It’s been a long journey to the launch of the Achray Farm ice cream and cabin, but August 2020 was the month we finally opened. Firstly, a big thank you to everyone who has encouraged and supported us through the journey, especially to Lomond & Forth Valley LEADER funding that has contributed to making this happen. A European rural economy project.
Sitting outside in the sun with a nice T-shirt, supplying walkers and cyclists, is of course the tip of the iceberg. Things all began way back in 2017 when our first two milking goats, Pan and Ria arrived. From excellent homes in the Scottish goat keeping world, we were tipped off about them by the Scottish Goat Federation who told us we would never get a better milker than Ria. And Pan? Well, she’s difficult to sum up in less than a paragraph suffice to say that despite Ria being older than her and bigger, she decided that she needed to be the head of the small herd and did not stop until Ria the diplomat had acquiesced ( a Sanen, so anything for a bit of peace). Since then Pan has continued to be head goat on the farm, producing offspring prolifically.
However, back then, the novices at Achray were in shock and awe in the first few weeks – learning hand-milking without a stand seemed to take forever and our hands ached so much it just didn’t seem sustainable. Neither Pan or Ria seemed that keen to help us out and it all seemed exhausting owning two animals we just didn’t understand. The swift collection from Sheffield (handily coinciding with a pre planned journey) of a milking-stand made things a lot easier and we learned to make paneer, mozzarella and of course Nicola began the first ice cream experiments with the home freezer. All whilst planting and renovating the farmhouse. Slowly our milking muscles developed quickly as did the milking rate, blisters disappeared and buckets of milk were less frequently kicked over the floor. We survived the Beast from the East, all of us without heating, albeit with Nicola getting some impressive chilblains on her hands that the GP reported he hadn’t seem the likes of in decades. Something for another blog but an experience which really made us think about the generations who had survived here before us and how damned resilient they must have been.
Part of the inspiration for the goats was visiting a “cheverie” in 2017, where we had the experience of accompanying a herd of 60 goats on a foraging walk in the Ardeche National Park. Foraging is something goats would naturally choose to do, eating a varied diet with a little bit of lots of things. We were keen to try this on the Achray Grazings and walking the goats regularly on the Forest Drive really helped build our relationship with the goats.
Why ice cream? Its not entirely clear now. Only we thought that given we had so many people passing through the farm and spent so much time chatting with them, that ice cream made more sense than cheese. Nicola intermittently disappeared on a few more “research visits”. Listed building consent put a new roof on the cruck barn (we kept the remaining evidence of the original crucks), and conversion to the “goat barn” and milking parlour concluded in early 2019. The dilapidated portacabin was transformed into the “Ice Cream Cabin” over Spring and Summer 2019.
Ongoing certification with Environmental Health through 2019 should have seen us ready for the Scottish Wild Food Festival in the Autumn, but we had to change plans and run demonstrations rather than sales.
Despite the Environmental Health green light for 2020 sales, Covid and lockdown kept the farm quiet through the spring and early summer. The first weeks of freedom saw unprecedented numbers of visitors to the park putting infrastructure under pressure and so it wasn’t until things had calmed down a little in August that the Ice Cream Cabin had the first week of sales.
We never expected the “season” to extend to the last full weekend of October. And some rainy Saturdays were a challenge to motivation. But we thank everyone who came, and came back again… and we’ll be back in 2021 for our first full season and hopefully some new ventures with the trike and vintage trailer conversion to support us.