Shearing Days


Summer in the Outer Hebrides can often be a little hit or miss, but 2018 is proving to be a good year so far, with islanders and visitors alike enjoying some record-breaking days of continuous sunshine.

The middle of June brought a little rain to our parched moors and machair, but prior to that we had 23 days straight without a drop, quite a rare state of affairs around these parts.

While the mercury never climbs quite as high as it does in more southerly climes, we always welcome any temperatures above 20ºC, particularly when the winds are calm and the sky is blue.

This warmer weather also signals the start of the sheep shearing season, when crofters across the Isle of Harris get down to the back-breaking work of clipping their flocks' fleece.


   


It’s hard graft, particularly for those who still prefer to use the traditional hand-shears (or Deamhas as they are known in Gaelic) but many now wield the more efficient electric clippers instead.

The shearing is often done at local 'fanks', a functional gathering place for local shepherds to corral their woolly beasts in a steel, stone and concrete maze of corridors, gates and pens.

Working together, sharing the load (and plenty of jokes and stories too), some will shear, others will roll and bag, while more will do the moving and man-handling of the animals. 

It’s also a good opportunity to take care of essential medicine and marking before the sheep are returned to the freedom of the hill and moor.


   


At the end of all this trouble and toil there are huge bags of unwashed fleece ready to be sent away for grading and scouring at mainland mills.

Finally, the crofters themselves can sit back and enjoy a well-earned dram, or in these changing times, perhaps a refreshing Isle of Harris Gin and tonic!

One day, the fruits of their labours will return to our shores as bright, white raw wool. It will be dyed and spun into intricate yarn before being woven by our island weavers into the iconic cloth we know as Harris Tweed.

We’ll be exploring and sharing much more about the tradition and culture surrounding the weaving of the Clò Mòr later this year but now is really where that story begins, here in the shearing days of an Isle of Harris summer.


Our thanks to Richard Maclennan for allowing us to film his shearing day. www.westharristrust.org

Well done to Shona Maclennan, our social media assistant for getting hands-on too!

Filming by Kenny Stewart www.mojatv.co.uk

Music by Iain Morrison www.iainmorrisonmusic.com

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