us

Honeymoon on the Gower

The velvet blackness of a tranquil Welsh night gives way imperceptibly to the subtle halflight of a new dawn.

The profound silence is broken by the soft, measured tread of stealthy steps as Moriarty approaches the peaceful farmhouse, his night’s murderous work complete.  The creak of clandestine footfalls on the old wooden staircase alerts me to his presence, jolting me from a jumble of dreams as the first fingers of golden morning sunshine thrust their halo of light through the heavy ivory curtains.  He pauses for a moment in the bedroom doorway; judging by his slickly triumphant gaze, I will find another sad, broken body cast lifess in the haybarn when I venture out to feed the livestock as the birds break the back of darkness with their rousing chorus.

“Busy night?”  I enquire with a stifled yawn; “you must be in need of some breakfast.”  Purring loudly, the big, smoke-grey cat leaps gracefully onto the bed in full accord.  Our little green valley is Moriarty’s happy, feline hunting-cum-playground paradise; yet, while we share such a passion for this place, for the two human occupants at least it is so much more than just home; far more elemental, more profound indeed than the rich brown earth & its milky-white threads of quartz running through the seams of grey slate, deep beneath our feet.

But at this point I feel I should introduce us: I’m Jo Knight, & I moved here to Ffarm Fach (or ‘Little Farm’, in Welsh – hence the name of the Dairy) with husband Tony at the end of October 2005, just as the Autumn colours of the woods which plunge down to the river were painting the valley in hues of deepest ochre & gold.  For us, the journey to reach this lovely, enchanted landscape of Cymru has been a spiritual stumble over the rough wilderness of our uncertain & dangerous careers as Military Officers, to a leap over the waterfall of faith into pastures dramatically new with a fresh future as dairy goat farmers & artisan cheese & ice cream makers – all in the space of one short but breathtaking year.  Yet our turbulent past still seems as far behind us now, as the Autumn rains that transform the river running through the cleft in the valley from an angry, tumbling torrent of shouting foam to a gently murmuring brook, giggling & gurgling over boulders softened over centuries by the sweet Welsh rains. 

2002 -2003: Love, Life & Marriage

Prior to crossing the River Severn I was working as a Logistics Officer at Royal Air Force (RAF) Lyneham in Wiltshire; I met a pilot, Tony, whilst we were building a snowman for our Winter Ball; our whirlwind romance swiftly led to his proposal of marriage in January 2003. 

Before we met our working lives had been spent focussing on the high-tech, ordered, military discipline of our respective careers.  The discovery that we wanted to be together however, was soon to be tested to the limit; as being a captain on the tactical Hercules transport aircraft, Tony endured repeated, risky operations in both Afghanistan & Iraq (commencing only 24 hours after his romantic, down-on-one-knee proposal).  He came home briefly for our wedding on St David’s Day, the same year; & after a fleeting trip of only a few hours to the beautiful Gower peninsular for our ‘honeymoon’ he flew back to the war zone, a deeply unhappy time & not how we had anticipated starting our married life. 

From then on, our military circumstances seemed destined to keep us apart; thus our focus gradually changed from one of career, to quality of life – of which ours was now evidently lacking.  However, an ironic twist in events was to change our lives forever….

January-July 2004:  Time to Say Goodbye

Owing to Tony’s prolonged detachments a more leisurely honeymoon had to be delayed until the following year, when we departed for two glorious, sun-soaked weeks to the enchanted island of Sri Lanka.  Unfortunately, we brought home with us more than the usual crumpled clothes in a suitcase, contracting severe food poisoning on the very last day. 

To cheer us up whilst recuperating (& once sufficient distance from the loo would allow!) we visited the wonderful Golden Oak Shetland Pony Stud & unintentionally fell in love with a feisty foal, called Toto.  A plump little companion dubbed Kemosabe, who looked as if he’d trotted straight from the pages of a Thelwell cartoon, soon joined Toto; & with livery fees doubling overnight we considered the possiblility of moving to a house with a little slice of land – all owing to a bowl of improperly cooked rice!

