We laughed when the Rightmove description mentioned grazing sheep in the yard of one of the first houses we looked at online. “That’s what I want,” I said, “sheep in the next field.” So when we drove up to meet the estate agent to first look at Summer Hill Oast we stopped on the narrow road leading to the house and looked at all the ewes and lambs—white dots against the lush spring green. Immediately a scraggly coated ewe with a black face came at a slight trot toward us baaing something—”hello”, “get out” or “Who are you?”—and made us welcome.
We rented the converted oast and I arrived first in Kent as spring started to come into full bloom. One of my favorite spots to look out at the fields was from a small patch of the pasture in front of a gate that joined our yard to the meadow. A wooden plank crossed a ditch separating the pasture from the hedges around yard. There was no fence except around the cutout where I stood, instead, the hedges, which were a mixture of holly, brambles and hawthorn, were the barrier between our grass and their grass.
I started to notice that the lambs would wander down into the ditch seeking out the grass in and on the other side of the ditch. So I shouldn’t have been surprised to come out of the house one afternoon to find two lambs and their mother in the middle of our lawn.
“How cute,” I thought. The man who was painting the inside of our house commented that we had guests and we had a laugh about the grass being greener, etc. As evening came on I shooed them and saw that they had found a hole in the hedge near the gate and my ‘reflection’ spot.
At six am the next morning, which was my first day back to work in London, they came back. I knew it was them because the lambs are tagged with numbers sprayed on their coats. Number 14 lambs and their chaperone had brought with them a dozen or so of their friends and they were now chomping down on everything in sight—grass, low branches of the shrubs and trees, roses, sweet peas, flowers from the geraniums (I guess the leaves aren’t so tasty). So in my jacket, tie and sneakers I started to round them up and back through the hole in the hedge. Some of them knew exactly what they were doing because they headed right for the hole, ran down and back up the ditch. Others were not so smart and got pressed up against the gate, bucking it or trying to fit through the bars. Finally they were all out. I went back in the house.
In no more than five minutes I looked out the window and they were streaming back through the hole! I ran out again and this time they all passed through in an orderly procession—like the sheep in a cartoon being counted to induce sleep. The taxi to take me to the station was arriving soon, so I had to improvise. There was a big cardboard box that a mattress I had ordered had come in. I folded it and wedged it into the hole. The sheep stood by it pondering this new development.
At seven that evening when the taxi drove up to the front door of the oast, there were the sheep again calmly walking around the drive looking for any leaf they hadn’t already eaten. That night they settled down on our lawn to sleep, but some ewes must have gotten separated from their lambs because all during the night there were these plaintive bleats answered by concerned baas.
In a few days, after the farmer had been called, the sheep moved to a different pasture, and a new fence inside the hedges had been put in the sheep were shifted once more to the pasture outside our yard. Everything returned to normal I could gaze out from our upper bathroom windows and see the white dots in the green again and be cheered by their calls to each other—in the distance.
So I was surprised many days later to come out onto the patio and see two lambs on our lawn. This was how it started before, I thought. I didn’t know how they had gotten in so I had no idea how to get them back. As I worked them toward their yard from our yard one quickly went under the gate, but the second either couldn’t squeeze through or couldn’t figure it out. He kept banging against the gate. He ran as I approached to open the gate, which, while open, swung back at looked like it was still closed. I worked him back toward the gate hoping he would see that it opened when he pushed it. Instead he tried to get through the gate and as he pushed to get through the gate swung open with him still attempting to get his shoulders through the bars. Eventually he realized he was already in the pasture, or maybe that’s what his mother and sibling were yelling at him the whole time.
That was several months ago. The lambs are much bigger now and can’t fit under the fence although one fellow keeps looking over at our yard and, I think, tries to figure out how to get in.