A RANGE of centuries-old farm buildings in the heart of Teesdale have been restored to their former glory.

The 150 to 200-year-old stone buildings had fallen into disrepair over the years, letting in rain and wind, but Mark and Karen Stobart can now make full use of them once more, thanks to grant aid under Defra's Pennine Dales Environmentally Sensitive Area scheme.

Mrs Stobart took over the tenancy of Grains O'Beck Farm from her father four years ago. The 100-hectare holding is owned by the Strathmore Estates, which worked with the couple to submit the conservation plan.

The house and buildings stand prominently beside the road mid-way between Middleton -in-Teesdale and Brough. It was once an inn and a former school chapel, built by subscription in 1868, stands close by.

"The buildings have been in need of repair for many years," said Mrs Stobart. "The ESA conservation plan has been of great benefit to us, not only in terms of improving the appearance of these buildings around the steading, but also in providing wind and watertight buildings for practical agricultural use."

Her husband agreed: "There is no way we could have afforded to do this work these days without the grant aid."

The couple took over the tenancy just 18 months before the foot-and-mouth crisis. Although the disease did not affect their stock directly, they did have many sheep stranded away from the farm until movement restrictions were lifted.

The crisis also delayed the renovation plans as the local contractor could not enter the farm, but the work has now been completed and the buildings look as good as new.

The slate roofs have been repaired and re-made; traditional doors and windows restored, and all the buildings re-pointed with the traditional lime cement.

The Strathmore Estate worked closely with the Stobarts and ESA project officers at Defra's Rural Development Service North-East to draw up the plan. The farm was already in an ESA agreement and a new ten-year one has been taken out which includes continued restoration of dry-stone walls.

Overall, the ESA scheme offers help to safeguard the landscape, wildlife or historic value of an area. Farmers in the Pennine Dales ESA receive £5.9m each year to support environmentally friendly farming and restoration of historic buildings.

Simon Rowarth, of Youngs Chartered Surveyors, who organised the project on behalf of the estate, said: "There is no question that, without the grant aid available through the ESA scheme, these buildings would not have been renovated to this extent. Both the estate and our farm tenants are extremely grateful for this.

"The project is a good example of what can be achieved by the estate, as the landowner, working in partnership not only with our farm tenants and Defra, but also a local contractor who carried out the work," he said.

Fiona Corby, ESA adviser at Defra's Rural Development Service North-East, said: "Traditional stone buildings, such as these at Grains O'Beck Farm, are an important feature within the unique landscape that forms the Pennine Dales ESA.

"Through this partnership between the estate, farm tenant, Defra and the contractor we have been able to restore and preserve these buildings to allow their continued use by the farmer, and help preserve those features which make the Dales so special, for many years to come."

The Stobarts have a flock of Swaledale sheep and some suckler cows which thrive on the hay rich meadows and pasture which are included in the ESA scheme.