Dan and Rachel, and their two wee boys, organically farm Fearniewell Croft in the heart of the Black Isle (only a handful of miles from our home). They work ”on a scale mid way between gardening and farming which means a close eye can be kept on things as they grow. The grass & clover feeds the cows whose dung feeds the soil which feeds the vegetables which feed us – no short cuts but the result is healthy animals, soil, vegetables and people.”
The small flock of Gotlands ”with a hint of Shetland” (thanks to a fence jumping tup a few generations ago!) is integral to the croft – Dan even hand clips with traditional shears. Sadly, until now, their fleece has only been used as insulation and slug barriers! We’re hoping that 2016’s clip will be put to good use in countless knitting projects instead and hopefully treasured for many years to come.
Hedgefield is the show name for Jim and Linda’s award winning flock of pedigree Zwartbles. Their sheep are a very cosseted bunch! The flock is based on the edge of the small town of Beauly – set at the head of the Beauly Firth (just a few miles inland from the Black Isle) it earned the name Beauly after Mary Queen of Scots exclaimed ‘C’est un beau lieu’ when she visited in the 16th Century (or a slightly less romantic version suggests that the name comes from the French Monks who set up the Priory in 1230!).
When we heard that Jim, an old forestry colleague, clips his best youngsters over their first winter ready for the coming show season we were immediately intrigued (and delighted that a handful of their winter 2016 fleeces were available). As hoped, the handle is softer than that of mature Zwartbles and the fleece is a beautiful rich bitter chocolate brown with little of the bleaching that comes in with age.
Our university friend Lynda and her family farm at Drumsmittal, overlooking rolling fields and woods that are so typical of the Black Isle. They run a large flock of mostly Blackface ewes and Texel tups but have a few pure Cheviots in the mix too. When I considered combining some of the Zwartbles fleeces with other fibres I asked Lynda if I could buy some Cheviot fleece. I had a message on 23 June 2016 with this photo attached, showing the beautiful fleece they had picked out for me. I replied asking if clipping was going well and how many more they had to do………the response came back ”only 300”!