Sunday, April 19, 2009

The Art and Mystery of the early Welsh Cowboys - “Heiptro Ho!”

Mostly off message - just back from a glorious holiday in Wales. Hired a cottage near Barmouth and spent last week hill walking and site seeing alternating with reading, listening to music and generally slobbing out. I don’t really know this part of Wales very well although as kids we used to go camping every summer in nearby Shell Island.

In February I posted here on my astonishment at finding an old Welsh drovers pub deep in the heart of southern England. For centuries Welsh drovers would take large herds of Welsh black cattle across the mountains into English livestock markets. The herds could be as long as half a mile in length and the journey 250 miles each way. Unlike their more glamorous American cowboy cousins the drovers usually walked rather than rode horses.

They were also unofficial bankers and postmen. It was pretty dangerous since they were known to have large amounts of money on them so they were liable to be attacked by robbers. To be a drover you had to apply for a licence, aged at least 30 and married. Also according to this excellent site when they applied for a licence they referred to their trade as being about “Art and Mystery”.

Last week I tried to pick walks that made reference to drovers. The centre photo is of an old pack horse bridge used by drovers in the Afon Ysgethin Valley. This is in the middle of nowhere and it was incredible to think that this bridge was also used according to the guide book by mail coaches travelling between London and Harlech. It was also knackering enough just to walk up the 8 miles to the bridge from the coast and back - never mind cross the numerous mountain ranges and hills beyond into Shropshire.

If staying at Barmouth I recommend the Bistro Bermo for great value and delicious local grub - of course I had to have the Welsh Black Chargrilled Glasfryn Estate rump steak.

(The drovers would call out “Heiptro Ho” warning local farmers “Get your animals in, we are coming through’)

No comments: