Not everyone eats meat but only vegans don’t wear wool. That leaves the vegan a choice of cotton, linen, and fossil fuel based textiles for their fashion choices. Even silk is out. If one was to source their textiles from within thirty miles of the Stour Valley in order to meet with the theme of this year’s River Stour Festival then the vegan would be strolling around in the altogether. Clothing made from wool, leather, suede and felt would be our main choice.
Two Lincoln Longwool Sheep in a field
The Lincoln Longwool is one of the world’s rare breeds of sheep. Originally an Eastern Counties breed that had been around since before the middle ages. Lincolns were the backbone of the wool industry right through to the seventeenth century and East Anglia and areas around the Stour Valley was the centre of that industry. Indeed at the time the town of Lavenham in Suffolk was said to be one of the wealthiest towns in England despite its small size. East Bergholt would have been close behind too and Old Hall was, at that time, the largest estate around. At the wool trade’s height the Lincoln Longwool were exported as far away as South Africa, New Zealand and Australia because their fleeces were the longest fleece and good for spinning. The quality of their meat was also exceptional. Actually people who have tried spinning the fleece of a longwool say that it is hard and difficult. Perhaps the spinning techniques in the middle ages were different to the current methods, who knows. Felt clothing was common in those days too. However the wool trade declined in the seventeen century and the Old Hall estate began to be owned by a succession of London based gold traders, pawnbrokers and bankers. The wool trade in East Anglia was dying.
A flock of Lincoln Longwool Sheep feeding
Jump forward two hundred and fifty years and the pre world war two development of synthetic fibres, nylon, spandex, acrylic and the like, made from fossil fuels, were becoming mainstream by the 1960’s and by 1970 the Lincoln Longwool breed was at the point of extinction. In fact there were only a few flocks left and their survival was down to the dedication of only three breeders. When Old Hall Community started in 1974 a decision was taken to start our own flock. We searched around and purchased nine ewes and one ram from a breeder in Rutland and with limited knowledge, began to save the breed. Now nearly fifty years later we have one of the oldest flocks in the country and there are now over 100 flocks elsewhere. The Lincoln longwool is still on the endangered species list however and the continued nurturing of this East Anglian flock is paramount to its survival.
Jake, a founder member of Old Hall Community now retired, who’s initiative it was to buy lincolns, has handed over his shepherding to Chris Eldred, one of our younger members of some five or six years who has learned from Jake’s experiences. Chris is being helped more and more by another member also called Chris who has lived here almost two years. Both have taken an enthusiastic interest in the flock and between them the Lincoln longwool here at Old Hall is assured to survive on into the future.
This week we’ve handed over the blog to Ordnance Survey Outdoor Champion Barbara Walshe, who lives in Boxted and said in the Gazette that her favourite walk is from Flatford to Dedham.
Barbara plans to walk the Essex Way as well as all sorts of other long distance paths. Read more below or on Barbara’s website www.barbsoutdoors.co.uk
Barbara Walshe writes…
“I like this place and willingly could waste my time in it.” Those words, spoken by Celia in ‘As You like It,’ remind me of the first time I stepped off the train at Manningtree in June 2015. The fields were bathed in the warm reds and oranges of the sunset. Though London was only an hour away, we felt we had escaped to some kind of Shakesepearean pastoral idyll. Just under six months later we had sold our flat in London and moved to Boxted near Colchester. My husband and I still work in London but we feel so lucky to be able to enjoy the beautiful countryside in this part of the world.
I have my parents to thank for my love of the outdoors. When I moved to London ten years ago to train to be a lawyer I don’t think I knew that the hours I spent in Richmond Park were not a luxury but were actually a necessity. The importance of time spent outside started to dawn on me when I began my training contract at my law firm and worked very long hours with quite a lot of stress. Going for a run or cycle in the park seemed to make me feel so much better after a tough week. More and more research is showing the positive effects on physical and mental health of being active and being outside. Fortunately, mental health is not the taboo subject it once was and I firmly believe that our own mental health is not something that we should ignore until we reach a crisis. We should consciously try to take care of our mental well-being. Making time to enjoy the outdoors is a crucial part of that.
As we get older we tend to lose our sense of adventure and our sense of wonder. It is so easy to slip into a routine and not take time to explore. When we moved to the Stour Valley I made a conscious decision to explore as much as I could and ordered some Ordnance Survey maps. When I received the paper maps, I discovered the wonderful OS Maps app that allowed me to check I was always on the right track. It was through this I became aware of the Ordnance Survey #GetOutside campaign and was delighted when my application to be a #GetOutside Champion for 2018 was accepted. Being a #GetOutside Champion allows me to combine my love of the outdoors and my belief in the mental health benefits of being outside with my enjoyment of the beautiful landscapes of the Stour Valley.
Through my website www.barbsoutdoors.co.uk I hope to inspire more people to #GetOutside by blogging about my adventures (big and small) and my thoughts on the outdoors. The River Stour Festival has so many fantastic events providing so many opportunities to #GetOutside and I am very much looking forward to attending events throughout 2018 and encouraging others to join me.
John Milne writes…
My wife is a painter and works for the National Trust. It was with her that I started to explore the valley of the Stour river. I think we are both moved by trees and always have been. That response may be formal – in general landscape goes from side to side and trees go up and down. So for a painter a tree in a landscape is like a mark on a drawing. Our responses may have been to the increased unnaturalness of the post-industrial world we inhabit. We seek out trees in landscape because their scale reflects the human scale and their generally long lifespan appeals to us. Sarah can point to oaks around East Bergholt and Flatford which were there when Constable walked by. It may have been just a colour response – people feel happier, appear handsomer, just look better against a green leafy ground. The effect is doubled if water runs through the scene. The Stour valley is an uplifting place to be.
Of course on the Essex and Suffolk Stour we have the extra element of John Constable. He dominates the landscape as much as he reflects it. Constable’s childhood is just before the industrial revolution and his adult life takes place during it. He lived in East Bergholt and was schooled in Dedham, across the valley and across the Stour. His paintings often feel to me to be reflections on his walk to school – there’s my father’s mill, there’s Fen Lane, there’s the bargemen on the river, there’s our cart and horses. These images stayed with him even though he was in London. His work is a prism through which we see the landscape which both exists and for us – living long after the Industrial Revolution – is like a dream. If you take photographs in the Stour valley, especially close to Dedham and Flatford, you can’t help but find little glimpses of Constable in your pictures. Much has changed but many of the shapes remain – bends in the river, hand-fired brickwork, calves in a field, sometimes even the very same trees he saw. And this remains true though we are 180 years after Constable’s death.
photos by John Milne ©2017
John Milne is a novelist, photographer and screenwriter. A version of this post was published at www.johnmilne.photography