By Emily Owen, one of the students from Leeds university who is taking part in this project
For our second farmer interview (the first has been written about by Lauren, here), we were on our way to the sleepy hamlet of Braidley, nestled in the valley of Coverdale. The sheets of cloud spread across the sky did little to spoil the splendour of the scenery. There’s no mistaking once you’ve passed the boundary of the Yorkshire Dales National Park, for the landscape suddenly goes from flat to bumpy, becoming much more wild and untamed in character.
I never fail to marvel at the landscape of the Yorkshire Dales. Although a Yorkshire lass born and bred, I am admittedly a townie. My introduction to the Yorkshire Dales really came about through an oral history project I did as part of my University degree earlier this year (my background is in English and dialect studies but I’m also a budding oral history enthusiast). I was one of a group of students who interviewed locals in Hawes as part of an oatcake-related project at the Dales Countryside Museum, which sparked my passion for all things Dales-related. So when I heard about the Voices from the Land project, I didn’t hesitate to apply. And I’m really glad I did. I’ve seen some amazing sights, learnt a lot about farming in this unique landscape, and made two great friends in my fellow student interviewers, Lauren and Holly.
Once we left the motorway and passed Carlton, all remaining signs of civilisation gradually fell away, leaving only open moors and a ragged patchwork of green and pale gold fields down below us as we ascended the winding, single-track road which seemed to go on forever (driving along it was a bit perilous as you never knew if there’d be a Land Rover lurking around the next bend). The overcast weather only seemed to add to the drama of the moorland, although there were one or two occasional glimmers of sunshine. To my left, presiding over the valley, was the awe-inspiring Deadman’s Hill, mantled in heather and appearing like a far-off purple ocean.
We’d been told that the farmer’s house was just across the road from the farm and that it was called ‘Pheasant Lodge’. Simple enough. Well, not quite. Once parked up in Braidley, we wandered up and down the small row of quaint, old stone houses. The farm was easy enough to spot, but there didn’t seem to be a house by the name of Pheasant Lodge. Unable to call the farmer as none of our phones had signal, we resorted to knocking on doors in the hope that someone would be able to kindly point us in the right direction. No one seemed to be at home. In fact the whole hamlet had a feeling of being empty. Holly recalled how Deadman’s Hill got its name because they found three headless Scottish pedlars there many centuries ago which wasn’t promising. Wondering what our next course of action would be, and whether we should simply resort to flagging down passing vehicles, we had a brilliant stroke of luck. A quad bike was rolling its way down the road and we asked the man driving it whether he knew where Pheasant Lodge was? ‘I certainly do,’ he grinned. ‘In fact, I think it might be me you’re looking for.’ For indeed this was our man, Stephen Lambert. Retrieving our car, we followed him up a lane with a field of sheep on the left-hand side, which led to his house-the sign bearing the name ‘Pheasant Lodge’ clearly visible out in front.
He led us through the house to the sitting room where we settled down on the sofa and he offered to furnish us with drinks. From the window there was a clear view of the fields and the peak of the Hill far off in the distance. I tried to imagine what it was like waking up to that every morning, Stephen said he never takes it for granted, despite having lived here all his life. With one completed interview now already under our belts, the pre-interview jitters we’d experienced before our first visit to a farm had all but evaporated, and we comfortably chatted with Stephen about the project over a mug of tea, the conversation then drifting into other channels like social media and trials biking. I could tell this was a passion for him and his sons, as there had been two padded jackets on the washing line outside and there were framed pictures of the three of them on their bikes all around the room.
I then pulled out my trusty little Dictaphone and the interview officially commenced. Although Pheasant Lodge was the name of the house, the farm, which Stephen’s parents had bought back in the mid-fifties, was called Braidley Hall Farm. The farm is a beef and sheep farm, run by Stephen, his brother, and his father. We discussed everything from the importance of the weather and the changes in the seasons over the years, to technology which has helped revolutionise farming like round balers and quad bikes, to how farms are becoming increasingly bigger, and the issue of succession in farming families. One thing Stephen said that particularly stuck with me afterwards was his comment that a lot of the Dales was being used for retired people and that a lot of farmers’ sons and daughters were now going further afield to work and live, which begged the question of where the next generation of farmers was going to come from to fill the vacuum. Stephen seemed keen that his own two sons go to college and see a bit of the world, and then to stay on the farm if they chose to.
Even after I had switched my Dictaphone off, we were in no hurry to depart, and Stephen seemed as interested to know about us as we had been about him. He asked what we were all studying and we chatted about things like holidays.
We were in unanimous agreement that this interview had been as much a success as the first. After thanking Stephen for his time and deciding a refreshment stop was in order, we drove the six or so miles back toward Leyburn (it never ceases to surprise me how after miles of open countryside, this town just suddenly seems to spring up out of nowhere) in search of a cafe. We found a table outside The Posthorn tea room and café, and enjoyed a much-welcomed lunch of hot soup or jacket potatoes just as the sun was beginning to shine-which summed up the mood of the day rather aptly. Afterwards, we ambled around the various little knick-knack and cake shops in the town before departing for home with a heavy heart, but knowing we’d be back in the Yorkshire Dales again very soon.