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Some people's lives are entirely their own creations. James Rebanks' isn't. The first son of a shepherd, who was the first son of a shepherd himself, he and his family have lived and worked in and around the Lake District for generations. Their way of life is ordered by the seasons and the work they demand, and has been for hundreds of years. A Viking would understand the Some people's lives are entirely their own creations. James Rebanks' isn't. The first son of a shepherd, who was the first son of a shepherd himself, he and his family have lived and worked in and around the Lake District for generations. Their way of life is ordered by the seasons and the work they demand, and has been for hundreds of years. A Viking would understand the work they do: sending the sheep to the fells in the summer and making the hay; the autumn fairs where the flocks are replenished; the gruelling toil of winter when the sheep must be kept alive, and the light-headedness that comes with spring, as the lambs are born and the sheep get ready to return to the fells.


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Some people's lives are entirely their own creations. James Rebanks' isn't. The first son of a shepherd, who was the first son of a shepherd himself, he and his family have lived and worked in and around the Lake District for generations. Their way of life is ordered by the seasons and the work they demand, and has been for hundreds of years. A Viking would understand the Some people's lives are entirely their own creations. James Rebanks' isn't. The first son of a shepherd, who was the first son of a shepherd himself, he and his family have lived and worked in and around the Lake District for generations. Their way of life is ordered by the seasons and the work they demand, and has been for hundreds of years. A Viking would understand the work they do: sending the sheep to the fells in the summer and making the hay; the autumn fairs where the flocks are replenished; the gruelling toil of winter when the sheep must be kept alive, and the light-headedness that comes with spring, as the lambs are born and the sheep get ready to return to the fells.

30 review for The Shepherd's Life: A People's History of the Lake District

  1. 4 out of 5

    Petra-X

    The book started off badly for me. Apart from too much Wordsworth - I suffered through him in school, it was the author's attitude, that of an inverted snob. It seemed he had never got over his schooling where he was not academic and had no desire to travel anywhere and no ambition to do anything but what his father and grandfather had done before him. The teachers, and he felt, quite correctly, that society holds up those who want to go away to university and 'make something' of their lives tha The book started off badly for me. Apart from too much Wordsworth - I suffered through him in school, it was the author's attitude, that of an inverted snob. It seemed he had never got over his schooling where he was not academic and had no desire to travel anywhere and no ambition to do anything but what his father and grandfather had done before him. The teachers, and he felt, quite correctly, that society holds up those who want to go away to university and 'make something' of their lives that is not a manual trade close to home as somehow better than the stay-at-home traditionalist manual workers. So he has internalised this and holds his way of life up as "better" and has a strongly anti-intellectual bias. Some of the cleverest people he has known, he tells us, are almost illiterate. I don't disbelieve, it's the attitude. We are all fulfilled by different things in life, and if we have the choice, as he did, then all choices are equal, none are inherently superior to the other. I'm trying to understand this attitude. The author went to Oxford in his twenties, which accounts for the writing, but did he do it despite his praise for those who reject a formal education in favour of experience-based learning in a very limited arena, or because of it? Did he come to realise that there was more to the world and it didn't make him better or worse if he went for it? (view spoiler)[ The author also despised his teachers' love of the Lake District saying it was that of rich white people who didn't know the place, just came to tramp around it for its beauty. Apart from writing, the author's job now is as an adviser on sustainable tourism, so at some point, he matured and was able to see the realities of 20th C economics alongside the romance of his beloved Wordsworth. (hide spoiler)] I kept reading hoping the book would be revelatory in some way, although I come from sheep farming country myself so I do actually know about sheep and sheep dogs quite closely (they used to get into the garden, along with cows, foxes and the hunt. The hunt paid for damage, the farmers did not). It's probably quite a good book, it's quite well written, but I can't deal with the author's attitude and continual sniping anti-intellectual comments. 1 star, because I did not enjoy it at all and dnf'd it at 100 pages, but an additional 1 star because it was very well-written.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Diane

