Slow Cotswolds

  • Witnessing the birth of new life - another 'Cotswolds' must-see

    OK, so it's not exactly an exclusive for the Cotswolds but where else is better suited to witnessing the birth of a lamb than in the Cotswolds? After all, the entire area looks the way it does because of shee - the 'cots' (or 'cotes') being the sheep enclosures on the 'wolds', or open hillsides,

    And that's exactly what I and my children have had the privilege of witnessing this morning. A visit to Adam Henson's Cotswold Farm Park (pages 146-7) near Guiting Power was extended by an hour as we waited patiently and watched new life enter this world.

    In some respects, watching a sheep give birth, one can't help feeling slightly indecorous, as if we should turn away to provide this clever lady with some privacy. How many other mothers were 'sensing' every contraction and appreciating the discomfort of this ewe's labour?

    Onlookers - and there were many sat upon straw bales in the lambing barn, ranging from those still in nappies to grandparents - were put at ease by Rory, the shepherd keeping a watching eye on his flock. He provided explanations and a respectful running commentary on the process, from detecting the early signs of labour (did you know that sheep like to 'stargaze', a sign of a contraction?) to bonding. And it included the fact that the ewe, who kept looking us in the eye during the early stages of her labour, would not be aware of our presence once focussed on the birth. Thank goodness.

    And so it was that we witnessed the birth of twins and watched their very first tentative rising onto all fours. Three lambs had already been born earlier in the morning and there was evidence of more arrivals later today - and over the coming days. Though, as Rory explained, lambing starts on the farm in February and so this is the tail end of the lambing season. However, there are still a good few to still arrive, including some triplets and quads, so a visit over the coming days is particularly rewarding.

    That said, there are so many lambs, calves, chicks and kids (that's baby goats, not the human variety) at the farm, that the spring and summer months are a delight and you'll find youthful creatures to cuddle, stroke and handle. Experienced animal handlers are around to assist as children sit with overly cute fluffy bundles on knees while a widescreen TV offers live footage of chicks emerging from eggs within incubators.

    You'll see Primrose, the Gloucester Old Spot pig and her piglets, and many other wonderful creatures showcased along a historical timeline of rare breed domestic animals that are so important to the history of farming in Britain. And now, Adam Henson's work keeping these rare breeds alive is equally important.

    It was the BBC Countryfile presenter's father, Joe Henson, that set up the farm park - the very first of its kind in the world back in the 1970s - with a desire to keep these rare breeds in existence. He helped to found the Rare Breeds Survival Trust with the first animals on the farm. Now Adam continues this work.

    On this glorious sunny day, it was flocks of young families that were out enjoying the park and a picnic in the grounds, a tractor ride around the farm and a bounce on the mehusive trampolines in the large play area. For me, it was another opportunity to get up close to the Cotswold sheep, the rare breed that was introduced to the Cotswolds by the Romans and whose wool created the Cotswolds' riches in the Middle Ages. They are magnificent beasts - distinctive by their shaggy coat of luscious curls, and with a curly top-knot on their forehead. And the Cotswold lambs - adorable doesn't begin to describe them!

    Adam Henson's Cotswold Farm Park is open daily throughout the spring and summer months. The adjoining caravan and campsite, completely redeveloped for 2017, will re-open on 24th April.

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