Friday, 13 January 2012

Fell Farm for Christmas

It's a little late to be writing about this, but the temperature has just dropped sharply as the sun set, so not too inappropriate!

Children just don't have holidays like this any more: the five Brownes - two pairs of twins and their younger sister - return to the Westmorland farm they had visited during the summer, ready for a winter holiday of brisk walks and birdwatching. The story starts with their train journey, via Crewe, Oxenholme and Windermere, and I was instantly nostalgic for all the times in childhood I travelled on that line (for some reason I was particularly fond of Crewe station, perhaps because it used to be such an enormous interchange that there was always plenty to look at):
We were somewhere between Hest Bank and Carnforth - the bit where the railway runs along the edge of the sea, and you usually get the first view of the fells, looking simply wonderful across the great curve of the bay.
But this time it was half past four on an afternoon in late December, and the light had gone from the sky, except for some long, dim bars of gold just above the horizon. I swore that I could just glimpse the faintest gleam of snow-caps, pale as silver. The others said that it was imagination, and maybe it was; but it really didn't matter, because we all knew that they were there.
Hyacinth, our narrator, combines a romantic imagination (she has her notebooks with her, so that she can continue writing The Mystery of the Blood-Stained Hippopotamus during the holiday) and down-to-earth practicality about things like supplies for walks, and we're plunged straight into farm life and long tramps round the fells. In one of my favourite chapters Hyacinth's twin Jan rescues a heron which has got trapped in a pond, frozen in while fishing. A few years ago I rescued a heron myself, and could share their wonder at being so close to such a remarkable bird, and their pleasure in its return to health. The sheep rustling scene, on the other hand, would make any modern parent's blood run cold, I fear! And I can't think that many children wash their own socks these days, more's the pity.

Fell Farm for Christmas is an attractively brisk romp, the sort of holiday children of my generation dreamed of, with lots of fresh air, hearty food and adventure. It was published the year I was born and the past is a golden place in these pages. My own holidays weren't so eventful (I never knowingly met a sheep rustler!), but otherwise not so very different from what is described here. I shall pass it on next to my mother, who spent the war not far from Carnforth, and still gets wistful about it.

Oh, and there are maps. I do like a map and they are suitably Wainwright-ish.


  1. This sounds like one I need to add to my list! Thanks.

  2. Oh! I love maps in books, too! This one sounds like something I'd much enjoy. Is it part of a series about the same children?

  3. Charlotte, it's fun and very of its time.

    Librarian, there are 3 altogether, I think: Fell Farm Holiday and Fell Farm Campers are the others. The author obviously knew the Fells well. I still have to get hold of the others, but I'll post about them when I do.

  4. Lovely pictures in the Fell Farm books I seem to remember dimly that I read them as a child but didn't like the stories as much as the pictures.

    1. Jenny, the first two books were illustrated by the author and I like them very much. The last one was illustrated by Shirley Hughes and, though I think her work is wonderful, I like the first two better.