Man who left France for Scotland to live off-grid on a remote farm after falling in love with a laird’s daughter reveals they bathe their six-month-old son in a stream and worry he’ll grow up ‘feral’
- Frenchman Julien Legrand, 29, lives on Ullapool farm estate with Iona Scobie, 34
- The pair met in 2012 when Julien was working on Iona’s parents farm on estate
- Now have a son, Leon, six months, whom they are taking everywhere with them
- Julien, who grew up in a city environment, said he worried Leon would be ‘feral’
A couple living off-grid on a remote Scottish Highland farming estate have revealed how they bathe their six-month-old son in a stream and are concerned he’ll grow up ‘feral’.
In Ben Fogle’s New Lives in the Wild, airing tonight at 9pm on Channel 5, viewers meet Julien Legrand, 29, from France, and Iona Scobie, 34, who look after a farming estate of 10 acres.
The land was gifted to them by Iona’s grandfather after he purchased it in the 1980s, and involves the couple herding livestock, stalking deer and looking after the vast farm, while raising their infant son Leon.
The baby accompanies them on all their tasks – including herding the sheep and cows on horseback – and Julien and Iona often have to change his nappies on the nearest rock while they’re working.
While Iona was raised on the farm and wants her son to grow in a wild environment like she did, Julien, who grew up in a French city, said he was worried Leon would be different from other children and end up being ‘feral’.
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Julien Legrand, left, 29, and Iona Scobie, right, 34, live in the Scottish Highland where they look after a farming estate of 10 acres near Ullapool while raising their six-months-old son Leon, pictured
Ben Fogle travels to meet Julien and Iona and gets introduced to their wild lifestyle. He also goes diving with Julien, pictured
When Ben travels to the estate in the north of Scotland, he is amazed at the amount of work Julien and Iona have to take on around the farm, while at the same time taking care of their son.
Julien and Iona live in a cottage on the farm, which is powered through an old water turbine from the 1960s. They chop wood for heating and cook all their meals on the fire.
Leon, an energetic six-months-old, is always with his parents, whether they are herding sheep or maintaining the reservoir bringing water to the turbine.
Iona, who is the daughter of the previous laird, was raised with her sister in a traditional farming family, where the girls learned to ride horses at an age where most children only learn to walk.
The couple met in 2012 when Julien moved from France to Scotland to work on the estate, which was then owned by Iona’s parents (pictured with Leon)
‘It’s proper wild parenting this, from my perspective at least, you might not see it as different,’ Ben tells the couple.
‘I don’t, but Julien does catch me and say that’s not normal,’ Iona says, laughing.
‘I had a much safer sort of environment when I was young. So sometimes, we do clash a bit,’ Julien says, before admitting there are some things Iona does with Leon that concern him.
‘I worry when she goes on a horse, but I worry if he’s anywhere near a horse, you know,’ he tells Ben. ‘For Iona it’s totally natural but for me it is not.
Iona, who was raised in a similar fashion, says Leon has had no problem being changed in the wild and cleaned in cold water.
‘He never had a problem with it either, in the summer when he was born, we’d put him in the cold water and he was fine with it,’ she says.
While Iona was raised on the farm and learned to ride a horse when most children learn to walk, Julien had a more conventional upbringing in Northern France. Pictured with Ben, Leon and one of their dogs
‘When he’s a little bit older he may start feeling different from the other kids, not having TV and a nice cosy house and being away from his friends and the shops and school,’ Julien says.
‘I’m a bit worried about it. You know it, because that’s the way you did,’ he tells Iona, ‘but I’m a bit worried that he’s going to be a bit of a different child from the others,’ he adds.
Iona eventually agrees she was ‘a bit feral looking’, and jokes she is ‘definitely’ still feral today and that Leon will be too.
Julien, a native Frenchman, was just 20 when he left his home country, and was raised very differently, in the north of France. He came to work on Iona’s family farm in 2012, and the pair quickly started dating.
