Sunday, June 14, 2015

The Shepherd's Life

The Shepherd's Life

A Tale of the Lake District

By James Rebanks

Published by Allen Lane, April 2015

I first heard about James Rebanks via his Twitter handle, @herdyshepherd1, and greatly admired the gorgeous photos he takes of his beloved sheep and the Lake District where he farms.  Anyone looking to find lots of glossy photos in this book might well be disappointed by the relatively small number of black and white photos, but the book itself is quite remarkable.

James Rebanks struggled at school and was glad to leave with a mere scraping of qualifications. A very bright lad and a typical teenager, he was glad to be working on his family's farm in the wild yet lovely, tranquil yet sometimes brutal Lake District of England. After several run-ins with his father and a brilliant episode where he wrote an essay for his clever sister and it got more marks than she normally achieved, he decided to see if he could do this academic stuff for himself. Enrolling at evening classes, it was quickly apparent that yes, he certainly could do this academic stuff quite easily and he ended up being accepted to study at Oxford, all the while coming back home to help with the sheep.

After graduating, he returned home to the Lake District to throw himself into sheep farming, but being pragmatic, found other, more well-paying jobs which he could fit in around his farm tasks and hours to help support himself. His relationship with the land, his family, his beloved sheep, his friends and fellow shepherds and farmers as well as the visitors and tourists who flock in turn to the area are all described, examined and analysed as he takes the reader through a typical year on his farm and weaves into it stories from his childhood, his family's history over hundreds of years in the Lakes, memorable people and events and so much more.

Just how much his farming means to him cannot be under-estimated and the horrors of the  Foot and Mouth outbreak which ravaged the area  and his own family farm in 2001 are mercifully skipped over  quite quickly. The loss of sixty years of dedicated care and work by his family to build up a stunning breeding herd in a matter of days is a grief too deep to be laid bare for public consumption for very long.

A tough, gritty, touching and enlightening book about families, relationships, the countryside, farming and most of all, sheep.
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