The Herdwick Ewe – “Who are you”?

It is a warm friday afternoon in the Lake District.  I have spent the day visiting farms along the valley of Eskdale. It is the annual stock- taking valuation day that i so look forward to. My final call has just been completed, visiting the Harrison family at Brotherilkeld. Proud farmers like so many in these valleys, Andrew Harrison who farms on the other side of the beck told me recently “all i ever wanted to do was farm Herdwick sheep to the very best of my ability”.   His comment is humble and heartfelt and i am proud to work for these people. Brotherilkeld is the very last farm at the head of the valley.  The side valley behind the farm leads up to the towering mass of Bowfell and the sharp summit of Esk Pike. Both the sheep and the farmers are bred for this terrain. Every nook and cranny of these valleys and mountain sides are known to both. This fellscape is both respected and valued by the farmers. Their care and commitment is rewarded in healthy flocks of sheep that winter well and thrive in the cold wet windswept winter weather that pounds the western Lake District. As I shut the farm gate I have two choices for my journey home. Turn right and drive back down the valley and up the west coast of Cumbria. Or turn left and immediately start the hard climb towards Hardknott pass.

There is no decision, of course I want to travel home through the heart of Lakeland. I’ve done this job for many years and each year I look forward to my Eskdale day. My car struggles for grip on the warm tarmac. Too much throttle and the wheels spin on the tight hair pin bends. At its steepest it is a 1 in 3 gradient and as such one of the steepest roads in the country. Up and up I go past the remains of  the ancient roman fort now called Hardknott. All the way up I am at once admiring the rugged terrain whilst at the same time watching for cars coming down the mountain road. Soon I am climbing towards the top of the pass at 1289 Feet. Hardknott can be a beast in the winter months, I know because I have been up here in years gone by. it is hard to imagine what the Romans must have thought when they created this track in AD110.

Today the view is spectacular. I can’t resist stopping the car at the summit. I am not time pressured. My work is done. I leave the car and take a few steps back down the mountain towards Eskdale. The valley stretches out before in a mosaic pattern of farms, fields and pastures, bounded at each side by the bracken brown slopes of the fell sides.

The air is still and the road remains traffic- less. A deep breath. It is the smell of the countryside. All around me the gentle cry of sheep and the faint bleating of their lambs responding.  Then only a few yards in front of me a Herdwick ewe arises from the grass. She takes a few steps towards me, placing her two front feet on a rock. From this lofty vantage she watches me and waits. Slowly, I take the phone from the breast pocket of my shirt. I take a picture of her. She seems to be asking me “who are you”? After a while she loses interest in me and walks a few steps down the hill. In a minute she is gone from view. The rest of the flock is further down the mountain.

I am left pondering the view and the sheep’s question “who are you”? I look down at all the farms I have visited. Each and every one of the farmers make me welcome, seem pleased to see me, to share some of their life  and their business, proud to show me their years’ work. At that point I realise that this is my workplace, these are my customers. These very sheep are providing me with a job, enabling me to raise a family and allowing me to have days like to day. As I stare down the valley, I realise that I am both proud and grateful, for I am a Lakeland Auctioneer.

One thought on “The Herdwick Ewe – “Who are you”?

  1. When we go over HardKnott Pass (when we visit Cumbria), I often have to close my eyes on some of those hard turns…. but it is one of those drives I will never forget! Thanks Adam for the reminder….

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