A few weeks ago, one sunny Sunday morning, I popped up from the pillow and exclaimed, “Let’s go to Rambouillet!” No one responded except the dog, who bounded onto the bed and started to lick my face, which is something I try not to encourage so should have known better. If you yell anything with that tone of excitement in your voice, it gets the same reaction from the dog. “Totally in,” you can hear her saying, “Best idea ever. What are we waiting for?” her tail wagging fervently, wag wag wag…
So, the dog was in, but I had to coax the others. Most of us finally agreed and we set out for Rambouillet, a town 50km south with a well-known chateau and grand forest but more importantly, home to the Bergerie Nationale, or France’s National Sheep Farm.
The sheep has a romantic reputation in our culture. It wanders and grazes in clover-filled meadows. Shepards, lonely poetic figures, live in tune with nature tending the flocks. Warm-hearted people take the wool and knit socks and sweaters for cold-natured folks. Nursery rhymes recall our childhood enchantment with little lambs. And border collies with their methods of ‘strong-eying’ straying sheep are clever and cool.
The other day, as I was grazing through my favorite newspaper online, I came across an article about Shepard School. No kidding. In Spain, you can apply to go study and learn the ancient tradition of keeping and tending a flock of sheep at the Catalan school of shepards. The school is getting a lot of applicants.
France’s National Sheep Farm dates back to 1786 when King Louis bought 300 rambouillet sheep from his cousin, King Charles of Spain. This famous breed produced the world’s finest merino wool and were jealously guarded and up until this time, export was forbidden. Present day American rambouillet breeds can trace their ancestry back to the original flock of 1786 from France.
So, in search of sheep, we rented bikes beside the castle and biked thru French formal grounds, thru English wild gardens, then along a dirt road under a canopy of trees to the farm. It was a beautiful ride through old royal hunting grounds.
Sitting out in the countryside, with surrounding fields, the Bergerie is large and not strictly all about sheep. There are lots of barns. Barns with cows, horses, goats, pigs, cats wandering around, chickens, you name it. The day we were there, the sheep barns were a racket. Baa, baa’ing back and forth, back and forth… the chickens outside were clucking at the ducks, the ducks were flapping at the geese… we rolled our eyes, had a good laugh and went in search of snacks.