    It was kismet that I found this marvelous book. Back in the spring I saw a positive review of The Shepherd's Life in one of the library journals that I read for work, and since I knew I was traveling to England in a few months, and that I wanted to read English books on the trip, I ordered a copy. I already had a few English novels I wanted to take with me, and thought it would be nice to have a memoir in the mix. What was interesting is that, at the time, I didn't pay close attention to the set It was kismet that I found this marvelous book. Back in the spring I saw a positive review of The Shepherd's Life in one of the library journals that I read for work, and since I knew I was traveling to England in a few months, and that I wanted to read English books on the trip, I ordered a copy. I already had a few English novels I wanted to take with me, and thought it would be nice to have a memoir in the mix. What was interesting is that, at the time, I didn't pay close attention to the setting of the book. James Rebanks wrote beautifully about living and farming in Matterdale, which is in the Lake District. My husband and I ended up spending a few days in Keswick, which, as the crow flies, is only about 10 miles from Matterdale. I started reading this book while we were in Keswick, and when I looked on a map to see where Rebanks' town was, I was startled by its proximity. The sights he described in his book were exactly what I saw on our walks in the area, and it made the visit so much more meaningful. I have a soft spot for books about farmers and pioneers. My grandparents were farmers, and I have great respect for all of the labor that goes into growing food and raising animals and the thousands of thankless tasks that a working farm requires. This is where Rebanks' book really shines, because he writes eloquently about what it takes to be a sheep farmer in modern England, and what happens in each season of the year. He also writes movingly about how the livelihood of shepherds is in danger, and that most farmers have to supplement their income with other jobs just to survive. (Similar to agricultural problems in America, and how small farms have been wiped out by Big Agro.) I also liked that Rebanks shared the story of his childhood, and how he found a love for books and learning that eventually took him to Oxford, and that he chose to return to the Lake District to be a sheep farmer. In short, I loved this memoir. Five stars for the beautiful, thoughtful prose, and for making my trip to the Lake District even more memorable. Where I'm from, farmers show their respect for neighbors by touching the tip of their cap. So, Mr. Rebanks, I tip my cap to you. Favorite Quotes [On his frustrations with his school headmistress] "The idea that we, our fathers, and mothers might be proud, hardworking, and intelligent people doing something worthwhile or even admirable was beyond her. For a woman who saw success as being demonstrated through education, ambition, adventure, and conspicuous professional achievement we must have seemed a poor sample. No one ever mentioned 'university' in this school. No one wanted to go anyway. People who went away ceased to belong; they changed and could never really come back. We knew that in our bones. Schooling was a way out, but we didn't want it, and we'd made our choice. Later I would understand that modern people the world over are obsessed with the importance of 'going somewhere' and 'doing something' with your life. The implication is an idea I have come to hate, that staying local and doing physical work doesn't count for much." "I wanted to tell that teacher that she had it all wrong ... tell her that she didn't really know this place or its people at all. These thoughts took years to become clear, but in a rough childish form I think they were there from the start. I also knew in a crude way that if books define places, then writing books was important, and that we needed books by us and about us." "My grandfather was, quite simply, one of the great forgotten silent majority of people who live, work, love, and die without leaving much written trace that they were ever here. He was, and we his descendants remain, essentially nobodies as far as anyone else is concerned. But that's the point. Landscapes like ours were created by and survive through the efforts of nobodies. That's why I was so shocked to be given such a dead, rich, white man's version of its history at school. This is a landscape of modest hardworking people. The real history of our landscape should be the history of the nobodies." "I sometimes think we are so independently minded because we had seen just enough of the wider world to know we liked our own old ways and independence best. My grandfather went as far afield as Paris for a trip to an agricultural fair once. He knew what cities had to offer, but also had a sense that they would leave you uprooted, anonymous, and pushed about by the world you lived in, rather than having some freedom and control." "[My grandfather] loves to tell stories. True stories. This is how he passes on his values. How he tells me who we are. They have morals, these stories. We don't give up, even when things are bad. We pay our debts. We work hard. We act decently. We help our neighbors if they need it. We do what we say we will do. We don't want much attention. We look after our own. We are proud of what we do. We try to be quietly smart. We take chances sometimes to get on. We will fail sometimes. We will be affected by the wider world ... But we hold on to who we are. It was clear from his stories that we were part of a tradition, that long pre-dated us, and would long exist after us."

  3. 5 out of 5

    Rod

    There are two problems with this book. The first is, that despite Rebanks' acknowledgment of his editor's sterling work, the editing is frankly quite horrendous. We get almost verbatim the same paragraph about eleven pages apart (on pages 51 and 62), and there are numerous other instances of repetition throughout. The first page of the book was so poorly written that I almost gave up on it before I had even started in earnest. The second problem is Rebanks himself. There's something oddly unlike There are two problems with this book. The first is, that despite Rebanks' acknowledgment of his editor's sterling work, the editing is frankly quite horrendous. We get almost verbatim the same paragraph about eleven pages apart (on pages 51 and 62), and there are numerous other instances of repetition throughout. The first page of the book was so poorly written that I almost gave up on it before I had even started in earnest. The second problem is Rebanks himself. There's something oddly unlikeable about him as he forces his modesty and humility on us in a rather paradoxical fashion. I got tired of hearing his repeated and continued insistence on the salt-of-the-earth qualities of the shepherding ilk, and it came to accrue an inverse kind of snobbery that was grating. Of course you tourists and southerners couldn't possibly understand the ways of us simple folk, who are actually smarter and generally better than you anyway. Give me a break. He wants to have his cake and eat it too, as the retelling of his Oxford years reveals in more detail. There was a good book in here somewhere, but it needed a sure-handed editor and a more charming narrative voice than Rebanks was able to provide. Quite disappointing, especially since it was blurbed enthusiastically by Helen MacDonald, author of the exquisite and perfect "H is for Hawk."

  4. 5 out of 5

    Andrew

    There's a field of history condescendingly labelled "peasant studies." Now, normally these peasants are long, long dead so we live with the awkwardness. But James Rebanks is no dead peasant. And he's rightly proud of his place and work in this world. So let's us urban readers figure out how to enjoy his book for what it is, instead of turning it into a voyeuristic look into the life of a farmer. It's a book that tells of a world we forget, that we don't know, that we ought to. A world that revolv There's a field of history condescendingly labelled "peasant studies." Now, normally these peasants are long, long dead so we live with the awkwardness. But James Rebanks is no dead peasant. And he's rightly proud of his place and work in this world. So let's us urban readers figure out how to enjoy his book for what it is, instead of turning it into a voyeuristic look into the life of a farmer. It's a book that tells of a world we forget, that we don't know, that we ought to. A world that revolves around work, and responsibility, and respect for the "way things are done", and the pragmatism born of all of this. There's an almost foreign dignity about Rebanks's story. Foreign because he lives in a world and according to rhythms so different from most people's. A cycle that we can recognize as unchanging without romanticizing it as something quaint. On his farm, winter kills, dogs aren't always friendly, and, frankly, it's often covered in shit. So let's not poke our noses in as fair weather tourists. But, instead, let's just let Rebanks tell us about his life and let's learn from him as he learned from those before him.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Chrissie

