Gold award which was decades in the making for Teesdale farming family
By Nicky Carter - Reporter
A DALE family who scooped a regional tourism award for their popular holiday park say if the business hadn’t diversified decades ago they wouldn’t have been able to continue farming.
In the early 1980s, Muriel and Keith Lamb decided to offer caravan pitches at their 200 acre farm, Doe Park, on the outskirts of Cotherstone, in what was one of the first schemes of its kind in the region.
It wasn’t an easy, straightforward path, but it did lead to romance and, more recently, a gold in the North East Tourism Awards in the holiday village of the year section for their son and daughter-in-law, Stephen and Alison Lamb, who now run the farm and caravan holiday park.
Mrs Lamb said: “If they (Muriel and Keith Lamb) hadn’t diversified all those years ago we wouldn’t be farming here as a family now.
“At the time there was a five pitch site at Thwaite Hall nearby, which was under the umbrella of the Caravan Club. But when the hall was sold the new owners didn’t wish to continue.
“It was Muriel who really pushed forward to have a caravan site all those years year. She saw the opportunity and pushed hard to get it.”
Back then, diversification on farms into tourism was in its infancy and it was long before any national structure or grants were put in place.
Mr Lamb said: “I suppose at the time we were forging the way. It wasn’t really heard of back then. And in some respects it was harder for them getting it up and running.
“I remember dad had a time of it, but he worked closely with the council at the time.
“I think people thought they were going to lose all the green fields in the area. It was such an unusual thing that when it came up in council for permission, all the councillors wanted to see for themselves. So they came for a site visit and all of them turned up at the farm in a bus.”
Fortunately permission was granted to allow a five pitch, certified location, caravan site on the farm. Since then it has gone from strength to strength and with Doe Park now provides 70 pitches for caravans from March through to October, with more than 80 per cent of their guests becoming repeat visitors.
And Mrs Lamb includes herself as a repeat visitor. She first set eyes on Doe Park as a visitor with her family and their caravan in the early 1980s.
She said: “Friends of my parents had told them about this lovely farm where we could take the caravan. So we came up and fell in love with the area and the farm. Keith would show us around the farm and let us help feed the lambs and calves.”
She and her family continued to visit every year, with Alison returning solo during summer holidays from school and later from university when she helped out on the farm with hay making and lambing.
And 16 years ago she and Stephen married and they have been working alongside each other ever since on the farm and holiday park.
Nights out are quite rare for the couple, who manage to escape the confines of the farm about seven or eight times a year.
However, they were unable to attend the glitzy awards ceremony in Newcastle last month due to the imminent arrival of a calf.
Mr Lamb said: “We’ve only got 20 cows now, but all the calves seemed to come at once. There should only be a couple left now.”
The couple have no plans to increase the size of the holiday park, which they feel is the perfect size now.
Mrs Lamb added: “I think it’s just right.
“People who visit love the feel of and the friendliness of it. I think if we went any bigger we would lose that.
“But we’re really made up to have won the award. It really makes us proud,” she added.