Farmer and Presenter Adam Henson
Thursday, January 28, 2010
Real-life farmer and countryfile presenter Adam Henson explains how it's hard to become a media darling when there are pigs to muck out. Photography by Mike Charity
LIFE's a gambol at the Cotswold Farm Park, the rare-breed centre in Guiting Power; for this month marks the start of lambing. In fact, here's the ideal place to find an antidote to the economic gloom and doom, for this top Cotswold attraction has just reported its best season in 12 years.
"Despite a hideously wet summer and the start of the recession, we were amazed at the visitor figures," says owner Adam Henson. "It was particularly nice to see that so many of our visitors were local."
The sheep, cows, pigs, horses, chickens, rabbits and goats that live here include many endangered breeds, continuing the work of Adam's father, Joe, founder chairman of the charity, the Rare Breeds Survival Trust.
The farm park has featured on television many times - as has its owner. For Adam is both a real-life farmer and a presenter on BBC's Countryfile. "There's not much chance of me becoming a media darling when I have to come back and muck out the pigs after filming!" he says.
Adam lives with his partner, Charlie, and their children, 10-year-old Ella, and Alfie, six.
Where do you live and why?
At Bemborough Farm in Guiting Power, on the same holding as the Cotswold Farm Park. I 'inherited' the tenancy from my father; in fact, my lad, Alfie, has same bedroom I used to sleep in as a child. It seems to me a pretty perfect childhood. Ella and Alfie both know about the birds and the bees, life and death, and the seasons. I feel that teaches them values. But Charlie loves the city life, and we often have city breaks, so our children have ended up with the best of both worlds.
How long have you lived in the Cotswolds?
More or less all my life. I spent time on the Chatsworth Estate before going to agricultural college in Devon. Then I travelled the world for a year, working on sheep and arable stations, a kiwi plantation in New Zealand, and a tea plantation in Queensland. Some of it was very hard work, especially planting tea in the Atherton Tablelands, one of the wettest parts of Australia. But the incentive was the fact that I was earning money to go diving on the Great Barrier Reef.
What's your idea of a perfect weekend in the Cotswolds?
I'm a home boy, to be honest, so I love being here with my family, walking the dogs, looking at the animals. Unlike a lot of families, our busy times are weekends and holidays but, over the last two or three years, we've put managers and foremen into position so I don't need to be around as much; I've achieved that partly thanks to the income I earn through the media, and with the support of my business partner, Duncan Andrews.
If money were no object, where would you live in the Cotswolds?
I live in rented accommodation - I'm a tenant - so if I did have a big pot of money, I'd love to buy my own place with space, animals and freedom: pretty much what I've got here. I feel very privileged because it was my parents who originally built up this business and allowed me to take it on; but if I'd had no responsibilities, I might have settled in New Zealand. I love the countryside, the climate and the people; being able to be skiing one minute and be on the beach the next.
Where are you least likely to live in the Cotswolds?
Gloucester, because I'm not a fan of big cities and I don't think it's the most attractive. There is a farm in Gloucester, of course, which is important for city kids. There are lots of inner-city farm parks now, which is a credit to my dad: when it opened in 1971, this was the first ever farm park in the country. Funnily enough, dad came from a theatrical, not an agricultural background: his father was the comedian, Leslie Henson, and my uncle is the actor Nicky Henson. But he always had an affinity with animals, and kept a pet rabbit and a jackdaw, as a child. I've still got his lead play farm.
Where's the best pub in the area?
I like the Plough Inn at Ford. The horsy fraternity tends to go there before the races, but you'll find all sorts of country and city folk too.
Have you a favourite tearoom?
Tea is one of my favourite drinks, so tea and cake down in the farm-park kitchen is a real treat. Jan Goode, who cooks there, makes fantastic flapjack. But I've got love handles that nobody loves so I do have to watch my figure.
What would you do for a special occasion?
Because the farm is not only our home but our business, it's good for us all to get away occasionally. We tend to stay in a hotel for a break, or visit friends, who live all over the country. I like the west coast of Scotland, although I've not yet taken the family there for a holiday.
What's the best thing about the Cotswolds?
The gentle rolling hills, with their fantastic views.
... and the worst?
Deep quarrying. I love Cotswold stone houses, drystone walls and real Cotswold roof slates, but I can't bear the quarries that wreck the landscape. Some are very deep and purely quarrying for aggregate. I might be a bit of a NIMBY, but there's one that's encroaching on us, and it's a big threat to my business.
Which shop could you not live without?
My rugby mates take the mickey out of me because I like shopping - clothes, stuff for the house, food and drink; everything, really. I like buying clothes at Monty Smith in Cheltenham. I'm a bit of a label victim.
What's the most underrated thing about the Cotswolds?
The strength of the community: Stow Rugby Club, for example, has been a huge part of my life. There have been a few waifs and strays that have played over the years and they've always been looked after by senior members of the team - kept on the straight and narrow. And hundreds of kids go up there on a Sunday. Alfie hasn't quite started yet but he seems to have good skills: a bit of a chip off the old block!
What would be a three course Cotswold meal?
We've got lovely chalk streams on the farm - cool, clean water for trout - and I enjoy fly fishing. Otherwise, we'd go and buy some trout pt from Donnington for a starter.
