at one of the cross country fences.
Martin and Julie Gaitskell have drawn on their individual
expertise to diversify the business at Highfield Farm, on
the beautiful coast of the Solway Firth at Burgh-by-Sands
Running what was originally a traditional dairy farm, the
couple are capitalising on the area becoming a newly discovered
tourist destination with the recent opening of the Hadrian's
Wall footpath, which is only a stone's throw away, and
they are providing quality farmhouse bed and breakfast as
well as running a small campsite for visitors, including horse
owners, under the name of Highfield Holidays.
And Julie's lifelong experience with horses and eventing
has led to the development of a successful livery business
and now a farm ride and cross country training course intended
for use by both local equestrian enthusiasts and holidaymakers
with their own horses.
Highfield Farm in the hamlet of Boustead Hill, overlooking
the scenic Solway Firth with its wealth of wildlife, has been
in the family for almost 100 years.
The Boustead herd of pedigree Holstein Friesians was founded
by Julie's great uncle William Peel in the 19th century
and he was the first to import Canadian Holstein bloodlines
into the UK.
Julie and Martin met through Young Farmers when Martin, originally
from south Cumbria, was the county chairman. They have a six
year old son, Alastair, and two year old daughter, Freya.
They took over the farm 12 years ago but last summer, due
mainly to a general industry problem of finding suitable labour,
they sold the milking portion of the 160-cow Holstein Friesian
herd, retaining the youngstock which are coming into milk
This breather from milk production has enabled the couple
to re-examine the farming enterprise under today's CAP
changes as well as concentrating on the diversified ventures.
“Our main enterprises are the farm and Julie's
livery business,” said Martin. “We have made the
farm a one man system with the youngstock coming into milk.
I will milk about 60 cows which I think will be viable.
“After our sale at Carlisle in June 2004 we have continued
to sell newly calved heifers through the Border and Lakeland
Club sales as well as privately and now with a batch of heifers
newly calved last summer we have been selling our milk to
Dairy Crest at Aspatria.”
Martin will continue to contract rear heifers which he started
last year on the 270 acre farm. All but 50 acres is in grass
with barley, wheat and triticale being grown for home use
with the aim of being self sufficient.
The livery business came about through Julie's love
and expertise of horses. A successful competitor in eventing
for a good number of years, Julie saw the opportunity to build
extra loose boxes for livery animals in the yard next to the
house which has no access to farm vehicles or stock.
Now there are 15 loose boxes used for livery, from DIY to
full service, which can also be used by riders who want to
bring their horses on holiday.
With an increasing interest in equestrianism, most of the
liveries are taken by local people from the surrounding villages
and from Carlisle seven miles away who are attracted not only
by the facilities on the farm but also the rural rides in
the Solway area.
With the help of a Defra grant, the facilities for riders
were further developed with the building of a cross country
training course and ride around the farm's grazing,
arable and moss land which is a haven for bird and wildlife.
The farm also has an outdoor arena suitable for dressage as
well as a horse walker and all are available for hire to riders.
Julie, who is a BHSAI qualified riding instructor, gives
lessons on the farm.
“We received a grant from Cumbria Tourist Initiative
which helped us convert one of our two letting bedrooms into
an en-suite and we have plans to make a second room with en-suite,” said
Julie, who uses local produce for the hearty breakfasts and
packed lunches she provides for guests.”
The accommodation is rated with four diamonds from the English
“Since the Hadrian's Wall footpath opened which
just passes our farm gate we are getting more and more visitors
to the area which until now has been undiscovered by tourists
so we saw the opportunity to also branch into horse holidays,” she
Boustead Hill is only six miles from the western end of the
84-mile long walk. Enterprising Julie has had the brainwave
of creating humorous T shirts and car stickers based on a
character she has invented called Little Hadrian, which she
sells to guests and are also available from retail outlets
in the region. T shirts feature slogans like - 'I
came, I saw, I blistered' on the back!
The new camp site has this year attracted a wide range of
visitors from this country and from abroad and those who enjoy
walking are also free to walk around the farm ride.
Features of the farm, including the 60 acres of moss ground,
areas of old woodland, the wildlife and open access make it
ideal for the Countryside Stewardship scheme.
Martin is already intending to go into the entry level scheme
and will also be considering the higher level scheme.
“We still want to maintain a business farming but we
don't think it is sustainable living without other enterprises.
Likewise, we want our guests to enjoy all that the farm has
to offer,” said Martin.
“We want to build and consolidate the ventures we have
already started and keep our options open for the future.
We haven't got to be afraid to change. We have considered
organic farming but I think to get the benefits you need to
be able to directly market what you produce. There are a lot
of hidden costs,” said Martin.
© Copyright 2005 Jennifer
MacKenzie All Rights