By Mariecia Fraser
Old photos and films can give such fascinating insights into bygone days.
“Shadow on the Mountains” is a short film showing life in the hills in 1931 which is free to watch on BFI Player. It has no audio or soundtrack, and this together with the jerky haste of early films gives a real sense of atmosphere. Much of the film is shot on steep hillsides typical of the sudden transition from valley floor to high upland plateau. Men incongruously dressed in Sunday best, complete with ties and hats, head out to gather their sheep. They ride stocky little hill ponies and are accompanied by a motley collection of working dogs. Shots of abandoned mine workings are a reminder that other ways of life have come and gone in these areas.
Later footage captures the more rolling and fertile lower lands near the coast and the crops grown these. This gives a link to a section showing experiments with grass and clover underway in the greenhouses of the Welsh Plant Breeding Station, which had been opened in 1919 (see more here). We see scientists with a surprisingly simple set-up doing pioneering work a world away from the high tech systems of today. Back up the hill a caterpillar tractor and plough working at an alarming angle and speed prepares ground for reseeding with these new, improved grasses and clovers, leading to concluding shots of an apparently contented ewe chewing her cud with her lamb by her side.
To watch, follow the link here
What is striking is how similar much of the landscape is to what you’d see today. This is a time well before support subsidies and headage payments, yet we see vast tracts of the same floristically challenged grasslands that are now considered synonymous with over grazing. No trees, no heather. It’s just one area, but it’s a reminder that it’s often worth questioning just how good the ‘good old days’ really were.