Upcycled holiday park is on the right track – Teesdale Mercury

Upcycled holiday park is on the right track – Teesdale Mercury

RECLAIMED: Jacky Thompson and Glynn Hodgson outside the converted railway carriage that housed TV personality Robson Green TM pic

RECLAIMED: Jacky Thompson and Glynn Hodgson outside the converted railway carriage that housed TV personality Robson Green TM pic

A NEW holiday park built entirely from reclaimed materials is proving a hit, attracting the likes of TV personality Robson Green and celebrity chef Ryan Riley.

High Farm Holiday Park, at Toft Hill, has been open for less than two years but has customers returning time and again because of the unique experience it offers.

It has cabins made from old railway freight carriages, stables out of pallets that were destined to become wood-chippings and the café’s conservatory is constructed from discarded supermarket Covid-19 screens.

A major attraction is the venue’s animals which include meerkats, wallabies, alpacas, pigs, miniature goats, donkeys, Shetland ponies, llamas, rabbits, guinea pigs as well as exotic birds.

The park is run by Jacky Thompson, her husband Simon Elliot and daughter and son-in-law Amy and Glynn Hodgson.

Ms Thompson said: “We are packed out in the summer, you can’t move. And we do it for the community – what we have been offering is schools to come for free.”

Mr Hodgson added: “It is somewhere to bring the kids because everyone is hard up, so anyone having a meal gets free entry to the paddocks. A lot of kids have never seen an alpaca before.”

The family had previously run a dairy farm on the site, but lost their entire herd to the foot and mouth outbreak in 2001, and leased the land out.

They began plans for the holiday park in 2017.

Ms Thompson said: “We have been working on it for a long time and then it developed piece-by-piece.

“We started with the old railway wagons that used to haul freight.

“We strip them right back down, and do them up from scratch. All the iron work is pretty much original.”

Most of the work is done by Mr Hodgson, a joiner by trade, who is helped by his dad Jack.

He said: “The whole site is built out of recycled material. The fire-doors [in the café] came out of a Nightingale Hospital. The screens in the conservatory are Morrison’s Covid screens and the supports are old lampposts – everything is upcycled.

“My dad, who is 76, has helped us all the way through. I was taught by him, so we’ve ended up putting all our own utilities in, every road, every cable for the electric, every waterpipe, every bit of drainage, septic tanks, toilet blocks – everything.”

The railway carriages have been sourced from local farmers who were using them for storage.

Mr Hodgson said: “If I see it from the road, I will knock on the door and say look, I could use that.”

Currently the site has five railway carriage cabins, with a sixth in the making.

Another three are awaiting conversion. The cabins are designed for couples, so future plans are to include family accommodation to complement the 22 pitches for caravans and camping.

Hodgsons Timber Buildings

The stables for the park’s animals were built from old pallets that Mr Hodgson saved from a sawmill where they were destined to become wood shavings.

He said: “I wanted it to look vintage and old worldly and we got the effect from the old pallets. It was painstaking but it has done the job.”

His latest project is to create a function and events venue using a former Hartlepool council office block that had been damaged when it fell while being transported.

The joiner said: “We are making it look like a cabin in the woods and when you go in it has a marble floor for functions, wrapped around old pallets.”

The family have planted more than 24,000 native trees creating a large woodland area where wildlife is flourishing.

Ms Thompson said: “Because the trees are coming up there is a matting underneath, so all the voles and fieldmice are bringing in the birds of prey. We have a lovely eco-system starting up.”

Mr Hodgson added: “The only thing we do now is use natural fertilizer and we use the little bits of field that are not woodland to feed our animals with the hay.

“Yellow hammers by their thousands and green finches follow me round while I am seeding in the spring. I have never seen that for years.”

The hard work over the past two years was highlighted when Robson Green’s team contacted Ms Thompson to be part of an episode of his BBC programme Weekend Escapes.

She said: “It was quite lovely actually because everyone was excited that he was coming. And then Melanie (Hill), who used to be on Coronation Street, came and had breakfast with him and the whole team were here.”

Mr Green was so impressed with his overnight stay in one of the cabins, that he booked in again when he visited the area to cover a Kynren performance in Bishop Auckland.

Similarly, Ryan Riley, who gained fame by preparing spicy meals for cancer patients with diminished taste because of chemotherapy, visited several times over the summer to cook hearty meals within the constraints of the cabins.

Ms Thompson said: “He stayed nearly the whole summer and he came back three times.

He loved it, he said it was so relaxing for him. Glynn was eating all sorts of curries that he made.”

Despite the success since opening less than two years ago the family is not resting on its laurels and aims to create a new lake on the site to add water-sports to its extensive offering.

Mr Hodgson said: “It will be to get people outside to do a bit of wild swimming and paddle boarding, because there is nothing like that round here.

“If the Lakes can have it, why can’t Toft Hill – that’s what I say.”

His mother-in-law concluded: “It has been really hard work, but when you see what we have achieved in the time, we are quite proud.”