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Swimming with dolphins, walking with lions and trekking with llamas… Now there’s walking with sheep. Roger Fulton bats aside the jokey comments to give it a try

sheepwalk 5 good day out

This is not your average Saturday afternoon walk in the Brecon Beacons. Myself and about a dozen other curious souls are milling around in a farmyard, while our hosts, farmer Paul Matthews and his daughter Nicola, coax eight black and white sheep into soft rope halters with, well, dog leads attached.

We’ve come to Aberhyddnant Farm in the tiny hamlet of Crai, near Brecon, to take a sheep for a walk. On a lead. I was expecting to add ‘in the pouring rain’ to that envy-inducing list, but miraculously the skies have stayed clear and after choosing our sheep we set off in high spirits along a track leading up out of the farm towards the Black Mountain.

Paul explains that the Jacob’s sheep we’re walking are chosen for their friendly and reasonably affable nature which accepts being trained to walk on a lead. ‘Though we tell them it’s the trekking or mint sauce,’ he jokes.

Our walk is just about two hours, stopping for a picnic snack of tea/coffee and incredibly tasty home-made barra brith (a rich fruit loaf made with chai masala soaked fruit) and to take photos and admire the views towards Pen Y Fan. Paul also runs full-day treks (though the sheep are driven nearly to the halfway point so they pretty much only have to walk downhill!). He has 15 sheep for the treks, with no more than eight going at one time, so they don’t get tired out.

I was as sceptical as you like about what sounds, frankly, a bit daft – but walking with sheep works. It’s more of a gentle stroll than a trek, climbing up through pastures on the 200-acre organic farm, but the novelty makes for a lot of good-humoured chatter among the walkers and you learn stuff from Paul and Nicola that you never expected – such as that Jacob’s sheep are an ancient breed mentioned in the Bible. And that sheep have a hierarchy, which changes constantly according to what’s happened in the field. That sounds a bit stressful for the sheep, but these are placid enough. All males who’ve had the snip (weathers), they do have neat little horns but don’t seem inclined to use them on us!

As pack animals they like to flock together and as we walk, the sheep hustle a bit to ensure their pals are always in view. They’ve all got names, of course, mostly beginning with J. Mine’s called Brannig. They’re all about 18 months old and will keep on trekkin’ for maybe four years before being retired to Aunt Sally’s, which is not a euphemism for the kebab skewer, but a kindly relative who looks after old sheep.

The sheep walks are the idea of Julia Blazer, founder of Good Day Out, a series of small hands-on group experiences based in the Upper Usk Valley, which help to promote the area and its businesses while supporting local good causes. Julia says – without irony – that inspiration came one sleepless night, though it took her two years to find a farm willing to give the idea a go! Paul and his wife Liz already run a thriving holiday cottage business, but it was daughter Nicola who really saw the potential of walking with sheep, and researched the best breed for the job.

Who’s it aimed at? Pretty much anyone – Paul and Nicola have welcomed visitors from America, Germany and all corners of the UK. Families love it. But the walk was a surprise birthday outing for one walker in our group. It probably helps to have a quirky sense of humour.

The treks have been running since early summer 2015 and will carry on till the end of September – maybe longer depending on the weather.

Back at the farm the sheep are hustled into a trough to bathe their feet in an antiseptic dip. We say our goodbyes and head into the peaceful nearby hamlet of Defynnog, first to have a look at an astonishing 5,000+-year-old yew tree in the local churchyard (that’s older than the Pyramids and Stonehenge). Then we stroll to the local inn – the 19th century Tanners Arms where a former landlord, back in 1871 was the father of David Jenkins, one of the forgotten heroes of Rorke’s Drift, the Zulu wars battle immortalised in the film Zulu.

But enough of history. We consult the menu. Ooh, lamb curry – that sounds good.

Sheep Treks cost from £35 (children £25) with snack included.

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