The prolonged dry spell has allowed shearing to progress well, and most have now finished for the year. Wool has to be shorn dry or it won't store properly. As with hay making, there's nothing more soul destroying than watching another deluge soak sheep.

Mind you, most sheep farmers have sheds that they can put their sheep into once they are dry, so that shearing can continue even if it is bucketing down outside. Thankfully those sheds haven't been needed this year to shelter sheep from the rain, but rather to allow shearers to work in the shade.

Wool on Merino sheep in the Southern Hemisphere grows continuously, but wool on British sheep stops growing during the winter months leading to a weak point developing in the wool fibres. By the end of May after sheep have been grazing spring grass, those wool fibres start to grow vigorously again. A gap between last year's fleece and the new one, called the "rise" - a zone where there are less fibres holding the old fleece to the sheep's body - develops as the sheep prepares to cast it.

Shearing normally commences when the rise is about an inch, or between two and three centimetres , as that's when there's enough room for the shearer to comfortably work his shears between the sheep's body and the old fleece.

Most shearers using electric sheep shears practice a technique developed by the late New Zealand farmer Godfrey Bowen who sadly passed away in 1994. His improved method of shearing, called the "Bowen technique", involved using a series of long passes of the shears, or "blows" as they are called, that speeded up the process. It was so successful that in 1953 he broke the world record by shearing 456 ewes in nine hours.

In 1977,at the age of 55 he showed he was still a competitive force by finishing fourth in the world championship shearing 15 sheep in 17 minutes. Mr. Bowen toured widely to demonstrate his technique and I was privileged to see him in action as a teenager learning to shear - it was an incredible experience. A British newspaper at the time compared Godfrey Bowen's shearing with the "grace" of Nureyev's dancing.

Contract shearers quite rightly expect to be properly paid and charge about £1/ewe. A man shearing 250 ewes/day can earn good money, but they deserve every penny of it. Bending over all day long isn't a natural posture and often leads to back problems. The skill of shearing is to know how to handle the sheep so they lie contentedly.

Low wool prices mean that hiring shearing contractors invariably leaves the sheep farmer out of pocket. Some of the poorer grades of wool are virtually worthless - there is no such thing as a golden fleece.

Wool is bought by many different dealers across the country, but the main outlet is still the British Wool Marketing Board. It grades the fleeces and bales them in preparation for auction. Incredibly, across the UK there are 110 different grades of wool.

The British wool clip is so varied because there are at least 50 different pure breeds of sheep in Britain, with countless hybrids and crosses.

Native British sheep were descended from the Mouflon (Ovis musimom), a small long-legged, goat-like mountain sheep, not unlike the modern Soay, introduced from central Europe by Neolithic man.

The Romans imported their own breed of sheep with improved fleeces compared with our indigenous breeds, during their occupation of Britain. Those imports were much larger than the British native sheep and descended from the Urial (Ovis vegnei), a primitive sheep of the Middle East.

During the eighth and ninth centuries, the Vikings invaded Britain and introduced their own breeds of black-faced, horned sheep that were descended from the ancient Argali (Ovis ammon) sheep of Asia. Those Scandinavian imports are the ancestors of hill breeds like the Blackface, Swaledale and Herdwick.

With these three principal groups of ancient, primitive sheep in the genetic melting pot, generations of sheep breeders have bred a bewildering array of sheep breeds that are suited to many different localities and climates in Britain that range from bleak mountains and wet moors to lush pastures in the lowlands. Little wonder there are so many grades of wool suitable for many outlets ranging from fine wool garments to carpets.

Sadly the main outlet for a fair proportion of British wool is for carpet manufacture that has to compete with cheaper man-made fibres and a range of floor coverings like vinyl, laminated wood, tiles, and polished concrete.