On the edge of the forest, in a fold in the hill, high above the River Wye and at the foot of an ancient castle: there you will find Cinderhill Farm.
Cinderhill Farm became home in the autumn of 2011. Ecologically sympathetic sufficiency is our goal, with much delight in all that the land and animals have to offer in the process. We are working to carve spaces for others to visit to share the many pleasures the farm has to offer.
At Cinderhill Farm the animals have green grass under their feet and the open sky above them, with cosy shelters to rest in and fresh, running water to drink. There’s space for them to run and jump and play, and they have learned to trust people, to enjoy having their tummies tickled and heads stroked. Buzzards fly overhead and deer (black and red fallow deer) visit the ponds, springs and stream most nights. The fields are rich with meadow grasses and wild flowers. History pops up daily in the soil in the form of iron smelt. There are views across the valley to Wales, and mile upon mile of forest stretching as far as the eye can see. And a little house, which we call home.
Cinderhill Farm is home to Neil and Deborah Flint. The Cinderhill herd of British Saddleback Pigs, our little flocks of very friendly Black Welsh Mountain Sheep, Aylesbury ducks, Light Sussex hens, plus the Springer Spaniels – Moses and Levi, and an assortment of cats (Dean, Salome, and Stratton) who live in either the barn or the house, call the farm home too, and in doing so make the farm a real farm.
The animals serve a number of roles. First and foremost, they are kept for food, but we also benefit from wool from the sheep and eggs from the fowl. Being rare and traditional British breeds, grown using traditional methods, our meat production is entirely within the spirit of the Slow Food movement. “Eat Them to Keep Them” is the slogan that inspired us early on in our planning. So, rare breeds and native breeds are our animals of choice. As well as raising animals for our own purposes, we offer what we believe is a unique service: Pig Livery. Customers buy one of our weaners at eight weeks old, and then we care for and grow their pig to porker or bacon size, and also deal with the whole despatch side of the arrangement. This suits people who want to buy meat they can meet in person.
We have sought to invest time and resources in Eco-friendly technology and materials, fitting – among other initiatives – a wood-burning boiler for our heating and hot water, PV panels for energy, organic raised beds built from locally sourced larch, employing rotational composting to feed our soil and extensive farming to protect our animals from disease.
The maze of organic raised-beds, now providing us with over 80 square metres of prime growing space, attracts a great deal of attention from visitors, as well as providing a plentiful supply of delicious fresh fruit and vegetables. We are now in the happy position of producing a surplus of food – both meats, fruits and vegetables – which we use in the pies we bake here on the farm, and which we sell. Cinderhill Farm is open to visitors at no charge, mainly during weekend afternoons – details for which are on the contact page of this website. For visits outside opening hours, or for special group visits, please contact us to make arrangements. The farm has proven to be a very popular venue for school and playgroup visits, as well as for a child’s party or outing with parents or grandparents, and for workshops (see Pie House tab).
British Saddlebacks are a rare breed, no longer at risk but still a minority. They are known for being hardy, gentle, good mothers, excellent pork as well as bacon pigs and particularly good for outdoor rearing. The Cinderhill Sows are two pedigree gilts, born in May 2011 to good friend Sue of Garden Farming, We have grown to love these pigs. Lady Penelope is really the Queen of Cinderhill Farm. Boss pig and aspiring media star, she had her first litter of 10 piglets in June 2012. Margot, who is Penelope’s cousin and like her, of the Grand Duchess pedigree line, was delivered of 11 beautiful piglets 12 days later. We now offer a pig livery service for those wishing to keep a pig but without the space or time to do it for themselves, as well as growing piglets for both our home kitchen, and to use in the Pie House for our gourmet pork goods.
The Cinderhill Flock began in April 2012 when we brought home 4 yearling Black Welsh Mountain (BWM) sheep. They were bought from Heather, a lovely lady who bred them and reared them herself on her smallholding outside Cardiff. Neil piled the van so high with straw for the journey back that it was rather like a lucky-dip, taking the sheep out when we arrived back home. The two sets of brother/sister twins were just a year old and in fine health. To begin with, Cinderhill Farm was a somewhat large and frightening place for them, but they soon settled into their new home. At first we gave them a relatively small pen to live in, but now the sheep have the whole of the “Back of Beyond” field to themselves.
