North Pennine Hills Sheep Portraits Click on thumbnail to enlarge image, view caption and use slideshow options. To return to this page click on the image background Blackface and the related Swaledale sheep form the largest proportion of sheep breeds in the United Kingdom. Individuals are extremely hardy, their habitat the high ground in Northern England, the Scottish Borders and into the Scottish Highlands. Later captions provide some details of them, following information on aspects of the North Pennines where the photographs were taken.The Pennine Hills form a high central spine in Northern England, linking Derbyshire in the south to the Cheviot Hills straddling the border with Scotland. Arable agriculture and settlement happen in valleys to east and west whilst the wild and often windswept remainder is largely deserted. The North Pennines are designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.Since Roman times and before, these hills have been a source for lead, iron, coal, limestone and other minerals. Whole communities developed around these resources and the creation of railways in the nineteenth century enabled new levels of extraction and distribution. Much of that has ceased and most structural evidence of such activity has been removed.In my own area of the North Pennines, lead mining was a prominent activity and some of the surviving remnants are tall chimneys high in the hills, built to draw fumes from lead smelters at lower levels through long ground-hugging flues. Former mines and processing works are preserved at Nenthead and Killhope in the Wear Valley.Working miners had extremely arduous conditions underground and they were not much better for others dealing with lead and other minerals on the surface. Through accident and disease, life could be comparatively short. Some had smallholdings attached to their cottages, used to grow food and perhaps keep animals.Some mine owners, like the Quaker-directed London Lead Company, provided facilities for their workers and education for their children even though the latter would more than likely become their employees at a young age. One may well see such stone-built schools that still welcome pupils. Others have become private homes, arts centres or bases for outdoor activities.There was also provision for adult education. For example, in Nenthead, County Durham, there is a Mining Institute and in Wark-on-Tyne there is a Mechanics Institute. In addition to instruction, such buildings might house Reading Rooms and libraries for local people.The large majority of religious buildings in the North Pennines are Nonconformist Chapels. Some still hold meetings as before, but perhaps not so frequently nor so well attended. Some had schoolrooms attached for the education of local children.As examples, the small and simply styled Redwing Congregational Chapel at Garrigill was built around 1754 and has a small attached burial ground. Limestone Brae Wesleyan Methodist Church of 1825, in West Allendale, is another small building whereas the imposing double-door gable façade of Paul’s Methodist Church of 1863 in Alston commands its street.These portraits of Swaledale sheep were made on open hillsides during walks in the North-Pennines. The sheep are not accustomed to people and quickly move away when approached. A long zoom and steady hands are necessary as is a good sense of balance to counter uneven ground and gusting winds.Full-face shots are more likely as the sheep initially stand firm to interrogate one’s approach. Their profiles shown as they move away are more difficult to capture. Photographing them rather than simply looking at them emphasised their individuality in appearance and character, here enhanced by their long pre-shearing fleeces.The closely related Swaledale and Blackface sheep are tough, resourceful and well able to fend for themselves on rough hill and mountain terrain as well as in gentler lowland pastures. They roam freely in a familiar environment, knowing the sites for the best grass and the location of effective shelter in bad weather. .Wool has long been an important element in the economy of the United Kingdom. One only needs to look at the splendid English “Wool Churches” funded by the wool trade from the eleventh to the sixteenth centuries to understand its contribution. Celtic Britain exported woollen cloth to the Roman Empire before the latter’s invasion of these islandsThe fortunes of the English woollen trade fluctuated in medieval times. Larger scale production in the West Country in the sixteenth century made it into a leading industry for the next two hundred years. The Blackface breed descend from sheep strains developed in the borderlands of England and Scotland.Monasteries were involved in the trade and some of their twelfth century records mention Dun or Blackface sheep and King James IV of Scotland established a large flock in the sixteenth century. There are variations in the breed and the Blackface Sheep Breeders’ Association notes a reference to “large- framed and soft wooled Northumbrian Blackface” on its website.Of the sixty or so breeds of sheep in the United Kingdom, the Blackface group are the most common. Some of the photographs show both the coarse outer wool and the softer inner wool that give such effective weather protection to the animal and, for us, grades of wool suited to a product range from tough carpeting to heavy blankets and woven fabric for working clothes.The breeding and living environment of hill sheep influence the wool qualities and the distinctive flavour of their lean meat. Their horns are used by craftsmen to fashion walking stick handles whilst their wool, natural or dyed, is used by hand weavers, including those making Harris Tweed.Hill lambs are born in April and May, quite late in the general lambing season. They seem quite small, their very white fleece contrasting with the black of their heads and their leg markings. Flocks are gathered later in the season to separate lambs and ewes, to shear the latter, and ready them for another annual cycle.