The Yorkshire Vet muses over the challenges of photographing sheep

Previously, I’ve made vague reference to the task of choosing topics for this column and, once chosen, the joy of creating a succinct summary of the subject. This week’s subject matter came out of the blue, after a literary festival in Hexham.

“Can I show you some pictures from my album?” said an energetic lady (who I will call Fiona, although that wasn’t her actual name) as she presented me with two books to sign.

“I’ve been collecting photos which I’ve taken during winter bike rides around the Northern Dales,” she explained, “They are all of sheep on haybales.” Sure enough, there was a large collection of photos of sheep standing on and around hay bales and at ring feeders. The best ones, or at least the ones about which Fiona became most excited, were the ones with sheep standing on top of a central bale.

As I flicked through the niche portfolio, Fiona continued to explain her aims and motives and the challenges associated with photographing sheep on bales of hay: “My target for next winter is to add more to the collection,” she enthused. “January and February are the best months, and 2018 and 2019 were my best cycling winters for sheep on haybale photography. Since then the album’s growth has slowed, because I have either been too cold to remove all of my gloves or its been too wet to take my phone out of its waterproof bag – sheep on haybale photography is a savage, brutal hobby, you know.”

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    Fiona continued to outline more of the challenges involved in trying to capture the perfect ovine scene:

    “Sometimes the sheep get scared or frightened by my shrieks of delight (which are meant to be encouraging), and jump off the hay bale. On other occasions, there simply haven’t been the photographic opportunities, even when a haybale has been ripe for climbing. Maybe the sheep on those occasions were lazy?”

    We chatted more, before I added my signature to the books. I apologised for the lack of photographs of sheep on bales in each book, but I jotted my email address on the inside cover of one and promised to peruse her pictures in more detail if she sent them by email.

    Later, a series of photos duly appeared, along with some further explanation, which went like this: “Apart from sheep on haybales, I take no photographs, so my knowledge of how photo sharing works is negligible. I hope I have attached three of my favourites:

    “The only one I took last winter (the one with the house in the background) is my absolute favourite. Initially, when we saw this sheep, I thought I was hallucinating or my packed lunch had been drugged, because it was too good to be true.

    “Another classic is a sheep preaching to its flock. This was taken near Teesdale in County Durham in January 2018. I tried to take it on the move but dropped my phone and it broke. Fortunately, the photograph was salvageable. The phone was not.”

    Fiona continued in her email: “I normally don’t do anything social on a Tuesday night because it wreaks havoc with my exercise routine and I worry about starting down the slippery slope to being lazy, but I’m really glad I did – thank you. Fiona.

    “PS. Last summer, on a bike tour home through Ayrshire, we saw a sheep long-jump a cattle grid.”

    Fiona, I’m glad I turned out on a Tuesday night in Hexham, too!