In 2022, Rach and Mark Edwards had to move from their family home and smallholding due to Marks’ sudden ill-health. Jack Smellie meets them to find out how they have successfully changed their smallholding focus.

With a military and nursing background, Rach Edwards is used to dealing with stressful situations. Nonetheless, it was rather a shock when one day she noticed that Mark’s nose had turned blue and that he was stood leaning against the fence, not to admire the view over the Camarthan Hills, but because he was actually not feeling that great. A hospital visit revealed the news that he needed a quadruple by-pass (gulp!)but, that he would have to wait six weeks because of Covid (an even bigger gulp!!).Two days later he ended up in A&E where, he was operated on straight away. Five days later he was back home, way earlier than he should have been, but this was in the middle of the pandemic, and recovering from heart surgery in a hospital full ofCovid-19 was simply not an option.

At this point Rach took a swift and rather scary look around her.

“I had a full-time job,” she explained,(as Deputy Director Nursing for a private healthcare company), “and one that often took me away from home, plus two young children, pigs with piglets on the ground, six dogs including a litter of pups, our 23-acre smallholding with poultry, sheep and goats AND we also had cows on 100 acres of land down in the valley.”

The cows were mercifully being looked after by someone else at that point but nonetheless were still their responsibility. And now of course she also had a recovering husband to look after. It became clear, quite quickly that they had to give up the farm.

“Emotionally it was so hard,” she recalls. “We had invested time, energy and money into the farm over a 12-year period and it had everything: good fencing, electric gates, buildings and units for all the different stock – including kennels, and we were totally off-grid too with solar panels and our own springs. My older two children spent their teenage years growing up on the farm and expected to come back with grandchildren in tow, and my younger two had been born and raised here. Packing it all up, saying goodbye to animals we had known for years, walking away from a life we expected to continue into our old age, was really difficult.”

The new plot in Norfolk includes 3 acres of woodland. Main image left, Rach and Mark Edwards.

BUT, eighteen months down the line all is good, very good in fact. The family are now based in Norfolk on a six-acre plot that includes three of woodland (perfect for the dogs). They have a small flock of Valais sheep, a few chickens and whilst still very rural, they are actually a lot closer to services and facilities including schools for the children (6.30am starts are now a thing of the past).

And most importantly, Mark’s health is stable and with Rach now in a new, but still full-time job, he is able to manage their now much reduced smallholding commitments.

“Everything happens for a reason,” says Rach. She is much happier in her new job and they are thoroughly enjoying the drier weather that Norfolk offers as well as the plethora of wildlife – they have red kites circling over their land (I am not jealous at all)! “We have a home and we have our family.”

And her advice to anyone else who may have to go through something similar?

“You have to remain positive and keep a sense of perspective,” she says. For the Edwards family there really was no choice about what had to happen once Mark’s ill-health became obvious and from then onwards it was all about being resilient and practical about what had to happen.“I do miss my goose though,” she says. laughing, but wistfully!

“He was 18 when we got him and we had him for 10 years. It wasn’t practical to bring him and his wife, so he stayed with the people who bought our holding.”

Rach’s positivity shone through our entire chat, she is rightly proud of all they achieved back in Wales and she knows that where they are now is perfect for the life they have had to adapt to. The shock of Mark’s ill-health has lessened, the children are happy and there is a little idea brewing about getting a couple of Golden Guernseys again. The future is bright because that is what Rach and Mark have made it!!

This article extract was taken from the February 2024 edition of The Country Smallholder. To read the article in full, and hear more from Jack about changing focus, you can buy the issue here.

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