Grass to Grill at Bowhouse

Every month – through the summer – Bowhouse, the unique foodie destination just outside St Monans, is the start point for a ‘Grass to Grill‘ farm tour that takes visitors on an exploration of discovery, uncovering different aspects of the Balcaskie Estate. We were lucky enough to take part in their July Tour …

Bowhouse describes itself as “replacing a missing link in the local food chain“. In the repurposed farm steading, it connects small growers and producers with restaurants and shoppers, “giving everyone better access to the best ingredients and finished produce that the East Neuk has to offer“.

The ‘Grass to Grill’ tours are a small part of the Bowhouse story – sharing the work of the estate with an audience interested in learning more about provenance and the development of a “stronger, local supply chain“.

Balcaskie Estate Manager, Sam Parsons, welcomed those taking part in the tour – a mix of folk, young and not-so-young who – beyond the housekeeping chat and introductions to the Bowhouse and Balcaskie team – climbed about the Tour trailer (below left).

First stop – a few miles trundling through the lanes via Abercrombie. All were invited to walk into the next field to meet the pedigree Lincoln Red herd of beef. Sam explained the estate’s slow move to organic farming that has been a transformative approach to the way the land is managed across the estate. He told us that it was an ongoing process which is enabling the whole team to “unlearn intensive farming practices” and to rediscover ways in which the land can be managed in a “less invasive and more environmentally-friendly and sustainable way“.

The Balcaskie Mob

The Lincoln Reds (below middle) are a rare breed – not dissimilar to Angus – but more docile and they make excellent use of grass being well-suited to the exposed east coast. Sam told us that their cattle “make use of diverse pastures” and graze most of the year on a “rotational Mob Grazed system that benefits both animal and soil health.” Standing in the field – surrounded by lush pastures of mixed grasses and herbs, we were told that the Reds are moved on each day to different patches – and won’t return to the same for many months, allowing the grazed pasture to recover and attract all manner of flora and fauna, adding to the land’s enrichment.

We walked through to the next field to look at the labour-intensive work being undertaken on re-hedging fields across the estate. Jérémy Lesiourd, who oversees the estate’s Environmental and Wildlife Development, talked us through the process where they had brought in external skills to help with the planting and creation of new hedgerows (above right). Some of the estate staff underwent training – so that the work can continue ongoing. The results of the work were clear for all to see – amazing woven hedgerows that are supported by keeping “conservation headlands – unharvested areas – around our fields, all of which provide natural habitats for an abundance of wildlife.

Burning ambitions

The tour continued on foot to see work being undertaken on the Dreel burn – the stream that runs through the estate to the sea at Anstruther. This project is in partnership with local residents who are helping to monitor and report on the impacts of the environmental work being done. Sam explained how many estates and farm have battled against nature over the years to straighten rivers and streams in the assumption that it would enhance land use and production. Their work now is “turning that on its head“. Jeremy explained: “After heavy rain, the water would pour down the burn – taking soil and everything in its way with it. Not only is that damaging to the water course and the wildlife in it, it also creates problems as the water is not slowed on its way downstream.

The work being done involves building what are known as “leaky dams” (above left) – strategically placed tree trunks across the burn that help to slow the water, allow the stream to overflow the banks in the upper reaches. In addition to this project, the estate works with the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) and has helped to reduced pollution, allowing the return of species such as Brown Trout, Otters and Kingfishers to the Dreel burn.

Back on the trailer, we crossed through fields to hear more on the estate’s work on enhancing the environment – leaving bogs to become havens for migrating birds and more. Jumping down to walk through a small wooded area, Sam and Jeremy showed and told us of a project that is making the most of old peat lands, where ponds and streams combine (above right) to create an area that was buzzing – literally – with insects, all helping as part of the micro-local food chain.

A short walk further and we met with their small herd of pedigree Tamworth Pigs (below middle). Sam (below left) explained that the pigs had been introduced “as part of our mixed land use” –  integrating diverse enterprises which is helping them to better match land use and produce. The pigs live outside all year, rooting in pastures, cereal stubbles, forage crops and woodland. He told us that the Tamworth is slow maturing, a natural forager and they will find the best nutrients available in any environment.

Very much nourished by the tour, all were hungry and looking forward to the BBQ that awaited back at Bowhouse – although ‘BBQ’ does not do justice to the feast that was served.

Back on board to trailer for the final time – on arrival we were taken to the Butchery and heard more on the work undertaken that results in their produce being butchered for sale – beef, pork, lamb – including mutton – as well as wild venison. Butcher, Euan Simpson, talked us through their passion for provenance: “We are all foodies first” he said, and explained that all their meat is “reared organically and has had a fully pasture fed diet. The meat is then expertly hung and butchered on site.

It is clear that not a scrap is wasted – whether in creating prime to economy cuts or using what may otherwise be seen as surplus produce to use in stocks, pies and more. It is “whole carcass” butchery.

All then gathered at a very long table in the area used at Bowhouse for their food events to enjoy a feast of salads and barbecued meats – served up on wooden boards. It was scrumptious!

We caught up with Sam for a final chat before departing. He is passionate about the work being undertaken on the estate, saying: “Regenerative is a buzz word right now – not least of all because people have heard it used on Clarkson’s Farm. The principles are to restore soils that have been degraded by the industrial, agricultural system.” He adds: “The methods help to promote healthier ecosystems, rebuilding soils’ organic matter through holistic farming and grazing techniques. It may sound too simple to say that as regenerative agricultural practitioners we let nature do the work, but that is very much the case. We are learning every day.

Need more?

Over and above the produce we saw on the tour, Balcaskie also grow a mixture of Cereals, Wheat, Rye, Beans and Oats – and some are then used for milling into flour and malting for beer. They also farm sheep that help to manage the grass. Their expanding flock of Scotch Mules and Suffolk or Texel Lambs graze young grass in the first years and also graze the organic cereals in Spring to help strengthen them.

Balcaskie is one of the collective that make up the East Neuk Estates. They are a “coming together of seven families” who are the cornerstone of the area’s farming community. Some are able to trace their families’ time in the landscape back over 600 years. They are Balcarres, Balcaskie, Charleton, Elie, Gilston, Kilconquhar and Strathtyrum.

August Tour …

On Friday 2nd August, you are invited to join their Forestry & Creating Habitat Tour. The event is designed to tell the Balcaskie Estate story in an immersive and interactive way. Their tractor-trailer ride will take you round the estate to visit livestock, crops and wildlife habitats. Back at Bowhouse, you’ll enjoy a BBQ dinner made with seasonal produce from the food & drink businesses based on site, including their own Butchery. Adult tickets are £43.95 each (including an online booking fee). Child tickets (5-12) are £22.27 (including fee). Under 5s are free. Booking is essential and can be done via this link.

Find them …

Bowhouse is located on the A917 between Elie and St Monans – around 90 minutes from Edinburgh, under an hour from Dundee, and only 20 minutes from St Andrews. There is ample parking on site and a bus stop in nearby St Monans for those coming by public transport.

  • By Car: Follow the A917 from St Andrews or Elie (SatNav: KY10 2DB)
  • By Bus: Leven–St Andrews 95 and Edinburgh–St Andrews X60 stop at St Monans


Thanks for reading.