The first son of a shepherd, who was the first son of a shepherd himself, James Rebanks 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.
Reviewed by Ursula Buchan in Slightly Foxed Issue 53.
Along the Old Ways
I spend a couple of weeks each year walking on the Lake District fells, so it is inevitable that I should have fallen upon James Rebanks’s remarkable The Shepherd’s Life (2015). I loved it, and I learned much more about upland sheep farming than I could possibly have divined from hours of watching Herdwicks on the fell. Reading The Shepherd’s Life inevitably set me thinking about another book I read long ago and which, tellingly, turned the young Rebanks into a reader: ‘One day, I pulled A Shepherd’s Life by W. H. Hudson from the bookcase . . . It was going to be lousy and patronizing, I just knew it. I was going to hate it like the books they’d pushed at us in school. But I was wrong, I didn’t hate it. I loved it.’
The use of the indefinite article in Hudson’s title points to an important difference between the two books, however. Hudson was less interested in conveying the practicalities of shepherding and sheep-breeding than in recording the lives of shepherds. His is a much gentler and more episodic book than Rebanks’s but, nevertheless, it’s one I’ve never forgotten . . .
‘Rebanks’s enthusiasm and talent for poetic writing is infectious . . . His words create a gorgeous landscape painting of the Lake District’ The Times
Along the Old Ways
I spend a couple of weeks each year walking on the Lake District fells, so it is inevitable that I should have fallen upon James Rebanks’s remarkable The Shepherd’s Life (2015). I loved it, and I...Read more