An Autumn Excursion – Piper Hole Goat Farm, Ravenstonedale
Piper Hole owners Ruth and Frank Hunter kindly invited Dee and a group from The Lighthouse to visit their wonderful farm to learn about what they do – and to have a bite of lunch! Piper Hole is one of only two goat farms in Cumbria.
Storms And Wind And Rain – Oh My!
The sub-heading probably dates me. In my defence, I’ll say that I didn’t see The Wizard of Oz on its release in 1939. However, I will apologise to Judy Garland for misquoting one of her famous lines from the film.
It’s been a wet and windy few weeks. Close on the heels of Storm Babet in October, we have experienced Storms Ciarán and Debi. Where is all the water coming from, and, more importantly, where is it going? Our lakes, rivers and becks are all full and the ground is at saturation point.!
A trip out was needed – it would be a chance to leave the usual surroundings of Stricklandgate House and venture east towards the foot of the Howgills.
Piper Hole Goat Farm
In October, Piper Hole held a metal detecting event on the farm and kindly donated a share of the funds raised to The Lighthouse. It was a successful event; several recently lost items and a King Edward 1st coin c.1300 were found!
Following the donation, Piper Hole and The Lighthouse wanted to know more about each other. Frank Hunter and Dee Kay made contact, and a group from The Lighthouse were invited to visit the farm.
Ravenstonedale is an unspoiled, picturesque village near the Howgill Fells. Not far away is the town of Newbiggin-on-Lune. These villages, together with the farms and homes scattered around them, form the parish of Ravenstonedale, part of the Yorkshire Dales National Park. It’s a beautiful village on the bank of Scandal Beck. There are several nearby walks, two churches, a gallery and three pubs, but, sadly, no shops!
Piper Hole is a traditional family run hill farm set on the borders of the Westmorland Dales and the Yorkshire Dales National parks at Ravenstonedale. The farm is “Holistically” managed and has been for several generations, there are no artificial inputs.
The farm consists of SSSi meadow land that is covered by an agri-environment scheme to help enhance and protect the plant diversity. The meadows are also recognised as Cumbria’s first “Coronation Meadows”. This was an appointment by Prince Charles (now King Charles III) whereby 60 counties throughout the United Kingdom would each have a meadow that would donate seed to a recipient site within the county to produce another hay meadow in a bid to enhance and increase the numbers of traditional hay meadows throughout the country. The pastures that the animals graze on are equally as rich and diverse as the meadows. The position is such that the animals graze the herbal plants and benefit from the nutrient source from the plant. In winter the housed animals are fed the crop that has been taken from the herbal meadows.
A herd of goats are kept at Piper Hole and milked twice a day through a milking parlour.
The goat milk is pasteurised and made into a range of quality Goats Cheese, or transformed into our beneficial, handmade Goats Soap.
Emma Rose Goats Milk Soap is a small cottage industry run by Ruth, along with Emma based on our traditional hill farm in Ravenstonedale.
The goats milk soap is handmade here on the farm using natural oils and goats milk from our own dairy herd. The herd graze on the herbal rich pastures enhancing the quality of the milk.
Our goats milk soap is beneficial in many ways, the inclusion of the goat milk helps reduce the redness of acne, as it is rich in vitamins A, B and C which are known to reduce inflammation. It also relieves the itching in eczema, helps sooth dry skin and helps people suffering from skin conditions such as psoriasis.
Billy Kid goats are also reared for their meat. Goat meat has a varied amount of qualities that are beneficial to our daily diet and is becoming one of our healthier options. It holds lower calories, low total fat, low saturated fat and low cholesterol, combined with its high iron and protein content. Goat meat is an excellent choice for anybody looking for a healthy red meat, as it is leaner, thicker and a much healthier choice when compared to equal serving sizes of chicken, beef or pork.Frank Hunter – Piper Hole Goat Farm
On arrival at the farm, Frank greeted us and invited us for coffee in his welcoming and cosy farmhouse. Joined by Ruth, we listened as Frank outlined the work of Piper Hole and some of its long history.
In addition to being a farm, Piper Hole also works with Woodland Xperiences and Forces into Agriculture. Together, they deliver projects to support military veterans, the Blue Light community, and their families. These projects have been set up to assist forces leavers and veterans with post-traumatic growth, employment opportunities, and re-engagement. Set up in memory of ‘Caz’ (a forces medic) and other fallen soldiers, they help anyone who is struggling. The projects repair the shattered mental health of those damaged by PTS caused by armed conflict or through witnessing disasters.
Keen to give us a tour of Piper Hole, Frank led the group first through the adjoining campsite (open from Easter until September). From there, we walked to the Memorial Orchard. Established in memory of ‘Caz’ and others who failed to return home, the orchard is full of young fruit trees. Over the coming years, the trees will grow and blossom, forming a permanent and beautiful memorial to those lost. Frank mentioned that the orchard needs folks willing to look after it. Adding it might be a good project for The Lighthouse to adopt. That sounds like an excellent plan to me – what do you think?
