Lancashire dairy sheep farmer John Stott, shared his apparently infallible weather forecast with members of the Greenmount Travel group during our farm visit in July: “If you can see those hills over yonder, then it’s about to rain – but if you can’t see those hills, it is raining!”
This pretty much summed up the moisture ‘story’ for farmers throughout Ireland and the UK. Too little moisture is rarely a problem but waterlogged grain crops and hay paddocks that can’t be cut, are much more common laments. Still, this doesn’t stop the better farmers from harvesting eight to 10 tonne per hectare cereal crops. One Irish farmer in County Louth targets 15 tonnes per hectare of wheat in fields that have rotated out of canola.
These incredible yields are also a function of sound rotations, good disease control, efficient field drainage and growing seasons of up to 11 or 12 months giving plenty of time to turn sunshine into energy and ultimately grains and oilseeds.
And the farmers receive very generous subsidies.
A farming paradise?
This all sounds like a farming paradise but there’s much more to the story. The downside to subsidised agriculture is a dizzying amount of government regulation and bureaucratic rings farmers need to jump through. But the biggest downside – and this happens pretty much everywhere a market is underpinned by a subsidy framework – is that the costs of production, be they land rent or other farming inputs, will rise to soon swallow up any perceived advantage the subsidy might promise.
It’s very hard to meet your farm repayments when the average cost of good arable country in the UK currently stands at around £25,000 per hectare ($53,000/ha). As a result, arable land rents of around £400 a hectare ($1000/ha) are common. On average around half the agricultural land in the UK and Ireland is rented or leased by the farm operator.
And the price of this land continues to rise on the back of ‘lifestyler’ demand as well as the more institutional investors seeing farmland as a relatively safe haven.
There’s no denying that the (incredibly expensive) European Union farm subsidies do help to keep farmers of all skill levels in the game. But many of our group members reckoned you’d be believin’ in leprechauns or Nessie to think that it is a particularly smart way to spend taxpayer’s money.
Depart Australia on July 7 from various Australian capitals and arrive into Dublin around lunchtime on July 8.
Some people may choose for an earlier departure to take in once in a lifetime opportunities such as a day or two at the Wimbledon tennis (played June 29 through July 12).
We are met at the airport and transferred to our downtown Dublin hotel for check-in and a chance to freshen up before a light buffet lunch at the hotel. Then you are free this afternoon to relax and unwind, and if you like, have an early night.
Those hardy travelers wanting to tackle jetlag head-on might choose to step out on the town tonight with options including the Dublin theatre, a comedy show, live music or maybe even a guided bar-fly or James Joyce pub tour. The options are many and varied.
This morning we enjoy a guided tour of early Viking Dublin taking in the Liffey River and waterfront areas, Trinity College and the Book of Kells (one of the oldest books in the world), St Patrick’s Cathedral, Temple Bar and other sights. Lunch is at Ireland’s oldest pub – the Brazen Head. No tour of Dublin is complete without a visit to the beautiful St James’s Gate Guinness Brewery and the enjoyment of a ‘perfect pint’ in the magnificent Sky Bar.
The rest of the afternoon is yours to relax, shop or maybe take in some of the many cultural attractions at your own leisure. This evening we are off to the famous Merry Ploughboys for dinner and to enjoy Ireland’s best traditional music and dancing show.
Today we travel north into County Meath – one of Ireland’s leading agricultural counties. An old Irish adage has it that one farm in County Meath is worth two in any other county of Ireland. This rich and fertile plain – laid down after the last Ice Age – has attracted farming settlers for thousands of years. Nowadays, urban sprawl is having a significant impact but we will visit a very successful arable farmer in the county. We will also visit Bru Na Boinne and the Knowth Neolithic Monument, one of Europe’s most extraordinary archeological sites – and 1000 years older than Stonehenge – before continuing north through ‘wee’ County Louth and into Northern Ireland.
We enter the Mid-Ulster region and the area around Lough Neagh and the Sperrin Mountains for our overnight stop. Lough Neagh is the largest freshwater lake by area in the British Isles and supplies 40% of Northern Ireland’s water.
