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17 August 1996

Sheep Shags

During the depression, many poor Cumbrians survived by gleaning the stray bits of sheep wool left in the fields. Some strands, or shags as they're known locally, were found in brambles and other thorny plants. Barbed wire provided a rich source of wool, the sheep left behind large clumps when they rubbed against the fences.

The search for sheep shags seems to have ended after the war. Most of the locals seemed embarrassed by their past. No one I spoke with admitted to having any personal experience with sheep shagging, although they spoke in hushed tones that they'd heard it was done by less reputable members of the community.

One old man told me "sheep shaggin's a way o' life for some folk 'round here." He said it with a slight smile; I think he admired their resourcefulness.

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©1996 David Glenn Rinehart