When people think of the Lake District the first thing that comes to mind is the landscape; the majestic fells, the lakes and tarns nestled among the peaks and valleys and the harsh beauty of our National Park. It is a place that has inspired writers and artists for hundreds of years, and has 16 million visitors every year. However, for a number of people they are completely dependent on this landscape to make their living. James Rebanks is one of those people.
The Rebanks family have lived and worked as shepherds in the Lake District for generations. His father was a shepherd before him, and his grandfather taught both of them all he knew. The inexorable grind of the seasons defines what they do and when. The Herdwick flock is moved up onto the high fell during the summer, and all the farmers gather to bring it down at the end of the season. The shows and sales are in the autumn when they sell the spare lambs and look for the new males tups to add to their bloodlines and quality of stock. Winter is the hardest time; the incessant rain, heavy snows and storms make keeping the sheep alive a daily battle, even for the tough Herdwicks. Spring brings new challenges as it is lambing time. Most of his flock can manage perfectly well, but there is always those that can’t and need that extra assistance. As another year passes the sheep are move back up onto the fells once again.
‘This is my life. I want no other.’
Rebanks is not afraid of hard work. Following his father and grandfather into this way of life, and he has chosen a tough and demanding career, but he loves it. He paid little attention at school, wanting to be out in the fields and up on the fells, continuing a way of life that people from the Viking age would still recognise. In his early twenties started education again this time with the single mindedness and determination to succeed. It gave him a separate career that supports the work on the farm. Like his father, he is strong minded and opinionated; great qualities for battling through all that the elements and bureaucracy have to throw at him, but not necessarily for making relationships straightforward. He is not the most eloquent or lyrical of writers, he tells it as it is, but the enthusiasm for his way of life comes across is deep hearted and honest and this is what makes this book such a pleasure to read.