Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Technicolour Dreamcoats

On Sunday it was time for a trip out to visit Jean Bennett who specialises in Shetlands. We had been hoping to see her earlier in the year but unfortunately whenever she was available we were not and vice-versa. Our timing was unfortunate as despite a good forecast there was torrential rain in Newcastle and it still pretty soggy up in Northumberland.

Jean has a smallish farm and breeds with one eye on producing quality fleeces. She is an enthusiastic spinner and weaver and so on arrival we had a lively discussion about all things woolly, including breeding, processing and local wool initiatives, over cups of tea and biscuits. Then it was on to see her sheep, which she describes as being a ‘flock of many colours’ This was certainly evident in the first field we visited that contained ewes and lambs of multiple colours, black, dark brown, champagne, moorit and grey. The range of colours was accentuated by the variety of facial and body markings all of which have names in the Shetland dialect. As with the sheep of Highside farm these animals were fairly tame and allowed us to get close and even feel their fleeces (which were uniformly wet!).

As well as pure breed Shetlands there were was also a Bluefaced LeicesterXShetland cross lamb that was distinctive by its larger size and bigger conk, though it had inherited Shetland colouring.

In a two other field were some larger older ewes, one group of which had had feet trouble. These included the breeds that had made us aware of the farm Bowmonts and BowmontXShetland crosses, the latter of which supplied one of the fleeces we bought at Woolfest. For those who are unaware of the sad and sorry story of the Bowmont there is a good description here. According to Jean they are difficult sheep to keep having regular foot problems although the crosses are hardier. It’s a pity because as well as producing phenomenal fleece the pure-bred Bowmonts have a regal air often stretching out their necks as if peering down at the other sheep around them as in the piccies below

and here is one of the crosses........

Then it was off to see the fleece store and the remains of this years clip. There were still a number of great fleeces and we came away with a grey moorit, brown moorit, black and red Shetlands and another (large) BowmontXShetland. Sadly just as we were leaving the sun decided to come out but that just gave us some great views of the Northumberland countryside on the way back.

Of course no trip out would be complete without sampling a local boozer, this time the very welcoming Percy Arms in Chatton which called to us as it was a Jennings pub.

Many thanks to Jean, Malcolm and the dogs for making us both very welcome and taking the time to show us their gorgeous sheep.