This is the story of Ann and her children Andrew, and twins Robert and Nancy who live at Hagg House in Yorkshire. They move in in November and that first winter Ann and Andrew explore their surroundings while the twins sleep. The first animals to arrive are a goat, ducks, chickens and a guinea fowl. Later arrivals are a pig and a Shetland colt. She offers 'a safe haven for the overspill of other people's teeming back gardens, and this furnished many of our most interesting companions". Hoping to build up a flock of sheep she is also keen to look after any orphaned lambs which are offered her. This only works for a while as 'in previous years I had been able to have the pick of the local foundlings. But all at once, the womenfolk of the dale rediscovered this among many other lost arts of farmwifery, and it was more than a man's life was worth to let 'her' have a lamb, no matter how sick and hopeless, so I bought lambs from newspaper advertisements". In this way she does establish her flock and presumably (she's not clear on this) makes a living selling sheep, pigs, eggs etc.
There is hay making and sheep shearing, a long hot summer and the long cold winter of 1977/78. Life is hard. 'In a friend's house, I saw their daughter, struggling with a dropped stitch, throw her knitting at her mother without a word, confident that she would sort out the problem and hand it back so that she would be able to carry on. I think I wanted to drop the whole worrying muddle our life here had become onto someone's lap, just as she did, and have it all sorted out and handed back to me, fresh and ready to start again.'
She ends on a bitter sweet note. Although she has learned a lot about moorland life and wanted to become a farmer because it seemed a way of life that was geared to the community, to working together, to sharing basic tasks, it seems it is not about that anymore. 'I am witnessing the passing of the way of life I have fought so hard to attain.'
Yes, there is more to this book. It is just that it mostly about animals and animals and I found the endless chapters on goats and ducks hard to take, and am struggling to write about this book. This is all the more irritating as I think Ann writes very well, and I wish she would have paid more attention to people instead of animals. Her children, who are very young at the start of the book, only make an appearance now and then. Andrew, who still has to start school in chapter 1, is a teenager on page 46 There are some very interesting observations on being a single woman and mother in the country, but somehow these chapters deteriorate into meant-to-be-funny descriptions of trying to move a piano on your own, or dealing with plumbers.
Ann went on to write two more books about her smallholding, poetry, a memoir, and a guidebook to Newport.