How Ulnaby Farm Shop and Cafe began with an honesty box by road
MEDIEVAL Ulnaby Farm Shop and Cafe is not the easiest place to find, tucked away as it is on the north side of High Coniscliffe, near Darlington. However, the cafe food and the quality of the meat is enough to bring in a regular clientele according to business owners, Donna O’Sullivan and Ian Dods.
Grazing Belted Galloways make an attractive sight on the drive up to Ulnaby Farm Shop and Cafe.
These are bought as weaned calves, because it is felt that keeping a breeding herd may compromise the safety of the many members of the public who walk on the farm’s footpaths.
The 50 cattle are slow-maturing and can take up to three years to finish, living out for most of the year and producing meat which is fine-textured and flavoursome, says Mrs O’Sullivan, who has been running the shop and cafe for 13 years. Her partner, a third-generation farmer, manages the livestock and the 380 acres of land. Also providing meat for sale in the shop and for use in the cafe is a flock of Jacob cross Texel ewes, which go back to the Texel.
“Our customers like the taste of the Jacob meat, but the Texel improves the conformation and produces a better-shaped lamb,” says Mrs O’Sullivan.
“We retain a few older ewes as pets to entertain the children in the play area and our visitors also enjoy seeing the lambs in the spring.”
Meanwhile, Gloucester Old Spot pigs which are bought as weaners are given roomy accommodation in the buildings.
Their pork is sold through the shop and the meat is used to make a variety of dishes, including the bacon and sausage sandwiches which are popular with the cafe customers.
The farm shop contains a range of produce, including fresh vegetables, cheeses and yogurts and the couple have been surprised at the high number of local people who buy their goods on a weekly basis.
They also serve tourists, many of whom take their holidays in Teesdale and the surrounding area every year.
The business is located in a former granary and situated on the site of a medieval village which has been designated an ancient monument. This status restricts the farming practices to some extent, says Mrs O’Sullivan.
“We are not permitted to grow crops on the designated area and fertilisers and pesticides must not be applied, so the only option is to grow grass.
“We have not chosen to go down the organic route, although our farming practices are very similar to organic production.”
Despite having no background in farming, she has previous experience as a nursery nurse and in the catering trade, Mrs O’Sullivan thoroughly enjoys helping out with the livestock when she has time. She has kept horses in the past, but at present she finds that her leisure time is too restricted to allow for many hobbies.
“It has been a steep learning curve,” she admits. “But the same can be said for any farm shop; all of the farmers who have diversified have had to learn about every aspect of their new venture and I am no different.
“The business started out with an honesty box for home-produced potatoes and eggs and it has changed out of all recognition, although it has been a gradual build-up.
“With hindsight, the slow but steady progress has been an advantage, because we have gained in knowledge as we have gone along.
“We have no plans to expand the business. It has taken a lot of investment, but we have reached a level where we have a good clientele and a fantastic team of staff. Our goal now is to consolidate what we have and strive to maintain high standards.”
Medieval Ulnaby Site History
MEDIEVAL Ulnaby hosted a visit from the makers of the Time Team TV programme several years ago.
The remains of the buried medieval village are only clearly visible from an aerial view, but digging uncovered the footprint of a large village which is believed to have been occupied mainly by peasants.
The Time Team crew was looking for evidence that the village dates back to Saxon times, but the earliest material uncovered was from the 14th Century; not as ancient as the researchers had predicted. Some 70-100 people are estimated to have occupied the site.
The medieval village consists of a number of peasant house plots, which are positioned in two rows around a village green and were complete with a dovecote and a fishpond.
The couple’s farm house at Ulnaby features a priests’ hole, which has largely been filled in. There are also scorch marks on the attic beams, which are thought to have been made to protect the house from witches.