Eyam Walk

A plague village, a silence and an upside down sheep in the mist.

Sunday 13th November, 2011

I had a lovely walk today with my big online walking group (this is different to the small online walking group I was supposed to walk with last week). The walk started in Eyam, which is known as the plague village. This is because when plague arrived in this village, carried in by a flea resident in the cloth brought from London by itinerant tailor George Vickers, the villagers quarantined themselves selflessly to prevent the plague from spreading to the surrounding area.

The village itself is quite long, stretching along one main street with a few offshoots. Many of the old cottages have plaques detailing the people of the household who died of plague. One lists nine victims from the same small house. There is a church with a graveyard, a small museum, a hall (big house), several tea shops and one pub. It’s very touristy and in summer the street can get quite crowded. Today however, on a misty, drizzly Sunday morning, there were only walkers about.

We met near the pub, all 47 of us, plus about 8 dogs of various sizes and colours. At 11am just before starting the walk we observed the 2 minute silence for Rembrance Sunday. A small group of other walkers walked past as we were all stood in silence and one of them made a comment about us being a very quiet group. Another one quickly realised and said, ‘It’s 11 o’clock’. They then stood quietly too. We must have looked very strange though, before they realised – 47 people all stood in sombre silence in the middle of a village street. I also thought how bemused some outside observer would have been to hear the response ‘it’s 11 o’clock’ to the query of our silence and how they would have puzzled over how that could possibly have made sense.

Once we started our walk, we moved quickly uphill slipping and sliding on mud and wet leaves until we were high above the village. There was a very low thick mist, so all views were obscured. As I hadn’t planned the walk and I kept my map in my bag I didn’t have much idea of where we were going for most of the walk. I know we went up Sir William Hill and stopped for lunch above Bretton Clough – the mist cleared just enough to be able to see down into it and realise how high we were. We walked across moorland and through woodland and stopped for a while at the Barrel Inn – the highest pub in Derbyshire – pity we couldn’t admire the views.

Eyam Moor
View of Bretton Clough

 

 

Highest pub in Derbyshire
View from the pub

From there we headed back towards Eyam. On the way we passed a field of sheep, Nothing unusual in that you might think. In this field there was something very unusual though; one of the sheep was upside down, lay on its back with all four legs up in the air. This is known as riggwelter (like the beer from the Black Sheep brewery that has a picture of an upside down sheep on the label). The sheep may find themselves upside down for various reasons, for example, they may not have enough lanolin in their coats and so their fleece gets too wet and heavy and overbalances them, Once upside down the sheep quickly gets a build up of gas in its stomach and this swells the abdomen and will eventually crush the sheep’s lungs suffocating it.

I once saw a sheep like this in Brecon when I was walking on Pen y Fan and Corn Dhu. I was with a friend and we had gone off the main track, which was crowded with walkers, and onto moorland where we were the only people around. When we saw the upside down sheep we laughed. It looked so content, didn’t seem upset or in pain and just seemed to be enjoying the sun. It was only later that we found out what this actually was and that the poor sheep would most likely have died. There wasn’t much chance of any other walkers coming across it. I’ve always felt guilty about it (though it hasn’t stopped me using ‘inverted sheep’ as my user name online) and vowed if I ever saw another sheep like this I would do something about it, though I knew my chances of seeing the same thing elsewhere were pretty much zero. When people ask about the origins of my user name I always take the opportunity to educate them in the perils of riggwelter in the hope that if they ever come across anything like this they will know to do something about it. It was actually the friend I was with that day in Brecon who suggested I use ‘inverted sheep’ as my online name.

But anyway, back to today’s story. The sheep was in a field surrounded by a stone wall with a couple of strands of barbed wire stretched above it. No way was I leaving the sheep like that this time. Before I could even start to get over the wall, one of the guys in the group was over and was rolling the sheep back onto its front. As soon as he let go the sheep flopped onto its back again. It’s stomach was really distended. He tried a second time and this time straddled it and held it upright for a few minutes to give it chance to get its legs working again – its hind legs seemed very shaky. Finally the sheep was able to wobble off. Within minutes its legs seemed less wobbly and so we can only hope that it was able to remain upright. If it did, then what should happen, is that it would do plenty of burping and farting until it had expelled all the gas. It’s a pity there were no farmhouses about though so we could let the farmer know to keep an eye on it. But I now feel slightly less guilty about the sheep in Brecon. Even though it wasn’t me who saved this one. To completely assuage my guilt I think I’ll need to find one when I’m by myself and upright it, but at least this was a step in the right direction.

We finished our walk with a beer in the pub in Eyam. All in all a lovely day with a momentous moment. And now I’ll have to study my map to try to figure out exactly where I’ve been.

Author: Anne

Join me in my journey to live a life less boring, one challenge at a time.
Author of the forthcoming book ‘Walking the Kungsleden: One Woman’s Solo Wander Through the Swedish Arctic’.

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