This morning, nestled in a beautiful wooded valley, we visit the last working beetling mill in Northern Ireland at Wellbrook. This is where high quality linen is made from the fibres of the flax plant – one of Ireland’s traditional rural industries. Today, some of the world’s best quality linen is made in Ireland. We talk to the locals about the growing of flax and we inspect the linen production process.
We then continue westward through magnificent countryside and into highlands of County Donegal and the stunning Glenveagh National Park in the country’s northwestern corner. We also visit Glenveagh Castle on the shores of Lough Veagh. The castle was built in 1870 by John Adair, a landlord who became notorious for his eviction of many families from the area after the Famine of 1847.
Donegal’s motto is “Up here, it’s different”. Donegal County is full of extremes. The interior is spectacular and rugged, making farming a particular challenge. But it is the precipitous cliffs, golden beaches and rugged peninsulas of Donegal that no other Irish county can boast in such number and beauty. We continue south via Donegal town to Sligo for overnight.
We continue south today and into the Connemara region with its landscapes ranging from seaside hamlets, rusty bogs, lonely valleys, mountains ranges and shimmering black lakes. We are now in Gaeltacht country where traditional Irish (Gaelic) is the local tongue. Sheep and wool production is also carried on by the local and very hardy farmers of Connemara. We visit the beautiful town of Westport on the shores of Clew Bay and continue to Louisburgh with views of Ireland’s holy mountain – Croagh Patrick. We travel south down the Famine Relief Road to Leenane to visit the Sheep and Wool Museum. Here we gain an insight into the importance of this industry to this rugged and mountainous region of Ireland before continuing onto Kylemore Abbey, nestled magestically at the base of Duchruach Mountain on the northern shore of Lough Pollacappu. We also visit a Connemara sheep farm and then continue along the spectacular Inagh Valley to Recess and Maam Cross, Oughterard, Galway and Gort and finally Ennis.
Ennis is widely held as one of Ireland’s best towns for traditional irish music and is renowned for its great pubs.
Today we depart for Tralee via the Atlantic west coast of County Clare. We visit the magnificent Cliffs of Moher and the famous limestone barren outcrops of the Burren region. We also visit a local farm where beef production is the main enterprise. We continue on to Tralee for overnight.
We then cross the Shannon by ferry from Killimer to Tarbert before continuing on to Killarney.
Today we tour the world famous Ring of Kerry (Iveragh Peninsula) via Killorglin, Glenbeigh, Cahersiveen, Waterville and Coomakesta Pass with its magnificent views over Derrynane (home of Daniel O’Connell, known as “The Liberator”). We have lunch in The Blind Piper Pub in the village of Caherdaniel. Locals and visitors have been socialising here since 1865. And who is the Blind Piper? Mici Cumba O’Sullivan was born nearby in 1835 and became one of Ireland’s most famous pipers.
After lunch we continue on via the beautiful villages of Sneem, Moll’s Gap, Ladies View and along the Lakes of Killarney and back to Killarney town. We then continue over the Cork/Kerry Mountains via the Irish speaking villages of Ballymakeery and Ballyvourney and on to Cork for dinner and overnight.
Today we depart for Wexford on the southeastern coast of Ireland via Tipperary, Kilkenny and Waterford. We are in southern Ireland’s ‘bread basket’ region where the better farms are pushing 10 tonnes per hectare of cereal production. Ireland has some of the highest grain yields in the world. But the very favourable temperate maritime climate and high rainfall also means heavy disease pressure. This morning we find out more about the challenges of high input agriculture from farmers in the region before lunch on a mixed arable/livestock farm just outside Kilkenny.
In the afternoon we visit the world-famous Waterford Crystal factory and showroom. Here, some of the finest glass blowers in the world exhibit their centuries old craft. You have
the opportunity to buy some examples of their skills direct from the showroom. We then continue east to Wexford and the coastal region where some of Ireland’s first towns were settled by invaders and privateers.
This morning we catch our 8.45 am ferry from the nearby port town of Rosslare and enjoy a 4 hour crossing of the Irish Sea to Pembroke in southwestern Wales. We board our private charter coach and travel east through the Welsh countryside and onto the Vale of Glamorgan – one of the most agriculturally rich areas of the UK – and an area of outstanding beauty. We have a farm visit this afternoon.
