37 Howgill Fells from above Raisbeck


37-jan-hicksJan Hicks – Textile Artist and Smallholder

This is up on Orton Scar, with the Howgills in the distance. It’s a view that I know well because I walk there a lot with the dogs. One of the things I really like to do on a summer’s evening is go up there. During the day I don’t get a lot of spare time, but in the evenings you can walk up there, take your sandwiches, sit and eat your tea and look at the view – it’s just fabulous.

It doesn’t show so well here because you’re higher up, but looking at the Howgills from lower down, you get these rounded shapes in the hills. Wainwright referred to them as sleeping elephants, because they all sort of curl around each other.

We’ve been here 20 years. We just loved it here and so moved up from Oxford. As walkers, and rural people, we ended up with this place with ten acres. You’ve got to keep the land in condition. You can’t just have ten acres of land and leave it, so we got some sheep. Initially we just had them as lawnmowers, but then I got into keeping the Angora goats. I’ve always knitted, and done textile stuff. I got the goats and then I got into the rare breed sheep, mainly Manx Laoghtans and Gotlands, which I keep for their fleece.

I’ve only got about 20 ewes at the moment. It’s just a matter of checking them every day, feeding them during the winter, and routine maintenance, like doing their feet and worming them. And then you get periods of really intense activity, like lambing and clipping, and hay time. I love it; I can’t imagine getting up in the morning and not having to go outside, even if it’s only for half an hour to go round and feed and check everything.

I produce knitting yarn. I’d always done knitting, and it’s great to be able to use your own wool, to make things from something you’ve known since you lambed it. I send the wool down to a company in Cornwall that does small scale spinning. I tend to dye the wools landscape colours, because they’re the colours I’m comfortable with. I mix my own colours and do all my own dying. I sell the yarn and use some of it. I’m also an artist – textile art, felt and wall hangings – and most of my stuff is based on landscape colours and landscape views. I belong to a women’s co-operative which has a shop over in Caldbeck called The Wool Clip, so I have a good outlet for knitting yarn and kits for people to knit jumpers and socks and scarves.

In 2005 I did a piece with a friend who’s also an artist. I’ve always loved the Uffington White Horse down in Berkshire. Of course there’s no chalk here, but I got talking to this friend and we decided that we’d do our own and that we’d do it in fleece. We got 500 Swaledale fleeces up onto Wild Boar Fell, half way up, and did a wild boar in fleece. It was 300 feet long and 120 feet high and was there for about three weeks. It was a fantastic thing, and an amazing thing to do. It was quite interesting getting it up there, and getting it back down again!

Once you’ve got into keeping animals, you start learning to do the things like drystone walling, and just keeping the place up. You just learn as you go along, with help from the locals – who think you’re completely barmy. I do have a principle that if something needs doing I like to be able to do it myself, so I clip all my own sheep, and I do my own walling. It’s a really nice community round here. People will always do something for you, there’s a lot of barter, and trading labour. If you need something done that you can’t do yourself, someone will always do it, and you just help them out some other time. Haytime – there’s three of us who have very small bits of land, and a bigger farm up the road. Everybody just mucks in, because he doesn’t have the labour to get all his hay in, and we haven’t got the machinery, so we all just help each other. And if you run out of hay or straw in the winter, somebody will always find you a few bales of hay, and then you help them out when they’re stuck. It works really well. It’s a real traditional sort of community.