Farm Heritage Comes in Many Forms

Josephine Roberts reminds us that it’s important for us to preserve all aspects of rural history.

| March 2018

  • All that can thrive on these fair hills are our wily Welsh mountain sheep, which means that our upland farmers have little choice when it comes to choosing a sheep breed.
    Photo by Josephine Roberts
  • Many of our ancient land boundaries still exist in the form of dry stone walls that sweep over vast hillsides, blending into the landscape as though they have always been here. Without the enthusiasm of dry stone wall builders, many of these old structures would have long since fallen into disrepair.
    Photo by Josephine Roberts
  • Heritage is all around us here if we only open our eyes and look. Here is a crumbling old boundary and upland sheep pen. These structures were built before farmers had access to wire fencing, back in a time when people had to make use of whatever materials were around them.
    Photo by Josephine Roberts
  • The long, sweeping horns of the Highland cattle are a little unnerving close-up, but these are docile creatures that spend their days picking their way carefully over rough ground and making good use of plants that most livestock would reject.
    Photo by Josephine Roberts
  • A Welsh mountain ewe, brought down to the lower ground ready for the ram.
    Photo by Josephine Roberts
  • Here he is, my brother’s Welsh mountain ram, ready to go out to join his ladies. There is no danger of Welsh mountain sheep becoming extinct. Although many lowland farmers breed the larger, fast maturing foreign breeds, these tender breeds of sheep won’t survive in rough terrain. There will always be a place for our little native breeds here in the hills.
    Photo by Josephine Roberts
  • My brother Bob’s Austrian-built Haflinger, named after a tough little horse of the same name. Like the horse it is named after, this vehicle is nimble, lightweight and hugely reliable.
    Photo by Josephine Roberts
  • My nephew Matthew recently bought this David Brown Cropmaster. The tractor is in need of some tender loving care. The rear wheels were incorrect, so Matthew has removed them while he sources the correct ones. The engine has suffered from frost damage, but these tractors are now quite collectable so Matthew is happy to put some work into this one. The bench seat and wrap-around faring makes these machines quite unique and well worth preserving.
    Photo by Josephine Roberts

It will no longer be autumn, or as you call it fall, by the time you read this, but today as I write I am sitting at my kitchen table, with the log-fuelled Rayburn beside me blasting out heat, cooking a soup, drying clothes, and heating the house and the water, and it looks very autumnal through the window. The wind is billowing around, carrying with it swirling processions of birch and oak leaves, and as is often the case in North Wales, it is raining, but that’s good weather for writing.

As I sit thinking of which exciting examples of farming heritage, which rare and racy tractor, which quirky machine or temperamental engine I should write about this time, I look out of the kitchen window for inspiration. I gaze upon some hardy little Welsh mountain sheep on the hillside opposite. Beyond them is an old stone wall probably dating from the time of the 18th century Land Enclosure Acts. In the foreground of the scene is a yew tree that’s probably been there since the time of the Magna Carta some 800 years ago.

So, it seems that when I actually open my eyes and really look, there is history and heritage all around me, yet I had been thinking of rural heritage as something that we go out and purchase, and not something that might just be all around us, if we only opened our eyes.

Our heritage surrounds us

We take our heritage very much for granted, and often tend only to value heritage “items” that come with a high price tag, but it is important to preserve all aspects of our rural history, not just the costly, highly collectible examples. But how, for instance, do we ensure that our traditional livestock breeds survive, or that our nation’s dry stone wall field boundaries are preserved?



It’s not easy, and largely we have to rely on the dedication of some wonderful individuals to help preserve these treasures. I recently met some dry stone wall builders who are passionate about repairing old walls, and who are keen to encourage others to carry on this age old trade, to learn the skill, and to pass it on, in the hope that our ancient walls can be preserved for future generations.

I’ve also attended a local show where traditional British breeds of sheep, cattle, poultry and ponies were on display, advertising the merits of these old breeds. I’m also pleased to hear that the current owners of the ancient oak forest up the lane from my home (and once owned by my grandfather) have had a preservation order put on the forest, so that it cannot be destroyed by any future owners. Even our old traditional red telephone box is going to be preserved, which is a relief as without it, I can never give anyone directions to my home, because it is “after the phone box …” These little things are all quite reassuring in a world which, sometimes, appears to have gone quite insane.