The herd of goats that roam the Great Orme are famous and are most often seen browsing on extremely narrow ledges where they climb the steep limestone cliffs with amazing agility. I was thrilled by an unexpected close encounter with a large group of them grazing amongst gorse on the west side of the headland on the last Sunday of March.
These are Kashmiri goats, whose ancestors once roamed the mountains of Northern India. Their soft undercoats are the material that cashmere wool is spun from. The word cashmere is an old spelling of the Kashmir region in northern India and Pakistan.
The origin of the Great Orme goats and their arrival in Britain is attributed to Squire Christopher Tower, from Brentwood in Essex, who discovered a large herd which had recently been imported from Kashmir into France in the early part of the last century. His idea was to create a profitable woollen industry, so he purchased a pair of the goats, and took them to Weald Park in Brentwood. The goats flourished, and soon produced kids, from which the Squire was, eventually, able to manufacture a cashmere shawl. George IV was highly impressed by this article, and was happy to accept a pair of the goats presented to him by Squire Tower. So began the Windsor herd, which increased rapidly, and in the reign of Queen Victoria, cashmere shawls became extremely fashionable. It is often said that Queen Victoria was presented with the goats by the Shah of Persia, and it may be that these were added to the already existing herd.
Later in the Century, Major General Sir Savage Mostyn acquired two of the Windsor goats, and took them to the grounds of Gloddaeth Hall. It is possible that they were found to be unsuitable as park animals and the goats were transferred to the Great Orme. Over a period of almost a hundred years, these animals have existed virtually in isolation, and have evolved into the unique breed they now are. They have reverted to a wild state, and are now regarded as wild animals.
The herd is said to be about 60 strong currently, including full grown billies, young billies, nannies and kids. For most of the year, the nannies browse on the side of the mountain with last year’s young, whilst the mature and immature billies roam in small groups away from the females. They will not mix until the Autumn rut.
A mature billy has enormous horns that curve backwards, almost touching the nape of his neck. A shaggy fringe covers the forehead and he sports a long beard. The horns are crenulated, with large ridges unevenly spaced along their length. It is possible to estimate the age of a billy by the ridges on its horns as each section represents one year’s growth. The horns of the young billies and the nannies are slim and delicate, curving gently backwards. In the nannies, the ridges are less obvious and ageing them is not so easy. Barring accidents, the goats will live for about nine years.
I believe the group I came across were nannies with a couple of new kids visible in the distance near the summit.
It is often believed that goats will eat anything. However, they tend to be quite discriminating and show definite preferences for elder, gorse, hawthorn, bracken, bramble, ivy, stinging nettles and privet, according to the time of year. In the Autumn, they will browse on the grass, moving to the slopes where they can find a plentiful supply.
Although technically an alien species to Great Britain, the goats are considered by many to be an integral part of the Great Orme environment and their grazing plays a part in maintaing the flora for which the headland is renowned. Not everyone appreciates them however, particularly when they wander into the garden areas on the lower slopes. Their population has to be kept in check to ensure that competition for resources is not too great. This involves administering contraception to nannies to control the number of kids born each year, which appears to be working. Relocation of small groups to assist conservation in other areas of the country is carried out when the opportunity arises. In recent years 6 animals were relocated to Bristol’s Avon Gorge and 2 to a SSI on Anglesey.
Mascot of the Royal Welsh Fusiliers
A select few billy goats from the Great Orme herd have acheived fame as they have been chosen as the mascot of the Royal Welsh Fusiliers. Records suggest that The Royal Welch Fusiliers were parading a goat as early as 1777. Whenever possible the goats are selected from the royal herd which was started at Windsor in the time of Queen Victoria, who gave 23rd Foot their first ‘royal’ goat in 1844. This herd is now located at Whipsnade Animal Park. In recent times, when no goat was available from the royal herd, the Queen has been pleased to present a wild goat from the mountains of North Wales, where a herd still exists on the Great Orme at Llandudno. This herd is known to have some Windsor blood in its ancestry.
Lance Corporal Gwillam ‘Taffy VI’ Jenkins, died in May 2015 after nine years of dedicated service. Following his passing, Her Majesty the Queen was informed and her permission sought to select and recruit a new Regimental goat. Permission was kindly granted and the selection process started. His replacement, Llywelyn was recruited from the Great Orme in Llandudno, North Wales on the 23 November 2015. Only the most prominent and impressive young billy kid goat is considered for selection. Following an arduous survey of the wild herd, one particular Goat stood out and demonstrated more promise than the others – this was Llywelyn.
Llywelyn will lead the 1st Battalion The Royal Welsh on all ceremonial duties, leading parades through Welsh towns and cities during Freedom Parades, Medals parades and Armed Forces Day events. He has already been invited to parade in London as part of the Queen’s 90th Birthday celebrations and will also be detached to B (Rorke’s Drift) Company for the summer as part of the guard at Buckingham Palace.
Information in this post is from various sources, but mostly derives from the booklet, Aliens on the Great Orme by Eve Parry.