'Sometimes on your way to a dream you get lost and find a better one'

I bought a friend a plaque with this quote on, they only had one in the shop and selfishly I hung on to it for a while . It became the mantra that kept me smiling every time a curve ball came my way. 7 years later she has the plaque and some would say I am living the dream but not remotely like any dream I ever actually dreamed. It is indeed a better one. This is the story of how a city chick met a shepherd and dog wizard, understood the madness of his dreams until they became shared and found laughter, giggles and mud...a whole lot of glorious mud!

A year ago as we leant over the rusty farm gate and got our first glimpse of Battle Croft Farm, Darren asked me if I ever thought that one day I would be married to a dog trainer and contract shepherd, living in wellies rather than prada's, smelling of lamb afterbirth rather than Chanel and surrounded by dogs, sheep and an eclectic mix of livestock.....wow what a question and amazingly I had not thought about it, it had just happened!

We met on a sunny day in The Pantiles, Tunbridge Wells, a blind date. I had my exits covered and a rescue plan in place (turns out so did he) two hours later we were still sat there playing that game of first date one upmanship and pondering those unanswerable questions such as 'what does a seagull do if it suffers from seasickness and has a fish allergy?'. The following week he challenged me to a walk across the South Downs, not really a major challenge for me at the time as I had just got back from a 10 peak challenge in the Brecon Beacons and a jaunt up and down Snowdon...but he didn't need to know that! 19 miles later we had each other pretty well sussed, how many other blokes would have asked how big my bladder was within 5 minutes (2 litre just in case you are wondering). It turns out we both have a passion for rugby, seeing the ridiculous in situations, maps, being outdoors, great food and history. During that mad hike I learnt a lot about the South Downs, farming, shepherds of old, shepherds today, flint walls, a dogs ability and I also realised that he had a dream, a big dream.... a dream of Southdown sheep, a wildlife rich, traditional small holding, mutton .... and training dogs.

Before too long I had moved from my ivory tower (no I really did live in a tower), taken my last commute and waved goodbye to city wine bars. The very next day I was out in a field lavishly applying blue arrows (fly strike prevention) to a flock with the red arrows overhead!

Along the way there have been thousands of 'moments of pleasure' from breakfasts on the beach, flying kites above a burial mound, numerous flasks of tea (and cake) high on the downs sat in our old landrover counting sheep or cows or calves, a valentines meal in a lambing barn surrounded by ewes giving birth, baaing lambs and occasionally being interrupted to help a new life into the world or feed a lamb. I have learnt so much, I know for example that you never ever ever throw away a piece of baler twine no matter how small, it holds a farm together. Everything can be fixed eventually and a lot of swearing really helps. You get treated quicker in A&E if you arrive covered from head to toe in cow muck after a cow kicks you off the back of a trailer (I do not advise you try this one at home). No farm gate ever closes , opens or is secured the way you think. No water = no milk. There are two 5 oclocks in a day! Your bum may look good in designer jeans but not so much when your knickers are on display after those lovely soft, tight jeans are ripped from all the gates, hurdles and fences you climb over. A pair of wellies are not just a pair of wellies! Tomato ketchup is the only thing that works when the dogs have rolled yet again in fox poo!! Always have hot water bottles, towels and blankets available there will be lambs coming home and they need feeding more regularly than children. Never plan to be anywhere at a specific time as you can guarantee that is the day the wheels will literally fall off the tractor! There is always something that needs doing urgently and ridiculously you have to prioritise the priorities.

With the laughter and giggles of this farming life there have of course been the challenges and sadness, 'where there is livestock there is deadstock' is the saying and when a lamb dies after you have breathed life into it and held it inside your coat to keep it warm, when you have watched while he tries desperately to save a cow and calf to no avail, when you rush to help a ewe having problems lambing to find the crows have got there first or the fox has stolen a newborn, its heart breaking. But as I have been told frequently, thats nature everything has a predator but if you don't get affected by it then you are a wrong un! It never gets easy to deal with and it shouldn't.

The one I have most problems with though is the continued rise in worrying of livestock by dogs, its preventable after all. As a dog owner all my life I know now that I didn't really have a clue about all the ways a dog can worry livestock to death and the impact, I just kept the dog on a lead, well done me... but I also question that if my dog had slipped the lead and given chase would I have been able to get the situation under control.... very unlikely, I didn't know what I didn't know. This debate between us and a large number of friends and Darren's clients asking for help sowed the seed for where we are now. Who better than a shepherd and dog trainer to work with dog owners, show them how sheep and other livestock react to dogs in the countryside, test how their dog will behave, teach them how to get their dog under control and explain that their dogs no matter whether there is a public footpath, open access or right to roam should always be under control on a lead and not a pretty but flimsy collar and lead but something that will handle unexpected pressure. In order to grow that seed and fulfil our dreams of our own smallholding and southdown flock we needed land. Somewhere secure where no dog or animal would be harmed, somewhere people could come, meet the sheep and livestock and learn about their dog and the countryside.

So here we are. We are so lucky to have secured Battle Croft Farm, it will be so much more than a dog training centre. Its already wildlife rich, there are Southdown sheep in the field, lambs, runner ducks, rescued chickens and that is just in the last six months, there is so much todo, so many fences to put up but there are some great Gin & Tonic spots for relaxing after a hard day.

Thank you for reading and I hope to share the madness with you. Please do get in touch if you have any questions

Our minister at our wedding closed with these words, they rang true then and those bells keep on ringing now.

We all know that your visions of the future are not identical but they are complimentary. John Lennon once said that

“A dream you dream alone is only a dream a dream you dream together THAT is reality”.

That new reality starts now

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