24 December 1999


The last year of the century has been a special

one for Thomas Balmer, whose traditional

farming skills have been rewarded in a

traditionally British way

ITS a small, unimposing case. You wouldnt guess whats in there looking at the outside. But open it and its immediately apparent. The inscription reads: For God and the Empire. Its the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire.

"I couldnt really believe it – I never thought anyone as ordinary as me would get anything like this," says Thomas Balmer, recipient of the award.

Services to traditional farming was the citation for which he received the medal in the Queens Birthday Honours list. His work, in particular, on the Cumbrian Estate when he was manager for nearly four decades.

Now, semi-retired, Thomas spends a couple of days a week working on the Estate near Ravenstonedale. Stone-walling is one of the traditional skills for which he is well known.

"Walling comes with practice," says Thomas, standing by a section he built 40 years ago. "Itll do another 100 years if its put up properly," he says.

But perhaps its the flowers for which Bowberhead Farm and Piper Hall are most renowned. The land receives no artificial fertilizers – just muck from the estate cattle. The pastures are alive in summer with irises, cowslips, buttercups, daisies and clovers, to name just a few. "Its just a blaze of colour compared with other peoples meadows," says Thomas. His work, meanwhile, also includes traditional building methods – such as using lime, sand and hair mortar.

Its all a far cry from earlier this year when Thomas travelled with his family to London collect his MBE. Also there were footballer Tony Adams and snooker player Jimmy White. "Im very keen on snooker – so I had a word with him."

Its a memory thats as vivid now as ever, as winter envelops the estate. It all came as something as a surprise, recalls Thomas. Something he hasnt yet – and never will – forget. "It was rather a shock getting the letter. I couldnt believe it at first. I read it three times before it sank in that it must be right."

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