Walking with llamas in the Forest of Dean
PUBLISHED: 11:49 09 January 2018 | UPDATED: 11:49 09 January 2018
© Thousand Word Media
Candia McKormack goes Llama trekking in the Forest of Dean and falls head-over-heels for a llama with a llorra charm
Hi, my name is Candia, and I may have developed a crush on a llama.
I’m not in love with a llama. But I have a llorra, llorra llove for a llama.
And it’s not just me; this is an actual thing, you understand. Google ‘llama’ and one of the first things you’ll see is that many people ask ‘What is so great about llamas?’, followed by this:
‘They are very social animals and live with other llamas as a herd. The wool produced by a llama is very soft and lanolin-free. Llamas are intelligent and can learn simple tasks after a few repetitions. When using a pack, they can carry about 25 to 30% of their body weight for 8 to 13 km (5–8 miles).’
The question may well have been posed countless times by jealous partners wanting to know how they can possibly compete with their loved one’s affections for the fluffy camelids with the huge eyes for, as you can see, there is an awful lot to love. I’ve spent time admiring camels’ shaggy humps at West Midland Safari Park, and I’ve enjoyed snuffling up to alpacas and drinking in that gorgeous digestive biscuit scent, but right now my heart belongs to a llama called Macchiato.
Macchiato – or ‘Maccy’, as he’s fondly known – lives at Briery Hill Farm, near Newent, with Lisa and Steve Hill, and seven other llamas: Stardust, Horace, Bowie, Merlin, Quentin, Picasso and Pocket Rocket...oh, and five rescue dogs, two cows, some rescue chickens and a pair of wood-dwelling pigs called Brian and Trotter.
The Hills moved here at the end of May from the Derbyshire village of Church Broughton where Steve was a dairy farmer for 35 years, at one time managing 190 acres with a herd of 150. So, what brought them to the rolling hills of Gloucestershire and a llama trekking business?
“Llamas are such wonderful animals to be with,” says Lisa, “they have a calmness about them...and they’re all very individual, with their own little quirks.” And right on cue Stardust starts humming absent-mindedly as though doing a little light dusting. “He does that all the time,” Lisa confirms.
Lisa and Steve certainly haven’t entered into this business on a whim and have spent a considerable amount of time with llamas over the years, going on treks, researching their behaviour and even learning about something called ‘CAMELIDynamics’ – a ‘science-based approach to training and managing llamas and alpacas’. “It makes them a lot better behaved,” says Lisa, “it’s so important to learn how they think as they do like everything to be on their own terms.”
They spent time looking for the perfect farm to set up their business, which would also make a lovely home for them and their daughter, 18-year-old Angel. When they found Briery Hill, near Newent, it ticked so many boxes. Though it didn’t have any fencing in place – Steve had to set to work immediately – it had 21 acres of grassland, a nine-acre wood, two acres of gardens, a lake and an imposing 17th-century farmhouse. It really is ridiculously idyllic, and the views across the rolling Gloucestershire countryside and out towards the Malverns quite make you catch your breath with the sheer beauty of it all. And the llamas have come from Annie Austen at Watertown Llamas in Devon – Lisa and Steve intended initially to bring home just two: “The difficulty is who you don’t choose,” smiles Lisa.
On the day I visit, Storm Ophelia is whipping her way across Ireland, and in the west of England we’re experiencing the strangeness of weather conditions caused by her outflow: winds gusting through the trees, a slate-grey sky with rapidly-moving clouds, and the reddest of suns caused by tropical air and dust from the Sahara in the atmosphere. The llamas are restless.
“They can sense something’s different,” says Steve, as the llamas raise their heads to the blackening sky, and their huge, heavily-lashed eyes become impossibly larger. But they remain serene, and it’s true they do have a calming effect on us humans, too. As the three of us walk out across the fields in camelid convoy – we each have a llama on lead – the boys are most definitely in charge and set the pace, stopping occasionally to feed on the long, lush grass. It’s only when we approach the woods that they falter – Brian and Trotter are in there, and the trees are singing a song created by Ophelia.
We pause, listening to the wind in the branches and marvelling at the alien sun until the llamas are ready. As I watch Maccy’s face, I can sense he’s weighing up the situation and deciding what the course of action should be: fight, flight, or maybe just munch on some more grass.
Once it’s been established that the pigs aren’t in that part of the woods (they’re fenced off so don’t stray on the paths), we press on with the llamas sure-footedly leading the way. The woodland has previously been used for trial-biking and so we encounter little mounds of earth along the way, which Lisa points out is a bonus for llama trekking: “They love standing on hills and mounds.” And, sure enough, each takes it in turn to stand at the top of a mound, handsome head aloft, looking regal. Our photographer Antony naturally sees this as his cue to take some pictures, and the boys oblige with their best sides.
It is, of course, a pleasure to walk in beautiful countryside and through ancient woodlands at any time, but the presence of the llamas does bring an added sense of wellbeing. You can feel that they’re at one with their surroundings, and this makes you all the more aware of the beauty of the autumnal day… there’s no need for constant chatter as we walk with our graceful companions, occasionally burying fingers into soft neck fur. It really is a treat for all the senses.
Back at the llama paddock, we reunite our three with their five companions...and Pocket Rocket, Stardust and Merlin have a little play at ‘touch phone’ with our mobiles before all relieving themselves in the toilet area. Housetrained llamas – is there no end to their talents!
The whole experience is an uplifting one, and we wend our way to the summerhouse on the lawns leading down to the lake where cream teas are waiting. A proper china teapot, cups and saucers, clotted cream and the best scones I have ever tasted.
I ask for the recipe, but I think it’s probably part of the Briery Hill magic that can’t be replicated.
Briery Hill Llamas, Briery Hill House, Briery Hill Lane, Newent
Tel: 07580 158010
Llama trekking experiences make a wonderful gift, starting at just £35 per person for around one-and-a-half hours. The experience starts with a short introduction to llamas, followed by grooming, trekking and general interaction.
Briery Hill also has a lovely self-contained holiday let – a converted stone barn called The Granary – that sleeps two. Call 07580 158010 or 01989 720517 to book.