At the time, we shared with our four cats, a modern house on the edge of a Cotswold village & were lucky enough to have a substantial garden in which we grew some veg & tended a handful of hens.  Our cockerel had been forced into exile following a bitter feud by a neighbour who wanted to live in the ‘countryside’ but couldn’t stand anything with fur or feathers; so by July 2004, we’d decided enough was truly enough; & with the ponies’ rotund bulk finally tipping the scales of our future, we knew it was time to move on.

August 2004 – September 2005: Dreaming the ‘Impossible’ Dream

Unfortunately though, we swiftly found that property in the local area came at an overwhelming price for our frugal pockets.  After our hopes were dashed a couple of times prior to the agreed sale of our property, we nevertheless ploughed grimly onwards; but the market’s interest waned as the winter nights drew gloomy curtains over any potential purchase.  I endured a lonely Christmas, with Tony yet again on operations in Iraq.  January refreshed our resolution to relocate & as Tony hailed originally from the Blackwood area, we decided to widen the net to his native Wales.  Meanwhile, time ticked by as did yet more potential properties, some of which we almost bought through sheer desperation (except for the one with ‘unparallelled views of the Brecon Beacons’ – the glass having long since fallen out of the windows!).

The bitter February snows heralded March’s dramatic entrance, roaring like a lion through wind & sleet.  Tucked close by a fire which hissed like an angry cat each time a gust of wind blew a rattle of hail down the chimney one evening, I continued my unrelenting trawl for suitable properties & came across details for a small goat dairy near Ystrad Meurig.  I read it wistfully to Tony; having a scheduled option to leave the RAF but no real consideration of a specific career path thereafter, I observed it was a shame I couldn’t pursue something so radically different to my current vocation.  “Well, why not?” he retorted – & he was right.  That bowl of Sri Lankan rice was relentlessly turning the wheel of fate to ensure things would never be quite the same for us, from that moment: our life’s focus suddenly changed forever.  It felt as if a great weight had been lifted, despite the extremely daunting prospect of moving to an unfamiliar area to set up, from scratch, an unfamiliar business!  However, whilst that particular smallholding transpired to be not quite what we were after, it did encourage us to believe that our dream really could become reality, one day.  Eventually, in June, we discovered a modest smallholding near Carmarthen with pleasant views & a period house with bags of character.  It seemed perfect; thus, its compelling spell was cast.  And thus, the nightmare began….

Two months, several thousand pounds in extensive searches & burdensome solicitors’ fees later, with only a tremulous week before we were due to start our new lives, the vendor of the smallholding abruptly withdrew from our purchase for a better offer.  This devastating news came as my mother was in intensive care following open-heart surgery; my sister was mysteriously ill in another hospital; & Tony was away – yet again – in Iraq.  Heartbroken, & desperate not to lose our own sale, I searched fervently for somewhere else for us to put down our parched roots.

Miserably trawling the Internet one balmy Summer’s eve, I happened across a scant set of details for a thirty-six acre farm, situated between the majesty of the Prescelli Mountains & the romantic Cardiganshire coast.  With nothing but a grainy aerial photograph to whet our starving appetites, no sooner had Tony arrived home than we set off to view the farm in bright summertide sunshine; although, with so many hopes & dreams dashed repeatedly, the mood was inevitably one of greyer skies.  

Our unfounded sense of foreboding was replaced with anxious anticipation as we drew closer to our destination.  A gnarled, weathered beech tree stood as sentinel at the top of the silver-grey slate drive, which wound its’ way down towards the little farm.  The sense of intrigue was heightened at every turn, the property illusively shielded from view by ancient hedgerows & stout drystone walls studded with luscious fern fronds & a riot of colourful wild fruits & flowers.    

