I have a friend and neighbour, John, who is a sheep farmer, with a flock on Carningli. His family have lived there for many years.
From time to time I adopt my temporary guise as #theoccasionalshepherd and help him with sheep related duties. For me, it is one of the greatest pleasures of living here in Newport, Pembrokeshire.
Two or three times a year a group of local people, often graced with the presence of Anwen and Chris, help John,and his sister, Aeres , to gather the sheep off the mountainside. Until this spring we also always had Aeres’ husband, Granville, with his ever gracious smile, care and concern for all, and delight in the mountain and all it’s ways.
Sadly (an understatement if ever there was) Granville died in May this year. This poem is for him, for Aeres, Anwen, John and Chris, and for all who help out this delightful family. It comes with love.
We are walking the old ways
Bracken snatching at our heels
Stone stumbling across the narrow tracks
The sun on our backs
Feet sinking occasionally in rushwards marsh
Sticks swishing bramble, as we make the pass
Larks rising abundant, trilling
A red kite patrolling the sun split skies
Crows flap, unwilling, it’s all a bore
Quite sure, they’ve seen this all before.
Is that a rock, recumbent?
Or a ewe, two lambed
Blue hooped, bread rolled, sometimes sooty from burnt gorse
Woolly marshamallowed, on matchstick legs
Stirring grumpily from a sleepy hollow
Answering the call
Her Master’s Voice
As John whistles, shouts, limbers, long shanked
Carningli’s highways and by ways
On the back of his hand
Whilst we follow, as best we can
Shepherding by osmosis
To the sheep, his tones, distinctive
The flock moving on demand
Alive to his ever familiar command
Sweating slightly with the July heat
The Bay below,
Curtain called velvet blue,
The sky frames paper triangled sailing boats at play
Church and castle
At our feet
Maybe they hear us working?
In the graveyard, the tall trees bend to listen too.
Now we turn, the flock funneled towards homecoming fields,
Sweet grassed, comforted, steadfast and settled
A few rebels
Break for the mountain
But are black bag flapped through the 5 bar gates
Baler twined and strung in
Scurrying, heel kicking, stream leaping
To dot the meadows
An Impressionist painting for the Pembrokeshire hillside
Above beach, and town
Seeping sandy time and tide.
We leave, turn away
Even though there’s more, much more to do
(Shearing, dipping, marking, treating)
But maybe not today
For even farmers
Have to play
Leave the flock to graze
To raise the bleating clarion call
Dawn to dusk
By night, by day.
The wind, sweet heather breathed, new credential
Steeps and gusts above Stone and Castle Hill
Sighing gentle benediction
The Gathering complete
Under John’s direction
Yet we all missed one element, essential,
It leaves us, still,
Our friend, coralled, slumbering long, elsewhere
And now the feathering breeze
Whispers one name