Meet Amanda Livingston-Owen - the Yorkshire Shepherdess
- Credit: Archant
False eyelashes, ragged leggings, sheep to feed and nine children to tend. We join Yorkshire Shepherdess Amanda Livingston-Owen on the farm.
After 40 minutes of twisting and turning up the many single-track roads up to Ravenseat - the sheep farming home of Yorkshire Shepherdess, Amanda Livingston-Owen and husband Clive - there are no signs to say you've arrived. It's clear though, by the number of go-karts, bicycles and kids' tractors dotted around the front field, that you're most definitely in the vicinity of children. Nine children, to be precise.
A jiggle of the old cast iron bell at the front door signals a commotion inside as the door is flung open by a welcome party; a strikingly tall Amanda and the two tiniest of her brood, Clemmie, four and three-year old Nancy: 'Come in, come in!', she bellows over the sound of loud drilling from somewhere inside the rabbit warren of her Dales farmhouse. 'I was going to try and tidy up for you coming but it just hasn't happened,' she shrugs, laughing.
The fire is blazing in the rustic living room with its low-beamed ceiling from which an old pulley drier hangs, draped in washing. The room is flanked by huge, leather sofas, a giant rocking horse, a Yorkshire spinning wheel, a clockwork spit roaster and a cheese press!
Two little girls beam up at me with the shiniest of eyes, Amanda asks a question she will come to repeat many times during the next couple of hours: 'Do you want a cup of tea?'
We make our way into the kitchen where Clive is preparing to head off with a trailer of sheep: 'Have you got a pie?' Amanda asks him. 'A pie?' He replies. 'No, no I haven't, but don't you worry I'll see to that and I definitely won't die,' he jokes. 'Have you got a flask?' she continues, ignoring his wit. 'Have you got your gloves? Have you got your licence?' 'No, no, no,' he says 'Anyway, you girls go and sit b'fire and get warm, don't you worry about me.'
'Do you want a cup of tea?' Amanda hollers at the workman in the next room. 'Clemmie, go and look in the fridge and see what's there that you and Nancy would like to eat... get some radishes!' she shouts, as they trot off to investigate.And so it goes on.
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The woman is an accomplished organiser and nurturer of all who come to be at Ravenseat; husband, children, workmen, walkers, horses, journalists, cameramen and women, and of course, sheep by the hundreds. Whatever you are, you're in very happy, capable hands in this family home.
Cuppa in hand, I follow her back through to the lounge and we get settled by the old range. Amanda, dressed in black leggings with multiple holes, a khaki green smock and thick socks, curls her legs up on the sofa. 'Clive keeps saying 'look at your leggings, are you gonna burn them yet?',' she says. 'I told him I don't need to because I've other pairs with holes in other places, so I'll just wear one pair on top of the other.' She's nodding at me like it makes complete sense, so I'm intrigued to point out the obvious contradiction; she's wearing makeup and her hair is looking remarkably 'done'.
'Oh, that's just because I was on Jeremy Vine's show on Channel 5 yesterday - so I spent ages in make-up having layers of the stuff troweled on. That's why my hair's still wiggly,' she says as she flicks the curls over her shoulder. 'In fact, I've just finished pulling the last of the false eyelashes off. I like a bit of make-up - I use oodles of moisturiser and I do what I want to do. I get up and I put a bit on in the morning no matter what I'm up to - I like a bit of mascara on the moors but those false lashes are a step too far for me!'
I notice, out of the corner of my eye, the two little ones have sneaked back in and are peeping round the rocking horse, each clutching a radish and a pork pie.
Clemmie comes round the sofa, demanding I give her some attention. She lifts a terrier from its fireside slumber and holds it up right up to my face. 'This is Pippin!' She places the dog back and presents another: 'And this is Chalky!' 'One last thing!' she giggles. 'Would you like to meet Russell Sprout, my other dog, and feed Tony my pony?' I assure her I most certainly will do that, before Mum ushers her and Nancy, who's clutching a Peppa Pig mobile phone to her ear - out of the room. 'Go and see what's going on through there and see if you can help.'
