As the Yorkshire Shepherdess and her husband confirm they have parted ways, BARBARA DAVIES asks what’s really behind the marriage split of the ‘Kardashians of the Countryside’?
The last time the Yorkshire Shepherdess and her husband appeared together on our screens, they were waving the youngest of their nine children off to school and reflecting on how life would change, with just the two of them rattling around Ravenseat Farm.
‘It’s a big step for us two but life goes on,’ declared Clive Owen in his thick Yorkshire accent, as he and his wife Amanda rounded up their flock of sheep together.
Cameras later filmed the pair going their separate ways across the field. ‘You work this corner and I will go down that way,’ said 66-year-old Clive as they walked off in opposite directions. How prescient that moment seems now with the sad news this week that the couple’s 22-year marriage is over.
For the Owens, their free-range brood of nature-loving children and their flock of sheep have become nothing short of a national institution in recent years, charming the nation with their bucolic existence in the Yorkshire Dales and allowing a glimpse of a timeless lifestyle rarely seen in today’s fast-paced, technology-driven world.
Their Channel 5 series, Our Yorkshire Farm, brought in millions of viewers who, for five series, lapped up images of the Owens and their children frolicking across swale and dale, clutching newborn lambs, haymaking or foraging for mushrooms near their 2,000-acre ancient hill farm.
The last time the Yorkshire Shepherdess (pictured) and her husband appeared together on our screens, they were waving the youngest of their nine children off to school and reflecting on how life would change, with just the two of them rattling around Ravenseat Farm
During lockdown, when the family were forced to pick up a camera and film themselves, the children’s Enid Blyton-esque adventures and the unchanging routine of the farming year brought particular comfort to viewers shut indoors.
But appearances — particularly on television — can undoubtedly be deceptive. Rumours of ‘trouble at t’farm’ have been rife since last year, when it emerged that 47-year-old Amanda was spending nights away from the family home at a nearby six-bedroom holiday cottage owned by the couple.
Speaking exclusively to the Mail this week, a source close to the family said that the decision to separate actually came around a year-and-a-half ago.
‘Obviously this has just come out but it has been going on for years behind closed doors,’ said the source.
‘They separated 18 months ago. It wouldn’t have been Clive’s choice but I think he’s at a point where he’s accepted the break-up now. They are sharing the care of the kids so still see each other regularly. He does most of the work on the farm and, I think, now he’s come to terms with the separation he just wants to get on with his life.’
But while Clive has always been a reassuringly steady presence on the hit show, what does the future hold for his wife, a woman who has built an entire brand around her exploits as both mother and working shepherdess?
‘It’s a big step for us two but life goes on,’ declared Clive Owen (right) in his thick Yorkshire accent, as he and his wife Amanda rounded up their flock of sheep together
Amanda has her own ‘Yorkshire Shepherdess’ limited company and website, selling mugs, limited-edition prints and calendars — not to mention the clutch of five best-selling Yorkshire Shepherdess books she has written. She also has 200,000 followers on Twitter and more than half a million on Instagram.
Last week she was plugging her latest literary offering at the Hay Festival, where Celebrating The Seasons With The Yorkshire Shepherdess: Farming, Family & Delicious Recipes To Share was described as featuring ‘more funny and charming stories about life through the farming year with her family’.
And while she admitted to the audience that social services had been in touch with concerns about her hands-off parenting style, she made no mention of the momentous news that her marriage was over.
What her fans will want to know now is whether there will be any more series of Our Yorkshire Farm.
Yesterday Channel 5 refused to confirm or deny if the programme will return for a sixth series, saying: ‘We respect the privacy of Amanda and Clive Owen at this time. They are very much part of the Channel 5 family and we will continue to work with them in the future.’
Cameras later filmed the pair going their separate ways across the field. ‘You work this corner and I will go down that way,’ said 66-year-old Clive as they walked off in opposite directions
Certainly, when it aired last November, the final episode of series five had a swan-song feel about it.
Filmed last August and September, and accompanied by a rousing and wistful soundtrack, it featured the family spending a last idyllic summer together before all the children returned to school and university; swimming in streams and climbing a waterfall; camping out in a shepherd’s hut; riding bare-back ponies; sharing a barbecue; and welcoming a new Clydesdale horse, Hazel, who was already in foal.
To mark their youngest child Nancy’s first day at primary school, the couple’s eldest, 21-year-old university student Raven, put together a photograph album featuring the family with their animals throughout the years.
While sepia-tinted images from previous series flashed up on the screen, Clive remarked: ‘It will be 20 years since we started out. Who’d have dreamt that all them years ago, with Amanda coming here, that we would have sent nine kids to school. That’s quite a thing. They say time flies when you’re having fun. It certainly has flown.’
Ravenseat, a tenanted farm rented from 88-year-old billionaire Robert Miller, the co-founder of Duty Free Shops, is where Amanda and Clive first set eyes on each other 25 years ago.
How prescient that moment seems now with the sad news this week that the couple’s 22-year marriage is over
He was a 42-year-old tenant farmer; she was a 21-year-old freelance farm hand who turned up one day in 1996 to collect livestock.
