Tourism, the way forward

Farmer Who Adapted
DON WILKINSON is still there, on the land, but the cattle he spent his life raising have gone. In their place is a new farm business: tourism.

The 58-year-old Durham farmer suddenly found his raw materials dried up in the BSE crisis. Mr Wilkinson's 300 acre-farm at Newton Ketton, near Darlington, where he had spent all his life, took the calves at a month old and fattened them until 16 months for beef.

"We were buying Holstein calves from a dairy herd, about 400 a year," he said. "We had about 600 on the farm at any one time. But when the ban came in, the prices dropped by 25 per cent, and then they had to slaughter the calves.

"We thought it would only last a few months but it went on, until we were empty. We had no stock. We were wholly dependent on livestock so there was nothing we could do and in 1997 we sold the farm.

"The whole business of the ban left such a nasty taste in your mouth. There was so much irrational behaviour and no common sense being talked." Mr Wilkinson and his wife moved 20 miles west to the edge of the Yorkshire Dales and bought a smaller farm of 30 acres, at Hutton Magna near Richmond, where the stock would not be cattle, but visitors.

They have renovated the derelict farmhouse and have begun doing bed-and- breakfast, and are in the process of converting four rundown outbuildings into holiday homes.

"We had the advantage of living on our capital to do it," Mr Wilkinson said.

He misses the life he led before. "I'm very sorry. You have to be, when you've spent your life doing it. My wife Julie was more upset than me about it as she was the one that reared all the calves. I looked after the big cattle.

"But this will provide us with a future. We're in the English Tourist Board Guide for 2000 and we've already got a rating of four diamonds for bed and breakfast under their new scheme. I've always been a person looking to pioneer new things."