Rare Breed Week: Wensleydale

Rare Breed Week: Wensleydale
Lara Pollard-Jones
Lara Pollard-Jones

Join us as we speak to the breeders and crafters who are helping to keep our rare breeds going!  Flying the flag for the Wensleydale is James from Ashen Wensleydales who you may know as Longdraw James.

We are Ashen Wensleydales run by Claire Elliott and James Perry. Claire is a long-time sheep farmer and has been working with sheep for over 30 years. James handles the wool and fibre side of operations being an experienced dyer and handspinning teacher of international renown and over 20 years of experience.

The Ashen flock of wensleydales are entirely coloured sheep, meaning, we do not have any white wensleydale sheep. They come in a whole host of colours ranging from the palest silver, through to mid grey, into various shades of charcoal and black. There are around 120 wensleydales sheep on the farm, a number which keeps increasing each lambing! To date, we are the largest coloured flock of purebred, pedigree, coloured wensleydales in the world.

The flock began as a change of direction for the farm which had previously focused on romneys. Claire wanted to focus on a breed which would have an outlet in the wool, hence after much research, Claire settled on wensleydales.

The wool from these sheep is very characteristic of a lustre longwool, in that it has wavy, open crimp, high lustre, immense drape and rather long staple length (typically 6-8” with shearling fleeces being up to 12-14”!). Due to the inherent lock structure, and the attributes of the wool, its highly desired by handspinners. Art yarn spinners love long locks for tailspinning as this gives excellent texture. Wensleydale also sees significant use in more traditional yarns too where its drape and lustre make it an excellent choice for weaving and various knitted items.

James’ favourite use for wensleydale is for lace yarn, as the lustre and drape, when combined with a worsted combed preparation, give the fabric an excellent hand and make it really hang like a lace shawl should. Additionally, being worsted yarn, the fabric has outstanding stitch definition which allows the stitches to open and really show off a lace pattern.

One of our main wensleydale products in our shop are raw fleeces, which are hand selected by James to his exacting criteria, then skirted, weighed, and offered for sale. These are always incredibly popular, and its fairly common for us to sell out within weeks of offering them. We also have a portion of our fleeces processed into combed top, as this combed preparation really fits well with the attributes of the breed. We do also offer dyed top and a number of other fibres, but we really love wensleydale wool!

We really would love to see the breed continue to gain popularity as they are fabulous sheep with tonnes of character and lovely fibre to boot. Currently, there are far fewer coloured sheep than there are white, so we would love to see this start to change and the coloured variant become more popular!


You can find Ashen Wensleydales on Facebook and Instagram
f you want to find out more about the Wensleydale breed you can check out the Wensleydale Longwool Sheep Breeders Association or RBST.

Related posts