Sheep farming in particular has contributed richly to the vocabulary of the Dales as well as to the landscape. On a walk through the Dales, you will spot smoots or cripple holes in the dry stone walls, designed to allow sheep and rabbits but not cattle to pass through. You might come across a dam or purpose-built stone sheep wash, where sheep were bathed before clipping in early summer. Sheep would be given a good dolly (a thorough rub) on each side before being left to swim across the wash-pool. If you’re lucky, you might even overhear sheep being counted the old-fashioned way using the ancient ‘shepherd’s score’ – yan tan tethera.
Dales dialect also provides useful words for sheep of different types, ages and stages of life. In this recording from Horton-in-Ribblesdale (1974), Dick Davies describes these various names for sheep, from gimmer hogs to old joes.
Until the mid-1900s, processes like sheep shearing, sorving (salving) and washing were all done by hand. Working outdoors for long hours, Dales farmers have always had to be wary of the elements, often bringing sheep down from the fell in dowly (dull, gloomy) or clashy (cold, wet) weather. Predicting storms is an important skill in the Dales; as the saying goes, ‘When the ring is far, the storm is near’, meaning that when the moon is a long way from its halo, a squall is approaching.