, bird hides and an easy access path.
In Northumberland we really are spoilt with some of the best places to visit and as we rediscover our favourites we look forward to sharing them with you. Or of course you could book a stay in Heavenfield Cottage and discover all Northumberland has to offer for yourself, we promise you won’t be disappointed! All our prices and availability can be found here.
St Oswald’s Farm is so well placed for days out and we’ve recently enjoyed putting together our guide to 60 Dazzling Day Trips all within just a 60 minute drive of Heavenfield Cottage. So whether you stay for a weekend, a week or two weeks you won’t be short of places to visit and enjoy. In fact we’re pretty sure we could list enough to keep you busy for at least a couple of months! When it comes to days out, gardens are one of our favourites and we have some absolute beauties in Northumberland, some historic, some newly created, some formal, some wild and some even show off our artistic side.
Here’s our top 5 gardens to visit!
No.1 – Alnwick Garden is magnificent at any time of year and is always developing and changing, every time we visit there is something new to enjoy! Each season is beautiful and any time of year is a joy but a visit in April brings an extra treat as Alnwick Garden boasts the largest collection of “Tai-hauku” cherry blossom outside Japan. It only blossoms for two weeks, but my goodness does it blossom and is 100% worth seeing…keep an eye on their facebook for their up to date ‘blossom watch’!
No.2 – Cragside is vast and beautiful. The many gardens, the estate drive and the house are truly incredible, we always enjoy a day at Cragside! The formal garden is laid out in three terraces and covers over three acres, it is an idyllic spot to take in the fabulous views. Within the Formal Garden you will also find The Italian Terrace and The Orchard House. The rock garden magnificent on a gigantic scale with winding paths and steps twisting and turning through the many heathers and shrubs. Cragside boasts the tallest Scots pine in the UK and at just over 131ft is the same height as ten double-decker buses stacked one on top of the other; the conifer has been confirmed as the largest of its kind by officials from the Tree Register. A trip in the Spring finds the Formal garden in full bloom and in June when the rhododendrons are flowering the Estate drive and gardens are truly staggering. Cragside doesn’t do small and understated, everything is large and oh so elegant!
No.3 – Belsay Hall Gardens are unique and span across 30 acres and lay claim to the largest collection of rhododendrons in the country. Within the Grade I listed gardens you will find the quarry garden with its very own micro-climate and therefore able to boast exotic plants. You can also enjoy the yew garden, the magnolia terrace and a Crag Wood Walk which ensure you can enjoy a visit to Belsay Hall at any time of the year.
No.4 – Bradley Gardens is a Victorian Walled Garden near Wylam, it’s small in comparison to our other favourites but perfect if you only have an hour or so to spare and are looking for a coffee and cake or a perhaps a light lunch in elegant surroundings. Bradley Gardens offers a leisurely stroll within the walled garden, a small garden shop together with a couple of boutique shops hidden within its Victorian walls. The beautiful Glasshouse Cafe is well worth a visit!
No.5 Cheeseburn Sculpture Gardens are a unique destination for contemporary art in the North East of England and we’re lucky enough to have it just 20 minutes away from us. Each summer their programme features three curated gallery exhibitions together with new sculptures, installations and performance throughout the gardens. The gardens are only open to the public a few times through the summer each year, but time it right and Cheeseburn is truly worth seeing. Check their website for open days.
We love our days out to gardens and we hope you do too! Make 2020 the year you come to Northumberland and see our gardens in all their glory!
To see details of all our 60 Dazzling Day Trips please go to our Facebook page and of course you can check all our availability and prices for a long or short stay in Heavenfield Cottage here.
As a small and rural business we know the importance of shopping local and supporting our own local economy wherever we can, however I’d never given thought to whether our own business could be classed as a ‘sustainable rural tourism business’ so a recent guest review really gave me food for thought.
Can we really boast that we are a Sustainable Rural Tourism Business?
From the onset of our journey into our new venture we wanted to create something long term, something that would enhance our area, our existing farming business and support other local businesses, and obviously we needed it to be viable. To the best of our ability we looked at the area around us and researched local demand to discover where, if any, there were gaps in the accommodation market, and we wanted to develop something that we would enjoy and more importantly appeal to our target market….the concept of our luxury 5* cottage for two was born.
Throughout the whole process it was important to us that we supported local businesses and throughout the planning and construction stages we used local tradespeople & suppliers and where possible, we did a lot of the work ourselves.
We created our holiday cottage to be all we’d hoped and envisaged, to be long term, to be viable, to enhance our area and most importantly to provide an excellent guest experience and to create a business that would continue to support & develop our relationship with other local businesses.
The most obvious way we support our fellow businesses is through the produce we provide in our welcome hampers and this is where buying locally and thereby supporting our own rural economy comes into its own! I like to vary the hampers depending on what I can get, whilst still always trying to be mindful of what our guests might enjoy, the reason for their stay and the time of year.
Cheese from Northumberland Cheese Company which I collect from the local Farmers’ Market, along with any bread I might need and of course we provide locally produced milk.
