Bestselling author Amanda Owen, known as The Yorkshire Shepherdess, is headlining at The Game Fair this year.
Owen will be creating a farmhouse breakfast menu for the restaurant, mingling with diners, appearing on stage in the cookery theatre and being interviewed in the chat show style Game Fair Theatre. Held 29-31 July at Ragley Hall in Warwickshire, the three-day event offers a unique opportunity to meet the outspoken mother-of-nine this summer. Here, we quiz her ahead of her journey south.
What three words would you use to describe your life as a shepherdess on a 2,000-acre hill farm?
Unpredictable; I work with lots of variables so there’s no such thing as a typical day. Challenging; it can be tough to fit everything into my day. Rewarding; there are moments when I think why the hell am I doing this but overall, it is a very satisfying role. Ask me that same question on a different day and the answer might be unprintable!
What’s the hardest and best thing about living in such a remote place like Upper Swaledale?
You can lose yourself and distance yourself from everyone and everything. Once I go out of that door to work it is back to basics. My home life is busy and chaotic, but my work life is solitary. Too much of each one is not good, but living in a remote place gives me peace and quiet.
The worst thing about living here is when there’s any kind of emergency. Take last Tuesday, I had everything in place for my mare to foal. On the day, we had no power on the farm due to repairs after storm Arwen. This meant I couldn’t get in touch with the vet. It all went OK but I can feel a bit vulnerable. You have to find an inner strength to deal with anything. You have to be able to cope in an emergency.
How would you sell country living to someone who has lived in a city all their life?
You would have to prepare yourself. You need to go into it with a certain amount of humility. Don’t go in trying to change it. Your life may change for the better but there will be challenges. Do your homework. Compile a checklist of what is important to you. You won’t have the same internet speed. There’s no Deliveroo. You will need to compromise.
What plans do you have for your new Clydesdale foal, Maple?
She’s a beautiful filly foal born just a few weeks ago. Backing her will be a gradual process. She is part of the family – there won’t be a foal anywhere that has been poked and prodded as much as she has. As a result, she is the easiest foal ever. Eventually I want her to bring down the sheep with me, working with me as part of the team.
You look after 1,000 Swaledale sheep. As a shepherdess you must have to be fairly stoic and unemotional when one of them inevitably dies. How do you cope with that?
I am utterly pathetic when one of my sheep dies. I feel like a bit of a failure. The old adage of ‘when you have livestock you have deadstock’ is true. You have to put it behind you. You can’t dwell on it. Just recently we lost a ewe that had two lambs at foot. You can’t shepherd or farm without accepting you are going to lose animals. It is part of the job.
Do you have a favourite and worst sheep?
My favourite ewe is the matriarch. We call her The Queen. Her horns have dropped off and she has a grey face so very distinctive looking. She is incredibly greedy and she poses for selfies with me so she’s a good lass in my eyes. My worst sheep at the moment is Coconut because she hates her own lambs. She is a terrible mother.
What do you do to relax away from the children and farm?
I love wild swimming and paddleboarding on Birkdale tarn near our farm, which is a seven-hectare mountain lake that was originally excavated by a glacier. I never see anyone, it’s just me and nature. Throughout the winter it is probably one of the most uninviting, foreboding places on earth. The black inky water looks so lifeless. But once the sun starts to shine in spring it takes on another identity. I am now 47, but I still have a childlike excitement every time I swim.
Tell us about your dogs.
We have three Border collie sheepdogs and two terriers. We did have another sheepdog called Tip but she decided she didn’t want to be a sheepdog. Every time I took her out with me to work she would run home as soon as my back was turned. So she is now an assistance dog and wears an orange tabard. The sheepdog pack is made up of Nell, who is my son Sidney’s dog, Midge, who is my husband Clive’s dog and Kate, who works with me.
Kate is 12 years old so she’s getting on. We are quite similar in some ways in that we aren’t very good at switching off. She lives to work. She doesn’t do relaxing. She is forever rounding up children and chickens. I can’t raise my voice with her as she’s quite sensitive. I trust her implicitly. Sometimes I will be running her out of sight, so she needs to understand what I am wanting to achieve with the sheep, which she does brilliantly.
Do you eat game?
Yes. We trade our lamb for game all the time. In fact I recently swapped a leg of lamb for a leg of venison with a neighbour.
Why did you want to work with The Game Fair?
This will be my first time at the event. The Game Fair is so relevant on so many levels. I jumped at the chance to appear on stage and meet visitors as I think these mass gatherings offer an opportunity to have discussions concerning various topical issues – namely the current food crisis. People are starting to wake up to food provenance and there is a backlash against factory farming. If you are going to eat meat then educate yourself. I want to help break down social barriers and misconceptions. So, if me appearing on stage can help educate a few visitors then I am all for it.
What can visitors to The Game Fair expect to see from you?
Big earrings, inappropriate clothing and plain speaking! Whatever they expect I won’t be it.
Tell us something about yourself that not many people know.
I will tell you three things: I have a love of rave and dance music. I don’t have any neighbours so I can listen to it as loud as I like when the kids are out at school. I also sometimes go to sleep in my makeup and after a quick tidy up the next morning I am good to go. And lastly, I have a tattoo of a sheep – a tramp stamp! Once upon a time it was a very neat Swaledale but after nine children I’m bit stretched so it might not look so much like a sheep anymore…
For tickets to The Game Fair, visit thegamefair.org