Another change of direction, & we were there – the white cottage nestling stoically into the hill, facing a valley of mysterious oak woodland behind which the sky shimmered in cloudless, endless blue, red kites rising on their great russet wings in the warm air above us.  Carefully maintained stone outbuildings enclosed the yards, the cottage peacefully dominant with its neat vegetable garden, wildlife pool & an orchard, windows gazing dreamily toward the distant mountains & the sea beyond.  The organically-managed pasture was verdant & well fenced, gently sloping toward some eleven acres of ancient bluebell wood through which the summer-parched stream meandered lazily.  The old cottage itself retained slate-flagged floors; low, exposed beams & the wooden tongue-&-grooved ceilings favoured in many traditional Welsh farmhouses.  Warmed by woodburning hearths in the snug & parlour & by a lovely old Rayburn in the kitchen, every window afforded a wonderful view.  We hardly dared hope that we might have at last found somewhere we truly desired to call home; & although this move would mean radical downsizing as well as the major lifestyle downshift, we were ready to declutter the lot.  We were truly smitten.   

Immediately, the agent was contacted & we placed an offer on the property, spending a sleepless night awaiting a reply.  The following day, to our amazed delight, a price was agreed upon & solicitors swiftly instructed.  Ironically we then received a call from the vendor of the previous property: his sale had fallen through, & so he assumed the deal was back on.  Whilst many might (& indeed did) call it poetic justice I felt genuine sympathy when I tactfully explained a far better prospect had presented itself.  The spell was broken – at last, we could finally move on. 

October 2005: Home – at Last

An Otober morning, & our relocation dawned with a sky the colour of a chaffinch’s breast, blushing in the first gentle rays of the early morning sun & turning the tops of the valley’s oak trees into a splendour of shimmering bronze as a brilliant red fox slipped stealthily along the woodland path.  We were home, at last. 

The move however, proved to be only the very beginning of an extremely emotional journey into the unexplored territory of our new life & living, in West Wales.  Those first few weeks were an elemental rollercoaster: from the glorious golds of woodland autumnal colour enrobed in rich, late sunshine; to relentless, lowering clouds of lashing rain, filling the frenzied river with a roar of foaming fury; followed by the eerie stillness of snowfall, slate-grey skies discharging a heavy burden which froze teardrops of ice on skeletal branches weeping silently into the leaden water.  Badgers grunted indignantly in the wood, their quest for food resounding in echoing snorts from the valley floor.  We embraced our new environment with the gladness of heart felt by an anxious parent who has lost sight of their child a momentary age too long.

Sadly, our trials were not yet at an end as we both had to complete our commissions in the RAF.  Further, for Tony, the stark reality of our hefty mortgage gave way to the uncomfortable truth that in order to fund our new life in Wales he would have to take a job as a commercial pilot, employed a gruelling four-hour drive away at Heathrow; although at least his shift pattern involved a roughly three-day rotation, working abroad for the duration of his absence.  Meanwhile I was committed to the RAF until January 2007; & so had to ‘grin & bear’ a minimum daily six-hour round trip to the office in Gloucester for just over a year after handing in my notice.

Easter 2006: Porcine Procurement

On top of this exhausting journey my burden of chores increased, from managing our modest menagerie of our handful of hens, our pair of ponies, & the quartet of cats; to a tandem of of horses (quadrupeds, not quad bikes are the order of the day for miscellaneous ffarm/logging work), a gaggle of geese & a penful of porkers. 

 

 

24 Responses to us

  1. Nicholas Wright says:

    Hi guys
    I tried to click on the “Us” link at the top of your webpage, and I got the following error:

    Error #441: page crash

    Service will be restored ASAP

    The rest of your website works fine.

    Can you tell me where you are based please?

    Regards,

    Nicholas

  2. LittleFfarm Dairy says:

    Hi there Nicholas –

    many thanks for dropping in, & my sincere apologies for that silly Page Error: as you’ve probably gathered I’m a real clutz when it comes to technology & managed to ‘crash’ the page whilst working on some extra goodies for it the other week.

    Basically, I’ll do my level best to make sure it’s fully restored during the first week of November (I’m getting out of bed even more outrageously earlier than usual, to sort out the problem).

