OWNED by the National Trust, Harry Place is a traditional Lake District fell farm located in Great Langdale, a valley with World Heritage Site status covering 12,170 acres.

Thought to have been named after the Harrison family that lived there in the 1600s, Harry Place is a 200-acre farmstead. It is now home to tenants Jonathan Benson and his partner Nicole Marsh, who have been together ever since a chance meeting on New Year’s Eve 2009 at the Old Dungeon Ghyll pub in Great Langdale, when Nicola was visiting her mother who lives in the valley.

With their three young children and 800 sheep, Jonathan is the second generation of Benson to farm at Harry Place, following in the footsteps of his father Chris who first took over the farm in 1972.

Nicola comments: ‘I’d never even thought about settling down, never mind having children. But after meeting Jonathan, three months later I moved up to Great Langdale where we both looked to find a farm. It was quite a change from Ormskirk, which is where I grew up.’

Having unsuccessfully applied for several farm tenancies, Jonathan approached his father about taking over at Harry Place and was able to do so on the basis of hereditary tenancy.

Jonathan comments: ‘The tenancy is lifelong and I can pass the farm to my children if they show an interest. This makes a significant difference to how we go about earning a living as we can now make long-term plans. I was born at the farm and my dream is to keep it in the family for future generations.’

Farming really is in Jonathan’s DNA. He is the youngest of six siblings, all of whom are also involved in farming, and his three children are all showing signs of having inherited his passion.

However, as if hill farming isn’t tough enough, there are additional challenges on the horizon. With the introduction of the government’s Future Farming and Countryside Programme, farmers will be encouraged to produce environmental and land management plans and will be paid for delivering environmental outcomes, often working with other farmers.

Jonathan continues: ‘The new policy represents a major shift away from traditional farming, from the farm payment regime that myself and my father have known to a system that financially rewards us for delivering environmental benefits. But we do not yet fully understand the implications of this as we are still in the transition period between the two.’

This uncertainty, plus Jonathan having to take on additional work at neighbouring farms to make ends meet, led the couple to review what they were doing, and they realised they needed to diversify to make the farm viable long-term. This is when they came up with the idea of hosting visitors to the area in shepherd huts on their farm.

So started a consultation with the planning officer from the Lake District National Park. Nicola continues: ‘She suggested glamping pods rather than shepherd huts and we went through the planning process ourselves. The National Park was very supportive, and we actually got planning permission for five pods. This is when our new business, Great Langdale Glamping, was born.’

To date Jonathan and Nicola have overseen the installation of two luxury glamping pods, each with a double bed, en-suite bathroom and shower, kitchen with hob, log burner and underfloor heating, offering amazing views up the valley to the Pikes, Crinkle Crags and Bowfell. The other three pods will be installed and operational by the end of January 2022.

The couple used local workers to build the pods including joiners, electricians and plumbers. All groundworks were completed by Jonathan.

‘We were aware that we needed to offer the wow factor to pull in visitors,’ continues Nicola. ‘We are able to offer this via a combination of top-quality facilities, high standards of cleanliness and with the pods being situated on a working farm, visitors can get a very real insight into the life of a farming family throughout the year, including lambing, shearing and shepherding. We want people to emotionally connect to Harry Place and this unique offering is helping them to do so.’

So far things have worked out well for Jonathan and Nicola. They have advanced bookings for the next two months and the August bank holiday for 2022 has already been reserved. Numerous five-star reviews have been received and repeat bookings are on the rise.

The couple already have ambitions to convert a disused barn on their land. While plans for the barn are still under development, Jonathan and Nicola are again looking to offer something different in the valley and are considering various options including a bothy and education centre for local children. They are also keen to give back to the local community and want to introduce a range of educational activities including a bat experience, guided walks, sheep handling, marking up the rams and feeding the lambs.

Looking to the long-term future, and as the implications of the new Future Farming and Countryside Programme becomes clearer, Jonathan and Nicola are keen to further explore environmental initiatives, something that they have already started.

Jonathan comments: ‘We want to work more closely with the National Trust as we have seen first-hand how successful we can be working together and with other partners. They recently helped us with a planning application to the Lake District National Park for a new roof for our sheep pen and yard to make our farming practices more environmentally friendly. There was some local opposition to our plans, but the National Trust stood firm and played an important role, alongside Natural England and Tom Benson, my brother and farm advisor, in helping us to secure the funds.’

The new roof to the sheep pen and yard will protect the area from rainfall and reduce the risk of nitrates, phosphates, sediment and faecal matter entering the watercourses, particularly into Great Langdale Beck.

The couple are also keen to realise a range of environmental benefits including the delivery of specific habitats as part of their land management options. Currently registered on the mid-tier scheme under the Countryside Stewardship initiative, a grant has been secured from Natural England to help with conservation grazing and hedge laying.

Nicola concludes: ‘We want to deliver positive environmental outcomes and think there is massive potential to work closely with the National Trust, and benefit from their knowledge and expertise. You need to be agile as a farmer and adapt to changing circumstances and while we are delighted with what we have achieved to date and feel we have some control of our own future, there is plenty more to do.’