To live a lifestyle that these days has in the main almost vanished. To choose an existence that is ruled not by the usual demands of life in a busy town or city but one that is controlled by the very seasons themselves. To have each day revolve around the needs of your livestock – and your family, and to be driven forward relentlessly by the need to feed, to clip, to dip and herd, to rescue during harsh winters and to lamb a flock each April. To transport them to and from auction. Taking care of the paperwork and running a home and raising a family in an isolated yet beautiful rural area then that life is the one of a hill farmer.
Amanda Owen lives with her husband Clive on a 2,000 acre hill-farm at the head of Swaledale in North Yorkshire. Along with their seven children….Raven 13, Reuben 10, Miles 7, Edith 5, Violet 3, Sidney 2 and bringing up the rear is the latest addition 9 month old Annas – they’ve embraced a more traditional way of life on a rural farm. Accepting the challenges and actively instilling these traditions in their children.
To juggle the endless demands and challenges faced by farmers everywhere is not an easy option. It takes commitment and dedication and more importantly it requires a passion for the countryside and a passion for this way of life that allows you to take the rough with the smooth. To know that if something goes wrong today then it will hopefully be better the next day.This isn’t some rosey chocolate box idyllic life…it’s hill farming. Hard graft, occasionally cruel, sometimes brutal. incredibly challenging and immensely rewarding.
You must be able to live with that uncertainty and to play a game of ‘farming chess’ where each time a piece is moved the consequences and repercussions have to be judged and assessed and then these in turn must be acted upon. Over and over again. Each day. Every day. But that’s life isn’t it? We all do that in whatever work or lifestyle we have and yet when I met Amanda, Clive and their family there was something about this way of living that despite the obvious hardships seemed to make it look like an incredibly rewarding way of life.
Amanda and Clive might see themselves as temporary custodians of their farm – ‘Ravenseat‘. Knowing that they are following on behind generations of people before them who have lived and worked the land here for hundreds of years. In those years much has changed and yet at the same time much remains the same. As the saying goes…’if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’, so in many ways they continue to farm this land in this little outpost high in the Yorkshire Dales in the way that it has been done for years. The additions of a quad bike to assist with feeding the sheep, cattle and the horses out on the moor is of course a modern requirement – there’s no point making things harder for yourself but when the snow comes and the bike can’t get through then the horses are used just as they would have been done in years gone by.
Looking out across the moors at the roads and the bridges used by the old drovers to move their flocks around from the high moor to the lower pastures, at the barns that were used to store the hay when it had been cut and which remain there today having being built out of practical necessity it is easy to imagine the same thing happening today – and it does – and so as she looks out over the moors reeling off the names of each fell named after those that have gone before and then asking her eldest daughter Raven what some of them are called it becomes clear that passing this knowledge on to her children is an important part of their education.
They will learn things as they go through school of course as most children do but they are learning all the time in this world also. Arguably more valuable lessons. They learn the value of hard work and self-reliance but also team work and looking out for each other – the older children always keeping a watchful eye on the younger ones. They will learn and appreciate the history and heritage of this area and of those who have gone before them. They will understand the seasons and have a greater appreciation of nature and the world around them and will undoubtedly have a confidence as they grow that will see them right as they choose careers and futures of their own.
To illustrate the mind set…one of their sons, Miles, who is 7, is given the task of lighting the fire each morning. Taking pride in the task and ensuring that it is set and lit properly and quickly becomes a roaring and welcoming fire as he chucks on coal to feed the flames. “It’s simple really…….if the fire goes out we won’t have any hot water and we won’t be able to have a hot bath later”. Fair one.
Then they go out after this and change the straw for the chickens. A task which quickly descends into a bit if an impromptu straw fight as three of the children have a laugh throwing dusty straw over each other and jumping from the steps into the soft mud but then almost as quickly Reuben starts to give me a bit of a lesson on chicken husbandry….the best time to collect the eggs, what they prefer to eat, which are the most productive birds, the best feed to give them and a host of other information. He is also learning the Flugelhorn in his spare time! He wants to be a mechanic when he’s older and he also knows an uncanny amount about high explosive ordnance and also a fair bit about hill-farming!
Clever lad that Reuben. He’s ten.
So when all is said and done what might their legacy be? What impact will their time spent in charge of this farm have? Maybe it isn’t about whether the Swaledale sheep or the other livestock thrive – although I’m sure they will and maybe it isn’t even a question of the farm being financially successful but maybe through all the experiences they’ve had both good and bad and the knowledge of farming practices and the heritage that surrounds the farm all of which is passed on to their children then maybe this is their real legacy. The real reward that comes from reaching for simplicity.
You can follow Amanda on Twitter @AmandaOwen8 or order a copy of her new book here… The Yorkshire Shepherdess
Images remain copyright Ian Forsyth / Getty Images
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