Struck by how contented and self-contained the children seem, I ask if they argue or have the tantrums. 'No, no,' she replies. 'I mean, there's altercations at times, but there's plenty of places to go to get space.'
She can see by my expression that it's hard to believe, with nine children! 'Well, we're not The Waltons, we don't spend the whole time skipping around, but we just get on with it and there's always enough to do to keep everyone busy and organised. Most of all the kids just want to be involved with what's going on - they just want to be part of things. We've been out this morning feeding round and counting sheep - the girls took their bubbles with them.
'The kids are great at just taking things in their stride, working things out for themselves. Raven went off to university in York last year and we might have asked, how's that going to work? Well, she has to work that out for herself doesn't she? Problem solving. Independence.'
Was Raven excited to leave the hill farm for the big city lights and live it up? 'Erm no, not really. Although I know she's done a bit of that, which is great, but she was more excited by the 4G and Uber Eats to be honest,' she laughs. 'And, she's taken her skills from her life here with her - a week ago she rang me and said 'Mum, I've got nowhere to prove my bread, there's no firepleace'. She was making her own bread at uni, which is great!'
'Reuben will be off to do his apprenticeship soon; he wrote a letter, asked me to check it for spelling mistakes and he sent it off. The company rang to say no-one had written them a letter before.How will he get there? Where will he live? He'll work it out, with our support. It's about being there for children when they need you and letting them find their own way as well. Children are resilient and where we live allows them to be even more so, I think.'
These self-preservation skills are undoubtedly a family trait from both parents. Amanda's somewhat paradoxical philosophy and lifestyle - mini-skirts and mascara on the moor, a burgeoning celebrity lifestyle grounded by the needs of nine children, 2,000 acres and 800 sheep - a control freak who loves to roll with life - it all seems to offer a perfectly imperfect balance to life.
Was life like this with her own mother? 'My mother?,' she says thoughtfully. 'I guess it was a bit of rebel thing with me…' she tails off. 'I just knew that life wasn't for me,' she says, referring to her 'normal' townie, three-bed semi family home in Huddersfield, which she left behind to pursue the outdoor life she'd fallen in love with reading James Herriott's All Creatures Great and Small books.
'I was a goth for a while - and I went clubbing and stuff, loved the raves, the music and dancing, but I just wanted to go the opposite way so I headed out to moors where I loved the openness. I was jobbing around, I had my fair share of rubbish jobs and, at times, it was pretty lonely and a bit grim, living in manky caravans and being skint. But it was always what I wanted to do.'
I probe further, seeking vices of any kind: "My weakness is chocolate, I don't like wine, I like whisky but don't have it much, I sound really boring don't I? Clive hates loud music and I'm always singing to myself,' she laughs. 'I don't know what my vices are really, I suppose being a bit of a control freak and thinking nobody will do things as well as I would do,' she chuckles.
For a self-confessed control freak she's certainly mastered the art of delegation. When she's not taking care of business across the 2,000 acres of wild Ravenseat, managing a recent renovation project at a nearby farmhouse, playing host to the Our Yorkshire Farm Channel 5 film crew, Amanda can be found giving after dinner speeches or, currently, promoting her third book, Adventures of the Yorkshire Shepherdess - her writing is done at night in bed.
How does Clive manage without the matriarch at home? 'It's a busy time and these days I do find myself in some strange situations,' she reflects. 'I can go from being up here, miles away from anywhere to sitting in a green room with Stephen Fry somewhere in London. I don't quite know how it all happened but I'm very grateful for it.'
Travelling up and down the country can be unpredictable - is there no one handy they call on to help when she's stuck on trains? 'No, somedays when I need to be away, he does it, when he needs to be away, I do it - and the kids have been taught too. It's normal. My philosophy is we'll get it done somehow and we always do.'
Clemmie's back: 'OK, one last thing', she says, loving the game: 'I'm going to get you some eggs and you're going to make us a cake and bring it here.' It's quite clear where she gets her assertiveness from and when she brings me a dozen eggs, I ask her how many I need to make a cake: 'Ten!' she says, confidently. She's probably not wrong…
'Anyway!" Amanda exclaims: "Do you want another cup of tea?'