Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Swaledales and fashion

click photo to enlarge
Striding out on the limestone grasslands of the Craven uplands of North Yorkshire I was starting to feel sorry for the sheep. For the Swaledales in particular, the breed that is the mainstay of the local farms. A very dry spell of weather meant that the grass wasn't growing as lushly as it should have been in late May, and the animals were having to be fed supplements brought to them by shepherds on quad bikes. The temperature was unseasonally cold too, with a northerly wind causing me to don a jacket. The lambs looked to be faring quite well, their mothers' milk and what food there was stimulating the thick, curly fleece that offers very effective insulation against the bad weather. No, it wasn't the youngsters that I was concerned about, it was the ewes. Quite a number of them had fleeces that were dropping off their backs, hanging down in rags, the missing pieces blowing about among the nardus grass or caught on the drystone walls and barbed wire. Sheep shearing in the Dales usually starts at the end of May. Had it been postponed due to the weather, I wondered, or was there some other reason for the dishevelled look of the local inhabitants?

Then it struck me. Perhaps this wasn't a case of shearing delayed, but was a matter of sartorial choice on the part of the Swaledales. Could it be that a quirk of the evolutionary process was causing them to follow the precedents of some of the higher life forms who pass their way; in particular the fashionably dressed youngsters on outdoor pursuits courses, or those dragged on to the hills by enthusiastic parents (my children know that of which I speak). The sheep must have seen the ripped jeans, stonewashed shirts, artificially distressed jumpers and artfully revealed midriffs, and thought, "At last, the humans have a fashion that we can copy!" Either that or they're taking the rip and having a good laugh at our expense. What do you think?

photograph & text (c) T. Boughen

Camera: Olympus E510
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 83mm (166mm/35mm equiv.)
F No: f5.6
Shutter Speed: 1/250
ISO: 100
Exposure Compensation: -0.3 EV
Image Stabilisation: On