Project info

Herdwick is an ancestral breed of sheep endemic to the Lake District in northwest England and known for their hardiness and sturdy constitution. They spend most of the year high on the fells with meager forage and less shelter, exposed to harshest conditions. Famous for being "hefted" or imprinted on a particular area that they rarely leave, they are left wild on the mountains for months at a time. In the fall, shepherds seek to improve their flocks by buying and selling sheep at auctions where the a blue ribbon "tup" or ram can bring 5000 guineas. Just before the auction itself, the shepherds compete for these ribbons in shows judged by their fellow farmers. The difference between a blue and a red ribbon can mean thousands, so this is serious business. In October 2018, I photographed the auction at Broughton-in-Furness and tried to represent both the particular beauty and character of the Herdwick sheep and the skill, grit, and dedication of these shepherds whose special knowledge of this breed has been passed on from one generation to the next for hundreds of years. The inspiration for this project was James Rebanks' extraordinary book, The Shepherd's Life. Rebanks is a Herdwick farmer himself and participated in this auction.