I had planned to buy The Hill Farmer? by Gareth Wyn Jones for myself for Christmas but his publisher, YLolfa, kindly offered me a review copy and I received it on Friday. I put away the book I was reading and launched into this autobiography yesterday. ?I really enjoy farming/countryside memoirs from James Herriot and Roger Evans to Alice Taylor and Amanda Owens and there’s lots more I’ve read and throughly enjoyed.
The Hill Farmer was different to what I expected (and that’s not a criticism at all) because for me, the connotations of ‘hill farmer’ conjures up images of farming in a bleak environment, a relatively small farm or even if the acreage is significant, that most of it is virtually ‘unfarmable’ because of the location. Income wouldn’t be significant and the tales would include stories about the personalities of various sheepdogs, rams and ewes, recollections of saving lambs against the elements, sad deaths and miraculous births, desolate storms and beautiful scenery. A farmer eking out an existence against a sometimes hostile environment.
Gareth, the Hill Farmer, is one of eight farmers in a company. It is a family business with four farmer brothers and their four sons all farming together, all playing to their strengths and taking different roles in the company. Gareth doesn’t reveal the size of the holdings but it must be significant to keep eight farming families going. Gareth is the secretary, he does all the paperwork and in recent years, he has been featured in various radio shows and television programmes, informing consumers about what a farmer’s life is like. I first heard of Gareth in the spring of 2013, when his tweets about the long hard winter and finding ewes buried alive in snow drifts brought wrath on his head from many tweeters thinking he was cruel letting sheep lamb outside in such conditions. However, just as happens here in Ireland, many farmers lamb in March so the sheep can lamb outside in relatively mild conditions – the ferocity of the snowstorms in March 2013 were totally unexpected and unprecedented. TV stations contacted him and came to film him digging sheep out of snow drifts – some alive, some dead.
I was unaware of the various TV programmes that Gareth had starred in before this and since. If you have seen him in Fferm Factor and other programmes, you’ll really enjoy the insight as he provides background information on the various challenges (as well as some of the politics)! He has also been a local councillor and a Mayor for a year.
One chapter is devoted to the Foot and Mouth disease, this happened in 2001, the year before we returned to Ireland and so many farmers experienced such harrowing situations during that time. The Jones’ didn’t escape either with one herd of sheep having to be put down due to a Dept error. One thing that amused me was that whenever officials from the Dept or from London arrived to their farm, Gareth commented on how they spoke to them in English. Not only did this emphasise that these farmers all have Welsh as their first language but also the hostility that these officials were viewed with – bad enough that they brought bad news but that they didn’t speak Wales – almost unforgivable! 😉
I enjoyed this autobiography, it provides an insight into not just a farming way of life but also how farmers are becoming fashionable in a way, as consumers wish to see their lifestyle more and more – proved by the number of programmes Gareth has starred in. I realised that one of the reasons I enjoy farm memoirs is because I love hearing about the personalities of animals as much as about people and I’d have loved more inclusions of animal personalities and more descriptions of the beauty of the Welsh mountains but that’s just a small point. There’s plenty to amuse from the bullock who raced around the village to a slight accident with a nest of wasps to half torturing contestants in the Young Farmer of the Year TV programme.
If you saw Gareth in any of the farm programmes he starred in – Fferm Factor, Snowdonia 1890, School of Hard Knocks, Young Farmer of the Year and The Hill Farm, you’ll really enjoy his take on the ‘behind the scenes’.
Buy The Hill Farmer? for a farmer for Christmas!