Counting on sheep

Our breeding flock and our fell-bred Herdwicks supply our Farmshop & Kitchen with home-reared lamb and mutton.

At High Chapel Farm we breed our own sheep because we want to supply our Farmshop & Kitchen with fully traceable Cumbrian lamb all year round.

Our 1,200-strong breeding flock of Texels crossed with North Country Mules is well suited to the wet conditions and sometimes brutal winters that prevail on our fields and moorlands. They are bred to thrive outdoors, coming inside only for lambing in January, February and April.

We finish our lambs on grass when it is plentiful. In the colder months, as the grass quality and weather deteriorate, we bring some of the flock indoors for their welfare and condition and to protect the land from damage.

We’re proud to rear the Herdwick sheep, a primitive breed whose slow-grown meat is prized by chefs for its fine-grained texture and rich flavour.

The doughty Herdwicks, beloved of Beatrix Potter, are emblematic of the Lake District. Protected by their weatherproof double-fleeced coats, they have grazed the high fells for many centuries, nibbling away at tree cover to help shape the bleakly beautiful Lakeland landscape that is celebrated around the world.

We buy Herdwick lambs from Lake District fell farmers. They are born on the fells and come down to the richer grasses of High Chapel Farm, where they graze outdoors all year round.

Our farmers and butchers work closely together to supply our Farmshop with tender, flavourful Herdwick mutton every week of the year. It comes from wether shearlings: castrated males that are between one and two years old.

We use two family-owned Cumbrian abattoirs, both within a 40-mile radius of our Farm. Our Farm Manager Bob Day or Head of Butchery David Morland usually take our sheep to the abattoir themselves to ensure that stress is minimised.

Do ask our butchers for advice about buying and cooking Herdwick mutton. When you choose this speciality meat you help protect the Herdwick breed and support the farmers who care for the Lake District landscape we all cherish.

Herd community

We work with a careful selection of hardy northern breeds to supply our business with the best beef our land can produce.

Our beef herd is made up of around 170 cattle from hardy traditional breeds that do well on our wet and hilly pastures. We buy young stock from farmers in the North of England and Scottish borders whom we know and trust.

Blue Greys are particularly well suited to our moorlands. These mottled grey and polled (hornless) animals were first bred in the 19th century in Northern England and the Scottish Borders using a Galloway cow and Whitebred Shorthorn bull (also known as a Cumberland White).

The compact red-brown beasts that graze beside them are Luings (pronounced ‘lings’), a cross between Highland cattle and Beef Shorthorns first bred in the Inner Hebrides in the 1940s.

As much as our cattle are suited to the outdoor life while there is grass to eat, we bring them indoors during winter when the grass quality decreases and the wet, cold weather means they would damage our fields. Here we feed them on silage (fermented grass) that we cut during the summer, supplemented with cereals.

At the end of their lives, our Farm Manager Bob Day or Head of Butchery David Morland takes our cattle to one of two family-owned Cumbrian abattoirs within a 40-mile radius of the Farm. During these short journeys in the care of people they know and trust, our animals are treated with dignity.

Scents of place

The story behind our bespoke bath and body products, handmade in partnership with Pure Lakes in the Lake District.

As she uses a piping bag to squeeze handmade hand cream into tins destined for Tebay Services, Claire Mc Keever could be mistaken for a pastry chef icing a cake. Indeed, the zesty scents wafting out from the mixing bowl filled with a fresh batch of Myrtle & bitter orange hand cream suggest that it would be good enough to eat.

“We don’t use any artificial perfumes at all,” says Claire, filling each tin carefully to the brim. “Every scent you can smell is essential oils. The ingredients we use are natural and unprocessed: this cream contains coconut butter, beeswax, sunflower oil and avocado oil.”

Claire and her husband, Gareth Mc Keever, are the owners of Pure Lakes, producers of handmade natural face, body and haircare products and the makers of our bespoke wellbeing range. Claire is a former actor and salsa teacher; Gareth a former stockbroker. The story of how they came to buy a natural skincare company and return to Claire’s native Cumbria to run it is a reminder that sometimes, if you really want something, you just have to ask.

“I’ve always had an interest in natural skincare; it was a bit of a hobby for me,” Claire says. “It comes from my grandmother. When I was little and I hurt myself she was always rubbing in homemade lotions and potions.”

