Yarns Around Northumberland – Lady Louisa Beresford at Waterford Hall, Ford

Louisa Anne Beresford, Marchioness of Waterford

Welcome to the second instalment of our ‘Yarns Around Northumberland’

In this, February’s Yarns Around Northumberland, we thought we would focus on a strong and beautiful heroine in the lead up to Mothers’ Day next month. Our featured pattern is Stella Ackroyd’s pretty lace ‘Waterford Shawl’ knitted from our very own Yeavering Bell 4ply.

Louisa Anne Beresford was born in 1818, daughter of Charles Stuart, 1st Baron of Rothesay and Lady Elizabeth Margaret Yorke, and she was destined to have great talent, wealth, beauty and independence of mind.

As a child Louisa was taught to draw by Rossetti and attended life drawing classes by John Ruskin. She is believed to have modelled for Sir john Everett Millais and it is suggested that her beauty was one of the inspirations for the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood.

Louisa Stuart first met her husband, Henry, the 3rd Marquis of Waterford, in 1839 at the Eglinton Tournament where she was greatly impressed by his courage and skill at jousting. Henry had inherited great wealth at the age of fifteen and had grown up to be rather wild. The phrase ‘to paint the town red’ refers to his painting a pub’s porch red and being fined £100 for his efforts!

Despite his reputation for drunken carousing Henry was actually very shy. So shy that he proposed to Louisa via a letter to her mother written by his sister! Lady Stuart was appalled by the idea of a union between her younger daughter and the wild Marquis of Waterford and was set to refuse. Louisa however, prevailed and she and Henry were married in 1842.

The marriage was successful but tragically Henry was killed in a riding accident in 1859 and childless Louisa had to leave Curraghmore House in County Waterford, Ireland. Louisa took up residence in Ford Castle, inherited by Henry from his Grandmother, and set about making improvements. She showed great concern for the welfare of the tenants of the estate and in 1860 commissioned the building of a school. She also provided housing for her tenants, a nurse for Ford Village and founded a temperance society.

In 1862 she began to cover the walls of the school room with scenes from the bible. The characters in the murals were modelled by children from the school and their parents from the village and estate. The murals, which took 21 years to complete, were influenced by the Pre-Raphaelite movement, and were painted in life-sized watercolour on paper stretched onto wooden frames and then mounted on the walls.

The hall was used as the village school until 1957, and is now known as the Waterford Gallery, or Lady Waterford Hall.

Louisa died at Ford on 12th May 1891. Her grave lies next to the Church of St Michael in Ford village. Her Gravestone and slab, designed by George Frederic Watts and his wife Mary Seton Watts is now designated a Grade II listed building. The wording on the slab tells how she was ‘honoured and beloved by all’.

A gifted watercolourist she didn’t exhibit in galleries until the 1870’s. After she died there were two large exhibitions of her work with over 300 pieces of art at each, she is now recognised as one of the the most interesting and gifted artists of her time.

We have dyed three pretty, limited edition colours in Yeavering Bell 4ply to knit Waterford Shawl (although you can of course, knit with any colour in our range). Gentle variegated ‘Louisa Anne’s Bouquet’, ‘Pre-Raphaelite’ a dusty rose and ‘Waterford Crystal’ a smoky blue. Two skeins are needed to knit the shawl and the pattern is FREE with the yarn – perfect for Mothers’ Day!

If you would like to be first to hear about our new patterns and yarns then please subscribe to our newsletter, there is a link on our home page.

January’s Yarn Around Northumberland At Hadrian’s Wall

Border Ballad Scarf at Hadrian’s Wall

Welcome to the first instalment of our ‘Yarns Around Northumberland’

The plan was a good one, or at least a possible one. Lovely Stella Ackroyd had knitted our sample of her beautiful Border Ballad Scarf in our very own Yeavering Bell Aran, we had dyed it to our new ‘Centurian Red’ and we (Whistlebare’s family) were off to ‘Homesteads Fort’ on Hadrian’s Wall for a photo shoot.

