Thursday, 4 April 2013

Yorkshire Dales - majestic scenery and innovative rural communities

A belated post after a great week in the Yorkshire Dales on holiday. The reason for the trip was to tie in with a Birthday present I bought for my husband Mike - a day of training in the fine art of pork butchery and charcuterie with Chris Wildman and his brother Nigel at Paganum Foods (www.paganum.co.uk).

We had a blindingly good week in the heart of the Dales in Malham, in sub-arctic weather conditions. But it mattered not a jot. We were literally a stone's throw from two pubs - The Buck and The Listers Arms.

If you haven't been - go. It is in the National Park and much of the land is National Trust. These factors contribute to making it picture-postcard beautiful and very well maintained.

The week started well with the final trio of Six Nations games. We were supporting Scotland and Wales - despite this misdemeanour in an English and Yorkshire rugby heartland - we were made very welcome (thanks Malham). Mike (hubby) celebrated Wales' win by drinking a gallon of beer! We also went to see the local team Wharfedale play Otley in the Yorkshire Cup on a very cold evening.

To add to the delights of Malham, we spent time with college friend Neil Heseltine - who farms the harsh climes of high ground near Malham Cove and Malham Tarn. He does this with care, great stockmanship and with cattle and sheep breeds that suit the rough upland terrain perfectly. His Belted Galloway cattle look perfectly at home and healthy in the snow covered hills and they live on the very rough and relatively low nutritional grassland associated with the uplands. The 'Belties' are very slow to mature for the beef market (4 years is typical). Neil sells his beef to Booths supermarket under their National Trust scheme. His Swaledale ewes are just as at home in their surroundings.

Talking to Neil you cannot help but be impressed by his thinking. His breed selection suits the uplands very well and gives his business - that overused term - sustainability. Sustainability in the context of farm subsidies and sustainability for his farming to continue to fit the surroundings at Top House Farm.

He and his girlfriend, Leigh, also run a fantastic bunk barn for walkers and a holiday let adjacent to their very old and historic home.

The snow hit at the end of our week's holiday - so we helped move and feed sheep with Neil. I'm not sure how much help we were, but he was very gracious in his thanks! And in putting us up when we we snowbound when due to return home.

Our penultimate day in Malhamdale (www.malhamdale.com) was on our pork charcuterie course. It was fantastic! Chris and Nigel Wildman are passionate about good food, well prepared. they come from a long family line of butchers, so tried to impart their knowledge on us rookies! We were let loose on butchering a whole pig and taught to cure meat and make sausages. The pace, content and whole experience - including walking to his farm in a blizzard - was a superb and highly recommended experience.

We will most certainly return to the beautiful, eclectic, welcoming and wonderful Malhamdale. Shame about the rugby boys!!

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