Reports - Weekends 2016

Country Link Weekend – Autumn 2016 - Tom Knox

Friday 28th October - Monday 31st October 2016

Once again it was time to set off for our Autumn annual get together, hosted by Cumbria members at the Gilsland Spa Hotel near Carlisle.

Compared with past venues, this location is truly stunning. On arrival and doing a local reconnaissance walk, it was a reminder not only of the beauty of the Autumn season, but of the smell of leaf decay under the tree canopy. Leaves stirred up on the path down to the spa well in a river gorge. Scandinavian bird arrival observed.

For couples of a romantic disposition, a longer walk leads to the 'popping stone'. Legend has it, shortly after July 1797 Sir Walter Scott, then Captain Scott, proposed to his lady friend at the boulder stone in the river Irthing. The first hotel on site was built in the 1700s. After the initial assignation, they met at the ballroom in the then named Shaw's hotel.I wonder if Sir Walter, later a novelist, used his experiences of this time in his life and in this area in his novels?

The hotel business of taking the spa water took off after the opening of the railway in July 1836. Gilsland has the oldest locomotion shed in the world. Like many large houses in this country, the hotel as it stands now has come full circle, now known as the Gilsland Hall Hotel, a hotel without a railway station. Now, campaign to re-open the station is underway. The present building was built for £10,000 in the late 19th century, designed in Italian style architecture, 700' above sea level.

Later, the building was a convalescent home, again people benefiting from the spa water, pure air, peace and tranquillity. Inevitably the home became a hospital for WW1 soldiers, a convalescent home again until WW2 when it was used as a maternity home for ladies from the bomb targeted towns on the East coast. A walk down to the nearby church and I found an outside tablet in remembrance of 96 babies who died at the home between 1939-1945.

On cue the Saturday coaches arrived. Were they going to take us to a tropical island as the livery silhouette suggested? It was onwards to the farm visit, a large farm cubicle building and the family team awaiting our arrival. The benefit of being in a coach and on narrow roads and being able to see over the hedges. The Marleycote pedigree dairy Shorthorn and Ayrshire cows are of equal numbers in a herd serving the local Hexham, Tyne Valley area with whole, semi skimmed, skimmed and cream products. Our visit started with refreshments on the balcony whilst viewing the cows in their contented social environment, with the occasional cow 'coming over all unnecessary' when fancying a back scratch. Down below, we were given a lecture on the workings of the Lely robotic milking machine. No going back to the old parlour system, cowman's position redundant.

In a nutshell as I understand it, the cow's vital statistics are fed into a computer - computer recognises the stats from a chip collar on the cow - computer follows instructions - teats cleaned - a separate pipe from each udder quarter has an electric charge mechanism which passes through to pick up the early start of a salty mastitis infection - infection detected milk goes into a separate container - when safe to use milk after antibiotic treatment computer decides. Colostrum is retained in a separate container.

The Baynes family have, over the years, blended their Shorthorn red and white (roan) with the Swedish red and American dairy Shorthorn breeding. Ayrshire and Holstein crosses used, taking care not to compromise on the traditional Shorthorn breeds attributes of quality milk production, good health and longevity to produce what they believe is the ideal dairy cow. While few cows are 100% Shorthorn, the ideal is to maintain at least 25% Shorthorn bloodlines in the herd. The breed I remember as common in my youth. The original Ayshire cows were a mix of pure and blended blood lines. The breeding policy has been to mate each cow individually to try to improve her faults so a wide variety of pure and blended bulls are used. The on farm bull was inspected in a pen with dry cows. Although breeding the right type of cow is more important than percentage, the show ring plays an important part in the breeding decisions, so if possible the aim is to keep them over 50%. The aim across the 120 cow herd is for a cow to last 7-8 lactations with an average yield of 8,000 litres whilst getting straight back in calf with minimal health problems. A reasonable live weight gain when sold as cast cows is achieved.

