It's not just the flock of 20 Hebridean sheep I’m watching in front of me that are rare breeds. The shepherd looking after this flock must be quite unique too.
Kath Best is a Hackney girl who exchanged a life in the urban grind for a life as a shepherd in the deep folds of the Dorset countryside. So how did a city girl come to be running a sheep farm? Kath told me: “Despite growing up in a city, I always knew I wanted to be in the countryside. I was lucky to have my own pony, which meant I got to spend time on a farm and see farm life, plus I spent all my childhood holidays staying on a relative’s farm in Dorset. I just fell in love with the place.”
After putting herself through agricultural college, and becoming a mother to three
children, Kath eventually took the plunge and rented two fields from a Dorset farmer and
bought herself ten Poll Dorset sheep. The decision proved to be a good one, as those two
fields have now developed into 75 acres of land around the Corfe Castle area, as well as 140 sheep.
As well as her farm that she runs with her husband Mike, Kath looks after a gem of a Certificated Site (CS), nestled at the centre of the little village of Church Knowle. Its bucolic setting is backed on one side by a chalk ridgeway that provides campers with a highrise walking route into the nearby village of Corfe Castle, where there’s a Club Site.
The rear of the site has far-reaching rural views and the rest is cocooned by hedgerows, oak, ash and holly trees. A large duck pond in front of a Norman church completes the scene. If it hadn't been blowing almost hurricane winds and raining when I visited, this would have been picture perfect.
The area known as the Isle of Purbeck is in fact a headland covering about 60 square miles,
flanked on one side by Poole Harbour, and includes mKimmeridge Bay and family friendly Swanage. At the heart of the area is the pretty grey stone village of Corfe Castle where
tearooms and trinket shops lie the shadow of the unbelievably romantic ruins of Corfe Castle
itself. Its iconic silhouette can be seen from miles around.
A stone’s throw from the imposing ruin of 1,000-year-old Corfe Castle, campers can get their hands on some succulent local lamb. ALI RAY finds out more about the livestock – and the
shepherd – at Church Farm in Dorset If the castle wasn’t enoughto set your heart aflutter, then the sight of the enthusiast-run Swanage Railway steam train, puffing beneath the castle on its way to Swanage, is the icing on the cake.
As I walked with Kath to take a look at her flock she pointed out the plum trees around the edges of the camping field. She said: “I encourage campers to help themselves. Our local hedges also have blackberries, sloes and damsons, and there is also wild mint growing on the borders of the pitches, which is useful to campers who buy the lamb fresh from the farm.”
Kath sells lamb burgers, steaks and sausages to her campers, and does a roaring trade. A notice board at the site entrance has a menu of items that campers can order by putting a note in the little honesty box. Most popular are the lamb sausages produced from her flock.
Also on offer are mutton boxes with a range of joints and chops. She adds: “Many campers
order the sausages, which are convenient for cooking on a barbecue, but then they order a
lamb box for the day they leave.” Kath picks up the orders early in the morning and then
delivers the produce in a cool bag later the same day.
The Poll Dorset breed favoured by Kath provides tender, and very tasty meat. The advantage of the breed is they lamb all year round, unlike many other breeds that have a ‘lambing season,’ so there’s a constant supply of fresh meat.
As their name suggests, the Poll Dorsets are well suited to the region’s grasslands, grazing
permanent pastures of traditional grasses and herbs. “They can get fat on very little,” laughs Kath. Her smaller flock of Hebridean sheep graze rougher vegetation on an old hill fort opposite the castle. Their meat is more gamey in taste, but has no fat and is slower to
Kath is a member of the Purbeck Products group of food producers, a co-operative of local people all passionate about high standards of welfare and Saturday of every month,purbeck ppcampers can visit a market run by the group at Putlake Farm in the nearby village of Langton Matravers.
For my recipe for Church Farm Lamb Chops with Bulgur Wheat Salad click here.