    I dithered back and forth between a rating of four or five stars. While listening I marveled over the author's - beautiful prose. - ability to make the daily/seasonal chores of sheep farming comprehensible and meaningful. - ability to movingly interweave a biography of himself and his family with a clear and captivating account of sheep farming in the fells of northwestern England’s Lake District. Few can explain the fundaments of a job so clearly, so moving and so interestingly. His love of what I dithered back and forth between a rating of four or five stars. While listening I marveled over the author's - beautiful prose. - ability to make the daily/seasonal chores of sheep farming comprehensible and meaningful. - ability to movingly interweave a biography of himself and his family with a clear and captivating account of sheep farming in the fells of northwestern England’s Lake District. Few can explain the fundaments of a job so clearly, so moving and so interestingly. His love of what he does shines through. In describing these shepherds' way of life he impressed upon me the importance of their role in protecting a valuable landscape, both for the communities within and for the nation as a whole. Shepherding is a way of life and a craft to be valued and protected. The book moved me deeply. Reebanks makes sheep farming personal. The book is both about shepherding and about his family, his neighbors and his community. Shepherding is a group effort, all relying on each other. It is a family and a community enterprise. It is not something you can do alone. One's worth is earned by hard work, by learning from those who came earlier and by learning from one’s own mistakes and achievements. One's name is built on past actions and to what extent you can be relied on. Cooperation and trust in those worthy of trust are an essential part of the trade. Shepherding is not merely a "job", it is a whole way of life, and Reebanks shows it to us in detail, in an interesting and captivating manner. His daughter at the age of six births a lamb. He merely stands by, gives words of encouragement and guidance. When Reebanks himself was young we watch him learn from his grandfather. We watch as he struggles to gain respect and independence from his father. We watch as his father grows old and sick, each generation replacing the other. What is delivered is both a moving memoir and an informative description of a craft to be valued and respected. The audiobook is read by Bryan Dick. I loved the narration. I adored it. It was superb. There is faint hint of a dialect that feels genuine. The listener feels the author is telling his own story. We are listening to the author's words, his thoughts and we feel his emotions. I admire tremendously what the author had done with his life and what he has achieved. When he finally entered Oxford and had to take his first written test he realized he would have to write the exam. He could not write! He had before poked out finger by finger his papers on a typewriter. Yet, I am not rating the man; I am rating a wonderfully written book that is clear, informative and beautifully written.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Rebecca

    (Nearly 3.5) My husband valued this more as a memoir than as a cultural document; the opposite was true for me. As a memoir it’s fairly unexceptional, but it’s valuable as a picture of a rare and dwindling way of life in the British countryside. Some favorite lines: “My grandfather is, quite simply, one of the great forgotten silent majority of people who lived, worked, loved and died without leaving much written trace that they were ever there. He was, and we his descendants remain, essentially n (Nearly 3.5) My husband valued this more as a memoir than as a cultural document; the opposite was true for me. As a memoir it’s fairly unexceptional, but it’s valuable as a picture of a rare and dwindling way of life in the British countryside. Some favorite lines: “My grandfather is, quite simply, one of the great forgotten silent majority of people who lived, worked, loved and died without leaving much written trace that they were ever there. He was, and we his descendants remain, essentially nobodies as far as anyone else is concerned. But that’s the point. Landscapes like ours were created by, and survive through, the efforts of nobodies.” “Everyone in Oxford was bored with perfect kids from perfect schools. Being a bit northern and weird was my greatest strength. It could make me interesting.”

  7. 5 out of 5

    Joanne

    Initially I was intrigued by this book and was really interested in reading about this way of life. However, as the book progressed I became increasingly annoyed by the author's voice. It is very much I am the farmer and therefore custodian of this land and anyone who is a tourist or visitor to the area has no idea (and implicitly) no right to any part of the land. He has become the elitist type of person he proposes to rail against. I was still interested in the harsh life of the farmer, but he Initially I was intrigued by this book and was really interested in reading about this way of life. However, as the book progressed I became increasingly annoyed by the author's voice. It is very much I am the farmer and therefore custodian of this land and anyone who is a tourist or visitor to the area has no idea (and implicitly) no right to any part of the land. He has become the elitist type of person he proposes to rail against. I was still interested in the harsh life of the farmer, but he has made me believe that unless you have farming in your blood for generations you are not someone of any worth. How sad is that. He may like me better if I was a sheep. Disappointing.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Fiona

    For me, this book saved itself in the last 30 pages or so when we were taken through the trials and tribulations of the lambing season. There is no doubt that James Rebanks loves his life and his life's work but he must have very broad shoulders to carry all the chips we hear about early on in the book - against his schooling, against tourists, against offcomers (second homers or others making their homes in 'his' patch). As a keen fell walker (he sneers at us and feels very superior) and someon For me, this book saved itself in the last 30 pages or so when we were taken through the trials and tribulations of the lambing season. There is no doubt that James Rebanks loves his life and his life's work but he must have very broad shoulders to carry all the chips we hear about early on in the book - against his schooling, against tourists, against offcomers (second homers or others making their homes in 'his' patch). As a keen fell walker (he sneers at us and feels very superior) and someone who had a holiday home in the Lakes for 12 years (how awful), he made me cross that he should think I don't respect and admire the work that fell farmers do to work and maintain the land. As a dog owner, I object to the generalisation that we are all irresponsible idiots around sheep. In closing, he waxes lyrical about being on the fells. I hate to disillusion him but his joy at being in the wide open spaces, hearing nothing but birdsong, ewes and lambs calling to each other, and burns trickling down the fell side, is a joy shared by very many of us. He should be pleased about that as we bring in a lot of income to the area, much of which benefits farmers offering accommodation, camping sites, etc. While reading this, I felt I should always feel slightly unwelcome but I refuse to feel that way. The fells are there for us all to enjoy. As a book, I found the style annoyingly disjointed at times and he uses far too many unnecessary 'inverted commas' but I could have forgiven that if he had been less sullen and sulky for so much of the time. Rant over. It's a best seller because he has a large Twitter following and because people are genuinely interested in what he does, even if he continues to look down his nose at 'urban dwellers'. If we didn't eat lamb and wear woollen clothing, he wouldn't have a farm!

