Farmer Rachael Lund might have been crowned the ‘strongest woman in Littondale’ on several occasions, but it’s her strength of character that impresses most. Victoria Benn reports.

Rachael Lund lives and farms in Foxup which is at the uppermost tip of Littondale. At Halton Gill, you follow the road sign posted ‘dead end’, and Foxup is at the dead end.

March 1st, the day I visited Rachael, the sun was shining in Grassington, the sun was also shining in Litton. At Halton Gill the skies had turned grey, and in Foxup it was snowing. My car radio lost its signal somewhere around Halton Gill too. It’s hard, harsh and remote farming up at Foxup, that’s for sure.

Rachael and I in fact share the same Great Grandparents, Rebecca and William ‘Moley Bill’ Lund.

Theirs was a rural, almost nomadic life, as they and their ten children moved around the Dales according to the availability of work for gamekeeper William.

Two of their sons, one of which was Rachael’s grandfather Dick, settled in Littondale and started to farm there. Next year, if everything goes to plan, Rachael will be the third generation Lund running Bridge Farm at Foxup.

“It’s taken a lot of hard work and determination to get to this point, but the end result is in sight and I’m really excited about it. I’ve always loved farming, and have always been involved in farming in some shape or form, but to officially have the farm tenancy in my own name will be a dream come true.” says Rachael.

The youngest of three sisters growing up on the farm, Rachael is keen to point out that her earliest and fondest memories are of being outside with her dad.

Where her sisters gravitated towards their mum, Rachael felt happiest following her dad around on the farm. “I loved to do jobs for my dad, like training up the young sheep dogs, or running across the fields to check that the sheep weren’t rigged,” – which like the sheep on the well known beer bottle means one that’s stuck on its back with its legs in the air. “Mending walls, tending to the animals, none of it ever felt like work – I was always happy as long as I was outside.”

After leaving school Rachael studied Agriculture at Craven College, which included a placement at a dairy farm in Flasby. Even then she was a bit of a workaholic, residing and working on the farm five days a week, and only going home for the weekends to complete her college work. Following this she worked all over the Dales as a farm labourer learning from other farmers and honing her skills. “Dad was always keen for me to work on other farms and see other ways, other types of grass, other stock and other buildings. My experiences have taught me a lot. I’m looking forward to modernising a few things here when I hopefully take over the tenancy.”

You can see why. Not only is the weather harsh and the grass poor – which brings its own challenges to the job – but the farm buildings themselves are incredibly old, and by today’s standards, small. Part of one barn was reputedly occupied by monks in a previous incarnation as ‘Foxup Hall’, and with a date stone from another barn displaying 1686, it all sounds historically quite fascinating.

However, in reality what it means for Rachael is that mucking and scraping out her 60 cows, a twice daily job throughout winter, has to be done manually. “You have to love farming to do it, or you’d be miserable. It’s only possible to put in all the hours, seven days a week if you love it, and I do – although sometimes I wish it would rain less.”

Foxup used to support three farms and Halton Gill two, now there is just Bridge Farm in Foxup and one farm in Halton Gill. “It costs so much more to make a litre of milk up here, than it does in say Gargrave, because the grass isn’t as good and the transport costs to get up here with a tanker are obviously higher” says Rachael.

“I keep the cows as they provide good fertiliser for the fields, as we aren’t allowed to use chemical fertilisers, but I can’t compete with dairy farms, so we rear dairy replacement cattle instead. We get them to the milking stage and then sell them on.”

Rachael’s true passion however is her sheep. “We have 280 sheep, mainly Swaledales which I cross with a Leicester to produce Mules. I also cross a few with a Charolais which makes a good store lamb.

“These have a good frame for someone else to fatten and finish off. All the lambs reared here are sold on either as stores or breeding females. Our grass isn’t good enough for fattening, and because of the cold it doesn’t replenish quickly enough either.”

Testament to Rachael’s love of her sheep is the one in the garden that greets me on arrival. Apparently this is Ethel, she’s an old sheep, long past breeding. “I’m keeping Ethel, and possibly a few others until they die. No way are they becoming kebabs.”

Rachael clearly has Bridge Farm ticking over like clockwork, but I am keen to find out how she feels she fits in with the farming fraternity at large? “I’ve had some challenges especially when I started running the farm for my dad,” she says. “I was treated a bit sceptically, particularly at the auctions... but I’ve shown I can run the farm and proved my credibility, so no one bats an eye now.”

“To be honest I get on with farmers pretty well as I love talking about farming, and at least with them I know I’m not boring anyone.”

Lucky for Rachael then, that her fiancé is a sheep farmer from Malhamdale. Sounds like a match made in heaven... well the Queens Arms in Litton actually, “That’s as close to a social life as I get,” laughs Rachael.

Somehow that doesn’t surprise me.