I'm a regular visitor to Yorkshire, either the coast or the Dales and have been for well over ten years now. I just love it there. Equally I'm a big fan of the ITV series The Dales which was hosted by Ade Edmondson and visited various parts of the Dales and the many characters who live and work there. One such character was Amanda Owen, farmer's wife and mother of seven children. So, when I saw that she had written a book detailing her life - 'How I left the city behind to raise a family and a flock' as the subtitle has it - I knew I just had to read it.
Clive and Amanda Owen with their seven children, in age order; Raven, Reuben, Miles, Edith, Violet, Sidney and Annas
The Owens cut an extremely likeable and down to earth figure on The Dales working their ancient and remote farm Ravenseat as well as serving cream teas to Coast to Coast walkers, all the while juggling their parental duties too (the sign on Ravenseat reads Caution: Free-Range Children) and they continue to gain our affections in Amanda's writing debut too. Just as in life, their are no airs and graces to Amanda's prose style and much of the book is told in an almost conversational style, taking the reader on a whistlestop tour from her childhood and upbringing in Huddersfield, where she became besotted by James Herriot's books which ultimately influenced her chosen career, to her early beginnings as a shepherdess for hire and finally to meeting the love of her life Clive when she was 21 and he was 42.
The stories contained within have an air of HE Bates with their large family and amusing rough and ready rural style (I was particularly tickled by the anecdote regarding a rare day out to the city for the family, which saw one of the younger girls bend down and urinate outside WH Smith, because that's what they do when nature calls at Ravenseat!) but there's some highly dramatic moments (such as the account of the foot and mouth outbreak of 2001 which depleted their healthy sheep stock and damaged them financially) and some great insights into the day to day running of a farm to be read too, often of a real warts and all flavour (especially the time when little Edith, the cutest child possible, contracted the sheep ailment 'orf' on her bottom!) as well as their various brushes with fame; appearing in The Dales, meeting Julia Bradbury for her series Wainwright's Walks and Clive turning down a role in Andrea Arnold's Wuthering Heights!
But the majority of the book is, perhaps inevitably given how loving and dedicated a mother Amanda appears to be, devoted to the births of each of her seven children. It would be fair to say none came into the world 'normally', Ravenseat is such an isolated farm that births have been done there, in lay-bys en roue to hospital and even, in one instance, at Catterick Garrison's Military Hospital.
The book is also littered with some stunning photography such as this one below;
I've a feeling or a hope that this may just be the first of Amanda's ventures into the literary world. Perhaps next time we'll get a diary style account of the days at Ravenseat taking in the changing seasons and the chores required from them - it's certainly something I'd like to read and perhaps would have liked to have seen more of in this debut too. I believe Amanda is on twitter where no doubt this kind of information is given for gratis.