Last year I had the very great pleasure of meeting Rosemary Champion. As well as producing wonderful local yarn and meat from her own Rosedean Ryelands, Rosemary is a huge source of inspiration and advice to folk all over Scotland (and beyond) as The Accidental Smallholder. If you have any sort of interest in raising livestock on a small scale; in growing fruit or vegetables; in keeping bees; and in creating sustainable, household-supporting businesses from any of these endeavours, you are likely to have come across Rosemary. She is completely brilliant (and her Ryeland yarn is pretty special too).
Rosemary is involved in many aspects of smallholding in Scotland, including the Scottish Smallholder Festival and I was really honoured when she invited me to attend this year’s festival as a judge (of the crafted fleece section).
I dearly love a country show, and the distinctive nature of this one — small Scottish producers, coming together to celebrate what they do and share their expertise — makes it particularly appealing. Tom and I had a fantastic day meeting smallholders of all kinds, and it was great to run into other friends from the local world of yarn and knitting, like Jo & Mica of Edinburgh Yarn Fest and Louise of KnitBritish. Throughout the day, Lanark agricultural centre fairly bristled with the passion and energy of folk who just love what they do. There were seminars and demonstrations on a wide range of topics (from keeping alpacas to processing fleece and fibre), some lovely local yarns to try (from New Lanark and Hawkshaw Sheep), and generous skill-sharing from groups like the Lanarkshire Beekeepers Association, and Lanarkshire Spinners and Weavers.
As you can imagine, we all enjoyed meeting the sheep, among which the Ryelands (a favourite smallholding breed) were particularly well represented.
Though there were some wonderful Shetland and Hebridean sheep to be admired as well.
I am very fond of pigs . . .
. . .Tom enjoyed photographing the poultry (including this very zen, self-possessed, and really striking silkie) . . .
. . . and who can resist an opportunity to spend some time with such amazing goats?
In the judges’ enclosure, it was down to business.
The array of eggs was glorious…
. . . there were some extraordinarily beautiful carved sticks and crooks . . .
. . .and many tasty home-baked treats (I love bourbon biscuits so was very envious of those who got to sample these!)
My own job was very difficult.
As well as judging several different classes of finished woolly items (among which there was some lovely work, such as this impeccably-finished hand-woven cushion), I had to assess samples of hand-spinning. There was some beautiful spinning on display using combed tops, and hand-dyed fibres. . .
But the examples I most enjoyed were those where I could really appreciate the whole process from raw fleece to finished skein.
It was a hard task to have to pick a winner!
It was a real privilege to have been involved with the Scottish Smallholder Festival this year. If you ever find yourself anywhere near Lanark during the last weekend in September, I highly recommend a visit. I certainly hope to be back!
Thanks to all the organisers, and especially to Rosemary, for a brilliant day.