Brecon Beacons – Hill Sheep Gathering (22.08.14)

Hill gathering around the upland area of the Brecon Beacons National Park has been an altogether quieter affair this year. Mainly due to the passing away of Ron Healey, who died aged 77, in March.

Ron was one of the most experienced and long serving of shepherds in the region. Starting at the age of fourteen, he was not only part of the local sheep farming community’s DNA, but also one of the most knowledgeable, as well as most vocal, when discussing all things sheep farming in the Brecon Beacons. Certainly he will be remembered by my family as one of the most colourful characters of the Brecon Beacons farming community, with great fondness.

Brecon Beacons - sheep scattered like small dots of icing sugar.

Brecon Beacons – sheep scattered like small dots of icing sugar.

So when, this week, we clambered up into the Brecon Beacons’ to gather the hill-sheep off the Cwm Oergwn valley slopes (below Fan-y-Big in the heart of the National Park’s highest peaks), it was as much tinged with a heavy heart, as with the knowledge that if he was looking down from on high, it would have been in great anticipation. On the basis that he had taken part in just about every local high land gathering since his early years you felt as if you could hear his voice every now and again, carried by the mountain wind, with firm barrage of blue-language-sheepdog instructions at every straggler-sheep sighting.

The upland hill-grazing rights, above Nomadic Thoughts’ remote UK holiday house Llwyn-y-fron, and Pentwyn Farm’s Pen-yr-Heol Barn, are part of the Brecon Beacons National Park’s 3,327 hectares of the common land grazing. In our case the hill grazing rights are shared by three farms Pentwyn, Pannau and Wern-y-Marchog. Not a bad place to hang-out if you are sheep, set amongst the most stunning of big mountain scenery landscapes; if you had to choose a location to be a farm animal it would, I am sure, be top of the list. Grazing this upland common land, the views are as breath-taking as the feeling of wilderness is complete. Home to not only the grazing sheep, but also a unique collection of wild mountain ponies. In addition, the exciting array of birdlife; migratory swallows to gliding red kites blend into the mountain scenery, as the ever-evolving change in colour, mood and atmosphere often feels akin to the speed at which the weather changes on the high seas.

Quad patrolling below the heather-line.

Quad patrolling below the heather-line.

With gathering taking place four times a year (June = shearing; August = weaning; October = tupping; December/January = harsh mid-winter conditions) our assorted crew of proper shepherds, wanna-be-shepherds (me and my family), dogs and quads took position at different locations up, across and on top of the Valley. Supported by eleven dogs and four quad-bikes, the team, headed by Thomas Jones (Pentwyn Farm) gathering and driving the sheep around, and then down, from the head of the valley, was supported by Flash (Tylebrythos) and Dai Buck Philipps (Wern-y-marchog Farm). As they marshalled and drove from the high northern ridge above, Dai Pannau, Ben Amphlet, Rory Matthews (Llwyncelyn) brought the total corral of approx. 1,500 sheep into the Pentwyn pens. The lower valley river crossing and steep ravine terrain was covered by Rowan and Finn Starkey (Pentwyn Farm) and my family. With all angles supposedly covered the sheep were brought down into Pentwyn’s hill pens area, where the slopes start to lower and the fields give way to the open National Park terrain.

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Indeed, approximately 35% of the Brecon Beacons National Park is unfenced, mountainous hillside. Established in 1957, the National Park was one of Britain’s first ten official natural asset areas, designated to be safeguarded due to the beauty of the dramatic landscape.

I hope that these photos (taken whilst hill-gathering this week), emphasis the dramatic, glacial mountain valley landscape, with high Brecon Beacons peaks, steep hillsides, deep valleys and distance rural farming valley-views. Where the sheep often appear like tiny specks of sugar on a giant glacial-mountain cake.

Once gathered, the sheep are run through the pens and separated into their particular farm groups (by checking their ear-marks), before being re-sorted for weaning, as much as general health-checking. Just over twenty-fours later the sheep were weaned, injected to control sheep scab and back out on the hill. Or, in the case of the lambs, the females are held back for breeding and the wether lambs (castrated males) ready for market.

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Keeping a track on the various sheep numbers proved even more difficult this week, as with additional strays from neighbouring Beacons farms swelling the numbers considerably, the absence of Ron Healy (‘the ear-mark-king’) was even more evident.

Early morning - lining the high ridge.

Early morning – lining the high ridge up to Fan-y-Big.

Upper valley quad sweep.

Upper valley quad sweep.

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Quad & dogs.

Quad & dogs.

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Additional blog psotings on Brecon Beacons – Breconshire HedgerowsSummertime in Brecon Beacons

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  • Jono - February 18, 2015 - 15:35

    Hi Jessica – thank you for your message. Please do give me a call when you can (020 7604 4408). Kind regadrs – Jono

  • Jessica Peers - February 18, 2015 - 14:43

    Pleas can you e’mail the photos of this site for A school project and the writing – Thank you, Jessica

  • Elizabeth Daniel - January 26, 2015 - 15:54

    Hi Jono,

    Thank you for sending through the blog – they are really brilliant photographs – some of the best I have seen for a Gathering – wish we could add them to our site for Llynfron.
    Cheers
    Liz

  • Jono - October 29, 2014 - 10:19

    Hi Philip,

    Thank you for your message and kind comments. I am delighted you liked the blog posting.

    The ponies vary in numbers, dropping to the lower ground obviously in winter. When I took these ‘gathering’ photos there were half a dozen or more together on the main ridge.

    Kind regards – Jono

  • Jono - October 29, 2014 - 10:07

    From Philip Davies:
    Hi Jono … love your great pics of the Brecon Beacons National Park and views many of us don’t see even though living in wales-I am particularly interested in the photo of the semi-feral ponies. When was it taken and do you have any more pics of the ponies please which I could see possibly share on f/b crediting you of course? how many roughly did you see yourself as its an area that looks very wild with an injury I am unlikely to ever see what you have in this so remote and dangerous region – many thanks Philip

  • MV-P - October 28, 2014 - 10:30

    JVP,
    Since I am forced to be more of a mental traveller than an active one these days, it makes me appreciate all your recorded journeys so much more. Keep them coming. You give so many people so much pleasure and one can visit and re-visit each ad infinitum. Your Grand Canyon flight brought back many memories.
    GF

  • Jono - August 26, 2014 - 11:35

    Hi Molly, thank you for your comments … and invite to join you on your gathering this week. Sounds great. I will get in touch to check when you are planning to do it. Kind regards – Jono

  • Molly Rees - August 25, 2014 - 22:01

    Great photos! We farm Coed Owen in the Brecon Beacons just down from Storey Arms and will be gathering our flocks off mountain this week (weather Permitting) so if you in area why not Come too!

  • Jono - August 25, 2014 - 15:58

    Hi Stel – thank you for your comments. No need to buy photos – as I would be delighted to give them to you. Let’s see if we can link up … Kind regards – Jono.

  • stella owen phillips - August 25, 2014 - 14:56

    Hi, amazing shots. My husband Flash was on quad. His dad, Dai is stood in the pen with the sheep leaning on gate. Are these shots for sale as Dai is 70 this year. Do you have any with Flash and Dai together? These are amazing shots. I am sure you had great fun with the gang!!! Stel

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