Burley Fields Lake
In spite of being a real ‘towny’ I love pigs and all other farm animals so it is with great excitement that I find myself driving up the lane that leads to Burley Fields Lake. I have only travelled a few yards before I see a group of Large Whites snuffling around in the dirt. But I am here to see the deer, particularly the only herd of White Fallow deer in Gloucestershire.
I arrive at the farm shop to meet Stephen Kincart and his partner of 21 years, Pam Williams. It is freezing and the lakes are already starting to ice over, but we climb into the Kubota 4 x 4 which looks a little like a golf cart and tootle round the lake and through the Christmas trees to the field where most of the deer are waiting for Stephen to feed them. The Kubota is loaded with bags of slightly stale bread rolls, but the deer don’t care. Food is food.
Stephen calls them and over they come, greedily taking the bread from our hands. First up are Lily and Allen, two hand reared White Fallow deer. Lily of course is a doe and Allen is a neutered male. They are not remotely afraid of me. As I start to hand out the rolls, some of the others gather round me inquisitively, accompanied by chickens and bantams of all breeds and sizes. I can feel a nudge as one of the deer tries to nose around in my pocket for my leather gloves, while another attempts to sabotage my visit by almost pinching my notebook and a third is nibbling the top of my boot. Even a large stag, too shy to come near a stranger, takes bread from Stephen’s hand. It’s a wonderful experience.
There are three types of deer here at Burley Fields Lake and the herd numbers around 80 in total. The White Fallow deer have been here for about three years. Stephen and Pam saw the herd at Houghton Hall, near King’s Lynn in Norfolk on a TV programme called Country File and decided they had to get some. They needed to wait till they could afford to fence the land but once that was done they started off with 15 deer including one stag. There are lots more now. Apart from the White Fallow deer, there are about 25 Sika deer, also known as spotted deer and nine Axis deer including two stags, which originate from India.
So how did all this come about? Stephen, who comes from Hester’s Way, but moved to Naunton Park when he was about 11, went to Naunton Park School. He is not from a farming family, but kept pigs at school from the age of 12. That was the beginning of his fascination with animals and it has grown ever since. As a boy he used to come up to Burley Fields when it was just a field to help the farmer and eventually bought the field off him. During his 30 years here, he has dug out four lakes for fishing, planted Christmas trees to sell and hedgerows for the wildlife.
Twelve years ago he and Pam built themselves a house on the land out of reclaimed building materials from all over Cheltenham. There is also a function room, a marquee and a licensed bar for weddings and parties.
The deer, apparently, mingle with the guests, which sounds like huge fun, so long as you don’t mind them pinching the vol-au-vents from your plate.
Pam, who is also from Cheltenham, she was born in Whaddon, does all the catering using Burley Field’s own meat. That includes the venison but Stephen prefers not to shoot the deer himself. Tim Yeo from Longleat (featured on Animal Park on TV) comes up to help him manage the deer, as well as the keeper from Houghton Hall. They know which ones to shoot for the venison which is sold in the shop, which Pam runs with Gary the butcher.
Apart from the turkeys, all the meat animals are reared here. As far as they know they are the only farm shop in Gloucestershire to sell entirely their own meat and prices, Stephen tells me, are on a par with Morrison’s supermarket just down the road.
Once the deer have eaten the rolls, we climb back in the Kubota to quickly visit some of the 220 or so pigs which also live here. Stephen tells me that pigs don’t really like to be outside when it’s cold and damp so many of them are in the sheds, but when the weather gets better they are free to roam his land. He says they have a good life here and that I would hate to see the way they are factory reared for mass production. I agree.
As we drive back we see the goats, some of the 80 Dexter cross Angus cattle and more chickens. There are chickens everywhere. I guess this is what you really call free range! Stephen and Pam also have three dogs and five farm cats, all neutered toms. Lots of kids come up to see the deer and other animals when their parents visit the Farm Shop.
At Burley Fields, they also grow and sell their own Christmas trees which will be on sale from early December. So much goes on here that I have probably missed something out. Oh yes! Every year they put on a Fireworks Display for Guy Fawkes Night and this year it was a huge success with help from Leckhampton police to make sure there was no trouble.
Burley Fields Lake can be found at Leckhampton Lane, Cheltenham, just past The Crippetts.
Telephone the farm on: 01242 86133,
Stephen on: 07831 734683 or
Pam on: 07769 700067 for meat orders.