A long way to anywhere…
By Robert Davies
WELSH hill farmer Huw Joness transport problems make most other farmers difficulties seem somewhat trivial.
Moving materials, stock and people to and from his Nant-y-Beddau farm in the Elan Valley, Powys, which is at the end of a four-mile hard core road, is expensive in time, fuel, and vehicle wear.
The 621ha (1500-acre) hard hill unit, which Mr Jones and his wife Jean rent from Welsh Waters Elan Valley Trust, is made up of the hill tops that remained when the massive Clearwen Reservoir was constructed. Its narrow approach road occupies a ledge excavated into the steep land that skirts the lake.
Though a 3t lorry can negotiate the hairpin bends and narrow bridges, no suppliers are prepared to deliver. Everything is dropped at the nearest neighbouring farm five miles away, or at the dam wall, and is collected using farm transport. That includes winter concentrate feed and winter fodder.
No hay or silage can be made on the farm, which has only 8ha (20 acres) of in-bye land, so long fodders are bought in and carried 100 bales at a time from the neighbours farm. Every drop of fuel for tractors, farm vehicles and the electricity generator must travel the same route.
When sheep are sold, or are sent to or returned from away wintering, they have to be moved in small lots in a trailer. This year it took Mr Jones seven hours to travel more than 100 miles each way in an articulated stock lorry to collect his 350 tacked ewe lambs, and seven hours to move them the last four miles in a small stock trailer.
He has tried driving them on foot, but experience shows that when he does, a significant number end up back at the main road looking for the lusher pastures of south-west Dyfed.
A round trip to the metalled road crossing the top of the dam takes 1.5 hours with a pick-up and trailer. It took six hours to shift 6t of sheep cake last autumn.
Fuel is a special problem. It has to be moved using a 2270-litre (500gal) bowser, which takes a severe shaking on every trip, and will cost at least £1000 to replace.
But all vehicles and trailers take a pounding. Saloon cars fall apart quickly, and off-roaders have a short working life before maintenance charges start to escalate. Between Nov 30 and May 20, Mr Joness bill for tyres and tyre repairs on the pick-up, 4×4 vehicle and two trailers was £693.54. Bills like these mean that everything used on the farm costs more, and a much higher marketing charge must be levied against all stock sold.
The Joneses and their four children live 14 miles away from the nearest shops, doctor or school, and the local pub is 10 miles away. All farming and family activities have to be planned with journey times and cost in mind. A pick-up is used for most journeys involving trailer towing, and an off-roader for moving people.
The family is remarkably sanguine about their transport problems, which they now accept as routine. "Its not all negative," says Huw. "This tenancy has given us a start in farming that we might never have got on a more accessible farm. There is also a wonderful community spirit and great co-operation in the valley." *
Home at last Huw Jones hauls another load of fuel to his farmhouse set in the Elan Valley, Powys. The bowser takes a severe shaking on every trip.
The long and winding road – 4m of it to be precise -proves to be a taxing trip for vehicles at Nant-y-Beddau.