I mentioned in an earlier post that I am beginning work on writing the conservation management plan for Dyffryn Mymbyr, an iconic Welsh hill farm made famous by Thomas Firbanks book “I Bought a Mountain” which was published in 1940. Yesterday we climbed high up above the valley where the farmhouse sits and onto the imposing, rocky Glyder range which drops precipitously down into Cwm Idwal and the Nant Ffrancon Valley, a perfect u-shaped valley which was carved out by the glaciers that eventually receded around 10,000 years ago and which adorns the cover of many a geography text book.
Firbank beautifully described how, when the sheep needed to be gathered for lambing and shearing, the men and dogs from all of the farms in both valleys assembled high up along the ridge so that they could drive the sheep down to the pens for sorting. The flock had not been seen as a whole for months and, when the men reached their stations, the dogs were sent out to right and left and the line moved forward. The place is high, free and, when the sun beats down from clear blue skies as it did yesterday, glorious.
It was here, high up on the mountain, that a few years after the Great War a shepherd stumbled over the skeleton of a man. He had been lying there for about a year, and the crows had not left any flesh on the bones. No one ever discovered who he was or what he had been doing, and the few shreds of cloth that flapped in the wind gave no clue.
Sometimes the wild goats would appear on a ledge and the dogs became wildly excited. These goats were introduced thousands of years ago and have become feral in large herds throughout Snowdonia. And sure enough we came across a few shy individuals yesterday who made off as soon as we appeared on the skyline.
On the occasions when Firbank climbed to the ridge for the gathering he often mentioned the imposing, sheer rock buttresses of Tryfan, another peak which towers over the Ogwen Valley and which, yesterday, we glimpsed as we neared the summit of Glyder Fach.
The massive rocks on the summits of Glyder Fach and Glyder Fawr are a tumbling, sprawling mass of interesting shapes, sculpted by countless winters of wind, rain and freeze thaw, the most famous of which is the cantilever stone.
The route down for the shepherds gathering 3000 sheep must have been arduous and precipitous, but when they had brought the flock down below the mountain wall into the “ffridd” they returned to the farmhouse for copious amounts of jam and bread, cakes and cauldrons of hot sweet tea.
The house has been renovated by the National Trust and today is let as a holiday home. This is what Esme wanted and arranged before she died. She didn’t want the farm to be sold to the highest bidder and broken up and sold off in parcels, she wanted it to remain a working farm. And so it is. The tenant farmer still keeps a flock of sheep (although much reduced in numbers), and a herd of Welsh black cattle graze the lower slopes and valley fields. They keep the mosaic of rare and precious habitats in good condition as the peat begins to grow back, locking up carbon, restricting the flow of water and reducing soil erosion, and supporting rare and delicate upland plants.
Today, whilst doing more research, I learned that when Esme died, after living at Dyffryn for nearly 70 years, she wished to be buried in a small plot near the sheep pens on Glyder Fach. Had I known I would have liked to have visited her grave had I been able to find it. I can think of no more beautiful place to be buried, in the very earth that she loved so much.