Alex James: The Great Escape

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The Independent Online

People who live in Rollright, about five miles away, claim it's the source of Tolkien's Shire. No doubt there are people in New Zealand who claim to live in Middle Earth too, but this morning was enchanting. The sun lay low behind the stripped trees, a flat bank of stratus overhead like an upside-down snowdrift, the light punching off the frozen ceiling and sending the walls odd colours. The immaculate mirrors of puddles lending infinite calm, the green stuff yawning off in all directions into eternal mists.

I'm bored with waiting for this cheese. I went to get some piglets for Claire's Christmas present. Paddy came with me. He's my land agent. I always check with him before I get involved with anything new on the farm. He still won't let me have a tractor, but he said it was all right to get some pigs.

I met Adam Henson, who runs the Farm Park, through On Your Farm, the Radio 4 programme. We both present it, occasionally. He's a very good egg. He called last week and said he had a litter of Gloucester Old Spots, if I wanted any.

Like recording studios, farms are only tidy when they're not being used, and his was on the brink of chaos. A geezer-type was making a nice mess digging a trench through a concrete slab with a circular saw. People were asking Adam questions. It was very familiar. There were diggers everywhere, several tractors, dogs and ducks.

The Farm Park was established in the 1970s to preserve rare breeds. It's been so successful that Gloucester Old Spots are everywhere these days. A succession of stables held all kinds of surprises. There were quite a lot of animals involved in showbusiness. He's managed to breed a fearsome-looking boar that is in demand on film sets, and there was a billy goat with fantastical horns, which I recognised immediately from his cinema roles.

Piglets are irresistible. As soon as I set eyes on them I was handing over the money - £40 a piece, which seemed very reasonable. Paddy got a couple as well, some Tamworths, brown ones. I'm not sure what I'm going to do with mine, er, Claire's. They're going to live in the woods, but I don't know whether we'll eat them or breed them. It got me thinking. I want to get a cow now, as well, a house cow. It's £850 for the milking machine, which attaches to the udder. With three kids in nappies and a cappuccino machine, we get through six litres of milk a day. I think we'd get our money back pretty quickly.

There was a bull that needed moving. It had been described only as "a bugger". He was pounding and snorting as Adam went into the pen, with only a short stick for protection. The thing must have weighed a couple of tonnes. Deftly Adam skipped behind him and coaxed him into the truck. A flock of Soams, the most ancient kind of sheep, came up through the mist. They've been around since the Romans and were practically extinct, and now they're famous through their film work. Mobbed by celebrity sheep in Middle Earth. Strange.