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The Shepherd’s Life: A Tale of the Lake District by James Rebanks

Written by · Published Apr 21, 2020

The Shepherd’s Life: A Tale of the Lake District

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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 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.”

This makes an enjoyable and different kind of read for a book group. It is non-fiction and gives not only an alternative insight into the attractions and life of the Lake District, but an honest view of growing up there and continuing a six hundred year old family tradition of farming.

The book is structured to describe the hill farmer’s year through the seasons with anecdotes and descriptions interlinked with the sharing of personal and family life. There is a strong sense of place and history with description of things unchanged through generations, a directness in his writing in his descriptions, both personal and farming.

Although we all enjoyed it, responses to the author as a personality varied. In his behaviour as a youngster and reflected in his writing, there is an arrogance and ‘chip on his shoulder’ in response to how others, ‘i.e. outsiders’ view the Lake District and the limited expectations of the educational system for those growing up to remain on the farm.

However as he matures, his perspective changes. He realises that changing times means that farmers have to look outwards for other sources to support their income and the key to this is through education.

Recommendation: A good choice for a book group. Made us think about different things, as well as sheep!

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