Wensleydale estate is reaching out to the public

Bridget Thornton-Berry feeds one of the llamas, big attractions at Swinithwaite.  Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe
Bridget Thornton-Berry feeds one of the llamas, big attractions at Swinithwaite. Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe

‘Turn right at the llamas’ may not be a phrase often used in UK farming circles but Beltie and Ishca are a useful geographic reference point for one of Wensleydale’s most recently established attractions.

Berry’s Farm Shop opened five years ago at Swinithwaite near Leyburn. It’s now the front of house, complete with llamas, to an estate that runs from Penhill to lush grassland next to the River Ure and is owned by husband and wife Adrian and Bridget Thornton-Berry, with Bridget at the helm of the farming operation.

“I’m the farmer with cattle, sheep and pigs. It’s a working estate that my grandfather-in-law Trevor Thornton Berry (at that stage not hyphenated) purchased in 1928. He planted a lot of the woodland particularly beech and a number of those trees have played their part in the farm shop and café as they have been used as its framework. We received an award for the first beech-framed building and opened for business in April 2012.

“I learned about farming from my father-in-law Humphrey when Adrian and I moved here 29 years ago. My mother always had animals wherever we lived and I can get really excited about them in what is now a combined interest of the farm, farm shop and café. We have a flock of 240 mostly Suffolk X Swaledales; a herd of 15 South Devon breeding cows; currently nine Highland cattle that we’ve taken on this year; and we had three Mangalitsa sows. At present we just have one.”

Bridget is public-facing as a host of the estate’s farm walks and she feels there is an important message in the experience she and her team at Swinithwaite provide.

“People love coming to a working farm and I really enjoy the farm tours that we make a point of undertaking. I think that’s one of the reasons why we’re here because it’s important that people see sheep and cattle in the fields and understand that if they don’t support British farmers then there won’t be lambs and calves.

“Children get so much out of seeing animals and walking in the countryside. It’s critical that we educate them. We held an Open Farm Sunday for the second time this year which was a great success.”

While playing down her own role with the farm shop and café, Bridget believes the future lies in her team.

“The only good thing about me is that I’m free and I’m here seven days a week. Our visitors love the story that we make everything on site. We have our own supply of beef, pork and lamb. The South Devon beef is extremely tasty and we’re hoping that Highland beef will be a great addition.

“Our pork from our Mangalitsa sow is sold as Goldilocks pork. We make our own soups, pies, shortbread and the rest. We have all the talents in the team including marketing, maintenance, catering and retail. We’re just looking for the right person to manage it all. We run events like our steak nights during the winter that are proving very popular.”

Playing to her own strengths and concentrating on the aspects that tie-in the farm to the farm shop and café are proving to be the unique aspect of Berry’s. Bridget’s ‘other’ team includes Elspeth the Manx Loaghtan sheep that follows her on guided tours, Rolo the mini Shetland pony, Doris the pygmy goat, Charlie the cockerel, and Tiger and Traffic the Kune Kune pigs.

“I confess that personally I can’t get over excited about menus but I love the customer aspect of everything we do and adding cattle such as the Highlands with their different hooves to any other breed and long history is where I can get really excited.”

The Swinithwaite Estate runs to 1,600 acres with extensive woodland managed by Adrian. There is a wonderful herb rich meadow walk and a wildflower meadow that has been sown. The Prince of Wales visited Berry’s Farm Shop last year. The cellar in the farmhouse was once used as a scene in the James Herriot TV series All Creatures Great & Small.