The wool quality of the Herdwick sheep is unique relating to its durability. It is coarse and kempy (Kemp: hair or strand of hair, especially one in fleece, that resists dying); and it is this quality that makes garments knitted from the yarn exceptionally good for warm, hardwearing outer layers.


Herdwick sheep are the hardiest of all Britain’s sheep breeds, withstanding the harsh, low temperatures and relentless rain of the Lake District at heights of over 3000 feet with thin soils and steep, exposed gradients. The word “Herdwyck”, meaning sheep pasture, is recorded in documents dating back to the 12th century and for hundreds of years the husbandry of Herdwick sheep has been a large factor in shaping the culture and terrain of the area.


The ewes are of medium size, weighing 35-45kg and rams of 65-75kg. They produce a fleece of between 1.5 – 2kg with a staple length of 15-20cm. Lambs are born black, lightening to a dark brown colour during their first year. After the first shearing their fleece lightens further to grey and usually continues to become paler as they age. The rams have a pair of impressive horns, however the ewes are polled (without horns).

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Fleece Statistics
Unit Value
Bradford Count Coarse
Micron Range 35+
Staple Length 15-20cm
Fleece Weight 1.5-2kg

The author Beatrix Potter took a keen interest in the keeping and breeding of Herdwicks and was the first woman to be elected president-designate of the Herdwick Sheep Breeders Association, which continues to flourish. Upon her death, in 1943, she bequeathed fifteen farms – with an approximate total area of 4000 acres – to the National Trust, and per her instructions, all continue to graze Herdwick sheep.

Breed points were laid down from the 1840s and the Herdwick Sheep Breeders Association was formed in 1916 for the encouragement of breeding Herdwick sheep and the maintenance of purity, the constitution and character of the sheep. Their standards state that “the coat should be heavy and dense with a good undercoat of fine wool of even colour and quality over the whole of the body, with a stronger ruffle or mane round the neck and top of the shoulder.

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34_1920x768-Herdwick Keith Bowden Flickr
34_1170x658-Herdwick Andy Docker Flickr
34_240x420-Herdwick Harriet & Rob Fraser Landkeepers
34_1920x1000-Herdwick John Malley Flickr

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