Regional produce is key at Low Urpeth Farm
PUBLISHED: 14:26 25 January 2012 | UPDATED: 20:57 20 February 2013
Local produce is the key to giving an historic County Durham farm an enviable reputation, as Helen Johnson reports
The Johnson family has lived at Low Urpeth, near Beamish, for generations. Present owner Peter Johnsons father came to the house in 1917 but it, or a house on that site, had already been in the family about 100 years by then.
Peters wife Hilary moved in when they married in 1963 and has made her own mark on the property, adding ensuite bathrooms, new textiles, china painted by her mother and wonderful local food.
The farm has changed a great deal since the early days. In the 1850s, before the present house was built, it was a stables for pit ponies in Urpeth Colliery. There were cottages too, occupied by men who worked the pit not the farm and during World War Two army officers were housed here.
Peter said: The soldiers were in the outbuildings its a holiday cottage now. They were here because there was a big battery of anti-aircraft guns on the hill. After the war, my father received a letter, thanking him for his help.
There were at least five collieries within a mile of here, all working in my day. But now all the pit heaps have gone. The whole countryside has been tidied up.
The Angel of the North is on the site of Betty Pit. The old wagonway is now a path from Tanfield to South Shields, with green and pleasant walks. Its a big change.
Hilary agrees: Its a magnificent county now, with the most wonderful heritage the Land of the Prince Bishops.
For the last 25 years, Hilary has been sharing her love of the area with bed and breakfast guests. And although everyone helps with the guests, its still a working farm, so in-between chatting with visitors, Peter dons his overalls to drive the tractor. Guests love seeing the combine harvester in the yard, said the couples daughter Sandra.
Sandra grew up at Low Urpeth but was moved away to London. But after marrying and having children she decided County Durham was a better place for them to grow up, and returned home to enjoy all the area has to offer.
She said: I often take my children to Beamish, because they love it. Sometimes we go just to enjoy riding on the tram. We also go to the Botanic Garden in Durham, and the Discovery Museum in Newcastle.
Hilary too likes to get out and about, and struggles to name a favourite among so many attractions. We have everything nearby, she said.
Shopping, museums, wildlife centres, walks, cycle ways, garden centres, farm shops, places to eat and fabulous heritage. The area is a gem we are so fortunate to live here. We visit everywhere so we can give guests first-hand information.
Some guests ask where to go, others come for specific purposes, such as graduation ceremonies, cricket, concerts, or business.
Our guests particularly enjoy eating together around the family dining table, and relaxing by the open fire in the evenings, Hilary added. And once theyve been once, they tend to come back. Some have been returning for twelve years. Others stay for a full two weeks its a compliment and it shows how much there is to see here.
Guests may also be tempted back by Hilarys cooking. We shop locally and make the majority of things ourselves, she said. Lots of people choose our Cracking Urpeth Breakfast, but if they stay longer, they like to explore the menu.
And theres plenty to explore: local smoked salmon, kippers, sausages, honey, eggs, cereals and Hilarys homemade bread and preserves.
The B&B was one of the first to enter the Taste Durham awards normally its just restaurants and since then theyve won numerous awards. And the secret? Its all fresh, cooked to order local produce, said Hilary. I bake bread every day.
Hilary is proud to support local food producers and we are too.
Along with columnist Si King, we want everyone to do their bit by buying more fresh local food and drink. For a guide to some of our favourite producers and growers, click here
And wed love to receive your recommendations too. If there is a food hero in your neighbourhood whether theyre a brilliant baker, butcher or brewer tell us about them by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
The print version of this article appeared in the February 2012 issue of North East Life
We can deliver a copy direct to your door order online here