MRS VANESSA Roberts' trout farm went from receiving thousands of visitors in 2000 to just a trickle this year - all because of foot-and-mouth.

Even though the disease did not strike in the area for several months, the public's fear of spreading the disease kept them away.

Fortunately, Kilnsey park and trout farm had built up an enviable reputation for the quality and taste of its products and orders still came in from the many restaurants, hotels and pubs which bought them, although they, too, suffered drastic falls in trade.

Now, with the return of farmers' markets, business is beginning to pick up and the farm is also taking part in Yorkshire Pantry's new crop of craft fairs, markets and festivals.

Mrs Roberts and her husband, Anthony, are leaving at 5am each day this weekend to attend the popular St Nicholas fair in York. They load their refrigerated van with many of their delicacies and dishes before setting off, and do not returned until 9 or even 11pm.

On December 2 and 16 they will attend Yorkshire Pantry's first appearance at Ripon craft fair.

"We have been a Yorkshire Pantry member for five or six years now ," said Mrs Roberts. "We have always done as many things as possible with them and they have always been very supportive of us."

Kilnsey Park and trout farm lies close to Kilnsey Crag, near Skipton. It features some wonderful fly fishing lakes, children's fun fishing, trout viewing and feeding areas and other leisure facilities. There are water gardens, specialist water plants, a herb and alpine centre, an aquarium - and plans for a rural crafts centre for next year.

There is also a highly successful restaurant and coffee shop and well-stocked delicatessen with a vast range of local produce and products.

Apart from the many trout dishes prepared by chef Mr Kevin Warner, there is local oven-ready venison, pheasant, grouse, rabbit off the moor, partridge and duck as well as a range of preserves, chutneys, cheeses, pts, pies and ice cream.

The trout farm started 19 years ago when Mr Roberts and his brother decided to do something with a boggy field.

"The monks used to rear fish here hundreds of years ago so we re-introduced them really," said Mrs Roberts. "We have a series of clean fresh springs and our fish are superb. The water can affect the taste of fish and ours are fantastic."

People had always called at the farm to buy fish and orders were taken from catering establishments then, about eight years ago, the Roberts realised supermarkets were beginning to be a threat and decided to look for fresh markets.

Deliveries were made as far afield as Bradford, Leeds, Hull and even Driffield but transport costs were high and the petrol strike last year caused a major re-think. Deliveries are still made, but the couple decided to concentrate on developing their own shop, delicatessen and mail order service.

Business was doing well although, like many rural businesses which depend on visitors, the main season ran from Easter to autumn. Just as the Roberts were looking forward to this year's season, the foot-and-mouth crisis began and people simply abandoned all plans to visit the countryside.

The disease did not strike in the Skipton area until May but, as soon as the outbreak was announced in February, visitors vanished.

"We could not encourage people to come and there were no farmers' markets or anything to go to," said Mrs Roberts. "We were stuck and could only try and keep going to see what would happen."

Kilnsey park and trout farm stayed open, but staff had to be cut from ten to seven.

After the initial impact of foot-and-mouth, the anglers returned to the lakes and, as people regained confidence about visiting the countryside, a small number of visitors appeared. However, the second round of outbreaks in the Skipton area again dented confidence.

"The local people have been very supportive and have come for coffee and meals, but tourism, which is the icing on the cake, just has not happened this year," said Mrs Roberts.

Ironically, although people have stayed away from the countryside the demand for fish and fish dishes, as an alternative to meat, has risen.

Mrs Roberts is full of praise for Mr Warner, the chef who joined them 2 years ago from the Old Deanery at Ripon. He has played a key role in developing many of the processed dishes they produce, including delicious trout cakes, smoked trout pts, terrine, fish pies and pancakes. They also have smoked fillets and others with herbs.

"People don't tend to want fresh fish with the head and tail on, but we do encourage them to take fresh fillets," said Mrs Roberts, who carries out all the smoking process herself.

She is highly appreciative of all the staff involved with the park and farm and all live locally. "I am very fortunate in having such good staff who are happy to turn their hand to anything - from waitressing, serving in the shop, to filleting fish."

The park and trout farm is open all year. The sight of dozens of huge trout swimming about is quite spectacular and is popular with groups who can book the restaurant and have guided tours of the enterprise. For further information, contact Mrs Roberts on 01756 752150.

l Yorkshire Pantry has organised a series of craft fairs, street markets and Christmas festivals thanks to £150,000 funding from Defra.

Mr John Partridge, project officer, said the events were part of a recovery plan. "They will give our members the opportunity to promote their businesses and sell a vast range of products such as dales cheeses, smoked fish and seafood, traditional beers, Yorkshire fruit wines, cakes, preserves, chutneys, speciality sausages, dry cured bacon, game pies and much more," he said.

They include this week's four-day St Nicholas fair in York, which ends on Sunday. Ripon craft fair is on December 2 and 16; there is an outdoor food market in Harrogate on December 7 and 8, and a Christmas food market at the Yorkshire Mill Village, Batley on December 14 and 15