Well February came and went, didn’t it? I won’t bother with the usual excuses and laments about my blog absence — it seems intermittent blogging is my norm, for the moment. But to those of you who’ve stuck around — thanks!
Over the weekend, I had a really delightful (if far too short) visit to good friends who live in Devon. My friend and fellow knitting enthusiast Grace had been promising me she had some good yarn shops to introduce me when I next visited. We only had time for one shop, so we made it a good one: Wool on the Exe in Exeter.
It’s hard to believe but just over a week ago, I sent off my Ph.D. dissertation! It felt so odd and exhilarating to press the send button and be faced with ten glorious days of limbo before I fly to the US for a conference and then my formal Ph.D. defense, which will be the official conclusion of my seven years (!) in graduate school.
As a little surprise, Mr. N took me away for a few days last week to the South Lakes where we could enjoy a bit of a break and the last days of summer in the Northwest. We fit a lot into three days, but one of my favorite bits was hiking up the Old Man of Coniston, which is a large fell on the west side of Coniston Water. It dominates the landscape, and we had beautiful views from the spot we were married, which is on the east side of Coniston Water. We’ve both wanted to go up it ever since.
Last week I had the chance to go along with Kate from Northern Yarn to Dodgson Wood, a beautiful farm in Cumbria where John and Maria raise rare breed cattle and sheep, practice conservation grazing, run off grid accommodation, and produce gorgeous soaps (from the milk of their Jersey cow) and, of course, wool! Beautiful, single farm, breed specific yarns — what could be better?
The farm, which John’s family has been farming on for six (!!) generations, is nestled in Cumbria at the bottom of the Lower Lakes. We’d actually put our trip off for a week because of the “Beast from the East” and the forecast for last Tuesday looked like it might be a bit gray — so we were pleasantly surprised with sun and blue skies (but you can see the snow-capped fells in the distance!) When you pull up to the farm, you’re greeted with the happy sound of clucking chickens and ducks, as well as some geese who keep a careful guard of the farm and a watchful eye on the road for new comers!
Maria and John keep a variety of sheep, including Cheviots, several of which are rare breed , like fiesty horned Castlemilk Moorits (they have a fascinating history that you can read about here) and the long wooled Teewasters:
This little one isn’t a pedigree Castlemilk Moorit because of the unusual markings on its face, but I love how still and regal it looks — almost like it new I was taking a picture!
When we arrived last week, lambing and calving season was already in full swing (another reason it was extra nice of John and Maria to spend time showing us the farm!) Ewes pregnant with a single lamb, and ewes who have already given birth to just one were out in the fields. Kate and I got to go out to the field with Maria while she gave the flock some extra food and checked for any new arrivals!
No new lambs in the field (Maria actually told us that the ewes almost seem to prefer lambing on rainy, wet days, rather than when the sun’s out) but we did get to see two little lambs frolicking in the field and playing a game that involved lots of headbutting!
Maria and John also have a small but growing flock of Teeswater sheep, a rare breed long wool sheep. In fact, their flock is growing as we speak — when we were there, we got to have a peek at two sets of Teeswater twin lambs that had been born that week! Twins and their moms, as well as ewes expecting twins, had been moved into the ewe “maternity ward” where Maria and John can keep an extra eye on them, making sure they get on all right and that the mothers are taking care of both lambs (sometimes, the ewes prefer one lamb over the other and some intervention is needed to make sure both lambs get enough food!) I love the distinctive, long curly locks of the Teeswater — and the little lambs’ new coats of tight curls were so sweet!
Maria even let us give the lambs a little cuddle …. and oh my goodness, holding a days-old lamb certainly does the heart good!
Look at that face!