Onwards to the dairy building which houses the bulk milk storage tank, pasteuriser, separator and bottling machine. Faced with the economics of milk production at the beginning of the noughtys, the decision was made to continue the pursuit of quality not quantity, adding value to their on-farm processing. After the 2001 foot and mouth disease year, producers milk monetary returns went down. There was grant money available for diversification of business. The local markets for a different added value were explored. The homogenous cream separation process is a useful quality product available for sale to the likes of Costa Coffee and baking chefs outlets. Skimming of the cream takes place when the milk is still warm. One litre of cream captured off one litre of milk. Skimming at two different densities at 52% and a single cream of 15% fat. Cream also supplied to ice cream parlour milk. In his own interest the producer has the responsibility of not overloading the market. Family farms are now under threat by farm industrialisation and the liquid milk price fluctuations.

Business acumen requires good customer service, loyalty, a quality product alongside with a good image eg clean, modern delivery vans.

Young people want to enhance today's technology we were told. Today's technology ensures the family members get time off with a happier social life. A big problem, we were informed, was the general ignorance amongst the general public about milk production - it is why they welcome farm visitors.

On the last open day, Sunday, we visited Carlisle Airport Aviation Museum. Now known as the Eddie Stobart airport, owned by a separate company, it was known as RAF Crosby during WWII, a base designed for Hurricane fighter aircraft. Star attraction exhibits outside include a Canberra T4WE188, Royal Navy 573. Even more of an attraction outside and deteriorating is a Vulcan XJ823 aircraft, a deterrent aircraft operating in the Cold War period which was obtained for £5000 n 1983. A further £1500 was paid out in expenses. The aircraft was to the number three in a 1962 two minutes warning scramble, 27 seconds to reach 180 knots, 38 seconds walk up a ladder for the five man crew to reach the controls. There are seven fuel tank cells in each wing. Engineer and co-pilot supervise fuel transfer in flight. If there had been a nuclear attack by Russia, the Vulcans were to have scrambled to a base in Mongolia.

Manganese alloy aluminium was the lightest aircraft manufacture material in the 1950s. It cost £25,000 in fuel to fly the Vulcan last year. The last Vulcan in flight delighted the crowds last year. This Vulcan is now grounded at Doncaster's Robin Airport.

Tom Knox
Yorkshire Country Link

National Country Link Weekend ~ My first weekend - Clare

After meeting up with friends, where Country Link was mentioned, I decided to join the Derbyshire group earlier this year. The autumn weekend was discussed within the group and sounded like it would be of interest to me. I sent off the deposit to secure my place and later sent off the form and paid the balance to complete my booking.

I travelled up to Cumbria with group members and arrived at the Gilsland Hall Hotel on Friday afternoon. We received a warm welcome from the Cumbrian team and checked in to a comfortable room with spectacular views of the Hotel grounds and countryside.

Friday night started with a hearty hot buffet meal followed by music and dancing to Thrice Brewed a Ceilidh band. This was an excellent ice breaker and I had a great time joining in, the caller and instructors helped everyone learn the dances. For those still with energy to keep going the night finished with a disco.


Saturday morning and after a full English breakfast we set off on our chosen activity for the day. Something for everyone - a visit to a Robotic Farm & market town, Roman Museum & Fort, Munitions Factory, Distillery and Gretna Green or an 8 mile walk. Choosing the walk we had chance to see the Cumbrian countryside, going through a nature reserve to the Roman wall and Housteads Fort for a lunch stop. Following the Wall back to the Twice Brewed Inn for a quick drink before being collected and taken back to the Hotel. The walk was made even more enjoyable by chatting to fellow walkers and I met some lovely people.


After a full day out, we had a Masquerade Ball on Saturday night. Dressed up, with masks of all shapes and sizes we had a superb evening meal served in the Orangery. Masks were judged in the ballroom with prizes for the best male and female masks. Live music entertainment by Absolutely had the dancefloor packed, they played for all tastes and ages. A disco to finish the night rounded off a very enjoyable day.

