Hill Farming, Sheep, Welsh culture

Highlight of the Farming Year

Llanidloes Ram Sale — a proper country Sheep Fair — where breeding sheep are traded locally just before the onset of the proper farming year, when the tups are turned out with the ewes at the beginning of November — for lambs in the Spring!


All the sheep looking their best and relaxed — no frayed tempers today even if the hormones are beginning to flow.


Perhaps the tups are a bit too laid-back — but then the ewes are down wind on the other side of the marquee.

Here’s a pen of fine young Blue Faced Leicesters —


They may end up servicing  these beauties —


–or these very tidy Black Faced ewes (I think they may be Beulahs)–


to produce a valuable breeding Mule.

But best of all (to my mind) are the lively and hardy White Faced Welsh Mountain sheep.


Best behavior in the ring but glad to be out of it!

High Flighers!

Welsh culture

Avoiding the Digital Black Hole

Avoiding the Digital Black Hole is like hunting the Snark –you are not sure what it is but it’s horribly dangerous and if you accidentally step in it you will ‘softly and silently vanish away’.



Henry Holiday’s original illustration of the Hunting of the Snark (that’s me in the middle) by Lewis Carroll.

(CC BY-NC 2.0)

So (as everyone says nowadays) I was particularly gratified when the National Library of Wales informed me that I had been chosen and they would like my permission to provide public access to copies of this website held within the UK Web Archive.  This, I am reliably informed, will protect me against the ravages of the digital black hole!

Thank you, National Library of Wales.        Diolch i Lyfrgell Genedlaethol Cymru!

animal psychology, Babies, Humour, Lambing, Sheep, Welsh culture

When is a sheep not a sheep?

Years ago, long before we knew anything about sheep, fate presented us with an orphan lamb.


Here she is, still nameless and rather thin, at the foot of her ailing mother.  Our subsequent experience “bringing up Aby” (that is her name) forms the basis for some of my recent book, Iolo’s Revenge.

I don’t want to spoil the book for you but can tell you that it was a very steep learning curve and taught us a great deal that we had not previously realized about bonding, despite having five children!

And it’s not just humans that are suckers for baby things!  Here is Pedro our tough and, then, sometimes wilful, dog (who would kill an adult rat or rabbit in a trice) cleaning up Aby with puppy love.


Here she is a few weeks later and a lot more confident.


Queen of her domain.

She has had ten lambs of her own now, always helped into the world by yours truly, (though they never really needed it).  She would always lie as close as she could to the kitchen door and call for her private midwife.  She would make a terrible fuss if I went in for a cup of coffee or a call of nature and when the lamb was almost out I would gently help and present it to Aby.  It reminded me of a cat we used to have who would not have her kittens unless my dad was standing by with sterilized nail scissors.

I’ll save you the slippery, slimy pictures.  All cleaned up next day –note the number one –that’s Mum’s number — she was, after all, our first.


Last October we sold our breeding flock and Aby has retired.  She runs with the new flock that graze our land.

Last week they were to be moved to the farthest field, beyond the woodland.  Now when sheep are faced with a scary predator their instinct is to flock together.  Aby took one look at the enthusiastic sheep dog, a Huntaway bitch, that had come to do the job and she peeled off from the flock and hurtled (she doesn’t hurtle often) towards the sound of Alan’s voice.  She hid with him in the orchard until the job was done and when shepherd and dog came back to the house Aby was standing with Alan in the garden still absolutely confident that when people say “sheep”, they don’t mean her.

She stayed in the garden all night, eating forsythia to which she is rather partial and which had only just recovered from its last assault, and I walked her up to join the other sheep in the morning which she did quite happily but in her own time.


Art, Books, Entertaining, Literature, Wales, Welsh culture, Wendy Wigley

Champagne and Canapes


Well…  Prosecco and nibbles — wonderful artichoke dip, goat’s cheese and black olives, smoked salmon sandwiches and little cheese scones topped with prosciutto followed by bite sized strawberry meringues.

