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The Illustrated Herdwick Shepherd
The Illustrated Herdwick Shepherd
REDUCED FROM £16.99 The follow up to James Rebanks phenomenally successful biography The Shepherd's Life.
Bringing us into the world of shepherd's baking competitions, sheep shows and moments out on the fell watching the sheep run away home, James Rebanks interweaves thoughts and reflections on the art of shepherding with his photographs of the valley, people and animals that make up the daily life of the fells. A life lived by the three hundred surviving fell farming families, this is a book of photos and words filled with reverence and love.
5th November 2015
Hardback; 216 x 135mm
The Illustrated Herdwick Shepherd by James Rebanks. Particular Books. £16.99
"I am the luckiest man alive, because I get to live and work in the most beautiful place on earth: Matterdale in the English Lake District." The herdwick sheep stream in a tight flock, a thick grey line across the damp grey fells.
His first memory is being caught in his dad's arms and telling him he has fed the lambs. Those two "runty orphans", Betty and Lettuce, grew up to be ewes and he sold their lambs every year. Sheep were in his blood. You can imagine him, eager as a sheep-dog, watching the huddled flock, speaking a language his southern cousins didn't understand: "Git yursel ower't yat", as his father used to say.
At seventeen, he might have bought a car, but he spent his 2,200 guineas on a tup. "He had incredible bone (thick, chunky legs ) and he had a lot of swagger."
The morning sun outlines the hills and the mist lies behind the spidery silhouettes of the wintry trees on Matterdale fell. James Rebanks's photographs mirror his life. His words recreate the life he leads. "The sun throws one finger at a time over the fell and into the darkness of the valley floor. It casts long shadows through the oak trees in the dykes and the tree shadows walk across the fields."
There are grey days, rainy days, days when "the landscape throws the weather in our faces, burning our faces and swelling our hands" and the raindrops blur the camera lens. The sheep look like lines of rocks in the snowy fields or their fleeces catch the evening light as they stream across the white blanket of the fellside.
The sheep, the achievement of a thousand years of breeding, are beautiful. Short, tough, broad teeth; "thick-boned and powerful legs like a Clydesdale horse"; a strong fleece; "a long, broad and meaty body, with a deep barrel chest . . . and a chunky backside . . . Think shapely, like Beyonce".
The flock, tight packed on the narrow Autumn road, bleating up the hill. James Rebanks's pictures capture the continuing life of the shepherd caught in the old photos by Joseph Hardman: the bearded, smiling shepherd with the sheep spread-eagled across his shoulders; the old shepherd and his dog peering over the rail; the shepherds, in collarless shirts and braces sheering the sheep beneath the farmyard wall.
And today's shepherds: Ginger Joe Weir of Chapel Farm in Borrowdale. A "scruffy, short-legged and overly talkative, called William Tyson". He can hold a tup by the horns or pin a ewe on the ground and clip it with electric shears. Jean Wilson, as drenched as the fells in her cagoule, but still the queen of the herdwicks and Derek 'Sunshine' Wilson, hanging gates and rebuilding walls.
"The ewes and lambs tumble down the rocky screes, lost from sight in the bracken, a waist-high ocean of green".
There are the pagan kids, camping in the wet fields and dancing round the bonfires, the puppies, the lambs, the flowers and the sheepdog with his eager tongue in the glowing field of grain.
James Rebanks has shuffled the pack of his shepherd's life, the Cumbrian chat, the atmospheric photographs taken day by day as the year turns, and his own poetic jottings as crisp and sharp as the pictures themselves. In The Shepherd's Life he justified and celebrated the continuity of that dedicated life on the lonely fells. In this companion volume he offers a compendium of that life, a sharing of the beauty and the pith of what it means to be a shepherd in Matterdale.
The book is written with one intention that "maybe someday you'll pass this way and think it beautiful too."
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