Allen Lane, 2015, 320 p.p.
Reviewed by June Raymond
This is a really beautiful book. James Rebanks was born into a family which has farmed in Cumbria for at least 600 years and he learnt his shepherding skills from his grandfather and father from early childhood. As a young man he stretched his wings and went to Oxford, but that only made him more aware of the depth of his connection with the Lakes and farming.
His book draws us into an extraordinary understanding of his small, remote upland world and its sheep and shepherds and we feel how beautiful and austere it is. Describing the miseries of winter he writes of ‘the days when the wind blows right through you, filling you with a sense of hopelessness’ and he describes as vividly the excitement and joy of spring and summer.
Rebanks’ profound love for the life, the place and the animals he works with does not make him romantic about them, despite his respect for Wordsworth. The challenges and skills of the shepherds and hill farmers who struggle to make a living in this bleak and fairly hostile world are immense.
We see the Lakes not as tourists and sightseers but from the point of view of the farmers who are part of it and vital to its preservation. James Rebanks’ commitment to keeping alive an ancient way of life goes beyond his own world and he also works freelance as an advisor to UNESCO to help ensure that tourism benefits host communities.
I found this book compulsive reading and am not surprised to see that it is a Sunday Times number one best seller.