Audi Q3 in a field of sheep in Lake District

Leading the field


Author and shepherd James Rebanks has 900 sheep on his farm and 95,000 followers on Twitter. We drive to the Lake District in an Audi Q3 to lend him a hand during lambing season

Author and shepherd James Rebanks

Two Sheepdogs in an Audi Q3

‘If you can hang on a minute… I’ve just got to try and save this lamb.’ This is how James Rebanks greets me one blustery April morning, leaping off his quad bike and leaving me in no doubt that I am on a proper working farm, with a proper – and passionate – shepherd. And if tending to some 900 sheep wasn’t enough, James is also the author of the best-selling book, The Shepherd’s Life, as well as something of a Twitter sensation (find him at @herdyshepherd1).

I’ve driven to James’s beautiful farm in the Lake District in an Audi Q3 to experience a day on the land, and the car and I are immediately put to work. After all, there are 400 expectant ewes and a lot of lambs to keep an eye on. ‘I’m putting farming first at the moment,’ James tells me as I select dynamic mode and steer the car off the track and across a very steep field near to the farmhouse. ‘Being a good farmer and a good writer – those are very difficult things to try and juggle!’

The Shepherd’s Life was dubbed ‘the surprise hit of 2015’, though James has had ambitions to write ever since he was a teenager. ‘I wanted to put my father and grandfather back into the literature of the Lake District,’ he says. ‘When I first read books about this part of the world I couldn’t help but wonder “Where is all the work? All the stuff I love?”’

Close-up of a tight group of sheep and lambs

Author and shepherd James Rebanks herding sheep with his sheepdog

We stop to pick up Bramble, the housedog, who fits snugly and safely on the front seat of the Q3 thanks to Audi’s in-car dog harness, and then we’re off again – there’s an ewe that James needs to check in on before we head for lunch with James’s wife Helen and their three children. He knows every member of his flock by sight and admits to sleepless nights worrying about the lambs. The Herdwick sheep that make up the majority of James’s stock are native to this part of the world, and he is one of the best breeders in the country. The sheep often feature on James’s Twitter feed, along with his sheepdogs Floss, Tan and Meg. ‘Floss even seems to have her own fan club,’ James says proudly. But posting on the internet is not a futile pastime – James views social media as an excellent way to spread the word about the things he is passionate about: buying British, animal welfare and sustainability.

Author and shepherd James Rebanks' housedog, Bramble in the Audi In-Car Dog Harness

Muddy tyres of the Audi Q3

We sit down to a delicious lunch in the Rebanks’ farmhouse, and Helen wants a review of the Q3. ‘It did very well. I think of it like a car but it handles more like a 4x4,’ says James. That’ll be the quattro, I tell them. But what about plans for the future? ‘More than anyone I know I have been a man with a plan. And the plan was exactly this – to write a successful book and to live in this farmhouse and run this farm.’ Sounds like mission accomplished, but with a third book on the way, I suspect we’ll be hearing a lot more from this thoroughly modern shepherd.

Written by Emma Barlow. Photographs by Alexander Rhind.

 

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Sheep in a field in the Lake District