I have recently learned from the book The Shepherd’s Life, by James Rebanks, about hefting. As he describes it, in vast mountainous areas, such as in The Lake District, sheep do not wander off because of an inherited sense of belonging to a landscape, passed down ‘by their mothers as lambs – an unbroken chain of learning that goes back thousands of years’. Not only does this help in finding your sheep, but no fences are needed.
‘Many fell farms are located at the bottom of a fell that they have grazing rights on, so it can be as simple as opening a gate and letting the ewes take their lambs onto the fell that starts at the other side of the fence or wall. A trickle of ewes and lambs will make their way up the sheep trods, paths worn by the sheep over the centuries, and slowly spread out across the mountain until they find the place where they belong. Their sense of belonging is so strong that some have been known to go straight back to where they were hefted with their mothers, an irresistible urge within them to head home to their ‘stint’, even if some haven’t been in the mountain for three or four years.’
It seems with the loss of transhumance and shepherdry, we over rule a beautiful system of ‘getting there’ that has been in place for centuries. The land as teacher is silenced.