FEATURE: From tragedy to thriving tourism spot
Sixteen years ago some of the best black and white cows in the UK adorned the fields on the right entering Whitby from the Guisborough Road.
They were the result of a lifetime’s work of breeding excellent quality dairy cattle that had seen John Morley winning trophies and plaudits at major Holstein shows – but by April 2001 the herd was gone due to slaughter brought about by the scourge of foot and mouth disease.
Fortunately, working hard, building good business and winning friends are homebred traits that have brought about 12 years of continued growth at the 17th century Crossbutts farmhouse since changing course completely from farming to tourism and hospitality in 2004.
Crossbutts and The Stables is now one of the town’s favourite venues as a restaurant, holiday accommodation, weddings and special events centre and just as with dairy cows the Morley family are winning recognition.
John and wife Sue along with daughters Gemma and Cheryl, son Daniel and son-in-law Ashley picked up a regional Best Tourism & Hospitality award last year.
It must have been like going back in time for John and winning the Supreme Champion award at the Holstein Show.
Gemma is the wedding planner and special events co-ordinator at Crossbutts, the venue for at least 60 weddings and many other large events. They have also been announced as regional finalists in the Wedding Industry Awards 2017.
But Gemma recalls her dairying days with affection.
“Myself, Cheryl and Daniel grew up showing dairy cows and I showed for other dairy farmers.
“We were all involved with the Holstein Breeders Club and young farmers clubs. When you change direction you don’t stop that feeling. At the time all 280 cows were slaughtered. It was horrendous.
“Someone comes in and takes everything away from you that you’ve built up just like that. We would wake up to see the cows every day and then suddenly they weren’t there.” Some solace was found among colleagues who John had supplied with good stock in the past.
“We had a lot of dairy farmer friends who appreciated what dad and the rest of us were going through and gave us a heifer out of a cow we’d sold them so that we could get back the cow family traits dad had developed through breeding but it wasn’t the same.
“Dad’s herd was something he’d nurtured for years and to start back with a bunch of cows bought elsewhere just wasn’t working so the decision was made to come out of farming.”
Crossbutts already had a secondary income of a much smaller nature. “We’d had bed and breakfast accommodation in the farmhouse,” says Gemma.
“We had three rooms and dad put in planning permission to develop the old stables and courtyard into luxury accommodation making nine bedrooms that are all en-suite.
“The plan was also to have a small restaurant. We’ve grown every year since we started, and we now employ a team of around 45 with Daniel running it.
“I organise the weddings and functions with Cheryl. Mum and Cheryl keep us all in order on the office side. We’re still all in it together as we were with the cows.
“Even now I would still enjoy going around a show ring with one of our fantastic herd but we all enjoy what we do today. All that we know is that we’re managing to run a business that is really well liked and we get a lot of thanks from our customers.”
The restaurant, called The Stables at Crossbutts, employs up to 15 chefs, and Gemma’s husband Ashley Lyth, who played for Whitby FC, is one of the team.
Live music festivals are increasingly popular attractions. Last year they hosted a concert by 70s bands 10CC and The Real Thing. The latter will be returning next month. The Wurzels have also appeared and in August the Coastline Festival will see another 70s band, Heatwave, headlining.
What occurred 16 years ago will remain with the family, but what they have achieved since then is a real testament to their ability.
“I loved every second of farming,” says John. “Daniel and I went with the England dairy team to the European Championships last year and we get a buzz out of being able to sponsor one or two cow shows, but while it’s important to never forget what happened it’s also massively important to move on. I’m also very aware that our children are now all adults and will have their own families. Gemma and Ashley already have two children – Isabelle and Grace. That’s why Sue and I drive ourselves on. It’s very much a real family business and everyone plays their part.”
Daniel may well have followed in his father’s farming footsteps.
He was just 16 when the herd went in 2001 just at the time when he may have been weighing up his prospects.
He’s never had any doubt over where his future was to be.
“I’d most likely have joined dad on the farm as I’d never planned on going anywhere else.
“ We all enjoy what we’ve been responsible for growing here. I’m young, free and single at the moment by the way.”
John has retained the farm acreage and camping is another string to their bow. Other farmers’ produce also hits the right mark.
“Knowledge of local suppliers gives us an advantage. We’re also in a great spot and visitors need things to do. Come to Coastline Festival in August!”
The Stables will play host to a Spring Ball in aid of St Catherine’s and Macmillan nurses. After holding a Christmas Fayre, Gemma was left overwhelmed by the support they received where 55 stalls and rides raised over Â£2300 for the two charities. A Spring Ball is now planned in for April 22. Guests will be treated to a series of events including a buffet and live music from Princes of Monte Carlo plus a visit from Emmi Beckett, a mezzo Soprano who has sung with global superstar Katherine Jenkins.