Some of you may remember that last Christmas Eve I blogged ab out how following two shepherds on Twitter had helped to reconnect me to my childhood growing up on a farm. I have continued to follow them and in particular one blogger, @herdyshepherd1, has been particularly interesting with his daily Tweets on the travails of a shepherd’s life; if you’re on Twitter and don’t follow him please do, you will be entertained and also probably learn a great deal.
Earlier this year he Tweeted that the Borrowdale Shepherds’ Meet was in financial difficulty following several years of disastrous weather and would not be able to go ahead this year. To clarify a Shepherds’ Meet is similar in some ways to an agricultural show but different in that it is very local, for example entries to the Borrowdale Meet is limited to farmers living in the Borrowdale Parish and to parishes that share a boundary with Borrowdale Parish. Last year’s Meet was cancelled because of continual rain and the year before it rained all day to the extent that Land Rovers (very robust 4×4 cross country vehicles) were having to be towed out of the car park and I believe the year before that had also been a disaster. this had left their funds in dire straits and they were unable to go ahead with a Meet this year. Through “Herdy” an Indigogo crowd funding appeal was set up and along with two hundred and one others I wasvery happy to make a (small) contribution; this has allowed this year’s Meet to go ahead and to guarantee the next couple of years as well if things go wrong again which is good news all round. Having become engaged with the Meet we decided that it is a lovely time in the Lake District so we decided we would go along and see what it was all about.
This year the weather decided to be absolutely glorious with bright sunshine and warm weather all day, which combined with a wonderfully scenic setting was a very good start.
A Shepherds’ Meet is about all things sheep and showing your sheep is an important part of the shepherd’s life; apart from giving successful entrants very good bragging rights it also adds to the value of the livestock when you come to selling it. At this meet there were, for example, twenty five different classes in the Herdwick Sheep competition and a further eighteen classes for the Swaledales. I should probably say a few words about Herdwick Sheep and I am indebted to the wonderful commentator on the day who managed to keep a hilarious and informative commentary going throughout the day. Herdwick Sheep are an ancient hill breed of sheep whose genetics are believed to go back to the sheep the Viking invaders brought to Britain in the ninth and tenth centuries; their bloodline mixed with local sheep and today’s Herwick still contains this DNA. The raising of hill sheep in the Lake District has given us the beautiful mountain scenery that we love in this area and the Lake district remains the real centre of Herdwick breeding. The judging of these competitions is something that is taken very seriously indeed as the judge is judging his peers so has to be spot on with his decisions.
There is much inspection of each sheep looking at heads, teeth, conformation, legs and, in the case of the tups (gentlemen sheep!) of testicles, so important if he is going to be used for breeding. This point caused much mirth when the commentator invited spectators to come and have a good feel – of the sheep not the judge!
In the picture you can see that the competitors’ fleeces have been “redded” which is a tradition for Herdwick competitions going back into the mists of time but still continued today. Showing can be an anxious time for the handlers
and competition is fierce.
Although the judging classes are the main element of a Shepherds’ Meet there are plenty of other sheep related activities to be seen, such as sheepdog trials
and a competition judging shepherds’ crooks and sticks.
There were also practical demonstrations such as had shearing
as well as things like craft demonstrations, Herdwick fleece marketing, childrens’ games, a fell race, a barbecue and a beer tent; oh and the local Mountain Rescue team were in attendance but they got a “shout” during the meet and had to go off and rescue someone.
But this was a Shepherds’ Meet so mostly it was about the sheep and that means mostly about Herwicks.
By the afternoon Mrs Sixwheeler and I had enjoyed a good lunch and seen so many interesting things; it really had been entertaining and interesting and all in a wonderful setting. Next years Borrowdale Shepherds’ Meet will be on Sunday 20th September 2015 and if you can find an excuse to be in the area do give it a go.
23 September 2014
4 thoughts on “The Borrowdale Shepherds’ Meet”
Looks like a great day :) Why, and how, do they red the fleece?
Apparently it goes back into the mists of time. As there is great variety in fleece colours it was to make them all look the same colour so only judged on physical attributes? Originally they used locally sourced earth as it is high in iron oxides (red) but now they use water soluble dyes. Learnt all about this at the Meet, glad I was listening.
So am I – you didn’t know there was going to be a quiz, did you!! Thanks for that :)
Trouble is that I grew up on a farm but without sheep; I know about pigs and cattle but sheep didn’t figure at home. I must say though that Herdwicks are very splendid.