The Country Link Members' Meeting was held on Sunday after breakfast, I chose to take the opportunity explore the Hotel grounds and woodland walks going down to the River over the bridge and looking at the fabulous scenery. On Sunday afternoon there were again four options of trips - an Aviation Museum, Lanercost Priory, Roman Fort or a local walk of 5 miles. I opted for the Priory. We travelled the few miles by car to the Priory where we were given a talk about the history by the Vicar and had time to look around the displays and ruins. We then took a short walk along the footpaths to the old bridge then back to the tearooms at the Priory for a light lunch. Lots of time to chat with fellow country linkers and again met new people from all over the country.

image003.jpgSetting off back towards the Hotel we called at Birdoswald Roman Fort to see the longest continuous remaining stretch of Hadrians Wall. Took a walk down to the River, another local beauty spot. Back to the car and on to the Hotel for a sit down and chat about the weekend so far.

Sunday night we were treated to Gilsland Hall's famous roast carvery, another superb meal to re-fuel ready for the evening. A fun evening, we played bingo, had a team quiz and some played conkers - not as easy as it looks! A disco took those of us not yet ready to call it a night into the early hours.

The final breakfast on Monday morning meant farewells to new friends, a little sad that it was time to leave.

The hotel and its staff were all you could ask for and I would recommend Gilsland Hall to anyone.

I enjoyed every minute and am looking forward to meeting some familiar faces at the Spring weekend.

A huge thankyou to the Cumbrian team for all their hard work before and during the weekend


National Country Link Autumn Weekend

image001.jpgHosted by the Cumbria group at the Gisland Hall Hotel, near Brampton.

150 country linkers from all over the country gathered on Friday after visiting places nearby on their way.

After dinner the Ceilidh band struck up and the barn dancing started, fast and fun, and really mixed us up, meeting friends new and old. Fund-raising by playing "pull a nail out of the bale" for a cash prize. The evening finished with Simon on the tunes, until the morning beckoned.

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Breakfast was fantastic and a real bonus to us all before we took to the buses for our trips, Devils Porridge or The walk on the wild side. The latter was lead by Simon, up the hills taking in Hadrian's Wall. Six Derbyshire members took it on and all returned! Well done to all for completing the walk. Gretna Green where no-one needed the services offered.

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The robotic milking parlour and the diversification of the milk and cream bottled on site for local shops and cafes etc, was inspiring.

image009.jpgLater, the masked ball was a great success, dancing to the band 'Absolutely' into early hours and once more Simon took his turn on the decks to finish the night off.

Sunday morning came early for myself and Liz due to a technical hiccup with the alarm and the clocks changing!

After another fabulous breakfast followed by the members meeting with 100 members present, where the new Chairman 'Tony' greeted us all, and introduced us to fellow officers of the organisation. The weekend baton was exchanged with Gill from Cumbria, handing it on to Valda and Martin from the Cornwall group for the spring weekend 2017.

Trips were shorter today, with a 5 mile walk locally, Soloway Aviation Museum, Lanercost Priory and Birdoswald Roman Fort, all very interesting and relaxed.

In the evening after a hearty carvery, members could enjoy a quiz, game of conkers and bingo, all a bit of fun, and Simon took to tunes for the last time. The pompom photo frame shows The Derbyshire Rams, with Liz, who won the conkers, proudly packing her conker away for the trip home in the photo underneath. The third photo shows the Sulphur Fountain near to Gilsland village.

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Thank you to all the members of Cumbria country link for showing us the very best of Cumbria and the surrounding area in a wonderful manner.

See you all in Newquay, Cornwall for the National Country link spring weekend, moreinformation on the weekend page on the website.

170 sleeps!!

What a great weekend we had in Cumbria at the Autumn National Weekend

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Good hotel and location. Good food and drink. Good trips and walks.
Good evening entertainment, dancing the evening away. Good friends and chat, making new friends.

