Week Two: First Helpx Experience

At Leaston House

I have to say my week on a small sheep farm in the Scottish Borders was not at all what I was expecting, and not only because the sheep didn’t make an appearance until Thursday.

No; I wasn’t expecting to need formal wear.

The cars were a red convertible and a Land Rover; they had The Field magazines in the bathrooms, and a gun room near the back door; the house was edging towards being a manse; my hosts were Lord and Lady M—.; and they quite literally went for tea with The Queen while I was there.  They also invited me to go to the cocktail reception for the opening of an exhibit on Mary, Queen of Scots at the National Museum of Scotland, which was what warranted borrowing a top and some shoes to go with my skirt, as in my packing I’d somehow only brought clashing patterned items to wear on non-walking days.

I had a wonderful time.

They were grand hosts, keen on wine and food, and their walled garden was beautiful.  I spent part of my time weeding out a section of the Physic Garden.  This has a superb structure centering on a circular box-hedged bed with a statue of Mercury in it:

Centre of the Physic GardenI suggested that since it was  so formal in appearance, it would be a nice idea to put old roses in it, the red Apothecary’s and the pink and white striped Rosa Mundi, both of which can be seen in old illuminated manuscripts.  Since we couldn’t find the roses at the plant nursery we went to, here’s a picture from the internet Commons, and one from a manuscript of the Roman de la Rose:

Rosa Mundi  Apothecary's Rose

One rainy day I spent cleaning out and rearranging the potting shed, watched carefully by a pied wagtail who’d built her nest over the shelf.  I think I scared away the swallows who were also nesting in there, and hope not, but Mrs Wagtail stayed put.

Mrs Wagtail

I weeded the front courtyard, and walked the dog a couple of times around the wooded walk around the paddocks:


They’d planted the trees in the thirty years since they came to the property, which just goes to show the truth of the old adage that the best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago, and the next best time is now.

Leaston House

On Thursday Lady M—-. took me to the farm where her sheep had been (she’d been away for the week previous).  This farm, Longwood, was close to my dream farm — I didn’t take my camera so have no pictures, but it had a lovely house made out of combined cottages (the wife of someone in the family was an architect), with courtyard gardens around them.  Vegetables, a poly tunnel (temporary greenhouse, basically); rare breed chickens; ducks on a duck pond; hedgerows and meadows and stone walls; all that sort of thing.

I was greatly impressed by Lady M—-.’s ability to summon her sheep.  She has Wensleydales, a rare breed with amazing ringletted wool.  As they’d recently been sheared I don’t have a picture of my own of them, so here’s one from the official Wensleydale Sheep site:

Wensleydale SheepAs she only has about 20 right now (down from earlier days of larger flocks), she doesn’t have a sheepdog, and I was rather wondering how she’d get them down from the far end of the pasture.  We — she and I and the farmer, and a wise old shepherd called Jock (I do not make this up) — set up gates around the back of the trailer, then stood by as she whistled sharply, walked fifty or eighty yards into the field shaking a bucket of grain.  She whistled again, turned back, and all the sheep promptly came bounding down the field towards us.  We got half of them in the first load, took them home, and returned for the second lot.  And that was it.  It was quite marvellous.

We then dosed the lambs for (I think) blowfly, and weighed them.  Although Lady M—-. did show me how to manoeuvre the sheep with a hand on their chins, and indeed offered to let me help dose them, I have to say I have a lot to learn on that front, and basically passed her things and wrote down their weights.  I also learned a new word — dagging, which is when you clip off the matted and soiled dag ends of wool near the sheep’s tail.  I didn’t even attempt the shears!Potting Shed and Walled Garden


2 thoughts on “Week Two: First Helpx Experience

  1. Pingback: Around and About | The Rose and Phoenix Inn

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