Monday, 27 September 2010

Marvellous Masham

The weekend of the 25th and 26th of September was the date of the 2010 Masham Sheep Fair. This long running event in North Yorkshire is a celebration of all things sheepy.

We decided to go on the first day as we wanted to see the longwool and downland breeds that featured in that days show. The day started in a disorientating fashion as I stopped off at the portaloos that were both CLEAN and pleasant to be in!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! –a completely alien environment for a veteran of several music festivals.

The morning was spent viewing the show sheep, all of which looked fantastic and visiting the craft fair and displays. The latter was slighty disappointing in that a number of categories had very few entries and there was no sign of any entries for the natural dyeing section. Then back to watch the judging, which was accompanied by an excellent commentary that helped demystify the whole process.

After some scrummy chips at the local chippy, that included an unplanned meet up with some other ravellers, it was off to the back field to watch first sheep racing
and then sheepdog demonstrations.

Then it was back to the main square to watch the last run of the sheep show, for me the highlight of the whole day. The brilliant Kiwi who ran it was brilliantly funny while the show was also superbly informative featuring some brilliant characters who illustrated different types of sheep.

He also explained how wool was processed including a shearing demonstration but also laced it with some serious political stuff including encouraging people to sign the petition encouraging British wool products to be used in the London Olympics.

However the highlight of the show was the end display of dancing by the sheep. I do have a small video of Terry the Texel who was the absolute star of the whole thing but I’m not going to post it as it doesn’t do his funky grooves full justice. Just if you have a chance to see the show that does tour pleas do.

Plus as with all such events there was the wallet-damaging fleece sale. As well as an opportunity to purchase some fleeces this also gives a great opportunity to get hands on with a variety of fleece types. We picked up a great Wensleydale, a grey/blue Ryeland and two fabulously soft Whitefaced Woodland (note if the person who produced them is reading this you really should assess what you charge for your fleeces-they were way too cheap for their quality).

To finish off the day it would have been rude not to have a pint as Masham is also home to both the Theakstons and Black Sheep breweries. Weirdly the pub we visited, the White Bear, was next to the Black Sheep but stocked Theakstons.

Finally back up to Newcastle and flake out as we were both sheep-tired!

Catching Up

Well it looks like my plan to keep a regular blog has gone awry over the past month and a bit. I am now going to buckle down and try and post regularly so to start off with here is a quick recap of everything woolly that has gone on since my last posts.

Trouser Tasting Teeswater Twins.

Late August we went off for a visit to Highside Farm in Teesdale. We had previously bought one of their Teeswater fleeces via the sale at Woolfest and were visiting to see their sheep and look at the few fleeces they still had. Richard and Stephanie Proud who run the farm have developed a model of diversification keeping rare breed pigs, shorthorncattle and free range chickens as well as sheep and also run a small campsite on their land.

They are unusual in that they keep a small but extremely mixed flock and actively breed their sheep to produce interesting fleeces. As well as a number of crosses they had black Wensleydale, Gotland as well as a number of Teeswaters.

As they don’t have a working dog the majority of the sheep are trained to be hand tame and readily came upto you. One of the first to greet us was Pogie, whose fleece was the one we bought at Woolfest. While she was well behaved the same could not be said of a pair of hand-reared, late Teeswater lambs, Diddle and Dumpling, whose response to our arrival was to run up and start chewing on my trouser pockets (obviously on the off chance that I had food).

Another great character was Wellie, a young Teeswater ram, who whose ability to pose marked him out as a future star.

After meeting the sheep we had a look at the fleeces and went away with two part Teeswaters and two Texel cross shearling fleeces. The former we hope to get made up into a low twist 2ply sock-weight for shawls/stoles and the latter we hope to get made into a standard sock as they are reasonably soft but also feel very hardwearing.


Beside the Sea

The end of August saw us head up the coast to St Abbs for a Bank Holiday festival organised by Louise from Woolfish. Normally she runs two festivals a year in February and November, held in the old school, so this was a new timeslot for the event. We were both excited as this was my first festival-proper and I spent quite some time planning the layout including making a stand to display my lace weights together with a shawl knitted in Red Grape Silky lace.

Typically once there I found that I had completely miscalculated on what would fit in my space but luckily the organiser was kind enough to supply another table (Thanks Louise!!!).

The show was quieter than normal but we still sold a number of skeins, especially laceweight (so the stand obviously did its job) and got to chat with lots of enthusiastic yarnies.

So now we are really looking forward to having another stall in November. Lousie is hoping to expand into the newly renovated village hall and possibly run some workshops. If you are in the area it is a great little festival attracting big name indie dyers as well as smaller local firms like myself. Plus if you are going to hold such an event you couldn’t do it in more picturesque surroundings


More from the Flexigraze sheep.

Last week saw the return of some of the Flexigraze sheep to Tyne Riverside park. To help develop the wild flower meadow three Manx Loaghtan and seven Swaledales, which I had previously helped shear earlier in the year, were to be moved in from Whittle Dene. After rounding the sheep up Stephen Coomber took them in his truck to the park where we penned them so that their feet could be checked and then the Swales could have their bellies and tails sheared to keep them clean. This involved the volunteers catching and dragging out the sheep for Stephen and boy, they may have been skinny last time we met but the Swales had really put on weight. One of the rangers even got a chance to try shearing herself.

As well as the volunteers, a team from the Local Environmental Action fund that supports Flexigraze were also present to take publicity photos. After lots of fun trying to get the sheep to ‘look at the camera’ Stephen ran Jess, the other half of the Flexigraze team, through her paces to get some action shots of her developing herding skills.