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Drove for Countryfile

Last month I had a call from Countryfile Magazine.  They – well Steph Wetherell, one of their writers – wanted me to recommend a drovers’ road in Wales they could film & write about.  Chris & I had a thought about it and picked the route over the hill from Caio to Porthyrhyd, near Llandovery.  It’s only just over a mile long and has a few standard features of a drovers’ road: path worn down to bedrock with holloways either side, plenty of water and an ex-drovers’ inn at the far end.

So that was going to be easy, except that Steph got in touch a few days later and said her editors had liked the idea but wanted a drove of sheep too.  Did I know of a farmer in the area who’d oblige?  I said no, but I thought I knew someone who did…

…About ten years ago, when I first got interested in drovers, I visited Ffarmers and talked to Dai Morgan, whom many think was the best blacksmith in Wales before he retired.  (He’s 92 now and still living at the forge with his son.)  He used to shoe cattle with his father down at The Ram at Cwmann when he was young.  The railways had come by then and my guess is they were shoeing the beasts for the journey to the railhead at Neath or Llanelli because the local station (Lampeter) would take them all round the houses.

Dai told me they did a rough job of shoeing – they didn’t bother to file the nails that came up through the hoof, for instance – and that “The whole thing ran on beer.”  I was delighted with the story, even recorded what he said.  I then asked whether he knew of someone nearby who could tell me more.  “Elfyn Davies is your man”, he said and he was right.  I’ve kept in touch off and on with Elfyn ever since and Ffarmers isn’t all that far from Porthyrhyd…

So Elfyn asked Huw Williams of Porthyrhyd if he’d oblige Countryfile with a few sheep, and amazingly it all happened.  There were a few snags, of course: like some of the sheep were Balwens which have a mind of their own; like there were puddles as deep as gumboots and the Balwens didn’t seem to like water.  But the most worrying one of all was that Huw had had a heart attack three weeks before and never told us, and now he was yelling at the dogs & the sheep from his quadbike trying to get some order into the drove while I was alternately praying and cursing in the background while Mair, Huw’s wife, appeared utterly calm through the whole thing.

To add to the (amusement and) confusion, the Williams’ cat wanted to be part of the fun.  With tail vertical, he/she got behind the flock and at one point miaowed at us to hurry up.  Actually, we stayed well in the rear so as not to hinder proceedings or get in the way of the photographer.

What an excellent day: not one drop of rain, Bannau Sir Gar (the Carmarthen Vans) clear on the horizon and, to the east, part of the Eppynt range above the Wye, which most of the drovers had to cross to get to England.  Thanks to Huw, his dogs and his cat, for going out of his way for the magazine.  Anyway, here are a few pictures.

Drove for Countryfile image 1
Balwens Running Riot
Drove for Countryfile image 2
Getting them Under Control
Drove for Countryfile image 3
Spot the Photographer!
Drove for Countryfile image 4
The Photographer, The Fixer & The Farmer
Drove for Countryfile image 5
Got the Cat! Thanks, Steph