landlines

FARM house bed-and-breakfast and self-catering cottage providers, more specifically those who are members of Farm Stay Scotland, last week started a £10,000 campaign to raise their profile with visitors from the rest of the UK and overseas.

Many of us who live in Scotland and the north of England are already aware of the benefits a farm holiday might offer. For those who aren’t, Marion Oates, now regional director of Farm Stay Scotland, spelled it out on a snowy morning in the Lammermuirs foothills last week: “With beautiful scenery, open spaces and fresh air, there really is nothing quite like a holiday on a Scottish farm. Guests get a unique insight into rural life and a working farm and with farm-fresh eggs, local bacon and sausages and much else on the menu, the money stays in the local economy.”

She believes that Farm Stay Scotland, with more than 60 members, already has an international reputation, but that more can be done to raise its profile, particularly in northern Europe, Australia, New Zealand and Canada where many potential visitors already know something about farms.

My only reservation is that that might be a two-edged sword. Someone familiar with the ups and downs of farm life might not want to travel several thousand miles to become familiar with the occasional travails and traumas encountered by Scottish farmers.

That’s not really a reservation because in my experience, most farm B&Bs and self-catering cottages are now of a much higher standard in general than those of 20 or 30 years ago. There are a few stuck in a bygone age of what was acceptable – friends have occasionally been unlucky enough to suffer in them – but ones we’ve stayed at in Scotland and England have been good.

Add the high quality accommodation to good quality local food on the breakfast menu, a working farm, and some unique selling points, such as the farmer who puts on sheepdog demonstrations for visitors, and the mix is right to attract holiday makers.

The experience of the best B&B providers is that happy customers keep coming back so the trick is to get them there the first time. The £10,000 campaign, £5,000 of it from VisitScotland’s Year of Natural Scotland growth fund, will concentrate on online marketing, an improved website and more effective brochure distribution.

Year of Natural Scotland might sound a touch vague, but its good intention is to increase the awareness of outdoor Scotland including its landscapes and the quality of food and drink produced and provided.

Farm Stay Scotland members fit right in to that and a number of them got together to prove it last week when the marketing campaign opened at Gill and Ian Tait’s Redhills farm, near Gifford, with a farmhouse brunch.

The menu included local eggs, bacon and sausage, rolls, smoked salmon and haddock, mushrooms, home baked scones and home-made jams and chutney as well as the less local, but top quality, fruit and yoghurt visitors now expect to be available at breakfast.

I guess “Holiday on a farm and put on three kilos a week” wouldn’t be the best slogan to use, but given free access to a breakfast menu I couldn’t rule it out – speaking personally, that is. But it’s a campaign that deserves to succeed.

Meantime, back at the ranch, what can be made of this weather? I’ve given up the thermals three times so far in the past month and been driven back to them as the temperature plummeted and the wind-chill factor seemed to be about -10C.

I am only grateful for two things. One is that I’m no longer 12 years old or so, walking back and forth along a grain drill, ready to alert the tractor driver if a grain spout, or more probably a fertiliser spout, stopped running. Goodness knows, I probably didn’t spend all spring doing that job in bitter weather, but it seemed like it in spite of being submerged in an old army greatcoat.

The second thing I’m grateful for is not to be in a lambing field or lambing shed. Actually, I’d be grateful for that these days even if the weather was balmy, temperatures in the high teens, birds singing and ewes lambing unaided with every lamb healthy and ready to suck.

But in weather like this I’m doubly grateful. In fact, make that trebly. And to all those shepherds who aren’t as lucky as I am, my thoughts go out to you.

As they do to arable farmers thinking of, or managing to, catch up on the sowing backlog left from last year’s pitiful autumn. Some have managed to sow winter wheat and it will be interesting to see how that crop performs when sown three months later than hoped; as wheat always seems to compensate more than most crops for poor soil and weather conditions, these crops could do surprisingly well.

But for most, the crop being sown as and when possible is spring barley. For the results and prices we can, as ever – it should really be adopted as a motto by every farmer – only wait and see.