Galloping ahead with North Gill farm renovation
A new livery yard just outside Lartington which offers riding across the moorland has recently opened for business. Reporter Wendy Short paid a visit to speak to owner Debbie Blenkiron.
LIKE many animal enthusiasts, Debbie Blenkiron’s main focus was on settling in her menagerie, when she and her family moved to North Gill Farm, just outside Lartington, in March of this year.
An impressive block of Lodden stables has been installed in one of the farm buildings, and there is also a turn-out barn, as well as several fields available for grazing on the 80-acre holding. Meanwhile, the Blenkirons are living in a static caravan on site, while the farmhouse, which has been unoccupied for more than 30 years, is being renovated.
Many readers will be familiar with the Blenkiron name, as the family runs John Blenkiron and Sons funeral directors, which has premises in Barnard Castle and Richmond. Debbie is married to James Blenkiron, and the couple has two children: Thomas, 12, and eight-year-old Charlotte.
Lartington Livery offers both DIY and assisted livery, along with a service that is growing in popularity, says Mrs Blenkiron.
“A friend who lives in the south of England asked whether I was planning to offer retirement livery,” she explains.
“It wasn’t something that I had previously heard of, but it made perfect sense. Many people are in a position where they need to retire their horses, but do not want to sell them on or put them out on loan.
“They may have bought a new competition animal, for example, but then find themselves short of space to keep their retired horse.
“I thought that retirement livery was an excellent idea; the service would probably appeal to me if I did not have my own land and stables.”
She added: “I would look after a retired horse as if it were my own and it can be turned out, whether outside, or in the barn, throughout the year, depending on the owner’s requirements.
“For livery horses that can be ridden, there are paths that cross the moor, a circular route through the village and a bridlepath which follows the old railway line.”
The covered turn-out barn has a carpet fibre surface, which Debbie has been told can be used outdoors, if required. As well as being ideal for allowing horses to exercise in bad weather, it has also been booked by a number of people who have used it to train their dogs. The family’s own “pack” includes two cocker spaniels and a lurcher.
“Our young lurcher is brilliant off lead on the beach, but at the moment he cannot be trusted to run loose in the countryside,” she says.
“I have been practising recall with him and have been using the barn to keep him contained. I thought that other dog owners might like to use this facility and I have received several bookings, since I posted the service on my business Facebook page.
“The barn could have a variety of other uses and I am open to ideas about the potential for hiring it out.”
The Blenkirons moved to Lartington from Hudswell near Richmond, bringing with them two (now outgrown) children’s ponies. Debbie’s own two horses also made the move. She has an ex-racehorse mare, which is now retired, and an Irish Draught cross cob gelding, and the children also have a pair of new cobs.
In recent months, looking after the children and the house renovation project have taken up most of Mrs Blenkiron’s free time, but in the past she has taken part in endurance rides, show jumping and dressage.
“I have ridden horses all my life and took my riding instructor’s qualification at Bishop Burton College in East Yorkshire,” she says.
“I went on to work in event yards and had a job with racehorses before becoming a BT telephone engineer. I have also worked in the records office for the police force.”
The family has kept a small number of sheep for several years, in order to graze the pony paddocks, but moving to the farm has inspired them to take up sheep breeding.
“We would have liked to have bought some Swiss Valais, but they are very expensive, so instead we have acquired a couple of grey-faced Dartmoor ewes, which are very attractive and look a bit like teddy bears.
“The idea is to build up the flock, and possibly take our best sheep to some of the local shows next year. We also keep a flock of free-range hens and sell their eggs from the farm gate.”
The family has enjoyed an unusually hot summer in the static caravan and the winter ahead may seem unappealing, but Mrs Blenkiron is determined that it will be their last.
The farmhouse is undergoing a complete renovation with the aim of being made habitable early next autumn. She has extensively researched the history of the site, but to date has found little recorded information.
The North Gill farmhouse renovation is a major project and the largest that the family has ever undertaken, she comments.
“One exciting find was an old well, which the builders have uncovered,” she says.
“If we had built over the top of its entrance, it would have been lost forever, so we are going to make it into a feature; it will have back- lighting and a glass cover over the opening.
“The builders have measured its depth down to about 16 feet, without finding the base. It hasn’t filled with water yet, but an overflow pipe has been installed, just in case it causes a problem in the future. We would like to find out more about the history of North Gill; apparently Winston Churchill once had coffee in the farmhouse garden when he was visiting the nearby army ranges, although that story has not been substantiated.
“We have also heard that one former family used to make butter in the back room, but to date we have found few records of the property and we cannot even establish the exact date when it was built.
“We love living here; the views are fantastic and the house will be very cosy, once it is finished.
“I am really looking forward to moving in and to getting the livery yard up and running,” she says.”
Contact Mrs Blenkiron at Lartington Livery by email: firstname.lastname@example.org.