Again, I apologize for the delay in posting about the last couple days of my trip!
Today, my last full day in the U.K. was the day I was looking forward to the most! I have been following the Risby Flock of Lincoln Longwools since I first heard about their flock after Louise's wool wedding dress made international news! Get ready for photo overload!
We headed from York to a little village in Lincolnshire called Market Rasen. This was just over an hour and half to the southeast. We headed over the Humber Bridge, a very large suspension bridge and into Lincolnshire. The views were amazing and the agriculture larger than other areas we traveled to throughout the week. We drove through the little village of Market Rasen and down several very small curvy roads before catching our first glimpse of Risby Grange. From what people who had been on this trip before said, finding them was much easier this time!
Upon arriving at their drive, we headed up a long lane up a hill surrounded by sheep pastures. We got out of the bus and were on top of a hill overlooking Lincolnshire, with the Lincoln Cathedral peaking out of the horizon. I kept thinking (as I have been all week), “Is this even real???!!!”. When we first arrived, we had tea together and Louise shared with us the history of their flock.
Their home is situated on an area called The Wolds, and their house specifically is on the northwest scarp. They are situated between two tiny villages. Hikers are very important to the area. A 147 mile national trail called the Viking Way was designated in 1976 and is very popular with Ramblers (ie. Hikers). The area is considered an area of outstanding national beauty, one step down from a national park.
When they purchased their home, they knew nothing about sheep or farming, but realized 50 acres was a lot to manage without grazing and decided to look into getting sheep. Louise and Ian headed to an auction to learn more about sheep and was intrigued by the Lincolns they saw. They made a budget and were able to buy six ewes at the Heckington sale. That first year they had to borrow stock trailers for lambing, and ended up with nine lambs. After that, they built field shelters, a lambing shed, and began to grow their flock.
Ian was the one who first decided that they show their Lincolns. Louise wasn’t convinced, but after agreeing and placing at the bottom at their first show, she was hooked and decided she wanted to improve the flock. They found going to shows was the best way to improve and over the coming years, have improved their flock drastically.
Louise and Ian ended up with Lincolns by chance, but it wasn’t long before they realized that they weren’t the first ones to have Lincolns at Risby. They came across a newspaper from the 1820’s about a previous owner, Israel Brice’s, prize-winning Longwools. They continued to do research and found that his headstone is still located in a local cemetery. After he passed away, his son Edward took over Risby and the paper trail of Risby’s history went cold. Recently at an ag show, someone came up to them and introduced them as descendants of the Brice’s and were glad that Longwools were back at Risby. In 1891, a man by the name of Mr. Nelson bought the Risby house and brought his flock of Longwools with him. This is the second documented time Lincolns were at Risby, and Mr. Nelson is an ancestor of Rosemary, who we visited on Tuesday! At this time, there wouldn’t have been any other sheep in Lincolnshire. They were incredibly profitable due to their heavy fleece and good yield. At that time, you were paid based on the weight. There was also huge profit at the turn of the century from exporting, especially to Argentina. In 1912 another man by the name of Harry Abraham who lived nearby, brought another flock to Risby. This was the third recorded flock. The Abraham flock dispersed by the 1940’s and that was the last record of Longwools at Risby until the Fairburns in 2004. The history of Lincolns at Risby Grange is amazing to me, and it is no wonder their sheep are so beautiful; this is where they were meant to live!
After hearing about the history of the farm, we enjoyed lunch together and then headed out to see the flock. We first visited a group of breeding ewes, who were with their champion ram, Risby Zipper. The ewes were gorgeous and the ram completely handsome!
We then walked across a field to their wool shed. As I mentioned, the Viking Way crosses their property and their wool shed is a way to educate Ramblers on Lincolns. Inside the shed is a beautiful display about their flock, as well as sheep themed products including their yarn, postcards of their flock, and body products (lotion, soap, etc.) made in Lincolnshire. I think almost everyone found something to purchase at the wool shed!
After walking through their pastures, we headed up to the lambing shed and had a judging competition with six very handsome rams. As with every judging competition we had this week, it was extremely difficult. I would’ve taken any of these rams home with me to use for breeding! Harvey won this competition, but I was a runner up!
One of the things I was most excited about seeing on this trip was Louise's wedding dress made of her Lincoln Longwool fleece. Louise said was inspried by Brintons carpet advertisements that had women wearing dresses out of carpets.
The bottom of the dress is the individual locks and the top is crocheted with beading. It is so gorgeous and much lighter weight than I was expecting. There's even a hidden black curl sewed onto the dress as well! :D Everyone kept asking me if I would do something similar. It would certainly be more difficult seeing as all my Lincolns are natural colored, and I'm not sure this dress could ever be replicated!
After all the excitement, we had a lovely afternoon tea with everyone. Cheeses from Yorkshire and Lincolnshire, meringues and delicious desserts. Everyone chatted, looked at the Lincoln Longwool Sheep Breeder’s Association’s goodies, and demonstrated weaving with Lincoln locks on a peg loom. They have wonderful calendars, cards and clothing for their association. We began to wrap the talk up late afternoon, took a group photo and headed back for the bus. This day was like something out of a dream and I absolutely hated to leave.
I cannot thank the Fairburns and all of the other breeders for the generosity and hospitality throughout the week. I truly felt at home in this foreign country and cannot wait to return again soon!
Emmaline Long, main owner of Orchard View Farm, has a passion for Lincoln sheep and loves educating others about her breed and farm, She currently serves as the Vice President of the National Lincoln Breeders Association. Emmaline has a passion for all things agriculture and currently works a "real job" as an agronomist for a large crop farm in western NY.
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