A Country Escape

By: Katie Fforde


Ideas for books often come from more than one place, but the notion for this book came from the wonderful Jonathan Crump, farmer, cheese maker and inspiration to many. He suggested to my daughter (who had gone to his farm to borrow a ram) that I should write about farming and she reported back.

I liked the idea but didn’t completely latch onto it until I came upon a wonderful television programme called This Farming Year. Following the farmers go through the seasons, seeing how much they loved their animals and their land, was inspiring and humbling. While no writer ever wants to make mistakes, the thing I want to get right most is this passion. They work such long hours and days, for very little financial gain, for the love of their farms.

I was inspired to write about cheese many years ago, when I was writing another book and came across Liz Godsell of Godsells Cheese. I knew then that one day I would have to write a book entirely about cheese rather than it just have a walk-on part. I don’t think I thanked her enough at the time!

I have also known Ken Stevens of Hania Cheeses from when I worked in Mother Nature, whole food shop and café, a very long time ago. He has been known as Ken the Cheese locally for ever and he knows more about cheese than anyone.

And while he remained elusive and never answered emails, Owen Bailey of Neal’s Yard Cheese is owed a thank you. He and I talked a lot about cheese when he lived on our barge in London and he was new to Neal’s Yard. That was also a long time ago.

Massive gratitude is owed to my wonderful team at Penguin Random House. Starting with Selina Walker and Cassandra Di Bello for editorial input; Francesca Russell for the wonderful publicity she generates; thank you also to the sales team, including Aslan Byrne, Claire Simmonds, Laura Garrod, Sasha Cox, Natasha Photiou and Kelly Webster; to the entire marketing team, with a special thank you to Celeste Ward-Best; thank you to Jacqueline Bissett and Viki Ottowell, who designed this glorious cover; and thank you to the production team, Linda Hodgson and Helen Wynn-Smith, for ensuring my books make it out into the world on time!

As ever, and may it be for ever, thanks are due to my wonderful copy-editor Richenda Todd who, by her huge efforts, manages to prevent me making a complete fool of myself.

Also always at my side being a Rottweiler in polite, Labrador clothing, is the wonderful Bill Hamilton of A. M. Heath. I would be lost without you – almost literally.

Chapter One

The farm gate clanged shut behind her as Fran steered her little car up the steep track. Now she and Issi had found Hill Top Farm for certain – the name was written (not very clearly) on the post box – she felt a mixture of excitement and nervousness. This was either going to be a wonderful adventure or a humiliating mistake. She decided not to mention her feelings to her best friend. Issi probably guessed how she felt already.

‘I always wanted to be a farmer when I was a little girl,’ Fran said instead.

Issi, who’d just got back in the car having helped deal with the gate, seemed surprised. ‘Really? I never knew that and we’ve been friends for years. I thought you’d always wanted to run your own restaurant.’

‘That came later. I’d forgotten myself,’ said Fran, ‘but Mum reminded me at Christmas.’

‘Do your parents think you’re mad to do this?’

‘Yup. But they’re being supportive. My stepdad thinks I’ll be back with them before the end of the month, but I’m in it for the long haul.’ She paused. ‘Which may only be a year, if I don’t make it.’

‘Come on,’ said Issi, ‘let’s go and find this farmhouse you might inherit.’

‘It’s not just the farmhouse, remember? It’s the whole darn farm.’

Fran rounded a steep corner and tried to push her nerves to the back of her mind. Now she was finally here she realised no sane person would leave their comfortable life in London and move to a farm in Gloucestershire that they might not even inherit. No sane person, obviously, but maybe someone like her whose normal life had stalled rather, and who relished a challenge.

A couple of minutes later, they arrived, having bumped their way to the top avoiding as many potholes as they could. ‘I’m not sure a Ka is the right vehicle for this track,’ Issi said.

Ignoring her friend, Fran got out of the car. ‘But look at the view!’

The farmhouse was on a plateau at the top of a hill that overlooked hills and wooded valleys. Beyond them lay the Severn, a silver snake in the far distance, and beyond the river was Wales.

‘I think I remember this landscape!’ Fran went on. ‘We came here once when I was a little girl. I’d forgotten all about it until we were discussing the farm over Christmas, and Mum reminded me. Mum said we’d all been here when Dad was alive, but I must have been tiny – after all I was only five when he died. But this feels faintly familiar.’

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