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WESTCOUNTRY FARMER: Selling the family farm emotional time after 27 years

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: March 19, 2014

By Athwenna Irons; @AthwennaWMN

  • John and Rosy White with the thatched farmhouse at Yarmleigh Farm, which is on the market at a guide price of £2 million. Pictures: Richard Austin.

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As I drove round the drive’s final corner, a thatched farmhouse comes in to view. Illuminated by the winter sun, it is the perfect definition of a “chocolate box” scene.

Behind closed doors, current owners John and Rosy White, along with John’s brother Tim, are preparing to bid farewell to Yarmleigh Farm, as the property has been put on the market, off a guide price of £2 million following the death of their mother last year.

The 220 acres of productive arable and grass land sit in a secluded valley just outside the Mid Devon village of Sandford, near Crediton, and the house stands proud at the centre of the farmstead.

Recently re-thatched with ten-12 tonnes of home-grown wheat reed from the farm, the cross passage house retains many of its original features, which date back to the 1560s. Carvings warding off witches shed light on Yarmleigh’s past life, and centuries-old oak beams stand as strong as ever throughout the rooms.

The trio made the move down from Surrey in 1987. With the busy M25 passing right through their land, the decision was made to relocate to a more peaceful area. John’s father, who was born at Ottery St Mary and went to school in Barnstaple, had longed to return to the South West to spend his final years before passing away 15 years ago. Yarmleigh Farm was love at first sight for John and Tim’s parents, and 27 years on, I can see why.

“It was quite a transition moving down here because we didn’t bring any livestock down,” said John. As he explained, Rosy and Tim came down beforehand to the South Molton sheep fair, purchasing some stock, which was taken straight to the farm and kindly looked after by the previous owners until the move was finally completed in late September. The family also acquired a selection of “barley beef” cattle to kick-start their farming life at Yarmleigh.

Despite no longer owning their own livestock, the farm continues to be a hive of activity. The family currently have a contract with Peter Coleman and his Creedy Carver business based in nearby Crediton. More than 5,000 chickens are kept in free-range units on the farm, housed in specialist arcs to protect them from the elements and predators.

The farm’s sheds and steeper ground are also rented out to neighbouring farmer Jim Stevens, who runs a mixed herd of Charolais, Devon Red, Hereford, Limousin and Simmental beef cattle.

With regular visits from estate agents, the reality of leaving is starting to pinch, admits John: “It is going to be very emotional. We are beginning to feel it now the farm has been launched and the fact that we are starting to go out and look at other properties.

“We’ve come to the regrettable decision that while we’re still fit of wind and limb, we all can move now and find somewhere to start again before we finally retire.

“It’s going to be a tremendous upheaval. You just cannot beat this location,” added John.

John and Rosy have raised their two children on the farm, who have since flown the nest. Their son Robert was born in the house, and last year their daughter Philippa held her wedding reception in the old lambing shed.

The surrounding fields roll out across the Mid Devon countryside, with panoramic views that stretch for miles with no visible end. During their time on the farm, the lie of the land has made working a challenge on occasions.

“We liked the land so much we stood it on edge so we could farm both sides,” John laughed. “It is good growing soil, but it does make farming it quite interesting on occasions.

“You’ve got to know the ground to drive on it. It’s boy’s ground for cultivating, but its man’s ground for driving.”

Rosy added: “If it was more level and suitable to sell in parts we could have ended up staying, but it’s just not suitable for that and it would wreck the place to break it up.”

On making the move to Yarmleigh, the trio enrolled on a number of courses focused on farming skills, organised by the Agricultural Training Board, which has since diversified in to LANTRA. These one-day courses included hedge-laying, sheep-shearing and hill-driving, which fully prepared them for owning and running their own farm.

Brothers John and Tim have a strong working relationship, sharing the jobs that need doing between them. “We know our individual strengths and weaknesses,” said John. Apart from hiring contractors for silage making, the pair are near enough self sufficient. One of Tim’s main projects is producing small round bales of haylage, selling to local horse owners.

In comparison to the first move, for their next property the Whites are concentrating their search in the nearby area, along the A30 corridor and stretching out to Okehampton.

Tim said: “John wants a few acres and I only want a maximum of ten, as I would like to expand my compact tractor business. I don’t want to do anything terribly intensive, as I’m getting to the stage where I don’t want to do hard work, but I want to keep active.”

Something the family are really looking forward to is having a holiday, and not being constantly committed to the daily farm chores. Apart from a few long weekends to Guernsey and Ireland, breaks have been far and few between.

Rosy, who frequently travels around the South West taking part in dog agility competitions, said: “There’s lots of the county that John and Tim haven’t even seen.”

John, who holds a HGV licence and drives part-time for local skip and pallet companies, has seen some of the neighbouring counties, but only from a lorry cab. He is keen to explore in more detail the county which he has come to love: “We’ve not had many holidays so it would be nice to wind down gently and be able to enjoy life.”

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