Barbara's Reviews > The Shepherd's Life: A Tale of the Lake District

The Shepherd's Life by James Rebanks
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it was amazing
bookshelves: 2016-reads, england, memoirs, on-my-shelves

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.
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Reading Progress

May 5, 2016 – Started Reading
May 5, 2016 – Shelved
May 9, 2016 –
page 208
May 11, 2016 – Finished Reading
May 13, 2016 – Shelved as: 2016-reads
May 13, 2016 – Shelved as: england
May 13, 2016 – Shelved as: memoirs
May 13, 2016 – Shelved as: on-my-shelves

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