GENEVA, SWITZERLAND / BOOK MY PLACE – The Shepherd’s Life is subtitled ‘A Tale of the Lake District’ and it is certainly that but it is also the autobiography of a lakeland sheep farmer, James Rebanks and a detailed insight into sheep farming in the Lake District. ‘The surprise hit of the year’, the cover tells us, and it is surprising that a book about sheep farming should have caught the nation’s imagination – but it has.
The book is divided into the four seasons and the first section, Summer, simply tells us about the life of a farmer, caring for the very special Herdwick and Swaledale sheep in Matterdale, a small Lakeland valley. We learn how James Rebanks worships and learns from his grandfather.
We also learn that he despises his school and resents the attitude of the hordes of visitors to the Lake District who are conditioned by their copies of Wainright’s guides and consider the region to be theirs, with little awareness of the people who live and work there. Rebanks cannot wait to leave school and take up the career he has always wanted.
It comes as a surprise, then, to the reader, when he reveals that he earned a place in Oxford and completed a degree in history before returning to Matterdale to care for his flocks in harsh winter conditions or during the intense activity of lambing time. This is an original and very enjoyable account.