In August 2008, a friend and I went to the U.K. to see sheep – what else? We first made our way to Scotland to drop off a (semen) shipping tank at the lab in Edinburgh. While there we toured the castle and saw some of the sights of the historic city.
After 2 days in Scotland, we were off to stay in England at Higher Gills Farm with Darrell & Freda Pilkington who breed Teeswater sheep. Theirs was the most incredibly picturesque farm that you could imagine with views forever, classic stone house & barn and of course a most gracious couple who welcomed us as though they had known us forever.
What an amazing time we had staying with this family and sharing their lives for a very short time – attending a choir recital that was a fund raiser at their church, tagging along while Darrell judged sheep at a local festival then being driven across the valley to another festival so we could also see Wensleydale Sheep.
Darrell is quite an experienced sheepman and full of helpful information that he was more than willing to share. Freda, in addition to being a fabulous cook, is an innovative marketer of their Teeswater wool, selling value-added scarves, blankets, sweaters, hats and many, many other things. Thank you for your gracious hospitality!
From there we traveled by train to southeast England where we were welcomed by Julia Desch of Beech Hill Farm. Julia may be one of the larger breeders of colored Wensleydales in England judging from the size of her flock. She is a serious caretaker of the land and her animals are thriving under her shepherding.
Several of Julia’s beautiful colored rams were selected for collection.
Julia also does a lot of value-added things with her wool – pelts, gorgeous knitted items, but most notably the spun wool. Julia took us to the nearby spinning mill to see the process and I found that the unique difference from our process here is that the wool may be washed 3, 4 or more times during the processing. I can’t begin to describe the extensive hand sorting, washing and individual attention they give to these fleeces, but you can read the details on their website.
While all this handling may be more costly, it is well worth the expense because I have never felt a longwool yarn in the U.S. that could compare to the softness of this yarn. I don’t have much experience with spinning mills, but I have felt a lot of spun wool and the final product there made a believer out of me -it felt as though it had been blended with silk. Julia has been successful in selling this premium yarn at upscale events in London.
It was such a joy to share in the lives of these sheep breeders and I continue to see that we have more similarities than differences in the way we all view, raise and market our sheep. I can verify that our high percentage Wensleydales are absolutely comparable to their purebreds and that with the upgrading guidelines set up by NAWSA, and good selection (culling) practices, we certainly will have true Wensleydale sheep in America.
Sherry Carlson, Loma Rica, CA