Later this afternoon we continue our way east to the World Heritage Listed and ancient Roman city of Bath. The city’s Roman baths, majestic Abbey and sweeping Georgian terraces combine to produce one of the most elegant sights in Europe. The presence of local hot springs and easily worked limestone made it attractive to the Romans who built the original town. The town flourished for 400 years but declined quickly after the Romans left Britain and did not thrive again until the 18th century when once again it was water and stone that made Bath great – but this time because of Georgian influenced architecture. We enjoy a Bath city tour late this afternoon before a free evening to try out any number of world class restaurants and entertainment options.
Bath is located in the Cotswolds region – a spectacularly beautiful region of rural England. This morning we set off into the postcard perfect Cotswolds with its trademark and traditional drystone walls and thatched roofs of its country homes and cottages. We visit historic and mysterious Stonehenge and then lunch at a quaint English country pub at Andover, in Hampshire County. We then enjoy a visit to a nearby arable farm before setting off for Old London Town, about two hours drive to the east.
We check into our hotel in the leafy and relaxed area of Central London\'s northern fringe. This is a fashionable residential area that contains some of London’s finest parks, buildings and grand garden squares – Russell Square, Bedford Square, Bloomsbury Square, and Coram Fields. We are in a great location with easy access to the British Musuem, and a leisurely 5 to 10 minute walk to London’s theatre-district and the shopping mecca of Covent Garden. There are also Tube stations a short stroll away.
This morning we have a city tour of London including some of the famous sights such as Buckingham Palace, the Palace of Westminster and The Tower of London. The tour will include a cruise on the Thames before a free afternoon to do your own exploring of this wonderful city. There’s also a great range of theatre and musical opportunities with scores of West End and other London theatre-district shows.
For cricket tragics, the Lord’s Ashes Test is on in London. This is a great opportunity but the tickets are expensive and hard to get – so get in early to personally apply for tickets.
Free day to enjoy, at your own pace, some more of the wonderful sights of London such as the London Eye, St Paul’s Cathedral, the Tate Gallery, numerous museums or the soaring treetop walkways, galleries and iconic world heritage listed glasshouses of Kew Gardens (a 326-acre site just 30 minutes by subway from central London).
This morning we are joined by our ‘rural England’ guide. We have an early start this morning to beat the London traffic and travel one hour to the north and the world famous Rothamsted Agricultural Research Station. Here we are updated on some cutting edge work on crops and soils. For example, in a world first, scientists from Rothamsted are combining modern genetic engineering with their knowledge of natural plant defences to test whether wheat can repel aphid attack. The 20:20 Wheat project is aiming to increase UK wheat yield potential to 20 tonnes per hectare within the next 20 years. The average wheat yield in the UK is currently 8.4 tonnes. Another Rothamsted project is aiming to increase canola oil content by 5 to 10%.
Then it’s onto the university town of Cambridge – and time for a punt on the Cam – before continuing northeast into the English ‘bread basket’ of Norfolk. On the way we call into a thoroughbred stud at Newmarket – and see how equine royalty spend their days – before arriving at King’s Lynn for overnight.
This morning we enjoy a private guided tour of the nearby (and very stately) Holkham Hall as well as the farming Estate – 6000 sprawling hectares of prime agricultural and, of course old chap, hunting country. As well as Viscount Coke and his family, two other families live here throughout the year. The Hall is a member of the Treasure Houses group which consists of 10 of the most magnificent palaces, houses and castles in England today. On the Estate, there is a total of 25 tenanted farms plus 1850 hectares that are farmed by the Holkham Farming Company.
The land is generally farmed on a rotation based around sugar beet, canola and cereals. Wheat is grown on the better land along with break crops such as beans, peas and potatoes. Holkham Estate has a unique history of farming, shooting and conservation. The four-course rotation system was famously popularised here by Coke of Norfolk; while his son, the second Earl of Leicester, started the sport of driven game shooting.
