Spend a couple of hours walking around the green, rolling farmland near Melmerby with Christine Rowley and you will soon begin to marvel at just how much influence the Rowley family has on the village and surrounding countryside.

However, what will really make your head spin is that the businesses, land and properties which the Rowleys run and rent out in that small part of the Eden Valley are only the tip of the iceberg.

The Rowley Estates and its long-standing local family own and manage farmland, woodland, moorland and historic country houses in the Eden Valley and near Ullswater.

But this is only part of the ventures which the various family members are involved in, which include traditional livestock and arable farming, pick-your-own raspberries, game bird sporting days, firewood and forestry products, woodland management, glamping, selling Christmas trees and wreaths and even running Glassonby Airfield.

For Charles and Christine Rowley, their part of the group of family businesses involves renting out luxurious self-catering properties at four main sites spread across the Eden Valley and at Martindale, near Ullswater, hosting around 50,000 guest nights a year.

The properties include the spectacular Melmerby Hall, which dates back to the 1300s and the 14th century Grade I listed castellated manor of Blencowe Hall, which comes complete with spiral staircases, four-poster beds and a gash in one of the towers made by a Cromwellian cannonball.

"As a young girl, I grew up with Walt Disney World and, in some ways, it's like a Walt Disney World experience or going behind the red velvet ropes at a museum here," says Christine, who is originally from New York State.

"You and your friends and family have exclusive and private use of this amazing historic manor house with landscaped gardens for your holiday, you can get dressed for dinner in a ball gown, have an amazing caterer or enjoy afternoon tea on the terraces whilst taking in the views or even get married exactly as you would like your day to be. It's a real experience.”

Inside Melmerby Hall, Christine takes us on a tour of the grand sandstone building, which comprises an original fortified medieval peel tower and later Georgian addition.

The tour incorporates its beautifully decorated and turned out bathrooms and fine bedrooms, as well as the billiard room on the top floor and the ancient cellar dug into the sandstone bedrock.

In a house that is around 700 years old, it is no surprise that there are common ghostly sightings of a ‘Victorian lady’ and even stories of a mischievous spirit who rearranges the billiard balls when nobody is looking.

“Our places are really great for milestone occasions,” says Christine.

“Our most frequent bookings are multi-generational family gatherings or groups of friends who only get together every so often but love their reunions.”

The Rowley family was a well-established farming family in the Eden Valley before Charles’ grandfather Alan Shelton Agar, a doctor from Carlisle, bought Melmerby Hall and its associated forestry, moorland and farmland in the 1950s. His daughter, Anne, married Robin Rowley and the family is now based around Glassonby with various members running various different businesses.

Although it is now hard to imagine a more plush place to spend the night than Grade II listed Melmerby Hall, this was not always the case.

When Christine and Charles took it on in the late 90s, they had to carry out extensive refurbishments, turning it from a six-bedroom and two-bathroom house to one with nine en-suite bedrooms and an orangery opening directly from the oak beamed kitchen.

This was the first of a series of redevelopments, which they followed up by restoring the 14th century Blencowe Hall.

The hall’s most striking feature is the split in the north tower, made by cannon fire from Cromwell’s troops during the English Civil War. This battle scar has now been glazed to become a key feature of the Grade I listed building, which has won multiple design and conservation awards.

After Blencowe Hall, they turned their attention to the historic Hause Hall fellside farm in Martindale overlooking Ullswater, and its associated Grade II listed Cruik Barn former school house.

They then restored the family’s Grade II listed Glassonby Hall and most recently they opened Todd Hills Hall Farm, near Melmerby, as a luxury self-catering property.

Christine and Charles’ tourism business also incorporates a selection of three splendidly isolated shepherd’s huts for glamping by the River Petteril, near Blencowe Hall. A barn at Blencowe has also been developed for use for corporate events, as well as the former stables at Melmerby.

“We have been careful over the last 25 years to make sure that the funding for the restoration of each subsequent property came from revenue associated with the previous projects and some bank loans,” says Christine.

"Charlie's family and my family are workers. We're really workers. Everybody in our family has got calloused hands.”

