IT TOOK foot-and-mouth to make Sir Thomas Ingilby appreciate the true value of those who used the footpaths on his Ripley Castle estate.

Ramblers, casual walkers, dog walkers, bird watchers and horse riders all used the paths and rights of way and their importance became clear when the paths were closed during the epdiemic, but the castle remained open.

"After four weeks it cost us £7,500 in lost income and over three months we lost more than £20,000," Sir Thomas told the conference. Much of the loss was because the walkers were no longer buying coffee and food at the caf.

"You cannot run a business without clients and the more clients we can get into the countryside, the better," said Sir Thomas.

Ripley has now gone out of its way to help those visitors. Walks and footpaths have been improved; gates made easier; way marking and signposts improved; and even smaller notices erected explaining what farming is being carried out.

Sir Thomas inherited the castle and estate 24 years ago when there were 17 mainly part-time employees- today about 200 are employed.

In 1981 the Harrogate International Conference centre opened and the castle took the opportunity to cater for people - on a four ring electric cooker! However they quickly became much more professional and started catering for diners and evening events.

The drink-driving laws were tightened and affected trade, so Sir Thomas opened a hotel in the village so people could stay overnight.

In 1995 the new Marriage Act was introduced and he took the opportunity to become involved. Today Ripley holds some 90 weddings a year.

He has also encouraged the tenants on the estate to diversify. Two young men aged 23 and 25 took a tenancy and began contracting, with three employees. Sir Thomas encouraged them to erect more buildings and take on more tackle and today they employ many more people.

A 32-year-old took a tenancy on 100 acres and has diversified into B&B and livery stables. Another traditional farm, which had lots of old machinery and farm knick-knacks, opened a small museum which the public now pays to look round and see the animals.

"There are times the castle and farms work together," said Sir Thomas. "We rent land for car parking for major events and, in a good year, that payment can cover the farm rent for the year."

Ripley is a small village with a population of 200, many of whom are retired or of school age, but there are now 225 jobs, 180 of which have been created over the last 20 years.

If he is ever asked to justify running an estate, he simply points to the huge number of jobs that have been created.

He urged farmers and landowners and anyone else to be enthusiastic and ingenious. "The only failure in the countryside is the failure to be ingenious," he said.

Sir Thomas highlighted the fact that the hotel was one of a group of nine which work together to some extent, even though on the face of it they appear to be competitors.

Another member of the group is Swinton Park Hotel and estate run by Mark Cunliffe-Lister. The family re-purchased what was their family home two years ago and now operate an acclaimed 30-bed hotel and 60-seat restaurant.

Mr Cunliffe-Lister explained how they wrote to the estate's 50 tenants, asking if they would like to get involved but initially, and perhaps understandably, had little response.

However they employ two full time and five part-time staff from the estate at the hotel, while some of the farms supply produce for the hotel and restaurant.

They have also built a UK Chaser cross country horse riding course with 40 jumps over four miles. A clay pigeon shoot is being established in a valley and tours of the 20,000 acre estate have proved popular.

The hotel has also provided a spill over for B&B when it has had large wedding groups and other events.

Mr Cunliffe-Lister has more ideas, including a cookery school, the redevelopment of an old walled garden, a shop selling local produce and gifts, and brand naming and mail order