Chris Berry talks with Stuart and Sally Robinson of Valley View Farm.

Living in the North York Moors is always thought of as idyllic and largely it is, but making a living out of it by purely farming isn’t always the easiest way of providing a sustainable income.

It was ever thus, might be a comment from those who have farmed in the National Park all their lives, but there are those who have done something about it and continue to do so and for the Robinson family of Valley View Farm in Old Byland a combination of diversifications providing alternative incomes have ensured the farm’s future for the past forty-plus years.

Sally Robinson’s Ample Bosom business, selling bras online, saw her propelled into the media world and created amazing publicity for the family farm that had already gone into the holiday accommodation business years prior – and today still sees both of those diversification businesses flourishing, but Sally’s son Stuart still looks to his own alternative income, working in another aspect of agriculture in order to create the necessary income to continue living and farming at Old Byland.

“I work full-time elsewhere, as technical support for Trimble Navigation,” says Stuart. “I run the farm that is down to sheep and cattle. I can’t see myself living anywhere else. It’s tranquil here and I like it as it is. I’ve just put in to build a new farmhouse called Pasture View.

“We farm across 220 acres and the cattle side includes sucklers, cattle bought-in to fatten and cattle on a bed and breakfast arrangement for Charles Ashbridge’s Taste Tradition business.

“I have 20 suckler cows. They’re pretty much all Beef Shorthorn X put to an Irish Limmie bull I bought out of Durham. I’ll have had them 10 years. I brought on the suckler herd to eat the forage. I was mainly sheep before then and they wouldn’t eat the forage that I had surplus at certain times of year so I bought them to manage my grazing. They are a spring calving herd with cattle going to Thirsk Auction Mart.

“I usually have 80 Wagyu and Belties on for Charles Ashbridge’s Taste Tradition. I get cows on short keep, for a fortnight or so, and yearlings like Wagyu steers that are sent to abattoir weighed 540 kilos dead. The Wagyus take an awful lot more time. It all depends what Charles has a market for. I get paid for keeping them. I’ve been on with Charles with that for about two years now.

“Then I have 100 British Blue X Dairy cattle that a livestock agent buys out of Carlisle. I get them at 4 months and they generally go at 14-16 months. The processors want them heavier these days. They used to want them at 12 months. They all go through Thirsk too. My father had very strong ties to Tony Thompson at Thirsk Mart and I’m happy with the price we get there.

Stuart has 500 North of England Mule ewes.

“I buy all Mules in-lamb now. That way I keep my money in my lambs longer, but I can’t finish anything off this grass because it’s too cold and late, so all my lambs go down to Leeds to finish off grass at Bramham Park and I sell fat lambs through Darlington Mart.

“Mine is a flying flock as such and I buy from flock dispersals which means I buy some that are a year old and some up to 4 years old. I bought 150 this last winter during December/January at various places.

“Anything I buy, I aim to lamb in March, and then everything goes into the main May lambing flock for second lambing when we lamb the other 350 ewes.

“My main flock scanned at 186 this time and the bought in ewes averaged 204. Everything goes down to Bramham and we start selling at Christmas. What we don’t sell at Christmas then goes in March. I came up with renting ground off Bramham Estate because they needed their grassland managing, as their silage land gets too long. I only get one cut of silage up here at Old Byland at the end of June.

Stuart has two young sons Theo and Albert and says they are both keen on farming right now.

“I did 2 years at Bishop Burton College studying for my HND in Agriculture. The boys are keen but I’m very conscious of their future. If they want to do it on a night and a weekend I will do it with them but I have no stigma about them having to carry on farming as the fourth generation to do so. If they want it, then there will be opportunity.

Sally, who lost her husband John 12 years ago and has since remarried, says, “I don’t think I ever considered anything else but being in farming or being a farmer.

“I’m from Slingsby originally and I was a Richardson before I married John. Both sets of my grandparents farmed, but my father didn’t. He was a haulage contractor, hauling mostly agricultural produce and animal feeds for BATA, sugar beet to the factory in York, grain and stone. He had a fleet of 30 wagons.

“I studied catering at Scarborough College and worked at The Worsley Arms in Hovingham and at Friarage Hospital in Northallerton for the NHS cooking meals for patients. That was a culture shock. We used to have fellow staff fighting in the kitchen. I was the senior person there at 18 years of age. I did it for a couple of years.

“John and I married in 1977 when I was 19 and I worked in a grocery shop in Helmsley. We had two children – Peter and Stuart. Peter worked for Trimble too, for a long time, and he’s now with AGBOT on with driverless tractors.

“John’s parents came here in 1961 when he was about 17 but it was John who really earned his place here, working here from being 17 to 65.

“We met on a blind date. He’d seen me and had made inquiries. I think it was probably at a young farmers’ do and he was probably too old to be a young farmer then.

It was the movement into the holiday accommodation that Sally and John made in the mid-80s that led the way to Ample Bosom in the late 90s.

 

“We started doing bed and breakfast in the farmhouse in the mid-80s,” says Sally. “In the 1980s I had the first en-suite accommodation in the area. There were none in Helmsley when I started with just two rooms. It was hard work but it was introducing new people in to the area. I got to speak to people from different parts of the country, different parts of the world, and it was always good to talk to everyone.

“And then we converted the adjoining barn, which became 6 cottages in the 90s, through an

Objective 5b Grant to develop the buildings. We now sleep 22 with 3 sleeping 2; 1 that sleeps 4; and 2 that sleep 6. I had the good fortune to have a good architect in the village who guided us through all the National Park planning. He was spot on was Brian Elsworth, a great help.

“We keep updating them. You have to in order to stay ahead of the game. We’re having new kitchens and bathrooms this year. They have always been en-suite. They all have flat screen TV and are all internet connected. There is faster broadband speed too.

It was 25 years ago that Sally came up with Ample Bosom, a business that led to a film being proposed about what she had achieved in setting up one of the first online businesses in the countryside.

Sally says it also came about as a result of something that never took place, but had been on the cards.

“John had wanted to move to Scotland and we went to look at farms. I’d thought to myself that if we went, what was I going to do?

“We came up with Ample Bosom. I said I wanted another business, but what would I sell? I came up with bras. More specifically the bigger stuff that was always more difficult to find. The little girls don’t need it. They can always find what they need, and so I came up with Ample Bosom, which doesn’t necessarily say big but people often presume it that way. We also sell swimming costumes, as these are another

“When we’d come up with the name I hadn’t wanted something like Bras R Us. We originally came up with Bras Online and Ample Bosom. We thought there would be two businesses, but the press we received was so good that it led us to just the one name and now we are simply Ample Bosom and supply all bras of every size.

“And it really doesn’t matter who you are, because if you do need a proper fit and a proper going on, no matter what size, you need a proper bra. Some of the bras we stock have 50- pieces of fabric in them.

Sally is now married to Stephen Till in Welburn, where she now lives, but travels to Valley View Farm every day.

“I go back every day to look after the bra business and the cottages which Stuart looks after when I’m not there. He’s always busy with the farm, his day job and a Biomass boiler that takes some looking after. I’ve always found that life’s what you make it.