WHEN we lived in the south London suburbs I didn’t think a lot about sheep, but I suppose I fell in with the assumption that they are timid and stupid. Not so. Now we live in the country I know they are wilful, defiant and quite smart.
On the fells the sheep roam freely. (On an unfashionable note, it really is wonderful how sheep can turn land that cannot be used for anything else into delicious meat.) The most tempting grass seems to be at the edge of the road, so they are often found grazing from the tarmac. You have to drive round them as they won’t move. If you are walking, and you annoy a sheep, for example by having a dog with you, it will glare at you and stamp a front foot. It is actually quite menacing.
They are supposed to be kept in their designated areas by walls, fences and cattle grids, but they are expert escapers, especially when they can see that the grass really is greener and more plentiful on the other side. I have heard stories that some have learned to roll across cattle grids, but I have not seen it. What I have seen is several sheep tripping across the grid without putting a foot wrong. Here is a film of one crossing a grid, but our Lancashire lasses do it a lot more daintily.
Like anyone forced to eat grass all day long, they love a change of diet, particularly garden shrubs and flowers. After my neighbour’s plants were pruned to a uniform half an inch, I had the bright idea of keeping the sheep out with a hedge between our land and the neighbouring farm. Thirty or 40 hawthorn whips about two feet high were duly planted at the top of a near-vertical slope about 6ft high. In the spring they burst into bright green leaves and I was very pleased. One morning a sheep and its lamb found them. I raced outside in my nightwear to frighten them off. The ewe’s mechanical chewing stopped and it regarded me with those yellow eyes which have strange horizontal oblong pupils.
I could see the cogs turning: ‘It’s old [I am assuming humans all look the same to sheep]. It’s fat. It’s in its dressing gown and slippers. It’ll never get up this slope. Nothing to worry about.’ The chewing resumed and so did the systematic consumption of my proto-hedge while I flapped my arms and shouted. Not a shred was left.