Andy Goldsworthy’s Sheepfolds
"I would like Sheepfolds to be seen as a monument to agriculture. It is a very big project but also discreet because you can see only one part of it at a time”
Photo by Barry Stacey
There are hundreds of sheepfolds in Cumbria, most of them abandoned ruins, built long ago, when farmers did their shepherding on foot and gathered their sheep on or in the vicinity of the fells. The folds were used to contain the sheep for checking their health, trimming hooves, dressing wounds, treating for parasites and washing, clipping and marking.
Ever since William Wordsworth’s time, ruined sheepfolds have held a special romantic charm for many people, but they also represent an evocative symbolism in a county which is synonymous with sheep farming. Wordsworth described Cumbria as “a perfect republic of shepherds and agriculturalists” and to a certain extent it is still that today.
In 1996 the internationally acclaimed artist Andy Goldsworthy was commissioned by Cumbria County Council to celebrate this “perfect republic of shepherds” with a countywide sculpture project called ‘Sheepfolds’ as part of the UK Year of the Visual Arts. It was my great privilege to take over from Steve Chettle as the manager of the project between 2000 and 2003. At its conclusion Andy Goldsworthy and a team of dry stone wallers, led by local expert Steve Allen, completed nearly 50 Sheepfolds, which as a collective whole, is probably the biggest sculpture in the world.
Many of the folds used were derelict and in some cases had disappeared altogether and were only located by careful scrutiny of old maps. Concurrent with their restoration Goldsworthy responded creatively to each sheepfold in relation to its context and location. It has a conceptual dimension that is both intimate and expansive. The locations of the individual folds reflect the dramatic scenic variations in the landscape and connect directly to Cumbria’s farming heritage.
‘Sheepfolds’ provides us with a way of engaging with the landscape that challenges our preconceptions of the natural environment and enriches our perception of a cultural landscape that is as much about people as it is about wild nature. The collection subdivides into several distinct groups of folds. Some are one off individual folds and others are in pairs, part of a group, or a distinct series within certain themes. Many of the sheepfolds in the ‘Sheepfolds’ collection are to be found in East Cumbria.
Dub Stone Fold, Melmerby
This fold was originally built as a washfold where sheep were once gathered and washed in the beck. Planks of wood slotted into the sluice under the footbridge were used to dam the water and create a wash pool known as a ‘dub’. The block of red sandstone placed in the dub has been split into layers with a series of circular holes carved down through the middle “becoming smaller as they deepen, looking into the centre, back in time” (Goldsworthy 2000, page 189 in ‘Time’)
Located alongside the A686 at the south end of Melmerby village green (Map reference NY 613 373)
Corner Stone Fold, Potts Gill, near Caldbeck
A fold built around four large corner foundation stones. “They have a structural and conceptual significance. Sometimes they are the only stones to be left when a wall has been taken down, becoming markers where it once stood” (Goldsworthy 2007, page 142 in ‘Enclosure’)
Park at Nether Row between Hesket Newmarket and Caldbeck and follow signs to Potts Gill, about half a mile along the fell road. The fold is on the left just before the farm yard. (Map reference NY 318 375)
Redmire Farm Fold and Field Boulder Fold, Redmire Farm, Mungrisdale
These two folds are close together and reflect the fact that a sheepfold grows out of the ready availability of stone in the Cumbria landscape and how, as stone was cleared to improve the fields for farming, so it was piled up ready for use in building walls. The Field Boulder Fold appears to be just a heap of gathered stones but, like a chrysalis, on closer inspection, actually contains a finished sheepfold. The Redmire Farm Fold represents the finished fold once the pile of stones has gone. “I hope that this fold will echo something of the underlying geological and agricultural structure contained within the landscape” (Goldsworthy 2007, page 54 in ‘Enclosure’)
Turn off the A66 between Penrith and Keswick and follow the road to Mungrisdale and Caldbeck. Redmire Farm is about 3km on the right. Park in the lay-by near the farm entrance then walk along the farm track, cross a stile on the right and proceed diagonally across the field toward the brow of the hill. The Redmire Farm Fold is through a gate in the next field. (Map reference NY 372 296) From here follow the beck upstream for a short distance and then turn uphill along the boundary fence through two gates. The Field Boulder Fold is in the corner of the next field. (Map reference NY 375 294)
