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July 2022

Written for Cumbria Life.


This summer our hay meadows have been brimming with flowers and grasses and for a pleasant change, the Cumbrian Weather Gods have been kind. We’ve had enough rain to make the grass grow and enough spells of sunny weather to make some excellent hay, which is now safely stored under roof ready for winter. Hay time evokes memories of hot summer days as a teenager going round the small local farms helping cart in small bales of hay into dark cobweb-filled barns. Cold black tea and orange squash, farmhouse teas when the day was over. Each farm had their own specialty: home cured ham, boiled eggs and cream trifle. We even occasionally got a mug of cider or a bottle of beer, before cycling home in the early hours. Nowadays, staff are thin on the ground and farms have had to grow in size to make ends meet so very few folk still make labour intensive small bales. The work gets done just the same, but I miss those days of working as a big team.
In between making hay we have been shearing the sheep, often early in the morning or in the evening when it’s a bit cooler. Although I still shear some of the sheep myself, I get a local young farmer, Phil to do most of the work. It really speeds things up and it’s a chance to catch up with what the younger farmers are up to – who’s getting married, who’s having a baby, who’s got some really good lambs this year etc etc. It can be quite a lonely life on a modern farm and the shearers are a reliable source of banter and laughs. They work extremely hard shearing the hot fidgety sheep. The carefully choreographed dance of human, animal and machine is quite mesmerising and very addictive once you get the hang of it. The smoother and faster you can shear the less the sheep struggles as it is never still long enough to cause bother. There are a couple of crucial positions where the sheep is almost free and a fidget then can be hard to control even for the very best shearers. For the big batches of sheep it’s a team effort. Someone has to keep the shearer’s pens full and sort the lambs from the ewes. Others have to wrap the fleeces and cram the still warm greasy wool into bags. Sorting out any fleece that has bracken, grass or muck in it to be discarded for mulching the garden. We trample the bouncy, fluffy wool down in the bags to get as much in as possible. This wool will be stored, washed, carded, spun and made into tweed or knitting wool eventually so our quality control is important. 


It’s the time of year when all John wakes up thinking about is grass and wool and when to cut them. Today he’s busy rowing up grass for his contractor friend Charlie to come and bale. Most of the sheep have now been clipped, just a few here and there that evaded being rounded up or the fleece had no ‘rise’ so the shearer left it for another time.

I’m in front of the computer trying to make a wool plan. We have a few projects on the go. This year, we will make five new Lake District Tweeds – Borrowdale, Langdale, Wasdale, Grasmere and Hawswater. As with last year, the Lancs and Lakes Guild of Spinners, Weavers and Dyers will design the tweeds, drawing out special features of each valley. I am still to get my hands on the tweed we started last October but I’ve been promised the Coniston, Windermere, Ennerdale and Ullswater tweeds will be back from the finishers in mid-August. 

We just finished the second year of our wool event, The Farmer’s Yarns, held at The Farmer’s Arms in Lowick. We hired covered gazebos from Kendal Farmer’s Market, tables from Lowick County Show and chairs from Sparkbridge Village Hall – making use of local resources. The event was just lovely. Despite a few downpours and gusts of wind whipping up a couple of the gazebos before they were firmly strapped down, it was a brilliant day. The aim of the event is to showcase ‘Farm to Yarn’ businesses. As it is a small event, most traders were local such as Westmorland Upholstery, Oubas Knitwear, The Wool Clip and Farm Yarn UK but some travelled quite some distance. Our friend Sabrina Ross, a vet and crofter, keeps Cheviot sheep with her husband as well as her own flock of black Cheviots. She travelled all the way from the Highlands of Scotland to join us. The event is not just about selling yarn and wool products to customers, but a place for the stallholders to network and support each other. 

I was very sad to hear that Woolfest, held in Cockermouth will not be happening again. It was the first of its kind and paved the way for similar wool events, including my own. I would like to say a huge thank you to the organisers of Woolfest, the co-operative The Wool Clip, for all the work they have done to celebrate all things wool and for the support they have given me. They really are an incredible team of people.

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