The Shepherd’s Life

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Review by John Snelson

I just finished reading James Redbanks’ “The Shepherd’s Life”, that brought back some vivid memories from my past.

After leaving school in 1963, a group of we lads (John, Jay, Norm, Dave T, Roger, Colin and I) decided to take a Easter Holiday in The Lake District, so off we went on a Ribble bus to Grasmere. We took a huge tent like a small marquee and spent most of the weekend in the rain walking around the fells during the day and sampling the local brew in The Red Lion, The Travellers Rest on Dunmail Raise, The Brittania Inn and The Old Langdale Hotel at night. It was one of the best holidays ever.

So we fell in love with The Lakes and the mountains, the pubs and the beauty of the places we came to worship .. like everywhere between Wasdale Head, Grasmere, Elterwater, Striding Edge, Pillar and Keswick. For then next 7 years we spent as much weekend time as we could up in the Lakes with better boots, maps and tents, scaling ever more heights, running down steeper screes and perhaps consuming the odd light ale.

So, I was really thrilled to read this book by James Redbanks.

The story is a kind of blog without dates or breath. It actually takes place to the north east of my happy hunting grounds, but nevertheless, it is the same carved, glaciated land, full of cams, moraines and drumlins, hanging valleys and scree runs. A land of beauty, danger and rain.

Redbanks does not embark on this story in a sense of sequence, but it unfolds in relationships, memories, places and “the way we do things”, from sheep dog training to farmers’ meetings to food on the table to tools of the shepherd’s life as they change with technology.

The material is articulated in lovely prose that illustrates how man is involved with his animals and the land. They are a single unit each relying on the other, surrounded by hills and valleys, stone walls and water, always water.

In the background is the land that inspired Wordsworth, De Quincey and Keats, Shelley, Byron and another “different” romantic, Wainwright … the dreamers choice for we impressionable teenage Lake District aficionados.

It’s a great read indeed. Loved it.