I can’t quite believe I’m writing this, but it is just over six months since we moved from South Queensferry/Edinburgh to Heron Farm, just outside Honiton. In some ways it feels like it has been no time at all since we left, in other ways our old lives feel like a lifetime ago. Lots has happened already, and now feels like a good time to reflect on the move.
So, what have we been up to and what are the positives?
Lots! With regards to the vineyard, I am very much enjoying my ongoing viticulture course at Plumpton College. It is great to learn a new subject and to be able to put the knowledge immediately into practice in our own vineyard, and I have met lots of interesting people in the process. Spending so much time in the vineyard doing the pruning and other ongoing tasks has resulted in me realising I do really enjoy spending time outside (phew!) and am loving observing nature close up. I am actually excited about spring and the changes this will bring to our site. Working in an office, I was never aware of the change in the seasons as acutely as I am now. With this in mind I am contemplating undertaking some formal horticulture training in anticipation of taking a more extensive role in the maintenance and development of the whole grounds of Heron Farm, not just the vineyard. Maybe I have stumbled on a new career path for myself, who knows?
Pete has been very busy spearheading the other aspects of the development of the site. When we purchased the site, we inherited a partially incomplete building, complete with a beautiful walled garden, that was intended for use as cookery school. After much head scratching and debate we settled on the idea of opening a café/bistro/farm shop in the building. The reality is that UK vineyards are rarely realistically commercially viable by themselves; wine tourism is the way to make a living from a vineyard. We hope that people will come to Heron Farm to enjoy the vineyard and the site as a whole, while visiting the café/bistro/farm shop (and hopefully buying some of our wine!). Converting the building into these premises, and landscaping the outside space, is not straightforward and Pete’s background in the construction industry is invaluable here. To date we have the design spec almost complete and contractors lined up to quote. We have engaged a landscape designer to complete the walled garden as this is a key feature. Working with local contractors, we have also almost completed installing a farm track and car park on site to facilitate movement of vehicles round the site. We are still hoping to have some glamping on site, but these plans have taken a slight back seat while we focus on getting the café open. We hope to revisit these plans later on this year.
We have also learnt lots about topics we never thought we would have to know about. E.g., from the processes around employing someone (as we recently took on our first employee!) such as PAYE, pensions, employee liability insurance etc., to the regulations and taxation issues around selling wine, labelling wine bottles, etc.. Not to mention how to drive a tractor, coppice and replant willow, erect a polytunnel, design a logo, build a website, complete a VAT return…I could go on! Suffice to say our concerns about being bored feel faintly ridiculous now.
Pete has also been keeping himself busy by picking up a whole raft of consultancy work. As if we didn’t have enough going on with everything else! Overall we are super busy and working far harder (and being more productive) than we ever did when we had ‘regular’ jobs. Needless to say though we don’t mind one little bit….starting up your own business is just so very rewarding.
In amongst all of this we have of course also moved to the other end of the country, to a place where we literally knew nobody when we arrived. This was possibly the aspect that was most daunting of all but I’m relieved to say has worked out far easier than expected. We have met lots and lots of lovely, interesting people and already made friends as well as acquaintances. We have actively accepted every social invitation going, with the result that our social lives at present are busier than they ever were in Scotland! The vast majority of people are interested and supportive of what we are doing here at Heron Farm and we appreciate that hugely. Chloe and Sam have adapted well, as kids tend to do, and have settled well into their respective nurseries/pre-school. It is just great to see them run around the site, developing an interest in all that we have here. We feel utterly privileged to bring them up in such a beautiful environment.
Are there any negatives? I won’t pretend the last six months have been easy. It was undeniably hard and stressful saying goodbye to our comfortable lives in Scotland, especially to friends and family. Moving somewhere that you know nobody, especially when you aren’t going out to work, is tough. And we have put ourselves under a huge amount of pressure to build up a business, in a sector we know nothing about, from virtually nothing. And the last few weeks spent pruning all 2000 vines in the vineyard, often in the rain, weren’t 100% fun, if I’m honest!
However as anybody who knows us will appreciate, we appreciate a challenge more than most and I’m pleased to say we are meeting all these challenges head-on, and loving every moment. I think back to how we were feeling before we decided to move….frustrated, bored, fed-up….and am so very glad we ignored our fears and decided to get on with it. All of the challenges and hard work are worthwhile just for the feeling of satisfaction of stretching yourselves, learning new things, and achieving something entirely on your own. I can wholeheartedly recommend chucking in your lives and starting over to anybody!
By Christine Helliwell