Farming life in the Cotswolds with the Countryfile presenter

The world of farming is full of wise and wonderful characters. Every week as I travel round the country I’m lucky enough to meet a whole host of entertaining, captivating and colourful individuals on farms, at agricultural shows and at all sorts of meetings and events. There must be something about living in the country and working on the land which breeds charismatic personalities. But the very best raconteur I’ve ever come across is someone I’ve known for as long as I can remember and he lives just a short drive from me on the other side of Gloucestershire.

Eric Freeman is a great story teller with an endless supply of anecdotes, folk tales and good old country wisdom. He’s terrific company and a proper countryman whose family has been involved in farming and the rural economy ‘west of the Severn’ for generations. His grandfather was a prize-winning pig farmer, his father ran a successful dairy herd and as a young man Eric went into the poultry business. It’s a heritage that is very dear to him, and on special occasions he revels in those strong links to his Victorian forebears by wearing traditional costume; an antique farmers’ smock, a red neckerchief, leather leggings and a top hat. He not only looks the part, he sounds it too because Eric is blessed with a voice that’s deep and distinctive with a warm Gloucestershire burr. It’s no wonder that he’s made so many broadcasts over the years, including TV shows with Oz Clarke, Hugh Dennis and the Two Fat Ladies, as well as appearances on Radio 4 and his own long-running series on BBC Radio Gloucestershire’s Country Matters programme.

READ MORE: What does the future hold for our glorious Gloucesters?

He’s knowledgeable on a wide range of topics (fruit varieties, cider, vintage farm waggons, horse brasses, harvest traditions, wassailing and much more) but when the media come calling, they mostly want to talk to him about his passion for rare breeds of British farm livestock. Eric’s a bit of a legend among rare breeds enthusiasts, because he’s the only person to have held top roles in all three of his county breed societies: the Gloucestershire Old Spots Pig Breeders’ Club, the Cotswold Sheep Society and the Gloucester Cattle Society. In fact, it was their shared fascination with those beautiful, mahogany-coloured dual purpose (milk and meat) cattle which led to Eric and my dad meeting for the first time.

It was 50 years ago this autumn, when the last purebred herd of Gloucesters came up for auction. Almost half a century later, Eric recorded his memories of that first encounter: ‘I looked across the crowded sale ring and I could see a very animated chap wearing a cap and bidding away. He was full of go and living the moment. It was Joe Henson of course, but I didn’t know then that we would become friends, and what an honour it was to call him my friend. I always looked up to Joe for the tremendous effort he put into the many great things he achieved.’ I was only a boy at the time but I do remember Eric’s many visits to our farm very fondly and the way he became like a favourite uncle to me and my three sisters as we grew up.

Eric celebrates his 90th Birthday this month and I’m delighted to say he continues to wave the flag for his beloved rare breeds and, like all good entertainers, he’s still sharing stories from a lifetime of farming, fun and friendships. Happy birthday Eric, and congratulations on your special day!

Follow Adam on Twitter: @AdamHenson

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