Julien admits he ‘worries’ that Leon will feel different from other children when he gets older, because of his parents’ wild lifestyle
‘I was tired of people and the politics and the concrete around me so I just wanted a simple life and raise my own sheep and grow my own food,’ he tells Ben. ‘I just wanted to go somewhere where I could work on a farm: quiet, remote like a wild place, but staying in Europe.
Nine years on, the father-of-one says he has no regrets: ‘This is what I’m made for,’ he tells Ben.
Iona’s family have now moved away, and she is the sole laird of the land, with Julien’s support as well as volunteers who help on the farm during the summer to earn their keep while staying at a cottage near the main house.
‘I’m completely confused by this whole thing,’ Ben says. ‘It’s a young couple in a huge, huge area of wilderness. There are lots of livestock, a lot of land to manage and they’re off grid, that’s a massive amount of work,’ he adds.
While Julien and Iona agree they were privileged to have inherited the land from the family, they insist they’re not ‘wealthy’ by any means and work hard to maintain the land.
‘My grandpa bought it when price of land was very down in the 80s. We’re very lucky, there’s no way we could get it now,’ Iona tells Ben. ‘We’re very lucky to be here. I totally understand that people think we’re privileged,’ Julien says.
The father-of-one admits he’s be ‘gutted’ if Leon decided to go to Paris when he is older, but says he would accept it
But he adds that life on the estate can be hard when things go south, and says: ‘Some days, when you’re stuck driving deer in the snow, you think “some people couldn’t do what we do”.’
The mother explains she sees herself as a ‘steward’ rather than a laird, looking after the estate so that it can be passed on to future generations.
During his stay with the family-of-three, Ben works around the estate to earn his keep, starting by herding sheep with Iona on horseback.
He is impressed by the innate skills the 34-year-old demonstrates around the livestock as well as the fact she spends the whole day out there, moving the animals around the estate until nightfall.
The fearless mother says she doesn’t use a flashlight to return home at night, because she is guided by her ‘white’ dogs.
The couple also have to keep on top of all aspects of the estate, including making sure no debris blocks the reservoir feeding into the turbine that powers their whole estate.
Ben helps them unclog the reservoir filter, where leafs and gravel deposit throughout the year. Iona admits the couple had three power outages in three months due to the debris that accumulates in the reservoir.
Ben is impressed by the ‘hardworking’ couple who look after the estate by themselves while raising Leon
‘This is a real hardworking couple. They got a huge area of land but with that huge area of land comes a massive volume of work,’ Ben says. ‘Whether it is looking after the dam or the hydroelectric turbine that they have or driving the cattle for hours to move it from place to place.
‘Every so often I hear Julien’s accent and I’m reminded this is a Frenchman that has landed in a wild part of Scotland,’ the presenter adds.
While Iona was raised on the farm and has honed the skills she needs to run the estate, Julien says he’s had to ‘improvise’ and think creatively in order to look after the land.
The next day, Ben accompanies Julien on a deer stalk. Julien explained the couple have to kill about 100 deer per season – over a period of three months – in order to respect the official quota, and that if the couple don’t manage to kill a big enough number, they can ‘get in trouble’ and are fined.
Julien admits to Ben he used to be against stalking, but the couple have to abide by the pressure of the quota.
The Frenchman is also in charge of processing the deer he and Iona kill, so that they can sell the meat. A whole deer can earn the couple £50, but they say they hardly do it for the money.
At the end of Ben’s stay, the trio go to the lake, and Julien and Ben dive into the cold water to find some scallops. As they dine by the water, Ben asks the couple what would happen if Leon decided he wanted to go to France.
Julien says he would be ‘gutted,’ but would understand, while the pair admit the ideal would be to stay put on the estate with Leon following into their footsteps.
Ben Fogle: New Lives in the Wild airs tonight at 9pm on Channel 5.
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