Farming in protectged landscapes - Town Head Farm23 March 2023
Nestled into the side of Dunmail Raise on the north side of Grasmere lies a traditional Lake District upland farm. White farm buildings, surrounded by fields running up fells, dotted with grey and white Herdwick. This is Town Head Farm, home to the Bensons. There’s been a farm here for nigh on 400 years; there’s still a spice cupboard inside dated 1702. This traditional farm personifies the Lake District World Heritage agri-pastoral story; how many centuries of farming has moulded the landscape that is loved by residents and visitors alike.
Today Town Head is a National Trust-owned farm, and has been run by Will and Emma, with help from their son Jack, for 9 years. Will’s a Lake District farmer through and through. His Dad farmed in Langdale; his Grandfather farmed in Hawkshead. Will farms 30 acres of inbye (fields close to the farm) with access via intakes (fellside fields) to the commons above, with his 500 breeding ewes and 10 cows. Will takes great pains to ensure that no artificial inputs are added to his land; only farm-produced manure. His inbyes have over 90 species of wildflowers and grasses. His sheep are hefted to the farm. This is genetic imprinted knowledge passed down from mother to daughter, the knowledge of where home is. Once on the fenceless fell tops, these sheep will return to their farm instinctively.
The Herdwicks are butchered in the Lyth valley in south Cumbria and all the lamb is sold direct. And then there’s the wool. Two generations ago, income from sold wool would have covered farm rentals. Since the development of manmade materials for clothing, demand for wool has dropped and created the dilemma of what can be done with this by-product. A good proportion from Town Head goes to Dalefoot Composts in Penrith and into their wool and bracken-based composts. The wool improves the compost’s water retention and slow release of nitrogen.
A few years back, Town Head hosted a visit by Norwegian Commoners. Their gift to the Bensons (a wet-felted weave) inspired Emma to try her hand using some of the farm’s fleeces to felt and use this to make wool crafts. Once sheared on the farm, the fleeces travel to Yorkshire to be washed and carded (untangling and aligning the wool fibres), and returned as wool batts (a fluffy sheet). Using felting needles with their minute barbs, Emma pushes the needle repeatedly into the wool, matting and firming the wool‘s fibres together into felt. Not surprisingly, this is a time-consuming craft. The final products reflect the skill and passion Emma puts in. And Emma shares her knowledge through felt-making kits available locally and courses in Keswick.
See the full range her crafts on www.thefeltedherdwick.co.uk
Local outlets for Town Head’s lamb:
Basecamp North Lakes, Cocklakes House, Troutbeck, Penrith CA11 0SG (farm shop)
F.W. Garside, top Of North Rd, Ambleside LA22 9DT (butchers)
W.F. Hutchinson Ltd, Kirkdale House, Tilberthwaite Ave, Coniston LA21 8ED (butchers)
The Good Sport, 1 Stock Ln, Grasmere, Ambleside LA22 9SJ (pub)
Heft, High Newton, Grange-over-Sands LA11 6JH (restaurant)
For Herdwick wool compost, go to www.dalefootcomposts.co.uk