  9. 4 out of 5

    Brandon Forsyth

    Absolutely lovely. I savoured this book, while simultaneously devouring it in every spare moment I had. Rebanks writes beautifully, whether he's describing his love for his family and his farm, or detailing his frustrations with the English school system and his occasionally rocky relationship with his father. THE SHEPHERD'S LIFE is an eloquent defense of a vocation and lifestyle that has been increasingly marginalized in recent times, and Rebanks' charming underdog defiance never dips into sent Absolutely lovely. I savoured this book, while simultaneously devouring it in every spare moment I had. Rebanks writes beautifully, whether he's describing his love for his family and his farm, or detailing his frustrations with the English school system and his occasionally rocky relationship with his father. THE SHEPHERD'S LIFE is an eloquent defense of a vocation and lifestyle that has been increasingly marginalized in recent times, and Rebanks' charming underdog defiance never dips into sentimentality to find joy and worth in it. But if I'm making this sound like a dry environmentalist tract, I'm doing it a disservice: this is also a moving memoir of growing up and finding your place in the world, about family and heritage, and finding value in unappreciated people and places. A gorgeous non-fiction summer read.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Paul

    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 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.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Warrick

    As a teacher who loves poetry, the landscape of the Lake District, the literary tradition it's so part of, and the historical importance of places like this in reshaping our view of nature and beauty, I have mixed feelings about this shepherd's diary. I'm the teacher he belittles and antagonises as a young student, and I'm the walker with the tour guide he barely tolerates in the lanes between the fields. I'm one of the university students he can't wait to get away from at university. Never mind As a teacher who loves poetry, the landscape of the Lake District, the literary tradition it's so part of, and the historical importance of places like this in reshaping our view of nature and beauty, I have mixed feelings about this shepherd's diary. I'm the teacher he belittles and antagonises as a young student, and I'm the walker with the tour guide he barely tolerates in the lanes between the fields. I'm one of the university students he can't wait to get away from at university. Never mind that it's probably the emerging conservation movement, inspired by walkers like Wordsworth, and later by tour guides like Wainwright, that's ensured the survival of this special place the author loves so much. And it's probably not the local farmers who are buying this book. It's a detailed, intimate, intense farming life we get insight into here. The hard working seasons of the shepherd. There's lots about sheep, naturally, but the real heart of this story is the author's relationship with his father, which is bitter-sweet, angry and loving. Not so much about his mother, who put the love of reading in him, or his, no doubt, long suffering teachers and lecturers who tried to do the same. At times the defence of this special local knowledge of place read for me almost as a celebration of ignorance, and a narrow definition of what it is to be a man. The small scene, recollected towards the end of his bitter school experience, his father and he conspiring, smirking and hiding as his mother looks for him to get him to go to school, but leaving defeated, in tears, was the most moving thing in the book for me.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Sally

    I disliked the authors's stance intensely. He seemed to be trying too hard to prove himself a hard man of the Lakes, so much so that he won't disclose what he studied at Oxford nor why he applied there given his disdain for those who don't happen to have been brought up where and as he was. Not a good read.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Max Carmichael

    I thought I would like this book from the first chapter, in which Rebanks dismisses school and the educational system. As someone who spent 8 years in higher education and has depended mainly on degrees from good schools to make a living, I know well how overrated education is. From there until the book's end, the story of his local sheep farming tradition and his personal adaptation to the modern world held my attention and my sympathy. But afterwards, reflection set in. I grew up in a New World I thought I would like this book from the first chapter, in which Rebanks dismisses school and the educational system. As someone who spent 8 years in higher education and has depended mainly on degrees from good schools to make a living, I know well how overrated education is. From there until the book's end, the story of his local sheep farming tradition and his personal adaptation to the modern world held my attention and my sympathy. But afterwards, reflection set in. I grew up in a New World temperate-zone farming community, and I currently live in a cattle ranching community in the arid American Southwest. I began to realize that the farming tradition Rebanks describes so lovingly is monoculture commodity farming - the kind of farming that has devastated many of the best lands in the U.S. Nowhere does Rebanks mention feeding his family or community - the traditional essence of farming. The landscape he uses has been mostly stripped of wildlife habitat for centuries. He scoffs at romanticizing wilderness; what would he know about wilderness? A healthy farming culture treasures its wildlife habitat as a source of genetic diversity, pest control, and wild plant and animal products. A healthy farming culture preserves its ancestral hunting, fishing, foraging and wildcrafting traditions. A healthy farming culture cultivates a wide variety of crops and livestock species to sustain its families through the seasons and challenges of climate. My farming ancestors raised cattle, hogs, goats, sheep, and chickens, maintained crop fields, orchards, and kitchen gardens to feed their families and communities. Rebanks says nothing about any of this - his story is all about raising sheep to sell in a remote market economy - not to milk or even to eat. He goes on and on about his 5,000-year tradition, but we can reasonably assume that much more recently, his ancestors, like mine, were producing their own food, not just a single market commodity. Rebanks talks over and over again about farming, but hardly ever about eating. I assume that's because he and his family get the majority of their food from the supermarket. It's a poor kind of farming that doesn't directly provide most of the food needs of the local community.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Bettie

    BOTW http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b05r0b35 Description: Some people's lives are entirely their own creations. James Rebanks's isn't. The first son of a shepherd, who was the first son of a shepherd himself, he and his family have lived and worked in and around the Lake District for generations. It's a life lived according to the demands of the seasons: sending the sheep to the fells in the summer and making the hay; the autumn fairs where the flocks are replenished; the gruelling toil of winter BOTW http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b05r0b35 Description: Some people's lives are entirely their own creations. James Rebanks's isn't. The first son of a shepherd, who was the first son of a shepherd himself, he and his family have lived and worked in and around the Lake District for generations. It's a life lived according to the demands of the seasons: sending the sheep to the fells in the summer and making the hay; the autumn fairs where the flocks are replenished; the gruelling toil of winter when the sheep must be kept alive, and the light-headedness that comes with spring, as the lambs are born and the sheep get ready to return to the fells. Through his eyes, we see that the Lake District is not a playground or a scenic backdrop, it's a working landscape that needs sheep and its farmers to survive. James Rebanks has a huge following on Twitter (using his moniker: @herdyshepherd1) where you can see photographs detailing day to day life on the farm - including his fine flock of Herdwick sheep and, the latest additions to the workforce, sheepdog Floss's ten puppies. Read by Bryan Dick Written by James Rebanks Abridged by Sian Preece Produced by Kirsteen Cameron Music details: Track: "The Nightshift" CD: Country Escape Label: BBC Production Music BBCPM031. 1/5: A powerful account of growing up on a farm in the Lake District 2/5: James's family face a difficult decision to keep the farm out of debt. 3/5: Clashing with his father, James returns to education and wins a place at Oxford. 4/5: James recounts the horror of 2001 foot-and-mouth disaster. 5/5: Lambing season.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Theresa

