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Country Landowner

Here's Jeremy Hunt writing in the The Country Landowner Magazine in October 2000.

Gateway To Rural Heaven

Simply the best - that's the hallmark of the award-winning holiday business created in Northumberland by farmer, Alun Moore. But Beacon Hill Farm, now synonymous with the highest standards in on-farm self-catering holidays, owes its existence to a traumatic time in the life of this convivial North Country landowner. Thirteen years ago, spinal injury put Mr Moore on his back and put the future of his 360-acre farm jeopardy.

'There was no way I could carry on actively involved with the farm. I was facing complete disability, but I had to think of something that could earn me a living,' says Mr Moore. He decided to stay on at Beacon Hill Farm, Longhorsley, near Morpeth and to let the land as grass parks. But grazing lets were never going to generate enough income or provide the sort of business challenge that Mr Moore was seeking.

Ideally situated amidst the stunning scenery of the Cheviot Hills and close to the unspoilt Northumbrian coast, Mr Moore and his wife Clare recognised the farm's tourism potential. In 1989, two granaries on the farm were converted into holiday accommodation and duly won the CLA's regional Farm Buildings Award.

Thirteen years later and Beacon Hill Farm now comprises twelve architecturally designed and superbly built houses, which have achieved the highest ETB awards in England. The stone and slate-roofed houses have been sympathetically created to blend in to the surrounding countryside and are situated in 15 acres of landscaped grounds in the middle of the estate.

'From the outset, we decided that we would provide the very highest possible standard of holiday accommodation. And even now, 13 years later, we are continuing to raise standards even further and further,' says Mr Moore, who is unfortunately still dogged with many problems resulting from his spinal injury.

To those who return to Beacon Hill Farm year after year that may seem almost impossible to achieve, considering the thought and effort that goes into the interior design in each house, not to mention the wide range of leisure facilities combined with this hugely successful venture. Country house and cottage-style furnishings of the highest quality have been used to generate an ambience of rural luxury with wall adorned with genuine works of art and bookshelves heaving with tempting volumes of compulsive reading - there are 500 feet of books on offer to guests! Fresh flowers throughout each house welcome new arrivals and a bottle of wine ensures no time is wasted in imbibing the holiday atmosphere of this Northumbrian idyll.

The Good Holiday Cottage Guide recently wrote: 'It is no exaggeration to say that these are the cottages many owners all over the north of England aspire to emulate. They are superbly well situated, exquisitely comfortable and run with professional flair and great good humour.'

And visitors to Beacon Hill Farm certainly prove the point. Most, on leaving, book again for the following year. There are very few vacancies for 2000 and bookings are already well advanced for 2001.

'We have just had a typical week where there were nine houses occupied by visitors who have been here before, two were occupied by families who have come on recommendation and only one booking was generated through advertising,' says Mr Moore.

And there's more to this place than just the sheer luxury of the holiday houses and the delicious Cordon Bleu meals that you can pre-book and find packed into the freezer ready for your arrival. 'Location is priority in this business and fortunately we are situated in a glorious part of Northumbria with breathtaking views and yet within a short drive of the coast, famous National Trust properties and Newcastle itself.'

Even for those who don't want to venture very far, there's plenty to enjoy within the peaceful surroundings of the estate. Recent years have seen the development of a 20-acre wildlife conservation area and a two-acre lake where guests are welcome to fly-fish for rainbow trout. Others with outdoor interests can try supervised riding on a team of well-schooled ponies or can simply set off on a leisurely stroll around the farm a nearby country lanes and keep a look out for red squirrels, deer and the huge variety of bird life. The leisure facilities at Beacon Hill Farm are equivalent to any that you will find in a five-star hotel. There's the indoor heated swimming pool, gymnasium quipped with the latest fitness aerobic equipment, as well as a steam room, sauna and top-up-tan vertical sun shower. And while the men in the family can take-off to enjoy some male bonding, the ladies can relax and enjoy being cosseted by the resident beautician in the beauty salon, where anything from a manicure to soothing reflexology is available.

Beacon Hill, which was voted England's Self-catering Holiday of the Year in 1991 and was runner up in 1995, prides itself just as much on how it deals with people as to the comfort and facilities it offers to its guests. 'I am amazed by some of the stories we hear from visitors whose previous experience of self-catering is often plagued by poor standards of accommodation aggravated by uncooperative and unhelpful attitudes from the owners. We don't have complaints from guests: we may have a kettle or toaster that breaks and if that happens it has to be dealt with quickly and efficiently and in a way that causes the least inconvenience. And if that means giving a jar of homemade marmalade or a bottle of wine as a gesture of goodwill then so be it.'

So in a market place awash with so many self-catering holidays and where many who embark upon this type of business advertise widely in an effort to maintain a full season of bookings, why does Alun Moore believe he has been so successful?

'Location is critical; it's no good being in the middle of nowhere, no matter how good your accommodation. We are fortunate in being where we are, but we set our sights on providing a self-catering holiday that is second to none; to create a standard of excellence, but equally never to sit back and become complacent. We are on an upward spiral of investment in our continuing efforts to provided guests with the very best in this type of holiday. And even the most mundane of furnishings can add up to some serious capital expenditure. We have 62 beds and that's meant £7,500 on bed heads alone!'

Beacon Hill Farm is an inspirational venture and one where ongoing investment and total commitment to excellence has created 'heaven sent' on-farm self-catering for the discerning.

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