Then I'd go for some Cotswold lamb or, really traditionally, I ought to be having mutton with root vegetables. You get lots of flavour in the meat, but you do need to cook it well so it melts in the mouth. If people want to save money, they're going to have to go back to freezing vegetables, making preserves and jams, and planning meals in advance.
For pudding, it would be one of my mum's fantastic blackberry and apple pies, made with fruit from the farm. And Weaver's organic brie to finish.
To drink, I'd have cider from Weston's near Ledbury.
What's your favourite view in the Cotswolds?
Off Cleeve Hill, looking out over Cheltenham to the Malverns, with the Black Mountains beyond. Or the other way across Winchcombe. You can climb to the top of any Cotswold hill and get a fantastic view.
Closer to home, last year I had a lady in our touch barn who must have been 80. She asked if she could hold one of the day-old chicks and, when I put one in her hand, her face lit up. She'd never held one before. That was lovely to see.
What's your quintessential Cotswolds village and why?
I don't know whether it's a town or a village, but Chipping Campden is stunning. As is Broadway. I was on a photo-shoot there last summer when we were invited into someone's back garden. It was amazing to see the houses from the hidden side.
Name three basic elements of the Cotswolds...
The name 'Cotswold' refers to a sheep cot, and a wold is a rolling hill, so those two things have to be the fabric behind the whole of our society.
And then there are the wonderful local characters, such as Eric Freeman, Newent-way, who breeds Cotswold sheep and Gloucester cattle.
What's your favourite Cotswolds building and why?
There are so many, but the reason why I love them all is the yellow Jurassic limestone, which is so warm and welcoming. Derbyshire or Scotland with their granite and their gritstone, or Wales with the dark slates, are grim in the darkness of winter. But the stone in the Cotswolds holds the sun.
What would you never do in the Cotswolds?
Regret being here.
Starter homes or executive properties?
Starter homes are important but they should be built sensitively. There are some very ugly ones. Having said that, it depends what's meant by executive properties. A lot of people moan about city money coming into the country, but we need it. There are two or three mansions being done up around here, something that tenant farmers just couldn't afford to do. It's almost going back to the estates of Victorian times: people make their money from the city, live in mansions, and employ locals to maintain their land. It has to be a good thing.
What are the four corners of the Cotswolds?
Chipping Campden, Lechlade, Bath and the Stroud escarpment.
If you lived abroad, what would you take to remind you of the Cotswolds?
I did geology for 'A' level, so it would probably be a pound-stone - a fossil that was once an echinoid. We often find them around the farm.
What would you change about the Cotswolds or banish from the area?
One of our biggest threats is animal diseases and some of those are being brought on by climate change. Bluetongue is currently being blown over. We've got a vaccine for one strain, but there are others which may be on their way. It's one of my biggest concerns.
And which book should they read?
I'm not a big reader. I'd recommend Laurie Lee, and Cotswold Life magazine - particularly this issue, of course! There's also a good book by Ian Walthew, a journalist I was at school with, called A Place in My country. It's a controversial subject, showing the conflict between the big and the small farmer, but a lot of what he says is true. The estate we're on used to consist of three farms, whereas I'm now the sole farmer: I just couldn't make a living on a small plot. That's the reality of life today.
Have you a favourite Cotswolds walk?
We've got a wildlife walk on the farm, where you can see the Duke of Burgundy butterfly and Cotswold pennycress. It's a fairly insignificant-looking plant, but this is one of only a very few spots in the Cotswold where it grows. We also have some amazing orchids in the spring. It's one of the great joys of living here.
If you were invisible for a day, where would you go and what would you do?
I'd love to be a fly on the wall in my kids' classrooms. I suspect I'd just look down and see myself - won't concentrate, looking out of the window, chatting, making jokes!
I also enjoy my natural history and wildlife. If I were invisible, I could get up close to badgers, deer and birds without them feeling threatened.
To whom or what should there be a Cotswolds memorial?
I wish my dad had got a knighthood for his work in rare-breed conservation; it would make me so proud, and he very much deserves one. His father never got one, either, and the reason was that he was divorced. George VI once gave my grandfather a set of cufflinks and dress studs for his shirt, telling him, 'I wish I could have given you more', meaning it should have been a knighthood: but it just wasn't done in those days, if you were divorced.
The Cotswolds - aspic or asphalt?
We're in a living landscape, and we need to develop and move forward, but we mustn't destroy our heritage. When the farm park opened, there were huge petitions against it because people didn't want to clog up the roads with tourists; they felt farms should be for feeding the nation, not entertainment. But it opened, and now there's tourism all over the Cotswolds. The point is that we've done it sensitively, educating people about Cotswold life, agriculture, and British rare breeds; and we employ lots of local people.
What attitude best sums up the Cotswolds?
Community spirit and sociability
With whom would you most like to have a cider?
I don't sit down with my dad enough. He can tell stories 'til the cows come home, and I can sit and listen all day long. But I'd also love to meet David Attenborough. As far as I'm concerned, he has the best job in the world.
The Cotswold Farm Park at Guiting Power is open daily from March 21. Find out more from 01451 850307 or by logging onto www.cotswoldfarmpark.