01 Jun Cappuccinos and other sheep
Pure white heads attached to fabulously fluffy bodies in a fashionable mocha brown, Herdwick sheep are like horizontal cappuccinos on legs and, by some distance, are the most attractive of the sheep we’ve encountered on this sheep-strewn journey. The lambs are black from head to toe, making the Herdwick ‘en famille’ a truly incongruous sight.
The Herdwicks also don’t appear to gather great dangs of ‘detritus’ at their rear end as so many other breeds do. Having now had several days in which to observe sheep ‘en passant’, this appears to be an affliction of the adults; the lambs remain happily un-danged. Of course, they have shorter fleeces than their mothers (fathers already dispatched to another field to idle their time away until happy month comes round again in the late autumn) and none of the flowing, fleecy dangly bits on which dangs are prone to dangle. So the lambs luck out on cleanliness and sweetness but their long-term prospects are unavoidably poor to dismal.
I don’t know much about sheep, as you can probably tell, and most of the other breeds are white, making identification more tricky. Of course, I use the word ‘white’ loosely, covering a number of shades, none of which would, in a strict sense, be called white at all. But I do know that of these ‘whites’, the ones with black faces may be Blackfaced Leicesters – seems obvious and, thus, may be true. But, I discover there’s a breed called Swaledale and, geographically speaking, that could be spot on. Then there are several breeds that are all-over white. Cheviots perhaps? I reach for this as probably the only other breed I can name, but it strikes me that if they are Cheviots, they’ve roamed a long way from home. I’m discovering that sheep-spotting is really tricky.
Approaching Kirkby Stephen on Monday, tramping across fields just short of the town, we came across alarmingly unattractive sheep. These monsters were so fat, squat and broad that, from a distance, we mistook them for some oddly curly-haired breed of pigs. But as we climbed the stile into their field we were amazed to see they were sheep after all. A quick Google and I came up with Texel sheep. Whatever the breed these look like sheep on steroids: old and young alike, they were ugly critters.
It’s late spring and, whatever the breed, the lambs are already big and strong, beautifully formed and with fresh lustrous fleeces. Their poor old mothers, on the other hand, look utterly exhausted, decrepit, malnourished, their fleeces patchy, with great chunks missing or hanging off as if in a mass breakout of sheepish alopecia. And the way those lambs lock on for a suckle makes your eyes water. Motherhood for the poor old sheep? If only the girls had other options…..