THE Tynedale farmer who worked Britain’s only horse powered farm has ploughed his last furrow.

John Dodd, of Sillywrea, Langley, was a true son of the soil on which he spent virtually every moment of his 91 years working with horses.

John started young. At the age of two he was given a donkey, and at three, a Shetland pony which he yoked to an old sledge. Various contraptions were adapted for the boy and at 11 he had mastered much of the work on the farm.

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He was allowed to hold the plough while he drove the horses and turn in at the end of the row.

He once recalled: “It felt great, the strength of the horses and the easy way the plough glided through the earth. I was hooked. Even at that young age I could tell that if a plough is set properly it will run itself.”

By the time he was 11 he worked in the hay, leading pikes in from the field to the stack yard, then he was allowed to drive machines like thistle cutters.

Spells at school followed but John was no intellectual, preferring to get to know people nearby and their horses, and he became full time on the farm.

John married Maggie in 1954. At first there was happiness in family life at Sillywrea, and then there was also sorrow. Maggie and John lost their only son Edwin at the age of 14.

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Frances, Edwin’s sister, was just 11 at the time but she stepped in to help on the farm. In April 1988, Frances married David Wise, a stockman from a farm in Hexhamshire who readily embraced the traditional way of life at Sillywrea, working with the gentle pace of heavy horses rather than tractors. In July 1989, Frances gave birth to Richard.

From a very early age Richard showed a huge interest in horses, like his father and grandfather. He joined the team and over the seasons, learned every skill.

By now Sillywrea was more or less self sufficient with the farm growing barley, hay, and potatoes. They had cattle and sheep, but finding machinery that they could restore for their own use was proving harder than before. The three men made it their job to go to local farm sales to try to pick up horse drawn machines, saddles and other equipment no longer being made.

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Although John was wedded to the land and his heavy horses, he found time to be creative. He wrote poetry about his life. He was generous with his time and knowledge, such as when I made a film about him, the Last Horseman. Although observed 20 years ago, the themes of the film and book are as relevant now as they were then, documenting a way of life that the family continue today. Mourners who attended his funeral last week observed the rural tradition of placing two working sticks on his coffin - one for walking the farm and one for taking to the mart - followed by a handful of soil from his lifelong home Sillywrea.