Her lyrical memoir is tipped to be a bestseller. In Daily Mail's first extract last week, shepherdess Janet White told how a spurned suitor nearly murdered her during her time tending a flock on a small island in New Zealand in the 1950s. Here, in the second part of the extract, she reveals how she found new love and a new life in a very English idyll…

To swap my barefoot life on a remote Antipodean island for that of a suburban housewife in Finchley, North London, seemed close to madness. Had I not been certain that this was just a temporary phase of my life, I would have fretted like a caged animal. Instead, new dreams preoccupied me.

The idiocy of love made me giggle with disbelief. Jim and I had first met shortly before my departure to New Zealand and our letters had shuttled to and fro across the world with welcome regularity.

Read part one of the Janet's story here.

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I teased Jim over his boring nine-to-five career as a civil servant in London, only to be reminded that both Geoffrey Chaucer and Robert Burns had worked for Customs and Excise.

Now in the confined space of the flat, I longed for fresh air, green grass, trees, flowers and, of course, sheep. I was three months pregnant in March 1957 when I found Miles Farm in the Sussex Weald. The farmstead was totally secluded, set in 21 acres of pasture land and divided into nine tiny fields bounded by woods and drifts of wild daffodils.

The wild cherry trees were in blossom and bluebells misted the woodland edges. We saw it as a beginning, a nursery for a young family and our first animals. Jim worked in London during the week and we created our new rural oasis at evenings and weekends.

My activities took little account of my pregnancy. I scythed the grass at the end of the garden, painted the attic, creosoted a portable hen ark, cleaned out pigsties in which we hoped to house calves, and whitewashed the cowshed.

Janet White is pictured with a sheepdog on the island in 1954. She wanted to see a country renowned both for its natural beauty and for its progressive sheep-farming. Photo / Supplied
Janet White is pictured with a sheepdog on the island in 1954. She wanted to see a country renowned both for its natural beauty and for its progressive sheep-farming. Photo / Supplied

When our fine, strong daughter was born, we named her Rachel – it means ewe in Hebrew.

That first winter was tough, with ferocious gales, then ice and snow. The pipes burst and we used a well for drawing water.

Our first mini-lambing season was also not one to boast about. Nineteen lambs were born to our 12 ewes, but five were either stillborn or died after difficult deliveries. When I remembered the 700 sheep I had sold on leaving Aroa – the remote New Zealand island where I had lived and farmed alone – this tiny tally seemed like a childish game.

But while we were never happier, I sometimes thought I worked harder now than I had ever worked in my life. We did not take a holiday for 15 years. There were three of us to care for without the luxury of household gadgets. We needed a new tractor, better haymaking machinery, a ram for our flock, a washing machine, a fridge.

But the scent of freshly mown hay, the sight of lambs playing, and the song of nightingales at dusk had lost none of their charm.

Neighbours who had seen me toiling in the hayfields with a pitchfork when I was seven months pregnant began to remark that they could not remember a time when I was not either feeding a baby or expecting one. Sally was born second, my third pregnancy ended in a miscarriage, my fourth in a beautiful daughter, Susan, and my fifth in another miscarriage.

When, oh when, would I ever have a boy? A farm without a son was like a field without water.

One day, in 1964, I learned that Aroa was for sale. Bravely, Jim agreed we should put in an offer, but eventually it was sold to an American couple. It made me realise we needed a new challenge. I was homesick for the hills and the sea. When I became pregnant for the sixth time in nine years, the search began for a cheap and remote hill farm. I was elated at the arrival of Robert in early 1966 and, soon after, we found Holcombe, a farm in Somerset with a 17th Century sandstone house.

Finding a place which exceeds hope and expectation is like falling in love. Buzzards wheeled overhead on tooth-edged wings, red deer lurked in oakwoods and ponies browsed on the high moorland.

But our parents were appalled, sure that the weekday separation – Jim had remained in Sussex so he could travel each day to London to work – would mark the beginning of the end of our marriage.

But Jim accepted hill farming was my ambition and his loyalty never faltered, often completing the 11-hour drive between Sussex and Somerset by tractor when we needed the vehicle at the other farm.

Moving in, the combe was even more beautiful than I remembered from when I first viewed it as a prospective buyer: a secluded tranquil place, a haven for wildlife.

We found marsh orchids, ragged-robin and wild raspberries. In the woods there were badger sets, noisy green woodpeckers and shy pied flycatchers.

High up, where the trees gave way to rough pasture, skylarks were trilling and small heathland plants such as cow wheat and milkwort studded the turf with colour.

Our induction to that land and its inhabitants was not always straightforward. One day, my neighbour, dressed in his scarlet hunting-coat, raised his hat and held out a bloody hunk of venison. I refused to accept it but did not know then that it was the custom to offer the heart of the deer to the owner of the land where it had been killed.

A few days later the Master of the Staghounds came to call. I told him that I disliked hunting and did not want the hounds on Holcombe.

