Day 4 – What’s going on up the hill?

Anyone that thinks it’s a good idea to open a Farm Shop on the top of a hill in the middle of nowhere must be mad. Well, that probably sums us up and whilst we believed that our produce was good, we did have to work hard to put Broom House farm on the map. “Hidden gem” and “off the beaten track” still feature so often in descriptions of the farm shop – but perhaps our location is as much of a blessing as a curse and we love the fact that we hear many of you referring to us as “just up at the farm” when we overhear you on the mobile to your family and friends.

Our existing Christmas Tree diversification gave us a good start, we re-located this operation from our original farm steading at Langley House Farmon the A691 when we moved up to Broom House in 2000.  This also gave us a good introduction to the public and how the customer is always right!  Having decided to start doing Educational Farm Visits I took a short accreditation course in Farm Education in 2003 and whilst on this got talking to a farmer from the midlands who had had great success with a maize maze.  On arriving home I mentioned this to Mark, who immediately got enthused and before we knew it Durham’s first maze maize, in the shape of a space rocket was created.  It was hard work growing maize on heavy clay at 800 feet and even harder work marking out the paths, but the sun shone and the maize grew and we had 6 weeks of family fun during the summer of 2004 and then again in 2005, this time with a tractor design.  The aerial photos (pre drone-age!) taken by a neighbour with a light aircraft were great and made the front page of the local newspapers.  A team of students delivered leaflets to every single primary school in Durham in the last week of the summer term, this worked well and together with 20 yellow AA direction signs (who remembers these?) Broom House was firmly on the map.   Families came flocking to the farm, and that really helped to launch the business! We realised that people came as much to see the pigs and hens as the maze and that the working livestock farm as a destination in itself was important piece of the jigsaw.  The maize maze became impossible to grow successfully once we had turned organic, this led us to dream up a new attraction: The Forest Adventure.  More about that in due course.  Soon we managed to get planning permission for brown tourist signs and for an advertising trailer in a field by the A691 at Kaysburn.  ABERDEEN ANGUS BEEF shouted the sign – and people couldn’t resist!  “Left at the roundabout and left again” said the sign!  It didn’t say that it’s another 2 plus miles up a steep and narrow hill…we wouldn’t want to put anyone off would we!

Winter days and especially snow can be a big blow to business. At first the drive itself put people off in the winter months, as it was muddy and full of potholes, so we put down concrete sleepers, which have been brilliant.  Being well above the snowline we have to work hard to keep the road open, only closing for one Saturday ever – during the Beast from the East when we just could not clear the drifts before they blew back in.  Now we have a snow plough and a gritting machine and we keep the road to Witton Gilbert clear, but it’s a thankless task on an icy cold morning.