We’ve had a couple of outings for the Herefordshire Walking Festival in what is beginning to look like an annual event. This time last year we twice escorted a bunch of two-legs through the fields of Old King Street Farm and followed this by strolling into Ewyas Harold village before taking a tour of the Common. There seems to be a large number of people in Herefordshire who don’t know their way round the county and who have to be shown the sites by us intelligent llamas. Well, Blow Me, if we didn’t have to take MORE people out this year. TWICE, AGAIN!! I don’t mind. I really love going out, but it always makes me chuckle that these two-legs are worried they might get lost and clutch hold of our ropes throughout the whole walk. I suppose one of the younger ones might run off and get lost. Well at least WE know where we’re going.
So, on a big llama trek what happens is this: maybe 20 people show up and stand around in an arc in our yard to hear him yak-yak on about the llama in South America, our shape (round in Avebury and Stenness’ case, svelte in mine), development and growth, what we eat (my ears always prick up at this point), our llama herd, especially the youngsters born last year, and about the trek we’ll be taking. We spring into action when food is offered and the 7 male llamas all have some cereal. Twenty people crowd into our large pen to hear gentle female tell them about putting our halters on. First, we have to be persuaded to stand still and this is surprisingly easy. Sometimes in the middle of the big pen and sometimes against the edge or in the corner, the two-leg tells us ‘Silbury, STAND’, and being a (fairly) obedient chap, I stand. At this point my rope is passed around my neck (but not over my head as I’m very sensitive about my ears being touched). The two-leg stands at my left shoulder, facing forwards, and puts her arm around my neck. She can then offer me my halter which I’m perfectly happy to put on. I actually put my nose straight into the halter as this prevents too much fiddling and the two-leg then adjusts my halter. Simple!
Our people like to encourage llama trekkers to help with the preparation of the llamas for a trek, so the haltering up and grooming are something everyone can participate in. Mind you, it did mean there were about four people round each of us and it was a little crowded in the pen. More the merrier though. We’ve never been so well groomed.
Last instructions for the trek, and whilst our dear people whitter on about walking in single file on the road and not letting the llama eat on the walk (cheek), we stand around as we’ve heard this spiel a hundred times before. I yawn.
We congregate in the yard – a group photo – Ah ha! We like being photographed, and pose with our charges. Then it’s off on our llama trek. I always marvel at how many clothes two-legs wear. It’s summer and it’s hot, so why do people wear layers of clothing. I mean, I could have told them that they’d be discarding clothing before very long, and that I wasn’t going to carry 20 coats, THANKYOU very much.
Down through the fields, popping out onto the road and then passing our neighbours. We pass Fergie the dog who barks once or twice, but we know Fergie and there’s no problems with dogs we know. It’s a greeting really, his bark. We don’t call back but stand and stare silently. On one of the Walking Festival treks young Croft Ambrey came with us on what was only his third trek. He’s inexperienced and hasn’t seen much of cattle, and young cattle have seem llamas less, so when they ran along inside their field, Croft Ambrey gave them a wide berth, sensible chap.
In the village there were some male two legs sitting at a table outside the Dog Inn. They saw us coming and one of them looked at his glass, looked at us and looked at his glass again before pushing it aside saying, ‘I must have had enough’. What can he have meant?
The walks developed into really lovely afternoons out. We walked past the school and the old rectory, before turning up the hill to the shaded part of the walk through a canopy of overhanging trees whose branches touch above our heads. I’m normally a speedy walker, but when there is a big party I usually walk at the back as I take over herd leader duties from Ringsbury when trekking. I like to see all that’s going on ahead, and pretty soon I could see Brodgar setting a good pace up front with his brother Stenness whilst Avebury allowed a gap to develop. He’s just a little slower than the rest of us, and doesn’t like to be hurried.
Around the cattle grid and on to the common, we took the low track and then one of the grassy paths up onto the top of the common. We rest. Another chance for me to present my best profile as the cameras come out and people take lots of lovely pictures of handsome me! Off along a track fringed by tall green ferns and into an area of denser scrub and gorse, we walk on. I worry that some of the two-legs might get lost as they don’t know the way, but they all have the chance to hold our lead ropes. I walk at the rear and shepherd everyone in front of me.
The Common is higher than Old King Street Farm, and the views on both walks were stupendous. The two-legs can see the hills for miles around, and the llamas can see the wren in the third hazel tree from the left half way up distant Garway Hill.
We have a long stop on the top. There is a seat here under the trees and the two-legs like to rest. To one side is the long ridge of the Black Mountains and to the other are the plains towards Hereford and the hills near Orcop. The Monnow Valley stretches to the south with a patchwork of fields to either side.
Brodgar and the vanguard pick-up again and we’re off on the return leg. On the wide open section of the common we meet a family with well behaved dog (excellent) and a young child in a pushchair. Croft Ambrey hasn’t seen a pushchair before. It’a all a new experience for him and he’s learning quickly. He’s more mature than I was at his age. I’ve just had my sixth birthday and I’m an old hand at most things now, but I’m very pleased to see the young ‘uns gaining in confidence. We take the return journey through the churchyard and pass the village shop.
When we enter our fields again we are allowed to graze the dandelion leaves or are fed hazel and maple leaves from the hedges. It’s a treat for both us and the two-legs who seem to like feeding us, and we like being fed, so everyone’s happy.
The last part of the trek is where we have our halters taken off and then we are fed a little more cereal mix which is very tasty.
Because nobody wanted to leave straight away, our gentle people took the two-legs down to Lake Field to see the females. The girls are feeling the heat at the moment and like to lie around in each other’s company doing very little. One of the great mysteries on our farm is knowing who is, or might be, pregnant. We llamas know, but we’re not saying, and it’s amusing listening to our people saying things like: ‘she definitely is, but I’m not sure about her’, ‘Do you think Doll Tor will have a first cria this year?’, ‘Surely Maes Howe is pregnant!’, and ‘I reckon Long Meg might be!’ – well, hedge your bets, why don’t you? I just say, ‘Watch this Space’. The first due dates are less than a month away. I can tell you that Maes Howe has developed an udder in the last three days!
More llama chat soon.