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Many thanks to the Cumbrian group for all their hard work.

Many happy memories.

See the photographs of the Autumn weekend in the gallery →

A personal experience of a Country Link National Weekend - Tom Knox

Spring Weekend ~ Friday 29th April - Monday 2nd May 2016


Once again, it was time to attend the Spring National Weekend. This year at the Scalford Hall Hotel, Melton Mowbray, Leicestershire. When the property was owned by the 'Colemans' Mustard family, they were hosts to Edward the Duke of Windsor and Mrs Simpson.

In the heart of fox hunting Quorn country and pheasant shoots, one could just imagine after a day of outdoor pursuits, the Duke having a tot of whisky whilst being involved in the playing of parlour games.

Even though there was potential for excitement, enjoyment at home when the tour de Yorkshire cycle race would pass my home on the Sunday and the Leicester football club, known as the 'foxes' were in a state of euphoria, I knew, for myself, I would get all the adventure, excitement, social ability I wanted when attending a Country Link weekend. The knowledge gained through socialising and participating in the weekend events is unbelievable.

On arrival at the railway station, I was met with the slogan 'Welcome to Melton Mowbray, rural capital of food'. Home of Stilton cheese and Melton Mowbray pork pies. Inevitable really when I told people where I was travelling to for this Country Link Weekend.

After settling into the hotel on the Friday evening, I walked the two miles into Scalford village and geologically learned at the church porch that the church is run as a benefice of 'Ironstone' rural churches. No surprise really because the Jurassic period of geology is laid down from the North Yorkshire Moors to the coast at Lyme Regis, Dorset, an ammonite collectors paradise.

The Saturday morning came around with two coaches (no bendy coach) this time to take us to the organised venues.

In the near distance of Belvoir Castle we met Mr Tooley, a farmer with a background of having worked in the oil recycling industry. He introduced his farming policy as of the vintage, now, and the future. The vintage collection of tractors and cars got good coverage and finishing with an inspection of a Challenger tracked tractor which runs out on the land is satellite.

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Re-cycling on the farm is by solar panels, a carbon neutral farm. Rain water is collected off farm building roofs to be used in crop spraying operations. Also of the now and future, the farm's new cereal cleaning and drying operation was inspected, including the laboratory work and the facilities for future contract work. This farm visit ended with a barbecue.

image004.jpgSandwiches eaten on a London Routemaster bus, parked alongside a wall clock which was rescued from Barbers department store in London.

I left the farm thinking, yes the arable side of the business is the way forward, high tech, high money investment, added value where possible and from a background of re-cycling it is all about moving forward and of the future.

Onto the second farm visit. Mr Philip Crowley of Sunrise Farm Eggs was waiting initially to advise us to sign a form and don overall clothing. Welfare in the poultry industry, including disease prevention, is taken very seriously. In front of the £22,000 egg grading machine with plastic egg trays and the noise of the peristaltic pump, Mr Crowley explained his operation.

image005.jpgAccording to TV's 'Countryfile' programme, the poultry sector of agriculture is the most profitable. Mr Crowly said 'yes, we have had a good run in the production, packing, delivery of eggs'. Going back to 1979, the Nation Coal Board was their best customer, followed by Co-op dairies, and now it is the supermarkets, which are supplied with 11,000 cases every week.

We were told that Aldi are a fair company to deal with who don't believe in gifts at Christmastime.

Chicks are delivered to a special rearing shed at 16 weeks old. At point of lay the pullets are 22 weeks of age and are moved to the egg layers litter/free range shed. Of the 37 million laying birds in the country, we were about to stand in amongst the flock of 14,000 birds to one housing shed. A warning first, we were told the hens would be very noisy and just a little flighty.

Until fully trained, there are a few eggs to gather up off the floor. Hot blading (debeaking) is undertaken before moving them to the point of lay housing.