Originally from upstate New York, Christine came to Oxford University for a year to study and then met Charles at a rowing club in London while they were both working in financial services in the City. One of the Rowley Estates’ properties, Cazenovia Hall, near Blencow, is named after Christine’s hometown in the United States

“When Charlie and I bought Melmerby, we thought we'd really like it to stay in the family and for us to be here some of the time," says Christine.

"So we started on the path of doing holiday rentals at that point with the idea that it could wash its face and we could stay here with our family for a couple of weeks in the summer.”

The couple now divide their time between a home in London, where their two children also live and work, and the Eden Valley.

While Christine is closely involved with the holiday rental, corporate retreat and wedding venue operations, Charles focuses on the forestry and environmental aspects of the business, as well as Rowley’s Raspberries - the pick your own farm in the Eden Valley.

Work is currently is under way to regenerate native woodland in a 25-acre area of woodland known as the Glen, near Todd Hills Hall Farm. Some of the trees planted commercially some 50 years ago are being thinned. In addition to the regeneration at the Glen, the Rowleys have also been busy creating habitats for animals and plants on their land at Glassonby, as well as new woodland generation on the fellside including planting 5000 new trees.

“We are replanting and underplanting woods to create permanent mixed woodlands,” says Christine.

"There's nothing that we touch that we don't think about with a 50-year plus view. Even if these projects don't have a high return on investment, if it's the right thing to do for the land, the area, the history, the family and the business, then we'll do it.”

They have also tried to retain a balance in the communities where the holiday lets sit by developing residential homes alongside self-catering properties.

At Melmerby Hall they have built three new houses in its orchard, one as a holiday let and two as long-term rentals. Similarly Blencowe Hall has long-term rental property among the holiday lets which surround the main building.

The desire to invest in and support the local area also extends to their team members, five of whom live in Melmerby and nearby Gamblesby and Hunsonby.

"We never employ a team member unless we can employ them for 12 months and we don't scale up and down our hours seasonally as we try hard to retain good occupancy throughout the year," says Christine.

Christine and Charles have also developed collaborations with a number of other Cumbrian businesses, including Brendan Donnelly at Coniston Stonecraft, who is supplying stone signs for the properties, Pamela Chappelhow’s Sew it Seams in Gamblesby for team uniforms and soft furnishings, Dougie Ivinson’s Saw Mill in Melmerby for timber and kindling and Kendal photographer Ian Wood who supplies pictures for the business.

"The local people that we work with in terms of guest activities are really important," says Christine.

"Sure, guests want to stay in a great place but they also want to have fun stuff to do.”

Accordingly, the Rowleys collaborate with local businesses interested in providing everything from hot tub hire, spa treatments, catering, clay pigeon shooting and a variety of outdoor activities.

The use of oil for heating has been phased out in all the properties except Glassonby Old Hall and replaced with ground source heat pumps and biomass boilers, with the wood fuel supplied by Skogs Logs, Glassonby, which is run by Charles’ cousin Grant Rowley.

Single use plastics have also been reduced through the use of reusable bottles of toiletries made by Pure Lakes Skincare, in Staveley. On arrival guests are given a welcome pack of goodies including sourdough bread baked by Lovingly Artisan, in Kendal, raspberry jam from Rowley’s Raspberries, fudge and toffee from The Toffee Shop, in Penrith, and eggs from Lakes Free Range Eggs, in Stainton. Apple juice is supplied by Eva’s Organics, near Carlisle, and Lakeland tea and coffee by Farrer’s in Kendal. The loos are equipped with Who Gives A Crap toilet paper, with a proportion of profits donated to build toilets in developing countries.

The Eden Valley is an area that Christine is excited about introducing visitors to, whether it is the grandeur of the Pennines, the quiet winding Coast to Coast cycle routes through the sandstone villages, the stone circle of Long Meg and Her Daughters or the incredible chambers of Lacey’s Caves carved out of sandstone by the River Eden.

"I find that many tourists have no idea where the Eden Valley is and what it's all about,” she says.

“But once they get here they absolutely love it.”