B&B townies ask: Can't you turn down the sound in the farmyard?

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The Independent Online
MAGGIE JOHNSON was so proud of the pedigree Belgian Blue bull her husband had brought back from market that she had it grazing near her breakfast room, in the full gaze of the tourists she welcomes into their 16th-century farmhouse.

"What sort of a pig is that?" one of them spluttered at her over scrambled eggs and bacon. For in the farmhouses of the North this summer, the townies have truly landed.

An pounds 11m fund has enabled farmers to diversify into tourism and accommodate thousands of city-dwellers who head to the Lake District and the Yorkshire Dales for their holidays. Some 300 farms have capitalised on the money, and the consequences have ranged somewhere between the bizarre and the realms of farce.

Mrs Johnson's Belgian bull experience, at her Mallard Grange Farm near Ripon, is only one example. She also tells of the visitor who asked if the farmyard noise could be kept down during the calving season. At the other extreme, she was baffled to find one of her families speaking in whispers. Inquiries revealed they were finding country life so quiet that they thought this was part of the etiquette.

Essentially, most visitors want to see nature, but keep their hands - and their prized possessions - clean. "They want to look out and see cows and calves without stepping in cow pats," said Mrs Johnson. They consider the farmyard fine for car parking, she confirms, so long as there's no mud in it.

The kitchen is often a sticking point. In Skipton, North Yorkshire, a visitor grumbled about the oven-baked bread. He wanted the proper, white- sliced stuff, he said. At the same farm, home-made porridge was served to a guest who insisted that he ate only cornflakes.

And when it comes to campers lighting barbecues, some farmers say it's a lost cause. One Northumberland farmer has given up watching the metropolitan set's sad efforts and is resigned to doing it for them. They just bring the food.

Sometimes there's just no helping a hapless city gent, though. Dilys Hatch at Goose Green farm in Cheshire tells how one man walked to the local pub for his supper and returned terrified. "He said the `wild animals' had put their heads over the hedges and frightened him and why hadn't I warned him it would be so dark," said Mrs Hatch.

Behind the hilarities, visitors are vitally important to places such as the Kentmere valley in the Lake District. They could just rescue an isolated community of 100 that can no longer survive by sheep farming alone. "Being in the red has become a way of life for us," said Christine Hevey, whose camping barn there opened a few days ago.

Maggie Johnson believes that farmers' wives have just as much to learn as those in the city. "We all need to understand that it's about constantly exceeding people's expectations," she said.

Stay on a Farm in the North of England lists 300 locations. For a copy ring 0870 6060628. Mallard Grange Farm: 01765 620242.

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