Too Long a Winter

As heavy snow and freezing conditions grind the region to a halt, we remember Hannah Hauxwell and the documentary which brought to light the sub-zero challenges she overcame during her time at Low Birk Hatt Farm, Baldersdale – the site of DWT’s Hannah’s Meadows.

The hill farmer became a household name after the 1973 documentary “Too Long a Winter” captured her battle to farm the 80-acre site alone and live without electricity or running water. In her opening scene she leads her only milking cow uphill through an icy blizzard to shelter. At the age of only 46, her hair was as white as the snow.

Hannah, who sadly passed away this January aged 91, inherited the farm when her parents died. She never married and often went weeks without seeing anyone. On the documentary she is seen carrying her monthly shopping delivery home, it was left on a wall for her to collect – three fields away.

Despite being one of several Dales farmers in the documentary, Hannah was the one who captured the heart and minds of the nation. Letters and donations flooded in and enabled Hannah to install electricity and buy more cows.

A second documentary, “A Winter Too Many”, revisited Hannah two decades later. She was retiring and preparing to sell the farm due to increasing challenges and bad health. Hannah went on to feature in further programmes and even became an unlikely Hollywood star.

DWT acquired Hannah’s meadow when she retired. Hannah managed the grassland in the traditional way, with no artificial fertilisers which preserved the wide range of wildflowers found there and DWT have continued this traditional management.

The extreme temperatures and icy blizzards that surround us now provide us with a picture of the outdoor conditions Hannah had to face. Yet many of us are lucky, the heating is blasting and the office is closed. It seems remarkable that Hannah managed to live the life she did, in the conditions she did, just over 40 years ago.

We now look forward to the arrival of spring and the wildflowers, so we can visit Hannah’s Meadows and see her legacy just as she intended and when she would have enjoyed it the most – after winter.