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Shepherds Walks

A training in agriculture at Lancashire Agricultural College at Myerscough and a full-time, all weathers occupation of shepherding on one of the farms on the National Trust’s Wallington Estate might hardly be regarded as a normal background for a writer of walks guides. But in his accumulated moments of leisure Jon Monks has found time to establish a successful cottage industry of providing guides to walks in Northumberland, Cumbria and the Borders, and even of leading conducted walks in the North East of England. Given the competition from national parks, the RA and other privately authored guides, it is all the more remarkable that he has been able to carve out a successful niche in the market – in spite of being knocked sideways by the outbreak of Foot and Mouth Disease right at the launch of the business. Jon also writes for The Northumbrian and Roebuck, the publication of the Northumberland Wildlife Trust and has been featured on Radio Newcastle in Radio 4’s Open Country and in the Morpeth Herald and Radio Times.

Much of his success must be ascribed to his willingness to grapple with the e-revolution. The Shepherds Walks web-site, which is advertised in the Northern Area Walks Programme, provides a thoroughly professional shop window for the guides. Unlike most of the traditional walks guides, the Shepherd Walks are virtually printed out on demand from regularly updated computer files. So if he or any of his clients note the kinds of changes which we are all too familiar on walks – missing way-markers or bridges that no longer exist, the files can be amended immediately, ensuring that subsequent copies of the guide provide current information.

As well as having benefits, electronic communication can also have a down side, especially with a website www.shepherdswalks.co.uk. In some of the former colonies the world ‘shepherd’ is no longer applied to those who tend sheep. Instead many people in those countries know the word only in a biblical context. At times this has led to some rather bizarre e-mail correspondence. The availability of the guides through the internet has allowed foreign visitors coming to Britain to plan their independent walking tours before even setting foot on British soil. In addition to the guides to individual walks, Shepherd Walks is also able to supply maps, sticks, and guides by other authors to such trails as the St Cuthbert’s Way and mountain bike trails – and there is a regular monthly electronic newsletter for internet customers.