Before Horatio Clare was born, his parents fell in love with a place -- a remote sheep farm in Wales, physically and in every other way far from the lives they were forging as young professionals in London. The farm was high up a mountain, nearly impassable in winter. The neighbors were surly, or perhaps just unused to foreigners. But the setting was breathtaking, and soon it changed Jenny's and Robert's lives. What began as the somewhat conventional dream of a young, ambitious couple from London looking for a weekend home quickly became a different vision. Horatio's mother, romantic and tenacious, found it impossible to leave the fierce and beautiful land. She abandoned her job, her social world, and eventually her marriage to raise her two sons in the company of a herd of sheep, a few dogs, and the badgers, foxes, and mice who had prior claim to her new world. While other boys were going to films and listening to rock music, Horatio was weaning ewes and watching weather and surviving the furor of irascible neighbors. His childhood was marked by wonder and joy, and it is that wonderment that he bestows upon the reader as he recounts the story of the ancient, sometimes brutal, way of life on a hill farm. This wise book is a moving tribute to his mother, both beautiful and brave.
In this memoir, Clare, a Welsh former barman and BBC radio producer, narrates how his parents came to own a sheep farm. Robert and Jenny were young, ambitious and, at first, in love; he had been raised internationally and was a rising war correspondent and news journalist, she was an assistant literary editor. Nevertheless, they decided to leave London and buy a farm in Wales. Within three years of their marriage in the early 1970s, Robert, "the icy rationalist," had retreated to the city and a BBC post. But Jenny, "the mad romantic," stayed behind on the mountaintop sheep farm. With the assistance of her journals, Clare recounts his mother's daily rituals: encumbered by two small boys and a loan, Jenny slogged through the yearly rituals of lambing, feeding and marketing, all the while braving vile weather and putting her children in the local school. The valley villagers marveled at "her strangeness, her prettiness, pigheadedness and determination to survive" without a man at her side; the local men sniffed around. Nearly two decades later, the family moved to the village and into a house with a working TV. Beautifully written, with enormous affection, this is a memoir of an unusual childhood, but also a careful analysis of a "perfectly, heroically mismatched" marriage.