There were various things that necessitated a journey to Hexham seventeen miles away. So I took the opportunity to visit the Friday auction mart.
Farmers from all around coming to buy and sell cattle and sheep have a chance to see friends who are usually scattered in the outlying hills. Gathered round the ring they observe how well stock have developed condition. Today there is mostly a sense of satisfaction at a job well done after the poor harvest of a year ago followed by a desperately harsh early winter and consequent shortage of fodder. But there was relief when the spring weather was good at lambing time and the grass has kept growing through this wet summer. Feed prices have been high but the selling prices of the stock are up too -- and they needed to be. As I looked down from the gallery to take this picture, though, I noticed the high average age of the farmers. What a wealth of experience and detailed close relationship with land and animals. Let us hope that there will be more younger farmers coming along to inherit the wisdom. It's not the kind of knowledge that can be learnt from books: you need someone to say "Feel this fleece; compare it with that one...look at the slope of that shoulder..." and so on day after day until the novice begins to get a feel for the animal husbandry. I'm not even on the bottom rung of the novice ladder. But coming to the mart is an opportunity to pass the time of day with lots of my parishioners, enquire after their general well being and admire the fruits of their labours, to say nothing of simply enjoying the whole busy scene and eating a good locally produced lunch in the canteen whilst chatting to a friend who had just finished selling a load of sheep. I counted afterwards that I had seen people whom I knew from eleven different farms. I could have driven round all day trying to visit them at home and never come across any of them.