• Hefted

    Hill farmers in Cumbria carry a deep knowledge of the land, including the weather, the flocks, the behaviour of rivers, bogs and birds and the passing of the seasons. And with this comes a sense of belonging, something that grows from close contact with the land, every day, whatever the weather, and from one generation to the next.

    Rory Stewart, MP for Penrith and the Border, puts it very clearly. ‘There’s a sense of permanence and a sense of commitment in a world where everybody else is highly mobile, slipping in and out of jobs, changing place, changing role. It’s a very rare part of society. And the level of commitment again is rare. They are deeply aware of what has gone into creating this landscape, how walls and fences are structured, how different bits of ground work, exactly when you separate the yows from the lambs, exactly how many yows you can put on this or that field, what condition you’re expecting the grass to be in before you do any of these things ... That’s the core.'

    The hill sheep in Cumbria also know their land, particularly the Herdwicks. They are said to be 'hefted'to the land, and this is something that helps them thrive. As they graze on the commons, where there are vast expanses of open land without walls or fences, they stick to their own 'heft'. Sheep from more than one flock may graze the same common, yet stick to their patch. Hefting also involves learning where to find shelter, where to find good grazing, and where to go for lambing (although most sheep are now gathered into the lower fields for lambing). Young lambs become hefted with the guidance of their mothers each spring.

    Hefting is not a word that is easily translated. Perhaps it is most easily understood by being out on the fells with the sheep and the shepherds, by spending time with the shepherds through the farming year. It is a word that seems to apply as much to the hill farmers as it does to their sheep, and has been wonderfully captured in a film by Tom Lloyd. You can watch the Dreamtime film by following the link below - you won't be disappointed.

    Hefted, A Dreamtime Film by Tom Lloyd

    1 Comment

    • 1. Nov 1 2013 12:20AM by Margaret

      That's a beautiful film. Do you know of any person or group that has studied the phenomenon of hefting in people? I have seen a few descriptions of it, but no in depth studies. I'd like to better understand the phenomenon.

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