That, according to my daughters, is how you do a book launch — but that seems to be what they would recommend in any number of situations (where did I go wrong!)

Anyway — it seemed to work. We launched Iolo’s Revenge locally on Saturday.

It was carnival day and the streets were decked with flags and the numerous pubs overflowed with revellers in fancy dress.  Having an artistic director of our own helped — Wendy, the artist who illustrated the book, and who goes to lots of private viewings of exhibitions, colluded with bunting, flowers and colourful napkins.  She also exhibited some of her original artworks that head every chapter.

original art work2

The previous night I had fallen from the kitchen work surface while retrieving a jug from a top shelf — the jug was smashed but I survived, stiffly, despite the numerous tellings-off.  Alan’s son, Daniel, saved the day, by putting out the chairs and remembering all the things I forgot in my percussed and anxious state — including the TV for the silent film show that had taken me weeks to prepare.

Takking to guests

There was a good turn out on the night — about 100! There I am, above, talking to some of them.  The readers: Libby, Alan and Gay did us proud.    The guests all laughed in the right places!


Books at launch



Wendy posing with Su and Richard Wheeler,  of Logaston Press, taking a break from selling books, while I catch up with the signing!

IMG_2042 me

Copies of Iolo’s Revenge are obtainable from Logaston Press


Hill Farming, Humour, Lambing, Rugby, Welsh culture

Catch a flying sheep!


Have you ever wondered why the Welsh and the New Zealanders are so good at rugby football – its because they both keep lots of sheep. Sheep-keeping and Rugby have a great deal in common. To do either successfully you must be fearless and have absolutely no hesitation. You must be strong, agile and fast. Also you must enjoy physical contact (have I said too much?).

Sheep keeping is athletic and heroic – no more so than at lambing time which is why lady shepherds attend their daughters’ weddings with black eyes and are frequently seen rolling down hillsides in the tight embrace of a frightened ewe while extracting a lamb with a pop (like little Jack Horner, pulling the plum out of the pie) – oh, what a good boy am I!

another try

Thanks to Phil_Heck for the picture CC/BY/2.0

Last week I rugby tackled a lamb. I did more than that – I proceeded to score a dramatic try with it! I resisted the temptation to throw it triumphantly into the air (sheep don’t right themselves like cats). I didn’t even bounce it on the field and I certainly didn’t try to convert it! I did what I always do and held on tight! I felt heroic and athletic as I sprayed its cord and wrote its number on its side – you can be number 10 like your mum – you can be fly-half!

Then in the glow of pride at my own agility (you know I have a bad back), I noticed it – the finger – the one that types the “P”s, the dashes and the punctuation, the one that wears the ring on my right hand – it was strangely deformed.


Mallet Finger!  If you are American: Baseball Finger (how silly). I have an athlete’s injury (the orthopaedic website says so – so there!) – I have ruptured a little but very important typing tendon and Alan has splinted it (are there no limits to his talent?)  Slight blueness is due to sheep marker — not insipient gangrene! I have Rugby Finger!

Birds, Poetry, Welsh culture

‘I am a man like you,’ but was he? R.S.Thomas (1913-2000)


Yesterday was one of those days that can’t be wasted — bright winter sunshine, long shadows on crisp all-day frost — a day for adventure.
We have been reading the poems and the entertaining biography, by Byron Rogers, of the Welsh poet, R S Thomas, referred to by Philip Larkin as Arsewipe Thomas whose personality was as fascinating as his poetry which was, though marvellously constructed, at times, patronising and judgemental of the Welsh ‘peasant’ (a strange concept in itself in the second half of the twentieth century).
Thomas’s enigmatic personality has intrigued me since I saw him speak in an interview on the television about Wales and the Welsh language, never had I seen someone’s subject so at odds with his delivery! His words were contradicted by all the non-verbal elements of his speech.

Thomas’s identity seemed caught between two cultures and isolated by  ‘intellect’, education and calling. He was ordained in the Church of Wales, the Welsh branch of the Episcopal Church, essentially the Church of England, viewed with suspicion by many Welsh, the majority of whom attended Non-conformist Chapels.

