I seem to have spent some time traversing the West Allen valley over the past week or so, trying to make this diary a more comprehensive recapitulation of the entities in the whole patch. The Elk’s Head is the last pub in these valleys to chat about, since we’ve covered all the others in entries throughout this year.
We’ve had lovely dinners in the dining room, over the years, and I seem to remember hoieing a quoit or two on the great pair of pitches in the front garden. The Elk’s Head is part of the Whitfield Estate Partnership, so mein host is a manager who takes care of the specific enterprise of this public house, restaurant and accommodation provider. The Blackett-Ord family have looked after the Whitfield estate for at least five generations now.
Just outside the Elk’s Head, a decade and more ago, a heavy livestock lorry came thundering down the steep bank towards the narrow bridge over the River West Allen, brakes failing. It didn’t make the full turn into the bridge, and knocked most of the downward parapet off. The driver escaped, but sheep cascaded out of the broken pens and drifted downstream, drowning quickly. The bridge is all repaired now, but the event will live in my vivid imagination for a long time. Incidentally, the road down the bank was the subject of an enormous repair effort a few years ago, and although it’s still quite narrow in places, it feels so much safer!
Perusing the lovely Whitfield Estate Partnership website, I see that the collective enterprise has many components. Diversification is what it’s all about, these days, and the Estate is certainly diversified. So, in addition to the Elk’s Head, beside which the estate ofices are located, the collective lets a variety of property, including 20 farms, 60 residences, and a handful of commercial lettings. These lettings are in addition to the 120 static caravan pitches at Low Haber Park, and 42 lodge pitches at Parmontley Hall Country Lodges. These short-term accommodation pitches are so sequestered down beside the river that you wouldn’t know they are there, as you pass by on the road towards Alston.
The Whitfield Estate encompasses some 15,000 acres of prime shooting territory, where grouse, pheasant and partridge are taken (typically shoots take 250 birds a day). The shoot days commenced with a little advertising in ’89 but have relied on repeat custom and word-of-mouth ever since.
Additionally, the Estate runs its own farming operations on some 4000 acres, encompassing 1000 Swaledale ewes pure-bred on the heather fells, and another 600 in-bye bred to Blue-Faced Leicesters. The cattle herd consists of 130 Saler x Limousin suckler cows. Some 180 acres of good quality grassland is maintained for silage and hay purposes, to maintain a low-cost, sustainable feeding programme.
The Estate manages 1000 acres of commercial woodlands, which are harvested responsibly and sustainably. And its conservation efforts include, on its thousands of acres, attention to the habitat of wading birds, care of several SSSIs, and the blocking of hundreds of kilometres of field drains (grips) in the peat bogs which had inopportunely been created by government initiative in the 1960s to ‘improve’ the hill land.
So life goes on in the West Allen valley, in a surprisingly varied array of activities that a casual visitor might just miss. But it’s a good thing the Estate Partnership website lists so many of them, so they can be recorded here in this year-long diary!