Alex James: Farming kings of the Welsh mountains

Rural Notebook
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Up at half past four. I always dread getting up that early – well, who wouldn't? But getting up early is probably the cheapest and most certain way to feel glamorous. The utter silence of the middle of the night in the middle of the winter, that stillness coupled with the early riser's sense of purpose; the promise of things about to happen, never fails to exhilarate. It made the daytime seem, well, everyday.

By breakfast time I was in the middle of Wales, crunching hot toast made by Simon Keenlyside, a classical singer of great renown. His prima ballerina wife was feeding their young baby. Neighbours had gathered around the breakfast table. It was raining, windy and beautiful outside on the mountain.

Simon had spent his childhood here, in a neighbouring cottage, and had recently had the opportunity to buy some of the land he knew so well. His delight spilled over, just like mine still does, and we marvelled at our good fortune, to be stewards of the land. The neighbouring farmers were having a parallel conversation, about how terrible it all was. But they couldn't burst our bubble.

To be fair to the farmers it's true that these mossy rolling hillsides with rushing streams were marginal in food production terms but somehow they were all the more beautiful for it: a precious habitat for wildlife, a poet's paradise.

Soon we were on the march in wellies and waterproofs, putting my host's zoology degree to good use. Several times he stopped to examine bat droppings. They must have been huge bats. There were dozens of bird boxes, new groves of trees, endless delights. What an excellent morning. I wonder if our paths will ever cross again, probably not, but there is nothing more interesting for people who live on farms than other people's farms. They all have the fascinating beauty and endless variety of snowflakes.

Simon Keenlyside appears on BBC Radio 4's On Your Farm on 7 March

A trick of the light

There is no sunshine like February sunshine. It is rare and there is only the tiniest amount of warmth, oh but the colour is like a magic spell. It has given a sense of hope to the huge amounts of devastation under way. The whole farm is getting a haircut. Hedges trimmed, overgrown trees hoiked out by digger. I hardly recognise the place. It's going to look amazing in 50 years.

Sure-footed style

I now have a pair of spikes for cross-country running. They are the most elegant shoes I have ever seen, completely different from a trainer or a normal running shoe, more like a ballet shoe in fact. I am quite tempted to throw all my other shoes away, apart from my wellies.