Microview – Alison O’Neill The Barefoot Shepherdess

Helm Crag The Barefoot Shepherdess

Microview – The Barefoot Shepherdess

Alison O’Neill, a working shepherdess at her Shacklabank Farm, near Sedbergh, has long walked barefoot. Paul – Manager at our Ambleside Store catches up with Alison to find out more about her.

How long does it take to become a ‘Shepherdess’ and fully train a Sheep Dog?

I suppose I have always been a Shepherdess I was born on a farm and grew up shepherding it’s in the blood however training a sheepdog usually takes around two years but like people some are quicker to learn, to some its pure instinct whilst others it’s a gradual thing.

Where does your love of ‘Tweed’ come from?

My love of tweed is a childhood comfort thing I can remember my Grandmother always wearing tweed skirts to walk in , my grandfather whilst out on the fells would wrap his tweed coat around me to keep me warm and growing up in Cumbria Tweed was worn in every from by everyone including Alfred Wainwright.

I noticed you are a huge fan of ‘Home Baking’ what’s your winter/comfort food specialty?

I adore cooking and find it so relaxing I am from a family of great cooks you might say its in the genes My favourite winter treat is Roast lamb in particular Rough fell lamb with a huge tray of roast potatoes, root vegetables and Yorkshire puddings followed by apple pie and custard on a cold Cumbrian fell top that’s what calls me home.

How often do you go ‘Barefoot’ walking?

I walk barefoot as often as I can in all weathers and on all terrains there are no rules no wrongs and no rights from soft green moss in the woods to cold mountain streams across muddy fields or knee deep in wild flower hay meadows.

Where is your favourite walking location and why?

They say home is where the heart is and mine is on The Howgill Fells there soft velvet sides and stunning views in all directions call to me time and time again.

What is your favourite piece of walking kit?

My favourite bit of walking kit has to be my supalite Brasher boots I love the softness of the leather how light they are upon my feet, when I have to wear boots there is no competition. I must wear out two pairs a year I think its time Brasher sponsored me!

Any tips for any novice walkers to the Fells of Cumbria?

Take care whatever the weather and be prepared, carry more food than you need, always, always take water, carry waterproof clothing , wear comfortable boots, take a map, let someone know where you are heading and what time you will be back, listen to the weather forecast and then enjoy our beautiful Cumbria.

What lies ahead for you next year?

I will be developing “secrets of a shepherdess” walks with The National Trust, launching my range of Harris Tweed women’s walking wear called Shepherdess, showing how great technical can look with traditional and with fingers all crossed my book Shepherdess will be in the shops next Christmas.

Thanks for your time Alison and good luck with next years ventures!

Paul is manager of Rohan Ambleside and author of the MicroView series of interviews on Rohantime
Read Microview – Mark Richards


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