How I wooed the lovelorn shepherdess

Emma Gray made headlines with a book chronicling her solitary life on a Northumberland farm miles from civilisation - and the opposite sex. So could Jonathan Brown be the answer to her prayers?

Little Bo Peep had a problem and it had nothing to do with misplacing her sheep. The issue is having stepped on a dirty great nail. It is hardly the stuff of nursery rhymes but it did present the chivalrous opportunity to give Emma Gray, the woman dubbed Britain's loneliest shepherdess, a lift from her remote Northumberland farm back down the four miles of juddering, satnav-bewildering forest tracks for a set of jabs at the local doctors.

Living on her own for the past three years without gas or mains electricity and with just her 13 border collies for company has focused surprising attention to the 26-year-old Scot.

Determined to realise the dream of owning her own farm, she has defied expectations to tough out a Spartan existence on a blasted moorside for three hard winters. Here the wind blows constantly. In the summer, the midges eat you while in the winter snow has seen her holed up for five days at a stretch.

But media speculation has focused not on her achievements battling the elements and the crazy economics of modern agriculture, and instead on the state of her love life.

Having split with a previous boyfriend after moving in, she told a reporter that one day she might like a companion – generating a spate of lovelorn headlines of the "Little Beau Peep" variety.

"I don't need someone the way it has been portrayed as poor little shepherdess by herself needs a man," she says. "I am perfectly prepared to wait until someone is right. I am not going to rush into anything. Especially as I have the whole summer ahead of me," she says

Attractive, articulate and funny she defies the stereotype of the crook wielding pastoral, and she has not been short of offers since publicity following the publication of her book about her adventures One Girl and her Dog: Life, Love and Lambing in the Middle of Nowhere.

But she says she does not reply to letters, smiles pleasantly at overtures in the street and has no wish to encourage anyone right now.

Yet it is soon apparent that that "right" person would have to be made of stern stuff as she tells how she accidentally knocked a deer down recently, loaded it in the back of her van and brought it home to cut it up for her dogs.

Survival here is hard. "This is hardly the land of milk and honey. This is terrain full of adders, ticks and weeds actually," she says. Before she was awarded the tenancy two-and-a-half years ago, farming here had been abandoned.

Ticks the size of a thumb nail which can suck the life out of a sheep, fatal Lyme disease caused by deer, the remoteness and the dwindling financial return on sheep had persuaded the previous tenants to give up.

Yet when the tumbledown farmhouse and 150 acres was offered for rent, 20 potential tenants came to bid. In the end – despite her age and relative inexperience – she convinced the landlords, the National Trust, to give her a chance.

"Ever since I was little when I used to blow out the candles on my birthday cake I used to wish for my own farm. That is what I have got but it has been a double-edged sword," she recalls.

"I didn't choose this lifestyle. I just wanted a farm so badly I am prepared to put up with it. People think I came here for the solitude but that was just part of living my dream," she said.

Remoteness means that days are often spent alone. She has a small television, a computer and a mobile phone that keeps her in touch with the outside world, but the generator is apt to pack up at the least opportune time – normally when she is cold and tired – and problems such as the nail in the foot can prove become full blown dramas.

So bad is the road linking her with the local village that she has gone through four vehicles already. Meanwhile, a previous laird's dedication to the Quaker faith, means the nearest pub is a 30-minute drive away. Even the Royal Mail wanted to stop delivering her letters.

Yet she rejects comparison with legendary Hannah Hauxwell who became famous in the 1970s when she farmed alone in the high Pennines.

"I am quite a sociable person. I like to go to the pub and have a couple of drinks. I am not reclusive by any means. I am certainly not waiting for people to come to me. If I did I would be waiting a long time. But the bond with the dogs keeps me going through it all," she says.

There have been times when she has wished to give up although she has never been spooked from being alone – not even when gunman Raoul Moat was on the loose nearby. "Money-wise coming to a farm like this, with the investment I have had to make, there have been times when I have wondered what I am doing just chasing my tail.

"In the first year I thought 'I can't do this.' My car kept breaking down and everything was so expensive. The generator means electricity is three times as much as off the grid and diesel is so expensive. I have even had to turn the Aga off," she says.

But having grown up on farm in the Scottish borders, studied sheep management at college and finally laid claim to her own patch of land, she says the way of life is in her blood.

"I will never leave farming. I like everything about it. I am my own boss. I am working with animals. I am doing everything I love. What is not to love?" she asks with a laugh.

"It is rare for someone to be farming in their own right at 26 – especially a girl ... I might not be as strong as a man but being a woman can have its own advantages," she adds. "Everyone has been keen to see me do well. A lot of people think I am crazy for choosing this life but no one wants to see me do badly."

News
A 1930 image of the Karl Albrecht Spiritousen and Lebensmittel shop, Essen. The shop was opened by Karl and Theo Albrecht’s mother; the brothers later founded Aldi
people
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'
filmA cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Arts and Entertainment
Flora Spencer-Longhurst as Lavinia, William Houston as Titus Andronicus and Dyfan Dwyfor as Lucius
theatreThe Shakespeare play that proved too much for more than 100 people
News
exclusivePunk icon Viv Albertine on Sid Vicious, complacent white men, and why free love led to rape
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
Stir crazy: Noel Fielding in 'Luxury Comedy 2: Tales from Painted Hawaii'
comedyAs ‘Luxury Comedy’ returns, Noel Fielding on why mainstream success scares him and what the future holds for 'The Boosh'
Life and Style
Flow chart: Karl Landsteiner discovered blood types in 1900, yet scientists have still not come up with an explanation for their existence
lifeAll of us have one. Yet even now, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Arts and Entertainment
'Weird Al' Yankovic, or Alfred Matthew, at the 2014 Los Angeles Film Festival Screening of
musicHis latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do our experts think he’s missed out?
Sport
New Real Madrid signing James Rodríguez with club president Florentino Perez
sportColombian World Cup star completes £63m move to Spain
Travel
Hotel Tour d’Auvergne in Paris launches pay-what-you-want
travelIt seems fraught with financial risk, but the policy has its benefits
Arts and Entertainment
booksThe best children's books for this summer
Life and Style
News to me: family events were recorded in the personal columns
techFamily events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped that
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Sustainability Manager

Competitive: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: Scheme Manager (BREEAM)...

Graduate Sustainability Professional

Flexible, depending on experience: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: T...

Programme Director - Conduct Risk - London

£850 - £950 per day: Orgtel: Programme Director - Conduct Risk - Banking - £85...

Project Coordinator/Order Entry, SC Clear

£100 - £110 per day: Orgtel: Project Coordinator/Order Entry Hampshire

Day In a Page

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

A land of the outright bizarre
What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

The worst kept secret in cinema

A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

The new hatched, matched and dispatched

Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
Why do we have blood types?

Are you my type?

All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

Honesty box hotels

Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
Commonwealth Games 2014: Why weight of pressure rests easy on Michael Jamieson’s shoulders

Michael Jamieson: Why weight of pressure rests easy on his shoulders

The Scottish swimmer is ready for ‘the biggest race of my life’ at the Commonwealth Games
Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn