I interviewed ‘The Yorkshire Shepherdess’, Amanda Owen for Jump! Mag this week. When we started talking about raising children, Amanda had some great thoughts on allowing kids to explore and develop, that I wanted to share here.Amanda loves the isolation of Ravenseat, the farm in the Yorkshire Dales, but is connected to the rest of the world via a satellite dish that provides the farm with an internet connection.
She discovered Twitter and started sharing tales of her life in 140 character chunks, accompanied by stunning photos. Her chatty informal style was a big hit; she has amassed over 7000 followers and recently published a book.The Yorkshire Shepherdess is reminiscent of the James Herriot stories we all know from our childhood and brings Amanda full circle.
It was the Herriot books that first set her on the way to becoming a shepherdess, inspiring her to want to work with animals. A career as a vet was ‘academically just not going to happen’. Another book, this time a photographic essay called The Hill Shepherd brought clarity, and a concrete aim – Amanda knew she wanted to be a Shepherdess and not one on a lowland commercial farm.
As we chatted last week, Amanda was multitasking – serving cream teas to visitors, making scones and what she later termed a ‘deconstructed pie’, which was left rather too long in the oven! She has managed to transfer that warmth and humour onto the pages of her book, so that one almost feels as if she is sitting on the sofa, telling her story in a gorgeous Yorkshire accent.
Her story is told more or less chronologically, from her childhood far from farming life to her first experiences, and on to meeting her husband and settling into his farm. He too is a first generation farmer, but the love they both feel for their patch of land is apparent. Living on such an isolated farm does bring challenges, such as being so far from medical help when heavily pregnant and facing complications.
The book deals with the Owen’s brush with fame on the TV series The Dales, and Amanda’s business ideas such as serving tea and scones to the walkers who pass through the farm, and the Shepherd’s Hut for staying overnight.The book is definitely worth a read. You can buy it in your local bookstore, or online via Hive Bookstores.
On Being Wonder Woman
The kids all have responsibilities and have jobs to do at home. I think it is important for children, no matter what career you want to do, that you know that you have to do things. They need to know that they are important to us, and to how things are run. It gives me a sense of pride really, to see them doing things.
They play like normal children, but they also have that sense of freedom. Last night I was getting them showered, and I thought they’d all gone to the bedroom, but when I came back downstairs, they’d all gone back outside cause there was a lamb that needed a top up of milk. So they were there, in their dressing gowns in the farmyard, with a lamb!
I am very laid-back, I have to be. I think to myself, perhaps it wasn’t the greatest thing to be outside nursing a pet lamb in their dressing gowns, but does it really matter? Probably not. You know, in the scheme of things? Why sweat the small stuff?
I’m not Wonder Woman. It slightly annoys me, when people say, ‘Oh, you are Wonder Woman! You can do this that and the other’. No, I can’t. Something has to give, and quite often it is fact that I am not that fussed about housework. The house is fine, I am standing here, the washing is drying above the fire, it looks like it could do with a hoover, you know.
In the scheme of things, are the kids ever going to look back and say, ‘God, wasn’t our childhood fantastic? Do you remember how mother used to hoover everyday?’
It’s not going to happen, is it? They are going to look back, and they going to remember the laughs we had. I don’t want to be smugmum and say ‘You have to do it like this’, because you don’t. You just have to do your best, don’t you? As long as everyone is happy, and everyone is smiling.
On Town vs Country Kids
I did an book launch talk in Richmond recently and the manager of the bookstore asked if I was bringing the kids. He probably thought it would be complete pandemonium, with seven really bored kids, and he said ‘I’ve got you free tickets to go and see the LEGO film’. You’d have thought the kids had won the lottery. They were so excited. They hadn’t been to the cinema before. So that makes it special, it is more of a treat. Things are more special if you don’t have access to them all of the time.
Here, they have the savvy to know their patch. They know which horses are the risky ones, they know about the river. They go and look at the river, but it holds no intrigue at all, because it is just there. There is plenty of opportunities of places they could go and drown! There is a cliff right outside the back where they could fall off. There is a multitude of dangerous things, that they could kill themselves on, but you see, they don’t. Because they’ve always been there.
But if I take them into a town, it is a total nightmare! They have no traffic sense at all. I really stress about that. I watch little kids cycle down the pavement on one of those little tricycles, and I will think, ‘Oh, my God. That child is going to get run over!’How irresponsible to let that little child do that’, but it is just the other way around, isn’t it? My son spends many happy hours sitting down by the river, setting little bits of hay on fire. I’m absolutely sure he is never going to become an arsonist! It is learning; they learn common sense, they learn about nature.
On Imparting Local Knowledge
Nowadays you get sent a map of your farm, but they have none of the old names of the places. I spend a lot of the time speaking to the kids, and teaching them these names, saying ‘Right, we are going to take the sheep up to Round Hill’. Quite often these place names relate to things and people who have gone before, and I think it is good to remember them. It would be a shame if that knowledge was lost.
It is that nice feeling, that you are doing exactly the same thing that people have always done. On a farm like ours, we don’t have boundaries, so the sheep have a kind of homing instinct, that keeps them on the right patch of the hills. You breed the sheep, and when you die, or when you leave, the sheep stay. The sheep don’t belong to you really, you have them for a little while, you are looking after them for the next generation.
Disclaimer – I was sent a copy of Amanda’s book to review on this blog.
Photographs copyright of Amanda Owen.