Woman of Gumption
by Karen Shaw
Known to millions from her popular TV show Our Yorkshire Farm, Amanda Owen – farmer, shepherdess and mother of nine invites you to join her in Celebrating the Seasons, her latest book in which she shares seasonal countryside recipes. Part photography and part memoir, the book explodes with over 200 stunning photographs taken by Amanda showcasing the bleak and beautiful landscape she calls home, opening up a window into a life lived on one of the country’s highest, wildest moors…
She’s ‘glammed up’ when I catch up with Yorkshire Shepherdess Amanda Owen, she’s en route to a charity do at Sutton Bank and is currently sitting in the boot changing into her posh shoes.
“People think I’m so organised. Like, are you even kidding me? She laughs as she scoffs down her fifth chocolate digestive. “Here’s me supposedly epitomising everything that’s wholesome, but I’m just eating biscuits!”
In between eating digestives, she manages to parent nine children, herd 1,000 sheep, hustle 40 cows and manage her 156k Twitter followers in between serving afternoon tea, taking photos, attending public speaking events and writing books, her latest being a funked-up version of the Country Diary Of An Edwardian Lady, it’s got the right measure of farming information, mixed with Amanda’s delicious recipes and peppered with her signature Huddersfield humour.
“The whole idea of the book is saying go your own way, because whatever you do in life, there’s always going to be somebody who’ll try and bring you down and say you can’t do that, you have to develop that confidence to basically give them the two fingers.”
And it’s those two fingers of hers along with her insatiable appetite for life that creates crazy country content to capture in the pages of her latest book.
Looking through it, I just wanted to devour every page and to climb into the book and run through a meadow like Laura Ingalls in Little House on the Prairie and then eat all her delicious recipes. What an incredible lifestyle. What an incredible larder. Plenty of tea, but where’s the gin, Amanda? I can’t see the gin…
“It’s hidden in the back,” she giggles. “I didn’t want to show that because it’ll make me look like an alcoholic… there’s three bottles of Absinthe, whisky, wine, you name it and all kinds of weird liqueury things with fuzz hairs at the bottom. You know it’s going to be bloody lethal. There’s even a bottle of rum and raisin wine that my grandad made in 1988, I don’t know quite what to do with that!”
The book is a reflection of Amanda’s life, there’s no airs and graces, just good old-fashioned honesty, served up with a dollop of homemade custard. Her approach to life is infectious, this lass relishes a challenge, I wondered if a quote from her book about wild swimming was more of a reference to her life.
‘I don’t dive in as that would be fool-hardy and could cause shock but I walk straight in, determined to go in and let the pain of severe cold fade and that’s when we start swimming’.
“You’re right actually. You’ve looked at it deeper than me. But seriously that’s it. I mean they’ll be people who think there’s some sort of amazing plan. Are you kidding me? The plan went to shit a long time ago, it’s like… you can’t harness all the elements that are going on and try and make any sort of game plan, all you can do is prioritise and in some cases downgrade. Does it matter?”
Would you say it’s kind of luck or just down to pure grit that affords the lifestyle that you have?
“Well, there is a certain amount of luck, but it’s been a series of events and unconscious decisions that have led me here. It’s mad when you think about…”
She takes me back to the start and goes on to explain how, on their wedding day, instead of hiring a marquee, husband Clive and Amanda borrowed a stripy beer tent and attracted a host of walkers passing-by, they couldn’t believe their luck seeing a beer tent pitched in the middle of nowhere.
Ever the opportunist, she realised that there was a footfall of people, customers, all wanting a cup of tea. That was the beginning of it. Amanda continues, “Then along comes a person who turns out not to be just a walker but someone looking for contributors for the TV programme The Dales.” From there she was asked to write a book and that’s when the ‘series of events and unconscious decisions’ began.
Amanda’s life is brimming with tales and, with Christmas on the horizon, she’s shares one of her favourite yuletide stories with me involving a turkey, a rat and a can of Lynx deodorant.
“The kids help choose the turkey and we ended up with the biggest turkey in town,” she chuckles. “I struggled to lift it into the back of the Land Rover and when I got home, it wouldn’t fit it the oven. So, there’s me hacking the legs off, then shutting the door with my foot!”
It was Christmas Eve and ‘the biggest turkey in town’ would take 13 hours to cook.
“Nobody had put any heating oil in the range oven so after eight hours Ravenseat was plunged into darkness with no heat. Christmas Day was spent with everybody smelling of kerosene while we decanted fuel from our neighbours’ tank to try and get the oven to work.”
It was at this point that a rat ran up her leg. Thankfully, she didn’t drop the turkey, but instead spent the rest of the day hunting down the renegade rodent who had retreated into the dairy. “We tried to kill it off with a can of Lynx Sandalwood,” she laughs.
Did you manage? I ask.
Surely Lynx Sandalwood is enough to kill anyone off?
“No, but the dairy smelt nice!” She chuckles. Maybe she should try Old Spice next time…
“We set ourselves such strange standards. ‘What’s the trend in Christmas trees going to be?’ Our tree looks like Santa’s puked all over the tree. We don’t want to follow the trend you have to make it your own. It’s supposed to be about having a good time and not about what it looks like.