She later said it was like walking straight into an episode of All Creatures Great And Small. ‘It was a dark and windy night,’ she recalled. ‘I met Clive and we got on OK but I was in a dreadful rush to get away. I can’t say I was totally bowled over.’
She returned on another occasion to help with a sick ewe and, despite their age gap, the couple eventually fell in love. They married in 2000.
Becoming a shepherdess was hardly an obvious choice for Amanda, who is the daughter of a model and, once, an aspiring model herself. She grew up in suburban Huddersfield but fell in love with the idea of life in the countryside from the books she read as a child, including the James Herriot series.
A favourite was a picture book she borrowed from Huddersfield Library called Hill Shepherd by John and Eliza Forder. It wasn’t until years later that she discovered that drawings of a much younger Clive actually featured in the book.
‘The man I grew up to marry was in that book of my dreams,’ she said in an interview with the Mail in 2020.
Pictured: Amanda Owen and husband Clive with eight of their nine children in North Yorkshire
Life on an isolated and windswept hill farm, 1,350ft above sea level, was never going to be plain sailing. The years that followed have been arduous to say the least; caring for a 1,000-strong flock of sheep and herd of cows in all weathers; getting up at the crack of dawn each day, come what may.
Facing sub-zero winter temperatures and battling through several feet of snow, the couple endured bleak winters and blizzards.
Their first child, daughter Raven, was born a year after they married in 2001. Son Reuben arrived in 2003, Miles in 2006, Edith in 2008, Violet in 2010, Sidney in 2011, Annas in 2013, Clementine in 2015 and Nancy in 2016.
With the nearest hospital maternity unit a two-hour drive away, Amanda gave birth to five of her nine children in a car or an ambulance. Another she birthed herself by the fire while her family slept upstairs, recalling in one of her books how she took the baby in her arms and carried it upstairs to Clive.
‘What he said is unrepeatable but it ended with: “Yer some woman, thee.” ’
Fame settled upon them slowly. Amanda posted daily photos on social media of life at Ravenseat. She and her family first appeared as regulars on Adrian Edmondson’s 2011 ITV series The Dales. They featured again in a 2015 Channel 5 series with Ben Fogle called New Lives In The Wild.
By that time, Amanda’s first book The Yorkshire Shepherdess: How I Left City Life Behind To Raise A Family — And A Flock had been published.
From left to right: Violet, 11, Miles, 15, Clemmie, six, Annas, eight, Sidney, ten, Edith, 13
By 2018, TV producers had realised the Owens were ratings gold and gave them their own show.
Once the cameras arrived at Ravenseat, it was inevitable that their lives would change for ever.
The family, along with their children, became unlikely celebrities and were nicknamed the ‘Kardashians of the Countryside’ for the grip they held on the television-viewing public.
Soon fans were making the long, twisting drive across the moorland to catch sight of their farm. Eventually, the Owens decided to capitalise further on their popularity by offering holiday lettings and al fresc cream teas at weekends, although the pandemic put those plans on hold.
In 2020, the couple embarked on a new venture together, buying land and a derelict 18th-century farmhouse in Upper Swaledale so that they could own a home of their own near their livestock. Locals in the area say that while planning permission has been granted, no restoration work has been done to the house, which has been empty for 60 years.
Acquaintances living in nearby Swaledale say they’ve long been aware of the Owens’ marital difficulties.
Amanda and Clive Owen pictured with their nine children in front of their holiday let, The Firs, where Amanda is believed to have moved in to
‘It was known for some time before it became public that they were living apart,’ said one.
‘It’s hard to hide that sort of thing in an isolated area like this. Amanda was living in their holiday let but she’s still very involved in the day-to-day work on the farm and that isn’t something that’s likely to stop.
‘They’re hard workers; that’s how they built the place the way they did and both will still be working on the farm so it’s hard to avoid each other.
‘It must be difficult for them because they can’t part ways like many divorcing couples do. They have the farm and they have nine lovely kids.
‘Since they became famous, there’s always one rumour or another swirling around but the only people who know for sure what’s gone wrong is Amanda and Clive.’
The couple with daughter Raven at their home in North Yorkshire
Next month, she will embark on her first major solo project without her husband, joining Gary Lineker as a guest chef at a pop-up restaurant at this year’s Latitude Festival in Suffolk where, she says, Ravenseat lamb will feature heavily in her summer menu.
In a statement released this week on behalf of herself and her husband, she said of their split: ‘This hasn’t been easy, but we both believe it’s the right choice for the future of our family. Although we are no longer a couple, we continue to work on the farm and co-parent together, with our number one priority the happiness and well-being of our children.’
Yesterday, she was out herding her flock alone at Ravenseat where a chilly wind whipped grey clouds across the horizon. Despite the news about her marriage, a steady stream of cars made their way towards the Owen family home, stopping to take photographs of the most famous farm in Britain.
She once said that the beauty of the place was that ‘time stands still’. If the last year has proved anything it’s that it doesn’t — not even for a much-loved family whose old-fashioned world appeared to celebrate a bygone age and the joys of a simpler life.