The day I met the Hebrideans
I love my job. Not only because I'm often surrounded by beautiful wool, but the variety of people I get to meet and speak to when I'm out on my stall really top it off. Since starting Northern Yarn I've found that somehow, I've met the right people at the right time and wonderful things have happened.
Last year I met Tim Mitcham, who is head of Conservation at Lancashire Wildlife Trust. Tim was interested in the Lancashire Farm Wool, grown by conservation grazers in Silverdale and Arnside. We had a good chat and Tim told me they had a flock of Hebridean sheep at Brockholes, dealing with some pesky unwanted plants. (These were perhaps not Tim's actual words but my technical interpretations.) I, of course, asked what happened to the wool and how I could get my hands on some! It was so interesting to hear how the wool is used; hanging baskets, helping to rebuild the sand dunes on the coast road, moccasins, it's the wonder..the wonder of wool!!
This week I went to Formby where the sheep are currently munching more gorsey treats and met with the brilliant Sian Parry, a Conservation Grazing Officer. Sian had kindly agreed to show me around and introduce me to the Hebrideans. I was so excited! Sian has been a grazing officer for six years and seamlessly manages this land with obvious care and dedication. The land has residential properties on one side and lots of the residents now volunteer on the site, feeding the sheep, checking them at lambing time, etc. On the other side is a MoD airfield. Sian calmly told me that is was a dummy airfield back in WW2 and they sometimes uncovered unexploded bombs. I was suddenly aware of where I was walking and decided to try and follow sheep trails where I could - always trust the sheep.
Suddenly a noisy goat ran out from behind a bush, followed by a beautiful Golden Guernsey kid, followed by several Hebrideans, looking unimpressed with their cloven footed friends but very interested in the sugar beet treats. Sian (again calmly and without any hesitation) pointed out that the fence we were about to climb was electric - only 6000 volts mind, so it would hurt, but wouldn't leave any permanent damage, but I had room to throw my leg over didn't I?! Bravely I answered yes, of course, only 6000 volts you say, well that's just fine (sweat, tremble, breathe) cripes I don't like the shocks you get from supermarket trolleys and slides! You'll be glad to hear that I managed to get over without being electrocuted and met and fed the first bunch of Hebrideans. They were so cool, an older gang rocking the grey hair and being very friendly.
Sian showed me all the animals; the Exmoor Ponies, Icelandic sheep (clouds on legs) and I was just amazed at how much work was done here, by Sian and all the volunteers. They currently receive zero funding and are dependent on their own projects. Places like these are so important, giving us a mass of valuable information; I saw fields that were of special scientific interest, walked through heathers that had just started growing here and saw new, rare species of plants that were thriving due to well managed grazing.
Sian pointed out the gorse bushes that had been expertly nibbled by the sheep; they had created their own topiary garden! One was the perfect pineapple...
Sian and a colleague shear all the sheep themselves, which is pretty impressive. I'll return to Formby to check out the fleeces and fingers crossed, I'll have some Lancashire/Liverpudlian Hebridean wool to add to the Northern Yarn family by the end of the year. Having met Sian and the sheep makes the process special. So much hard work goes into keeping our wildlife secure for future generations, they are definitely safe in Sian's hands.