Incline, or perhaps sheep, is today’s prompt. I’m working my way though the #writephoto prompts from KL Caley at from last year, when I wasn’t doing much with my hands. I’m still not doing much, but perhaps a little more than last year! I had several thoughts on how to fit this into the #30DaysWild theme… perhaps chalk-hill butterflies, and the regenerative marvel that is the slag heap as a result of the Channel Tunnel. But no, keep it to fiction, and let’s return to my enthusiastic rewilder and his estate… (just over 1100 words)


“So you see, Matthew,” Tristan said, waving at the hill rising ahead of them, “there’s no point in trying any of your rewilding stuff here. It’s okay for you southerners with gentle rolling landscapes, but ours has always been hard to tame.”

Matthew gazed at the fabulous hills, the hint of moorland trying to take over, the native trees in the dell, struggling to be allowed out on the grass. Tristan had some funny ideas, but he’d still invited him up for a visit.

“Why would you want to tame it?” 

“Well, productivity of course. Got to balance the books. Sheep, lambs, mutton, wool. Cattle in the marshier ground, they do okay, the hardy types anyway. And of course pheasants and grouse up on top for the season.” Tristan Shand-Smythe had inherited the estate last winter, and the terms of the will required he keep it going and not sell it to some popstar or oil magnate. “My father struggled so much all his life to keep up appearances, to keep the estate going. Then he expected me to be a proper heir to his throne. And apart from the same old thing, I don’t know how.”

“Well, we were doing much the same, and not managing to make ends meet, until we diversified into lodgings and so on. Then I got the bug for the environmental side of things. If you look into the tourism opportunities for ‘back to nature’ they are really excellent. Throws up oddities like people arriving in diesel 4x4s for a camping holiday and wanting a hot bath every morning, but we handled that okay after the first two.”


“Sent out a questionnaire with the booking form. One of those things where you choose your ideal holiday from responses, and they add up to ‘mostly A’s, choose a cruise’ or ‘mostly D’s, you’ll love the natural feel of our grass under your feet’. You know the sort of thing.”

“Haven’t seen one of those since I was in prep school. I remember one where it turned out my ideal career was a blues singer in a slum city.” Tristan shuddered with the memory.

“So what have you been doing in the meantime?”

“Oh, this and that. Getting through my allowance too fast, hiking in the hills, spent a couple of years on a farm in Oz, that was fun. Roping sheep and cattle and kangaroos.” Tristan laughed. “Never managed one of those but I saw one of the locals do it for a bet. Those fellas can kick!”

“Farming in Australia… sounds great. Why did you come back?”

Tristan waved at the landscape again. “Benedict died. Step forward number three son. Good thing dad had the foresight to have us after poor Charlie died of scarlet fever. He never let us forget we were his heirs.”

“Any sisters?”

“Just Sarah.” It was said with a finality, then Tristan realised he’d hit a blank. “You know, Sarah Tuttle, the Olympic rider?”

“Oh, gosh, I didn’t realise she’s your sister.”

“Ye…es.” Tristan obviously lived in his famous sister’s shadow. 

“It must be hard…” Matthew stopped–being fourth in line, or third in line, and landed with the problem–but he couldn’t say that.

Tristan could. Almost exactly as Matthew thought it.

“Well, you see why I need help. Not trained to it like Benedict was. Not a country person like Sarah, and not even an environmental person like you. I didn’t study estate management, Benedict did.”

“Yeah, I did too. It’s basic business sense though. Just counting different products with different beans. And you must have a general manager who understands the laws and the stupid Brexit changes.”

“I think he’s having a nervous breakdown.”

“Any sane person would. Shall we have a chat with him?”

“Could we?” The idea flooded Tristan with new energy.


Michael McMullen had been estate manager for thirty years. That was how he introduced himself, and he was clearly worried that he wasn’t wanted any more.

“You’ll know all the ins and outs, what works best, what’s been tried before, and why it failed then,” Matthew soothed him. “And the changes over the last four years must make it extremely stressful for you.”

McMullen shifted in his seat. “It hasn’t been easy, true, but we do our best.”

“Where do you see the strengths of the estate, the things Tristan and you should capitalise on?”

McMullen fixed his eyes on Matthew, but twitched them to Tristan, who was relaxing, eyes closed, despite drinking all his coffee. And his brandy,

“It’s traditional. It has a lot of value in traditional livestock, and traditional landscapes. We don’t want anyone coming through here thinking it’s going to be a breadbasket, or a tourist attraction.” McMullen told Matthew, a straight-talking set piece.

“A proper working estate, nurturing the landscape, encouraging wildlife to the benefit of the soil, and perhaps a little sideline in agricultural education. How things should be done?” Matthew raised an eyebrow, maintaining eye contact.

McMullen reached into the bag he’d brought with him. “I’ve made some notes. And I read what you’d been up to. Depends what the young lord wants, of course.”

Matthew took the notes, looked through them, and grinned at McMullen. “Let’s do some planning before he wakes up.”


A couple of days later Tristan shook Matthew’s hand and guided him into his plug-in hybrid rental car. “I’m so pleased you got McMullen into our way of thinking. I could never have done it on my own!”

“Oh, I’m sure he’d have come around to your way of thinking on this. McMullen’s very keen for the right sort of progress. He’s worried about the future of the estate, you know. He’s a gem. You’re lucky to have him.”

“How did you persuade him?”

“It was the idea I had when I saw the sheep on the steep incline. Just perfect for a more natural habitat grazed by sheep. And McMullen loves that image, too. You could adopt it as your logo if you need one—other than your coat of arms, of course. Keep in touch, you’ve got my details.”

“Yes, of course. Thanks.”

Matthew steered the quiet vehicle down through the avenue of trees and out of the gate in the drystone wall. Tristan had the perfect natural venue for a successful regeneration programme. He also had McMullen, a true gem of the landscape.

Now to drop the rental car off at the airport and switch to the train for some more work on on the way home. He needed to look into getting everyone together for a Rewilding conference, and maybe taking it on a roadshow around the agricultural shows next year. That was an idea McMullen suggested. Good man that. Tristan would be fine.

© J M Pett 2024


Incline | Flash Fiction #writephoto #30DaysWild
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3 thoughts on “Incline | Flash Fiction #writephoto #30DaysWild

  • 12 June, 2024 at 5:39 am

    So happy to read something positive and hopeful! I’ve been looking too much at the New York Times :p

    • 12 June, 2024 at 8:49 am

      I get all the news I need from the radio updates on the hour. More than I need mostly. But some people are doing good work out there 😀


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