Unfortunately, on the day in question, Mr Whistlebare and two Whistlebare boys were struck down with the lurgy. Despite this, I and No. 2 boy set off in freezing temperatures and rapidly diminishing light to get what pictures we could! As you can imagine the results were mixed so I would like to take this opportunity to thank Cleeve Langdon (IG cleeve_04_) for generously allowing us to use his amazing photos. Do have a look at his Instagram feed for lots of cracking images of Northumberland and Cumbria.

I would also like to thank No.2 boy (12 years) for being a chirpy star and taking lots of great photos despite his numb fingers. All photos of me were taken by Boris 🙂

So on with the story, or is it a yarn?

Hadrian’s Wall

“Just when you think you are at the world’s end, you see smoke rising

from East to West as far as the eye can turn, and then under it, also

as far as the eye can stretch, houses, temples, shops and

theatres, barracks and granaries, trickling along like dice behind….

one, long, low, rising and falling, and hiding and showing line of towers…

that is the wall. “

Rudyard Kipling From `Puck of Pook’s Hill’

On becoming Roman Emperor in 117AD, Hadrian set about making the Empire more secure. Built to defend the north-west frontier and to separate the Roman and Barbarian territories, Hadrian’s Wall stretches 73 miles from Wallsend in the east to the Solway Firth in the west. The mighty Roman Army had conquered the Picts, to the North of the wall, but the wild Caledonian terrain made for difficult fighting and yielded little of value and so Hadrian decided his empire would not include Caledonia.

Hadrian’s Wall still sits well in Northumberland’s wild and rugged landscape, both can be bleak and are certainly imposing. It is still possible to walk the wall’s entire length and hear the echoes of the Roman Soldiers long past. Below is a poem from an unsent letter written by a soldier posted on Hadrian’s Wall.

I’m lonely here
the places I didn’t go
to defend this place
have given me a headache
for twenty years or so.

The underpinnings in gorse
tiny flowers of thyme
grow through it, these stones
have bled more blood than men
and yet I’m full of hope.

Its willow weaving time,
at Christmas we will decorate:
celebrate Saturnalia, drink
toasts to spill into the new year
hope for a changing of the guard.

The men it posted here
from Syria to Africa
who stood as sentry
through winter’s outnumbered days
wish you were here, and here, and here.

Thousands of men were garrisoned along the length of the wall in Turrets, Milecastles and the 16 huge Forts in which 500 – 1000 men were stationed. Some of these men were recruited locally but most came from the far flung reaches of the Roman Empire – Spain, Switzerland, Hungary, Germania, Romania and even North Africa. Hence Hadrian’s Wall society was the beginnings of truly multi-cultural Britain. Of course, civilian towns grew up to support the garrisons bringing women, children, craftsmen and traders to the wall.

Hadrian’s Wall was occupied for almost three centuries. Today, at eighteen hundred years old, the wall may be a mere relic of its magnificent past, but it is still the most impressive monument to the Roman occupation of Britain and is well worth visiting when you come to Northumberland!

Our pattern for this month is the beautiful ‘Border Ballad’ designed by Stella Ackroydwith a pretty lace border and cosy warm garter stitch interior. Border Ballad is an unusual bow shaped scarf with a very clever wrapped top edge giving structure. Perfect for keeping out the cold winds of the border region Border Ballad is knitted from 3 skeins of our own Yeavering Bell Aran and the pattern is FREE with the yarn.

While the slave is away…….

Last week we went to ‘Unravel’ at Farnham Maltings and we had a great time! Thank you if you were one of the hundreds of people who kindly visited our stall and were so positive about everything. Flora and I came home on a real high. Unfortunately we were far too busy to be able to take many photos but here is one of set-up and another of some of our yarn to give you an idea!

