Walking with llamas on Dartmoor
PUBLISHED: 08:56 24 July 2019 | UPDATED: 09:53 24 July 2019
As llama love grips the nation, we meet a Dartmoor couple who have spent the last 11 years making them their livelihood | Words: Lydia Tewkesbury
In 2017 llamas hit the big time. Shops were flooded with jumpers, cushions, pencil cases and anything else that might fit the animal's likeness. Instagram accounts celebrating llama love like Rojo the Llama (dubbed 'World's Most Beloved Llama') and Llama With No Drama (not a real llama, but a smiley toy llama travelling the world) garnered followings in the hundreds of thousands.
But long before they became the cute new face of Pinterest, Diane and Steve Weymouth, alpaca farmers from Ponsworthy, Dartmoor decided to add a few to their herd. Like their alpacas, which were farmed for their wool, Diane and Steve determined that the llamas would have to pay for themselves, and having heard of successful llama trekking businesses elsewhere, decided to give the idea a try on Dartmoor.
Setting up Dartmoor Llama Walks wasn't a simple process. After getting the green light from the National Park, they had to write a further forty-some letters to local landowners, asking for their consent to take the llama tours across their land. Permissions finally received, Diane and Steve began leading their llama treks in the summer of 2007 - just in time for the last outbreak of foot and mouth disease.
Fortunately for them, the couple have always had plenty of balls in the air, and were able to rely on their holiday cottage and landscape gardening businesses while they waited for the block on moving their llamas and alpacas to end.
You don't have to spend too long talking to Diane and Steve to realise that they are very busy people. The day before our walk Steve had spent hours working hard for his gardening clients, a business he is, in theory, cutting back on, and even as we walked, I heard Diane selling their holiday cottages to one of my fellow llama trekkers who was unhappy with their current accommodation.
And, of course, most of their holiday tenants inevitably book themselves onto a llama tour, thus increasing the traffic in that endeavour.
If all that wasn't enough, they're also getting into the wedding business - having llamas at the altar is very popular right now. But Steve, whose family has been living and working on the moor since records began, says that's how it has to be to make a living on Dartmoor - it's all about thinking outside the box. The days when you could live a good life from farming alone are long behind us.
Though there are a few similar walks springing up around the country now, llama trekking the moors certainly felt out of the box to me - joyfully so.
There are a few walk options to try; a short walk, a half day, which involves a picnic, an individually tailored walk and a cream tea walk (my choice). For most walks Diane and Steve work on a basis of one llama between two people, so you take turns holding the lead.
After meeting in a car park a few minutes beyond Poundsgate - use the very clear written directions Diane provides rather than your Sat Nav., you're far more likely to end up in the right place - we set off on a winding walk to Yar Tor, llamas and the odd alpaca in hand.
Steve acted as our tour guide, pointing out the surrounding Tors, old mines, a one-time rabbit farm (because apparently the miners lived on rabbit) and even a Bronze Age village. Though the Dartmoor trivia was interesting, they don't tend to major on it during their walks, finding that people are far too distracted by falling in love with their llamas to take in much information about their surroundings. I can attest to this.
Whenever we stopped walking I took the opportunity to have as much llama cuddle time as possible. They are gentle, friendly animals with a peacefulness about them that is actually quite contagious. More than happy to amble across the moor, they rarely pull unless they see a particularly appetising patch of gorse.
The steady plod of their hooves and the comical hum-groan-squeak noise by which they communicate with one another gradually cast a sense of calm over even the youngest and most excitable of our group. One of my fellow trekkers started the walk quite nervous, unused to large animals, but by the end she was happily leading her own llama, her anxiety evaporated.
Be prepared, at the end of the walk you'll want to take at least one llama home. For me it was Logan, the little alpaca - he thinks he's a llama, Diane told me, so they always let me come along - who hummed and squeaked to himself the whole walk that stole my heart, but they wouldn't let me keep him. I'll have to settle for a return visit next year.
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