Leaving Shetland and meeting Valais Blacknose sheep

posted in: Sheep, Travel, Wool | 3

I have more Shetland posts, but my time there was so precious that I focused every minute on doing things that I can’t do anywhere else. I even went to the archives again on my way to the airport and looked at three more sets of documents.

Then it was time to fly from Sumburgh (Shetland’s primary airport) to Aberdeen.

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At Aberdeen there’s only one baggage carousel for UK-internal flights, and a belt had broken on one of the conveyors used to removed luggage from the planes, so it took an hour before I could get my duffel and be on my way. Fortunately, it was still early enough that my friend Jeni Reid and I were able to visit a flock of Valais Blacknose sheep while there was good light for photographs. Jeni’s photos are better than mine, but I got a few good ones.

There are two flocks of these sheep in the UK, one in Cornwall (on the southwest corner of England) and this flock that we visited in the Highlands of Scotland. (Those are both Facebook links.)

You may have seen images of these sheep on the internet, with people wondering whether they’re real or toys.

They are real. It’s a Swiss breed. And they are even more amazing in person than in photos: the personalities are utterly charming. It makes it a little difficult to take photos because they want to be next to whoever’s around. (Well, they do go eat ultimately, but they are extremely friendly.) Here’s Jeni with one of the lovely sheep we met:

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Their wool falls into the vast and uninformative industrial category of “carpet wools.” So many intriguing varieties of fleeces drop into that hole! Yes, these are wools that require spinners, knitters, weavers, and other crafters to let go of the “softer and finer is better” approach too fiber selection and to think of creative ways to make textiles (not just sweaters and scarves). But they reward that effort with unique experiences and beautiful, durable projects.

Valais Blacknose fleeces vary by individual (of course), but seem to grow about 12 inches (30 cm) annually, with two shearings producing solid and versatile 5- to 6-inch ((12.5 to 15 cm) staple lengths. If I had to give a sense of the hand of the wool, I’m inclined to think of the length and crimp character of some of the English longwools (with a touch of nice luster: not gloss, but pewter-like gleam) along with the crispness and fullness of Cheviot (although the crimp is quite different, so there’s not the same bounce).

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One more photo of one of the sheep we didn’t want to leave behind, and then it’s time to be on the road again.

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3 Responses

  1. Llamahum

    Truly yummy looking fleece! I can just see a rya rug, or even better, a blanket, made of that. Would also like a few of those animatronic sheep for the back yard!

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