This feature has been curated by National Geographic Traveller (UK).
“At the heart of it all, we’re giving these lambs a second chance at life,” Nicola Matthews states, grinning as we tread uphill on a slippery path at her 220-acre family-owned organic farm tucked away within Bannau Brycheiniog, or the Brecon Beacons National Park. We have a few friendly sheep accompanying us, with the distant peaks hidden by a soft, drizzling mist.
In 2014, Nicola and her father, Paul Matthews, decided to create an enriching experience for people to get up close with these charming creatures. Establishing Jacob Sheep Trekking, they transformed a small group of native Jacob sheep into friendly companions using time, nourishment, and gentle interactions.
“Rejected for not fitting the breeding standard, we provided these Jacob sheep a relaxed lifestyle of grazing, roaming, and resting,” elaborates Nicola. Despite an initially wild nature, the sheep became amicable, with some as mild-mannered as puppies. Over the past nine years, the Matthews’ sheep collection has grown to include various rare breeds, from calm, sturdy Jacobs to miniature, placid Breton Ouessants – the smallest sheep breed in the world – and adorable Blacknoses, originally hailing from Switzerland’s Valais region.
A few minutes into our walk, and I’m realising how unpredictable sheep can be: they’re affectionate, amusing, energetic, languid, and sometimes obstinate.
Indeed, sheep have personalities, something I know quite well as a resident of a sheep farming community in the nearby Cambrian Mountains. From my window, I often observe hundreds of sheep dotting the hillside. Their bleats are the soundtrack to my days, lulling me to sleep beneath the star-studded night sky. However, it’s easy to overlook the individual personalities in such a large flock. Today’s trek is revealing those unique traits.
Our uphill journey is leisurely rather than brisk. Socks, a Blacknose sheep with dreadlock-like wool, reveals an unexpected diva side, avoiding puddles to keep her hooves dry and occasionally veering off for a snack on ash leaves. Jester, a Jacob with a patchy coat, showcases his independent streak, seeming to prefer human company over that of his fellow sheep. He also shares a certain donkey’s reluctance for hills, only reluctantly moving when enticed by treats.
Admittedly, the idea of sheep trekking initially seemed quite peculiar. Alpacas, llamas, and ponies, perhaps, but sheep? It’s common knowledge that sheep maintain their distance, often fleeing as you approach. But in Wales, home to 10 million sheep, a sheep stroll feels quintessentially Welsh.
Nicola highlights the surprise visitors feel when a flock of sheep, rather than bolting, come bounding towards them in joyous welcome. As we amble through the blooming meadows under a cloud-heavy sky, I’m beginning to see the appeal of sheep trekking.
After a pleasant back rub, Socks and I have become fast friends, enjoying the breathtaking 1,300ft high views. Despite the infamous Welsh weather, the panoramic vistas of meadows and mountains are deeply enchanting.
“More local Welsh breeds are being trained for these walks,” Nicola shares just as the rain starts. “The process always involves patience, a relaxed mindset, and an arsenal of tempting treats.”
With the rain pouring down, we make our way back to the farm, accompanied by our woolly friends who now seem invigorated by the wet weather. Upon reaching a barn, the sheep quickly find comfort in the haystacks, evidently not fans of the rain.
One can’t help but wonder if these new Welsh additions will have a few lessons to impart.
Planning Your Visit:
Sheep trekking is available from April through September. For those wanting to extend their stay, the farm offers rustic cottages and bell tents situated in a secluded wood.
The price for a 90-minute sheep trek is £25 for adults and £20 for children. Remember to pack waterproof clothing and wellington boots. Additional experiences, including lambing and sheep shearing days, are also on offer.
Published in the UK & Ireland supplement, included with the Jul/Aug 2023 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK).
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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Sheep Trekking
What is Jacob Sheep Trekking?
Jacob Sheep Trekking is an experience set up by Nicola and Paul Matthews in 2014, where they trained a small group of native Jacob sheep to accompany people on walks through their organic farm in Bannau Brycheiniog National Park.
Where is Jacob Sheep Trekking located?
Jacob Sheep Trekking is located in Bannau Brycheiniog, also known as the Brecon Beacons National Park, in Wales. The 220-acre organic farm offers an immersive experience deep within the national park.
What types of sheep are included in the trekking experience?
The trekking experience includes various rare-breed sheep such as hardy, docile Jacobs, tiny, gentle Breton Ouessants, which are the world’s smallest sheep, and Blacknoses, originally from the Valais region of Switzerland. These sheep are known to be very friendly and affable.
When is the best time to go sheep trekking?
The best time to go sheep trekking is between April to September. It’s also recommended to dress appropriately for the weather and bring waterproofs and wellington boots.
What is the cost of the sheep trekking experience?
A 90-minute sheep trek costs £25 per adult and £20 per child. There are also other experiences available, including lambing and shear-a-sheep days.
Can I stay overnight at the farm?
Yes, the farm has a pair of historic cottages and bell tents situated in a private wood for those wanting to extend their stay.
Is sheep trekking suitable for children?
Yes, sheep trekking is a family-friendly activity. Children can also participate in the experience at a reduced rate.