Written for Cumbria Life
John normally does the big drives but I’ve been doing a fair bit of driving too this month. Well actually, just two trips to Yorkshire but that’s way more than my usual outings to the supermarket and home. The first trip was with John to visit the British Wool. I first visited five or six years ago when I was dipping my toe into the wool world. It was memorable just to see that quantity of wool in one place; watching how every single fleece was graded for type and quality and how the auctions have gone from an auditorium of 100 bearded men bidding on wool to a room of, on average six people, probably still all men. This time was more about how we could work together: thinking through ways in which British Wool can help our small, but growing, wool business. My next trip to Yorkshire was to visit a mohair company that will be combing the wool for the Lake District Tweed project and the mill that will spin the combed wool. The two businesses, about a fifteen minute drive apart, couldn’t be more different. Dust, cobwebs and an office straight out of a nineteen seventies love of plastic wood-effect panelling was the backdrop to incredibly soft coils of mohair, cashmere and other luxury fibres. By contrast, the spinning mill was designed for maximum efficiency, clean, light, modern and where sensors detect the humidity and release moisture into the air to keep the humidity regulated at 65%. This is better for spinning as wool that is too dry is brittle and productivity is decreased. The wool is in a queue for these processes so I just have to be patient. At the moment I’m working with textile designer Louise Dixon on finalising the designs for the four valley tweeds we are working on. By spring we will have Consiton, Ennerdale, Ullswater and Windermere tweeds and throws. People have already been pre-buying them through a Kickstaster campaign I ran to get an idea of public interest. Well, in a month I’ve raised over eleven thousand pounds and that’s before the tweed has even been made! There’s definitely excitement for this truly Hefted Cloth.
John: These last few months have been an absolute whirlwind of meetings, interviews, new ideas and collaborations. It’s a wonder we get time to do the day job. Looking after our many animals is what keeps us going though, and without them we wouldn’t have all the other businesses. The farm is at the centre of everything we do. Even down to the point of our first break together for nearly two years, what did we do? We went sheep shopping to the Highlands. It wasn’t just any sheep shopping though, this was the Lairg annual North Country Cheviot sheep sale where roughly six and a half thousand ewes and rams passed through the old wooden auction over two days.
We had the most amazing time catching up with friends, buying sheep and collecting wool. In fact we got so exited that the pick up and trailer were crammed to bursting with wool and I had to arrange transportation for the sheep. I only meant to buy a couple of tups but ended up with four of them plus forty ewes. The excitement in the auction was too much and I got happily swept along. I played it quite safe though and just bid on the ones I’d picked out beforehand.
In other news we were honoured to be nominated for the Cumbrian Farmer Awards in the Farm Diversification category, and made it to the final at Wigton. We’ve been nominated for awards in the past and some have been a bit of a disappointment in that the events can be quite corporate and not really our thing. But we needn’t have worried; it was a farmer event after all. The sponsors and organisers had done an amazing job and we were overwhelmed when we actually won against some fabulous competition. The genuine support from everyone in the room including our competitors was unlike anything we had ever experienced before. For all the hard work of farming, we felt incredibly proud to be part of this industry.