UNLIKE most people who know it, I’ve never been a fan of the Mainsgill Farm Shop, a popular attraction by the A66 four miles west of Scotch Corner. I’ve never been there but I have driven past often enough. From its usually well-filled car park, fully in view from the road, I’ve little doubt it fulfils its functions – farm shop and tearoom – admirably.

But does a farm shop, even with a tearoom, need to be on the scale of Mainsgill? Until it closed through ‘landlord’ issues, my wife’s favourite farm shop, near Stokesley, was just a wooden shed. I once photographed a Rhode Island red hen pecking by the door.

Of course Mainsgill is noted for more exotic and eye-catching livestock – camels and llamas. But ever since it began to grow from its unexceptional beginnings in 1995 this now much-praised enterprise has seemed the right thing in the wrong place. Besides its seemingly heart-stopping vehicle access to and from the fast and dangerous A66, it is now a sizeable intrusion into the open countryside. Already double its original size, it wishes to add an art gallery, sales areas for crafts and clothing and extra space for storage and serving.

Loading article content

While a striking model of farm diversification, can this still be regarded as a ‘farm shop’?

Though some will dispute the parallel, I nonetheless think it’s worth observing that the Lightwater Valley theme park began as a "farm interpretation centre". Yes, that’s right – its founding mission was to showcase modern farming, dispelling some popular misconceptions. I wrote a feature article about it.

If Lightwater had been first proposed in its present form would it have gained permission? Unlikely.

Modest developments in open countryside have a habit of morphing into something more ambitious and/or different. Mainsgill’s plans now run to hosting private parties, meetings, even conferences. It’s never comfortable challenging a successful business. But Mainsgill’s operators stretch credulity by claiming that while the new expansion would create more jobs it would not draw more visitors – even though car parking spaces would be nearly doubled, to around 220.

Before too long Mainsgill’s core farm shop might find itself no longer the main attraction. To a stranger, the sudden sight of Mainsgill probably already comes as a surprise, if not a shock.

With every expansion this sense of incongruity can only sharpen. Scotch Corner is to have a retail park. A spreading complex perhaps veering towards something similar is the last thing needed where the open, unspoilt countryside to the west begins its long sweep up to the Pennines.

WHILE declaring herself pro-foxhunting, Theresa May ditches a promised vote that was intended to reverse the hunting ban. And though she supported Remain in the referendum, she heads our Brexit endeavour. Political leadership is obviously a strange thing, strangest of all at the very top.

WHAT a mess we’re getting ourselves into with ‘gender’ issues. The City of London Corporation has just decreed that men ‘transitioning’ into women – ie not yet fully ‘trans’, and even still dressing as men – will be allowed to use both the Ladies’ Pond on Hampstead Heath and its changing rooms. Though not a swimmer, my wife’s reaction was unprintable. What say you, other ladies?