    In the meantime, if you’re desperate to catch up our amusing history of how we came to be here & why – ‘Smallholder’ Magazine is currently running Part Two of the article I recently wrote, on the rocky road we’ve travelled which led us here. Incidentally there are some great photos in the article as well – sadly our only memories at present as we cannot currently locate the photocard on which those treasured pictures are stored.

    In answer to your question of our home base, our Ffarm is nestled in a beautiful wooded valley which is situated between the majesty of the Prescelli Mountains & the picturesque beauty of the rich Cardiganshire coast in West Wales (personally I’d call it South West; but Tony being such a native perfectionist, tells me the geographical area doesn’t exist in Welsh hearts & minds). In essence, we are in the region of the bustling, pretty little market town of Newcastle Emlyn.

    So, are you considering becoming a smallholder – whether here in Wales or elsewhere – or are you already living the dream? Please let us know, we’d love to share life’s rich pattern with you.

    All the best & apologies for my Luddite dealings with technobabble, promise I’ll sort it for you & everyfrustratedoneelse, ASAP –

    Cheers aye,

    Jo (+ ‘TechoTony’ & our ‘minxy menagerie’ – woooh!).

  3. Michael says:

    Came across your website, but you don,t say exactly where you are in the Preselli area. Would like to come to see during Aug this year

  4. LittleFfarm Dairy says:

    Happy New Year, Michael –

    we are over toward the Frenni side. Where are you based, incidentally, & what’s your interest in the Ffarm? Is it from a smallholding, goat-keeping or dairying/cheesemaking point of view, or do you simply want a look around?

    Whilst we always welcome visitors, as I am sure you appreciate we are a busy working Ffarm & especially so during the summer months – & with this being our first year in production; so would require prior notice of a visit.

    Unfortunately we do not offer B&B facilities but a friend over in Newcastle Emlyn runs the excellent Maes Y Derw Country House if you require accommodation. I gather though, you may be – or have been, from the locality yourself?

    Jo.

  5. carl stringer says:

    Hi Tony and Jo,

    I’m a freelance photojournalist based just up the Teifi Valley at Llechryd. I remember reading about your new venture just over a year ago (teifyside advertiser feb 6, 2007) although I realise the work started much earlier than that. I’ve been looking through your blogs and thought it would be good to do an update. I do most of my work for the Carmarthen Journal so would like to do a piece with pix for them if you’re agreeable… perhaps over the next few weeks if you’re not too busy.
    Many thanks for your time and I hope to hear from you in the near future. Kind regards, Carl.

  6. Julia Scott says:

    Hello,

    I recently visited https://littleffarmdairy.wordpress.com/ page and
    I want to suggest a new site in the [Business] section

    Title: ForFarmers.com
    URL: http://www.forfarmers.com/
    Description :ForFarmers.com combines a worldwide news service with an interactive business directory and international online job market focusing on agriculture and related fields.

    Thank you very much,
    Julia Scott

  7. LittleFfarm Dairy says:

    Hi Julia,

    looks like an interesting site; & a useful resource for farmers – I’ve posted the link as suggested.

    BTW – anybody got a 100-gallon (ish) fully functional bulk milk tank out there they want to sell…?

  8. Minamoo says:

    Hello Jo and Tony!

    I just found your blog through a link on the Cottage smallholder blog and I must say it all looks so wonderful! There is nothing I would like more than to be able to do as you’ve done and have my own smallholding but I’m still a bit far from being able to afford it. It still remains my dream though and one that I share with my fiance. We live in a village in between Bristol and Bath so not tooo far away from you (I think!) Well….that’s where the OH lives, I’m doing my PhD at Leeds uni at the moment so am only there on odd weekends. I was wondering if you ever took in people to help on the Ffarm? I wouldn’t want to be paid, I would just need somewhere to pitch a tent and I’d be happy. I figure the experience of being and helping out on a working farm would be well worth it! While we have a farm back home in Kenya, I haven’t really done much more than feed my pet kid when I was a child and pick oranges and mangoes when we visited the farm but I am an enthusiatic learner! As far as skills that I do have go…I am an excellent jam maker and cook and do a lot of foraging so perhaps if that’s not something you’ve done before I might be able to help? I’m not exactly an expert but I do know most things that I can munch on in the wild.

