22 November 1996

Farm site wins caravanner vote

The Caravan Club award simply confirms what the

customers say – that Ashieburn is a choice location

for caravanners. But running a small site is something that most farmers could do, as proprietor

Hazel Clarke told Tessa Gates

ASHIEBURN has the sort of site that caravanners love to find. Small, quiet, interesting, with friendly owners – and friendly farm animals – it is the sort of undiscovered spot you want to return to again and again.

And there is the rub, for such places do not stay undiscovered for long and Ashieburn has won the Caravan Club Choice Location Award for two years running. Now CC members wishing to make this stop near Ancrum, in the Borders, have to book well ahead.

Ashieburn is the home of Hazel and Michael Clarke and their teenaged son and daughter. Michael is chief executive of Buccleuch Estates and the couple farm in a small way themselves and keep 30 breeding ewes, poultry, a few Highland cattle and 10 pedigree Dexter cattle.

The Clarkes have lived at Ashieburn for seven years, and love it. "We used to live in London and used a caravan a lot then to escape to the countryside. When we moved up here we thought lets share it with everyone else by providing a small caravan site.

"We thought we knew what people wanted and the Caravan Club told us what they needed. Essentially you need level land, water and somewhere to empty the loos – this is the biggest job to sort out."

The Clarkes also provide electricity hook-up points and charge £5 a van a night including electricity. Planning permission was not needed for the site, which is open from May to September, because it only takes five vans.

"Almost any farmer with a flat field could do it; it doesnt really take up much time or space," says Hazel. "It doesnt take long to keep the site clean but some people like to chat. They get very interested in the animals and want to know everything that is going on. Others you dont see at all, like the vicar who came for 10 days and said please dont talk to us, but after five days he wanted to get to know us."

The caravan site is close to the Clarkes lovely house, where the brother of Beatrix Potter once lived and farmed. Caravanners can buy vegetables from the extensive garden and eggs at the back door.

"Caravanners dont just stay in their vans, they bring a lot to the area and pubs and village shops do well out of them," says Hazel, who provides more than just a basic site for her visitors.

A newsletter, detailing what is happening on the farm is provided as are information boards. There is a patch of herbs that visitors can help themselves to and a "dog walk" where the grass is kept short.

Visitors to Ashieburn tend to be mainly couples, often retired, and many return time and again. When Farmlife called at the site, all but one caravan had been there before. Vera and Charles Clark (no relation), arable farmers from Doncaster, stay five times a year. "We think we were possibly the first to use the site and it has improved every year. Hazel and Michael are very welcoming and they have done wonders with all the trees they have planted. We prefer a small site and like peace and quiet and this is the nicest one we stay on," said Mr Clark.

"This is our final fling of the year and we would have been here sooner but people have got to know the site and it was booked up," said Mrs Clark, adding that they had been caravanning for 28 years.

It is appreciative visitors to the site that have nominated Ashieburn for the Caravan Club award and Hazel is pleased to have been given their vote two years in a row. But Hazels own caravanning days are gone – "We dont have the time and we spent a happy fortnights holiday home here this year," she said.

Eggs are among the produce Hazel Clarke sells to her visitors. They also buy vegetables from her farmhouse garden but can help themselves to herbs.