In the afternoon, we continue northwest and into the English Midlands and a visit to Sturton Grange – an arable farm as well as hi-tech hydroponic and cold storage facility near Leeds. Operated by the Makin family and established in 1956, the farm has diversified into numerous successful ventures. Hydroponic strawberries and the UK’s largest importer of new potatoes are just two ‘diversified’ examples.
We overnight in York, 30 minutes to the north.
Today we continue our nothern track to the North York Moors National Park and the quaint village of Great Ayton. Here we call into the Captain Cook Schoolroom Museum. The knowledge that the young James Cook gained on this site provided the starting point for him to become one of the greatest navigators, explorers and chartmakers the world has known. His voyages of discovery are displayed along with a reconstruction of the 18th Century schoolroom he attended.
We then continue west and onto the Yorkshire Dales. All Creatures Great and Small becomes real life as we meander through this spectacular undulating countryside. We visit a Dales’ farm before continuing onto the magnificent Lake District for our next two nights. Our hotel – The Burnside – was originally a private residence and has beautiful gardens with breathtaking views over Lake Windermere (England’s largest lake) and the fells (hills) beyond. Five minutes walk away are the lake steamer piers and the Bowness- on-Windermere village centre. The village is also home of the Beatrix Potter Museum.
An early start to take in the sights of the famed Lake District and to find out for ourselves what inspired people like William Wordsworth when surrounded by the spectacular hills, lakes, woodlands, villages and farms of this beautiful area. The Lake District measures around 70 km from north to south and is 50 km wide.
We enjoy a morning bus tour of the District’s scenic highlights then free time this afternoon and evening – perhaps a spot of fishing?
We continue our journey north this morning and into Scotland. We visit an arable farmer today growing malt barley for the extensive Scottish distilling industry. After lunch on the shores of Loch Lomond – the largest loch in Scotland – we visit the Alexander Ingles Group and their malsters processing plant. We then continue our spectacular drive through the Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park before reaching our overnight destination of Fort William. We are in the heart of the Scottish Highlands and in the shadows of Ben Nevis. At 1344 metres, Ben Nevis is the highest peak in the British Isles.
This morning we’ll do some monster spotting as we continue to the northeast and a boat ride on Loch Ness. Loch Ness is the second largest Scottish loch in area (56 sq km) but due to its great depth (230 m at the deepest point), it is the largest by volume.
We leave Loch Ness and enter the fertile Scottish Lowlands. We visit the site of the famous Battle of Culloden Field – the final confrontation of the 1745-46 Jacobite Rising – and the last pitched battle fought on British soil. The Hanoverian (British loyalists) victory at Culloden stopped the Jacobite army’s (House of Stuart nationalists made up largely of Scottish Highlanders) attempts to overthrow the House of Hanover and restore the House of Stuart to the British throne.
Then it’s into the magnificent Scottish Highlands, the distilling heart of the world’s finest malt whisky and a visit to one of the world famous distilleries. Here we learn more about the full production trail from on-farm nurturing of malt barley through to the distilling of single malt whisky. Dinner and overnight in our grand country hotel in the heart of the Cairngorms National Park.
Early risers can catch a salmon for breakfast before we visit nearby Rothiemurchus Highland Estate. After lunch it’s a free afternoon and evening to consider a range of optional activities from deer stalking, clay pigeon shooting, right through to golf – or just relax by the fire with a good book and a wee dram.
An early start this morning as our coach takes us south towards Brechin and a farm visit. Then it’s onto famous St Andrews for lunch before continuing along the Firth of Forth scenic route – where our magazine’s Tractor Man Ian Johnston was raised and where his life-long love of all things mechanical began – through to Edinburgh and a free evening.
A guided city tour of this wonderful city including sights such as Edinburgh Castle and Giles’ Cathedral. Then a free afternoon to visit, at your leisure, some of the many museums or other attractions such as the famed Royal Botanical Gardens.
We enjoy a farewell dinner this evening.
A free morning before transfer to the airport for our flight/s home.
There are numerous options for some independent travelling at the end of the farm tour such as attending the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo which commences on August 7. The 3rd (starts Jul 29 at Edgbaston), 4th and 5th Ashes Cricket Tests are also played during August.
Arrive various Australian airports Friday, July 31.