River Stone Fold, Deadman Gill near Brough
Photo by Barry Stacey of detail in River Stone Fold
Close to where Goldsworthy lived and worked between 1981 and 1986 this fold has two ‘chambers’ one of which features three river stone structures incorporated into the inside of the walls. These are reconstructions of sculptures Goldsworthy made, in a series called ‘River Stone Thoughts’ in the nearby Swindale Woods during that period, by balancing slabs of stone and pebbles taken from Swindale Beck. “All folds have memories and feelings as well as forms embedded in their walls. This fold will act as a container for some of mine” (Goldsworthy 2007, page 132 in ‘Enclosure’)
From Brough follow the B6276 for 7km toward Middleton in Teasdale. The fold is over to the left of the road by the bridge which crosses Deadman Gill just before you reach the Durham border. (Map reference NY 823 188)
Six Pinfold Cairns in the Eden Valley at Bolton, Crosby Ravensworth, Church Brough, Warcop, Outhgill and Raisbeck
Photo by Barry Stacey of Pinfold Cairn at Warcop
The Nine Standards, on the horizon above Kirkby Stephen, reputedly over 700 years old, were the original inspiration for Goldsworthy’s cone shaped cairns. His cairns have become one of the most repeated and travelled forms in his work – a personal marker on his journeys around the world. Now he has brought the form back to its source, in six village pinfolds near Kirkby Stephen, each cone cairn grown like a stone seed within its protective shell. Pinfolds are sheepfolds which were originally used to pen stray animals that had escaped in the vicinity of a village.
Bolton is off the A66 between Appleby and Penrith. From the centre of the village take the minor road toward Appleby and the fold is a little way along on the right. (NY 638 232)
Crosby Ravensworth is south of Bolton and east of Shap and the fold is at the south end of the village beside the public footpath to Banks Bridge. (NY 621 143)
Church Brough is off the A685 just south of Brough. The fold is in the grounds of the Primary School through two gates to the right of the school. (NY 794 143)
Warcop village is signed from the A66 between Appleby and Brough. The fold is on the southern outskirts of the village beside a stream on the B6259 toward Kirkby Stephen. (NY 750 154)
Outhgill is on the B6259, Kirkby Stephen to Garsdale Head road. Turn off the main road by the telephone box, park by the village green and the fold is tucked into a space just behind the first house further along the track. (NY 784 016)
Raisbeck is a hamlet on the B6261 east of Orton, near Tebay. The fold is down a slope just outside the hamlet on the road to Kelleth. (NY 647 072)
Megan’s Fold, Bretherdale near Tebay
This fold was one of a number of artworks Goldsworthy had built to mark the Millennium where one half was made in 1999 and the other in 2000. Steve Allen, the waller concerned, incorporated a thin, neat gap in the back wall to represent the transition from one century to the next. It is called ‘Megan’s Fold’ because, by a remarkable coincidence, his daughter, Megan, was born in the early hours of 1st January 2000.
Leave the A685 just south of Tebay towards Roundthwaite, turn up the minor road toward Bretherdale and after about 2km the fold is on the right. (Map reference NY 595 046)
Corner Cairn Fold, Red Gill in the Howgills above Cautley Spout
This was a ruined washfold, rebuilt in the aftermath of the devastating foot and mouth epidemic in 2001during which all access to agricultural land was prohibited. Paying tribute to agricultural recovery and renewal, Goldsworthy constructed a large conical shaped cairn around one of the fold’s corners with a quarter slice missing where the corner cuts into it. “- an allusion to the experience of being excluded from the land.” (Goldsworthy 2007, page 137 in ‘Enclosure’)
Visiting this most remote of all the ‘sheepfolds’ involves some strenuous walking up the steep footpath alongside and above Cautley Spout waterfall. There is a lay-by cark park near the Cross Keys Temperance Inn on the A683 north of Sedbergh. (Map reference SD 676 971)
Jack’s Fold, Barbon Fell
This circular fold was first built half inside and half outside the Margaret Harvey Gallery in St. Albons as part of an exhibition relating to the Sheepfold Project. Goldsworthy had originally intended to do this at Carlisle Civic Centre, where, according to old maps, a fold once stood, but permission was refused. After the exhibition the fold was dismantled and remade on Barbon Fell.
