Guest Post – the old and new

A Postcard from England, Old and New…

 My grandfather, Fred Brackenbury, came from a long line of prize-winning English shepherds. ‘My father was a shepherd’, he said once. ‘And his father. And mebbe his father…’. Here is Fred, eighty years ago, with some of his charges, and one of his faithful collies!2-grandad-pictures-comp

Fred won many prizes for the farmers he worked for. In the 1920s, his employer gave him a framed photograph of one of his Champion sheep. It is a Lincoln, now a rare breed…lincoln-sheep-1-comp
Fred was born in the reign of Queen Victoria and died in 1972. He never learnt to drive, but used a horse and cart. Here is one of his most celebrated shepherding ponies, called Buttons, with a very young shepherd on board!buttons-with-some-very-young-shepherds-comp


And here I am, with one of my grandfather’s orphan lambs in the 1950s, defying my unsuitable Sunday clothes!alison-and-lamb-comp


I photographed all these old pictures on my grandmother’s Victorian desk, from her lost family farm. Times change. I have spent my adult life living in a small town. For decades I worked in my husband’s small metal finishing company. But we spent almost all our spare time on the Gloucestershire hills, where our rough-coated ponies lived on a farm! We spent days under summer sun clearing fields of ragwort: a poisonous yellow-flowered weed with very tough stems! Does it live in the US, Celi? Here is the last pony who benefited from our weed-clearing – the almost saintly Would-be-Good (Woody).woody-in-lane-comp

Here she is in a summer lane, with Cow Parsley growing on the verges! And here she is enjoying the highlight of her day: her bucket.woody-and-bucket-comp

In the small gaps between horses, field and day job, I also published nine collections of poems, many about the countryside and horses. Here is one about my accident-prone though beloved first pony…

                After the X-ray



If he had stayed
in the four white walls
or alone in his patch, the untidy hedge
strewing its roses through empty hours
he would never have met the dark mare
whose neck he licked by the elderflower
whose kick snapped his straight cannonbone.


For sixteen weeks he must stand in the straw
watching the light wash and ebb.
All warmth will have flowed past when he stumbles out
November’s wind raw on his leg..
Was it worth it? He shuffles, he cranes to the lane,
calls her, and calls her again.


Alison Brackenburytrack-1-comp



Here are Woody and I on a farm track! Here is a poem about the hares I saw there with my husband, when Woody was nearly thirty..


Down Unwin’s track



And the rain stopped.  And the sky spun

past the hills’ flush of winter corn.

The mare strode out as though still young.


You walked.  I almost said, last year

I saw a hare run with her young

just past the broken wall, just here.


Two flew in circles.  First, one rose

upon its great back legs.  It boxed

at air. The second flinched, then rose.


England has blackbirds, mice.  To find

these strong black shapes makes the heart race,

as barley, under icy wind.


Boxing is courtship, failed.  One broke,

tore past us to the rough safe hedge.

She crossed the sun.  Her colours woke,


ears black, back russet, earth new-laid.

Her legs stretched straight.  The late showers made

bright water fly from every blade.


Alison Brackenbury

(Published in my ninth collection, ‘Skies’, published by Carcanet in 2016)


Very sadly, Woody’s sight became dangerously bad due to untreatable cataracts. She had to be put down last summer, aged thirty-one. We had looked after her for twenty-three years (with many buckets!) We miss her terribly. But we still spend hours on the farm and also go further afield into the countryside, seeing the wild birds my grandfather loved so much. So, finally, here are warm January greetings from a cold England, as country walkers and their dogs head home through the mist, on a muddy canal path once trodden by the huge barge horses!

A Happy Homecoming to all who tramp through the mud!mist-coombe-hill-2-comp


Alison Brackenbury


41 Comments on “Guest Post – the old and new

  1. Beautiful photos and beautiful poetry, Alison! The Gloucestershire area looks wonderfully lush, even in a wintery photo. Thanks for sharing.

  2. A lovely post! Amazing poetry. We in the US have cow parsnip, not sure of the ragwort though. Loved the old pictures. You and Woody were blessed to have so much time together!

  3. The descriptions and scenery – and horse! – remind me of my Berkshire childhood. Our hills were chalk downs, and very bare, but the way the land rolls, and the green! Compared with where I live now, it’s wonderfully lush. A beautiful post, thank you 🙂

  4. Thank you Alison. I’ve enjoyed your postcard, and pics and poetry. A lovely post. My paternal grandfather wasn’t a shepherd but worked on the land. How fortunate you are to have the memories and photos (and table).

  5. Wonderful post Alison, I love your photos and poems. Your pony Woody had a lovely life with you. That photo of your granddad brought back memories of my paternal grandad, he always had a cap and a waistcoat on.

