One thousand acres of Parkland lie around Highclere Castle, and of course the best mowing machines are sheep. We have about 1,600 ewes and theoretically, this year, about 3,000 lambs. The ewes are North Country Mules and are good at surviving the cold winter winds and weather on the downland beyond the Park. The lambs are mostly born in March inside the old lambing barns under Beacon Hill, two miles south from the Castle. Caz is, as ever, in charge of the lambing operation and she does a great job running the shifts through the night. It is an intense few weeks. The last few lambs are left to be born outside as the weather improves. The Park itself, is more sheltered so it is then used as the early nursery slopes for the flock.
We had quite a few triplets and the third lamb in each case is reared as an orphan and hopefully transferred as soon as possible to another ewe with just one lamb. It is amazing how quickly the new-born lambs stand and suckle, a matter of less than an hour. Just a week after they are born, they are outside playing tag over old tree stumps in the Park and the ewes begin to run a sort of crèche system. The lambs find their way back to the right mothers by the different “baaing” tones and whenever more ewes are transferred from the lambing pens to the outside fields there are tremendous choruses until all are reunited again.
I often choose to ride quietly through the fields to look out for lambs and sheep in trouble as I find that this is an excellent way of getting around. Sometimes a ewe is cast and needs a push to roll her onto her feet again.
I have been researching the old park and farm here in medieval times. Unlike today, sheep had a very high value then, but like today, grazed in the various sheltered areas of the current park . During the fourteenth century – which is the period I was looking at – the Crown (Edward III and his government) derived one third of their revenues from the wool trade. The wool was shipped from the new wharfs and quays situated near Aldgate in London which was the export and tax district for the wool trade.
For two years Geoffrey Chaucer, the medieval poet, held the post of controller. It was not a job he enjoyed as it was full of politics and bribery. Every wool export was stamped with a dye of the royal seal. The Crown was keen to ensure that no taxes were avoided and that they were all properly collected.
Sadly wool today in the UK has little value but the government is as ever keen to ensure all possible taxes are collected on goods and services. Plus cą change.