Truly home - James Rebanks

James Rebanks is a Lake District farmer, working land that has supported his family for six hundred years. His No.1 bestselling debut, The Shepherd's Life, won the Lake District Book of the Year and has been translated into sixteen languages. His second book, English Pastoral, was a Top Ten bestseller, the Sunday Times Nature Book of the Year, heralded as a 'masterpiece' by the New Statesman and longlisted for the Orwell Prize for Political Writing.

My whole life I have believed in one idea of what ‘home’ meant. I am from a very deep-rooted family of Lake District farmers. My grandad loved his farm. He was completely, madly, deeply, soppily, in love with it, and rarely left. On rare summer evenings when he and my grandma had time for a rest, they’d walk above their fields, look across the valley, leaning on a gate, and just glow with satisfaction that this was their place. Dad laughed at them, but when he became the farmer, he was as bad.

Matterdale really is beautiful – with its white farmhouses, stone barns, hillsides carved into fields by hedgerows and dry-stone-walls, and the fells layering back in the distance. The landscape around us is entirely hand-crafted, and it was literally my ancestors that did the work. It feels deeply personal, truly ‘ours’, truly ‘home’, even if, in truth, we share it with millions of other people each summer. For the past decade I’ve allegedly been the boss on the farm. Helen lets me think so. I’ve written two deeply ‘romantic’ (in the radical sense) books about this place and what we do.

I’ve had the ‘home-is-here’ virus as bad as any of my ancestors. But, lately, I’ve begun to feel a little differently about it, partly because of a book I read, called Where I Was From, by the late Joan Didion. Her book is very different from mine, but it sure made me think. She felt alienated from her childhood home and realised after a while that her ‘home’ was, simply, wherever her husband and loved ones were. ‘Home’ for Joan, was portable, it was the people you loved. I wouldn’t have gone for this idea when I was young, but I am changing. I have four kids, and I realise more and more how much I love my wife.

One morning a few months ago, I came back in from the farm and I said to Helen, ‘You know I love this old farm so much, but if we had to leave it for some reason, and we all left together, and were all healthy, then I’d do it no problem… You are my home’. And she looked at me, smiling, and said ‘You idiot, I’ve always felt that way about you’. I guess that realising where your home is, is something that’s better worked out late, than never.

Photo: ©Andrew Heading