Ok, so TERRIBLE title, but I have been sitting here thinking of how I could make a clever title with 'alpaca' in it, and that was as good as it got I am afraid.
This is a bit of a flashback post, as all the photos were actually taken a few months ago...but they were too good to not share. Before the summer hols, I went to a wedding up in the Lake District and the day after, we decided to go on a drive. Do you ever take those crazy drives? The ones where everytime you get to a junction one of you yells left or right? Or is that just us?
Anyway, as we were trundling down some frankly scary country lanes, I noticed on the good ole sat nav that there was a name pinpointed. The name of one of my independent suppliers. Well, I screeched a little, and smiled nicely, and Mr Sconch turned that way. And right enough, as we pulled up outside this farm house, I saw the name 'Town End Alpacas' on the gate. How wierd is that?
So we drove back and forth along the country lane, so I could peek at the alpacas (seriously, we must have looked like we were casing the place) and then Mr Sconch abruptly stopped back outside their gate and told me to go and knock. How crazy is that?! I couldn't just knock! What was even wierder, was that I had actually been emailing the lovely Kim that morning, which Mr Sconch pointed out was, if he had been one to belive in that kind of thing, surely a sign? Anyway, as we were sitting outside, I spotted a man walk towards the gate. Turns out it was Brian, the other half of Town End Alpacas, and LUCKILY, he turned out to be lovely, and not at all put off by my excited ramblings about being one of Kim's shops, and before I knew it, we were driving in and getting our own little private tour...
Brian told us all about the alpacas, and let the Sconchlet go in and see them (she LOVED them), and told us a bit about the business.
Though it was a bit hard to get her to actually smile at the camera...there were too many exciting things in the field behind us!
It turns out we were really lucky to see the alpacas, as Kim and Brian had made the decision to stop farming alpacas, and were selling them off at auction. Kim is continuing to dye her yarns, but is using fleece from other farmers in the area. So we really did time it right!
All of the alpacas in their herd are named after cars... there was Mungo, Austin, Morris and Sprite. I think from memory this was Mungo at the front!
They were fascinating to watch - they are much more wild in comparison to sheep, and still move very instinctively; one moves, and they all move almost instantly as one.
Brian was a font of knowledge - did you know for example that they are actually related to camels, not sheep?! And that their knees and ankles are not where you would think - so what looks like their ankle is in fact their knee?!
Alpacas have only been bred in the UK for around 30 years, so it is a relatively new breed. There is no meat industry from alpacas currently which makes them a bit of an oddity.
Brian explained that with alpaca shearing, it isn't done in one complete piece like with sheep (which is always something which fascinates me) and that the different parts are separated out. And if you have always thought that alpacas faces were really cute, this seems to be down to the way they are sheared! They have to have their face hair trimmed so that they can see!
All of the alpacas you can see here are really young, and are all between 7 and 11 months old. Alpacas can live to 20 years old, and once they reach adolescence the males have to be separated from the females (no surprise there!)
Apparently, alpacas tend to spit less than llamas, but if you do get spat on, and it goes in your eye, it really stings haha!
It was such a lovely, random stop off on our little holiday, and I got to learn lots more about alpaca yarn, which is always useful. For example, did you know that alpacas vary with how 'hairy' they are? And that the fleece gets de-haired to separate the coarse hair from the finer hair? And if alpaca yarn is irritating skin, then it is likely to be because it hasn't been de-haired?
Obviously all of the lovely Town End Alpacas yarns are super soft...and squishable, and in fact, I often find myself in that corner of the shop stroking them...
My two favourites are the Pure Alpaca Chunky Undyed, which is just screaming to be made into snuggly wrist warmers and a slouchy beanie...
And the Alpaca/Silk/Merino, which is super soft, as well as having quite a lot of 'body' to it. It is quite satisfying to squish when in its skein!
Gorgeous, aren't they?
I am so grateful to Brian for letting us have such an amazing tour, and allowing us to have such an insight into alpaca farming. And even though they are no longer farming alpacas, it is so great to know that Kim is still dyeing yarn, as her beautifully soft colourways are simply amazing.
Town End Aplaca yarns are available to buy through us on our website, and of course in the shop :) And if you have already bought some, I would LOVE to see what you have made with it! Show me a picture on here, by email, or on any of our social media accounts :)