Shepherdess tells of accident agony

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A SHEPHERDESS who launched a quest to find love has revealed she was almost left paralysed after breaking her back in a quad bike accident at her parents’ farm near Hawick.

Emma Gray, 26, who single-handedly runs the 150-acre Fallowlees sheep farm in Northumberland, found fame through her autobiography One Girl and Her Dog, launched earlier this year.

Her search for a boyfriend to help manage the land sparked a stampede for her affections, but she suffered a setback over the Jubilee weekend in June when her quad bike rolled on top of her, crushing her vertebrae and leaving her in serious danger of being paralysed. 

The accident resulted in her spending two weeks in Borders General Hospital. But Emma returned to her success with sheep last Saturday, winning her first sheepdog trial since the accident.

“The crash was the worst experience of my life, but I am determined to carry on,” she vowed.

“I was gathering sheep at my mum and dad’s farm, and driving up the side of a quarry on some shingle when the whole bike began to slide. The bike rolled right on top of me. My main concern was the dogs, but they jumped off and the bike only hit me.”

“I’ve rolled quads before, but they usually topple so slowly there’s time to get out the way. But this time I turned round to make sure the dogs had got off — they travel on the bike with me — and in that split second I was too late to get out of the way.

“I remember just before the crash thinking ‘this is going to hurt’ just before the bike hit me. The pain wasn’t so bad to begin with. The scariest part was that I couldn’t breathe.

“I was on my back totally unable to move for 20 minutes. At first I thought I was just winded, so after a while I got back on the bike, which had rolled to the bottom of the hill and landed on its wheels again.

“By the time I got back to the house I couldn’t move for the pain.”

Emma’s sister Caroline, 23, was close by on the farm of their parents, Helen and Richard, and raised the alarm.

Paramedics rushed Emma to hospital where she lay unable to move for a week with a back brace. She was then fitted with a chest cast and discharged a week later.

“They realised it was an unstable fracture, and I could have done serious damage. I couldn’t believe it when I saw the X-rays. I was in hospital unable to move for a week, which was very frustrating. I couldn’t do anything.

“I was so lucky I didn’t do it on my own farm, where I would have been alone. I’m great now, just frustrated at all the things I still can’t do. In a few weeks I should be pretty much better and back at work, so we’ll see what happens then.”

The former Hawick High School pupil, who was born in Edinburgh, studied sheep management at college and had a brief spell working in a laboratory before becoming a professional shepherdess at the age of 19. At the age of 23, after a heartbreaking split from her fiance, she convinced the National Trust to give her the sole tenancy of the Northumberland hill farm.

The property, which she shares with only her 150-strong flock and 14 dogs for company, has no mains electricity or gas supplies and a windmill-powered hot water system. But Emma, who has represented England in international sheepdog trials, has run the farm successfully ever since.

She admits her isolation has left her out of the dating loop, and she only manages to travel to the nearby town a couple of times a month. 

“I like the way of life, but I didn’t choose it for the solitude. It comes with the job. I am very much a people person and love company,” she said.

“That’s one of my fears of being alone – that there’s no one there to look out for me.

“My dream is one day to have a bigger farm. Most mornings I open my door and see farm and moorland for as far as I can see. It’s like paradise — but it’d be nice to share it one day with someone special.”