The Royal Berkshire County Show

There are few things in the world as lovely as a sheep’s nose.

This is the nose of a very fine Greyface Dartmoor, whom I met on Saturday at the Royal Berkshire County Show.

The farmer who bred this sheep is married to a spinner; she saw some Greyface Dartmoors at a country show and fell in love with their silken grey locks. The following Christmas, she got a tup and a ewe of her own, and the couple have been breeding them ever since. Personally, I don’t think I could get any spinning done at all if I had a Greyface Dartmoor, as I am sure I would spend my whole life stroking its nose.

Last time we went to the Royal Berkshire County Show, we were swept up in the overwhelming avenues of stalls, and spent the day grazing on sausages, fudge and pies, and picking our way through the rammed craft tents in the hope of finding some wondrous, locally produced yarn. At the end of the day we went to see the animals and immediately realised the error of our ways. The spinners (of course) all hang out in the sheep area; and the animals are much better than even the very finest sausages, fudge, and pies. This year we knew better, and – with only a couple of hours between Mark’s scheduled parent/taxi appointments – we were purposeful and focussed.

Firstly, we visited the sheep.

As we drew near, various animals were being judged on their fleeces. I have never seen a white Wensleydale with floor-length ringlets other than in books and photos, but it was a very fine sight indeed.

Inside the tent, there were wondrous sheepy sounds and wondrous sheepy smells. People who say sheep are stupid have never spent any time with them. They are full of personality, and I really could have spent all of our time at the show just hanging out with them. One was chewing its rosette ribbon; one was attempting to instigate some kind of baa-ing riot; some were scuffling in their pens; a few looked sleepy; and many were inquisitive. The Herdwicks seemed stoical about being so far from home.

I love having the opportunity to see sheep like this, where you can really see the differences between the breeds, and where you can touch their fleeces and learn the differences by feel between downland sheep, hill sheep, and long wool sheep. Some of the Southdown sheep and the Oxford Down sheep had incredibly dense fleeces. As Mark put it, “fluffy white clouds with four legs poking out”.

The Clun Forest sheep look very unlike other breeds, with their narrow faces and sticky-up ears.

And Galway sheep – which originated in the West of Ireland – have lovely, soft wool – “like Candyfloss”, according to Mark – and enormous eyes.

I may be wrong in the labels on some of these photographs, for which I apologise and would welcome correction, as I really want to learn by heart all the different breeds and what their fleeces are best for. I do not know, for instance, what kind of breed this is… any ideas?

Finally we tore ourselves away from the sheep tent to go and look at the pigs. What we now know is that if we ever keep a pig, it shall be a rust-coloured Tamworth. The pigs were not nearly so interested in us as the sheep were, but we loved listening to their grunts and squeals and marvelling at their princely sizes!

The poultry tent was a sonic delight; it reminded me of a toy shop where all the jack-in-the-boxes and all the squeaky toys and all the bells and all the automata were going off at once. As soon as one bird started to quack/bark/shout/squark, another one would reply in full, and so on, and on, so that the entire tent was awash with the sounds of birds in various stages of excitement and agitation. It sounded amazing, and I made a short audioboo on my phone, as I had not bought The Big Kit with me. I feel that next year I must return with a full array of microphones and a press-pass.

Berkshire County Show, poultry tent (mp3)

I had no idea there were so many kinds of chickens, roosters, turkeys, hens, bantams etc.

I was deeply intrigued by the egg-competition which seemed to have occurred. On what basis are eggs judged?

Having thoroughly investigated the livestock portion of the show, we moved on to go and find the amazing, locally-produced yarn which was missing last time we went. I love Skeinqueen’s colours and yarns; they are sumptuous and enjoyable to knit, and the shades are rich and joyous. My photos of the shimmer socks knit in Skeinqueen’s blissful do not do the yarn justice but her greens are especially pleasing, which is of great importance to me as I am a fan of THE GREEN. I was super-excited to discover that Debbie of Skein Queen has had some yarn especially spun up by John Arbon of Fibre Harvest. This yarn is a DK weight Exmoor Blueface yarn and shall be wondrous for snuggly Winter cardigans. We had to go and I am supposed to not be spending any money at the moment, but I am enjoying daydreaming about said yarn/cardigan combinations.

I am also enjoying daydreaming of the Autumn to come; of not leaving my house much in coming weeks; of working at home; of quietness; of early nights; of pleasing knitting projects; of frosty walks; and of soft, sheepy noses.

Twit twoo.

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