This is the view from the top of our allotment looking back onto Ravenseat, and away and beyond. I think it’s a really special view because it’s timeless; there’s no hint at all of the modern world. You can go up there and sit – as we often do when we’re feeding the sheep – and you think to yourself you’re doing the same job as our ancestors would have done. You feel a bit of a connection really, with times past.
If you go back to 1520 there were a lot of people living here – there was a lot more going on. People would go out and stay with the sheep and move them from place to place. That’s why, dotted around our farm, we have 42 barns and little buildings.
All these fields and all these places have names. Everything’s there for a reason, and that’s what I like. I’m always telling the children all the names of the places because there’s some wonderful names. As you go out onto the road end, you’ve got Ashgill, Knoutberry, Coldbergh Edge, you’ve got Whamp, you’ve got White Spots. If you get a map nowadays it just says how many hectares – it doesn’t tell you the names; you lose the connection of where it is.
I like the fact that when you get a hill farm the hefted sheep come with it, because these sheep have lived here since time began, they know the place. On Birkdale Common, which we are looking across to, you have rights to run a certain number of sheep, but there are no boundaries. Other people’s sheep also run up there, but yours stay in their place. Some do stray, but basically they know where they live; they’re what they call ‘hefted’, each has a heaf mark. So we’ll get the gimmer lambs – the females – in off Ravenseat and we’ll put a red mark over the middle of the back, or the shoulder, or the loin, which tells us which part it lives on. It then goes back with its mother and it learns its patch; then it has its lamb and it teaches that.
So you see when Foot and Mouth came and a third of our flock were killed, everyone said ‘well why don’t you just buy some more sheep?’ You can’t, because how will they know where they live? It’s inbred in them, a bit like a homing pigeon – they have their patch. We’ve just had to breed back up. It’s taken until now to get back to where we were.
Me and my husband were both townies: I’m from Huddersfield, he’s from Doncaster. Clive moved up here as a child and got the farming bug; he followed the local farmers about and knew he wanted to farm. Eventually he got himself a field and a few animals, it grew from there, and he ended up getting a tenancy on Ravenseat.
I watched too much All Creatures Great and Small on the television. I watched it and thought, ‘ah, that is just wonderful – I want to be a shepherdess’. Can you imagine what happens when you tell your careers teacher that?! I got as much experience as I could – I went all over the place: lambing at one place, dipping at another, clipping, and basically learning as I went along. I did what I needed to do: walling, even working on a saw bench once, just whatever was required.
I was living in a caravan for a while, working on different farms, milking cows and shepherding. The fellow I was milking cows for asked me to pick up a tup for him. I came here, to Ravenseat, in the dark, and I thought ‘oh my god where have I come to?!’ And there was Clive, all on his own. We got the tup loaded into the trailer and then he rang me all week until I agreed to a date, and now here I am, all those years later. It does feel strange that in a roundabout kind of a way, from sitting as a child in Huddersfield and watching James Herriot on the television, I’ve come to here where the Herriot series was filmed. I feel that I have done a full circle.