Sometimes life can seem a little ‘up in the air’ but for David Medforth who farms 1,050 acres at Raisthorpe Manor in Thixendale it’s nearly always that way.
That’s because a decade ago he expanded what had been a successful commercial shoot that he’d started in 1994 by building a shooting lodge and adding simulated game shooting, further utilising the beauty of the deep, steep-sided, flat-bottomed valleys that are particular to this part of the Wolds.
“I’m a traditionalist, so when I first became aware of simulated game shooting using clays to attempt to recreate the same environment of real game I wasn’t actually very taken with it. But we had a lovely lodge we’d built that was under-utilised and we decided to try a couple of small days to gauge reaction.”
Those early exploits have turned into a thriving enterprise that has seen David and his team running simulated game days from April 1-July 31. This year he’s extending the season.
It has become an extremely popular venue where those who shoot know they will be tested by the landscape and can also get their eye in for the partridge and pheasant season.
“We’re not a shooting school. We get asked a lot about lessons but we don’t get involved, although we will recommend others such as Cottondale and Brandesburton.
“We have novices in with some parties and that’s perfectly fine, but it’s mainly shooting people who come. Once they’re here and have experienced the atmosphere and shared the friendly banter they always come back.
“This fantastic glacial landscape is one of our main advantages and although some shooting purists might have been a bit sniffy about shooting clays initially, we’ve won them over.
“We’ve invested considerable funds into the oscillating traps that fire the clays in a fashion that is as close as you can get to the real thing but without the feathers. There’s nobody shouting ‘pull’ so the ‘guns’ never know when and where a clay is coming from as the traps are situated just beyond view at the top of the steep-sided hills.”
David hopes to boost custom further by starting double-gun days with just eight shooters rather than what has been the customary 16.
He is taking his simulated game season through to the end of August and perhaps into mid-September this year dependent on demand. “Eventually I’d like to be able to push our partridge season back a little so that it will start mid-to-late September rather than its present time of early-mid September. That way our shooters can be in great form for when the live season gets underway.”
David’s parents, Peter and Maria, moved to Thixendale from their 300-acre farm in Skeffling in 1972.
Today the farming operation includes contract farming of 2,000 acres for neighbouring farms.
“I was 10-years-old when we came here from the flatlands of Holderness.
Dad had got the tenancy in 1969 and it was completely the opposite to Skeffling in lots of ways. Up here it was like prairie farming.
“When we first came we had 10 full-time men. It’s a funny thing but in retrospect in those days when I was just getting involved cost-wise things were quite good in comparison to what we were getting for the price of the corn.”
Wheat, barley, oilseed rape and potatoes are all grown on the 800 arable acres of Raisthorpe Manor.
David grows 200 acres of wheat, but it is continuous spring malting barley that has worked well for him in the past ten years, which goes into Muntons near Flamborough. He grows Concerto spring barley. Dale land is rented to other farmers for grazing sheep.
David employs a farm manager, Neil Smith, who has been with him 19 years and another full-time man, Ted Hardy. There are also three full-time keepers who combine their time between the farm, the game and the shoots. Half a dozen others come in during harvest.
“Farming is always what I wanted to do. I studied at Askham Bryan College. We were contract farming and farming in our own right up to 5,000 acres at the time.”
David’s wife, Julia, runs the other enterprise that has earned Raisthorpe a new reputation in the past eight years. Julia started producing and selling her raspberry gin that has grown into a fabulous range of damson gin, sloe gin, sloe port, damson port and more recently gooseberry gin and rhubarb gin.
Raisthorpe Manor Fine Foods now also includes gin jams of the fruits from the by-product of the drinks, and Julia is launching a new addition to her range this year.
David’s simulated game shoot and Julia’s gins, jams and ports are proving worthy additions to Raisthorpe Manor at a time when grain prices are still under pressure.