A few months later, in July 2012, our kind neighbours David and Margaret introduced us to their shearers. Each of our huge, soft, brown and fluffy sheep, in less than 2 minutes, was turned into a shivering shadow of their former selves! We were left with very black sheep – as is normal with BWMs – who we could then see were somewhat chubbier than they should be, so they were put onto a bit of a diet and given a larger space in which to exercise and live. The sun bleaches BWM sheeps’ wool, turning it copper colours mixed in with the black. It is beautiful, soft wool with a rich luxurious texture, and warm, comforting smells.
Now the flock is growing, and we have plans to add to the flock further by running two of our first ewes – Summer and Autumn – with a ram with the hope of the first Cinderhill-born lambs arriving next spring. The yearling weathers, Henry and Curly, will have Thyme (who arrived in July) to keep them company, and three more of Heather’s flock - two 2012 ewe lambs and another yearling weather.
The sheep are consistently welcoming to visitors to the farm, particularly enjoying visits from local Primary School children and visitors to the region, who readily share cuddles and little hands-full of lamb treats. We aim to keep a flock of between 12-20 sheep on the farm. They provide us with wool for warm, brown jumpers, and meat, of course, though we plan to keep the original and very friendly foursome as pets for visitors to the farm.
At Cinderhill we keep Light Sussex hens which are known as dual purpose hens, providing around 250 eggs a year each and also growing well for the table. In the morning the poultry climbs out of its housing at dawn (electric doors operated by light-sensitive switches are SO worth the investment!). Marv, our cockerel, was named after the Mickey Rourke character in Sin City on account of his roughed-up looks when we were given him free - it was moulting time. Marv takes his job as Commander-in-Chief of the chicken run very seriously indeed, and never more assiduously than when the gates open at midday for them to free-range the farm for the rest of the day (egg collecting is easier when you know where they are being laid each morning!).
Easter 2012 we added ducklings to our menagerie. Duck Whittington turned out to be the only female, while Miranda, Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee all transpired to be drakes. These are Aylesbury ducks, and as such rapid developers both in size and character. They are pictured here at around 5 days old.
We increase the chicken population periodically by hatching some of the hens’ own fertile eggs in an “Electric Bottom” in the utility room. The tiny cheeping fluff-balls that emerge grow well on the farm, enjoying the rich wild flowers and wide open spaces to find food, dust bathe and play.
Cinderhill Farm has a wonderful flat piece of land carved out of the hillside, envisioned by a previous owner as a manège for horse dressage. It is fast-draining and firm underfoot as under the shallow soil and grass is builders’ hardcore. What seemed at first a redundant piece of land for the needs of traditional home farmers rather than horse people, was transformed in the wave of a biro on the back of an envelope into the perfect site for productive vegetable and fruit beds… One of the first weekends after Neil and Deborah moved in to the farm was Transition Newent and Forest of Dean’s Eco Open Homes 2011. Among the properties visited was the home of Ken and Ann Allen who encouraged, at this early stage, to look into organic, no-dig, raised beds for growing the produce.
Taking Ken and Ann’s enthusiasm and success with their raised beds to heart, Neil and Deborah started to read up and talk to other gardeners and smallholders about their experiences with raised beds, organic produce and no-dig techniques. Out of these a design plan grew which, in the early part of 2012, was brought to life despite the iron-hard ground and sub zero temperatures.
There are now 16 beds measuring 4000mm x 1250mm x 600mm a-piece with various height uprights to allow for protective netting/fleece etc to be draped relatively inexpensively over the crops. Each bed is made of locally-sourced larch, 30mm thick, and spaced 1300mm apart – wide enough for a wheelbarrow or wheelchair to pass by in comfort. Free ranging ducks and hens wander and play in the grid or maze (depending on your height) made by the beds, kindly removing slugs and other little creatures for us as they go about their business.