  6. What a lovely way to begin the day, reading your evocative poetry & seeing your precious photos of family, beloved pets & fine countryside. Thank you so much, Alison, for sharing your wonderful world with us.

  7. Just loved your old pictures Alison, and your beautiful poems. Sounds like the Gloucestershire hills is a beautiful place. I”d love to see for myself someday. Thank you for this lovely post!

  8. [J] A treat! Thanks Alison. I’d always promised myself to walk the Cotswold Way, though I think that’s now unlikely. However I have explored the full length of the Stroudwater Navigation and the Thames & Severn Canal, but can’t fix where your towpath walk is. Your post and poetry are beautifully nostalgic, sharing with us your memories of those who were – and remain – dear to you.

  9. Fantastic poems, and lovely photos and stories. Thank you so much for sharing your work and taking us on a tour of your beautiful corner of the world with us!
    Melissa (in Texas)

  10. A delightful post, thanks so much. Your photos are really beautiful and I’ve looked at them all more than once. Hope Ms C. isn’t travelling through too much mud today… and that you have a great day. ~ Mame 🙂

  11. Love seeing the world through the eyes of another land and your poetry. As we say in the South – Come on back y’hear?! I’ve been reading Rosamund Pilcher and these pictures fill out some of what she describes so beautifully, so thank you.

  12. Hello and thank you Alison, for both pictures and poems, from a hot, sunny South Africa. Laura

  13. Pingback: The old and new | A Small Country Living in the Outer Hebrides

  14. Such a beautiful post. I’m curious, Allison, have you ever read the book “Meadowland: The Private Life of an English Field” by John Lewis-Stempel? Somehow your writing and your observations and your poetic turn of phrase remind me of him. I was mesmerized by that book, as I was, too, by your post. Thank you!

  15. I so enjoyed your post Alison! Loved hearing about your Grandfather and his life and yours growing up in the beautiful area of Gloucestorshire!! Love your pictures you shared!! You and your little lamb!! just like us Kids!! Love that beautiful picture of you and Woody riding the trails! And the treasured years of close companionship with Woody!! Great to have you for our guest Alison!! I’ve been to England several times ~ love your country!! Take care!!

  16. Love the pics!. I just finished a book on a twelve day walk across the Outer Hebrides “Poacher’s Pilgrimage” by Alistar McIntosh and am currently reading one called “Isolation Shepherd” by Ian R. Thomson about sheep herding and life in 1950’s Loch Moar,Western Ross…Delightful works

  17. Hi, Alison! I always duck in later in the day when my chores have finished and before the evening’s work sets in. This is my before supper desert – reading this blog and the comments. Thank you for such a beautiful post and the scrumptious photos! I felt like I was there! And thanks, again!

  18. A truly beautiful little memoir—and two exquisitely crafted poems, for dessert. How lovely! Thank you. And thanks for the remembrances you brought of my own grandfather with *his* sheep. 🙂

  19. Dear Alison, well I have to say Cecilia sure knows how to pick guests. This post has me in tears and goosebumps. From the start, the old photos, so nostalgic for–as I read above–so many of us. The grandfather’s cap.
    And the sheep!! I’ve never seen sheep like them. Even though you lived in town (I’m in Chicago) you managed to spend a wonderfully enriched country life with your beloved Woody. That shot of you riding her in such lush surroundings–I’m as green as can be. Such a beautiful horse and I’m so sorry for your loss. She was obviously treasured.
    Lastly, I certainly see how you have 9 collections of poems. Spare and elegant. Thank you for sharing your lovely life.

  20. ‘And I stood, all alone, on that gentle hill,
    With a landscape so lovely before me;’ [Barton]

    Thanks you so much for being able to ride alongside you and remember priceless moments of my own life . . . beautiful post . . .

  21. Beautiful, Allison. Thank you. I’ve often wondered what kind of sheep my 4th and 5th great grandfathers shepherded in the Fens back in the 1770s and forward. They are on my maternal line. My 3rd great grandfather came to New Bruswick, Canada then to Northern Illinois and had a farm in Orland Park in the 1850s and 1860s. Woody looked to be a wonderful girl.

  22. Sorry I’m a bit late getting read up on posts! This was lovely prose and poetry. Those old photographs are priceless… it helps us remember how tough people (and animals) were back in the day!

  23. Alison, thank you for a beautiful post, and I love the poems. How wonderful to have connections with a farm that has so much heritage in it. I am from NZ but have spent time in England, a country that I love, & the home of my Yorkshire grandparents. You love your animals so much; no wonder, coming from a long line of shepherds.

  24. This is just a quick note to say how touched I was by all your very kind comments on my guest post. It was an honour to be included. I am very much enjoying the other guest blogs! And I look forward eagerly to Cecilia’s impressions of England – and to news of the farm on her return! Very warm wishes to all, as spring nudges nearer in England! Alison (Brackenbury)

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