EMMA SKIDMORE and her husband Andrew farm 800 sheep on 180 acres near Tebay on the border of the Lake District and Yorkshire Dales. Since December, Emma has been blogging about life on the farm and her non-traditional route into agriculture under the heading "From Smoggy to Farmer’s Wife". She grew up in Billingham and was a self confessed "townie" until meeting her husband. Emma, 42, and Andrew, 38, have three children – four-year-old daughter Amber, Liam, aged 12 from Emma's previous marriage, and Jessica also 12 from Andrew’s previous relationship. Emma spoke to the D&S Times about life on the farm, and why she has started her blog.

Tell us about your family, and your farm

I met Andrew eight months after my 13-year marriage ended. We’ve been together almost seven years and met through a member of his family. We eloped to be married in December 2019 and in typical farming fashion we were back working on the farm the next day. Our farm is called Flakebridge Farm and is three miles from Tebay, Cumbria, on the border of the Lake District and Yorkshire Dales. We farm 180 acres plus also have rights to Langdale Fell. We currently have approximately 800 sheep which are a mix of different breeds. The majority of the sheep are Swaledales, which is one of the reasons we moved to "Swaledale Country". We have them to a high standard and Andrew has won shows with them, including what we call the “Swaledale World Cup” aka Muker Show, which he won in 2016. We also have a small flock of Valais Blacknose sheep, one of which over the summer was Reserve Champion in a countrywide virtual sheep show.

How much did you know about farming growing up?

Growing up in Billingham I knew nothing at all about farming. The nearest I’d been to any sort of farm was potato picking on a bit of land my uncle owned. The nearest I’d been to farm animals was the community farm at Port Clarence. I grew up in a council house in Billingham and as a child you thought only posh or rich people, wearing Tweed and flat caps, owned farms. My sister and I were obsessed with horses when we were young but there was no way my family could ever afford one or even the lessons. Horses were always known in our house as “I wish I had one” as that was what was always said when you drove past one.

What was your perception of life as a farmer’s wife before you became one?

I always imagined that farmer’s wife’s were big characters who wore aprons with flour splattered on them, would rarely leave the kitchen and always had the kettle on. I imagined it would be a cross between “The Darling Buds of May” and "Emmerdale". I never watched anything to do with country vets so I didn’t have a clue with regard to farm animals. When I met Andrew, it felt like he was speaking a foreign language. Even the way he said the word “ewe” sounded like he was saying it in a Birmingham accent.

On the fell with the children

On the fell with the children

What’s your favourite thing about the farm?

My favourite part, like many people, has to be lambing time. It is also the toughest part of farming and can be both physically and mentally draining. My first ever lambing was at the farm Andrew ran for his family business in Durham. I’d taken three weeks off work to help and we lambed almost 2,000 sheep. I have never been so exhausted in my life and for the first seven days we literally slept in our clothes in the front room as we worked 18 hour shifts. I’d never lambed a single sheep prior to this and I still have my first ever pet lamb from that time. It was a complete baptism of fire and I learnt quickly that wellies from a designer shop in Middlesbrough are no good for farming, even if I did look good in them.

And your least favourite?

Silage making time. I suffer really badly with grass hayfever. If I could I would move away for the weeks we make hay/silage. I constantly look like I’ve been punched with big puffed up eyes. Probably the worst place I could live when my hayfever is bad.

The farm sites on the border of the Lake District and the Yorkshire Dales

The farm sites on the border of the Lake District and the Yorkshire Dales

What have your learned about yourself since moving onto the farm – and what have you brought to it from your previous experiences?

I’ve always been stubborn but I’ve learnt that I am even worse on the farm. I don’t like to be told I can’t do something, even though there are a lot of jobs that I physically cannot do, but I don’t admit them to Andrew. I’ve not only become a farmer’s wife/mother, I’ve also become the farm hand, book-keeper and secretary. I’m lucky that I am a qualified paralegal and currently work part-time as a medical secretary, so these skills have really come into their own with the farm. There is so much paperwork involved with running a farm. We are part of the Red Tractor Food Standards also so records have to be keep up to date.

I used to love my designer clothes and heels but since moving to the countryside I’ve realised that these really aren’t important or appropriate anymore. I honestly cannot remember the last time I wore heels, even before lockdown and I seem to live now in waterproof trousers and wellies.

The biggest thing I have learnt is farming is changing. Due to this we are also working towards diversification. We are currently in process of starting glamping pods and looking also into a “pop up” camp site. We live in such a beautiful area and it would be great to showcase it together with involving people in showing them how a farm works and also for them to be able to get involved and their "hands mucky". There are so many people who like me grew up in a town, think that eggs come from the supermarket and have never seen the stars due to street lights/light pollution. Here we are in the dark skies area and I’ve never seen the stars shine so bright.

How has life on the farm been affected by lockdown?

Lockdown at the beginning was great as it happened at the same time as lambing. The weather was gorgeous and with the children off school it was a real family affair and all hands on deck. The countryside was lovely and quiet. It then started to get tough. Andrew hasn’t left the farm all year really apart from to go to the mart, all the shows were cancelled, sales became online and the ones that took place were strange with all the restrictions and quieter than usual with people keeping away. The social aspect of farming had gone and there was the worry that with Brexit on the horizon lamb prices would also go down. I have also had to work throughout lockdown in my part time job as I work for the NHS – Older Adults Mental Health Services.

Time out with the Valais lambs

Time out with the Valais lambs

What was the aim of starting the blog?

I’d always wanted to write a blog and felt that I would do one from a townie point of view. There are a lot of people at the moment writing about becoming shepherds and wanting to be a farmer all their life. I hadn’t wanted to be a farmer as a child, I wanted to be a jockey, Page 3 model or a fighter pilot after watching Top Gun. Then I realised I couldn’t fly, my breasts weren’t big enough and I was too tall. I used to drive past our farm on the way back from Blackpool and think “I could never live there, far too far away from civilisation”. Living on a farm is a million miles away from my life in Teesside. I also wanted to show that it isn’t always “living the dream” as many people think and as many TV shows portray it as. There’s many a time a screaming match can be heard in the shed or time out is needed. Sheep have a habit of not playing by the rules and the most unexpected things can happen. It’s a hard life, it can be lonely and there are times when you dread the postman turning up with yet another bill. There’s a reason mental health is such a big issue amongst farmers.

What feedback have you had from readers?

I’ve been so lucky with feedback. I’ve only been blogging via my website/Facebook page “From Smoggy to Farmer’s Wife” since December 2020 and I already have followers from all over the world and have had some amazing comments from the readers.