    Rebanks gives honest insight into how it feels to be part of an ecosystem created by complex relationships between farms, flocks, and families. The beauty and functionality of the mountainous fells of northwest England didn't just happen. They have been fashioned over centuries by people who with great skill and effort sustained their lives in an egalitarian communal system that works. When I began reading, I was put off by what I took to be Rebanks' defensiveness, but I was completely won once Rebanks gives honest insight into how it feels to be part of an ecosystem created by complex relationships between farms, flocks, and families. The beauty and functionality of the mountainous fells of northwest England didn't just happen. They have been fashioned over centuries by people who with great skill and effort sustained their lives in an egalitarian communal system that works. When I began reading, I was put off by what I took to be Rebanks' defensiveness, but I was completely won once I caught what he is saying. He provokes you to think about what mainstream culture values and what it devalues through ignorance. It is not that shepherds work harder than other people (maybe they do); it is that they feel like they belong to a tradition that is worthy of their efforts. They actually feel rewarded by the meaning they find in their way of life. (His father and grandfather worked til their last day because they chose to. Who knew the real importance of a rosette at a livestock show or the intelligence and skill a breeder needs to create herds uniquely adapted to sustain an ecosystem that works for people, animals, landscape, and climate. Such skills are valuable and offer people satisfying life choices. Efficiency and large scale operations may not be able to deliver all they seem to promise. I cheered Rebanks' definitions of 'intelligence' and 'freedom' and his experiences with school and education. So many astute implications for society. What a lesson on the concept of respect. His direct and specific style makes you feel you are there, and then supplies a sense of the significance of being there. The picture is far from just pretty---lots of blood and guts, cold sodden clothes, tempers, family feuds, drunkenness, failure, birth and death---real life. AT Oxford, when asked his opinion of students there he says, "They are all similar. They struggle to have different opinions, because they've never failed at anything or been nobodies and they believed they would always win. This isn't most people's experience of life. They should all do some dead-end job, like in a chicken processing plant... it would do more good for them than a gap year in Peru..." Rebanks says he never mentions his Oxford degree to anyone nice or northern, but it acted like fairy dust to anyone remotely snooty or officious. This is not reverse snobbery. It is a corrective to the superficiality of value judgments of society. I came away knowing that only the ignorant dismiss something they know little about. And assuming that which you don't know is sad. There is value in being needed by others, of belonging to something larger than yourself, to being rooted in a landscape. Loyalty has rewards whether for personal maturing, family relationships, or tending sheep. This is a book worth reading.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Barbara

    On my recent trip to Edinburgh and visit to Waterstone's, I bought this book. It suited the purpose of my visit to Edinburgh to the annual yarn festival. When I picked up the book to read it, I wasn't prepared for such a profound treatise on the relationship between geography and the people and animals who inhabit it. Rebanks is a third generation sheep farmer in the Lake District and many more generations of farmers preceded his grandfather. Wordsworth moved to the area at the end of the 19th On my recent trip to Edinburgh and visit to Waterstone's, I bought this book. It suited the purpose of my visit to Edinburgh to the annual yarn festival. When I picked up the book to read it, I wasn't prepared for such a profound treatise on the relationship between geography and the people and animals who inhabit it. Rebanks is a third generation sheep farmer in the Lake District and many more generations of farmers preceded his grandfather. Wordsworth moved to the area at the end of the 19th century and it was wars on the Continent - Napoleonic Wars and so forth, that pushed English tourists to the Lake District for their leisure travel. Tourists from that time to the present see the area as a playground, oblivious to the agricultural lives carried on there. Rebanks is tolerant of these tourists, although at times not very. But instead of deriding them, he describes the lives, knowledge, and wisdom of the sheep farmers who preserve a way of life that goes back hundreds of years. Beatrice Potter comes up in the book, and although I knew she had done much to preserve the Lake District, I didn't realize she was serious about sheep farming and was well respected for her involvement in this industry. She worked for years with one of the most experienced and knowledgeable local shepherds and her herd produced many prize winners. Many may think of sheep as stupid animals. The Herdwick sheep that he herds, hardier than the Swaledale he later acquires, live outside on the mountains year round, even lambing there. It snows in Cumbria, and Rebanks' account of the winter work of bringing hay to herds during a blizzard left me grateful to work indoors. This is a study of human geography which explores the relationship between farmers, and their herds, and the beautiful but challenging natural environment. It is a hymn to the people who stubbornly continue to live a way of life that is threatened - not people who live in some far away place in a remote part of the world, but peopel who live mere hours from the Glasgow, London, and Edinburgh. Last weekend I went to my local sheep and wool festival and saw a friend who is a sheep farmer and also runs a dairy farm. She had been given this book by a visitor from the UK, and expected it would be yet another tale of an urban escapee who gave up life in the fast lane to play at being a farmer. We both agreed that these are not a genre we enjoy. But this book, she said, gets it right. I encourage readers to skip the numerous reviews out there as they reveal, as they too often do, too much. Approach this book without any spoilers revealed ahead of time, and you will thoroughly enjoy this unique story, even if you aren't sheep-crazy.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Auntie Terror

