This Life: Liz Phillips

Life on the farm isn’t all tractors and lambing: Liz Phillips also makes time to turn found objects and feathers into unique pieces of art

Words Anna Burnside, Photography Neale Smith

Liz Phillips should have a sign hanging on the gate of her family farm: “Abandon preconceptions, all ye who enter here.” In fact, she might well have made one already, out of driftwood and pheasant feathers and a funny old ornament she found in Steptoe’s salvage yard.
Aged 42, with biceps that put Michelle Obama’s to shame, Liz is not the butter-churning-in-a-pinny type of farmer’s wife. She runs the farm (110 acres of their own, plus a few hundred more of rented rough grazing outside Stonehaven) with her husband, Clive, and their children, Pippa and Calum. They have 250 sheep, 35 Icelandic horses and 40 acres of malting barley, plus some hens who are so free-range that Liz is unsure just how many there might be (“Let’s say eight or nine”). Clive spends the week working as a lawyer in Aberdeen. While he is in the office, Liz drives the tractor, feeds the sheep and collects the eggs. At the weekend, all four of them muck in with the big jobs. “Calum may only be ten but he puts in a full day’s work,” she says proudly. “He loves it.”

“Clive asked me to burn some rubbish. It wasn’t until I was raking out the ashes that I saw this old air filter that was clearly a lampshade waiting to be made”

Casa Phillips does not look like a storybook farmyard, a tumble­down pile or a grey agri-business shed. The house was built by one of their neighbours, Vic Peterkin of Peterkin Homes, and is as white and sleek and full of shiny surfaces as any modernist could desire. There is no Aga here. “Why would I want an Aga,” asks Liz rhetorically, “when I can have two split-level, fan-assisted, self-cleaning ovens?”
The Phillipses would be the first to stress that, for those who don’t come from a farming family, it’s a tough world to enter. Clive grew up in Stonehaven, pining to farm, while his father worked at Unilever. And while this meant that there were no rolling acres or sturdy beasts for him to inherit, there was an upside. When Clive and Liz finally found a farm to buy for themselves, it came with no obligations, family history or resentful older generations sucking their teeth and harking back to the good old days. Instead, they had a tabula rasa, to do with as they pleased.
Having already rented a farm just over the hill, by the time the couple moved in 2005 they had already accumulated several of the Icelandic horses that were their joint passion. (They met at the Icelandic Horse World Championships, which Liz claims is considerably less grand than it sounds.) Then there were sheep – Clive started with six on his very first tenant farm. There were also two children, one newly born.

This is just a taster, you can browse the full article on pages 21-28 of Issue 96

Subscribe now