Holiday let adds new string to dale farmers' bow
Post-Brexit uncertainty was the main driver for the Mallon family’s decision to develop a holiday cottage on the farm near Middleton-in-Teesdale. Wendy Short took a tour of the property.
DAVID Mallon will be known to many Teesdale livestock keepers due to his passion for breeding high quality pedigree Swaledale sheep and for his store cattle, which usually make good prices at the local auction marts. However, there has been a well-documented decline in agricultural profitability and the extended family’s decision to sell a farm cottage that was formerly occupied by his late grandfather was the catalyst which prompted the recent change.
The Kelton property was purchased last autumn by a farming partnership which includes David, his wife Mandy and his uncle and aunt, Simon and Shirley Bentley.
They briefly considered turning the cottage into a long-term residential let but its isolation convinced them that a holiday rental would be a better option. An initial visit by a Visit Durham tourism representative provided a valuable source of information and the family learned of the shortage of high quality self-catering accommodation in the region.
The building had full residential planning permission and there was no requirement to change its status to holiday accommodation, however, consent was sought for an additional window and patio door.
Mr Mallon says: “We had several quotations for drawing up the paperwork to accompany the planning application up but they seemed very expensive, so I produced them myself. I used an Ordnance Survey map to support the application and it took only about a month before permission was granted.
“Aside from the building work, one of the biggest tasks was upgrading the water supply. The spring-fed system was not considered suitable and we had to add a water treatment plant.
“It consists of a holding tank, with the supply treated using a carbon filter and a UV lamp which required new underground electricity power cables.
“The heating arrangement was outdated and we looked at installing a ground source system.
“But we were told that as the cottage is remote, it might be difficult to get hold of a specialist engineer if it broke down while it was occupied in the winter, as the nearest company is more than 40 miles away. Therefore we continued to use fuel oil, but added under floor heating. The roof was sound, but if it needs attention in the future, we may install solar panels.”
Mr Mallon was the main manager of the renovation project.
“I thought that the short days during last winter would give me plenty of time to organise all the work that needed to be done,” he commented.
“However, it was far more demanding than I had anticipated. I set out with a timeline, but project delays due to materials supplies, for example, meant that I had to change the project plan.
“I carried out some of the dismantling work myself, including the removal of the kitchen and bathroom units, but the rest was left to local traders and they all completed the work to a very high standard.”
The family has spared no expense in renovating and decorating the property at Lanehead farm and the choice of a “high end” holiday cottage meant that the business was eligible for a grant from North Pennine Dales LEADER (part of the Rural Development Programme) and EAFRD (European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development).
Guest comfort is a priority and there is a wine cooler (stocked with a bottle of Prosecco), complimentary chocolates, an inset log burner and all of the kitchen equipment necessary to cook a gourmet meal. The decor throughout is neutral but accessorised to produce a stunning effect; at once luxurious and cosy.
Outside, there is a designated dog walking area and fantastic views of Grassholme reservoir and the surrounding fells.
As people seeking a countryside holiday will often wish to bring their dogs, one dog is permitted per booking as long as it is confined to the ground floor; a stair gate is provided for this purpose.
The support of an online holiday accommodation marketing company has been helpful in the early stages, but the commission that is charged has an impact on profitability. In the future, a full time job will be created, in order to manage the business. Currently, Mandy works part-time in an accounts office, as well as looking after the couple’s two children; Josh, 6, and Olivia, 5, at their home in Eggleston.
“Hill farming has been under pressure for some time and other options for increasing income on this type of farm are limited,” says Mr Mallon. “Tourism offered a new opportunity and a holiday cottage seemed like the best way to maximise the farm’s assets
“We have been surprised and delighted to find that the cottage has so many bookings and we several weeks have been taken for next autumn. The challenge now is to maintain the property and the service at a very high standard, in order to encourage repeat visitors.”
DESPITE the popularity of the holiday cottage business, the 700-acre farm remains at the heart of Mallon family life and their efforts to improve the genetic merit of the Swaledale sheep flock are paying off.
One of the ewes was crowned supreme champion at the annual High Force sheep show this season and in 2018, a ewe with the same sire (Ghyll House Elevator) took the breed championship at Eggleston show.
Tups from the Kelton Hill flock were sold to 3,500gns at Kirkby Stephen last year.
The farm also carries a spring-calving, 70-cow suckler herd of mixed breeding, with British Limousin and British Blues used as terminal sires. Calves that are not required for breeding are sold as stores.