Adam Henson: Local legends
PUBLISHED: 11:23 18 January 2012 | UPDATED: 20:55 20 February 2013
'The ingenuity and spirit of Cotswold folk never ceases to amaze and inspire me'
Adam Henson: Local legends
The ingenuity and spirit of Cotswold folk never ceases to amaze and inspire me
My weekly excursions for Countryfile have taken me all over the United Kingdom and beyond but some of the most memorable moments have been on my own doorstep, here in the Cotswolds. The ingenuity and spirit of country folk in our beautiful corner of England never ceases to amaze and inspire me.
So in this occasional series, Im celebrating some of the Cotswolders Ive featured on TV over the last few years. People like Pat Quinn from Naunton who I think Ive known all my life. Pat is something of a local legend when it comes to British rare breeds. Shes kept Cotswold sheep since the mid-1970s and obviously has a soft spot for these docile animals with their long, lustrous wool and tumbling locks. While the numbers of the county breed are healthy now, it wasnt always the case. Until recently it was almost impossible to sell rare breeds meat and no one was interested in eating Cotswold lamb or mutton.
At the same time, cheap and mass produced synthetic fibres threatened to end for ever the ancient skill of spinning a natural fleece. But thats beginning to change and the renewed interest in the so-called Cotswold lion is largely thanks to the hard work of enthusiasts like Pat and her friends in the Cotswold Sheep Society. Now in her 80s, Pat is as determined as ever to ensure that the breed has a future in modern farming. To press the point home she continues to be a familiar figure on the Society stand at events like the Three Counties Show and the annual rare breeds auction at Cirencester Livestock Market.
However, her appearance on Countryfile had nothing to do with Cotswold Sheep. We were concerned with another, much larger native breed. Pat has bred Longhorn cattle for more than 30 years after first being introduced to them by my dad, Joe. I went to school in Cheltenham with Pats son, Michael, and as our parents waited for us at the school gates one day they began chatting about the Farm Park and British rare breeds.
As soon as Pat mentioned that she was interested in keeping some livestock, Dads ears pricked up. Before too long hed taken her to a cattle auction. She returned home as the proud owner of her own small herd of Longhorns. They are large, magnificent animals which live up to their name with long, curved horns often covering their face.
Theyre easily recognised, even from a distance, by their brown and white colouring and they have a white patch along their backs and under their bellies. The animals produce succulent, marbled meat which is tender and full of flavour. They make great sausages and tasty burgers which are proving popular in restaurants and good quality pubs. In fact Longhorn beef is now widely available at butchers and specialist shops nationwide, from the mountains of Morayshire in Scotland all the way down to the Vale of Taunton in Somerset.
Its easy to see why Pat is so keen on the breed but there was a sense of sadness on the day I visited her farm. Id recently lost one of my pair of working oxen to TB and had been compelled to let the remaining one go for beef. So I was partly on the lookout for replacements from Pats herd but principally I was there to give her some moral support as her Longhorns underwent their regular TB test.
Pat showed no fear in front of the cameras as she calmly described the stress of watching the vet at work and the grief at losing some of her prized animals in previous tests. It was an agonising wait and thankfully Pats herd eventually got the all clear. But her frank, no-nonsense attitude made compelling and memorable viewing. Even now, long after the programme was shown, people still want to talk to me about this formidable farmer and her love for Longhorns.
Cotswold Farm Park, Guiting Power, near Cheltenham, Gloucestershire GL54 5UG
Tel: 01451 850307; Fax: 01451 850423