By its very nature, the hen is of a scavenging behaviour, having access to scrubland outside. In reality, they only go outside in the best of weather.

Airflow, ventilation, lighting, feed and water are obviously important. 125 grams of feed per day plus 100 litres of water per day per hen converts into a lifetime of 300plus eggs per hen, laid mostly during the morning time. 3 million eggs handled weekly. Grit is spread on the litter - it gives the hens something to do. Bait for vermin is laid under the nest boxes when the building is empty. During this exchange of info and question time, the hens fancied a flight up to our heads.

Sunday morning turned out to be bright, sunny and dry, just right to go on the Melton Mowbray Heritage Walk.

The first brown heritage sign we see in a car park is Ye Olde Pork Pie Shoppe 1851. Next door is the Corn Exchange 1854. The Market Square is the only one mentioned 1000 years ago in the Domesday Book for the County of Leicestershire. The 3rd oldest in the land, first recorded as a market in 1077, although it s thought to have been held on site in Saxon times. In 1793, the town estates negotiated control of the market from the lord of the manor, Lord Melbourne.

Roger de Mowbray, a Norman baron, had travelled to this country with the 1066 Norman invasion. By 1282, the town had adopted the name. North Yorkshire has a vale of Mowbray.

Over the road from the Corn Exchange in the Market Place stands the Corn Cross where corn sacks were checked and weighed. A Butter Cross is also in situ. The Market Place is considered neutral ground for the fox hunt meets.

We all know the saying 'Paint the town red'. The story goes back to 6th April 1837 when the Marquis of Waterford and his gentlemen friends returned back to Melton from the races. At the toll gate they refused to pay the toll. The toll keeper was imprisoned in his house and everything was painted red. When the Marquis came around after being the worse off for drink, he was fined £100.

On walking away from the Market Square, we noticed a knit and natter session underway.

Down the London Road and past a park to the Chantry Priest's house. The Priests served the church from the 12th-16th centuries. In 1540, the house was included as part of the divorce settlement to Anne of Cleves by Henry VIII.

On leaving the house, a member of our party was hit from above by a bird. Tissues were gratefully received.

Our last venue on this Heritage Trail was to the Town Museum. Although it was not open, I remember seeing a taxidermy calf with two heads on show from a previous visit. The building was a Carnegie Library up to 1977. Nearby is the cheese factory of Juxford and Jebbutt, makers of Stilton and Leicester cheeses.

On the way to the artisan Cheese Fair, I noticed Charlie Dimmock and her decking still gets worthy advertising in a shop window.

The Cheese Fair, at the Livestock Market, although now on a site at Scalford Road, is still held on a Tuesday, as it was in the Market Place. Notices in the market buildings say 'Wash your hands' after handling animals and gates etc. Recently it was reported 20 children had been hit by a sickness bug after visiting Twin Lakes Park at Melton Mowbray. It was believed the children had been feeding lambs and not washing their hands. Health officials were probing an outbreak of cryptosporidiosis.

The British Wool Marketing Board works with 40,000 sheep farmers, collecting, grading, training, publicising and selling their wool at auction.

Thanks are due to the Nottinghamshire Committee for organising this most enjoyable weekend.

£300+ was raised for the Trent Valley First Responders on the Saturday evening.

Tom Knox
Yorkshire Country Link

National Country Link Spring Weekend - May 2016

image001.jpgimage002.jpgimage003.jpgThe weekend was hosted by the Nottinghamshire group at the Scalford Hall Hotel, Melton Mowbray, Leicestershire. 81 members from 18 different groups attended. First visit the Melton Carnegie Museum on Friday afternoon, all you need to know about hunting and the phone box. Did you know you can get 16 people in a phone box, and they also come in 7 different colours? Once settled in on Friday night, the weekend really got started with dinner and the judging of the fancy dress, to the theme of hunting, from the traditional fox, as in Leicestershire, to game hunters, butterfly hunters and hunting with spears or arrows, the winner of the ladies was Anika Rice!

