In the Bleak Mid Winter

The story of shepherding begins some 5,000 years ago in Asia Minor.

As the name implies, a shepherd is a sheep herder — derived from the Old English sceaphierde, where sceap means sheep and hierde, herder.

Kept for their milk, meat and most importantly their wool, sheep flock together for fear of danger and instinctively follow any of their group that takes the lead.

It is this herding characteristic that made sheep farming comparatively easy and low cost for most of the year.

With just a crook and a dog, a lone shepherd could control a flock and lead them to market for shearing in the spring.

The sheepdog helped keep the flock together and protect it from predators such as wolves.

But when winter came, it was a different story.

Cold, lonely, and bleak.

Since the fertile lowlands and river valleys were used to grow grains and cereals, sheep farming was restricted to the rugged upland and mountainous areas.

One such area was the Highlands of Scotland.

Constantly on the move, the flock grazed as best it could, navigating woodlands, streams, open fields, stone walls, and wooden fences.

Blizzards. Deep snow. Snow on snow.

Until the thaw arrived once more in the spring.

19th-century artist Joseph Farquharson captured the shepherd’s winter struggle perfectly.

There is something ethereal in these windswept, yet romantic paintings from the Scottish Highlands.

Perhaps someone was watching over the shepherd, his flock, and his trusty dog.

The Stormy Blast by Joseph Farquharson, 1898
The Stormy Blast by Joseph Farquharson, 1898
Study for At Freezing Point by Joseph Farquharson
Study for At Freezing Point by Joseph Farquharson
Sheep in the Snow by Joseph Farquharson
Sheep in the Snow by Joseph Farquharson
Sheep in a Snowstorm by Joseph Farquharson, 1893
Sheep in a Snowstorm by Joseph Farquharson, 1893
O'er Snow Clad Pastures, When the Sky Grew Red by Joseph Farquharson
O’er Snow Clad Pastures, When the Sky Grew Red by Joseph Farquharson
Herding Sheep in a Winter Landscape at Sunset by Joseph Farquharson
Herding Sheep in a Winter Landscape at Sunset by Joseph Farquharson
In Deep Mid Winter by Joseph Farquharson
In Deep Mid Winter by Joseph Farquharson
The Joyless Winter Day by Joseph Farquharson, 1883
The Joyless Winter Day by Joseph Farquharson, 1883
The Edge of the Wood by Joseph Farquharson
The Edge of the Wood by Joseph Farquharson
The Day Was Sloping towards His Western Bower by Joseph Farquharson, 1912
The Day Was Sloping towards His Western Bower by Joseph Farquharson, 1912
Blow, Blow, Thou Wintery Wind by Joseph Farquharson
Blow, Blow, Thou Wintery Wind by Joseph Farquharson
Evening at Finzean by Joseph Farquharson
Evening at Finzean by Joseph Farquharson
The Sun Peeped o'er yon Southland Hills by Joseph Farquharson
The Sun Peeped o’er yon Southland Hills by Joseph Farquharson
The Shortening Winter's Day is near a Close
The Shortening Winter’s Day is near a Close
Through the Crisp Air by Joseph Farquharson, 1902
Through the Crisp Air by Joseph Farquharson, 1902
A Walk in the Snow by Joseph Farquharson
A Walk in the Snow by Joseph Farquharson
West with Evening Glows by Joseph Farquharson
West with Evening Glows by Joseph Farquharson
When snow the pasture sheets by Joseph Farquharson, 1915
When snow the pasture sheets by Joseph Farquharson, 1915
When Snow the Pasture Sheets by Joseph Farquharson
When Snow the Pasture Sheets by Joseph Farquharson
When the West with Evening Glows by Joseph Farquharson, 1910
When the West with Evening Glows by Joseph Farquharson, 1910
When the West with Evening Glows by Joseph Farquharson, 1901
When the West with Evening Glows by Joseph Farquharson, 1901
Where Winter Holds its Sway by Joseph Farquharson
Where Winter Holds its Sway by Joseph Farquharson
Winter by Joseph Farquharson
Winter by Joseph Farquharson
Winter by Joseph Farquharson
Winter by Joseph Farquharson
A Winter's Morning by Joseph Farquharson
A Winter’s Morning by Joseph Farquharson
Sun Pepped o'er the Hill by Joseph Farquharson
Sun Pepped o’er the Hill by Joseph Farquharson
The Sun Had Closed the Winter's Day by Joseph Farquharson, 1904
The Sun Had Closed the Winter’s Day by Joseph Farquharson, 1904
The Sun Fast Sinks in the West by Joseph Farquharson
The Sun Fast Sinks in the West by Joseph Farquharson

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David James

David James

I'm an Englishman in Boston. History is a joy—it binds us, it connects us, it guides us. I'm interested in making history more accessible and more fun. Join me on this fantastic voyage through time.