A life less ordinary in the Lake District
Published 09/09/2015 | 02:30
I have been taken to task in the past for writing too fulsomely about the books I review. This would be fair comment except for the fact that I only write about those I really enjoyed. The hundreds that I pick up and read a chapter or two of and then discard are simply not worth wasting time on.
Why write a character assassination of some poor struggling author who has had the courage to put words on a page but has failed? He or she will try again and hopefully learn by their errors to improve. Occasionally however an exceptional and memorable book turns up which I must share with others.
Such a book is The Shepherd's Life by James Rebanks who is now apparently something of a folk hero in Britain and abroad where his twitter pages are avidly followed by over 60,000 fans. Remarkably, his memoir topped the Sunday Times bestsellers list and was also Radio 4's Book of the Week.
Rebanks farms in the Lake District in Cumbria, tough rugged country which, coupled with its mountainous geography, is also the wettest part of England. The scenery there is spectacular however and was made famous originally through the early 19th century writings of William Wordsworth.
Nowadays more than 20 million tourists visit the area annually which, while contributing greatly to the local economy in summer, must also create many problems for the farming community.
The author comes from a long line of farmers who have worked the same land for over 600 years and despite the obvious hardships, would not exchange their life for any easier occupation.
Shepherding is in their blood and the closeness of the local communities and their love of the land are evident, whether gathering the flocks on the fells or helping each other with shearing, hay making, mending the dry stone walls and other communal tasks.
The writing itself is exceptional, wonderfully descriptive but also at times blunt and tough and the book itself is a fierce defence of small-scale farming. This is in no way the musings of a dreamy environmentalist nor is it some sort of sentimental memoir.