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That rarest of sightings on BBC Four: a programme that isn’t a repeat. Winter Walks has made it onto the channel because, one suspects, it is cheap as chips to make. Give a presenter a camera on a selfie stick, get them to show us around the countryside, send up a drone to capture footage of the landscape, and Bob’s your uncle.
Our guide for the first episode was Amanda Owen, aka the Yorkshire Shepherdess. She was, of course, in the Yorkshire Dales – a 5.6 mile walk from Bainbridge to Semer Water. Owen lives just over the way with her husband and nine – nine! – children. Viewers of her Channel 5 show Our Yorkshire Farm will know that she spends a lot of time outdoors. But this walk was a new experience, she explained, because “as a shepherd and a hill farmer, you do not set out on a walk for no reason”.
Here, her only task was to enjoy a walk for the sake it. At first, she found it a wholly unfamiliar experience. But Owen began to appreciate the solitude. Anyone with just one child will know what she meant when she said: “It feels a bit strange because I’m on my own – there’s nobody nipping at my heels, nobody asking questions.”
Owen was an intelligent and knowledgeable companion, chatting away with ease. She told us to look for hoofprints when out walking because they signpost the safe ground. She stopped to admire a dry-stone wall and a bare thorn tree, which most of us would probably walk past without a second thought. And in a perfect lesson on the importance of truly seeing our surroundings, she gazed at a rock by her feet as she paused for a cup of tea and realised it was a fossil.
It was a restorative half-hour, but there is one inherent problem in the format. The presenter (and in coming days we’ll get Alastair Campbell, the Rev Kate Bottley and Radio 5 Live’s Nihal Arthanayake) has clearly been instructed to yak away, and there are times when five minutes of silence – save for birdsong, or running water, or the faraway bleat of sheep – would be more welcome.
Still, Owen had some wise advice when she told us to get outside. “I think the tiredness that a lot of people feel, me included, is one of mental fatigue. We need to slow right down,” she said, and give ourselves some breathing space.