    Anyhoo…..that’s me done. I really look forward to hearing back from you! If there’s any info you need please feel free to email me back! I couldn’t find a contact email on your website so I just replied to this post instead. I hope that’s ok?

    Regards,

    Mina.

  9. LittleFfarm Dairy says:

    Hi Mina –

    lovely to hear from you, & it’s great that you too aspire to be a smallholder – I’m sure you’ll get there.

    It’d be great to have you to stay – we’re always keen to help anyone who wants to learn more about smallholding, so it’d be our pleasure – & any assistance here, is gratefully received! In fact we work with out a great bunch of guys at NewLandOwner, who help start-up/aspiring smallholders, when we can – just as they helped us when we started out. If you click their link in the ‘Smallholding’ links on the RHS of the page you’ll see there’s a Case Study about us on their website.

    Although we haven’t got sufficient room in the cottage you wouldn’t need to worry about a tent – as we have a five-berth caravan which is connected to mains water, electricity & the septic tank – it even has a power shower & proper working loo (It’s where we take our ‘holidays’ these days!) but you’d be welcome to stay there for your comfort.

    Sounds like we could share lots of info & help each other out, & of course I assume your OH would want to join you if he’s also an aspiring smallholder?

    We’re about 2+ hours from Bristol, so like you say it’s not that far really (I used to commute 3 hrs to work each day so anything under that to me is a ‘short’ journey!).

    If you want to email us on ffarmfach@tiscali.co.uk we can discuss things in greater detail, ‘off the beaten (blog) track’.

    Oh yes, & good luck with the PhD BTW – tough stuff!

    Best wishes,

    Jo, Tony & LittleFfarm Dairy menagerie.

  10. Minamoo says:

    Hello Jo, Tony and LittleFfarm Dairy Menagerie!

    Thank you so much for your reply! I sent you an email at the end of March but it probably got swallowed up by your spam filter so I thought I’d best let you know that I just sent you another one in the hopes that you could rescue it from the spam monster! 🙂

    King Regards,

    Mina.

  11. Ian Walthew says:

    Hi there,

    You were recommended by Polly at A Life Less Simple and you can find a post about her and her other blog recommendations at

    http://farmblogs.blogspot.com/2008/07/life-less-simple-recommends.html

    I’m a big fan of farm/small-holding/rural blogs and I have been frustrated by the lack of a single place to go to to find the good ones, not just from one country, but from around the world.

    Hence, I’ve recently started a blog called http://www.farmblogs.blogspot.com

    The idea is very simple: I ask farm/rural bloggers who have been recommended by other farm or rural bloggers to recommend their favourite farm blogs. I then link them to my blog roll, and write to them and ask them to do the same thing – that is to say to write to me with their favourite farm blogs. (I also post important stories on world agriculture. Or at least ones I spot and find interesting.)

    I’ve therefore linked your blog to http://www.farmblogs.blogspot.com and if you’d like to send me an email to info AT ianwalthew DOT com with a few words about your blog, and about your favourite farm blogs, then it would be very much appreciated. (If you can link to http://www.farmblogs.blogspot.com, so much the better!).

    I should make a couple of things clear:

    Firstly, it is not my intention to sell advertising on this blog, or take your content – simply steer people in the direction of farm blogs I find interesting, which means that…

    Secondly, I am really trying to identify farm blogs that are primarily about farming/rural life or general resources (as oppossed to blogs written by people who may live on farms, but the subject of which isn’t primarily about farming). By farm I mean anyone involved in the production of food, so we stretch from ranchers to small-holdings.