He was an Anglican priest who had adopted an affected upper class accent though he was born in Cardiff and brought up in Holyhead, North Wales, but he felt Welsh to his core, learned Welsh as an adult and was an outspoken nationalist.

Yesterday in the sunshine, we went in search of clues to his persona, not with much expectation.
We visited his church in Manafon, not far from here —

He was not the first poet to have had the living, the heritage board listed a whole bibliography of bardic priests — R.S. was only the last of many — did that egg him on to write in Welsh — his poetry in the Welsh language never seems to have made the grade which must have frustrated him.

The church was locked but the situation was idyllic with its rectory on the riverside, surrounded by meadows and tall trees.

R.S. Thomas wanted to see the beauty of this landscape reflected in the true Welsh people but they disappointed him seeming brutalised by the harshness of their lives.

You failed me, farmer.  I was afraid you would

The day I saw you loitering with the cows.

Yourself one of them but for the smile, […]

            For this I leave you

Alone in your harsh acres, herding pennies […] (Valediction)

Apart from poetry, Welshness and a preoccupation with the darkness of other people’s minds, oafs and yokels (The Country Clergyman), R.S. Thomas was a bird watcher — I suspect like an old boss of mine who expressed interest in a trapped bird, flapping itself to a frenzy against a closed sky-light — when I asked if he would like me to get the pole and open the window, he said, ‘Oh no, I shouldn’t bother, I can see now, it’s only a starling!’

The starlings yesterday in Manafon were making their presence felt if only by weight of number.  A vast murmuration had settled on tall trees near the church, the wide valley thronged with their chatter.  You could have swept them up from the ground.


We drove in a wide arch through the Banwy valley, skirting snow capped Snowdonia, to Eglwys Fach (Little Church) Thomas’s next parish, arriving at dusk, another church dedicated to St Michael and I am reminded of the lines

A little aside from the main road,

becalmed in a last-century greyness,   (The Chapel)

This was a Welsh speaking area close to the bird reserve at Ynys Hir but a lot of the parishioners were middle class English ex-pats.  In the church yard there are stones inscribed with names that are not Welsh —

Come to Wales

To be buried: the undertaker

Will arrange it for you.  We have

The sites and a long line

Of clients going back….

It ends…  Dirt cheap, a place where

It is lovely to lie.   (Welcome to Wales)

The church was locked — whether to keep God in or keep him out — one cannot tell.

They laid a stone trap

for him, enticing him with candles,

and thought he would come like some huge moth

out of the darkness to beat there…   (The Empty Church)

R.S. Thomas spent a lot of time waiting for God, but then…  The meaning is in the waiting. (Kneeling)  Possibly he was looking in the wrong place.  In his quest he moved ever Westward.

On the next irresistible day perhaps we will follow him to the far west and the Lleyn peninsula.

P1040983 (2)

Trees behind the church at Eglwys Fach in the last of the sun.



Humour, Wales, Welsh culture

The Strange Case of the Renegade Lemon.


It is that time of year when something in the quality of light, the mist or the day-length, or the heady scent of sun-warmed blackberries in the air, turns the mind to jam. I hardly ever eat jam but nevertheless the compulsion to forage for jam jars in charity shops is irresistible.  One day last week I went home with a complete stranger who thought she might have some spare jars under her sink.

In an area like Mid-Wales where we all spend more time in natural light and so are primitively tuned by the seasons — I am not alone.  I pick up the last bag of sugar from the super-market  — ‘we’ve run out three times this month’. says the lady at the check-out, ‘I don’t know why!’

‘Bake-off!’ says a young man from another planet who is queuing with his minimum-price-per-unit-of-alcohol lager.

‘Jam!’ says the pretty girl with the toddler who is transferring lemons from his mother’s basket onto the conveyer belt.

‘What a useful little boy!’ says I, ‘Lemons!  I need lemons!’  I rush off to grab two — two large unwaxed lemons, I remember it is two because I work out the economics of it ( two large ones  for 80p versus five little economy ones in a net for £2.00 — bastards!)

