The Upper Nidderdale Landscape Partnership column

Farming is one of those livelihoods, like mining or deep-sea fishing, that outsiders feel you have to be born into to understand fully. To even the most knowledgeable countrygoer there's something rather mysterious about the rhythms of the farming year.

Thursday, 12th January 2017, 11:00 am
Sunrise over Upper Nidderdale. Photo by Paul Harris

Hill farming is especially enigmatic, with its language of in-bye and moor, yearlings and shearlings, hoggs and gimmers.

We non-farmers would often love to find out more – but you can look in vain for the correct manual!

Perhaps that’s one reason why the bestseller lists have recently been full of books by farmers about farming life.

James Rebanks had a runaway hit with his 2015 memoir The Shepherd’s Life. Another farmer-writer, John Lewis-Stempel, has recently published the latest in a series of books about his family farm, The Running Hare: The Secret Life of Farmland.

Both writers have drawn enthusiastic crowds at NiddFest – Nidderdale’s festival of nature writing.

There seems to be a public mood for drawing back the veil on farming life, and a matching desire on the part of farmers to tell people about what they do.

Since January last year, Nidderdale has had its own homegrown farmer-writer. Frances Graham is 21 years old and lives and works in Upper Nidderdale.

The blog she has been writing about upland farming has been appearing in fortnightly instalments on the Upper Nidderdale Landscape Partnership website.

If you haven’t yet come across it, you are warmly urged to do so. It provides a hugely enjoyable insight into farming from the perspective of a young person who, while clear-sighted about the hardships of her chosen lifestyle, is totally committed to the future of her family’s farm.

Frances has been helping her father and grandfather on the farm since she was small, and now works full-time alongside them.

Frances began writing her blog at the suggestion of Tara Challoner, the Landscape Partnership’s farming and wildlife officer. She agreed to it because she thinks it’s important that non-farmers have an understanding of farming. She said: “Some people don’t realise how one small thing like leaving a gate open can cause so many problems.”

Tara said: “Not many people in towns or even country people who are engaged in other professions fully understand or appreciate the life of a 21st century hill farmer.

“For this story to be told by a young person with their whole farming career ahead of her presented a fantastic opportunity to give people a glimpse of a different way of life.”

Frances’ blog comes to an end this month, but the full account of her year is available to read on the Upper Nidderdale Landscape Partnership website.

Is writing something she’d like to do more of?

She said: “I’ve never really liked writing before, but I have enjoyed doing the blog, so yes, I may like to write more in the future.”

At the moment, though, she’s more concerned with her future as a farmer.

She said: “The outlook for upland farming in Nidderdale isn’t as good it might be. The high costs and low incomes of modern hill farming will cause young people to leave the land.”

We’re sure you’ll join us in wishing her all the very best for the future.