Drive, cycle or even take a leisurely walk through Airton and you could be under the impression this little settlement is no more than an extended hamlet, with just a few streets and occupied by houses more often than not with their backs to open fields. But small as it is, it was at some point considered large enough to have a place called ‘Town End’ attached to it; and although there’s never been a pub in the village and the post office closed a decade ago, the Town End Farm Shop and Café more than makes up for this by providing something of a local destination for residents and visitors alike.
Stocking both staples and artisan products, as well as local crafts and gifts, the farm shop is a destination of choice for discerning tourists staying in or passing through Airton – and is set to become better known still with the airing of ‘Best in Shop’ on BBC2 later this year: a documentary competition celebrating artisan food producers from Yorkshire and the North West. Chris Wildman, fifth generation Malhamdale butcher and owner of the farm shop and café, has been here before: a few years ago the venue appeared on Julia Bradbury’s ITV show Best Walks with a View.
Chris is passionate about promoting the local economy and protecting environment. The majority of products stocked at Town End are locally sourced and many others are artisan produced. Produce is sold in paper bags, not plastic carriers and wherever possible he looks for alternatives to palm oil in products on his shelves. The two key words are ‘story’ and ‘provenance’. For every product in the shop, the ideal is that there is a tangible narrative that can be traced back to its source. His own specialities, salumi and charcuterie, are derived from the family farm in upper Malhamdale, where Craven Longhorn cattle graze in a ‘pasture for life’ system designed to benefit both their health and that of the natural landscape.
For me visiting the café on a lazy afternoon is a treat; and it’s the view that steals the show. Everyone’s favourite spot is the couch in the corner with windows on two sides offering a panoramic view of the dale, finessed by the arching sweep of Malham Cove at its centre. And on a sunny day, the view from the terrace is even better. Any road, there’s no better way to appreciate the sight than over a hot drink and one of the freshly baked treats made on the premises and always served with a smile.