The Apple Island Wife - from Lytham schoolgirl to Tasmanian farmer
PUBLISHED: 00:00 11 January 2019
From Lytham St Annes schoolgirl to a pig farming mum in Tasmania, Fiona Stocker has turned her adventures into an amusing tale for armchair travellers
It was family holidays in the Lake District which persuaded me I wanted to live in the country. But when I made that decision, I wasn’t living in Lancashire any more. Unlikely though it sounds, I had moved and was with my husband in semi-tropical Brisbane, halfway up the east coast of Australia.
During my childhood, my father was an aerodynamicist at Warton and we lived in the British Aerospace houses in Ansdell. I was one of those Queen Mary’s schoolgirls in a brown bowler hat. When I was 13, we moved to St Annes and I could see the school hockey fields from my bedroom window – the stuff of nightmares.
At the weekends I worked at a riding school in the stables behind the Victoria pub in St Annes and every summer we holidayed in the Lakes, climbing Helvellyn and spreading Grasmere Gingerbread crumbs over the back seat of the car. So I was always outdoors, enjoying that breezy sea air that the Fylde does so well. If you live on the prom and had a weekend newspaper delivered to you in the 1980s, that was me, in the dark and the howling wind.
But although I grew up in Lancashire, I wasn’t born there. After my parents married, my father got a job in Australia, launching test rockets into the skies above the desert in South Australia. I was born in Adelaide, and it gave me dual nationality. We came back to the UK when I was just two, but I always planned to return one day.
Years later, I did. I took an Englishman with me, Oliver, and he’s now my husband. I settled for a Suffolk man, although northern men are the best, I find.
After the obligatory road trip across the Blue Mountains and up the eastern seaboard, we ended up living in Brisbane for seven years – by mistake. After a couple of years of marital negotiation, we moved to Tasmania. In today’s hectic world, the slower pace the island state is known for is highly appealing. Australia has spawned its own wave of those wanting to ‘escape to the country’. Many move to the coast, earning the moniker ‘seachangers’. Those who move to Tassie are called ‘tree-changers’, since one third of the island is carpeted in ancient rainforest, much of it with World Heritage status.
It’s a place of intense natural beauty and rich agricultural landscapes – much like the places I remembered from the north of England – and family homes of dubious built quality, as we were to find out. The climate is remarkably similar to Europe’s. We immediately felt at home.
We exchanged our suburban quarter acre for a five acre small holding in the Tamar Valley, near the northern city of Launceston. Wasting no time, Oliver built himself a cabinet making workshop and, for reasons best known to himself, bought some alpacas.
We settled into a life of small holder adventure, splitting wood and lighting fires for warmth, planting a vegetable garden, keeping chooks and learning to interpret the shearers who came to service our small herd once a year. One morning I happened to glance out of the kitchen window and see Lorna, our grumpiest alpaca mare, with the head and forelegs of her cria emerging from her rear end. It was then I knew we’d be late for playgroup.
While Oliver set up as a cabinet maker, I used my time at home with a baby and toddler to reassess what it was I wanted to do with my life. I knew for certain I didn’t want to leave my children in childcare and go back to a city job. Instead, having set up the website for Oliver’s business, I began creating websites for other local small businesses.
All over the world, blogging was becoming a thing, particularly for women at home with children. I used mine to publish entertaining accounts of our new life, and had no shortage of material. After three years, I had over one hundred stories, and the beginnings of an armchair travel book along the lines of A Year in Provence.
Meanwhile, Oliver had discovered that you can’t eat alpacas. (You can, but there isn’t much of a market for them). After watching one too many episodes of River Cottage, he decided to keep pigs instead. He purchase two Wessex Saddleback slips, and soon they had piglets. The children kept count as they appeared and rubbed them down with straw.
Where you have pigs, you eventually have pork. We began selling to friends, and this grew into another small business. We named it Langdale Farm, after a favourite spot on those family holidays. For the past seven years we’ve been creating gourmet product from our rare breed livestock and selling English style sausages and bacon to foodies at an award winning farmer’s market. We also run farm-stay accommodation.
That armchair travel book was picked up by a UK publisher, Unbound, and the book about our first five years here, Apple Island Wife – Slow Living in Tasmania, is now on the shelves. It’s an everywoman’s story - what happens when you move to the country armed only with a pioneering northern spirit and a sense of adventure.
* Apple Island Wife is available as an ebook and paperback, online and in bookshops.
You can find author Fiona Stocker on twitter at @FionaCStocker