Woolfest and A Glorious Day Out!

It’s a grey day in Flatland. I should be working, but my mind keeps drifting north and I remembered I did promise a post about Woolfest.

Oh, no they’re not. You can’t pull the wool over our eyes.
Seen just north of Blencathra.

I think Woolfest, which is held in Cockermouth, in the Lake District, was the first of the UK spinners’ gatherings. There aren’t many bricks-and-mortar shops selling spinning fibre here, so it’s a chance to see and handle a variety of fibres, meet indie dyers (and many, many other people) and buy fleece. There are sheep on the hoof and there’s a fleece sale. It’s the most fleece most spinners could ever hope to see under one roof.
There are classes and other things too (a Rav meeting point!), but a lot of spinners head straight for the corner with the fleeces. It was particularly poignant this year, as in 2009 Cockermouth was flooded very badly indeed. Some businesses are not yet trading, but the town has made a tremendous effort to get back on its feet and I daresay everyone at Woolfest was pleased to be putting money into the area.

We drove up on the Thursday, a leisurely journey that allowed us to shed various mental commitments by the roadside. We stayed in a very luxurious hotel – this was probably our only holiday this year, so we made the most of it – the name of which I won’t disclose because the obsequious staff blunted the edge of our enjoyment. But the shower was WONDERFUL. Anyway…

On Friday morning we arrived at the venue. The plan was for him to cycle the Lake District while I did Woolfest, my purchases limited by lack of a bearer to carry parcels. It was a good plan that failed :-)
Once in, I headed straight for the sheep and fleece, on a mission to buy an interesting fleece to share with friends on Ravelry. I wanted a good example of a UK breed that’s unusual in the US, and found a beautiful grey Ryeland gimmer aka shearling from Sue Trimmings. (I’ll do another post about sorting and grading it.)

Not one of Sue’s.

I also wanted to meet Caecilia (Ravname) from the Wool Clip to deliver a pile of printed leaflets about preparing and selling fleeces for handspinning. These are free to all; if you, Dear Reader, would like copies, please leave a comment here or PM sarahw on Ravelry with your email address. I fell in love with one of Chris Croft‘s rugs – yes, this IS possible, at least for me – and visited it several times. And I fretted gently, worrying about him on his bike on narrow, unfamiliar roads and steep, steep hills. I bought some fibre. I tried to ring him, but the call could not be connected: wherever he was, he had no phone signal. I bought the rug (‘A Yorkshire Abbey’, Herdwick wools, 5′ x 3′). I fretted… and then the phone rang! He’d been delayed by a tyre exploding coming down Honister Pass.
I relaxed a bit, went around the stalls again in search of Exmoor Horn fleece samples, something nice for me to spin, anything interesting. I bought a double handful of Herdwick fleece just to see how it spun, and a Shetland lamb fleece because, well, because it was there. These last two are shown in the previous blog entry. I sat and watched some of the sheep showing.
I admired Galina Khmeleva’s lace, had a brief Russian Spindle lesson and bought one, plus a bowl. I went out to the car (which by now smelt strongly of sheep thanks to two-and-a-bit fleeces), got my wheel and prepared to spin… and the phone rang again. He needed collecting, somewhere on the road from Ambleside to the coast. So I packed everything in the car and headed off to experience Hardknott and Wrynose passes for the first time. I confess I used a lot of words as I drove hard up those hairpins, and many more as the smell of overheating clutch permeated the air; ‘unnerving’ was not one of them. Fortunately it was nothing more than hot and despite my fears I did no damage to the car. He was alright, too. Sighs of relief all round.

