Herdwick Sheep

Published: Monday 16th May 2016

Written by: Ann Woolley

We are mad about Herdwick sheep in the Lake District.  Everywhere you go you will see their distinctive white faces and fleeces that look like overcoats. It is possible that the breed was introduced by Viking settlers as the name derives from the Old Norse word ‘Herdwyck’ meaning sheep pasture and records of Herdwick sheep being farmed in the UK exist from 12th Century.  They are sometimes called ‘guardians of the landscape’ as their grazing of the fells has shaped and continues to maintain the open, grassy look by keeping trees from taking over.

The breed is well adapted to the conditions in the Lake District, being very hardy, able to withstand wet conditions and survive by foraging without extra feed.  Beatrix Potter used to breed Herdwick sheep and was president of the Herdwick Sheep Breeders Association whose centenary it is this year. She bequeathed her Lake District farms to the National Trust which continues to graze Herdwicks according to her instructions. In fact over 90% of Herdwick flocks can be found here making them an iconic sight for the area.  So much so that the recent public art trail Go Herdwick! has chosen them as their symbol and all this summer you will find painted Herdwick sheep models in unexpected places.  A 'Herdie' grazing outside of Fir Garth

A 'Herdie' grazing outside of Fir Garth

Herdwicks are territorial and do not venture into the difficult upland which is an advantage for farmers when they come to retrieve their flock.  The lambs learn their territory from their mothers and even when flocks from several different farms share one fell they will separate into their respective flocks to come back to the correct farm when gathered for clipping or lambing.  This is called ‘heafing’ or ‘heafting’.  Just in case any individual shows an adventurous nature and does not find its way home, each sheep is marked with ear notches called Lug marks and various stripes and spots called Smit marks which are different for each farm.

Lambs are born mostly black and their fleece gets lighter in colour with age turning dark brown after a year.  Once they have been shorn their coat grows back a grey colour, although for show they are often ‘ruddied’ so they have an auburn look.  The wool is often used for carpets and insulation as it is quite coarse and does not take dye easily. Herdwick meat has a distinctive flavour and was served at the coronation banquet for the Queen.

SheepWhether you are sheep watching or just coming to enjoy our fantastic scenery and visitor attractions we have some beautiful self-catering cottages in the Lake District in the heart of the area.  The majority of our properties are also dog friendly so you can bring the whole family.

What’s on in the area

2nd Saturday each monthA different Beatrix Potter story told by volunteers each month at National Trust property, Hawkshead. www.nationaltrust.org.uk/beatrix-potter-gallery-and-hawkshead

Friday 20th MayA scenic guided walk starting from the Britannia pub in Elterwater taking in waterfalls, quarries and Lakeland slate. http://www.lakedistrict.gov.uk/visiting/events/lake-district/import-walk...

Sunday 22nd MayBrathay Windermere marathon and half marathon. https://www.brathay.org.uk/marathon-welcome

Friday 3 & Saturday 4th JuneKeswick 20th anniversary beer festival. http://keswickbeerfestival.co.uk/

Friday 3 to Sunday 5th JuneHolker Garden Festival. http://www.holkerfestival.co.uk/

Saturday 4th JuneGrasmere gallop.  Choose from Nordic walk or fell running for this family friendly trail race. http://www.grasmeregallop.co.uk/

Saturday 11th JuneThe Cumberland Show. http://www.cumberlandshow.co.uk/?url=dynamicdata/default.asp

Ann Woolley
Ann Woolley


Reservations, Office & Property Assistant

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