I work as a CSAS marshal for Welsh Cycling and one of my colleague’s lives on a small holding not far from where I am staying in North Wales so we arranged for me to visit when I came up here. I rang him as soon as I arrived to explain whereabouts I was and it turned out I was only a twenty minute drive away.
We agreed for me to visit on the Thursday and Peter would meet me in Ruthin carpark so that I could follow him home, because he lived in quite remote part of the area. I followed him through an area of “outstanding natural beauty” and we arrived shortly at his lovely small holding nestled in a lovely dell in the middle of the surrounding mountains. I parked the car and was greeted by Peter’s lovely wife Alison, after offering me a drink we quickly went to meet the animals who are pets to Alison and Peter, they keep them for love not for food and of course for the wool from the sheep.
First I met Dylan the sheep who had been with them for about 4 years after having adopted him from a local farmer who had found him abandoned in a field up the road. He quickly became part of the family until he started eating everything at which point he was moved outside, during his upbringing Alison and Peter bought another three lambs but this time they chose Ryland sheep because they particularly wanted to use their softer fleeces to spin their own wool, well Alison did, and they had done some research and it seemed that Ryland’s were friendly and easy to keep. They named them Rhiannon, Bethan and Megan, they were lying in the shade while I was there as it was quite hot for them, they hadn’t long been sheared and Alison was going to teach me how a fleece becomes a ball of wool.
After meeting both their horses, Rupert and Chas, we went inside the barn to see the fleeces that had just come off the sheep, they felt quite coarse and very oily, Alison explained that this is the Lanolin in the wool that makes the sheep waterproof. She said some people wash the fleece before spinning into wool but it wasn’t always necessary and some preferred to use it raw, anyway we went back in the house for Alison to show me the spinning wheel and the process.
I have to say it is a very long process and when you think about the way the Welsh women used to do this years ago, it must have been a full time job. It isn’t as easy as it looks, working the spinning wheel either. Alison first showed me the carding, which is where you take a pinch of the rough wool from the fleece and place it on one of the cards which are made of wood with very fine steel prongs protruding from the flat board, a bit like a flat hairbrush, you use two of these and brush one against the other to try and get the fibres all running the same way, you do this twice then form a roll which you place in the basket ready for spinning.
The spinning wheel has a treadle which is what spins the wheel so trying to treadle while feeding the fleece into the spinner was difficult and would take a lot of practice if you are to become proficient. Alison has been on a few courses, she bought the spinning wheel in an antique shop and it comes from New Zealand and is one of the best makes, she has made some things with the wool she has spun but the wool is grey in colour and if it needs to be dyed Alison would use natural dyes like blackcurrants, boiling the wool in a pot of blackcurrants is another long process. After the wool has been spun you then have to place the bobbin on a gadget called a lazy Kate with another bobbin and you feed both threads into the spinning wheel to produce two ply wool.
I managed to do the whole process while I was there for the day but very shabbily, obviously this is a skilled craft and there is no way you could learn to do it in a day but I was happy with the wool I produced, being very thick in parts, very thin in other parts and overly twisted in other parts but I crocheted with it, making a hanging thing for my car which I will decorate at a later stage, I didn’t do the dying process so have a nice light grey coloured wool. All in all I really enjoyed learning about the process and found it really interesting, I learned stuff about lambs that I didn’t know before and found the whole day fascinating.
As well as teaching me the process of spinning Alison and Peter made a luscious two course lunch for me, I was thoroughly spoiled; we had home-made Spanish Omelette with roasted peppers, home-made bread and salad with a home-made fruit salad to follow and a lovely glass of wine.
My adventure on the farm is definitely one of the highlights of my trip and I am especially grateful to Peter and Alison for their hospitality, it was such a wonderful day.