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YORKSHIRE STORIES



ROBERT E FULLER


Robert Fuller


Our Yorkshire Stories this time don’t take us very far, just a trip across a field or two to our neighbour, Robert E Fuller. Robert is a world-renowned wildlife artist who runs his acclaimed gallery at Fotherdale Farm. His gallery houses a stunning collection of his artwork and allows a rare view into the wildlife of the Yorkshire Wolds and far beyond. Each year, up to 12,000 people visit his gallery and as a recognised authority on wildlife, he often appears on television and has a regular feature column in the Yorkshire Post.

Both Adam here, and Robert have chosen to make Thixendale their home. A small, traditional and community driven village in the most stunning of settings with its dry, chalky valleys, Thixendale is much loved by walkers and nature lovers alike. It’s a bit of an undiscovered gem, but year on year its popularity grows, which is no surprise to all those that have already discovered it.

But that’s not just where their paths cross. Both Adam and Robert have grown up in the area and their shared passions for the natural world have been shaped by their lives on the farm.

Robert’s father was well known for his conservationist approach to farming on a commercially successful farm and that has always stuck with Robert and very much feeds through all he does. After a time leaving the area to study wildlife illustration in Carmarthen College of Art & Technology and exhibiting his paintings to an ever-widening audience in Europe and his beloved Yorkshire, once he met and married his wife, Victoria, he settled at Fotherdale Farm.

Like the farm here at North Breckenholme, Fotherdale Farm has changed considerably over the years. In 2001 Robert applied for a rural enterprise grant to convert the redundant farm buildings into the beautiful 60ft beamed gallery and adjoining workshops that you can see there today. And at North Breckenholme we’ve also made changes to house our production unit, and also to convert buildings into an area for our Farm Discovery Days where we invite school age children for free, bespoke outdoor adventures on our farm. All the projects have been sited to not obstruct the wonderful views of the area, and we always consider the natural surroundings we are lucky enough to live and work in.

Increasingly, Robert’s animal portraits feature creatures that live in his garden and the surrounding area of his home, and there is always a story behind the wildlife paintings that Robert creates. He spends so much time watching and photographing the animals in their natural habitats, before applying his distinctive and precise painting style to create the life-like portraits that hang on the walls of the people who are lucky to own a painting or two, including ourselves! This area is a haven for wildlife and Robert films the stories of many of these animal families via surveillance cameras. If you pop over to his website you can even watch these stories unfold on over 100 live footage cameras.

Adam and the farm team work closely on the farm to maintain some of the wildlife habitats that Robert films and captures through wildflower planting and hedgerow planting. Part of this is to ensure we have 2 metre margins along the hedgerows on our arable land to encourage the insects, birds and small mammals that nest, feed and lay in the hedges and low ground. Many of which may be the stars of Robert’s filming! Whether that’s the resident barn owls, tawny owls, kestrels, stoats and weasels.

There’s a lot that links Adam and Robert and whether that’s wildlife conservation, regeneration or education, the one thing that truly runs through as a common thread is their passion for what they do and making home the place to make it all happen.

If this has intrigued you to want to find out more about Robert’s work, why not visit the Gallery to find a full range of artwork and giftware, or visit the website to link up with the live cameras and find out more about the Yorkshire Stories behind his wildlife adventures.


Robert Fuller



Watch Robert's live camera from Fotherdale here: LIVE FROM FOTHERDALE
Watch Robert's live camera from Ash Wood here: LIVE FROM ASH WOOD
www.robertefuller.com


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J. STRINGER & SONS - STRINGERS ORGANICS


Mike and Kate Stringer

One sunny afternoon (armed with cake!) we made the short trip across the fields to go and meet up with Mike & Kate Stringer, husband and wife team of J. Stringer & Sons. You may know of the Stringer’s as a farming family – they are the third generation to farm on the Wolds, and some may know Mike from our joint links with Uncleby Education Centre, but most of you will know them as producers of Organic flours and oats, with the flours being milled on their farm.

We wanted to start at the beginning to find out how Mike got involved in organic farming. We found out that half way through his degree in Mechanical Engineering (he graduated with a BSc(Hons) in 1996), Mike realised that farming was in his blood, and after spending a short time in an office placement whilst at university he realised the great outdoors was too strong a pull!

Mike came home to the family farm where his Dad and Uncle where in partnership and found it wasn’t that easy to fit in with an already established business, and after already seeing a growing demand for organic farming, he decided to research this new farming route. Mike was fully supported with this new idea as it fitted in well with the family interests in conservation and the environment, and with his idea fully backed by the family they decided to give it a go! All of the livestock and around 50% of the arable land was set aside to become organic, but this wasn’t an overnight process. It takes two years to become certified and fully organic so patience is key! Also, at the time of going organic, they didn’t grow the raw wheat crop for the flour and oats they now produce so this was all a steep learning curve for this band of traditional farmers.