Going to Unravel meant being away for 4 days leaving D with 4 boys and 4 dogs (Flora’s little ‘Stitch’ included) not to mention all the other 4 legged creatures at Whistlebare. Whilst the 1000 mile trip was exhausting I think Flora and I probably had the easy end of it!

Sorry for the ‘radio silence’ recently but it turns out that in order to make my voice heard I need the assistance of Female Goat Slave and she’s been far too busy dyeing and skeining to pay me any attention! Then she disappears, just like that, no warning, no discussion, first we goats know of it we are being fed by Junior Goat Slave 2. I feel I should complain at such cavalier treatment but we do rather enjoy the Junior Goat Slaves. Best is when all 4 come out together, they often spend so much time baiting each other they don’t notice what we girls are up to at all! Now if we could just work out how to get the lid off the feed bin…..

It turns out that naughty behaviour was not confined to the Angora Goats. This is what I found on my return to the dairy shed:

Introducing Cherry our Pure Toggenburg Yearling, otherwise known as ‘Sneaky Houdini’. Despite the extensions added to her 5 foot pen walls as you can see she is still investigating all escape options. It is hard to be cross though as her primary escape objective is a cuddle!

The other excitement over the weekend was a delivery. We have been waiting many months for this machine and are delighted that it brings us one step closer to being entirely self sufficient in our forage management.

That’s what I like to see, proper progress on the nosh front! Apparently that baler has come from France. Bring on the Autumn, I’m sure to be irresistible to the ladies when I can offer them French cuisine!

Tweedy One Grows Up!

A few seasons ago, by popular demand, we released a couple of children’s jersey patterns. They were immediately loved and followed with requests for matching patterns for Mummy! Never let it be said that we don’t listen to our lovely customers. These last few weeks Flora has been working away to produce an adult version of ‘Tweedy One’. Here is a little of her progress


Together we decided that this jersey should be from Yeavering Bell Aran.

Then we had to choose three colours, this is Chainmail, Pure Soul and Willow the Wisp – hope you like them!


The really big question though was whether to literally scale up Tweedy 1 into adult sizes or whether to ‘grow it up’ a bit as well. We chose the latter and I couldn’t be more delighted with the design Flora has produced.



First the trim was wider and also longer at the back…….


Then some waist shaping was followed by a v neck…….

Graft it all together……..

And WOW!

This pattern will be making its debut at Unravel Farnham in a fortnight’s time. Of course it needs a name……….all suggestions greatly appreciated!

Shearing the Mohair….

Welcome to MY new blog. It is about time that our female goat slave recognised that we ladies are the main attraction round here and gave us the platform we deserve! So, welcome to Whistlebare, the farm where we beasts are in charge.

I am pleased to say that female goat slave has been out in our shed since early this morning. Breakfast was delivered in good time and may have even had a few extra beans! The question is what is she up to?

​Blossom is quite right to be suspicious. Harvest comes to Whistlebare twice a year, in January and in August, so this morning (Saturday) I am preparing for the arrival of Kevin the shearer. It may seem a bit harsh to cut off all the goats’ lovely warm mohair in January but it must be done before kidding in March.

We have mucked out one of the individual pens and laid down the black shearing floor.


Then we sorted out another individual pen where each fleece will be carefully weighed, recorded and graded before being packed for storage. Here are a couple of ‘before’ shots, this is Blossom, as matriarch she will lead the way.

This group of ‘in kid’ does are patiently waiting their turns.

Once Kevin arrives it all happens briskly.

Shearing Angora Goats is complicated as they have fleece on their heads and legs as well as their bodies. Their skin too is thin and loose so must be handled with great care. Not to mention the fact that these goats are pregnant. We are very fortunate that Kevin has taken the time to master the different techniques required for shearing goats as well as sheep.

Here’s Bronte, fresh out of the shearing pen, saying a quick ‘hello’ to her Papa. While Bea is more interested in seeing whether there is any more breakfast in the buckets!

