Stories

This page includes all the snippets - some large and some small - that I have gathered along the way, talking to farmers and local people about the sheepfolds. 

Email me at nigel.beidas@gmail.com with your stories.

Gathering the sheep in Abergwyngregyn

Nowadays when the sheep are gathered in Abergwyngregyn, they are all driven down to a farm near the coast for sorting. But this was not always the case, and like in the area around Llanllechid, the sheepfolds higher up the valley were used in a set order during the gathering of the sheep - Buarth Newydd on Tuesday, Buarth Mawr in Cwm Anafon on Saturday and Corlan Hen (Cwm Anafon) and Corlan Cwm yr Afon Goch (shown in the picture) on Mondays. None of these sheepfolds are used today.


Carneddau Ponies

 The sheepfolds have not just been used for sorting sheep. A farmer who lives near Llanllechid told me that he could recall his father telling him about the time the sheepfold Buarth Fro-wen, in Cwm Caseg, was full of Carneddau Ponies. Farms in the area bred up to 100 each and grazed them on the Carneddau before being collected in the sheepfold and then driven down to Menai Bridge fair, about 10 miles away, where they would be sold as pit-ponies.

Gathering the sheep

It takes longer to gather the sheep on a hot sunny day because the sheep don't like leaving the mountain, and the dogs get tired as well, according to a farmer in Rachub.

Grazing the bilberries and the heather

The area around this sheepfold, on Foel Lwyd, is covered with heather and bilberry plants. Farmer Dewi Jones told me that his father, and his grandfather, told him that after shearing it was important to send the sheep up to graze around the bilberries and heather, as they were believed to be generally good for the health of the sheep.

Gathering the sheep in Nant-y-Benglog in the 1950s - Arfon Jones, Caersws

(this article first appeared in welsh in edition 71 of Fferm a Thyddyn, May 2023)

In the fifties Sunday was observed as a special day and no work was done until after midnight, which was the beginning of Monday morning.

I left school on a Friday in July 1952 aged 16, and the next day I packed up and moved from Betws yn Rhos near Abergele to Nant Ffrancon where my aunt farmed at Tŷ Gwyn. My uncle had died in the spring, but there was one farmhand there at the time. Although I grew up in the country, and had been to Tŷ Gwyn several times on holiday, I had no experience of handling a sheep dog or gathering sheep from the mountain, but the neighbours were extremely kind showing me the ropes. The custom at that time was for the neighbours to get together to gather the flocks from the mountain, which was open land, each farm with its own cynefin (the area where their own sheep grazed).

I remember one year in particular; the weather was extremely hot and so we had to start gathering the sheep from the mountain before the sun rose to get them down before the heat of the day. Each farm had its own sheep gathering day, and on this particular day, a Monday, it was Glanllugwy's turn. It was believed that Glanllugwy was the highest farm in Wales. We had to be there by one o'clock in the morning to avoid the overwhelming heat of the day. I had about half an hour of traveling to do, so I had to start promptly (after midnight) after having a paned (cup of tea) and giving the dogs something to eat.

I got to Glanllugwy, and by the time everyone had arrived and put the world in its place and confirmed who was going to work where, we set off at about two o'clock in the morning. Usually, each shepherd had two dogs, (but I remember at one time there were 12 shepherds and 36 dogs).

After about 6 or 7 hours of gathering, the flock was brought down to the sheepfolds on the farm and we began sorting the sheep ready for the shearers who were starting to arrive. Having got a good number of sheep ready for the shearers, we went to the house to have breakfast. Shearing went on all day until about five o'clock, and then seven or eight of us packed up and went to the next farm but one to gather the sheep there - about six hours' work. In hot weather, the best time for the welfare of the dogs and the sheep was to go up the mountain either before the sun rose, or at the end of the day, arriving down from the mountain as it was getting dark. Having ensured that the sheep were safe, and having a cup of tea, it was time to go home to feed the dogs and do some jobs. By the time everything was done it was midnight and I was so glad to get to bed! But we had to get up early the next morning to go back to the farm for another day of shearing.

Two weeks of dry and fine weather didn't happen often, but that year, there wasn't a single wet day which would have given us a break, just clearing sheep from the mountain and shearing every day. Every farm got its day without having to rearrange anything, and everyone was very pleased to see the last farm in the shearing cycle.

Arfon Jones

Caersws

Powys

Building the Enclosures

When the large estates started enclosing the common land around the 18th century (for more information, see here), it was not popular and in some areas, riots took place. In one area of north Wales, near Nebo, the enclosing wall was built during the day by the estate, only to be knocked down each night as quarrymen returned home from work.

Counting the sheep in Cwm Anafon

Up until 1951, the Penrhyn Estate owned much of the land - and the farms - across the northern Carneddau. Once a year, for the farmers around Abergwyngregyn, the Estate insisted that their sheep were sent down to one of the sheepfolds on Estate land, Corlan Hen, to be counted. Any farm found to have too many sheep could be fined (presumably a method of stopping overgrazing). However, usually a week or so before this happened, the farmers had another gathering of their sheep, this time in the sheepfold called Buarth Newydd (pictured) which is on common land, away from the reach of the Estate. This gathering was arranged by the farmers so that they could do a count themselves, before the 'official' one. It would not be surprising to hear that one or two sheep 'went missing' during the following week  in order to get the right numbers expected by the Penrhyn Estate! The Estate land passed to the National Trust in 1951, when the practice ended.

Sheepfold, Tafarn Bara Ceirch (Oatcake Inn)

This pub was by the side of one of the Drovers routes from Llanwst to Abergele in north Wales. It did not have a licence to sell alcohol, so the owners sold oatcakes at inflated prices, and offered the drovers a free pint! The sheepfold behind is an example of a Post & Tin sheepfold and appears relatively modern.