Forfar Farm Tourism Operator Mourns Loss of VisitorsNeil Hardie
I can’t believe Carols at the Mart, that amazing December evening when the farming community turned out to combat loneliness in our industry, took place just three months ago.
I had never seen Forfar Mart so packed, and now we find ourselves in the surreal position of having to drop sheep at the door and leave.
Social distancing in farming is easy to achieve – I’ve hardly seen my husband for days as he isolates in his tractor while ploughing and the only words I hear him mutter are: “What’s for tea?”.
As I glance out of my office window I see Zoom, one of the ducks gifted to us by a primary school, wandering about, and I am reminded how lucky I am to live in the countryside, to be outside whenever I wish. It makes me feel for those families who are struggling with confinement and those who are ill and alone.
So I can’t understand the irrational, emotional rollercoaster I’m experiencing, which I believe is akin to mourning, as a result of the loss of my tourism business and the visitors to the farm at our busiest time of year.
Agriculture is a hard life, so three years ago we decided we needed a survival plan. We diversified by introducing farm experiences and tours to our farmhouse B&B business and self-catering cottage. Since then we have been astounded by the growing number of visitors who have come to the farm to hear me tell our story and share our farming life – particularly in springtime when the newborns arrive.
The unexpected benefit to us as a family was the support we gained from our visitors and followers and the positive effect this has had on our mental health. At first, as lockdown approached, I saw it as an opportunity to clear paperwork, avoid going to meetings (I’m on eight committees!) and a chance to spend time with our 17-year-old twins before they fly the nest.
With exams cancelled and lambing fast approaching it seemed like perfect timing to have extra help on the farm, and with government support in place for tourism, all would be fine.
However, I was shocked to discover my award-winning tourism business is not eligible for support – and that’s when the mourning began, and the lethargy and grumpiness hit home.
I have no motivation, yet the farm animals keep us going. Cattle and sheep need to be cared for and the pet lambs have to be fed four times a day.
To date, our self-catering and B&B remains ineligible for support, and my tours don’t even get a mention. As a micro limited company I’m not eligible for self-employed support either, so I have zero income, feel in limbo – and I haven’t cried as much for a very long time.
I know I’m being irrational, but this business is my baby and sharing our farm has become a huge part of our life. I really miss our visitors and look forward to the day we can welcome them back to Newton Farm.
I am aware I have a responsibility to educate, and while work on the farm continues we are in the perfect position to keep up the spirits of our online family by sharing normality with our day-to-day experiences, and in return, we value the positive comments we receive. Who knew that social media could help our mental health in this way and make us feel connected when we are forced apart?
I’m resigned to knowing that Scottish tourism has an uncertain future, but hope by engaging our followers we have a reciprocal win-win and won’t be forgotten once this crisis is over as the farm will still be here and we will continue to manage the land around here for future generations.
At the moment I’m enjoying the peace and quiet, the birds singing outside, and the lack of the phone ringing – but if my husband keeps uttering: “What’s for tea?” at 7am there could be trouble ahead.
Louise Nicoll runs Newton Farm Holidays and Tours at Newton of Fothringham Farm near Forfar.