What the Lonk

Since having my own yarn processed last year from local flocks, my mind has been literally spinning (excuse the pun) with ideas and different breeds I’d love to have spun. SO many local farmers stop by my stall to talk about breeds I stock and the breeds they keep, it’s fascinating. As well as my original Poll Dorset Lambswool 4 ply and DK with Bluefaced Leicester, I decided that I wanted to try other breeds from Lancashire. But which ones?

Last year I came across an article about the Lonk. An ancient breed of sheep that has been in Lancashire for over 700 years!! A pretty local breed then. It’s said that monks around Whalley and Sawley kept them and their habits were woven from their wool. They’re a hill breed and like the people of the North; hardy and strong – they just get on with it no matter what life/the weather throws at them. And in the moors and hills of Lancashire that is quite something. I decided I really wanted some yarn made from this local, native to Lancashire, sheep.

I posted the article on my FB page and received a message from Emma, a local farmer, who kept Lonk and was really interested in looking at some yarn and maybe having some processed! Kate Schofield had posted me a single skein of hand spun Lonk and Emma bought this. The yarn surprised me, for a hill breed it was fine and soft. I decided for definite I wanted a Northern Yarn line of Lonk and Emma and I made plans.

Last week I drove over to Brown Barn Farm to meet Emma & Matt and pick up 40 kilos of Lonk shearling. It must have been gone 9pm but Emma and Matt were still working; Emma was painting machinery that had been made for them by a friend and Matt was bobbing around on the tractor. The thing about farming that always strikes me is that it just never stops. There is always something to do – I asked Emma whether she has to be strict and make herself stop and she laughed! You only stop when everything is done that needs to be done and if you have to get up in the middle of the night then that’s what you do. Kids too! Matt added that there has to be a balance and they enjoy what they do and make it work. I really admire that. It’s easy to look at the gorgeous photos on Instgram and think how idyllic farm life is; to hang around in the countryside, petting lambs with the kids and thinking how much I’d like to have a go myself. When reality is very different.  You become part of the farm and land and live and breathe it, you have to give yourself and all your time to it, come snow, rain (often relentless rain) and hail stones! I get to 9pm and want to cuddle up with my knitting and a wine; I’m not sure how I’d cope on a farm. Emma and Matt love keeping Lonk. It’s special to them because the breed have been grazed on the land they live for centuries. Good mothers, the ewes go off to find a good place to give birth in advance (I love a good plan) and go it alone without the need of much help. They’re stoic and proud and just look beautiful with their elegant horns. It is said that the name ‘Lonk’ comes from the local name for thin and long – ‘lanky’. They do have a long body and thin legs – so maybe!

We talked for a good hour and managed to squeeze the Lonk fleeces in the boot and I headed home, breathing in the lovely sheep smells wafting from the boot. I’ll be alright if I get stranded I thought. I would not be in need of a blanket.

The next morning  Angela – my fleece advisor and friend – pulled up in the pouring rain in her van. We already had 75 kilos of fleece in the van and I had another 75 to get in. Hmmm. I busied myself in the kitchen while Andy and Angela huffed and puffed and managed to close the van door.  It didn’t seem like a year since we made the journey over to Halifax Spinning Mill to see Paul, but here we were again. In the middle of July and the rain just got heavier and heavier. We had made these arrangements just the day before and it felt good to be heading Paul’s way – to deliver our fleecy treasure. We arrived and found Paul deep in the depths of his mill, surrounded again by tons and tons of fleece and wool. I thought I had a good idea about what I wanted, but after talking to Paul for half an hour I wasn’t so sure. The wool oracle spoke and I again tried to absorb half of what he was telling me, about a quarter remains! I was amazed (and I think he was too) that Paul hadn’t spun Lonk before, we looked through the fleeces again and admired the long staple and just how soft it was! And after a brew and negotiations (desperate pleas) we said goodbye. It almost felt like leaving the kids for their first day at nursery – you feel a bit lost but you know they’re in good hands. And we will be reunited soon!

 Kate. xxx