With the decline of the glass bottled milk industry in 2001 the Dowson family of Hawkshaw’s Farm were left with a dilemma – to continue their trade and invest heavily in a new plastic bottle plant or strike out with something completely new.
The old farmer’s saying goes ‘If you don’t move, you rust’ and it was in that vein the family decided instead to start dabbling in ice cream.
The move was a wise one.
After months of research, a lot of mixing and plenty of energy, the family hit on a recipe they were happy to put their name to.
Mrs Dowsons Farm Park owner Amanda Dowson says: “With our family’s already existent enthusiasm and love for ice cream, there was only one clear option.
“As soon as we could, we gathered the equipment to create the tastiest, most natural ice cream possible.”
The Dowson brand grew rapidly and now they hold a reputation as one of the largest independent quality ice cream manufactures in the North West, with an ethos of supporting Lancashire producers.
Fast forward to 2018 and, with the further expansion of the farming business, which now sees the Ribble Valley-based farm twinned as a tourist attraction, there is further good news.
Mrs Dowson’s Farm has been approved by Visit England’s expert panel as a quality assured visitor attraction. Good news for the tourism trade in the Ribble Valley.
It is the first year Mrs Dowson's have entered the scheme and were awarded the status.
Amanda adds: “We are proud to be part of this fantastic scheme and to be awarded this status.
“In 2018 we are now recognised as not only a top visitor attraction in the Lancashire but also nationally.”
“We know our success is down not only to our amazing visitors, who have moved to spend their leisure time with us because we are a leading fun and educational destination, every single individual to walk through our gates is learning and helping educate school groups about farming life. We thank each and every one of them for their support.”
The family still very much honour their humble farming beginnings – it was in 1954, Mr Dowson’s grandfather first bought Hawkshaw Farm in Clayton-Le-Dale with 54 acres and 12 cows, 200 chickens and one old tractor. The cows were milked and then the milk taken to a large dairy to be bottled into pints and dropped at the door.
They opened their own dairy buying a pasteurising machine and building a new dairy-to-house bottling plant. Over the years this small dairy grew to become the home to over 200 dairy cows, farming over 250 acres, employing over 40 people and filling over 5,000,000 pints of milk a year.
Third generation farmer Eric Dowson still gets up at 5am each day to tend to the cows.
It was seven years after first starting their ice cream venture in 2001 the family decided to diversify further.
With a passion for farming and education, the family were well placed to open a dedicated visitor centre located next to the main working farm at Hawkshaw Farm.
It was named “Mrs Dowsons” and has grown from an attraction educating schools and groups about local produce and supporting the Field to Fork approach to food to a firm family favourite outing. Children and fun-loving adults invited to visit and meet farm animals in a safe environment.
Amanda say this year has marked one of their busiest since their opening and last month they unveiled ‘The Paddocks’ – a huge expansion on the farm covering 10,000 square metres with new paths, enclosures and interactive displays about conservation and nature that calls the farm home.
A host of new arrivals and developments for visitors are also set to open over the coming months including a transformation of the Lambing Live barn and alpaca enclosures and a nature trail, which allows visitors to get closer to the conservation work done at the farm for endangered native birds and bees.