Hill Farming

Where do you start?

We have been heeding the Welsh Assembly Government’s injunction to farmers to renovate traditional farm buildings.

Traditionally a hill farmer with twelve children and as many useful acres built with what was available: stone from the river bed, oak and hazel from the woods and rushes or bracken to thatch, all lashed down with honeysuckle twine or tiled with flat pieces of the local flat stone (almost slate).  In the last 100 years the philosophy hasn’t changed but available materials have.  Here is our traditional barn.


Welsh nouns have gender and she, the barn, is made of scavenged telegraph poles, tree trunks, branches, corrugated iron, galvanized sheets, draining boards, old doors (wooden,fridge and car), fencing panels and bits of garden shed (or the old privy), tarpaulins, a First World War great coat and carpet (not on the floor, of course, but stapled into the walls) with sacks made of plastic, hessian and paper and all held together with wire and baler twine of plastic and hemp.


It is a basic timber frame construction, clad inside and out with the aforementioned materials and the cavity filled with balls of twine, sheep’s wool, oily rags, empty jam-jars, fag packets (that’s cigarettes if you are American) and a mummified rat.

The whole thing is reinforced by forty years of incorporated tree growth and drained by various burrows.

At the rear is a concrete plinth presumably for the generator that produced the electricity before 1964 and was protected by a steel door with a rusty padlock still hanging open in the hasp and, believe it or not, a brass key, hanging nearby on a nail and still operating the smooth action of the lock without so much as a squirt of penetrating oil; the brand new padlock we put on the field gate last year had seized by November.

SONY DSCWe discovered all this as we lovingly unpicked it and sorted what we found – into metal scrap (£!!!), firewood for next winter and burn now!  Even  though latterly it had been a health and safety nightmare, demolishing it was a sacrilege – an insult to those who built this monument to ingenuity, inspired in poverty and an antidote to materialism.

Local History, Uncategorized

Man Eats Dog

I have been writing the biography of a man who lived in Wales through the depression of the 1930s; he was a famous international amateur footballer but also a notorious poacher and wit; I have been reading endless accounts of long forgotten football matches and interviewing his large family and friends, hearing their stories and cobbling together some sort of narrative.  The interesting thing is how it demonstrates the nature of story telling.

When someone repeats someone else’s oft-repeated anecdote it is sometimes difficult to be sure what the point of the tale is.  The chap I was writing about told his children many times about going to help a farmer with the harvest and noticing that the farmer’s dog was nowhere to be seen.  Later for lunch they had a stew of unusual white meat that the original teller of the tale remained convinced was the dog.

Man eats dog — what was the point.  He had repeated the story throughout his life — it had made a big impression on him him.

Was he disgusted?  What did he say it was like?   Quite tasty.

Meanwhile I was struggling with my hero’s poaching, not just the stealing but the ecology, as locally long-extinct species appeared in the family pot and fish roes were boiled up, in the breeding season, for bait.

Then I remembered the poor farmer’s wife with all those hungry helpers come to take in the harvest with no payment in prospect apart from one decent meal and my hero’s narrative reached me over the years.


H.B. ‘Gurra’ Mills in about 1923 — reproduced thanks to his family.

You can access his full biography on the ‘Published Work’ page of this website.