Wovember – growing wool…

It’s Wovember time again, a celebration of all things really and truly woolly (and it’s in no way to be compared with MOvember, in aid of which some of my male friends are currently growing moustaches). Not, note, of things that appear to be woolly but which turn out, on investigation, to be simply masquerading as woolly. Things which are wholly or partly fake and are simply riding on the back of the word ‘wool’ being shorthand for quality and warmth. Hrrumpf. Each year, Wovember set some themes for exploration, and I thought I’d do my own thing, largely photographically, based on these ideas throughout the month.

It starts off with, perhaps not surprisingly, ‘growing wool’. So here’s my (somewhat local) reaction to that, and I’m issuing a cuteness warning in advance, because inevitably the first stage of growing wool – well, almost the first stage – is lambs.

Though pregnant sheep really come first…

snowy sheep

Here, brought down from the hill a couple of years ago in response to an accurate weather forecast. Or maybe first should really be rams in their bondage gear harnesses, all reddled up to do the business. Don’t have any shots of that, possibly because I’m generally too busy giggling. Childish, I know, but – depending on what type of harness is being used – they do look as though they’re modelling fetish wear.

Then, of course, you get a sudden increase in noise level. Normally our ambient noise here, on the coast of Snowdonia, is the sea – the sort of almost-white noise which might have been recorded as a relaxation aid in the 1970s, along with whale song. From March for about eight weeks, maybe longer, it’s sheep, and relaxing it isn’t. High-pitched lambs yelling ‘muuuum!’, ‘muuuuuum!’; deeper-voiced ewes replying ‘laaaaaammmb’, ‘laaaaammmbbbb,’… And the volume of the former is out of all proportion to their size; boy, are they loud. When it’s just light enough to see the tempting far end of the field they bounce down there and then can’t find their mums when they turn round because they’ve bounced downhill. Cue racket. And earplugs for some of my friends who would like to sleep beyond 4.00 a.m (wimps, hee hee).

when it itchez, you scrathchez

Who doesn’t love lambs? (Those who have to sleep, perhaps.) They are so impossibly cute, their bouncing lifts the heart, and the lamb gangs that form up and then charge off in a particular direction for no apparent reason are endlessly entertaining. Yes, it’s hard work, lambing, of course, but even the most curmudgeonly farmer must lighten up a little when watching the ‘I’m king of the castle / no, I am / no, me, geroff’ antics of the average lamb gang.

I can see more than you can

The downside, if there is one, is that the lamb gang in action is almost impossible to photograph. They blur, even if they are so used to people that they don’t scatter immediately. You need a full OB unit and possibly the Springwatch team. I sometimes go for a walk with a friend who licks her lips when she sees lambs, anticipating mint-sauce-related events, but I look at them in terms of wool. These are Welsh Mountains; don’t write their fleeces off as too harsh, because a good shearling WM can be fine. For outerwear, ahem – you wouldn’t want it next to your skin, particularly. Unless you were going to be joining the rams in the strange fetish department.

Another of my friends laments the change in lambs, from feisty bundles of bounciness to placid, stolid sheep whose main aim in life is to eat grass. She doesn’t know sheep, is my reaction. They can have lots of personality. Like one named Paxo – this farm reached Ps for naming a year ago – because he stuffed himself and ate everything in sight, including the stock book, and would sneak quietly about, knowing just when to walk really silently so you wouldn’t spot him on his endless food quest; another – Martha, this time – who was the biggest sheep in the world (all fleece) and who liked to follow tourists walking along the lanes near her farm because she’d learned they often had sandwiches; Eely, my pet lamb who thought she was a sheepdog; one lead sheep who mastered mountaineering and could get into places even deer could not penetrate, bringing the flock with her; another lead sheep who worked out how to roll over a cattle grid so the crofters had to put a gate on the communal lane as well and everyone in the lower village thought we were mad…

sheep by office

When I think about sheep, I find it hard to divorce them from their specific environment. (I disliked the lamb sales not just because most lambs were being bought by the meat people – that was my mother’s position – but because they were so out of place. Brought off the hills and penned: to me, as a child, it was all wrong.) I was once driving along a remote glen when I noticed movement up on the hill and stopped. A river of sheep was cresting the ridge in a spectacular ‘reveal’, worthy of any blockbuster movie. Behind them came the shepherd and his dogs, and the landscape was somehow more complete than it had been a few minutes earlier. I know, I know, woolly maggots and all that; I’m not exonerating the Clearances, far from it. But I like to see a working landscape, not a picture postcard. And sheep are part of that landscape for me. Plus, of course, there’s all that fleece…

unbearable cuteness

And cuteness. Completely mastered by this Shetland lamb on Trondra, happily growing what will doubtless be a lovely fleece for some spinner…


4 thoughts on “Wovember – growing wool…

    1. kate Post author

      Ah yes, the evil glint. Know that one. Martha used to really frighten tourists sometimes, giving them the eye. Plus she was gigantic, looked like some sort of Craggy Island demon sheep. Fortunately easily distracted with egg mayo sarnies.

      Personally, I rather like crab apple jelly!


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