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Jon welcomes keen walkers to his flock

In the 18th Century of Capability Brown, most people regularly walked distances which today’s instantly-mobile society would would take the breath away.

So it is apt that Kirkharle Courtyard, which occupies the site of Brown’s birthplace and now houses a series of inventive businesses, is the base for Jon Monks and his Shepherds Walks venture.

“I’ve alays been a keen walker. It’s the biggest stress buster in the world! he says. “This landscape insipred Capability Brown, and it has inspired me. As a boy he walked from Kirkharle across the fields to school in Cambo, and now my children go to Cambo School.”

“People in his day walked massive distances to get around”

Although he was raised in the urban area, Jon always had a yen for the outdoors. He remembers telling his school careers adviser that he wanted to be a framer, which drew blank looks. But after leaving school at 16, he went to the agricultural college and of two farm placements – dairy and sheep - it was the latter which he enjoyed best.

At 21 he travelled to Australia, where he spent a year at a truly remote farm in New South Wales, which had 80,000 Meriono sheep. “Our average field size was five miles by three miles. I thoroughly enjoyed it,” says Jon.

On his retuen to the UK, he worked as an assistant shepherd on a large estate in Berkshire. Then he spotted an advertisement for a shepherd in Northumberland.

“Travelling through Northumberland, even before I got the job, I thought ‘this is where I want to be’. I fell in love with the place.”

He spent a total of 12 years as a shepherd on Cornhills Farm, near Sweethope Lough and then Greenleighton Farm near the Simonside Hills. Jon says: “The appeal of the job is the freedom, the problem-solving and having to think on your feet. You don’t know what is going to greet you and it’s testing your skills all the time.

“It is also seeing the wildlife and how the same countryside changes through the year. It’s a treat.”

Jon walked as a hobby, and on one trip with friends the conversation turned to each person’s favourite ramble. For Jon, it was the Windy Gyle walk from Barrowburn in Northumberland into the Cheviot Hills.

That set him thinking about putting walks down on paper, and his first venture was devising three outings for a Northumberland hotel owner which stated the premises.

He founded Shepheds Walks and began selling the walks – initially mostly around the Rothbury area – on the internet.

“It hit me that I could make a living out of this” he says.

Last August Jon, 37, moved to Kirkharle Courtyard and now lives at Rothley Lakes with his wife Jane, a microbiologist and their children Lois, eight and Harry, Five. In addition to his Northumbrian catalogue, Jon has now added walks in Cumbria and the Borders.

“I look at the landscape from a shepherd’s point of view. I walk an area then do the reserch to put flesh on the bones.”

Jon also offers guided walks for tourists and coach companies, and has expanded the business to include walking-related goods such as clothing.

He says “ I can’t believe how much interest has grown in walking, but then it is so relaxing.”

Jon reckons that the interst springs from people enjoying longer retirements and growing environmental and fitness awareness.

“Once you have the equipment, it is also free,” says Jon.

And what does he do on his days off? Walks, of course. “I come back refreshed and revitalised,” he says.