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Northern Farmer Diversification
26/03/2013

Low Urpeth Farm B&B feature on the Northern Farmer website - March 2013. Farm Diversification

Northern Farmer

Step back in time at B&B

4:33pm Friday 8th March 2013

A500-ACRE arable farm only six miles from Newcastle City centre is attracting visitors from as far as America, Canada, Australia and Holland.

Peter and Hilary Johnson run their multi-award winning Low Urpeth farmhouse bed and breakfast at Ouston, near Chester-le- Street, with help from their daughter, Sandra Whitefield.

This is their 25th year in B&B and in, recent weeks, they have not only added three more awards to their impressive tally, but received an invitation to appear in the next Michelin Guide.

They won the Highest Quality Assured and Local Champion title in County Durham’s Taste Durham Award.

And only days later, they were awarded gold in the bed and breakfast class and bronze with their “Cracking Urpeth Breakfast” in the Taste of the North-East class in the North-East England Tourism Awards.

They now go forward to the national 2013 VisitEngland Awards for Excellence which are expected to be held in May.

Mrs Johnson said: “Tourism is our passion and we are proud of what we have achieved.

“We have a lot of lovely visitors and repeat guests who have been coming for years. They find peace and tranquility here, and love it when a deer sometimes looks over the wall, or if they see a woodpecker or a pheasant.”

Low Urpeth stands on the opposite side of the valley to Gateshead and Newcastle – the Angel of the North can be seen from the farmyard.

With Beamish Open Air Museum only three miles away and Durham City close by, they also attract regular visitors from all over the UK.

The land has been farmed by Mr Johnson’s family since 1816 – the current house was built about 1898 – and he has lived and farmed there for his 73 years.

The couple used to have cattle, sheep and pigs, but as prices fell, they switched to arable and began to look to diversify.

The sheep were the last to go. Mr Johnson sold the flock to a farmer who needed to re-stock after the 2001 foot-and-mouth crisis.

The couple were one of the early pioneers of farm-based B&B, starting in 1988, and found the then newly-formed Farm Stay organisation a tremendous help – it sets standards and provides advice, and today has a network of more than 1,000 farmer members.

The four-star gold accommodation includes three large ensuite double bedrooms in the traditionally furnished farmhouse and two high-quality self-catering cottages, which each sleep up to four.

All offer free wireless internet access and either digital or Freeview TVs.

The couple are great believers in local produce and Mrs Johnson provides daily home-made bread, biscuits, cakes and preserves.

All the meat, eggs and vegetables are sourced from a variety of farmshops, butchers, garden centres and producers in County Durham, Northumberland and Tyne and Wear.

They include Broom House Farm, Witton Gilbert; Robsons Butchers of Hexham; Brocksbushes Farm, near Corbridge; Embleton Hall Dairies, Wingate, which also supplies their own yoghurts; Beamish Honey from a local bee-keeper; and tea and coffee from Pumphries, of Blaydon.

“Guests love eating local produce and home baking. They rise to the lovely smell of fresh bread – it is like stepping back in time for a lot of them,” said Mrs Johnson.

The couple always promote the many attractions and events in the surrounding area to guests, and the internet draws many from abroad.

But wherever they travel from, they enjoy the experience of staying on a working farm and learning about what goes on.

The 500-acre arable enterprise is made up of Low Urpeth and Riding Farm, where their son, Angus, and his wife, Louise, live.

Today, Angus runs the farming side, although Mr Johnson is still actively involved, especially at harvest time when guests are fascinated by the scale and size of the machinery, particularly the combine harvester.

But they don’t have sleepless nights – harvesting stops at 10pm so as not to disturb paying guests.

A few years ago, Angus and Louise ran the B&B business at Low Urpeth for a couple of weeks while Mr and Mrs Johnson had a holiday.

Mrs Johnson said they enjoyed running it so much that they converted seven cottages into selfcatering to run at their own Riding Farm.

Andy Woodward, chief executive of Farm Stay, said: “Low Urpeth Farm is one of the great success stories for the County Durham visitor economy, leading the way in delivering innovation, excellence and high standards of sustainability for a small business.

“Over the past five years, their profile has been greatly enhanced by an unswerving commitment to customer service and the ability to blend the traditional with the modern, appealing to all.”

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