Spending a few hours up at the farm, I was so struck by the beauty of the place (it really is breathtaking) but also what an awful lot of work it takes! John and Maria wear so many hats. It’s very clear how much they care about all their livestock, and what a lot of work they are — Maria had been up every two hours the night before we came checking on the pregnant cows and ewes; they’d both been up in the middle of the night because a Belted Galloway cow had given birth to her calf up against the railing of her pen — the force of her labor had pushed the little calf through the pen’s rails and separated the two, so they’d had to get the calf back in it’s mother’s pen (mother and calf were both doing very well when we arrived). They get their gorgeous wool spun into yarn, sell meat and some of the livestock, run off grid accommodation, and Maria’s also making the most glorious Jersey milk soaps … she sent us home with some, and I’ve been loving the one I’ve been using on my hands!
It was so inspiring to see two people so passionate about what they do, pursuing so many creative ventures on their farm. My only regret is that I didn’t take more pictures of the farmhouse, cows, chickens — I was so interested in hearing more about the farm (and, let’s be honest, cooing over the lambs) that I wasn’t as handy with my camera as I would have liked! But then again, there’s only so much you can capture in a photo. The overwhelming vitality of the farm — the lambs and ewes happily bleating to each other; the sound of pregnant ewes snuffling up their food; the chickens that boldly darted anywhere and everywhere in the farmyard, scampering through the legs of cows; and all the hard work happening on the farm — I suspect that even had I taken 1,000 pictures, some things just can’t be captured.
I came home happy and now have a freezer full of meat that I know I can feel good about eating, a sheepskin that is so soft I move it from room to room to sit with, and a renewed desire to cast on with some of the beautiful Shear Delight yarn that comes from the farm. I’ve had my eye on Dodgson Wood yarn since my very first visit to Northern Yarn and getting to know John and Maria a bit and seeing their happy sheep has made me want to knit with their beautiful yarn all the more. I’m thinking an Incunabula out of one of their DK blends or maybe trying out a two-color version of Kate Davies’ gorgeous new Myrtle in their Teeswater lace. And I’ve also been contemplating a pair of Otrera Mitts in their Cheviot first shear DK. So many knits, so little time!
Dodgson Wood have an online shop where you can shop for all their different farm produce, from meats, to their Soap Dairy soaps, and their Shear Delight yarn and sheep-related products! And if you’re in Lancaster, you can see the yarn and soap in person at Northern Yarn!
Such a big thanks to Kate from Northern Yarn for inviting me along and for John and Maria for being so generous with their time, especially given the busy-ness of spring on the farm! I love this picture of the two of them with one of their new lambs — I think it really captures the love they have for what they do!
Alright, I better go get packing for EYF! If all goes according to plan, I’m going try to pop in here with little daily photo updates if you’d like to follow along!
Hi friends and happy …. day whatever today is. Just kidding, I know it’s Wednesday, Thursday. We arrived back to our little stone house Tuesday late afternoon, and boy, have I had a major case of the jet lags. I’ve done enough long-ish haul travel that I’ve developed some pretty strict rules from for myself (all stemming from one disastrous trip to Copenhagen many years ago, in which I managed to pretty much sleep through the vacation because of poorly managed jet lag). Overnight flight? Sleep as much as you can. Arrive. Stay up as long as humanly possible. Never go to bed before 7 pm local time. Never take naps.
Well, our bags our nearly packed, the knitting (obviously the most important part) is just about sorted, and tomorrow, we fly! I can’t wait to see my family and am so excited to spend Christmas and New Year with them, and hopefully, settling in for some serious knitting time with my mom and sister! I imagine I’ll pop in here and there (maybe to share some holiday cooking, or my mom and sister’s knitting, too!) but, before the hubbub of the holidays begins, I wanted to take a moment to wish all of you a happy and peaceful festive season!
Hope all’s well in your corner of the world — thanks, as always, for spending a bit of your time with me!
Hi friends! Another week’s galloping by faster than I can believe — how is it Tuesday evening already!?
Though it’s almost a distant memory, we had a friend visiting over the weekend and took advantage of having rented a car to retrieve him from the airport to take another ramble in the area! There’s so much prettiness to explore here — this weekend was another reminder that, if we do get a car in the not too distant future, it would open up a nice world of weekend adventuring!