NEW LIFE: Simon Witham is swapping the golf course at Barnard Castle for hill farming in Eskdale.
NEW LIFE: Simon Witham is swapping the golf course at Barnard Castle for hill farming in Eskdale.

A DALE couple are off to pastures new after securing a 200-acre National Trust Beatrix Potter farm in Cumbria.

Simon Witham and Nikki Race – who celebrated the birth of daughter Sophie last month – are moving from their current smallholding on Bowes Moor to Penny Hill Farm, in Eskdale.

Penny Hill is one of the 14 farms bequeathed by the late author to the National Trust on her death in 1943.

As well as taking their 100 Herdwick breeding ewes, the couple will inherit nearly 400 Herdwicks on arrival.

They will also take their dozen belted Galloway cattle and plan to increase the size of the beef herd.

Ahead of the move, Mr Witham gave up his job as assistant greens keeper at Barnard Castle Golf Club and plans to establish a small farm contracting business once settled in to Penny Hill.

His partner plans to combine life at the farm with her job at Eden Farm Supplies.

Mr Witham said the Penny Hill tenancy was “fiercely contested” with many people showing an interest.

“We tendered for it in September and were among four interviewed. We found out in November we had got it,” he said.

“We were really chuffed when we found out, but it's only in the last couple of weeks when things have set in motion that it's really sunk in.

“It's classed as a hill farm and we will inherit nearly 400 Herdwicks. We will probably increase a little – not too much.

“The plan is to increase the number of cattle.”

Colleagues, members and officials at Barnard Castle Golf Club gathered to wish Mr Witham well in his new venture.

Secretary Stuart Everall said Mr Witham had been a member of the club since the late 199s and a member of the greens keeping staff for the past 13 years.

“We wanted to say a big thanks to Simon who has had the unenviable task of pleasing the members and doing the job.

“Our course throughout that time has earned praise from many visiting clubs for its condition and Simon was very much part of that.

“We are sorry to see him go but wish him the best.”

Mr Witham and Ms Race bought Hogg House, which sits 1,300ft above sea level in 2014.

They started out with just four acres and five Herdwick shearling ewes describing the breed as an obvious choice to withstand harsh environment.

They went on to rent a 120-acre parcel of severely disadvantaged area land, allowing them to develop their flock.

Beatrix Potter farms

THE success of The Tale of Peter Rabbit, Lakeland author Beatrix Potter's second book, published in 1902, gave her an income and the following year she bought a field in Near Sawrey, where she had holidayed.

In 1905, she bought Hill Top Farm, in Sawrey, then in 1909 she took on Castle Farm, which became her main Lakeland base.

After marrying William Heelis in 1913, she began life as a Lakeland farmer, purchasing Troutbeck Farm in 1923 and becoming expert in breeding Herdwicks.

She continued to buy property, including Monk Coniston Estate.

When Beatrix Potter died in December 1943 aged 77, she left 14 farms and 4,000 acres of land to the National Trust together with her flocks of Herdwick.