And as a knitter, I couldn’t let the start of the the Chinese New Year go unmarked, especially when 2015 is the Year of the Sheep.

This coincided with a beautiful article last week on the BBC Website about a new exhibition that opened last weekend at the Rheged Centre in Penrith in the English Lake District.   Titled Herdwick: A Portrait of Lakeland by renowned photographer Ian Lawson who spent five years documenting the sheep, the shepherds and the landscape, and the results are captured in his stunning photographs and book upon which the exhibition is based. You can see more of his photos from this project here, there is a “Look Inside” link which you really must click to see more of the intense beauty of this part of England, Andrew and I’s most favourite, and most missed, part of the world.

The Herdwick breed is native to the Fells of The Lakes and while it’s lambing capacity is low and the wool is much rougher than commercial breeds (like Merino), the Herdwick is prized for it’s robust health, the ability to survive by just foraging and it’s tendency not to stray.   The wool is of a thicker, courser quality and is really good for heavyweight outer garments and for things like rugs, it’s not something to be worn next to the skin, unless you’re a sheep of course, as they’ve been known to survive up to three days in a blizzard completely buried in snow, by eating their own wool.

It’s thought that as much as 99% of the world’s Herdwick’s live in the rugged West and North of The Lakes, and they have now achieved protected status.  They’re not exactly rare, as anyone who has ever walked the hills of this beautiful area of England will tell you, but because their population is all but concentrated in one area they could be decimated by an outbreak of a disease, like the foot and mouth epidemic of a few years ago, which led to the farmers loosing 25% of the 100,000 breed.

This shepherd is walking his flock towards Wast Water in front of him.  Behind him is the imposing bulk of Great Gable, part of the Scafell range which is the highest mountain in England.  We didn’t do too much fell walking in The Western Lakes but Andrew and I have climbed both Great and Green Gable before, Andrew more than once.

Arguably, the most famous of the Herdwick farmers was Beatrix Potter.  Better known for her beautifully illustrated children’s books, she spent a great deal of her life in this area of England, the latter part as a farmer with fifteen farms, and a breeder and protector of Herdwick sheep.  She won numerous prizes at country shows between 1930 and 1938, and upon her death in 1943 left all fifteen of her farms to The National Trust, and per her instructions, all of them continue to graze Herdwick’s today.

So in this, the Year of the Sheep, I encourage you to get your needles out and knit something, or if you’ve never knit before perhaps now is the time to consider taking up the hobby?  But if that’s too much for you to take on right now, you can always show your support of this terrific breed by supporting The Herdy online and physical shops.  I’m particularly fond of the Peep Mug and will be making room in my suitcase for at least one later in the year!  Click on the logo to be taken to their website.

N.B. – Photos copyright Ian Lawson ~ Herdy Logo TM The Herdy Company