The J. Stringer & Sons brand didn’t start with flours and oats, they were seed potato growers who sold their surplus crop of larger, surplus potatoes to local customers and so that was where the brand was born! It was actually Mike’s parents who decided to go down the route of milling, when looking for a part-time role to fill as they were not quite ready to retire! They researched the equipment they would need and travelled to Austria to buy the flour mill and brought it back to the farm. It did take some time for them to pluck up the courage to get started but they did and the range they produced from home grew.


Mike and Kate Stringer


The farm was already growing a heritage brand called Maris Wigeon which was good for milling, but over the years their expertise grew and they didn’t just mill what the trade saw as good for the job, but listened to their customer base, including the millers and bakers, and also their feedback from the farmers’ markets they attended, and new varieties were discovered. This love of conservation, coupled with forward thinking continues today, as Mike is a founder member of the Yorkshire Grain Alliance trialling the growing of diverse grains for the group. Bakers and millers (and Mike and Kate!) are keenly awaiting harvest and their aim is to inspire more farmers in the area to grow these grains for them. Watch this space!

Currently the brand produces a core range of flours and oats and nearly all their produce goes into retail, bakeries, with some direct customers who buy in bulk. Lockdown saw a huge increase in demand for their flour (no it wasn’t just the supermarkets who struggled with demand!), and a great deal of those customers have remained loyal. Some looking for a local product, some looking for an organic product, and of course some crossover. But one thing they all found was a quality product, and their contribution to home baking is ever popular. At the time we met, one customer had just collected a 36kg load of flour for their own breadmaking use! Though they are not alone. Kate has also been swept up by the popularity of bread making, with a daily bake of sourdough and is now considered quite the expert! This has helped with the close conversations they have with bakeries and raised confidence in what they offer.

Though confidence must be high for this family as they were the original trailblazers to successfully farm organically in such a traditional farming area as the Wolds. Today their milling business may be a part time venture, but for them it’s all about balance. It was refreshing to hear them chat about the potential that they have, but know that they will only expand when the time is right for them. They are certainly not about creating a mass market product, and that includes their Organic Rapeseed Oil. Now this is a product that we get a lot of demand for, but generally this exclusive oil is sold before it’s bottled! We press and bottle this for the Stringers, so when we can get our hands on it, we’ll be sure to shout out loud!

We wanted to find out where this hardworking couple eat when they get some time away and will dive back to when things go back to normal, and they have two favourite places. If staying local they can’t think of a better place to go than The New Malton, (yes, it’s in Malton) and can’t fault the food (especially the veggie options – Kate used to be vegetarian), the wine list and the atmosphere. If venturing out further afield for a special occasion, Skosh in York it has to be. Their contemporary British cooking has an international influence, food is locally sourced, and their concept kitchen delivers dishes that stretch your mind! Kate’s exact words.

So what’s next for the Stringers? Their work with heritage crops and new varieties will continue, as will Mike’s work with our Farm Discovery Days at Uncleby Education Centre. When our Adam & Mike get to both run free of charge, outdoor education days for school children of all ages. They are so keen to get back to sharing the countryside around us to educate the next generation, and hopefully it won’t be too long before they are sharing their love of farming again.

Their own next generation are also very involved in the farm. Mike’s son, Sam lives and works on the farm and daughter Charlotte’s schoolwork is currently very driven by what happens on the farm. She has another year at school and has plans to go to vet school.

Today the farm certainly keeps Mike and the small team busy with around 1100 acres including cattle, sheep and both organic and conventional crops. And Kate not only manages the flour mill, but also runs her very in demand veterinary physiotherapy business.

What did we learn in our short time with Mike and Kate? Well, we feel like we’ve been on a journey with this farming family who stepped up, broke the mould and have been forerunners ever since. But this couple don’t let it go to their heads, both Mike & Kate are very modest and relaxed about what they do, though their passion for whatever they put their hand to is evident and we look forward to what they get up to next!

 



STICKY FIGGY FLAPJACKS WITH STRINGER'S OATS


Sticky_Figgy_Flapjacks


One of our favourite recipes made using both our Yorkshire Rapeseed Oil and Stringers Organic Oats.

FIND THE RECIPE



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MASONS OF YORKSHIRE


Masons of Yorkshire


Talk about perks of the job! One morning armed with cake (always!) we took a road trip to Bedale to visit Cathy & Karl Mason, good friends and founders of Masons of Yorkshire.

Cathy & Karl may have told their story time and time again, but we know how much they like to share, so we started at the beginning. Karl explained that twelve years ago he had never ordered a glass of gin, but as a couple they had gone along to a friend’s house and offered a G&T and they both really liked it! Karl having a self-confessed obsessive nature, decided to start buying gin and looking into the spirit further. He set up a ‘G&T Friday’ community Facebook page for fellow gin fans to share the love – what they were drinking, where and how, and over a very short time the page grew to 10,000 followers which made him realise there was a gap in the market for a gin made in the heart of Yorkshire. They decided they had had enough of Karl sitting on his laptop for hours on a Friday night with fellow obsessives (despite the free gin!), and after drinking a very dull glass of gin one day, Karl commented he could do better, so Cathy set the challenge, and knowing he’d need a companion on what could be a ‘silly’ journey, she decided to get involved too.