She and Gareth were long-standing mail-order customers of Pure Lakes when they lived in London. The company was founded in 2006 by Iain and Sandra Blackburn to produce handmade affordable luxury skincare. “The products reminded me of home and I really loved their ethos,” Claire says. “It was all about being completely natural. I thought: this is what I want to put on my skin.”

After becoming the parents of young children, Claire and Gareth realised they needed a change from their high-pressure city life. “We wanted to run a business of our own,” Gareth remembers. He was also a fan of Pure Lakes – he used to send their bath and body products to his parents in Northern Ireland to use in their B&B – and he made a cold call that turned out to be life-changing.

He rang up Iain and Sandra to let them know that if they ever wanted to sell their business, he’d be interested. And as it happened, they did. The Blackburns had decided to step back, gradually, so they could spend more time with their grandchildren. “It just fell into place, really,” Claire says. “We got really lucky.”

The Mc Keevers worked alongside Iain and Sandra for two years while buying Pure Lakes in stages, eventually taking full ownership in 2016. Claire retrained as a formulator, completing an apprenticeship with Sandra and taking courses in natural skincare, while Gareth took on the sales and marketing side of the business, building up relationships with producers of their sustainably grown natural ingredients – such as the women’s cooperative in Burkina Faso that supplies their shea butter.    

With their sustainable pedigree and beguiling scents, Pure Lakes products then caught the attention of Tebay’s Services’ head of lifestyle, Tracey Clowes, who was looking to commission local makers to produce our bespoke ranges. She and her colleague Diana Hall worked with Claire and Sandra to create exclusive essential oil blends that reflected the landscape and spirit of Tebay Services.

“Westmorland was the inspiration,” Tracey says. “The places we are, the scents of the land and the life we live here – in touch with nature and its properties. We did lots of scent tests and Pure Lakes produced hundreds of different samples until we found the blends we were happy with. We loved what Pure Lakes were doing and we loved having the chance to blend our different approaches and skills to come up with something unique.”

The resulting scents – Myrtle & bitter orange; Lavender, petitgrain & black pepper; Rosewood & mint; Basil, grapefruit & ylang ylang – were used to create a range of body washes, handwashes and lotions packaged, like Pure Lakes own range, in recyclable biopolymer bottles. Their natural fragrances, Gareth says, are gently invigorating in a way that suggests the great outdoors. “There’s a freshness to them that is evocative of the Cumbrian landscape.”

Working with Tracey and her team, he says, has inspired him and Claire to create new products, such as tinned soaps and reed diffusers. Their most recent innovation is home spa kits – gift boxes containing body butters, salt scrubs and facial treatments – which launched in our Farmshop at the end of 2020. “We very much value the relationship we have with Tracey and the whole Westmorland team. They have really helped us develop our business.”

Since taking full ownership of Pure Lakes, Gareth and Claire have expanded their team – which still includes Iain and Sandra one day each week – and increased their product range. They’ve outgrown their Staveley workshop and hope to move production to Far Sawrey, the Lake District village where they live with their three young children. “We’re not trying to be Estée Lauder, but it feels great to employ local people and feel that you are supporting local services,” Gareth says. “We love our quality of life and the sense of community.”

One of the most rewarding aspects of their new profession, Claire says, is positive feedback from customers. “People ring up all the time and tell us that our products have really helped them with aching joints or dry skin or eczema,” she says. “Being able to help somebody feels really wonderful. It’s the whole point of getting up in the morning and doing it.”

Loaf and soul

Award-winning baker Patrick Moore has been supplying our Farmshop & Kitchen with sourdough loaves and other slow-fermented speciality breads since the earliest days of his business. The founder of More? The Artisan Bakery talks bacon butties, the gift of great toast and his latest starring roll.

When Patrick Moore shares his formula for the perfect bacon buttie, he speaks with some authority. The chef turned baker has been working in restaurants since he was 12, ultimately becoming executive chef of a luxury Lake District hotel group – where making perfect bacon butties for up to 200 wedding guests at a time was all in a day’s work. He’s also the bread expert for the consumer association Which? and the winner of 16 three-star Great Taste Awards – the highest accolade in artisan food. 

