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View of the North (The Journal)
13/08/2009

The contribution of tourism to the regional economy is a well documented and a widely celebrated success story.

Despite minimum investment in our key transport links or tired clichés about northern lifestyles, the North East flexed its muscles and marched into the 21st century head held high as one of Europe’s premier destinations.

Thanks to a coordinated effort from regional partners, tourism is worth around £3.9 billion  and 60,000 people are directly employed promoting our great buildings, beaches, castles and vibrant, cosmopolitan locations.

Tourism’s big ticket items – the Angel, Baltic, the Sage, Grey Street and the Quaysides – have transformed Newcastle and Gateshead’s economy, bringing prosperity and investment opportunities impossible to contemplate in the 1980s

Despite not being one of the richest regions, we enjoy international acclaim for our heritage and hospitality - and all this has been achieved in the space of barely a generation.

Silently underpinning this has been a quiet revolution in the provision of farm stay accommodation throughout the region, helping to cater for swathes of visitors flocking here to marvel at our treasures.

Farm Stay offers sustainable options for those who wish to stay in the countryside, a stone’s throw from the more rural attractions like Beamish Museum, Tanfield steam railway, Alnwick Castle and gardens or the market towns of the Tyne Valley.

It also taps into a rich vein of local ingenuity as farms like ours, celebrating its 21st anniversary in tourism, adapt to the changing world and seek to diversify to survive by becoming a part of the boom.

Low Urpeth Farm is on the County Durham border, just seven miles from Newcastle and has been in the Johnson family since 1816. It was recognised for its contribution to the war effort with a letter of thanks from Winston Churchill’s Government, which sits proudly on a wall.

Farms like ours have been a part of the fabric of the country for generations, feeding the nation. Now we help to serve the economy in a different, way, through tourism, playing our part in a modern North East success story.

Like many other farms in the region, we took our first tentative steps into tourism in the late 1980s as the chill wind of change started to blow, initially letting out a single room in the farm house.

As business grew, we renovated an old cart shed and then our son Angus and his wife Louise came aboard with their farm, The Riding at Kibblesworth. Now, between us, we offer self-catering and bed and breakfast accommodation embracing two farms and three holiday cottages to a four star silver standard. 

We used the expertise of One North East, the County Durham Tourism Partnership and Farm Stay (www.farmstay.co.uk) to train our staff and become truly customer-orientated, which has helped make us competitive.

The old world of agriculture working successfully alongside the new world is a wonderful example of the resilience of the farming community which has been reinventing itself for centuries.

Using local people and local produce and with a unique heritage, we have become a valuable part of the community. Supporting the community is at the heart of everything we do and our guests come back time and time again because they are part of the story of the countryside.

Farms like ours enable families to come to the North East and meet the needs of those who value the peace and tranquillity of a rural setting.

That might mean taking a ramble into the heart of the Durham countryside, catching a glimpse of a red kite hovering over the farmhouse or a cheeky fox sunning himself in the yard after a night rampaging through the fields.

These country attractions are every bit as compelling as dawn breaking over the Ouseburn viewed from one of the city’s fine hotels or the sun bathing the beautiful sandstone buildings on Old Eldon Square. We shouldn’t forget those who come here for the simpler pleasures.

On Sunday 23 August we will be celebrating our 21st anniversary with guests, now friends, who first stayed with us over the years with a summer bar-b-que and pondering on the journey both we and the region has made.

Our returning guests will be pleased by the change in the North East from land of hidden treasures to cultural monolith.

Hilary Johnson is chair of Durham Farm Stay (www.lowurpeth.co.uk)

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