The questions you were too scared to ask…
Surely sheep are claustrophobic (or is that agoraphiliac?) and would not go into a sheepfold unless they were being bullied by a sheepdog?
We are used to seeing sheep out in fields in all weathers and assume that is the natural way of things. Sheep are actually quite sensible and pragmatic and will seek out the best shelter from hot sunshine, wind and snow, even if that’s an enclosed sheepfold.
Why are so many of Weardale’s sheepfolds close to water courses?
The sheepfolds would have had an associated wash pool or dam, often now swept washed away by changes in the river course, in which the sheep were scrubbed. Before 1905 when chemical dipping of sheep became compulsory, scab and other skin parasites wee controlled by working a greasy salve on to the skin of the sheep. (The scab mite was ruinous to farmers as the irritation it caused led the sheep to rub off their valuable fleece before shearing.) To achieve the best wool prices the salve was scrubbed off in the wash pool before the sheep were clipped. These sheepfolds near water courses and others near roads were also used to gather sheep for counting, marking, trimming hooves and separating out lambs for sale. Today farmers perform all these functions centrally near the farmhouse, moving sheep down from the fells with quad bikes and sheepdogs.
What sites were chosen for sheepfolds high on the fells?
These sheepfolds were for shelter primarily, not sheep management like the folds found lower down the fells. They were placed in spots where snow would struggle to settle or form into drifts ie on ridges and knolls or between gullies and rivers. Circular sheepfolds are especially good at deflecting and dispersing snow.
What are the large sheepfolds found on otherwise unenclosed land?
They are gathering pens. There are still annual round ups in the North Pennines where sheep kept on open grazing are matched up to their rightful farmer.
What is a bield?
Bield means a shelter or refuge but the Ordnance Survey uses it exclusively for the three walled sheep shelters built out from a centre, in a similar shape to the three running legs of the Manx flag. These provide sheep with protection from foul weather coming from any direction and chime well with the sheep’s nervous disposition as it literally cannot be ”cornered”, each of the segments of the bield being of 120 degrees.
What is a pinfold?
Pinfolds or pounds were the medieval answer to escaped sheep which wandered around villages, causing a nuisance and destroying crops. The sheep were locked up in the village pinfold until their owner paid a small fine for their release.