    Very much hoping to hear from you,

    With kind regards,
    Ian

    http://www.ianwalthew.com
    http://www.aplaceintheauvergne.blogspot.com
    http://www.farmblogs.blogspot.com

  12. Louise France says:

    I’m a journalist on the Observer magazine, part of the Observer newspaper, in London wondering if I might be able to speak to you about the possibility of interviewing you for a big 3,000 word piece that I’m writing about smallholders in the UK. Yours is a fantastic story and I’d love to be able to meet up with you to talk about it more. Do let me know what you think.
    Best wishes
    Louise

  13. LittleFfarm Dairy says:

    Hi Louise –

    we’ve spoken about this offline; we look forward to meeting you.

    Best wishes,

    Jo.

  14. katie says:

    Hi, Jo. How are the plans coming along?

  15. LittleFfarm Dairy says:

    Hi Katie –

    Wow, loads of news; but…..I’ll have to make this quick as the power is just about to go off so our new Dairy Complex can be ‘hitched up’ to the mains – at last…!

    It’s been a busy, trying time but not only are our plans coming along, to an extent at least they’ve finally come to fruition! We’ve had a bit of a change of direction & launched our new business at the Royal Welsh Show – scooping four awards for our product (including two First Prizes) there, as well; so a great success & not bad for our first-ever Show.

    We’re also getting plenty of publicity with lots of interest in our product – a top-quality, all-natural goats’ milk Gelato (luxury ice cream), called ‘Lovespoon’. So far we’ve only got the ‘splash’ page up for our website but if you click on….

    http://www.lovespoongelato.co.uk

    you’ll at least see our logo – & look out for the goat…! Meanwhile Tony hasn’t started his new job yet as there’s so much to do here; & we still havn’t managed to get our hay crop in, yet…evidently, no rest for the wicked, I’m afraid.

    Anyway as soon as the power’s back on I intend to do a bit of catching-up with the Blog as it’s high time I revealed all…! How are your goats getting on, BTW?

  16. norman knight says:

    Congratulations on your success at the Royal Welsh!!!
    Have been watching your site expectantly for signs!
    Now at last they have come.
    Wonderful news,your hard work is bearing fruit.
    Love and best wishes
    DAD XXX.

  17. norman knight says:

    Had to come back

    Because I could not see the goat?

    But I have just seen him pop out, he seems to be rather shy!!

    DAD

  18. katie says:

    Brilliant news! It’s nice that it’s all coming together. Love the name and the logo.
    The goats are lovely, thanks. We also have some cade lambs so it’s been a sharp learning curve but great fun.
    Best wishes

    Katie

  19. LittleFfarm Dairy says:

    Many thanks for all your good wishes!

    Ooh, don’t call our poor goat ‘he’, Dad – he’s a She – no wonder she’s being shy!!! (Will have to post up a photo of Merson for you – our Stud Male – what a boy!).

    Know what you mean about the sharp learning curve, Katie – we’ve had a realy tough couple of months & it’s incredible how much you learn ‘on the hoof’, when your precious animals’ health & welfare is concerned.

    Dealing with the birth is almost the easy bit, these days….!

  20. alifelesssimple says:

    Hi Jo,

    Hope you’re both well and the goats are good too.

    Just to let you know that I’ve ‘tagged’ you, details of it are on my blog.

    Don’t worry about joining in if you don’t want to it’s just a bit of fun after all.

    Poppy

  21. alifelesssimple says:

    Hi Jo,

    Hope you are all well, I have an award for you waiting on my blog.

    Poppy

    • Thank you Poppy –

      I’m really touched! Always lovely to get an award – especially when I feel so guilty at being about a month behind with Blog posts…but as you can imagine, things are pretty manic here!

      Will catch up soon – & again, sincere thanks for your lovely gesture. Will take 5 minutes to sit on the creaky old bench in front of the cottage this evening to watch the sun go down & the stars come out over the mountains; & will raise my glass to you.

      Cheers aye,

      Jo.

  22. Jeff Mapps says:

    Hi Tony,

    Found you after too many years. Glad to see your keeping well and have settled back in Wales!!

    Regards

    Jeff Mapps

  23. Katie says:

    Hope you had a good kidding and no cocci problems. we had a grand toatl of four kids – two girls, two boys. Bet you had a few more than that!

    Regards

    Katie

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