From the A683 follow signs through Barbon toward Gawthrop and Dent. The fold is beside the fell road on the left just over 2 km from Barbon Village. (Map reference SD 647 826)
Drove Stones Folds, Fellfoot Road, Casterton
Sixteen small folds, each containing a large boulder gathered from the surrounding land, set at intervals along an old drove road. Walking the route and entering each fold in turn sets up a rhythmic sequence between the intensity of the interior spaces and the wider landscape. “My task is to draw together things that are being said here in stone, walls, field and farm. These folds are a distillation and concentration of what already exists” (Goldsworthy 2007, page 75 in ‘Enclosure’)
From the A683 turn down a lane near the entrance to Casterton Golf Club, just south of Casterton, toward High Casterton. At the crossroads follow the sign for Bullpot and at the next junction continue uphill past Fell Yeat Farm. Park where the road crosses the Fellfoot drove road. The folds are along this unsurfaced track in both directions. (Map reference SD 635 811 to SD 636 785)
Toby’s Fold and Drove Arch Hut, Thornton in Lonsdale
Photo by Barry Stacey of Drove Arch in the Hut
The Drove Arch Hut contains the small red sandstone arch that Goldsworthy took on a journey from Spango Farm in Dumfriesshire, down though Cumbria following an ancient drove route into Yorkshire. He stopped at twenty two locations erecting, photographing and dismantling the arch each time. Ten of the locations in Cumbria were derelict sheepfolds and these were restored after the arch had gone. A book called ‘Arch’ written by Andy Goldsworthy and David Craig about the arch journey is now out of print. “The memory of the arch will give life to the story told not just by records of my work, but by the people who have seen it” (Goldsworthy 1997, page 57 in ‘Arch’) The arch can be viewed through a window in the door of the hut.
From Thornton in Lonsdale follow the Dent road for about 1.5 km and turn left along the lane past the radio mast. The hut is on the right just beyond the mast. (Map reference SD 684 749)
Mountjoy Tree Folds, Underbarrow
Two folds, each containing a large boulder with a hole drilled down through the middle and filled with soil into which a rowan tree was planted. The seeds for the trees came from a mature rowan that has regenerated naturally in a rock nearby.
From the Kendal to Crossthwaite road at Underbarrow take the road toward Crook for about 2 km. Car parking is difficult here and it is advisable to park near the road junction further along. The folds are in a field to the south of Mountjoy Farm through a gate on the opposite side of the road. Bear to the right through another gateway and then walk straight up the slope to the first fold. The second fold is over to the right on the other side of the field. (Map references SD 460 931 and SD 460 932)
Slate Fold, Tilberthwaite, near Coniston
Four massive squares, built into each of the inside walls of a large fold, with horizontally laid pieces of slate inset with circles where the lines of slate have been laid in different directions to correspond with the changing light of each day and the cyclical turn of the seasons.
The road to Tilberthwaite leaves the A593 about 2 km north of Coniston. Go to the end of this narrow road and the fold is on the right. There is a car park opposite in an old quarry. (Map reference NY 307 010)
Snowball Fold, Dalton in Furness
On 23rd August 1999 Goldsworthy transported a large snowball containing pieces of sheep’s fleece which he’d kept refrigerated in Scotland since the previous winter and placed it in this circular fold. He photographed the snowball during the course of four days and nights as it melted and the wool was gradually released. This was a precursor to his ‘Midsummer Snowballs’ outdoor exhibition in London the following summer. “A snowball is simple, direct and familiar to most of us. I use this simplicity as a container for feelings and ideas that function on many levels” (Goldsworthy 2001, page 31 in Midsummer Snowballs)
The fold (now empty!) is on the old road from Dalton toward Barrow on the right by the Chequers Inn. (Map reference SD 225 737)
Pinfold at Wigton
This fold was finished in 2009, six years after the Sheepfolds project officially concluded. The original fold had completely gone but is clearly indicated on old maps as a triangular pinfold located on a triangle of ground which is now situated in front of a petrol station. Goldsworthy has responded to the memory of the original historic pinfold by building a new red sandstone wall which incorporates and embraces the modern day clutter of ‘street furniture’ – a BT junction box, distribution pole and inspection hatch, road name sign and lamp post.
The fold is situated at the south end of Wigton on the junction of the B5304 and B5305 (Map reference NY 255 479)
For more detailed information of the Sheepfolds project visit the website www.sheepfoldscumbria.co.uk.
Andy Goldsworthy has published numerous books about his work. His book ‘Enclosure’ is the one that is mainly about the Sheepfolds collection in Cumbria.