When I get back to the checkout my husband has arrived and the lady has already put my other shopping through  and is starting on the pretty girl’s– I thrust my two lemons at the lady who adds them to my tally and takes my money as my husband embraces the shopping (bags cost 5p in Wales and I am forgetful and mean) —  we struggle out with arms full of disparate shaped packages and bottles all determined to escape even if perishing in the attempt.

By the time we get home they are more compliant — even the three lemons.  Three lemons!  We’ve only gone and stolen one of that poor girl’s lemons…  And after she reminded me!

Now something very Welsh occurs.

I go to my neighbour down the lane and have a nice glass of Pinotage — that’s not it.  She used to work with the young man buying lager in the previous paragraphs, I recognised him, the one who was chatting to the pretty girl with the toddler — well he would, wouldn’t he?  My friend rings him — he doesn’t say ‘Ah yes, she’s a cousin to my brother’s wife,’ but he does know her sister and, unusually for Wales, he knows her surname which is not Jones — she doesn’t live here but told him that she is visiting  her Dad.  Bingo — we’ve got her.

‘But how did you find me’, she asks somewhat anxiously.  Oh dear, has she come home to Wales to escape a stalker, an abusive husband or the Inland Revenue, has she stolen away this attractive child and come to ground in the middle of nowhere only to be given away by a renegade lemon.

No, she remembers where she is.  She relaxes.  She thanks me for the lemon.

Glenys, the Lemon — that is who she is now, in our local nomenclature, like Dai Bread, the baker, who won the lottery and became Dai Upper-crust!.



Hill Farming, Welsh culture

Unhealthy, Unsafe and Uninhibited.

It’s August — the silage is made, the lambs are weaned — the hill farmer’s fancy can fly!

Amser siow — Showtime!

He and she will disport themselves with their neighbours ( please note the youngsters in the background sloping off into the bushes).

Or he may just watch the people and think vaguely of finding a mate.

Watching the totty in the dog show

Watching the totty in the dog show

Young bucks can pit themselves, one on one, in the shearing ring.

ShowtimeOr in teams —

Winning team?

Winning team?

Challenging their elders —

Red Lions

Red Lions

????????–and winning!

While in the produce tent there is combat of a more serious nature — the carrot wars.

Carrot combat.

Carrot combat.

The children meanwhile are introduced to  a tarantula by an entertainer with a mission — he hands a scorpion out absent mindedly to a little boy, ‘ Here, hold this!’  the boy looks uncomfortable and hands it to the even smaller girl next to him who squeals and drops it.  It scuttles towards the flaps of the tent where the parents are huddled nervously, they all jump backwards.  The man with the mission scoops it up and plonks it on another child’s eager out-stretched hand.

Later he opens box after box and, in the same casual way, hands out the snakes — puts the curled up corn snake down on the head of a convenient child and festoons his bag of snub-nosed snakes on the shoulders of another group who stand very still — but not for long.  Soon there is a milling of excited kids all with reptiles about their person — pythons and a skink, which makes them squeal louder because it poohs.  There is a beautiful green chameleon and for those who are scared of rats there is a giant Gambian pouched rat.

Gradually the grown-ups start to creep in to the back of the tent and he says, ‘Do you mind?’ to a wary looking man, ‘this is rather heavy,’ and without waiting for a reply, drapes him with a huge king python.

New bonds are made.

New bonds are made.

Now the nervous parents are stroking the rat and the reptiles which nestle happily in the arms and hoods and up the jumpers of their relaxed children — mission accomplished!


Out in the sunshine the donkey racing has started —  a  lady who does not ride horses and who has just drunk a significant quantity of fruit cider is loaded into a metal chariot which is attached to a mule.  The race is on — she valiantly lashes the mule with the reins, the chariot corners precariously, it does not tip and she comes second in  her heat — everyone cheers.

Time for the final —


and genes will out.  The final of the Donkey Derby is fought out between a mother and her daughter who unmistakably demonstrate the same joyful vitality — though Mum has just a bit more grit.