When the nasal chit-chat of sheep drifts up from the valley below, I’m reminded that we’ve made the right decision coming here.
It’s the sound of peace, of timelessness, of gentle lives played out in green pastures. And from far away, I can watch them making patterns on the fields, like a scattering of rice crispies. Bucolic joy.
But don’t be deceived as I was. Sheep are infinitely cunning.
When we first arrived, the previous owner told us to shut our big farm gate because of runaway sheep living wild in the forest. But, we didn’t see any for months and, like any watch on an unseen enemy, we grew lax. Plus, our back gate into the woods was swinging off its hinges and we hadn’t rushed to repair it.
Then, on walks we’d catch fleeting glimpses of fast-running white woolly outlaws ghosting through the trees. A week later and droppings started appearing on our lawn. And days after this, a tiny flock of eight appeared in the lower meadow. They looked perfectly at home and I was glad they were tackling the scrubby wilderness. So what if we occasionally trod sheep dung into the house?
The sheep bore at least two different dyes, some were shorn (obviously recent escapees), others not. Clearly they were from at least two flocks. We asked our neighbours and were told that the farmers were aware and usually tried to catch the sheep in the autumn but were not always successful.
Then disaster. They suddenly and silently carried out a thorough raid on the veg beds. Our pea crops disappeared and there was a browse line on our runner beans (we turned the remainder of these into wine – more on that later). Worse still, they chewed the ends of regenerating ash coppices. It was then that we named their leader – or at least the biggest one – Wool Scarlett.
From that moment on, the sheep were barred. The farm gate was shut, and my wife expertly gave the back gate a taste of Fort Knox style security.
Next morning I trod in new sheep poo outside the front door on the way to work. They’d found a secret way in. Six were in the meadow again. I paused to enjoy the scene – and shouted to my wife “the b******s are back!” hoping she would chase them out.
She did and now they wander the woods again. I see them most mornings and I try to shepherd them down the lane to the lower fields where their sisters live. But they scoot into the woods along paths only they know. How they'll fare during the winter, I don't know. But we'll have another go at shepherding them down the hill before the cold weather sets in…