The book, along with an unexpectedly successful shepherding Twitter account, @herdyshepherd1, turned the anonymous farm into an unlikely tourist spot. The farmhouse, a heft of Cumbrian stone that clings to the base of the mountain, was soon frequented by international press; Rebanks tells me a story of one particularly determined Norwegian journalist who made his way there uninvited, thanks to a distantly related cab driver knowing where to take him (the local community is small, and close-knit).
If The Shepherd’s Life introduced a whole world – the book has been translated into 16 languages – to Rebanks’ way of life, English Pastoral tells the rest of the story. A “Warts and all” account is how Rebanks terms it in the book’s introduction, “of what farming was like here in my childhood, and what it became.” It is more impassioned, more political, more depressing and more optimistic. It is a plea for nature-friendly farming. I posit that it somehow seems more mature, an older, more grizzled brother to The Shepherd’s Life, and Rebanks quietly agrees.
“Some of the stuff in The Shepherd’s Life was from when I was 20,” he says, explaining that his first book referenced journal entries he made in youth, when he was “angry, or just a slightly different person to who I am now.” English Pastoral has allowed Rebanks to reflect on his lot as a middle-aged man, one who, after growing up in the shadow of his father and grandfather, now must run the family farm for future generations. He is doing so in a revolutionary way: farming with, rather than against nature. Encouraging weeds, insects, nettles and wildlife to inhabit places once mined for productivity. It is, he admits, “a really weird switch in mentality”, but it’s one that can help battle environmental disaster.