    This is a beautiful narration of a kind of life which, as the author puts it, seems almost fallen out of time, compared to the modern world. It is the story of his finding his own way in this traditional world, but just as much the story of his whole family, and the story of how shepherds as such have grown to be a part of and shape the Fells as a landscape for poets to dream and fanatsize about. Also, of course, it's a story about the life of the sheep there. The author is almost cruelly open in This is a beautiful narration of a kind of life which, as the author puts it, seems almost fallen out of time, compared to the modern world. It is the story of his finding his own way in this traditional world, but just as much the story of his whole family, and the story of how shepherds as such have grown to be a part of and shape the Fells as a landscape for poets to dream and fanatsize about. Also, of course, it's a story about the life of the sheep there. The author is almost cruelly open in his self-reflection which makes him very approachable as a narrator, even for someone like me who has never been in contact with such a rural life other than in form of childhood holidays and a lingering feeling of comfort at the smell of sheep. He also is very unromantic about his life, discarding the pastoral idyll of authors who only have had an external view about the life of shepherds. The book could have been quite bleak because of all the troubles and hard times this way of living has faced and is still facing in this day. But this effect is lifted by glimpses of the tight social net which the author describes to knit neighbours together there, as well as by the fierce love with which his family and those of his friends and neighbours fight to preserve their historical way and important task to keep the Fells as they are. I had a vague sense about the importance of keeping up such traditional professions. But I wasn't aware of the impact shepherding has on keeping mountainous regions in a contidtion that allows people to enjoy them by way of hiking etc. In my next lief, I intend to become a shepherd. ;-)

  18. 5 out of 5

    Book Riot Community

    I’ve already written about just how much I love this book, but damn son, it turned out a deep dive into the world of shepherding was just what I needed this month. I can now tell you what a tup is, or pick a Herdwick sheep out of a line up, and I’ve got a whole new level of respect for my knitwear. — Rachel Weber from The Best Books We Read In March: http://bookriot.com/2016/04/04/riot-r... I’ve already written about just how much I love this book, but damn son, it turned out a deep dive into the world of shepherding was just what I needed this month. I can now tell you what a tup is, or pick a Herdwick sheep out of a line up, and I’ve got a whole new level of respect for my knitwear. — Rachel Weber from The Best Books We Read In March: http://bookriot.com/2016/04/04/riot-r...

  19. 4 out of 5

    V C Willow

    A potentially interesting read was marred by the author's voice. The premise of the novel was intriguing, a look into a rural and traditional way of farming. However, Rebanks' arrogance, relish in ignorance and elitism intrudes into every aspect of his writing. He clearly thinks that we should all wonder at the genius of his farming in the Lake District, but only from afar as he clearly feels a sense of entitled ownership to the land to the exclusion of all others. This is further compounded by A potentially interesting read was marred by the author's voice. The premise of the novel was intriguing, a look into a rural and traditional way of farming. However, Rebanks' arrogance, relish in ignorance and elitism intrudes into every aspect of his writing. He clearly thinks that we should all wonder at the genius of his farming in the Lake District, but only from afar as he clearly feels a sense of entitled ownership to the land to the exclusion of all others. This is further compounded by his insistence that only he and 'his community' can commune with and understand the land; that somehow the beauty and connection with the countryside should and can only be appreciated by him and his kin. The book was also bogged down in Rebanks' telling us how much of an unappreciated genius he is and so the concept of the novel of the yearly cycle of farming through the seasons was condensed into a few interesting pages, suffocated by the 'personal' and mostly xenophobic, narrow minded ranting of the author. Extremely disappointing read, badly written and poorly edited.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Marie

    I should have known, given how very popular this book is, that I wouldn't like it. I seem to be blessed - or cursed - with an inability to like what "everyone" else likes. I did want to like this book, even expected to. And there were indeed phrases and passages that satisfied (iron-ore-tinged raddle was described as "the blood of the mountains"); and there were heartfelt confessions that drew me a little closer and made me feel a little more kinship than either I or the author would probably li I should have known, given how very popular this book is, that I wouldn't like it. I seem to be blessed - or cursed - with an inability to like what "everyone" else likes. I did want to like this book, even expected to. And there were indeed phrases and passages that satisfied (iron-ore-tinged raddle was described as "the blood of the mountains"); and there were heartfelt confessions that drew me a little closer and made me feel a little more kinship than either I or the author would probably like to admit to having. And there's the rub: normally an author attempts, either explicitly or implicitly, to include the reader, to make the reader part of the read. The writer initiates a relationship with the reader through the text, a relationship that escalates as the book goes on. But this is definitely an odd book in that regard: Rebanks seems instead to be trying with all his might to push the reader away. Not me specifically, but all his prospective readers. It was obvious, from the explanations, from the tone, and from the outright references, that he wasn't writing for the benefit of the people he thinks of as his kind, other shepherds e.g., or other people living off the land in northern England in some capacity. It was obvious that he was writing to people he considered outsiders, to city folk, to recently arrived residents to the area, to fell walkers, travellers, visitors and tourists of every kind, to poets and other writers who take a primarily "aesthetic" view of the land he works on - in short, to use a cliché, to all the people who "aren't from around these parts". And the tone he adopts to these many unfortunate others is a regrettable one. When he actually gets on with stories of the shepherd's life the book is definitely of interest, but then just as you begin to warm to writer and subject, he turns on you again and writes something in such a way that you're backed back across the fence, making sure you, the reader, recall that you aren't of a kind with him, the writer. I felt lectured to, scolded and sermonized throughout much of this book. Reading it was like being in a dysfunctional relationship with the kind of person who tries to seduce you by telling you how grand they are, and when you find yourself slightly interested in spite of yourself, you are made to feel not good enough mainly because you're not just like them. I would give this book no more than 2 stars were I to base it solely on how alienated and depressed it made me feel; but as it was well written and did offer an original and at times engaging insight into the life of fell shepherds, I'll be fair and give it 3.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Penny