You see I knew it, a special breakfast always means something is up! I do like a visit from Kevin though, it may be a bit undignified but he is such a nice slave and knows just how to make a girl look her best.
Shearing is always a long day and hard work for everyone but as the sacks of beautiful mohair pile up it is hard not to get excited about the fabulous yarn that will follow.

My next blog will show you what Flora and I are up to, both knitting and crochet, and you’ll get a sneak preview of the new pattern we are bringing to Unravel next month. Remember, you will always see it here first!

New Year, New Blog @ Whistlebare

We have been selling yarn for just over 2 years now and we love it! Mostly because of all the lovely people we get to meet and share our passion with. In that time there have been constant requests to know more about our farm and animals and the whole process of yarn production. I am sorry that I have been so poor at sharing with you all. However, with the New Year comes New Year’s resolutions! I hear you groan and I acknowledge that it is already the 22nd of January and this is the first you have heard from me, but it will not be the last!

Every week I am going to tell you what is going on here at Whistlebare, generally from my perspective but sometimes I thought it might be fun to hear the story from one of the beasties points of view. With that in mind allow me to introduce some of the main characters around the farm:

Blossom is almost 8 years old and the Matriarch of the herd. She has a gentle personality but a will of steel! Just ask any of the others!

Young and fit at only 3 years old Havelock is our girls’ preferred gentleman friend.

One of our founding Wensleydale Ewes, Frolic is definitely a worrier.

Born here at Whistlebare Brutus is fast establishing himself as the dominant male Wensleydale.

As well as all the news from the farm I will be sharing both my and Flora’s latest knitting and crochet projects. Sometimes there will be tips and ideas for projects and skills of your own. Any news about new yarns, colours, patterns, shows etc will also all be heard here first! Be sure to check back regularly and leave lots of comments to let us know what you would like to hear about!

From Motorway Services to Dairy Goats

I never thought that I would feel comparable to a motorway service station but it has happened. Motorway services fulfil basic functions, they offer a place to break your journey, use the lavatory and re-fuel both yourself and your vehicle. Unfortunately all too often services are crowded, of inferior quality and vastly over priced. As a farmer, biologist and possibly annoyingly devoted Mum I know that breast is best! I personally breast fed for a total of six years (four strapping sons) and I spend many hours each year making sure that all the babies born here at Whistlebare attach properly to their mothers to get their fair share of warm, life giving milk. Very sadly, sometimes, despite our best efforts we find ourselves with a kid or a lamb needing to be bottle fed. Happily we have yet to have an actual orphan. Our pet kids and lambs are either a triplet too far for the mother to rear or a little rejected one, usually from a first time mum struggling to cope with twins.

The first milk that any mammal produces is called colostrum, it is bright yellow and packed full of anti-bodies and nutrition. We know that if any of our goat kids or lambs do not receive colostrum within six hours of birth it is very unlikely that they will survive. Ensuring that new borns are up and sucking within this 6 hour window is one of the most important jobs in the kidding / lambing shed. Any baby that is too weak or whose mother is being obstructive is given a bottle milked straight from the doe or ewe. Often this is enough to set things on their proper course but sometimes we have to go on bottle feeding. Enter the motorway service station. In our case this consists of a pen with a radiant heater and a white plastic bucket with teats containing powdered milk held at 37ºC.

This system works fine. The kids and lambs feed as they want to and grow well. Somehow it is not quite right though. The bottle fed kids just don’t quite look as glossy and beautiful as their doe reared peers. Hardly surprising given that the milk they are being fed is processed cows milk. Thousands of years of evolution has resulted in female mammals producing the perfect nutrition for their offspring so why I ask myself have we been feeding baby goats on expensive processed cows’ milk? Surely there is an obvious solution – enter the dairy goats! We are all very excited to be soon welcoming a pair of British Toggenburg Goats to Whistlebare. Here is a snap of ‘Candy’ to give you the idea. Follow our blog to hear all about this new chapter on our farm.

