For the (very) amateur photographer, sheep make surprisingly good subjects. As I collated a few images to share here, I laboured over the words to accompany them. Yet I soon realised that sheep have been playing a significant role in my life for years.
Born and bred in Sussex, I have spent veritable swathes of my life up on the Downs, amongst the descendants of the very animals that have shaped the landscape.
My paternal grandfather was a Sussex sheep farmer, and early childhood memories spirit up memories of lambing season: my mind evokes images of legs and straw, both so alike in their beautiful frailty.
And even today, I have been a resident of Derbyshire for over six years now, a county so strongly associated with sheep, that the crest of its football team carries the emblem of a ram.
Ubiquitous and yet so very anonymous, sheep are the stoic sentinels of our countryside that seemingly bypass all interest and intrigue. Yet for the nature lover, Ovis aries is to be venerated and celebrated, as this traditional English folk song, ‘As I was Going to Derby’ does so marvellously.
The following version is the one transcribed by Llewellynn Jewitt in The Ballads and Songs of Derbyshire (1867).
As I was going to Darby, Sir,
All on a market day,
I met the finest Ram, Sir,
That ever was fed on hay.
Fal-de-ral, fal-de-ral, daddle-i-day.
This Ram was fat behind, Sir,
This Ram was fat before,
This Ram was ten yards high, Sir,
Indeed he was no more.
The Wool upon his back, Sir,
Reached up unto the sky,
The Eagles made their nests there, Sir,
For I heard the young ones cry.
I hope that even this cursory literary and visual glance at our domesticated friends warrants a closer look next time you are in the countryside, and triggers a deeper appreciation of Ovis aries.