I suspected this would not make me popular with many of the local people. Stag-hunting was an old tradition in the area, the topic of conversation in every pub and marketplace. It made me shiver to think of the stag running for its life with the pack in pursuit.

I accepted that arguing about hunting was a waste of time. They were no more likely to change their attitude than I was, and they were not barbarians. But the sight of a stag with a fine head of antlers and a thick, rough lion-like mane has never ceased to thrill me.

My first lambing season at Holcombe turned into an endurance test. Foxes began to take so many new lambs that, in desperation, I pitched a tent in the field and slept there at night with a wooden spoon and an empty biscuit tin to beat like a drum if I was woken by anxious bleating or if I smelt the potent whiff of a fox.

The hard winters made us hardy, and we were rarely ill. Robert and his sisters were learning farming skills from an early age. They helped with lambing and calving, rolled the fleeces at shearing time and started their first tentative attempts to shear.

One by one they graduated to driving the tractor to the Land-Rover, bumbling around the fields long before they were legally allowed on a road.

Farms are dangerous places and I shudder now to think of the risks we all took.

Once, Sally skidded while driving the tractor, bounced through a hedge and ended up teetering on the brim of a lethal slope while Robert clung to the mudguard.

Carting mangolds myself one icy morning, I tipped the tractor halfway over the bank of the stream with Robert, then still a baby, clasped on my lap. That no one was ever injured, beyond the odd bruise, was pure luck.

We became deeply committed to conservation and much of Holcombe was designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest. I began to record a species list for the farm, which was to include more than 80 different birds, over 200 flora and 26 butterflies.

It was impossible to wander through the woods without making discoveries: hearing the whirring chant of a grasshopper warbler for the first time, finding a black and sapphire jay's feather, or a violet-gilled amethyst deceiver mushroom. There were moschatel and tutsan plants, pink centaury flowers in the old pastures, a raven's nest in a high beech tree, hares boxing and a dormouse snoozing in a golden furry ball in the first box I put up in our old hazel coppice.

If I walked on the hills in June, an hour after sunset, I knew a place where I could watch nightjars twisting after moths on silent wings or listen to their strange churring drumbeat.

The Sheep Stell, by Janet White, is published by Constable in Great Britain and is available from Hachette NZ Ltd at NZ $37.99.
The Sheep Stell, by Janet White, is published by Constable in Great Britain and is available from Hachette NZ Ltd at NZ $37.99.

Sometimes, when I returned at dusk, glow-worms starred the pathside, and if I waited near a badger set, I might see the badgers emerge, scratching and stretching like humans just out of bed, before making their way down to the stream to drink. Litters of cubs often trespassed in our garden, rooting, playing and squealing like pigs on the lawn at night.

Though not an early riser by nature, I often had to go out when mist still cloaked the valley, while higher up, the hilltops basked in bright sunshine under a blue canopy. All the humps in the landscape stood out like islands in a white billowing sea of cloud.

It was worth losing sleep to find this other world, more beautiful and mysterious than when seen in the ordinary light of day. Yet everywhere was being labelled: footpaths, bridleways, picnic sites, ancient monuments. Sometimes I feared that the wilderness I loved so much was being eroded.

On summer weekends, walkers, riders and mountain-bikers swarmed to the high moorland summit, and buzzards were not the only hang-gliders in the sky.

One by one the girls left home: two married the sons of farmers. Robert remained, devoted to the farm and animals.

Every year I chose to visit a different place, usually islands. But after 27 years, with the farm in Robert's capable hands, I had the opportunity to return to Aroa for a month.

On reaching the hill crest overlooking that wild Northland coast, my heart hammered when, between dusty tree ferns, I caught a first glimpse of the island across the deep evening blue of the sea. The old spell had not broken.

Here was a true wilderness. I felt that I had come home. I had all I needed: food, a few books, pen, paper and this land of wild honey, flowers, birds, pristine sands and limpid sea.

A month was not long enough.

It confirmed my belief that genuine love does not change. All my loves had lasted: for a handful of special people, for hill country, sheep, natural beauty and wild sea-bound places.

Today I am still farming sheep in my 80s. Tragically, Jim died aged 71 from a sudden heart attack while cycling for charity in Cuba. We had been married for 42 years, so it was a numbing loss.

I hope he would applaud our progress. Hill farming is not an easy way to make a living and it became tougher when outbreaks of foot-and-mouth, bluetongue and tuberculosis restricted livestock movement. But we have expanded the farm considerably and two of the children still live nearby.

Looking back on exciting times is good but my recipe for happiness is to live for today.

This morning I saw 12 new mallard ducklings bobbing behind their mother on the pond, swallows are repairing their nests in the barns, young lambs and calves are jumping and playing like children, and as I passed a woodland edge I caught a sweet waft of bluebells.

Small miracles but there for everyone who cares.

© Janet White, 2018
The Sheep Stell, by Janet White, is published by Constable in Great Britain and is available from Hachette NZ Ltd at NZ $37.99.