Jams and chutneys are bought from Northumbria Preserves. Not only are they lovely, but the owner Brian makes them all himself at his kitchen table. His mission to create artisan preserves made as much as possible from home grown and locally sourced produce, and apart from growing a lot of his own produce in season, he also exchanges and receives from other allotment and local small business sources. I’ve learnt that it’s no good asking Brian for strawberry jam in February….. and really, I think that’s how it should be!
Brian can be found at various Farmers’ Markets and is always on hand with useful advice on what food to pair with what chutney. My favourite is undoubtedly his Chilli Jam, which he told me to pair with ice cream…I’ll let you know!
Scones, birthday cakes, mince pies, sloe gin, lemonade, lavender shortbread are all homemade, and we pick the sloes on the farm and lavender is from our own garden!
When I need Chocolates Truffles they are from Alis’ Ark in Stocksfield, they are carefully and beautifully handmade and are exquisite and the chocolate bars I provide are from North Chocolates. These businesses are both a one lady army creating at her own kitchen table.
When we first welcomed our guests to St Oswald’s Farm our free range eggs for the welcome hampers were bought from a local village but we now pleased to have our own chickens. They were rescue hens who arrived with us in a bit of a state but who are now enjoying a happy outdoor life. We’re delighted to be able to provide our guests with the freshest of our own farm eggs.
Sprays of flowers are from our own garden, and this year I’ll be growing more to try to ensure I have flowers all year round.
Logs for the wood burning stove are from fallen trees on the farm which are seasoned for use.
Each week our laundry goes to The Laundry Gallery in our local town of Hexham who provide a fantastic and professional service…I would lose my sanity if I had to iron superking bedding each week…they are my heroes!
We’re passionate about not only promoting our own business but about the whole visitor experience and actively promote and shout about the whole of Northumberland and the North East. We want our guests and all the visitors to our region to know just how much we have here, how much there is to see and do, and encourage those all important return trips!
Of course I can’t look at our business here at St Oswald’s Farm without mentioning, well…the farm! We are proud and passionate about where we live and understand the importance of retaining and enhancing what is here, our species rich ‘Heavenfield’ hay meadow, the vallum that runs alongside Hadrian’s Wall, the grasses, plants, hedgerows, trees, stone walling, it all makes St Oswald’s what it is. In 2018 we joined an Environmental Stewardship Scheme and the scheme allows us to help keep, preserve and improve those all important areas and to sustain those enhancements, and in turn allowing everyone to continue to enjoy some of our best loved habitats.
So, are we a sustainable rural tourism business?
do we strengthen and support the culture and character of our community?
do we strengthen and support our landscape and habitats?
do we help to support our rural economy?
do we run a tourism business which will be viable in the long term?
do we look to provide an outstanding holiday and guest experience?
You know what… I think we do!
If you’d like to stay with us here at St Oswald’s Farm and experience all Northumberland and the North East has to offer then please go to our website. We’d be delighted to welcome you here, we really would!
It’s March and lambing time is upon us again here at St Oswald’s Farm, so what is lambing time all about and what’s it really like?
Although I’m a farmer’s daughter, I had little to no knowledge of sheep and of lambing time, dairy cows were more my area of expertise so marrying a sheep farmer also meant I had much to learn in my new role and I discovered I had little idea of what lambing was all about. I knew people said it was hard work, but farming is, so what could be so hard about sheep giving birth and all the lambs running off into the fields to frolic and skip! I really couldn’t understand what the fuss could be about. I was in for a bit of a shock!
Lambing for us symbolises a new year, new beginnings, new life and is the start of our farming year. Even long before March arrives we’re discussing when tups go out and in turn what date LAMBING will begin.
Conversation then turns to how fast the ewes have been tupped and which week will probably be the busiest when lambing time arrives, and ultimately which week I need to take off work.
The ewes are scanned in January and this tells us which ewes are carrying a single lamb, a pair or a triplet or in some cases more than that. During scanning the ewes are marked on their side, blue dot for a single lamb, red dot for a pair and an orange line for a triplet…I discovered this was something I would need to know when March arrived each year.
Ideally ewes would all give birth without any difficulties, they wouldn’t have lambs that are coming backwards, they wouldn’t have lambs not presenting with front feet first, they wouldn’t have dead lambs, they wouldn’t have lambs too big to deliver. They wouldn’t give up half way through delivery to just push a head out and decide they can’t be bothered any more. They wouldn’t give birth and then shoot off to an entirely different part of the shed and deny all knowledge that any lamb in that shed is theirs, they wouldn’t feel they only want one lamb even though they had given birth to two or even three and then for no apparent reason decide they fancy licking someone else’s lambs so that lamb ends up unwanted by their own mother. They wouldn’t think that food is more important than their offspring and trample over their lambs to get to their food bowl, they wouldn’t lie on top of their lamb and suffocate them. I had not anticipated that sheep aren’t always natural mothers and the work and torment this creates and just occasionally the heartbreak it brings….I’ve had to toughen up!
