Donnington Trout Farm, Stow-on-the-Wold

After ten years in sunny Australia, Gordon Bull bought a trout farm in the rainy Cotswolds. Twenty-three years later, it's still going strong.

What do marine biologists do when they are tired of exploring the coral reefs of Eastern Australia? Return to rainy old England, obviously. Personally I would have stayed put, but I’m not Gordon Bull, who bought a Cotswold trout farm in 1986 and came back with his wife and young family to run it after ten years in sunny Australia.

Twenty-three years later Donnington Trout Farm near Stow-on-the-Wold is going strong and when we talk for this article, back in December, Gordon had completed a 12-hour day gutting, filleting and packing trout for the most customers he’s ever had. “Returning to the UK was the right thing to do,” says Gordon. “I’d always considered running a trout farm so we started looking and discovered Donnington.”

Donnington Trout Farm was set up in 1972. Now the business produces around 12 tonnes of trout a year and Gordon explains that whilst it is one of the smallest trout farms in the UK, it also produces the best tasting trout in the country. “It’s all about the water,” he explains. “We get the headwater from the Dikler River, which eventually runs into the River Windrush at Bourton-on-the-Water. The water is so clean that it’s almost of drinking water quality and that makes a big difference to the taste of the trout.”

One little problem for marine biologist Gordon was that he had never run his own business before, so when he took over the trout farm he had to learn fast. “Like many other people, I learned the hard way that turnover isn’t profit – and that bills soon roll in and have to be paid.” When Gordon took over Donnington, he started by growing eggs and small fish to sell on. This now a much smaller part of the business and most of his work is rearing trout and selling them directly to customers, through Donnington’s own retail outlet at the farm and at farmers markets.

Gordon is a regular at markets from Oxford to Stratford-on-Avon, Cheltenham, Stow-on-the-Wold, Bourton on the Water and Stroud. “Most of our business is done through farmers markets,” he says. “Though I got dragged kicking and screaming to the first one ten years’ ago because I didn’t think they were worth it. But it’s now a major part of our turnover and actually it’s great to get feedback directly from our customers, many of whom say such nice things about our products. We all do regular stints so that everyone understands the whole process from rearing to selling, and after a day cleaning and gutting – it’s the perfect way to realise why we’re doing what we’re doing.”

Gordon employs two full time and one part time employee. He is also widening the range of products. I say that I am not entirely sure how you can diversify – after all, a trout is a trout, but Gordon quickly puts me right:

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 “We can produce big and little trout. They can be filleted, smoked – there are any number of ways that we can present our trout and the more variety we can produce, the more we can offer our customers,” he says. After the Christmas frenzy, Gordon and his team won’t be putting their feet up – this is an all-year business. “January and February are when we start rearing for the next season,” he explains. So wouldn’t Australia’s sunny climate ever entice him back? “No, I don’t think so, though when I saw a David Attenborough film on coral spawning recently, which was what I had been doing, it did cause a little nostalgia.”

Donnington Trout Farm, Stow-on-the-Wold, tel: 01451 830873.

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