Away from the main campsite, Piper Hole provides opportunities for more secluded, ‘wild’ camping where it’s possible to go completely ‘off-grid’ – ideal if you want a digital detox!
Why Piper Hole?
Away from the Memorial Orchard, Frank continued the tour. Leading us towards the edge of a field, he answered the question we were all asking. Why is the farm called ‘Piper Hole’? Frank explained as we reached the edge of a large crater-like and eerie hole in the ground. “Local legend says that towards the end of 1745, Charles Edward Stuart (1720 – 1788), aka ‘Bonnie Prince Charlie’, set up camp in the area during his retreat from Derby. The Scottish prince had intended to lead the Jacobites on a march on London but thought better of it and headed back towards Scotland. One morning, a Scots Piper decided to play a tune as dawn broke. This upset some local English folks who decided they weren’t partial to the music, so they promptly shot the Piper dead!”
The countryside around Ravenstonedale sits on limestone rock. Sinkholes are common where the rock below the land surface is limestone, carbonate rock, salt beds, or rocks that groundwater can naturally dissolve. As the rock dissolves, spaces and caverns develop underground. This is handy when you want to dispose of a body. According to Frank, the poor Piper was consigned to one of the deep pits, which is how Piper Hole got its name. Hmmm, do you believe the tale? I do, even though the Piper’s remains have never been found!
Charlie continued his retreat northward, where, on the 18th of December 1745, at Clifton Moor, just south of Penrith, his army met the English forces of William, Duke of Cumberland. The opposing armies became involved in a bloody skirmish in what was to be the last battle to be fought on English soil.
In the skirmish, only twelve Jacobites were killed, but the English forces sustained a loss of about one hundred killed and wounded, including some officers. Ten Dragoons from the defeated English troops are buried in the churchyard of St Cuthbert’s Church, Clifton.
The Piper Hole Goats
With the ghostly sounds of battle ringing in our ears, Frank led us towards the farmyard. We passed the ‘Hobbit Hut’, where campers at Piper Hole can enjoy indoor barbeques, and met some chickens roaming free. Wading ankle-deep through the rushing waters of a small beck, we soon heard goats bleating.
On entering the farmyard, we saw barns with pens containing herds of loud and boisterous nanny goats. They seemed pleased to see us, and after introducing ourselves, we chatted for a while and soon became good friends. It didn’t matter that we were not fluent in ‘goat’!
Following Frank to a shed, he proudly showed us his cheese dairy, or as it’s called in France, a ‘fromagerie’. It’s such a pretty word, ‘fromagerie’; I prefer it to ‘cheese dairy’. It was interesting to see the tools and equipment used for cheese making. Frank runs cheese-making experience sessions and confirmed he would happily arrange some for The Lighthouse should there be interest.
From the fromagerie, we went into the milking shed, where the goats are milked twice daily during lactation. Milking is done by machine with two banks of eight stalls, enabling sixteen goats to be milked simultaneously. Frank seems to have a well-organised way of doing things at Piper Hole, although he will tell you that he is still learning and making things up as he goes along!
Finally, the farm tour was over, and we returned to the farmhouse for lunch. During refreshments, including samples of their fine cheeses, we talked more with Ruth and Frank about Piper Hole and their products. They are both proud of what they do on the farm and in their work supporting veterans, emergency workers, and others living with mental health and wellbeing difficulties. Afterwards, we told them more about The Lighthouse and our individual stories.
It’s fair to say that we all told Ruth and Frank how we enjoyed the visit and how calming the atmosphere at Piper Hole felt – notwithstanding the traumatic history and stories, both past and present, it has absorbed. They both seemed happy to hear our day was a success and invited The Lighthouse to visit again.
Thank you, Ruth and Frank; your farm is fantastic, your hospitality warm & welcoming, and all your work has to be commended. We’ll be back!
Time to Go
Lunch was over too soon, and it was time to go. But first, a final treat: a visit to the ‘Little Soap Shed’. This is Ruth’s She Shed, where she sells craftwork and hand-made goat milk soaps. It’s a fine shop, full of beautiful items for sale, and well worth a visit. Piper Hole products can also be found at the many local farmer’s markets and shows, including at the nearby 13th-century small market village of Orton. Get there early, though – the products sell out very quickly!
Returning to our cars provided a final opportunity to gaze at the lovely countryside around Piper Hole. During the warmer seasons, the goat herds leave their pens in the barn and roam freely in the fields, pastures and meadows. There, they munch on the wildflowers, grasses and other plants devoid of all fertiliser and pesticides.
It was, to use the words of Wigan-based Wallace (as ever Gromit remains silent but nods knowingly), ‘A Grand Day Out’!
All things considered, Piper Hole cheese is delicious. With Frank’s help, I rescued some before we left, and I’m happily munching on it as I write this article.
Now that you have read this article, if you liked it and are a user of other Lighthouse services, remember to keep up to date with our other activities, including walks. Full details can be found on the Activities Page of the website.