Any preconceptions I had quickly made way for reality when I learnt what lambing time entailed. My first experience of a lamb being born wasn’t a great one and it is a moment I won’t ever forget. It was before we were married and I’d called at the farm to see how it was going. John was on hands and knees lambing a ewe who was pair marked, so I was pretty sure I was going to be witness to a couple of lovely pearly white lambs being born. However despite John’s best efforts both lambs were dead, there was nothing he could do. I just watched silently. The mother stood up and turned around to greet her new offspring and John just said to her ‘I’m sorry lass’. It seems a cruel flaw in nature that some ewes with perfectly healthy lambs couldn’t give a damn about their new arrivals but some like this ewe are good mothers and she kept nudging her dead lambs and trying to get them to stand up and licked them for all her worth. I was used to death, I’d grown up on a farm but this still really affected me. The poor dead lambs who would never play in the fields, the lambless new mother and John, sorry for her but quietly accepting that these things just happen.
The one blessing of being very busy at lambing time is that there can be a lot of sheep lambing all at the same time so you are quickly taken from your current thoughts and have to move on to the next situation. A ewe in the next pen quickly spits out a pair of lambs and they need to have their navels iodined & dosed and be penned to ensure the mother and lambs are mothered up properly. Another ewe has decided she doesn’t like one of her lambs and so you’re on your hands and knees holding her to prevent her knocking the lamb so that the lamb can feed. Another ewe is about to lamb but you notice it’s a back foot or a tail coming first, so she’s going to need assistance. You spot a lamb in another pen who doesn’t look well, it may just be cold and need some time under the heat lamp or maybe the mother isn’t milking well and doesn’t have enough to support her lambs. You’re always on the look out for something.
If lambs aren’t getting the milk they need from their mothers or a mother dies and leaves her lambs , those lambs find themselves in the pet pen and need to be bottle fed every few hours, believe me when I tell you this is only fun the first few times you do it! You have the eager beavers who would glug anything down in vast quantities, you have those quiet stand at the back types who won’t suck anything, you have the ones who want to drink but can’t master the art of sucking and that we aptly call ‘donnard’, and then there’s the ones who persistently find an escape route out of the pen and you spend your day putting them back into the pen from wherever they have roamed.
The pet pen can however be a dangerous place. The lambs can often be in the pen for a good while until a new mother can be found and you find yourself talking to them and becoming attached to them, but I’ve learnt from experience not to get to attached and not to name them. My mind goes back to ‘Jeremy’ who I nurtured and fed and then when we realised he was blind it just made me love him more. But as well as blindness Jeremy had other ailments and he lived only a few weeks, needless to say, I cried! John was right best not to name them.
Ewes that have lost lambs will be given others to ‘adopt’, however this isn’t as simple as it may sound. Ewes rely on smell to identify their own lambs and if a lamb doesn’t smell right she generally won’t want to know. The adoption process can take days or even weeks and ewes and lambs are left together with the ewe restrained so that she can’t harm the lamb and the lamb in turn takes on the smell of the ewe in the hope she will accept it as her own…it doesn’t always work.
A much better way if your timing is right, is that a single lamb is being born at the same time as a triplet so that the 3rd lamb can be given to ewe with the single so that both ewes end up with a pair of lambs each..another flaw in nature, ewes only have two teats and can therefore generally only provide for two lambs adequately.
A ewe and her lambs stay in an individual pen for a couple of days, during which time they are pair marked, that’s the numbers on their sides that you will see, and they are also ringed, some tup lambs are castrated and all have their tails ringed to shorten them and prevent future parasitic problems (fly strike). Mothers and offspring are then moved into a slightly larger pens of 5 or 6 ewes with lambs to ensure they are finding each other, or mothered up properly, and all still feeding adequately before being put out into the fields.
Feeding time for all the pens is twice a day and this is hugely time consuming, countless feed bowls and water buckets to fill, hay nets and hecks to replenish, clean straw for all the pens all the time and water buckets to fill again because they’ve knocked it over or decided to poo in their water!
Lambing time is undoubtedly hard work, and is hugely affected by the weather, but it gets over, although that’s probably easy for me to say because it isn’t me that it affects most. I only do days in the lambing shed and work it between school runs, my day job, changeover days in the holiday cottage and mealtimes. I ensure there’s a full fridge, meals on the table and plenty of flapjack and cake to keep energy levels up. John is out there for at least 18 hours every day and sleep is somewhat of a luxury for him, however I know he wouldn’t have it any other way, he loves what he does and that includes lambing time, with all that it may bring!
John and I are both passionate about where we live and the life we have here at St Oswald’s Farm. We love welcoming our guests here and really don’t mind answering questions, explaining what’s happening on the farm and why. We are so fortunate to live in this beautiful spot on top of Hadrian’s Wall , we love the life it allows us to have, we love the landscape, the views, the scenery and most importantly we absolutely love to share it with our guests.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this small insight into part of our farming life and please do feel free to call in anytime in late March/early April , you’ll be very welcome to feed the pet pen!