Long Wool Yarns


Richard Bell's Wild West Yorkshire nature diary, North Yorkshire, Thursday, 13th September, 2007

I PICK UP two strands of wool from the farmyard and ask Ruth in the Wensleydale Longwool Sheep Shop, near Leyburn, if this is just as they come from the sheep. The contrasting colour and the twist give the impression that they have already been through some process but, no; the sheep have masses of these thick, fleecy dreadlocks in either 'black' (in fact dark brown) or white. They have a slate blue face.

The Wensleydale Longwool Sheep dates from 1839 and was first exhibited at the Yorkshire Show in 1876.


The small flock is grazing at the far side of a nearby field but because of the latest foot-and-mouth restrictions announced yesterday I decide not to walk across to get a closer view. In the 2001 foot-and-mouth outbreak, 101 longwool sheep were slaughtered; 6% of the breed total.

There’s no good time for a foot-and-mouth outbreak, but for sheep farmers the restrictions on animal movement couldn't have come at a worse point in the season; it's the traditional time to sell sheep and to buy in new tups (rams).

The flock I drew had recently been sheared . . . brrrr! baaah! (actually they didn't make a sound as I drew, in contrast to most sheep, especially when the lambs are about).

The Burning of Bartle

Ridge above West  WittonThe crags above West Witton are typical of the Yoredale Series of limestones, shales and sandstones, alternating in hard and soft layers to give rise to the long scars along the edge of the dale. Yoredale is the old name for Wensleydale; there's no River Wensley; the River Ure gave rise to the old name.

Barbara and I take a short walk around the village and discover something of the legend of the Burning of Bartle. There's an annual ceremony which seems to be partly a warning to sheep rustlers and partly an echo of pagan rites.

We had lunch at the Wensleydale Heifer, which is the AA English seafish pub of the year for 2007, although I went for the butternut squash and chorizo soup followed by a very superior BLT. I'd like to go back to try one of the fish dishes when I haven't recently eaten a muffin at Aunt Sally's in Bedale, as I did this morning.

Kettlewell Yorkshire Curd Tart

We drove along the narrow road up Coverdale and then down into Kettlewell in Wharfedale. Something about the name Kettlewell puts a subliminal message into my mind that it's about time we had a cup of tea but, after all I'd eaten today, I didn't go for a Yorkshire Curd Tart, which the mums, who were travelling with us today ordered.

The original Yorkshire Curd Tart was made with the curds left over from cheese-making. This is sheep country and the first Wensleydale cheese was made from ewe's milk by the Cistercian monks who settled at Fors and Jervaulx.

You can substitute cottage cheese for curds.

View from Aunt Sally's, Bedale