“The roll wants to go in the oven at 180 degrees for about three to four minutes, just to get an eggshell crust and a comforting warmth,” he says. “Then Winter Tarn butter. And fantastic Tebay Services bacon.”

The bacon we’re proud to take credit for. Our butchers dry cure it themselves using Cumbrian pork and sell it behind our Farmshop butchers’ counter. The dense, creamy Winter Tarn butter that Patrick likes melted into his hot bacon is hand-churned in Cumbria’s Eden Valley by Trish and Jeremy Jackson and sold in our Farmshop.

But the roll is Patrick’s own masterpiece. His sourdough milk roll – our carrier of choice for the bacon butties and Cumberland sausage baps and hot dogs we serve in our Kitchen, Quick Kitchen and Barbecue Shed – is a bread bun so revolutionary, he says, that people have stopped him in the street to tell him how much they love it. “It has a soft, pillowy, milky texture that’s like the best soft roll you’ve ever eaten, but it actually has structure and a little resistance and it melts in the mouth really perfectly.”

Although it contains a small amount of bakers’ yeast, this plain white roll, made using milk from a local dairy, is leavened mainly by the sourdough method. Wild yeasts that occur naturally in the flour release carbon dioxide during a long, slow fermentation, in which lactic acid and acetic acid bacteria play a crucial role in developing the dough’s flavour and structure.

“People have become used to quick-made breads that are full of air and taste of nothing,” says Patrick, whose German mother introduced him to the tastes and textures of real bread at a young age. “Our white rolls have a taste. Not a strong taste that would offend, but a universal great taste.”

Patrick has been raising expectations about the quality of our daily bread since in 2006, when he founded More? The Artisan Bakery. Inspired by a mission to make available beyond restaurant kitchens the sort of tasty, slow-fermented breads that he was baking in the hotels, he started off at Cumbrian farmers’ markets and food shows, loading his van with his home-baked breads, cakes and pastries.

“We started the business to bring people happiness,” Patrick says. Having first discovered the power to spread joy through baking when he was a boy making treacle tarts for his family, he was soon spreading joy all over the nation: in 2009 his gluten-free Muddee was named not only Britain’s best chocolate brownie but also Britain’s official best food (Supreme Champion at the 2009 Great Taste Awards).

Tebay Services Farmshop was the first food retailer to stock Patrick’s sourdough loaves, after Farmshop Buyer Alexander Evans tasted them at a food festival. Back in those early days, Patrick didn’t call them sourdoughs. “We used to call it by its French name, pain au levain, because when we called it sour dough people said, ‘Ugh’,” Patrick says. “Then when they tasted it they said, ‘Ooh, it tastes of something.’”

He remembers the early impact of having his Wild English Sourdough Bloomers and Lakeland Treacle Breads on the shelves at Tebay Services. “It was absolutely instrumental in the setting up of our business,” says Patrick, who now employs 28 people at the commercial bakery and café he runs at Staveley, near Kendal.  “Tebay didn’t dictate to us like any other large retailer would. It was willing to work around the limitations of what we could make and how much we could deliver.”

Patrick’s slow-fermented breads, including Jewish Rye Sourdoughs, ‘Monty’s Revenge’ cheesy bloomers and oil-drizzled herby focaccias, are still the stars of the bread table in our Farmshop.  A more recent bestseller is the award-winning More? Sourdough Toasting Loaf, a mould-breaking daily bread that takes the one of the most degraded products in the food industry – the plastic-wrapped white sliced loaf – and transforms it into an accessible artisan food.

“Who doesn’t love great toast?” says Patrick, whose additive-free sliced sourdough (it contains just flour, salt and water) transforms into crunchy, crumpet-like comfort food after just minutes in a toaster. “We took the idea of a product that is often the worst thing you can eat and turned it into the best of its type.”

An innovator who is driven by a mission to share good food with as many people as possible, Patrick is also a passionate champion of other Cumbrian producers. “The variety that we have on our doorstep and the individuals involved – we have some real creative geniuses in this area. It’s just a perfectly knitted blanket of amazing food options.”