The men won by Martin as a hunter with a spear. The team event was won by the huntsman and his horses, closely followed by the hunt sab. On the dance floor all friends again and danced into the early hours.

Saturday morning came quickly as were off on the buses at 9am, one to Belton House and the other to farms visits, the footpath walk left later. A great day had by all. In the evening the frocks were out with the gentlemen in DJ, lovely for dinner. The raffle at night was for the first responders who came with their equipment to demonstrate their use. The dancing continued till midnight.

image004.jpgSunday morning after breakfast we held the AGM.The new chairman is Tony from Essex and Suffolk group, Vice chairman Charles Humby from Wiltshire.

image005.jpg image006.jpgThe weekend baton exchanged from Vicki, Nottinghamshire to Gill, Cumbria, our hosts in the autumn 2016. Ken Moss and the lads with their trophy for winning the group with the most increased membership for 2015. Congratulations to them.
You could decide where to go to, the cheese fair in town, or the heritage walk, 4 mile walk on footpaths, Belton House or Belvoir Castle and lunch back at the Hotel.

A map moment, the cows offered their assistance!

The evening continued with a beetle drive and quiz, and Connect 4 in the bar.

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Monday morning and it's time to say thank you to Vicki, Pat and Peter and the team Nottinghamshire for hosting the weekend and look forward to seeing you in Cumbria in October.

Details are on the home page of the website.

See the photographs of the Spring weekend in the gallery →

East midland Area Weekend March 2016

image001.jpgCromer, North Norfolk.

19 country link members travelled to Cromer. Derbyshire visited Oxbough House, a National Trust House en route or had lunch with friends.

Once checked in, at the Cliftonville Hotel some explored Cromer, a snooze for others, before drinks in bar and dinner, great food.

The sea air draw some of us to the pub, where by chance on the top shelf ,we found connect 4 after several games with winners and losers we returned home all friends again.

In the morning after breakfast we walk to meet our town guide Andy, who educated us on the town and history of streets and sea views, with coffee on the pier.

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image004.jpg image005.jpg Some at this point did their own thing, while others took the coastal walk to Sheringham and up, yes up! Beeston bump as its known .Returned on the bus with locals after watching the steam train in the station.

Pat took the shorter route and came back on the bus from West Runton, clever lady. Early dinner tonight as we went to the show at the end of pier, The Music Hall Tavern Show, great fun and profession at all times. We regrouped at the hotel for cheese and biscuits and a night cap.

Sunday breakfast done, off to Cley by the Sea to the Smoke House to learn about smoking fish, very interesting and we did some shopping too, 'hats' coffee locally.



At midday we met at Holkam Hall to see the house, garden and the new farm to fork display. Incredible place run by the 'Coke' family with focus on the future of the house and farming to be successful with education for its visitors and the local area.

Once home, a bit of a rest before our last dinner at the Cliftonville Hotel and the return of connect 4 once more. Monday morning came, after photos and hugs we were off home via Felbrigg Hall National Trust House close to Cromer, to finish our time in Norfolk.

The Cliftonville hotel was a great base for exploring North Norfolk, A lovely few days away in the spring sunshine.

See the photographs of the East Midlands Weekend in the gallery →

Nottinghamshire Dinner & Dance - February 2016

Derbyshire Country link and friends have just returned from our annual weekend to Nottinghamshire.

The evening was spent with Nottingham friends at the Ramsdale Golf Club, the meal was great and the dancing equally as good and fun, until the taxi arrived to take us home for a night cap.

Once again we stayed at the daybook Premium Inn, North Nottingham, with breakfast at the old spot pub next door.


After breakfast we were off for a walk around Woodbourough, coffee on route and a glass of fizz followed by soup and cake, all at Pat's home to celebrate her birthday.


Thank you to Peter, Tim and Pat for a lovely weekend.

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