Neil built the beds in situ, with hollow bottoms, resting on the grass and weeds which are suppressed using plain, uncoated cardboard. Farm manure – from the pig, chicken and goat pens and arks – is loaded thickly into the beds providing a warm underblanket to the bed above as it rots down over time. On top of the layer of muck, soil and compost are shovelled in more or less to the top of the bed. Once nicely moist and rotted, Deborah either plants the beds straight away, or covers them with black plastic to prevent moisture loss, and to suppress any weed seedlings.
The produce has been prolific to date, and healthy, encouraging investment in more beds for even more deliciousness next year. Growing from 8, to 12, to 16 beds in the space of 6 months, this area of the farm attracts great interest from visitors as well as encouraging comments from far, far more experienced gardeners. Excess produce is used in the Pie House baked products and some sold locally too.
From above, the manège now looks like a small harbour with a flotilla of colourful little boats. Instead of numbering the beds, they are being named. It’ll be a pleasant, indoor winter job, making the name plates on wooden battens and attaching them to the “prow” of each bed.
The Pie House at Cinderhill Farm... home of
A small but perfectly appointed professional kitchen was developed by Neil for Deborah to grow the Pie House business she began in 2013. The popularity of the produce has been almost overwhelming, attracting attention from as diverse groups as long distance walkers on Offa’s Dyke to the national media – including The One Show, Countryfile and The Guardian.
Producing for sale in the first instance through local outlets such as The Village Shop in Brockweir, Coleford Country Market and St Briavels Assembly Rooms – as well as from the farm itself in the early days - provided a firm foundation for the food production business as the duo learned (fast – they had to!) all they needed.
Now their products sell in the thousands through the brand new, gourmet service station Gloucester Services on the M5 and are sought after by other high quality food retailers and caterers. In the spring of 2015 products will become available by mail order, and over the internet.
‘Once, travelling in India, I saw a sign on the side of a delivery van. It said “Cook Food, Serve Love!” and that has inspired my time in the kitchen ever since.’ says Deborah. ‘We have taken all that this beautiful part of the world has to offer, not only from our little farm, but also from the culinary riches of the Royal Forest of Dean and the generous bounty of the Wye Valley – above which the farm sits – and have sought to wrap them in pastry ever since.’
To find out more about where and how to buy products produced in The Pie House at Cinderhill Farm, please contact Deborah Flint at firstname.lastname@example.org.
After 25 years spent raising funds to resource development work in the majority world, taking on the role of goatherd, shepherd, swineherd and gardener in a small but utterly beautiful corner of the Wye Valley might seem a far cry from Deborah’s earlier life.
Inspiration for the farm was from the many remarkable people she has come to know through her work. Meeting some of the richest, and poorest, people in the world, grew the understanding that the greatest of riches and blessings can be found in simple and generous living.
Neil’s previous experience of starting a new enterprise was in technology start-ups, rather than the bucolic start-up that is Cinderhill Farm. But lessons learned earlier helped influence the work here including looking for sustainable solutions to the challenges of small scale farming today.
Alternative technologies for energy and water are of particular interest. The farm has almost exclusively 100% renewable energy – most of which is produced here on site – and most of our water comes from the streams on its hillsides.
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Sue is head of housekeeping in The Pie House at Cinderhill Farm, coming to us with years of experience and knowledge that ensure no matter how busy the cooking schedule, the kitchens are always a pleasure to walk into. Everything is always in its place, and gleaming!
The farm’s dogs – Moses and Levi – are particularly fond of Sue, whose interests include her garden and Eastenders! She has particular skills in producing teensy tiny paintings of extraordinary complexity and beauty. For these, she uses a single hair paint brush – yes, really!
Open for Visitors - Wintertime hours are Entry is free. Groups and schools visits are by arrangement.
In due course we plan to have homemade refreshments and produce available for visitors. Details will be posted when these are open.
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