His synergy with Tebay Services’ own values makes him much more than just a supplier, says Dan Pearson, our head of food development and sourcing. He’s worked with Patrick for more than 10 years, introducing More? Bakery’s ciabattas, granary rolls, brioche buns and sourdough milk rolls onto the menus in our Kitchen, Quick Kitchen and Barbecue Shed.

“He’s not just someone who supplies us with a product,” Dan says. “It’s much more of a friendship than a business relationship. He’s a really good guy to sound ideas off; we have hours of conversations about food and sourcing, not always bread-related.

“Patrick is so knowledgeable about our local area: he knows what’s going on where, who’s doing what, who to look at. His experience and his values are in line with what we want to achieve: good quality, great tasting good food.”

Bottling biodiversity

We meet Robert Simpson, juice maker and grower at Eva’s Organics, the family-owned organic market garden and box scheme whose wildlife-friendly handmade organic juice is in a class of its own.

If you took one bottle from every batch of Eva’s Organics apple juice and lined them all up in a row, you’d see their colour evolve with the apple harvest.

“We see a change from pink to golden yellow to orange through the course of the year,” says Robert, who’s the driving force behind the award-winning juice enterprise at Eva’s Organics, the box-scheme business founded by his parents.

That no two batches of Eva’s Organics juice are alike is a reflection of the love and care with which Robert hand picks, hand presses, hand blends and hand bottles the juice from seven varieties of apple that the Simpson family grows in a two-acre orchard near Carlisle. 

He blends each batch by taste to balance the qualities of whatever apples are in season – hence the change of hue (they all produce different-coloured juices). Some are sweeter, some more tart – such as Cumbria’s 18th-century cooking apple Keswick Codlin – so he fine tunes each blend until sugar and acid are perfectly matched.  

Robert had recently graduated in environmental science when he returned to Low Luckens farm in North-East Cumbria to help out at Eva’s Organics, the organic home delivery business run by his parents, Mike and Debbie. Challenged by the problem of how not to waste the blemished orchard apples that “don’t look perfect but still taste great,” he tried his hand at pressing them in a domestic juicer.

“People liked it,” he says. In fact, the judges at the 2018 Great Taste Awards gave it a coveted two stars just a year after he went into commercial production. Tebay Services was one of his very first customers.

Robert now presses up to 1,000 large bottles’ worth each week at Low Luckens, carrying trugs of fruit from the apple store to his juice room in a converted farm building. Working alone, he washes and sorts every apple by hand. “I’m a bit of a perfectionist,” he says, explaining how he cuts off any bruises before milling and then pressing his apples using a hand-operated hydraulic press. “Because I do it in small batches it’s very labour intensive.”

It is normal for him to work 12-13 hour days. When he’s not pressing and bottling juice he is in the polytunnels with his Dad, tending to the salads, vegetables and fruit that they coax out of Cumbria’s wet, dark, ungenerous soil through sheer hard work and determination. “Dad has spent years building up the soil fertility by adding organic matter, digging, broadforking, rotavating,” Robert says.

Like his parents, he is motivated by strong environmental convictions. “Our ethos here is to grow organic food in a way that enhances biodiversity and promotes soil fertility,” he says. “We don’t use artificial fertilisers, pesticides, insecticides or fungicides. Any profits we make go straight back into the business to fund projects that are beneficial to wildlife.”

This winter [2020-1] they began planting 700 apple trees as part an ambitious agroforestry scheme, transforming an 11-acre plot of grazing land at Low Luckens into a new orchard. Rows of fruit trees will be interspersed with organic raspberry bushes and rhubarb plants fertilised with green manures alongside wildlife havens such as a pond and wildflower patches.

It is good news for wildlife and those who study it – various experts and academics are conducting research into the impacts of the growing methods used at Low Luckens farm.

And it is good news for all of us who love apple juice that’s as crisp and invigorating as a freshly picked apple. When the orchard matures in about five years’ time, Robert says, they’ll have enough apples to produce twice as much juice.

Eva’s Organics Apple Juice and Apple & Raspberry Juice is sold in 250ml and 750ml bottles in our Farmshop throughout the apple season (September to March) and as long as their apple stores last.  

Who made all the pies?

A Tebay picnic wouldn’t be a Tebay picnic without one of Amanda Wilson’s handmade picnic pies. The co-founder of The Pie Mill tells us why the best things come wrapped in crunchy pastry.

