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Thorough in furrows; Revival of interest in age-old skill.


THE smell of the earth at the turn of a furrow; a slight hissing sound as the ground yields to the board of the plough. These almost primeval responses still evoke emotion and stir plough men young and old.

It goes part of the way to explain the growing enthusiasm for ploughing competitions. Tomorrow sees the start of the World Ploughing Championships in Northern Ireland, while on September 25 the Welsh Ploughing and Hedging Championships get underway at Talybont on Usk, near Brecon.

Ploughing's current popularity also reflects general interest in countryside crafts. Competitions offer an outlet for old men to relive their glory days and for youngsters to discover it's not as easy as it looks.

For men such as Gwyn Davies, who farms at Gelli Farm, Hirwaun, the years since he first ploughed with a team of horses as a boy of 15 have wrought undreamed changes.

It was war time and the War Ag ministry expected even hill farms to produce ever greater quantities of oats, turnips, potatoes and other cultivated crops.

``We had a hill farm, '' he recalls. ``But it was compulsory to plough. You were inspected by the ministry to make sure you were growing the right crops. Today a lot of boys just don't have any experience of ploughing.

``The work was unbelievably hard. It took a day to plough an acre and that involved walking 11 miles over uneven ground. And at either end of the day there was the team of horses to be fed, watered, and cared for!

``Compare that with today. One man with a state-of-the-art 100hp tractor can plough 20 acres in a day with a reversible five-furrow plough. ''

And compare they do, as members of the All Wales ploughing committee prepare for this year's match. Gwyn reminisces with Cyril Creasey from Bridgend about the Ransome horse plough he bought from him.

The plough, drawn by two horses, was first acquired by Cyril for pounds 7. 50 in 1944. Both men have won matches with it. And on September 24 it will be carried into Brecon Cathedral for the eve- of show Blessing of the Plough service.

Gwyn first became involved with ploughing and hedging competitions when he joined Aberdare Young Farmers Club back in the forties. He progressed from the boys classes to the waggoners, then to the district championships and the open.

A high point was 1952 when, after winning the Open Championship at Gelligaer, he was nominated to plough at the British National Championships at Ross on Wye. He recalls the pride he felt and smiles at the memory of how his horses, unused to traffic, were unsettled by the tractors and the crowds.

``Then in 1975 I ploughed for the last time at the All Wales in Trebariad, Breconshire, '' he says. ``And I won the horse class in that match. I was so pleased and privileged to have won.

``That was the last time I ploughed with that plough, but nine years ago I lent it to Dai Jones, Llanilar, and he used it in the All Wales at Pencoed. ''

Another early champion was Howell Davies, of Cae Betram Farm, Talgarth. He won at the first hedging championship, held at Stackpole in Pembrokeshire back in 1959, and then at Llancoedmor the following year.

The craft involves cutting out the old growth and laying semi-cut branches lower down so that shoots emerge from the base of the hedge.

``You've got to be born to it, '' he explains. ``My father, David, showed us and I could do 12 yards in a day. You didn't have chain saws then!

``It's very important to have the right hedge to give shade in the summer and shelter in the winter. The Brecon style gives a steep hedge that suits sheep, Glamorgan has a low hedge on a high bank for cattle, and the Midlands has more of a bullock hedge.

``You have to lay a hedge every 20 years. It brings the growth back to the bottom of the hedge to reinvigorate it and keep it strong and stock-proof. You're also creating nesting for birds with a good hedge. ''

This year will see some heady talent both at the ploughing and hedging championships.

Evan Watkin, of Cefn Coch, Welshpool, current reserve world champion, will be defending his Welsh championship.

Also there will be last year's reserve Wales champion Clive Nixon, from Hundred House, Llandrindod Wells. Like Evan, he is a four-time winner.

Youngsters such as Welsh under 26 ploughing champion, 16-year-old Tom Rees of Pembrokeshire, and champion hedge laying champion, Jonathan Lean, 20, of Troed y Rhiw Farm, Penybryn, near Bridgend, are proud to carry on these traditions.

Tom, who will also be representing Wales YFC at the British Open at Reading in October, first learned to plough at the age of ten. He uses an International tractor and a Kzerneland semi digger plough.

``I was taught by an older ploughman, Dick Griffiths, here at Dudwell Farm, Camrose, when I was about ten, '' he says.

``I was really interested and found that there was a lot to learn. I enjoy it and it's a dying art which I'd like to keep going. There aren't too many people doing it these days. ''

It's a tradition it's important to carry on. For, as Gwyn Davies points out, technology may have moved on but man still has to turn a furrow to produce food and survive.


Veteran horse plough man Gwyn Davies of Hirwaun competing in the All Wales Championship in 1975 (above) and winning the Welsh Open Championship at Gelligaer in 1952 (below)
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Publication:Daily Post (Liverpool, England)
Date:Sep 2, 2004
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