Coming Up For Air

Few, coming up for air at last! Since I last blogged we have lambed, kidded, attended two festivals including Edinburgh, began our Workshops in ernest, launched our new pattern range and been to Austria for a week – by train! It has been pretty fraught, very short on sleep and very hard work.

I love the kidding / lambing season. In 2012 we bought our first Angora Goats, thirteen in all. Now, in 2015 actually only two and a half years later, we have ninety, nine zero goats! When kidding begins, that’s it I am committed to the shed certainly all day and most of the night too, helped often and greatly by the five men in my life. I love having such clearly defined priorities and the opportunity to focus entirely on one thing. Now if I can just find some way of managing sleep deprivation I’ll have it all sorted. We have been delighted with this year’s outcomes, 150% kidding with 50% female and 200% lambing with 75% female – excellent! We still have one doe and one ewe stubbornly holding out but all other mummies and off-spring are out enjoying the first flush of spring grass in the sunshine.

Of course this year was even more demanding than usual. Not only did we have more livestock than ever before but we also had Edinburgh Yarn Festival smack bang in the middle of kidding! Does anyone know the physiology of sleep deprivation? For me the main symptoms are memory loss and confusion. If you were kind enough to have visited our stall at Edinburgh and found me rather vague then please accept my apologies now. That aside we had a great time in Edinburgh. We launched our new collection of knitting and crochet patterns including, for the first time, some for men and children. It is always nerve wracking sending new patterns out into the World. Flora and I put so much time, effort and care into each and every one that a negative response would be like the rejection of a new baby. Fortunately, as ever Flora’s patterns were a great hit. We will definitely be returning to Edinburgh next year – hope to see you there.


Since then we have been lucky enough to escape for a holiday. A whole lovely week focusing on our human children rather than our animal or textile ones. We returned to blue skies, sunshine and bright green grass – as always it is good to be home. If you would like to meet the little beasts that have been ruling Whistlebare for the last month then do come and visit our Studio on the farm or, for a more in depth look, book onto one of our workshops. Next weekend we will be attending Wonderwool Wales.

Our Very First ‘Workshop @ Whistlebare’

Last week we were very pleased to welcome a select group of ladies to test run our new ‘Workshops @ Whistlebare’. Attendees were chosen with care from our most favoured customers. We knew that these ladies could be relied upon to enjoy themselves and to tell us what went right and what went wrong!

Running our first workshop in February was always a risk and sure enough the weather did its best to thwart us. Two of our number found themselves snowed in and a third had to stay at home to nurse a winter stricken child. The remaining five however, successfully battled the elements to arrive in the sunshine at Whistlebare.

The day began with tea or coffee and cake in the studio. Everyone took the opportunity to choose their skein to knit our Daisy Scarf, as well as to get to know one another. Then, accompanied by lovely Andrew, our intrepid photographer / postie, we headed off into the goat shed. As you can see many more friendships were formed!

As well as meeting the goats we chatted about their husbandry and care and looked at different samples of fleece. From there we moved on to the sheep’s paddock. The sheep too were delighted to have company and charged down the field to meet everyone. This visit was short however, as the weather caught up with us and it started to snow.

Luckily, inside the wood burning stove was burning brightly and all was snug. Time enough to talk about the special qualities of mohair and to watch a short film showing yarn production. Before tucking in to homemade soup with bread from ‘Great Northumberland Bread Co.’ and cheese from ‘Northumberland Cheese Co.’ Rounded off with more homemade cake, of course!

In the afternoon we all settled down to knit. Flora (our pattern designer) was on hand to guide us through the ‘Daisy Scarf’ pattern. By the end of the very cheerful afternoon everyone was well on their way to completing their scarf. A final round of tea and cake set everyone up for their journeys home.

Flora and I very much enjoyed the day and we received lots of very positive feedback from our visitors all asking when the next workshop would be! We are putting together a timetable and we will let you all know! In the meantime keep watching our website, facebook page, intsagram etc to hear all our news.