Saturday was to be a Hill Day. Blencathra seemed a likely candidate, especially as it offered so many routes up and down. Sharp Edge was a possible ascent that would test my fear of heights… possibly too far. We discussed it as we parked in Threlkeld and began walking along the base of the hill. It was a glorious, delightful, beautiful, couldn’t-be-bettered morning.
There was wool on – and off – the sheep…
I think these are Swaledale, but they might be Rough Fell. Whatever they are, they are shedding their fleece naturally as it snaps at a weak point where the new growth meets the old. This is a ‘primitive’ trait: modern breeds such as the Merino have been selected to keep their fleece, allowing it to grow until the sheep is sheared. Shrek‘s story is amusing, but eventually that fleece would have killed him: if he’d fallen and rolled, he’d probably have been unable to regain his feet, and sooner or later it would have completely obscured his vision. Not to mention the effort needed to carry the weight!
This shows how walkers get over stone walls and sheep go through them: the gap (which is closed by a piece of chicken wire) is a creep. After some discussion I decided discretion would have the better of valour this time, and voted for Hall’s Fell as the route up. Some scrambling and a little less exposure seemed a safer option, given that I have been almost physically sick from vertigo at times. It makes me incredibly angry that my body can do this to me, and I am determined to train myself past it. Mind over mind over matter. But it’s easy to say that on the flat.
That’s the view south part-way up Hall’s Fell, showing the point where civilised, walled, fertilised pasture meets the fellside. The lower part of the fell is also green with grass (and bracken), and probably gets a little fertiliser from time to time (or did in the past, before nature conservation came to the fore). Higher up the slope the green-brown of heather is broken by the first rock outcrops.
And that’s the last photo you have of this ascent, because soon after this the ridge began to fall away to either side and the path began to run across rock. Scrambling. Not difficult at first, but as we climbed higher, onto rock polished by the passage of thousands of feet, I realised I was forcing myself up and forward by willpower as much as muscle: my hindbrain, the remnant of lizard where my sense of self-preservation lives, was increasingly afraid of falling, and my legs were responding to that fear. Rebelling, slowing, faltering. Which was silly: I’d have had to be both stupid and unlucky to fall any distance, but still. I felt as though my body was made of lead and I was forcing it up by mental effort alone. It was exhausting. I narrowed my focus: I didn’t look at the drop, I didn’t look at the view. I looked at the path no more than 3 feet ahead, I looked at the (firm, secure, good, friendly) rock I was grasping. And kept going. And we reaped our reward. It’s not a big hill, not a high hill. The Lake District is a (whisper it) bijou landscape by comparison with Scotland. If we’d taken the broad motorway worn into the hillside from Threlkeld, it would have been nothing more than a slog uphill. But this, for me, was a triumph.
The top of Blencathra is broad and long, sloping away to the west. People were picnicking everywhere.

Looking westish, towards Skiddaw

We wandered from one end to the other discussing various options for the descent.

The view northeast, away from the Lake District to Scotland. Eventually.

North of the summit a cross of white quartzite is laid out on the turf. The Internet doesn’t seem to know why it’s there, but that quartzite is not found on the mountaintop: each one has been carried there.

The remnants of a small Armistice Day cross was tucked under one of the stones and that, for me, made the quartzite cross a reminder of all the mountaineers, mountain-lovers, shepherds and walkers who died in both the Wars.
Lest We Forget.

The southern summit. Yes, we walked all the way there, too. And back again.

Eventually we decided to head down the hillside to Scales Tarn, which looked quite attractive from up here.
The steep bare rock ridge above it is Sharp Edge. As we descended the hillside we could see a steady trickle of walkers head up the path and slow dramatically as they moved onto the rock. Most continued, but a few eventually turned around and came back down the path. I think… I don’t know. The memory of fear had already faded, an hour or so later. I think… I could do it. In good weather with no wind. But I know I wouldn’t enjoy it. That’s no reason not to do it, though. And he wants to, I think.
Picnickers were wading in the tarn, and the hillside above it was dotted with sheep. Count the sheep… there are at least 23 (I counted in Pshop). Further down it felt like Scotland in miniature.
Briefly. The Northwest Highlands are not so green, so pastoral:
The path loses height constantly as it curves south around the base of Blencathra. Into fresh, green bracken.
A place to consider our Western change in attitude to beauty in the landscape. In the distant past, when life was hard, the friendly green valley, covered in tame, fertile fields would have been regarded as a beautiful landscape. The wind-lashed peaks, the harsh stony hillsides were frightening, lonely, inhuman places. Only relatively recently, in the last two centuries or so did we (or at least some of us) begin to see the wild places as romantic, even attractive. The Lake District is one of the places where that link between wild and beautiful was forged, with the works of the Lake District Poets and their descendants.

The online guides to the route mentioned a brief scramble on the path at Gategill. Brief it was and, with no drop to speak of, it was fun.
But what we REALLY wanted at this point was ice cream. And, eventually, we found some. Our joy was complete: a Glorious Day Out indeed.


2 thoughts on “Woolfest and A Glorious Day Out!

  1. Lab Cat

    Sharp Edge was fun when I did it, going on 25 years ago. But then I don't have a fear of heights. What I am nervous of is crossing water; even itty bitty streams where the water would hardly reach the top of my boot give me pause.

    Fears are weird. Next time I cross a stream, I will tell the reptilian part of my brain to shut up!



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