Down at Dodgson Wood
I first met Maria and John, from Dodgson Wood at Wool Fest in 2016. I had started Northern Yarn a few months earlier and I wandered around inhaling the lovely wool and sheep fumes keeping an eye out for locally produced yarn. As I approached the stall, what I noticed first was the beautiful Castlemilk Moorits, the likes of which I hadn’t seen before. So majestic and almost deer like, these were sheep I wanted to know more about. Luckily for me, Maria was nearby and happy to tell me all about them and their farm in Nibthwaite, Cumbria.
The Castlemilk Moorit breed began during the twentieth century by the late Sir Jock Buchanan-Jardine (great name) as a breeding programme on his Castlemilk Estate. ‘Using Manx Loghtan, moorit Shetland and wild Mouflon, he developed a breed to beautify his parkland and provide fine, kemp free moorit (red) coloured wool.’ (www.castlemilkmooritsociety.co.uk)
The wool is beautiful and blended with other breeds from their farm such as Cheviot, Bluefaced Leicester, Teeswater and Black Welsh Mountain. I love the Teeswater blend, robust and a gorgeous grey/fawn colour, I have plans for a Bracken Beanie that I think would be so toasty and show the cables beautifully. Their wool is now named ‘Shear Delight’ and there is a pure Teeswater lace weight, with the most glorious sheen and drape. Available in two colours, one of which has sold out at the shop but you can go and find more at Wool Fest this year if you’re quick. I still have the lovely Winter Lichen in stock at the shop and online.
Now, one of my favourite things to do is go and visit farms, talk to the farmers and cuddle sheep (when appropriate!). I will not pretend that this isn’t a massive perk of the job! Knowing where wool has come from is so important to me, actually going to see where the sheep live and how they are cared for is the glacier cherry on top! John’s family have been farming on this site for six generations, which is just mind blowing. My family come from all over the North West; Manchester, Liverpool and then a generation or two back and we’re in Ireland or Scotland. I can’t imagine knowing my family have lived, worked and loved the very same land that I live on, work and love. It’s a very special thing. You’re walking around in your own ancestral history! Maria comes from Scotland with a background in Fine Art (you can see this in her soaps) film making and producing and she has been farming now for 3 years. I was overjoyed when Maria said we could come and visit the farm and meet the new lambs. I brought along my friend Katherine @fiberandsustenance who also loves lambs and wool as much as me! Here I am cuddling a 2 day old Teeswater lamb!
Their mums were very protective but allowed us a cuddle and it’s just the most therapeutic, soul enriching experience! So new to the world and just adorable. You could see the tight curls already and to see the curls on their mums – I almost wanted to knit with them there and then!
Maria knows each and every one of the sheep by name, how many lambs they have had or due to have, whether they’re a good mum, etc. Maria explained that a new mum will have a special call to its lamb, a way of talking to its new baby that only happens after birth. It’s time to worry if the ewe doesn’t talk to its lamb in this way and can show a lack of bonding, or that the ewe might reject the lamb. I remember my friend coming to see me after I had given birth, she laughed and said that I was pulling a face she had never seen me make before (I like to think she meant smile!) I wonder if it’s similar to the special lamb talk?!
Here are John and Maria in their maternity ward.
Maria and John also keep rare breed cattle which help with the conservation grazing and we were lucky enough to meet two new calves. One of them born during the night but it had managed to get behind the bars separating it from its mum. Amazingly Maria had been down to check the sheep and realised something was wrong, and managed to unite mum and calf. The work never stops. It's not for the faint hearted.
We then went to feed the sheep that were out on the fields; Teeswater, Castlemilk, Cheviot and Bluefaced Leicester all came rushing over for the nuts and the lambs played together like children would, pushing each other and generally mucking about! Maria said that she had watched them set up their own little obstacle course that they would go around and around, as if challenging each other to see who could get around the fastest.
Maria has recently set up The Soap Dairy. She uses excess milk from their Jersey cow and creates mini works of art that are scented in relation to the season. Tea in the Bluebells, Gathering The Fells; all using scents that are familiar on the farm depending on the time of year. You can see more on their website here. I love having these in the shop and I’m very excited to tell you that Maria has also developed a wool wash bar. (or baaaa hee hee) Watch this space, I have a lovely lanolin enriched sample that I will be trying out, I’ll let you know when they will be available.
After tea & cake and fleece & meat buying, we left Maria and John to their busy job. The geese quacked, the lambs baaed and I was very grateful for the few hours we’d had at Dodgson Wood. I will be going back to stay in their off grid accommodation soon for a real electronic detox, you should too. A more calming, welcoming surrounding will be hard to find.