Farndale, North York Moors. A valley renowned for its spring-time beauty: yellow daffodils edging a classic walk, teashops, summer livestock sales.
But this is also a devious and foreboding landscape. Owing its inhabitants nothing, the rules were set long ago and it’s up to mankind and livestock alike, to play by them, or get out.
Peter Mawson and Nicola Frost came to appreciate the lie of the land soon after they moved from London into their dilapidated ‘stone tent’ four years ago.
“There was nothing to keep us warm apart from an open fire, which didn’t, so the dog and I used to sleep in the fireplace” says Peter, “it was snowing, minus twenty degrees, I got frost bite”.
No exaggeration – Peter points to his ear.
Four years on Peter and Nicola have transformed the house, which after forty years of neglect, was in dire straits. However, it’s now a wonderful refuge from the wild weather that can soon envelop this landscape.
They haven’t come to Farndale to enjoy the view, farming is top of the agenda. The land surrounding the house is home to chickens, Saddleback pigs and rare breed Whitefaced Woodland sheep.
“Know your farm, know your land, know your livestock” – Peter is dedicated to doing everything properly and seems to craft meat products, than just solely supply them.
As we sit in the kitchen he animatedly describes his concern, amazement and despair when he hears other farmers don’t consider the flavour of the meat, focusing solely on quantity rather than quality.
“People ask how many sheep we have. I don’t tell them, whilst one-thousand ewes would be incredible, being known for our product is far more important.’
The sentence is like a red rag to a bull, I’m instantly intrigued as to how many sheep are in the surrounding fields but my thought is lost as our attention turns to one of the two-hundred kilogram sows in a field above the house.
Nicola and Peter describe how the pigs are clearing the bracken that blights the landscape. The field is in Higher Level Stewardship so permission had be sought from Natural England before the pigs could be introduced.
It’s a journey of discovery for Natural England and Peter and Nicola, but one can understand why they don’t want to pour chemicals over the land.
“Our water comes from those fields, chemicals aren’t appealing. Actually we’re the only house in the valley to have a water filter” says Nicola, “if you saw the water when we first arrived, you’d understand why.”
As we wander outside, excited squeals emit from the mob of young Saddleback pigs being fattened in the field opposite Peter and Nicola’s home. They trundle back and forth either side of the electric fence until Peter carefully climbs over and they follow him across the pen.
The bond between man and animal is incredible. While still detailing how the pigs are unearthing an old wall that’s being collected to form the base of a new yard, Peter has immersed himself amongst the throng of black and white.
The noise abates, a well-aimed scratch and tickle and the pigs sink to the ground. They melt into a heap of bliss, a moment of porcine ecstasy opposing the leaden skies above.
It’s a scene repeated when we visit the Whitefaced Woodland sheep, Peter gently enters their field and kneels down to the ground. Within moments the sheep approach and Peter instantly recognises those they bred last year.
Everything here is measured: interaction with the stock, the weight of the animals, flavour of the meat. I can’t help being drawn into caring deeply about the livestock. It’s a state I naturally find myself in regarding animals but this is somehow different.
The care and adoration expressed by Nicola and Peter is infectious and thankfully they’re able to share it. Consumers who come to the farm to buy meat are taken on a tour of the land and livestock, ensuring they appreciate the source of the food just as deeply.
As we walk back across the bright green fields the sky darkens further, wind whips across reddened checks and my Barbour jacket starts to get a soaking. Strangely, none of that matters, the landscape temporarily curates a different form of beauty, but it is beauty nonetheless.
It’s a reminder that I’m only a guest of this part of the Moors, just like Nicola, Peter and their stock. It’s also a reminder that from darkness shines light: the stark white sheep contrast against the grey.