FIVE hundred people crowded into an Otley church last week to hear a talk by The Yorkshire Shepherdess.

The enthusiasm for Amanda Owen's appearance at the Methodist Church was such that many ticket-holders arrived more than an hour before its 7.30pm start on Friday, March 17.

The sold-out event saw Mrs Owen speak in detail about her life running a 2,000 acre sheep hill farm - with her husband Clive and nine children - at Ravenseat, above Keld in in Swaledale.

She also spoke about her authorship of The Yorkshire Shepherdess and A Year in the Life of the Yorkshire Shepherdess and rounded off the evening off by answering questions and signing books.

Organised by Bramhope and Otley Methodist Churches, the talk was originally due to be held in the Wesley Hall but had to be moved to the church to meet an exceptional demand for tickets.

Wharfedale & Aireborough contributor and Methodist Church member John Burland provided this report:

"Amanda talked for over an hour, regaling the audience with tales of her life from her upbringing in Huddersfield back in the 1970s to running a 2,000-acre sheep hill farm at Ravenseat above Keld at the head of Swaledale. She spoke about how, while reading the James Herriot vet books at school, she had been influenced to become a vet but then decided instead to become a shepherdess, initially working down on Salisbury Plain before heading back north up to Kirkby Stephen in Cumbria.

She told the audience how back in October, 1996, on a cold wet night she was sent by the farm manager at Kirkby Stephen up to Swaledale to fetch a ram from Ravenseat Farm. It was a long journey deep into the dales, down dirt tracks, through a ford, and at the end of it all was Clive Owen, her future husband.

The house, she said, was a mess. Smoke-stained wallpaper and carpets so damp that they squelched. And an all-pervading air of sadness.

'I don’t want to say it was desolate,' she said. 'But there was a TV programme called The Dale that Died and that was how it felt. Yet at the same time, you could feel that it had once had something else, been something more. I wanted to breathe life back into it.'

She and Clive subsequently married and in 2001 Raven, the first of her nine children was born. Amanda went on to recount how four of the children have been born in various hospitals, including one in the military hospital at Catterick as they couldn’t get to Northallerton in time for the birth. And four have been born in various lay-bys en route to either Northallerton or Middlesbrough hospitals, and one in front of the fire in the farmhouse.

Full of humour, but with also some moments of poignancy, the audience lapped up the tales that Amanda recounted about her life. Following the talk she spent a further twenty minutes answering questions in the church before moving into the Wesley Hall to sign hundreds of books that people had either brought with them for signature or had bought on the night.

Members of the church provided refreshments after the talk for the audience, who had travelled from near and far including some who had even come over the county border from Lancashire. Many of the audience members also bought raffle tickets, whilst having their refreshments, to win an overnight stay and breakfast in the Shepherd’s Hut up at Ravenseat.

The winners, drawn by the Town Mayor Councillor Ian Jackson, were Mr and Mrs Wilkinson from Otley who will be spending a night there later in the year.

Amanda and Clive finally left Otley at 10pm to drive back to Swaledale having given pleasure to the many hundreds of people who had attended."