A lonely but rewarding life on the fells

The Westmorland Gazette: Semi-retired sheep farmer George Harryman Semi-retired sheep farmer George Harryman

LIFE as a farmer is undoubtedly difficult, with most accounts of the job focusing on the hardships. But many Lake District sheep farmers love the job and would not dream of doing anything else. George Harryman is one of them. Despite being semi-retired he looks after a flock of 400 Herdwicks, the iconic Lakeland breed, on his Hawkshead holding. Reporter STEPHANIE MANLEY learns why a lonely existence on the fells can be so rewarding and pleasurable but also that increasing bureaucracy is proving quite a burden


When he told me that he was a semi-retired farmer, I expected George Harryman to be pottering around a small area with a handful of animals.

But even after ‘scaling down’, the Hawkshead farmer still has 400 Herdwick sheep roaming 26 fields. Despite working from first light to darkness, Mr Harryman said he still loved the job.

“It is all I have ever known and I enjoy it,” he said. “I cannot imagine myself doing anything different – what would I do?”

“I do not like holidays – a holiday to me is going to the Yorkshire Show. I do have days off, but they are nearly all based around agriculture in some way.”

Mr Harryman said he had to be ‘really down’ not to want to get up in the morning and see his flock.

“I am not one for lying around in bed – I want to get out and see that nothing is wrong with my animals. When you have done this for so long, it is just natural.”

Since taking a slight step back, Mr Harryman has also enjoyed showing his best animals. In his living room there is a whole shelf rammed full of show trophies just from last year. “I do like the shows,” he said. “I had a very good season this year (2013) – one sheep got three overall champions in three consecutive shows.”

There has not been a repeat so far of the snow of 2012 which caused devastation to those with livestock. But there is still plenty to do over the winter, and Mr Harryman said that no two days were ever the same.

“When I go out I check the stock and feed them. I make sure they are all okay – I had one with pneumonia last week so had to give her some medicine,” he said. “There are obviously different things to do at different times of the year, and a lot depends on the weather – last year was awful and meant more checking and taking hay out to the sheep.

“It is tup time at the moment, so I put a mark on the tups everyday to identify what ewes have been served. I also look for stray sheep. It is a very important time of the year so if you put the effort in now the rewards will come in spring when it is lambing season.”

He said that the lambing time was the busiest.

“There’s not enough daylight then, especially when you have a lot of animals like I used to.”

Mr Harryman leads a solitary existence but enjoys his own company and the isolation of the fells.

“It is not lonely at all, it is lovely,” he said. “When I was at my last farm, Fell Foot, I could go a full day and not speak to anyone. It is hard to explain to people who are used to being around people all the time.”

Although he clearly enjoys his lifestyle, Mr Harryman, who learned everything from his dad growing up on a farm in Keswick, understands why the younger generation complain about the difficulties.

“In terms of gain it has gone backwards in the last ten years. It is the things that we have no control over, like the price of food and fuel,” he said.

“The paperwork that has come with modern times has also made it less enjoyable. It is beyond a joke, you have to keep all the figures in check. There was no need to do that in the old days, the only time I used to count my sheep then was at clipping time.

“I would not like to be a farmer with a family starting out now – I am pleased I have done it at the time I have.”

Comments (1)

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9:09am Fri 3 Jan 14

Milkbutnosugarplease says...

The headline says 'a lonely life' but Mr Harryman says 'it's not lonely at all'. Is a sub-editor to blame for this contradiction? It's a great article and a beautiful photo.
The headline says 'a lonely life' but Mr Harryman says 'it's not lonely at all'. Is a sub-editor to blame for this contradiction? It's a great article and a beautiful photo. Milkbutnosugarplease

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