A moment at twilight

Sheep in the evening

Yesterday I was in Gainsborough, in the north-west corner of Lincolnshire. As I left, driving south out of the town, along the route of the River Trent which forms the border with Nottinghamshire at this point, there was the most amazing sunset sky, made more unreal and dramatic by the towers and smoke of refineries in front of it.

It was like a Turner painting, a post-apocalyptic film set, so surprising it made me shout out loud at first sight. I wanted to stop and look, but was in a line of traffic on a narrow road.

By the time I parked in the village of Marton the blazing colours were beginning to fade. But I saw a track leading into the sunset and raced down it. The late hour and low light made the iPad photos fuzzy, but they capture some of the atmosphere of my brief, impromptu walk. The rest of the pictures are on the Facebook page.

The first house we looked at when beginning on our journey to Lincolnshire back in 2012 was in this village. I found myself thinking yesterday how I might have been walking this track every day with our dogs. We would have been getting to know a very different part of the county, have met different people, be looking at different views; a strange thought.

The juxtaposition of sheep, sky and industry sums up some essence of England for me. My drive home in the dark was tiring so that the wonder and glory of twilight in Marton was lost for a while. But looking at the photos today makes me want to shout again. The spaciousness and solitude of moments like these, the colours, the textures and the light knock me out, over and over again. This place, this world is astonishing.

Sunset over the Trent

Going home with Glory

Today I have been mostly hanging out at a sheep shearing, with the Gotland sheep mentioned in an earlier post (Wool Country) who live in the hamlet of Burton Pedwardine, two miles from Heckington.

Gotland fleece is great for felting and spinning and this flock includes some Shetland/Gotland crosses whose wool is being spun in the picture above. I saw a wonderful range of colours today: bright snow-white fleeces, others dark underneath and creamy-brown on top; one fleece coming off the sheep looked like a heap of coal, it was so black and lustrous.

Most of the sheep have names. This year’s lambs all begin with ‘G’, sounding like a roll-call from ancient myth or testament: (Gideon, Gabriel, Grendel, Gaia). And there was Grayling, the fetching sheep whose picture I took on my last visit, and Glory, with a delicious dark fleece. Each fleece is bagged up separately with its name on it and almost all are sold long before they come off the sheep.

I’m looking forward to making felt again with this lovely wool. I came home tired and happy, with Glory on the bike behind me.

Wool country

Wandering sheep
The fens are full of beautiful churches, spires visible for miles across the sea-like landscape, towering over the remote villages to which they belong. These were prestige building projects back in the early fourteenth century or before, paid for by landowners made wealthy by sheep and the wool trade with Flanders.

The pretty lamb in the picture above is a Gotland, a rare breed originating in Sweden and not the kind of sheep that would have grazed Lincolnshire fields back then. I met her and the rest of the flock at Burton Pedwardine, a village just two miles from Heckington: see Pedwardine Gotlands for more information.

It was a great morning, a novel experience. I have never met such friendly sheep! They behaved like dogs, wanting to be petted and pawing at me with their hooves if I seemed to be ignoring them. The reason I was there was to see about getting some of their wool when they are next sheared, to use it for felt-making. It’s lovely wool, with curls, in pretty colours and makes good felt. There may also be meat from the lambs later in the year; but will I be able to eat it when I’ve met them all by name? The jury’s out on that one…

Meanwhile in our own church of St Andrews, Heckington, I find an unlikely art exhibition. Woolly Spires showcases the results of a community knitting project and yes, it is just what it sounds like: knitted churches.

They are quite something: St Botolph’s, Boston (the famous Boston Stump), St Denys’, Sleaford and St Mary & St Nicholas, Spalding rendered in faithful detail, all in wool.

The wool for the woolly spires is all from the local breed, the Lincoln Longwool, which became important in the 18th century and of which I saw many at the wonderful Heckington Show recently. They are impressive, dreadlocked animals, but I have to say that I prefer the cheery, cheeky Gotlands pictured below.

Gotland sheep in field

Dog field revisited

Field, Cameron Street

If you’ve been following for a while, you may remember No longer the dog field about the arrival of sheep in the field at the end of our road, making it a no-go area for our bloodthirsty lurchers.

Yesterday the sheep and their now quite well grown lambs were suddenly gone, leaving only close-cropped sward and the odd hank of fleece behind them. Bob, the very elderly three-legged lurcher, is no longer going for proper walks, but Naughty Doris scampered happily round the field this morning. We went back later on my return from a walk with the Boston Ramblers (a pleasant tramp in lovely evening light at Swineshead, a few miles down the A17).

It was at Swineshead Abbey that King John was supposedly poisoned by a monk in 1216; the village sign depicts the event (click here to see it).

In no time at all the dog field will be out of bounds again when the famous Heckington Show is on. Meanwhile, the view above is what I see when heading back into the village after our walk. For a prettier, though less seasonal picture, see View from the dog field.

Waiting for spring

The sun has been shining for the past couple of days, but it is still very cold. The equinox has been and gone and British Summer Time is with us. We have the light but not the warmth; this spring is too long coming.

Daughter and grandbabies have been here for a few days. Pictures here are from a walk after seeing them off on the train yesterday. I tried a new route out of the village, via a footpath which implausibly crosses the busy A17 and then over to Star Fen. The winter colouring is still beautiful – bare black branches against a duck-egg-blue sky – but we need more green, more life, more seeds sown and food growing.

Heading back to Heckington down Littleworth Drove, I passed the field where I saw some particularly fetching sheep in winter stubble on my last walk up here (see A walk on Star Fen). I felt sad, as I do listening to the lambs bleating from the dog field, reminded of all the sheep and lambs dead in snowdrifts on hill-farms around the country.

There has been some good coverage of the crisis facing British farmers (see this recent Observer article), but I can’t help feeling that farming stories in the mainstream papers often read like those on disasters happening to other people in a far off place. Yesterday the snowstorms and the dead lambs were front page news, being hailed as the worst disaster to hit hill farmers in 60 years; I have a slight sense of shock when I cannot find a single paragraph on them in this morning’s paper.

But in the meantime, the sun is out and along with farmers and gardeners all over the country I am crossing my fingers that it stays out. Spring: bring it on, please.

A walk on Star Fen

If you walk about a mile out of the village from our house, you find yourself on ‘the fen road’, Littleworth Drove and off this is Star Fen Road. It leads you past farmhouses and smallholdings, most with chickens roaming around, some with pigs, sheep, horses, llamas (yes!). It is very quiet here. When you turn onto footpaths you are on your own, surrounded by ploughed fields as far as the eye can see, interrupted only by drains and hedgerows, and the odd scarecrow.

These are pictures from my walk round Star Fen on Monday (without dogs this time – see Spot the Dog). I hope they give you a tiny idea of the qualities of light and colour you find here, that give me such a buzz. As with previous galleries, click or tap on a picture to see bigger versions that you can scroll through.

Car Dyke, in the bottom left photo, was made by the Romans; that gives me a buzz too.