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Looking back at 19 June, Farlands July 16, 2013

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Another warm, dry afternoon after so many cold miserable days – perfect for listening to the post-lunch tune-up while M packs.  The lambs and sheep punctuate the birdsong as usual: hearing the ewe answer its errant lamb adds that “all’s well with the world” dash to the composition.  I could easily drop off too, but settle for closed eyes while I recreate the valley image from the sounds.

Until the sheep down the lane up their act: no longer gaps between the wobbly bleats and throaty mothers’ ‘mehs’, the calls overlap and take on an anxious tone.  Sounds like they’re being moved.  Yes, definitely more lambs and mums joining in.  Definitely down the lane we need to be driving along to catch M’s train.  The single track lane with drystone walls on either side.  Time to investigate – lean over the five-bar gate, I think.  The good news: they’re coming up the lane towards and then past us.  Decent sized, sturdy sheep, with broad backs like coffee tables.  Encouraged on by a sheepdog and the two young men we’ve been seeing working the farm across the lane.

moving lambs at Farlands

moving lambs at Farlands

I say we’ve been seeing them, but perhaps its more accurate to say they couldn’t help but notice us as they went about their work: driving the landrover from one field to another, there we are, sat down in the middle of the hillside, catching our breath.  Then later, wool-gathering across the clough.  Yes, gathering real wool, just like the 16th century origin of the phrase.  Weaving erratically back and forth across the field, gathering the shed tufts of wool, with little to show for the effort.  Except M and I were very satisfied with the results of our labour, and it’s since been scoured in the washing machine.

Oh, and then the eccentric lady townies popped up to ask them who we might tell about the one-eyed distressed horse:  fast-pacing along his paddock, tossing his head from side to side and whinnying.  If you’d asked us to explain beforehand how to tell if a horse was distressed, we’d have looked at you gone out, but there was no mistaking: this horse was distressed and we couldn’t distract him from his upset.

Well, they might have been tolerantly amused by our involvement in country life, but they obliged and directed us to a stable just off the most chocolate-boxy hamlet: gritstone cottages and hollyhocks.  The horse’s owner was there, currying another horse, not at all put out at our taking an interest.  This bay had come out of the paddock for a wash and brush-up (not correct terminology) and our one-eyed friend was missing his mate – who was going back down there shortly.  So all soon became well.  I missed the opportunity to ask how he lost his eye – so mortified, I’d described him as ginger.  Everyone knows horses are chestnut.

But enough wool-gathering and back to the sea of sheep swimming past our cottage: The ewes have done this before and head the tide.  Some are even a bit blasé about it and stop to nibble the roadside plant-life.  To some, as always, the grass is greener on our side and they make determined efforts to breach the gritstone wall, but these are chunky beasts and don’t have the jumping ability of the Ronaldsays.  They also have handy steering devices: the shepherds take them by the horns to point then in the right direction.

Day later, describing this at Pat’s Woolly Day – a gathering of six ladies each with spinning wheels of five different designs, the call goes up, ‘What breed?’.  Knowing the breed of fleece you’re spinning is important to these ladies: it tells you how long the fibres will be and how fine, how much crimp will be in the wool and even how much lanolin will be in the wool (up to 30% in weight).  I hadn’t known that it’s common to spin wool straight off the sheep and then scour it in the skein.  We decided that with their horns and black faces, these were most likely Swaledales.  But that will wait for another time.

spinning and wheels

spinning and wheels

To finish Wednesday: we enjoyed the spectacle – rare for us, but just another day in the life of a young farmer.  The sheep cleared the lane in plenty of time for us to get to the station, leaving me quietly glad that they had ground their droppings into the tarmac.  Beneficial as it would have been on the allotment, sharing the journey home with a bag of sheep droppings might have been taking the re-use, recycle mantra a step too far for this Marie-Antoinette.