The gathering of the wild mountain ponies

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Luke Pavey is a producer and director for the independent television company tasked with producing The Hill Farm for BBC Cymru Wales. Over the years his work behind the camera has taken him all over the world, from Afghanistan to Australia, but for this project it was the wilds of north Wales that would be the focus of Luke’s work. 

I already knew Gareth Wyn Jones and his family from a previous production and in early 2013 we got the go ahead for The Hill Farm. A year in the life of the Jones family and their farm, a year of chasing Gareth up and down mountains, a year of coming home smelling like a farmyard, but thankfully a year of Rhian Jones’s roast dinners. 

The Hill Farm production team with Gareth Wyn Jones and his sheepdog Cap.

Filming The Hill Farm was certainly not without its technical challenges. For starters we were using a relatively new camera that was better suited to a studio than the Carneddau mountains. On more than one occasion the weather made filming on the slopes particularly interesting.

I remember how on one of the very first shoots as the rain started to pour I wrestled to protect the camera with its expensive cover. Eventually I gave up and used my own waterproof trousers with a few pieces of baling twine to keep the kit dry - while my legs got a drenching.

With the weather on the mountains so changeable our battle to keep the rain out became a recurring theme on the Hill Farm shoots. On one of our last trips up to Llanfairfechan the area was battered by a severe winter storm which coincided with the last of the mountain gatherings. As the rain water poured off the slopes the sight of me wading through a fast-flowing river with a camera held high above my head proved most amusing for Gareth and the other farmers.

The biggest challenge of all though came on the very last shoot, the gathering of the wild mountain ponies. A hundred or so wild ponies spread out over 27,000 acres of open mountain being chased by dozens of people on quad-bikes and motorcycles - we had our work cut out. Somewhere between a well-orchestrated military operation and coordinated chaos is the only way I can describe both the gathering itself and our attempts to film it.

To capture the action we had three camera crews at various points across the Carneddau range, along with a handful of mini-cameras mounted to the vehicles - despite the best efforts of Nanny the goat trying to eat the tape holding them in place. The gatherers chased the ponies and we chased the gatherers but at the end of it everyone did their job, the ponies were successfully rounded-up and we had great final sequence for the series.

We wanted The Hill Farm to be more than a series about farming. It is a series about how many of us have lost a connection with where our food comes from, but more than this, it is a series about a family and a way of life that has existed on the Carneddau mountains for centuries.

We wanted all of Joneses to feature - from the youngest, Mari, to her grandfather, Roland senior. Not everyone was keen at first but as the filming progressed I think everyone got used to having the camera there and they all made a valuable contribution to the programmes.

During the course of the year we filmed on the farm I and the others who worked alongside me got to know Gareth and his family well. They had to put up with us day after day, filming at breakfast, lunch and dinner, but they always gave us the warmest welcome and there was always a ‘paned’ on offer.

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