The name “Herdwick” is derived from the Old Norse herdyerk, meaning sheep pasture. The sheep date back to 12 century and originated on the fells of the old counties of Westmorland and Cumberland, now collectively known as Cumbria. They are extremely hardy sheep that are able to survive at heights of up to 3000 feet on the Cumbrian mountains all year round. The only time Herdwick sheep will descend into the valleys is during lambing.
They are unique amongst sheep as they are territorial and will not wander far from their birth place. This is a real asset to farmers, as time and money is not wasted recovering lost sheep. Another aspect of Herdwick sheep is their ability to feed on just the natural flora that grows on the fells. There is no need for the farmers to supplement their diet making the sheep almost “organic”.
The world-famous Beatrix Potter is often hailed as a key figurehead in saving the Herdwick sheep from extinction. As a staunch supporter of the National Trust from an early age, she understood the need to preserve the rural culture as well the beautiful scenery. This, and her love of the Lake District, prompted her to acquire Hill Top Farm in Near Sawrey in 1905.
Beatrix Potter went on to purchase 15 additional farms in the Lake District and, together with her shepherd Tom Story, started to breed Herdwick sheep. Beatrix won a number of prizes for her sheep at local shows, eventually becoming the first elected female President of the Herdwick Sheep Breeders Association in 1943.
Beatrix’s passion to preserve rural culture and scenery, Combined with her love of the native Herdwick sheep, led her to leave all her farms, covering 4,000 acres to the National Trust when she died; with the understanding that they continue to breed the sheep and allow them to graze freely on the land. Hence Herdwick sheep can be seen roaming the fells today….