A range of beautifully designed Herdwick Tweed bags and accessories designed and made in The Lake District.

The Herdwick Heritage

The name Herdwick comes from the Old Norse herdvyck which literally means sheep pasture. The quality of the wool produced by Herdwick sheep is unique in its durability. It has protective properties, making it a robust and hardy for practical uses. Herdwick sheep have been known to survive under blankets of snow for three days with only their thick coats for warmth and sustenance.

There are fewer animals in the Herdwick breed than most other commercial breeds of livestock and they are an important part of Lakeland heritage. In 2012 Lakeland Herdwick meat was given Protected Designated Origin (PDO) status. This is a European Standard of Food Protection which ensures the quality, provenance and traceability.

Although the exact story of how the Herdwick breed came to Britain is unknown, there are several suggestions. Some believe that the ancestors of the Herdwick breed were brought to Britain with the Nordic settlers during the Viking invasions. Others believe that they arrived in a Spanish Armada ship. Whatever the truth behind the mystery, by the end of the 12th century they were firmly established in the Lake District.

Hardy breed

Herdwick sheep can live all year on England's highest and roughest terrain which also has the country's highest rainfall! The heart of Herdwick country is the western and central parts of the Lake District National Park. Today around 50,000 Lakeland Herdwick sheep are kept on 120 farms in the Lake District and 95% of Herdwicks live within 14 miles of Coniston.

Much of the farmland is unfenced fell grazing and includes large areas of common land. The Lakeland Herdwick lambs learn through shepherding and grazing with their mothers where on the open fell their farm's grazing area is. This is known locally as the "heaf". This is a complex system dependant on succeeding generations of female sheep being taught where they live and as the sheep feed on the herbage of the fells; grasses, heather and plants such as bilberry, they maintain the unique landscape.

Herdwick and Beatrix Potter

Beatrix Potter’s love of animals extended beyond the pages of her quaintly drawn books.  When she married and moved to Castle Cottage, Near Sawrey in October 1913 she already had an established reputation as an artist and author but along with her change of lifestyle she embraced a new and engrossing occupation. She had bought subsequent farms after her first purchase of Hill Top Farm in 1905, and when she moved to the area she developed her passion for the Herdwick breed. She employed Tom Storey as her shepherd to manage the flock at Hilltop Farm, Near Sawrey and breed prize winning sheep, becoming something of an expert in the process. This was recognised when she was elected to be the first female president of the Herdwick Sheep Breeders Association for 1944 but unfortunately she didn’t live to take up the position. On her death she bequeathed all the farms and land she owned to the National Trust, stipulating that each farm must maintain a flock of pure bred Herdwick sheep.

Using the Fleece.

Herdwick sheep are born completely black but slowly their fleeces lighten to chocolate brown with a snowy white face and legs. The first sheering at around 15 months removes the thick brown fleece revealing a dark grey colour below. Every summer as the fleece is removed the layer below is lighter until the mature adult is light grey or cream. These beautiful natural tones echo the bleak beauty of the landscape of The Lake District.

Shearing occurs once a year, during the summer months. As the summer temperature rises the removal of their heavy coats is very welcome to the sheep and it is essential for their welfare. Even with the electric clippers that are used today it is still a very physical and skilled job.

Once the fleeces have been shorn off in one piece they are carefully rolled and placed into large wool sacks in preparation for collection. The cleaning and spinning process takes place at the mill. The fleeces are sorted for quality and then thoroughly scoured to ensure that they are clean. At this stage the fleece is called “tops” and this is then drawn out and spun into yarn twisting the thread to add strength. It’s a very involved process, and this is before the weaving even takes place!

Part of preserving this fascinating breed is by utilising the wool to the best advantages. In the late 20th century wool prices dropped so low that farmers would burn Herdwick fleeces as waste.  The cost of shearing the sheep being more than the money they could sell the fleece for.

Traditionally, a spinning wheel would have been used to handspin the wool before handweaving the yarn into cloth. Nowadays machinery speeds up the process, but there is meticulous attention to detail to create our worsted yarn. Once the fabric has been diligently woven, it is then washed and pressed to give a smooth surface.

Our Herdwick Tweed

At this point we can consider the product that can be made from this fine worsted Herdwick Tweed.

Our bags are hand cut and hand sewn, incorporating dark brown leather in our design. In keeping with the traditional roots of the Herdwick project this happens in Carlisle, county town of Cumbria.

Our cushions and furnishings are made individually by hand in Coniston.

Herdwick: Cumbrian from concept to production.