WHEN HE’S gathering sheep on Bransdale Moor, shearing or working with his dogs Tyke and Bess he’s at one with himself, but next Tuesday Anthony Simpson of Kirkbymoorside will forego all of that to pick up his award as the ‘Ryedale Farming Personality of the Year’ at Ryedale Show.
Born on the Ravenswick Estate where his father was farm manager and where he developed his passion for sheep, he admits to having been taken totally off-guard by the recognition.
“I was extremely surprised and feel very honoured to have been thought of in this way. I’ve always been at my happiest when working with sheep and I’d rather be out on the moors than anywhere else but it will be no hardship to be at Ryedale Show where I’ve helped out a bit over the years by putting up stock fences, parking horse boxes and one or two other things.”
Anthony’s greatest unrealised dream is to farm in his own right, something that has always proven just out of his reach.
“My aim had always been to get a hill farm of my own and I’ve been runner-up for tenanted farms on a couple of occasions but that’s as close as I’ve come. While working for others I used to keep a bit of stock of my own by renting land thinking it would help but I ended up running all over the place and made no money from it. I rear geese and turkeys for Christmas now but that’s all.”
An affinity with sheep has always been Anthony’s driving force. He said he regrets moving away from farm work in his 20s.
“I would tag along with Geoffrey Smith, the shepherd where my father was farm manager from being quite young and started doing a bit of everything on the farm at 15. I took over as a shepherd when someone left and I was 16 in 1966.
“I just loved being outside in the fields and learning about sheep. We had Scotch Halfbreds and Suffolk X with fat lambs being sold at Kirkbymoorside market. I worked on the farm under dad until I was 23. He was near to retirement by then and said I should try something else, something non-farming so I took a job as a milk wagon driver for Cooks in Kirkbymoorside. I gave it two years but had to be back out in the fields working on a farm.”
Anthony’s never left farming again and has worked for various farmers including David Cousins, a previous chairman of Ryedale Show; Peter Johnson of Boon Hill; and the Barker family who have farms in Gillamoor and Harome. Shearing became a useful freelance job. At one time he clipped 6,000 sheep a year across 30-plus farms.
“I started in my 30s and would shear on an evening or over a weekend. I’m still clipping 1,000 a year.”
Anthony describes himself today as a self-employed shepherd and the lion’s share of his income comes from his work on Bransdale Moor.
“I work with all of the sheep farmer graziers across the 18,000 acres of moorland. My role is to assist them in any aspect of gathering sheep from the moor.
“Most farmers don’t have the time to do what they did 30-40 years ago and gathering is time consuming. It’s not as simple as when they’re in an enclosed field and all you have to do with them is gallop them through a gate, with moorland sheep you have to steer them.
“If you send them too fast they’ll disappear down banks, into holes and hide in the bracken.
“Each gather can take three to four hours but I’ve had some that take as much as eight hours. It’s comical at times. You can go back two hours later and there are two sheep just stood there looking right back at you.
“There are five gathers a year starting with the end of February for scanning; April for lambing; mid-July to mid-August for clipping and pour-on; September for the four-shear ewes that are being taken off; and November for tupping.”
Many of his graziers will remember his dog Molly who died last year aged 13.
“She gathered for seven years on three legs. She’d been knocked down on the A170 and had to have one of her front legs off. I’d been all set to have her put down but was outvoted by the grandchildren.
“She worked well on just one front leg. Maybe she should have got this award!”
Away from the moors
Anthony may have spilled a little bit of blood over the years with the odd injury but he’s also made his available to those who need it the most.
He’s given 84 pints of blood since starting at 18 and makes a 50-mile round trip to Malton to make donations.
His family includes daughter Pamela who works at the Royal Oak in Gillamoor; step-daughter Tracy; three step-sons Adrian, Steven and Simon; four grand-daughters; and two great grand-children.
The 149th Ryedale Show takes place at Welburn Park, near Kirkbymoorside on Tuesday. The one-day show attracts some of the county’s leading cattle and sheep show teams.