As Seen In The Field Magazine
With its majestic mist-clad parkland dotted with sheep grazing amid the ruins of an abandoned Manor house, Snelston could be the setting of a Gothic novel. Yet the beauty of this Dovedale estate in the Peak District even, on a particular parky and wet January day is but a but one of its special attributes. While the stand of Monkey Puzzle trees is the 1st to grow successfully in Europe and still the second largest in England makes for dramatic an electrifying drive it is the flocks of Shetlands, Blue Faced Leicester and Swaledales, quietly browsing the knolls and pastures, that are the understated stars of the show. The sheep not only ensure the financial viability of the estate but produce the wool from which the tweed is made.
As guns, beaters and keepers assemble Charles and Linda Jane 'LJ' Stanton explain the flock has grown from just two sheep eight years ago to 650 today. "It's quite a thing to start forming in your 50s" beams LJ. "We could see the way the world was going when we inherited estate from Charles's father. We believe that if you live in such a lovely place and receive the benefits of various agricultural relief and subsidies you should jolly well be farming". "It's been a steep learning curve" she confesses "within two days of our first proper flock of Shetlands arriving they disappeared, turning up three weeks later on the other side of the park after roaming miles over banks and under stiles having never been through a single gate. Shetlands are nomadic, flighty and like to climb".
"We are pretty useless" quips LJ. "I'm yet to have my hand inside a sheep, although we do help with the lambing and ger the cade ones. This year we will have more than 1,000 lambs. Charles and I will be up at 6.30 am to say goodbye to the night shepherd and then our responsibilities stop about 10 pm. Last year 80% of the lambs were born in three weeks so it is a very exciting but intense time."
The couple were determined that the fleeces would be put to good use. "It is terrible that they are virtually worthless, such a waste. So after discounting a number of options, five years ago we embarked on tweed," says LJ. "We took our time bringing it to market because we were determined it was going to be the very highest standard and that every aspect of the production would be done here in the UK."
Attention to details starts with the animal husbandry, which is why lambing is done under a marquee. "An expert can take a fleece and tell you how many upsets an animal has had, so the tent reduces the stress in the fleece. Chilled-out sheep are very important to us" say LJ.
Snelston Tweed which has its design studio in the estate's former joinery, currently produces 1,000 meters a season - a small quantity than some large manufactorers churn out in a week. In addition to its range of fabrics and accessories, Snelston Tweed offers a bespoke tweed service. "LJ and Charles are such nice people and hate to blow their own trumpet," says Sophia Reed who works part-time for Sneltson Tweed, "but they've created something incredibly special: tweed possessing the personal touch and hands-on approach the artisan with the quality and professionalism of a commercial producer." Classic Olive is one of most popular and is sported by the keepers Charles and many of today's guests. "My background is fine art and I absolutely love the design aspect," says LJ. "The blues and aubergines in this tweed really reflect my interest in botany; here in the gardens we have several varieties of Dutch iris and natural geraniums,"