Magazine article The Spectator

Mountain Sheep Aren't Sweeter

Magazine article The Spectator

Mountain Sheep Aren't Sweeter

Article excerpt


by Antony Woodward

Harper Press, £16.99, pp. 295,

ISBN 9780007216512

Anyone who can speak Welsh is going to get a lot of fun from this book. Antony Woodward buys a sixacre smallholding 1200 feet up a mountain near Crickhowell in Wales where he sets about trying to fulfill his dream of creating what may be the highest garden in Britain. The smallholding is called Tair Ffynnon, which, he informs his readers, means Four Wells. Ooops. For this is where the Welsh will start to snigger.

Part of his mad project on the mountain is the creation of a pond, which involves diverting water from his four wells into this. Only he has, of course, first to locate them, which proves difficult. Very difficult. And even now an increasingly frantic Woodward may be up there in the clouds trying to locate his lost fourth well. For Tair Ffynnon does not mean Four Wells. Close, mind. Tair Ffynnon means Three Wells.

Sad really. For this is the funniest thing about a book which is in itself funny and rather nice, and neither the author nor his editors knew, or know, anything about it.

To be blunt, what it means is that yet another Englishman, in his case with a partner called Vez and two children called Maya and Storm, has moved into the place of his dreams and written 70,000 words about it.

It is just that in the process not only has he not bothered to find out anything about the people who were there before him, or how they managed to make a living out of these thin acres (like all such books, this is vague on economics, his own included), he has not even bothered to translate the name of his new home. It would not happen in Provence or Tuscany, but it happens in Wales, and it is the last act in an old black comedy.

When they conquered Wales the English practised ethnic cleansing, pushing the Welsh up into the poor country of hills and moorland to make way for their own people, the new colonial settlers, so the Welsh became a species you encountered at 600 feet. Now, and it is almost beyond belief, the Welsh have come down, and the English have gone up. Looking up at a line of cottages high in the mountains of the Lleyn, I asked an old Welsh farmer who lived up there. 'The English; they need the view, ' he said, and might have been talking about a new strain of goat. It is not only the last act in an old black comedy, it is the last twitch in the English colonial experience.

Once they sought fat fields and profit, now they seek a contour where they can really be themselves, and at some point the two races must again have passed each other, the dressers and the Bible chests coming down by tractor to the fat fields and the profit, the fitted Magnet kitchens going up by van to the dreams. Fair enough. …

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