Based on the outskirts of Horncliffe, just a few miles from Berwick-upon-Tweed is the family-run Chain Bridge Honey Farm. The working beekeeping farm includes a visitor centre allowing an insight into the workings of a beekeeper as well as a shop selling the wide array of products created by the Chain Bridge Honey Farm as well as the Honey Bus Cafe and a play area for kids. Recently added, is a beautiful beekeeper’s garden. The garden highlights which plants and flowers are great for pollinating bees.
A number of organisations, including the Soil Association and Friends of the Earth, have highlighted the importance of bees in regards to our ecosystem. Supporting local beekeepers sustain our local ecosystem here in Northumberland and Scottish Borders. Chain Bridge Honey Farm products are found throughout local shops in North Northumberland and Scottish Borders.
How did your business begin? Can you tell us your history/origin story?
My Grandparents came here in 1948. My Grandfather was a beekeeping adviser in the Scottish Borders area. My father, Willie Robson, was taught all the tricks of the trade and once he had left school, my father and grandfather went into business with each other in the 1960s and the Chain Bridge Honey Farm began.
The business started with just 100 hives, but over the past 40-odd years the business has developed over time to include a visitor centre, bus cafe and beekeepers garden. We now have around 1600 hives.
In the 70’s & 80’s, we sold just wholesale to shops like Jenners and Fenwicks. In the 90’s the product range expanded to include cosmetics, polish and candles.
Since the 2000’s, we started the Honey Bus Cafe and more recently, we have planted a beautiful Beekeeper’s Garden to demonstrate what plants are best for bees to extract pollen and nectar from.
What values are at the heart of your business?
Our values are similar to our grandfather’s ‘Do as much yourself’. We pride ourselves on our traditional values, for instance, we keep only native bees and have never imported bees.
Indigenous bees are hardier and withstand our climate and frequent weather changes. We are entirely dependent on the bees output, which depends on a variety of factors including the weather and pesticide use.
Our business is sustainable. We work alongside nature. Even our packaging is recyclable and reusable.
Our products are affordable and environmentally friendly. It is important to us that our products can be available to everyone.
What does your product range include?
We have a wide range of products which helps to reduce the risk if there is a poor honey harvest.
Our product range includes a selection of beauty products including:
- Lip balm
- Foot cream
- Hand cream
We also sell candles and polish made from beeswax.
Our honey range includes various sizes of Tweedside Honey, Heather Honey and Honey Mustard.
We also sell honeycomb honey. This is a niche product and is an example of honey in its most natural form.
Where can people buy your products?
We sell our products wholesale to over 500+ outlets around the UK, mostly in North Northumberland and Scottish Borders. Our wholesale customers include farm shops, delis, health food stores, tourist attractions and garden centres.
Our products are available to buy online and also you can purchase our products at the visitor centre at Chain Bridge Honey Farm.
Also from Easter till the last weekend in October, you can enjoy some of our products on the Honey Bus Cafe including honey mustard in sandwiches, to the homemade honey sponge cake and honey lattes.
How can your customers enjoy your product at its best?
Autumn is the best time to get honey. The end of the season is between September and October. We make sure we leave enough honey for the bees to survive the winter.
Honey needs to be stored in a cool cupboard and not in the fridge. It is important not to overheat the honey, as this destroys the nutrients in the product. Heat changes the structure of the sugars. It can be used in tea or coffee.
Our honeycomb honey is best enjoyed as it is, wax and all. Spread it on toast, a cracker or off the spoon. It is essentially a ‘raw’ product.
How are you involved in the local food/drink producer community?
We attend food festivals and shows including Mouth of the Tweed, Berwick Food Festival, Berwick Christmas Market, Hexham Farmers Market and the Glendale and Border Union Shows.
We have a collaboration with Doddington Dairy; Heather Honey Ice Cream and our heather honey is also used in Lindisfarne Dark Mead.
There is a cake and fudge maker in County Durham who also uses our honey in her products.
How does your location influence your business and product range?
Our location is perfect for beekeeping. We are in a river basin with hills either side of us. From the heather-covered Lammermuirs to the Cheviot Hills with farmland in between. This location, as well as moving the hives according to the season, allows us to look after the bees and also see they have a plentiful food source.
Why do you think people should shop locally?
The most important reason is the ‘multiplier effect’. This means that every £1 you spend locally stays in the local economy and multiplies from here, as long as the £1’s are spent in a local capacity.
What is your favourite local food or drink?
How could Foodful help promote your business?
It’s good to have a project which promotes local businesses, not just their products but their values. It’s never been so important to shop locally and times have changed. We are a business whose values and production have changed very little since the late 1940’s.
Hat Tip to the Producers
Thank you to Heather from Chain Bridge Honey Farm for her time and for showing me around. If you get a chance, visit the Chain Bridge Honey Farm to learn more about beekeeping and enjoy their products on the Honey Bus Cafe which is open between April and October.