Counting Sheep


Grasmere, England – July 2004

England was never high on my list of places to visit. I always considered it too normal of a destination. Much too easy for adventurous types like myself.  It’s true that the usual dangers and annoyances are not present. However, I’ve finally realized that voyages don’t need to be difficult to be memorable.


Every two days, I walk several miles through the forest to Ambleside and back. It has a public library, where I can send an email to my husband to let him know that I’m okay. Taking the bus here seems like a crime. This is walking country.

And so I walk. Over hills, around lakes, through forests, and across sheep-dotted fields. When they see me, they bawl in indignation until I pass. Then they lower their heads to the grass again.


Some days, I go on longer hikes in the mountains. No. These aren’t called mountains, but fells. The small lakes in their crevasses are called tarns. It’s high tourist season, but only occasionally do I pass others on the trails. Low stone fences ribbon up and down the slopes. What, exactly, are they guarding?

High up on the trail to Alcock Tarn, I come across a lone sheep. It grazes near the edge of the fell. Plump and serene. Getting along just fine on its own.


A few mornings later, I’m awakened by a chorus of bleating sheep. This is not their usual contented rumbling. I hear despair. I get up and walk through the blue smoke light of pre-dawn. I pull the curtains aside and look out to the neighboring field. The sheep are being herded into trucks that will take them to slaughter. They shuffle forward in an obedient line. What else is there to do?

Just turn away from the path you’re told to follow and look at the wide open field. Maybe you didn’t see this coming, but if you work together, you still have a chance at escape. The farmers can’t catch an entire flock.

A communal death is less intimidating than a solitary existence. I think again of the lone sheep on the fell.

Most of the sheep have been crammed into the trucks. Soft white muzzles poke through the vents; nostrils suck frantically for air. The ruddy-jowled farmers slap and push and kick the stragglers. I squeeze the curtains in my fists. There is nothing I can do but count the doomed.


17 thoughts on “Counting Sheep

  1. The pictures are just amazing. I want to be there so bad right now. The first photo makes my want to spend a day hiking up and along the hill everywhere. I’m sorry about the sheep, wish they could just stay on the fells forever.

  2. But what a glorious life they lived on those fells; walking and eating and eating and walking. Company when, and if ,they wanted it. Sad, though, that their natural life expectancy is about 10 to 12 years and they wouldn’t have seen even half of that.

      • Not sheep, but I took my little dog to the vet for teeth cleaning which required anaesthesia. We weren’t separated for long but when I collected him he sobbed and sobbed. I couldn’t believe the extent of his feeling. It pierced my heart. I didn’t know a dog could be wracked by sobbing. So I am not surprised you can still hear the cries of those sheep.

  3. ” voyages don’t need to be difficult to be memorable” me too, I think it’s so true.
    I’ve never been there, but seems really a lonely paradise.
    Love the pictures (especially the lone sheep) Have a great week!Cris

  4. Walking among a place so beautiful must be a gift. I have never considered travelling there, but your photos are so incredibly beautiful and moody, I might add Grasmere to the list.

  5. A beautiful and heartbreaking piece. I have always wanted to do a walking trip around England, your photos inspire me to make it happen. In my perfect world the sheep would always be in the fields, with no purpose other than being free, happy, beautiful sheep.

    • You’ll need a doggie to accompany you on the walk. Maybe you can rent one from a local. 🙂 While sheep are still considered products, the English do love their dogs.

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