At this stage, nobody in Yorkshire had a pot still (used to hold and vaporise the botanicals when distilling) so they went to work with a small distiller in Cambridgeshire who had one of the smallest pot stills and they helped nail the distilling process and get them off the ground. They first put the pot still in premises, not far from home, but very quickly had to move and find a larger site, all the time with no distiller, it really was an upward learning curve for them both. It’s widely known about their disastrous fire back at the distillery in April 2019, but 2020 saw new beginnings with them in the new customer-built distillery and with a beauty of a new copper still, called Tony!

One thing they did know from the start was that the branding had to be strong. They worked with a designer with their original concept, but the Masons brand sang out loud and clear! The ‘Mason’ family crest was adapted with a Yorkshire Rose and the identity of Masons of Yorkshire Gin was born. Today the Yorkshire Rose is on the bottom of their new shape bottle. That nod to their heritage won’t ever be lost. Did you know that it was originally going to be called Drystone!

We wondered how they formed their signature recipe and their own combination of botanicals and found out this was purely based on their own favourite choices. They wanted to have a strongly identifiable flavour, and not just a different label. This had to be a different gin. They blind tested different recipes on friends but most sessions ended up with well imbibed  friends who claimed they liked them all!

So Cathy & Karl sensibly went with what they preferred. As we all know, you can’t please everyone! Cathy tended to be drawn towards a sweeter taste with the Original being her favourite, with Karl preferring their Tea flavour (made with Yorkshire Tea, of course!) and all in all a drier blend. They also felt the recipe had to come from them, as if you are fully 100% behind it, your passion will show and that will speak volumes.

The two Lavender and Tea flavours were developed to show the true backing of Yorkshire, and they also use pure Yorkshire water to make all their gin. The connections are strong. This year has seen three Special editions to keep their followers excited! With new label styles that are striking but complement the main range. We’re in!

Talking Yorkshire, we always ask at our interviews what they think makes Yorkshire such an abundant larder and gives it its strong connections to food and drink, and Cathy was quick to share that it’s the people, the farming community, the need for no frills, but quality all the same. We all heartedly agreed that we are blessed with the area where we all live – with the county covering coastline, cities and countryside. We were keen to find out if the Yorkshire branding had been a big selling point for their brand. Like us, we are so proud of our links to the county, it just had to feature. Cathy thought the popular Mason surname helped, and the Yorkshire Rose opened conversations, particularly local ones, in the early days but now it is the gin that did the talking.

So since launching on National Gin Day back in 2013, it’s been a pretty epic journey with the business moving to even larger premises and now having a team of over 30 people, many locally based. We wanted to find out what had been the biggest change led by growth – was it industry led, or something else? Cathy & Karl had started off with no knowledge of how to sell gin, work with stockists, bars and restaurants, or the major retailers, so they learnt on the job. Their first large event was the Country Living Show on home ground at Harrogate. This got them off to such a great start and they were able to communicate their passion, brand and great gin to a large audience and get valuable feedback too! So, they made the decision to concentrate their efforts into attending shows across the length and breadth of the country to grow the brand, and back in 2019 attended 120 shows per year, supplying over 150,000 samples annually! As with our own brand when people meet you face to face it’s a physical connection to the brand – they get a little bit of you, we find out a little bit about them and it’s powerful! We so need to get back out there!

There’s been lots of talk about the boom in gin and the loosely held perceptions of only being drunk before dinner by expats and older women, and we chatted about how that journey has been for them, but what we really wanted to get to know was an insider opinion on the ‘next big thing’ in the drinks industry. Cathy shared rum was still being discussed, along with tequila too. Though no boom will be as big as gin as it’s such a versatile spirit and perfect for so many cocktails. With the cocktail making trend showing no signs of going anywhere, we’re certain it will be here for some time!

Each had different highs on their journey. For Karl it was showing off the gin at the British Ambassador’s Residence in Paris, and for Cathy it was a rather personal moment, remembering the escalator ride with her daughter in Harvey Nichols, going to see their bottles sitting proudly on their shelves. There’s nothing like seeing your results of your hard work on the shelves anywhere. We know how she feels.

After such a wonderful day talking all things gin with this warm and hospitable pair, and our favourite people in the world of gin, we realised that everything they do has their loving and caring touch. It’s just the Masons Way.

 

 

CATHY'S YORKSHIRE MEADOW


Cathy's Yorkshire Meadow


Designed by Mrs Mason herself, this cocktail is the epitomy of summer. Using Masons of Yorkshire English Lavender Gin, this cocktail is reminiscent of our very own Limited Edition Lemon & Lavender Gin Dressing made with their award-winning gin!

Ingredients

  • 50ml Masons of Yorkshire English Lavender Gin
  • 20ml Lemon Juice
  • 10ml Jasmine Syrup
  • 40ml Cloudy Apple Juice

Add all ingredients to a cocktail shaker and shake until mixed. Next, add ice to the cocktail shaker and shake again until chilled. Fine strain into your glass and garnish with rose petals.

www.masonsofyorkshire.com

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