    Very good indeed, thoroughly enjoyed this. Rebanks starts his tale with a vivid picture of a bored, underachieving teenager behaving badly at school and wanting nothing more than to leave to work on the family farm. His teachers, trying to 'improve' boys like him, suggest alternative careers. This only increases his anger and resentment towards them - he feels they just don't understand his situation, and those of the other families that have lived and worked in the Lake District Fells for hundre Very good indeed, thoroughly enjoyed this. Rebanks starts his tale with a vivid picture of a bored, underachieving teenager behaving badly at school and wanting nothing more than to leave to work on the family farm. His teachers, trying to 'improve' boys like him, suggest alternative careers. This only increases his anger and resentment towards them - he feels they just don't understand his situation, and those of the other families that have lived and worked in the Lake District Fells for hundreds of years. Without giving the game away, this makes what happens to him in his twenties all the more remarkable. I've visited the Lake District numerous times, but as a tourist of course. I have often wondered about the lives of the people who live and farm there. I visit between March and October and I'm under no illusions as to what it must be like there during the harsher months. Rebanks tells it like it is and I learnt something on every page. He writes beautifully about life as a Fell Shepherd and describes a way of life that I felt might not even exist any more. What comes over on every page is the sense of community, family, ancient traditions and a complete sense of being grounded in the landscape. When Rebanks says there is no other place he would wish to be, and no other life he would wish to lead, you don't doubt him for a single second.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Tanja Berg

    This is a delightful, well-written, and decidedly unromantic story about farming life. The book is divided into seasons, as is natural, from a farming point of view. The author tells of his life and the book follows a somewhat chronological timeline. What is most fascinating about this, is that it describes a way of life which is - despite modern inventions such as antibiotics - much like it has been for centuries. It's a story not told. It's muck, blood and cold rain. A story of sheep that are This is a delightful, well-written, and decidedly unromantic story about farming life. The book is divided into seasons, as is natural, from a farming point of view. The author tells of his life and the book follows a somewhat chronological timeline. What is most fascinating about this, is that it describes a way of life which is - despite modern inventions such as antibiotics - much like it has been for centuries. It's a story not told. It's muck, blood and cold rain. A story of sheep that are "hefted", meaning they will stick to a certain number of hills and stray no further. Some of the people growing up are also "hefted" in a sense, not wanting to be anywhere else. You have to be deeply rooted in tradition and have a strong sense of meaning to lead a life like this. A life where your life much depends on weather, disease and luck - but above else, hard work. I once thought that I would like to be a vet, or at the very least, work with horses. So one summer I worked as a groom. That meant 12-13 hours a day, six days a week. It was summer, so the work was comparatively easy, the horses in the fields did not need to be fed. While I was there, there where others who tried their hand at being a groom, and quickly gave up. I had also enough after a summer. In fact, I never went back to horses after this. I also gave up on my dream of being a vet, which in addition to having required some extra classes to have any chance of making a cut, would also mean back-breaking, unromantic work with large animals. So no, a life where a large number of lives would depend on me always getting up on time and going the extra mile - that's not for me. However, if your family has lived the life of shepherds and farmers for hundreds of years on the same land - well, that does mean something. The hills that you look upon being the same as your forefathers never admired. I can see how keeping this up has value, and I deeply respect the few that still bother with this life. Since most of us don't and have no idea what such a life means, read this book!

  23. 4 out of 5

    Michael

    2.5 stars. I really wanted to like this book, but I just couldn't get there. I was intrigued by the presumably big premise; his desire to tell his family's story (and farming families similar to his) - people who are so rooted (no pun intended) to the land and endeavor to preserve a way of life that has been handed down for centuries and generations, amidst a rapidly changing society that either doesn't care or views such a life as a romanticized nicety. In the author's words: "I am wondering wh 2.5 stars. I really wanted to like this book, but I just couldn't get there. I was intrigued by the presumably big premise; his desire to tell his family's story (and farming families similar to his) - people who are so rooted (no pun intended) to the land and endeavor to preserve a way of life that has been handed down for centuries and generations, amidst a rapidly changing society that either doesn't care or views such a life as a romanticized nicety. In the author's words: "I am wondering whether the people on that mountain [tourists] see the working side of that landscape, and whether it matters. In my bones I feel it does matter. That seeing, understanding, and respecting people in their own landscape is crucial to their culture and way of life being valued and sustained. What you don't see, you don't care about. It is a curious thing to discover that your landscape is beloved of other people. It is even more curious, and a little unsettling, when you discover by stages that you as a native are not really part of the story and meaning they attach to that place." I really wished he explored this more or several of the more prominent memoir-esque episodes (such as the tension between getting a college education or staying on the farm; being forced to kill their entire flock during the outbreak of Hoof and Mouth Disease; the gradual role reversal between father and son, as age and time take their effects.) Instead, he turned so often back to rather painstaking detail about, for instance, preparing sheep for auction or the workings of such auctions or negotiations to buy ewes, etc. Ewe gotta be kidding me! (I just came up with that.) His writing is often really clunky like the third sentence quoted above. In the space of two pages (114-115), he used the following cliches: "He was doing the lion's share of the work"; "I was assigned the role of the blue-eyed boy, apple of my grandfather's eye"; "Fathers and sons in our family tend to bicker like hyenas around the remains of a zebra"; "I wasn't up for years of playing second fiddle"; "But I wouldn't change any of it even if I could." !!! It's too bad - great potential here, very admirable aims, and an author that seems really likable.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Hannah

