Hundreds of visitors turned up from all corners of the UK to a tiny Cumbrian village to see some of the finest sheep in the land.

More than 20,000 lambs were ready for auction at Lazonby Mart in one of the country’s top sheep sales.

The Eden Valley market has become a major event and entices sheep-buyers as well as tourists from the top of Scotland right down to Cornwall.

In a 12-hour marathon, millions of pounds worth of mule gimmer lambs were sold.

The gigantic sale brought together lambs from a number of different regions, with locally-raised lambs being auctioned from the Alston Moors, the Pennines, the Yorkshire Dales and the Lake District fells.

The highly sought-after lambs are mainly from hill farms, giving them a glowing reputation for thriving when moved to other parts of the country. It is for this reason that the seasonal mart’s reputation has spread nationwide.

For many Cumbrian farmers it is virtually their only crop of the year.

One buyer, Suzie Slatter, had travelled to Lazonby from the Cotswolds, along with her husband’s farming family.

“Three generations of the Slatter’s have been coming to this sale to buy these sheep,” she told The Cumberland News .

“We hope to buy, roughly, 120, as replacements for our flock. We tend to go for slightly bigger lambs so we can breed from them this season.”

Watching as husband Chris bid and paid £120 apiece for a pen of 10, Suzie added: “We know from experience that these are the best lambs in the country, and we are prepared to pay the price. As more people turn up, there will be more bidding and the price could be higher.”

The village mart has been run by Carlisle-based Harrison & Hetherington for the past 12 years, and its history goes back many decades.

The company dubbed Wednesday’s sale as a “special occasion”.

Preparing for it, they say, takes a huge amount of time and effort, with mart staff putting in long hours throughout the summer.

Enough pens have to be put in place to accommodate the huge number of lambs, as well as space for about 200 buyers and between 150 and 200 vendors.

The evening prior to the sale, the North of England Mule Sheep Association’s (NEMSA) hosted its show, when the highly contested trophy for the champion pen of North of England Mule Lambs was awarded.

This year it was the turn of the Lee family, renowned sheep breeders from Morley Hill, Whitfield, whose newly-crowned winning pen snatched one of the top prices of £220 apiece. Another of the family’s pen of sheep, which came fifth in the show, took £155 apiece for a pen of 10.

Judge Julie Brough, from Clappers Farm, Wigton, bid for and won the champion pen, saying they were “a tremendous set of lambs”.

“The Lee family have a great reputation for the sheep they breed, so we know we have some good ones,” she said. “We will put them to the tup, lamb them next season, and then sell them as three-shears. They are easy-care sheep. These were genuine bids. Prices this year were probably £2 or £3 apiece better than last year.”

A smiling Peter Lee, who was at the sale with his brother Alistair and son Charles, said he was happy with the prices he got for his 600 lambs.

“I’ve been selling lambs here all my life and my father did before me. It’s been a good day, and we can go home smiling.

“Everyone has a different opinion of what is a good gimmer lamb. But the fashion nowadays is that the bonnier the face, the better they are for breeding,” added Peter.

James Little, an auctioneer at Harrison & Hetherington, said: “Lazonby is renowned for the North of England Mule and as such the Alston Moor Sale is a key date for Lazonby Auction Mart, Harrison and Hetherington, and the surrounding areas.”