Is there anything more English than sheep? I don’t think so. Diane Perkins doesn’t think so. I know that because between the two of us, she and I must have taken at least 400 photos of sheep during our two weeks in England this past May. Forget Big Ben, the Union Jack or red telephone boxes – sheep are the quintessential symbol of England.
And Diane and I were lucky enough to be in England during the lambing season. We stayed at The Cavendish Hotel (above) on the Chatsworth Estate in Baslow, Derbyshire, where, it transpired happily, the window in our room looked out over the fields – fields that were chock full of sheep.
The sheep baaahhhed, or bleated, constantly. They bleated morning, noon and night. We woke up to the sound of sheep and we fell asleep to the sound of sheep. Diane and I soon realized that our lives had not previously been complete, having lacked the sound sheep.
At first glance, you may think that the photos above and below are the same, but look again. See how the sheep at the bottom of the second photo are closer together? Which begged a second photo? Not to mention a fifth? You begin to see how it’s possible for one to take hundreds of photos of sheep.
After a few days at Chatsworth, I became convinced that sheep were the secret to a happy life. I am seriously consdering renting one of the Chatsworth cottages for lambing season next year. They even have days when you can sign up to be driven into the fields in the hopes of witnessing a birth. Heaven!
The Russian Cottage at Chatsworth
|Jean-Honoré Fragonard – The Shepherdess/Milwaukee Art Museum
I begin to understand why Marie Antoinette found the idea of playing at being a shepherdess so alluring. You will find below just a few of the many sheep photos I took at Chatsworth.
Snap, snap, snap, step, step . . . . . . snap, step, step . . . . . Diane and I walked the paths and snapped photos, each lost in our worlds, for quite some time. We were walking our way over the crest, towards Edensor
, the village that the 6th Duke of Devonshire, the Bachelor Duke, had dismantled and reconstructed to his design circa 1840. Up till this point, all of the sheep we’d seen had been a fair distance from the path we were walking on. If they appear any closer, it’s because I used the zoom.
However, as soon as we crested the slight incline, I came face to face with the sheep below.
It was right there. A foot off the walking path. And it was big. And, in a weird way, intimidating. I stopped short and it wasn’t long before Diane, still snapping pictures, bumped into my back. She looked up and saw what I saw, the sheep pictured above and below. Big, shaggy and completely owning it’s space.
“Don’t make eye contact!” Diane warned.
“Don’t make eye contact,” Diane repeated.
“It’s a sheep.”
“It’s a big sheep. With babies. And don’t tell me you’re not scared of it.”
“Well, I was scared of it, but on second thought, what can it do to us? I mean, it doesn’t even have horns.”
“No but it’s got hooves and teeth and it weighs almost as much as we do. And it’s got babies to protect. I don’t know what it could do to us, and I don’t want to find out. Don’t make eye contact!”
Reasoning that I had another week and a half in England still ahead of me, I decided not to take chances with my life. I looked away and we hot footed it down the lane and across the road to Edensor.
Where we found the sign below on the village gate.
“Do you think we worried them?” Diane asked.
“More the other way round, no?” I responded. We turned away and attempted to find our objectives – the graves of Kick Kennedy and Deborah, the recently departed Duchess of Devonshire.
As we approached the graveyard by the church, we spotted a wondrous sight – newly shorn sheep set to graze within the graveyard fence, thus keeping the cemetery all neat and tidy.
These sheep largely ignored us and kept their heads bent to the task at hand. Or hoof. When they did look our way, it was with curiosity and/or a sort of benign benevelance. Our faith in sheep was soon restored!
That night, we once again listened to the soothing sound of the sheep in the fields below our window. You’ve no idea how hard it is to fall asleep whilst counting sheep when one is actively avoiding making eye contact with them.
You can see the Chatsworth sheep live and in person when we visit the House, gardens and Edensor during Number One London’s 2017 Country House Tour – full details can be found here