    3 Stars - Good book I really enjoyed this book. It let me see a piece of the world that I see romanticized all the time but never the reality. I will be the first to acknowledge that farming is hard and taxing work. I knew that before reading this - kind of common sense. However, I didn’t realize that farming is intelligent work. Now let me say that I don’t mean, or have ever thought, that farmers are simple minded. I just didn’t realize how much they have to consider: economics, politics, histor 3 Stars - Good book I really enjoyed this book. It let me see a piece of the world that I see romanticized all the time but never the reality. I will be the first to acknowledge that farming is hard and taxing work. I knew that before reading this - kind of common sense. However, I didn’t realize that farming is intelligent work. Now let me say that I don’t mean, or have ever thought, that farmers are simple minded. I just didn’t realize how much they have to consider: economics, politics, history. It’s incredible and I now have a newfound respect for farmers. They have an intelligence and perspective I don’t have. They also have the physicality that I don’t have, no matter how many miles I run or trips to the gym I take. :) One of the things the author points out early on in the book is the romanticization of England’s Lake District. As a person who likes English literature and poetry (and the subsequent films/TV shows) I’m not a stranger to the Lake District - in name at least. I am 100% guilty of romanticizing that area (and all of England and the UK, to be honest). I’m not apologize for my thoughts but I can now reframe them. His writing is great. It’s simple and descriptive. He paints a lovely picture which both fits with the setting and hints at the issues of the Lake District’s idealization. My only criticism is that he does something similar to “city folk” (or really, non-native Lake District folk) that he accuses them of doing to Lake District natives, farmers. He makes generalizations and assumptions. If you’re calling out other people’s stereotypes you can’t turn around and stereotype. It undermines his argument. I also didn’t appreciate that he stated growing up in a city you don’t get a sense of community. As someone who grew up in a city, who currently lives in a city, and has spent 98% of my life living in a city I call bullshit. Sure, maybe sense of community is different and comes in different ways but community is there - without a doubt. Do I recommend this one? Yes! It’s a delightful, insightful, easy read.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Violinknitter

    It's not often I read a book that I instantly want to go around shoving into other people's hands: "Here! You HAVE to read this book!" I intended to buy this book as soon as I discovered Herdy Shepherd (James Rebanks) had written a book. I wanted to support him & what he does. I did not expect the book to be so masterfully written or so utterly engrossing. I will never be able to hear about the Lake District again without thinking of the shepherds in this book. It's not often I read a book that I instantly want to go around shoving into other people's hands: "Here! You HAVE to read this book!" I intended to buy this book as soon as I discovered Herdy Shepherd (James Rebanks) had written a book. I wanted to support him & what he does. I did not expect the book to be so masterfully written or so utterly engrossing. I will never be able to hear about the Lake District again without thinking of the shepherds in this book.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Jessie

    The structure of the book and the descriptions of nature were beautiful. Rebanks has a very distinct own voice and one that was - to me - not always easy to understand because we view the world so differently. Nevertheless this book gave me what I hoped for: a peek into a rural life that is so very different from my own. I hope the nature and style of living Rebanks described will be preserved for future generations, because it would be a great loss if it were to die out.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Bfisher

    When I read this book, I was reminded of the medieval paintings of shepherds with their flocks, generally shown in idyllic landscapes. This book paints a rather grimmer picture than that. Still, it does illustrate one of the few human occupations in the western world still essentially the same in all the important ways as in the earliest non-foraging human societies.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Laura

    From BBC Radio 4 - Book of the Week: ome people's lives are entirely their own creations. James Rebanks's isn't. The first son of a shepherd, who was the first son of a shepherd himself, he and his family have lived and worked in and around the Lake District for generations. It's a life lived according to the demands of the seasons: sending the sheep to the fells in the summer and making the hay; the autumn fairs where the flocks are replenished; the gruelling toil of winter when the sheep must be From BBC Radio 4 - Book of the Week: ome people's lives are entirely their own creations. James Rebanks's isn't. The first son of a shepherd, who was the first son of a shepherd himself, he and his family have lived and worked in and around the Lake District for generations. It's a life lived according to the demands of the seasons: sending the sheep to the fells in the summer and making the hay; the autumn fairs where the flocks are replenished; the gruelling toil of winter when the sheep must be kept alive, and the light-headedness that comes with spring, as the lambs are born and the sheep get ready to return to the fells. Through his eyes, we see that the Lake District is not a playground or a scenic backdrop, it's a working landscape that needs sheep and its farmers to survive.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Sher

    Wonderful. Beautiful writing-- filled with sensitivity and depth. And a bite! Weaves the history of being on the land, one with the land, and caring for the land... plus making a living for your family from it. About sheep and sheepdogs, grandfathers and fathers. About being part of the Lake District culture yet forced to leave it for a piece, and the coming back. Really interesting information about sheep and how the land was/is used in common and how the tragedy of the commons was , mostly, av Wonderful. Beautiful writing-- filled with sensitivity and depth. And a bite! Weaves the history of being on the land, one with the land, and caring for the land... plus making a living for your family from it. About sheep and sheepdogs, grandfathers and fathers. About being part of the Lake District culture yet forced to leave it for a piece, and the coming back. Really interesting information about sheep and how the land was/is used in common and how the tragedy of the commons was , mostly, avoided. Prose and poetry! One of my best reads in 2017!

  30. 5 out of 5

    Vicki Antipodean Bookclub

    “There is no beginning and there is no end. The sun rises, and falls, each day, and the seasons come and go. The days, months and years alternate through sunshine, rain, hail, wind, snow and frost. The leaves fall each autumn and burst forth again each spring. The earth spins through the vastness of space. The grass comes and goes with the warmth of the sun. The farms and the flocks endure, bigger than the life of a single person.” . . . This memoir is a love letter to the landscape of the Lake Dist “There is no beginning and there is no end. The sun rises, and falls, each day, and the seasons come and go. The days, months and years alternate through sunshine, rain, hail, wind, snow and frost. The leaves fall each autumn and burst forth again each spring. The earth spins through the vastness of space. The grass comes and goes with the warmth of the sun. The farms and the flocks endure, bigger than the life of a single person.” . . . This memoir is a love letter to the landscape of the Lake District and a farming way of life that has remained fundamentally unchanged for generations. Rebanks goes away at various stages of his life to Oxford University and to work in London, but is always pulled back to the farm built by his father and his grandfather before him. I have visited and walked in the Lake District from childhood, but have no doubt held a romanticised, “dancing daffodils” view of it, something that as a younger man Rebanks may have baulked at. This book served to deepen my understanding and appreciation of the landscape and the people who maintain it no matter the weather or the personal cost. As a restless soul myself, always questioning whether I am in the right place or doing the right thing, I envied Rebanks’ absolute sense of belonging and surety that he is living the life he was meant to lead.

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