The Clun Forest isn’t a forest !
Like the New Forest and Savernake Forest in southern England, and Epping Forest to the east of London, the ‘forest’ in the name dates from mediaeval times, when the word meant an area preserved for hunting, and in many instances that meant hunting by the king, or the nobles he leased all or part of the forest to. Clun Forest is on the borders of England with Wales, on the Shropshire / Montgomeryshire border, west of Bishop’s Castle, and round and about, well, the market town of Clun.
Which is all very interesting, and no doubt there would be more interesting facts to learn from exploring how the word ‘forest’ mutated into meaning an extensive area of trees ; but this piece isn’t about trees or hunting – or etymology : it’s about about sheep. Clun Forest sheep, in fact – and more specifically their wool.
Before we moved to Uist we lived a little to the north of the Clun Forest. It was always high up on our favourite areas to go exploring, whether summer or winter, for coffee and cake or a striding out along Offa’s Dyke or the rolling hills of traditional small-scale pasture and woods that make this border country so wonderful.
Beautiful, eh? It makes me rather nostalgic …
These days, the sheep found grazing the hills of the Clun Forest are various : Llanwenog ; Hill Radnor ; Welsh White Mountain ; Beulah Speckle-faced ; Welsh Hill Speckle-faced ; Brecknock Hill Cheviot ; Kerry Hill ; and the Clun Forest. [You wouldn’t be thinking I should have provided links for all those, would you? Try this instead! ] Unlike modern commercial breeds, these traditional local breeds of the Welsh Marches were bred specifically to suit local conditions – soils, weather and farming practices, local preferences, and the needs of the local market.
Present day commercial imperatives have marginalized the traditional breeds ; and yet they remain the sheep that are best-suited to the natural conditions, not requiring the same intensive inputs required by the likes of the Texel, which will only thrive if the pasture is fed with chemicals, and the lambs are born indoors. Of these local breeds, none is as well suited to the conditions in the Clun Forest as the breed that was developed over the course of centures (from even older local breeds, now extinct) specifically for those conditions, and which, for at least a century, now, is known as the Clun Forest breed.
Like the Shropshire breed of sheep, and other ‘neighbour’ breeds, the Clun Forest is hornless, with a black face that is free from wool, and black legs. The wool of the Clun Forest is white or creamy, 5-8cm (2″-3″) long, fibres are 29-32 microns, and extends to a forelock between the eyes, and down to the knees and hocks, yielding a fleece that is dense, consistent fine quality, with only a few dark fibres.
These days, the ears are, ideally, at ‘Five Minutes to One O’Clock’ ; but a century ago they were at ‘A Quarter to Three’.
The main use of the wool, these days, is in japanese futons. Yes, you read that right : japanese futons. Or, to put another way, mattress stuffing. A criminal waste! Surely we can do better than that! Can’t we?
I gave it a try. Clun Forest blended with tussah silk, at a ration of four or five to one. Carded for character, not perfection ; or, to put that differently, I could have made a better job of it. I took that as a cue : I would spin it rustic-style – seriously ‘out of character’ for me. I had to resist the temptation to slow the wheel and tease out slubs and pick out noils. I surprised myself by quickly setting a mental ‘reference range’ of yarn thickness and twist, and the frequency and size of slubs and noils. The result was I made surprisingly quick work of the 100g I had prepared in mini rolags.
The yarn is two-plied Aran-weight (about 10wpi), and with a firm but not tight ply-twist, it’s well suited to hand-knitting of warmwear, hats and gloves. The wild silk complements the wool, simultaneously strengthening the yarn and softening its handle. The slubs (and occasional short snarls) contribute to both visual and tactile character. The silk noils are small – scarcely apparent without close inspection ; and yet they are very much apparent to the touch, whilsts never ‘gritty’, and they account for much of the yarn’s tactile character.
So, here are the first two skeins, ready for the shop (when it eventually reopens – probably Easter 2021), if they haven’t been sold already from the website or here.
These first two skeins will be sold together, 100g in total, and 140m length (approximately). The cost for the two skeins is £30.
For delivery to a UK address, the total cost of skeins and delivery will be £34.50
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I am considering making more of this yarn, and postage costs will be the same ; so if that’s of interest, please get in touch.
Well, that’s enough of white sheep, for now. This will even things up a bit, if arbitrarily.