Saturday, March 9, 2013

Skeoch: Our new life on a Scottish hill farm by Jennie Phillips--a review

I'm not a world traveler. Mostly, this is due to lack of money and a fear of flying on planes. I love reading about other countries and Scotland is a place that always excites my imagination. When Any Subject Books, the publisher of Skeoch: Our new life on a Scottish hill farm, sent me a review copy of the book, I was excited to begin reading it. However, I knew it was a memoir, and in my experience, that can be a good thing or a bad thing.

In this case, it was a delightful thing!

Here is the blurb for the book:

"I have to state right now that we never had any intention of buying a farm. Least of all in South West Scotland. It wasn't one of those nice, rational decisions that we all think we will make, when the time comes. It was totally irrational and made absolutely no sense at all - but we made it just the same!”

 So begins a new life for Jennie and her actor husband Conrad, star of the long-running TV series, William Tell. This is the story of their titanic struggles against cold, wind, drought, disease, illness and ill luck of every kind in their establishing of a home and a viable farm against the backdrop of a mountain called Skeoch. We feel with the author the joy of bringing a newborn lamb back from the brink of death, and the anguish of losing a herd of dairy cattle to brucellosis. There is the day when the hay garnered at great pains blows away along with the barn in which it was stored, and times when financial ruin threatens. There are deprivations, born with fortitude and good humour, but also the delights of introducing two small daughters to life on the farm and the natural world around it. This is an inspirational book which envelops you in its world and has you feeling every disaster and every triumph as if you had lived it.

I could not even begin to imagine leaving a comfortable life  to begin farming in a remote area. I did grow up in a small farming town and glimpsed many of my classmates raising animals to show at the local livestock show, but that is nothing compared to what Ms. Phillips and her family did. They left all creature comforts behind and bought a farm in the middle of nowhere! And they loved it!

Reading her descriptions of the Skeoch, it's easy to see why. The author is one of those rare storytellers who knows how to make you feel as if you were actually in the place she is describing. It was easy to visualize the farm and the way it looked in all seasons. In fact, her descriptions made me so curious that I went to check out her website which has some lovely pictures of the house they lived in.

I found myself laughing at some of the situations and people that she and her husband encountered from the local village, too. Lots of fun characters who kept life interesting!

As I was drawn more and more into the tale, I found myself feeling all kinds of emotions for this brave family. The attachment the author felt for one of her sweet cows, the frustration of spending all that time in the fields making hay--only to have it all blown away in a fierce windstorm, the hardship of having no water due to a drought--it really made me admire the courage it takes for anyone who is a farmer or rancher. Mother Nature is not always the kindest of beings!

I also found it fascinating that her husband was able to balance being a working actor and a farmer. It didn't sound like an easy feat, but somehow they managed to make it all work.

This is a book I would definitely recommend for those looking for a lively tale about life on a Scottish farm or who enjoy a well written story sure to keep you turning the pages. Thank you, Any Subject Books, for sharing this one with me!

Here is the Amazon Link:


Jennie Phillips lived her early life in London before moving to Skeoch and then emigrated from there to Northern France where she and her actor husband, Conrad, set about restoring a dilapidated farmhouse. This was all despite neither of them speaking French. After 20 years spent in France, she now lives in Wiltshire where, apart from writing, she also sells paintings (mostly landscapes), plays music, knits (including copious numbers of sweaters for her grandchildren) and cooks. Among Jennie’s favourite authors are Maureen Lipman, Derek Tangey and Ken Follett and she particularly likes reading about the emotional lives of people and poetry. Her particular and heartfelt thanks go out to her family and her husband, Conrad. for all their support and encouragement towards writing Skeoch. Follow Jennie on her blog:


  1. Oh wow, this looks great! I'd love to read about the "real" Scotland as opposed to the fictional one I probably butcher in my fiction, LOL!

  2. I know I'm biased (as the publisher) but this is a really beautifully written book. It's also very uplifting - Jennie and Conrad face up to a lot but somehow take everything in their stride.

    There's also a prequel, A Bolt For Freedom and Conrad's autobiography (really interesting) - Aiming True.

    Let me know what you think of Skeoch.