Written for Cumbria Life.
I know they say, as you get older the years go faster, but where did the summer go? Yes it was amazing but boy did it go fast. Our visitors often ask me when is there a quite time on the farm. My answer is, never. There’s always a long list of jobs needing attention on top of the seasonal work. As farms get bigger and staff are less abundant, it’s no wonder we never catch up, despite all the modern equipment and innovations.
One job I really enjoy though, is repairing the stonewalls. It’s a skill once mastered you never forget, and the more you practice the faster the wall goes back up. It must be the epitome of green building. Using the materials to hand plus your skill and knowledge from a jumbled heap of stone emerges a solid long lasting structure. It not only provides a permanent barrier but also shelter and a home to many species of flora and fauna.
Over the years I’ve walled all over Cumbria and North Lancashire using everything from the tiny shards of limestone around Silverdale and Sizergh to the massive water rounded boulders of Wasdale. All use different techniques and skills. On our farm, most of the walls are a mix of slate and field stones. It’s hard to imagine that some will have stood for many centuries. There’s something very rewarding and also therapeutic in repairing a wall. It’s like being fully immersed in ancient history. The clothing is different but the location, materials and skills are exactly the same.
That’s the thing with farming – you manage the land for a short time in the great scheme of things, protecting the legacy and hard work of those which went before you and putting in place things that will hopefully benefit those that follow you. The walls and fields will still be here long after I’ve gone leaving a legacy to the future generations.
Like the clothing, the livestock have also changed. If you look at old photos, the breeds are still the same but they have changed slightly in appearance. This is probably where farmers get the most pride out of all their hard work, breeding animals they feel are the best they can produce. All the shows through the summer lead to the culmination of the autumn sales when the animals bred in the hills are sold to farmers in the lowlands or to fellow breeders looking to buy in fresh bloodlines. It can be exiting and demoralising in equal measure. So many things can affect the trade. Your champion tup that has cleaned up at the shows can suddenly go lame. You may get drawn first in the sale and the buyers haven’t got warmed up yet to start spending or you could be last and everyone has got what they want and gone home. It’s always a stressful time and always will be as the farm’s financial stability can be thrown out of kilter by a poor sale. The drought in the south this year could have an effect on the sales of breeding sheep as many head down the road to populate the farms and estates. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that they have some much need rain and return up here to buy. I will let you know next time.
I’ve have just spent a lovely weekend with Amira, founder of Wanderlust Women, an organisation she set up to encourage Muslim women to adventure in nature. She came to stay on our farm for a few days with two friends, who also work with her.
On Saturday morning we left the farm at three thirty in the morning and drove to Coniston where we walked up the Old Man to a beautiful spot where we could watch the sunrise. In the heat wave we’ve been experiencing, it was wonderful to be out in the dark, cool air and slowly watch the landscape emerge. The women did their morning prayers, watched by curious Swaledales and the air began to warm.
I do so little walking in the Lakes. Partly because I feel guilty doing anything unrelated to work and partly because I have a terrible sense of direction, so a solo, impromptu walk feels completely out of the question. When I lived in London I walked and cycled everywhere and swam in the local lido at least three times a week. But these spaces are contained and organised and felt safe to me.
But of course I see the potential benefits of walking in nature, with a sense of freedom and that’s something that Amira is keen to share with women, many of whom have never been for a walk in the countryside in their lives.
The health benefits are obvious but it’s the support of other women that is a lifeline for many choosing to do an activity that is fully for themselves and for pleasure and not for work or the family. Aysha told me she hid the fact that she had started hiking from her family for a long time. When she finally told her parents, and note Aysha is a thirty-something professional, her mother said, “What kind of woman goes hiking?”
When something as seemingly simple and wholesome as going for a walk is considered threatening, you realise that not everyone has the privilege of feeling the lakes and fells are for them.
It’s not really to do with the religion. My father is from Pakistan too but is Christian, not Muslim, and the culture is the same. I felt really quite liberated and understood spending time with Amira, Amina and Aysha. We had a picnic by Coniston Water one evening and went for a swim. Since then, I’ve bought a wetsuit, changing robe, all the gear and have gone every day and feel so much better for it. I moved to the Lake District twelve years ago and it’s taken this long to plan and look forward to a morning swim in the lake. Something just for me.
I love what the Wanderlust Women are doing to encourage this wholehearted joy in the landscape.