At Tebay Services we pay close attention to our pies. As piemakers ourselves, we understand the skill and care that goes into producing the perfect combination of tasty pastry and generous filling. That’s why in our Farmshop we sell only pies that we’d be proud to call our own.

We’ve worked with Amanda Wilson at The Pie Mill for more than 15 years, ever since our Farmshop buyer Alexander Evans tasted the pies served at her parents’ Lake District pub. Made by Amanda’s late father, self-taught chef Jim Hodge, they were such a popular feature of the menu at The Mill Inn in Mungrisdale that they gave rise to an annual pie festival featuring 20 different varieties of handmade pie.

When Alexander asked Jim if he would consider making pies for the Farmshop at Tebay Services, it gave the family an idea. Jim and Amanda – a former hairdresser who was working with her dad in the kitchen at the pub – started The Pie Mill in 2005 to make and sell their pies to a wider audience.

The Pie Mill now makes more than 40 different types of savoury and fruit pie, plus quiches and pasties, at its small production unit near Threlkeld at the foot of Blencathra. Amanda and her team also produce a range of cold picnic pies exclusively for our Farmshop deli counter using handmade hot-water pastry and locally sourced meat, including beef and lamb from our farm.

“When we buy meat from Tebay we know it’s good quality; we know that when it is cooked it will be tasty and tender,” Amanda says. “We buy all our meat locally. I think it’s important to know where your meat comes from and to support other local businesses.”

She’s proud to work closely with other Cumbrian suppliers on new products exclusive to Tebay Services. Her Beef Growler picnic pie (featuring Tebay farm beef) is one of several varieties featuring Hawkshead Relish products (it is topped with their beetroot & horseradish chutney), and she’s just launched with West Cumbrian preserve maker Wild & Fruitful a fruit pie that will change with the seasons.

Like all her fruit pies, the Wild & Fruitful version will feature The Pie Mill’s distinctive hand crimping – so distinctive that Amanda can tell at first glance which of her colleagues’ thumbs and fingers have been used to seal pastry case and lid. “Lots of people use a fork to crimp, but we think doing it by hand makes it look more homemade,” she says. “Lots of customers tell me they’ll take our pies out of the packaging and pretend they’ve made them themselves.”

Amanda and her Dad spent years perfecting their shortcrust pastry. “It has to stay crunchy but absorb all the flavours of the slow-cooked tasty fillings,” says Amanda, who keeps the simple recipe so secret that she waits six months before sharing it with new recruits. It is made by hand as you would at the kitchen table but on a slightly larger scale: with the help of a hand-operated pastry rolling machine Amanda and her three piemakers Lesley, Nikki and Carla can roll, fill and bake up to 4,000 pies a week in peak season.

Most are destined for Tebay Services, which is Amanda’s biggest outlet and her gateway to national sales. “We have an online shop, and a lot of our sales come from people who’ve tried our pies at Tebay Services,” she says. “They really like the story behind them, the fact that we use meat from Tebay’s own farm.”

Their signature savoury shortcrust pies – freshly baked and perfect for popping into the freezer for standby suppers – are named after Lake District fells, including Blencathra (steak in ale), Bowscale (chicken and mushroom) and Buttermere (roasted vegetable). “My favourite is probably Helvellyn, the steak and Stilton,” Amanda says. “Mainly because I love cheese, and I think it’s a really rich, tasty pie.”

As for her cold picnic pies, she likes to take one to Carrock Fell in the northern Lakes. It’s near the Mill Inn and close to her husband’s family farm, and it reminds Amanda of walking as a child with her much-missed Dad, Jim, who died after contracting Covid-19 during the early days of the pandemic.

She is determined to take The Pie Mill from strength to strength in a way that would make Jim proud. “All our original recipes are Dad’s,” says Amanda, whose close-knit team now includes her Mum, Margaret, helping out with admin and deliveries. “We liked to come up with something new every year, but it’s going to be different launching new products without him.”

Having inherited her Dad’s passion for pastry, she is determined to champion his high standards – including their shared insistence on what makes a proper pie. “A pie should be fully encased in good quality pastry,” she says. “It’s never just a filling with a pastry lid on. That’s not a pie. It’s a casserole.”