Our autumn meeting on Saturday 29 October proved to be the most popular we have held in ten years, save only for an even more popular evening on bats a few years ago. With 56 people crammed into the loft of the Village shop we heard a succession of local speakers talk about keeping sheep: Tony Eggar, Sarah Sawyer, Mike Topp, Louise Frankel, Phil Morgan (in absentia), Brian Matt and myself. Apart from Tony, who employs his solely as lawnmowers, all are, or will be, ‘utilising’ their animals for wool, fleeces, meat and hides, so we heard about not just the pleasures and satisfactions of looking after sheep, but also some hard-nosed considerations relating to choice of abattoir and methods of butchering. Several have rare breed sheep, partly as a contribution to maintaining the breeds. And, for Sarah and Louise, sheep-keeping has become a whole-family concern. The only ‘misfit’ was myself, who merely provides herbage and grazing for Bill Creswick’s sheep, though occasionally I have had to haul them out of fences or bramble patches.

What made this meeting different were the exhibitors. Following on from the brief talks by the ‘shepherds’ we were treated to a number of live demonstrations by local craftspeople who use wool. Whilst we drank tea and ate cake we wandered round the exhibits watching Ann Mills spinning wool from Jacob and Castlemilk Moorit sheep and Alpacas; Chrissy Birch demonstrated felting and embroidery; Yvonne Hoskins and friends showed carding, spinning and peg loom weaving. Finally we had a presentation by Anne and David Reid on dyeing wool using natural dyes from plants that they brought with them.

A questionnaire was circulated asking people to show their interest in further pursuit of a range of aspects from sheep husbandry through, lambing to the various craft skills shown. This may lead to specific workshops on popular subjects in the future. We all felt the gathering was a great success, which was due to the care and attention to detail of the organisers, Sarah, Tony and Mike, not to mention the cakes arranged by Jean Pitt. It demonstrated that maintaining the parish grasslands was neither a chore, nor just wildlife gardening, but is the sum of a whole chain of activities that combines the maintenance of flowery fields with the pleasures of small-scale stock keeping and the satisfaction of using what had been produced. And it brought in a wider range of interest to our meetings.