My Countryside interview: Helen Skelton
Desert marathons and kayaking down the Amazon are satisfying but the real fun’s in milking cows and making silage, explains the Countryfile presenter
I grew up on the family farm in Cumbria. My dad grew up there when my grandfather set up a dairy herd. He and my grandparents still live there to this day.
The farm is in a stunning location. The front of the house has views of the Pennines and the back looks toward the Lake District fells.
I feel really lucky to have grown up there. As kids, my brother and I were always outside, in the river and the fields. We used to make rafts out of old palettes and float them down the river.
As I grew older I started walking, in the Pennines mainly. High Cup Nick [a dramatic North Pennine valley just a few miles east of the farm] is my favourite. The Lakes are great, but they get so busy. I love Sharp Edge, on Blencathra, but never go there on a bank holiday.
My favourite job on the farm was before silage time. I had to lie down in the grass in the middle of the field. If I couldn’t be seen from the edge of the field, then dad would give the green light to start cutting and collecting the grass.
We loved silage time. The house was full of people. My job was to run sandwiches across the fields to the workers. It was mayhem and we loved it. There was a constant relay of tractors ferrying grass back to the farm to be wrapped and stored before the rain. My dad won many competitions for the quality of his silage.
I helped in the milking parlour for a brief spell when I was a teenager. Dad made me scrape and shovel cow muck. I used to stink! It took me ages to get that smell out of my hair. I didn’t last long as the muck shoveller.
I love how baffled some of my London friends are by the way my parents live. There’s no real public transport, no Costa coffee and everything closes at 4pm on a Sunday. It’s difficult for my city friends to appreciate what life is like in farming. It’s a different culture. I think a lot of people see the bad weather, being outside and dirty fingernails as a hardship, but I know plenty of folks that would rather shovel cow muck than have to get on the Tube every day.
I migrate to greenery. Even when I lived in London, I lived by a park and near the river. I live by water now, in Cheshire. I love living here, but it’s very flat compared to where I grew up.
My husband Richie [Myler] and I have a dog who needs a lot of walking. I wish people would pick up after their dogs. If I’m in a town with my pooch, I always pick up. It’s rude not to and it gives dog owners a bad name.
Richie and I are both sporty. He’s a professional rugby league player for the Warrington Wolves, so we like to keep fit and active. We ride bikes and play tennis, although it often gets a bit competitive!
My toughest challenge was the Namibian ultra marathon. I had to run 78 miles in 24 hours in the desert. It was tough, but it is one of the best things I have done.
When it comes to long challenges, such as kayaking down the 2,010 miles of the Amazon for Sport Relief, I just get my head down and get on with it. There’s no point stressing – worrying won’t make the job any easier.
I run and work out because I love food and drink. Wine and carbs are my post-run treat. Exercising and training for big challenges has transformed the way I think about food. It’s fuel, and wine – in my book – is an essential carbohydrate…
If Richie and I are lucky enough to have children, I would love them to grow up in the countryside. I would love to bring our kids up on a farm. I got to see my dad at work every day – but I can’t see
Richie milking cows!
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