The Good Life

the_good_lifeIf you’ve ever considered the Good Life, look no further than the couple producing meat from animals they know by name and running a ‘wild’ campsite in woodland near you, says Rosie McGlade

Some people suit their dogs, some their jobs, some their names. Ike Stow, impressively, ticks off all three. A former physics teacher and engineering guru, he now appears to do what he wants in life with all the energy of Lucky his springer spaniel, and, well, looking like how you’d imagine an Ike Stow to look.

His passions include farming heritage breed beef, mutton and lamb (all his beasts he knows by name), running a  ‘wild’ campsite where you get to act like Bear Grylls, and playing trombone in three different jazz/ blues bands. He has a round-the-chin clipped grey beard that brings to mind a Playmobil character.

His wife Steph Brundon is his perfect partner, sharing in all of the above (minus the beard, obviously) apart from the fact she’s a singer and percussionist, in the same three bands and in a women’s quartet. They live in a beautiful old house near Blaydon with 55 acres, half of it woodland, and if they come across as a little unconventional in some of their ways, they’re the kind of people who make you reconsider what the hell you’re doing in life.

At appetite, we’re mostly interested in the meat they produce. Mostly, but then when we visited we did get distracted. By a litter of Lucky’s pups for starters. Then the wonderful craziness that is Ike and Steph’s wood.

“Historically, meat never travelled more than 20 miles from where it was reared to being eaten,” says Ike, setting out on an ethical food theme he clearly enjoys sharing. “Today, much of what you buy in a supermarket has been up and down the country before it gets to you.”

DogWhen the acres adjoining their property in Blaydon Burn came up for sale a few years ago, Ike and Steph set out to produce something more caring and delicious.

“We’re not proper farmers,” Ike says as we enter one of the fields. “We have 12 cattle and 25 sheep, all grass fed. They have a proper life. They’re humanely killed and butchered at Joe Simpson’s in Cockfield near Bishop Auckland, and the meat is hung for 21-28 days, depending on the time of year. But we’d be bankrupt if we depended on them for our livelihood.”

The meat is packed and stored in freezers in one of their outbuildings. Do they sell much? “Hmm. That’s the thing we’re bad at,” they agree.

We first meet Flash, a dark sheep with more than a little Jacob in him. He’s as friendly as a dog, having been bottle-fed in their kitchen as a newborn, as were many of his friends.

A cow named Trouble is very curious and one of three different types of shorthorn we meet (red, roan and white). “Take a picture of the white one,” Ike suggests with a proud look in his eye. “She’s quite rare and has a nice face. Kindly, as my brother would say.”

Steph, who is a part-time music adviser at Sage Gateshead, says: “It’s all sort of like a dream, though it is really hard work. We can’t really go away and leave them unless we have cover, and that doesn’t happen often.”

We enter the wood and the talk turns to coppicing and wild camping. Lots of men come with their sons, but there are families too, and groups of bush crafters who sleep in hammocks and bivouacs. “We give them a spade and a blunt saw when they arrive, and off they go and sort out their own toilets and firewood.”

Many campers come back year after year, and one man set up camp for six months. The wood has hosted a 100-guest wedding in one of the glens in spring, with bluebells everywhere, the trees festooned with fairy lights, and Ike and Steph providing the music.

“There’s a family comes up from Norfolk every year for two weeks,” says Ike. “They have three little girls with bright blonde hair and by the time they leave they’re all grubby and they love it. The first year they arrived they’d never put a tent up or lit a campfire. We get lots of families like that. There aren’t many places in the country where you get to do all these things, and for some people this is a very special place.”

The campers also buy the couple’s sausages and burgers and cook them over the fire and swear they’re the best they’ve ever had. Ike’s and Steph’s are lucky animals, and their meat, we can testify, is gorgeous. Steph reckons she matches prices with Morrisons and more people need to know about it – they just need help getting their name out there.

“We’re looking for someone with a van and customers who shares our passion for what we do,” says Steph.

Offers, anyone?

To buy meat or enquire about camping, contact Ike and Steph via

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