“When people come to our house they say ‘ooh, it’s really… homely’. In other words, you can feel comfortable because it doesn’t matter what you do, you’re not going to make it messier than it already is. At least you don’t have a film crew in filming what you get up to, to four million people… her voice trails away and she goes quiet. “Someone has drawn a felt tip jellyfish on the wall. Who has done that? She shrieks. “It’s purple!”
But you talk about opening a place of contradictions and how inhospitable it can be and how infuriating as incredible and unshakable and enduring as Ravenseat, it just sounds like something out of Wuthering Heights. It’s crafted so well.
“I read James Herriot, I wasn’t reading Tolstoy or owt like that. I’m not one of those people who have the right books on their bookshelf, the ones that make you look more intelligent than what you are. The number of times I’ve been to a literature festival and people have asked who my influencers were and I’ve sort of mumbled Herriot. That’s just me. I’ve just found something that inspired me and I’ve written about it and that’s it. That’s what I want people to take away from whatever they see on the TV or whatever they read in my books. Don’t let anyone flipping squash you down and tell you what you can’t do, people are good at that and the only way you can prove them wrong is to do it!”
And with that the line goes dead. She’s either cut me off out of complete boredom or she’s lost signal…
ONE WEEK LATER…
The phone rings, Amanda’s on the line, “I lost my signal,” she declares. “Oh my god, that was such a stressful day. Did I talk to you before or after I bought the horse?”
Before I have time to answer, she’s off again.“Well, I went to my charity thing, got changed because then I had to go the Bishop’s Palace, on the way back I ended up buying a Clydesdale,” she gabbles.
For any urbanites out there, Clydesdale isn’t just a bank, it’s a horse.
“She’s called Hazel and even Clive (husband) seems to like her so that’s good. I didn’t tell him I always figure it is better to ask for forgiveness than permission.”
Exactly. A woman after my own heart.
This lass doesn’t stop, she makes every second count, but how does someone who at a young age chose a life of remote solitude adapt to life being in the spotlight?
“I just sort of waltz into it and pretend that everything’s absolutely fine when actually my head is in bits… it’s like a computer with about ten tabs open at the same time. In a way my life has gone backwards way round. Maybe it’s the Yorkshire spirit in me not to conform. I’m going to rebel!
She’s been busy recently, from giving talks to the East Anglian Turkey Growers Association, writing books, parenting nine kids and eating biscuits, she managed to squeeze enough time in to herd sheep across London. Yes, you read that right.
“As as a freeman of the city it is a right that is exercised every year to remind the people of London that a lot of what has been built has been built upon the trading of sheep and livestock.”
With no nearby farm to stay in while down south, she ended up staying in a state bedroom that Nelson Mandela himself slept in. “The doors didn’t shut and I even had a butler! I’m a fish out of water, I always have been. If it doesn’t terrify you, it’s probably because you haven’t done a good enough job.”
With it coming up to lunch time, talk turns to food. What would your last meal be? Mine’s a dripping butty. “Ew, that sounds disgusting,” says Amanda. But what would hers be? Cockrel Broth with Stilton Dumplings from her latest book?
“Twice-cooked chips,” is her direct answer, “with proper crispy bits. Chips is one of my guilty pleasures, we all need them.”
Yeah, I agree chips are up there, but what does she choose to squirt on them, brown sauce or ketchup?
“She hates them, I like them both!” interjects Clive, who’s just wandered into the kitchen, his ears suddenly prick up. “The problem is, she doesn’t buy it for those of us who love it!”
“He’s deprived.” She scoffs. “I like cheese and gravy on chips.”
“That’s all she ate when she was pregnant,” says Clive, “that’s one way we can tell if she’s expecting.”
With barely a minute to spare between the pair, have they got the time, chance or plans to increase their offspring count to ten?
“Who knows?” laughs Amanda. “At certain times in your life, you can either conform or you say, ‘bugger that! I’m going to make my own way.’ And that’s how I feel. The bigger the challenge, the more ridiculous the situation you find yourself in, the more I love it to see if I can get away with it!”
I promise when I next see her it’ll be with a bag of chips and a pound of dripping for her to try, that’s if she promises to crack open her grandad’s rum and raisin wine. I wonder if she’ll be having cheese and gravy on her chips…
CHOCOLATE RICE PUDDING WITH PISTACHIOS
- 10g butter
- 100g pudding rice
- 40g golden caster sugar
- 50g dark chocolate, roughly
- 2 tbsp cocoa powder
- 3 tbsp boiling water
- 700ml whole milk
- 40g shelled pistachio nuts,
- roughly chopped
Preheat the oven to 160°C/140°C fan/gas 3. Lightly grease a 22cm round deep enamel dish or baking dish with butter. Wash and drain the rice in a sieve, then pop into the dish. Sprinkle over the sugar and chocolate. Mix the cocoa powder in a jug with the boiling water to form a paste then add to the dish with the rice and mix well to coat the rice in the cocoa. Pour the milk over the rice and give everything a good stir.
Put the dish onto a baking tray on the middle shelf of the oven for 40 minutes, until the rice pudding has thickened and is creamy. Stir the rice pudding a few times during cooking, as you do not want a skin to form. Allow the pudding to cool slightly, then serve in bowls topped with pistachio nuts.
For an extra creamy pudding add a swirl of double cream before serving.
Celebrating the Seasons by Amanda Owen The Yorkshire Shepherdess is published 28th October by Pan Macmillan, £20.