Mike was a cowboy - now he's a good shepherd
8:00am Friday 12th October 2012 in News
IT IS NOT hard to see that Rev Mike Cottam is a man who fulfils many roles in life.
He is a man of many tales, and when your career paths have taken you from music scholar to cowboy to farmer and to vicar that’s hardly a surprise.
Mike has been guiding the parishes at St Cadog’s Church, Llangadog, Gwynfe and Llanddeusant for more than 20 years. In his time there he, wife Caroline, their four children, and six grandchildren, have become a firm fixture in village life.
“This really is a most fantastic, loving and caring community,”
says Mike. “I feel blessed to be here, definitely.”
Mike was 45 when he decided to become a vicar and it’s fair to say he had already lived a full life before finding his vocation.
Born and raised in Leicestershire, Mike began his working life by studying for an agriculture degree.
Mike decided to spend his second year working abroad and found himself in Canada, working at an experimental dairy farm in Ottawa.
It was 1967 and the World Expo was in Montreal and, like the rest of the world, Mike found himself drawn there.
“It was an exciting time,” he recalls, “everyone wanted to be in Montreal.” Mike worked in various roles and managed to feed his musical passion by becoming a sub-organist at Christ Church Cathedral.
But itchy feet struck again and in 1968, after spending some time working with the Ojibwa Indians, Mike found himself in Regina, Saskatchewan, searching for a job and finding one as a cowboy.
“I found myself in Rock Glen on The Rafter Two Ranch. It was owned by the Bonnets, an Irishman and his lovely wife who was actually – and quite bizarrely – from Ammanford, not that I had even heard of the town then.
“I was there for nine months and it was hard work. I was in the saddle the whole day. I first tried riding ‘English-style’, but after two days I couldn’t move and learnt the Western way pretty quickly.
“It was a Boy’s Own adventure, straight out of the movies with badlands and clapboard houses and boardwalks.
Mike then headed further west to Calgary before returning to finish his degree. On his return he met Caroline and the couple married in 1971.
Life as a farmer saw Mike working in various roles before becoming the estate manager at Picton Castle, in Pembrokeshire.
It was a dream job.
“It was a fantastic life,” he recalls. “The kids were brought up on 1,200 acres of beautiful land. I was the longest-serving manager there, but towards the end times were getting harder.
Farming was changing and we were hit hard by quotas and BSE.”
With the farming life he loved in decline, Mike found himself taking a life-changing move into the clergy.
“I had always had this tick at the back of my brain about the Church,” he says. “I had always been involved, through choirs or music, but I got the chance to lead a service in Haverfordwest one day and I just knew it was right.”
After ordination Mike was asked by then Bishop of St David’s, Bishop Ivor Rees, to viewa parish in the Towy Valley.
“They had been wondering where to put me and my big family and Llangadog seemed ideal.
We came here, loved it and have been here ever since.”
A beautiful big house with plenty of land, The Vicarage was a perfect fit.
The house had been empty for three years and the gardens overgrown – the orchard had lain untouched since the war. It was a challenge eagerly taken on by the family.
“With the land it was almost like farming,” says Mike. “We renovated the house and restored the gardens and it felt like a lovely combination of roles – the farmer and the vicar.
“Because of this it didn’t feel a difficult transition and I believe Bishop Ivor had seen that I would be a round peg in a round hole here.”
Mike found his new life also enabled him to indulge his other great love, music. It has always been a major part of his life (“My mother said she could never find her knitting needles when I was small because I was always taking them to conduct records,” he laughs.) and whatever role, or wherever he has gone he has involved himself in music, either as a chorister, conductor or director.
Llangadog is no different, and Mike is the director of both Symphonica Twyi and Concerta Twyi, the highly-acclaimed symphony and choir. They have produced a score of well-known talent and their hugely popular concerts and performances draw rave reviews.
Mike and Symphonica Twyi were even the subject of a sixpart BBC documentary, Valley of Song.
“We had cameras filming us for two years and it was such fun, a fantastic experience. It climaxed on my 60th birthday, when I discovered that they had arranged for me to conduct the National Orchestra of Wales at the Last Night of the Proms at Singleton.
“There were 13,000 people there. It was one hell of an experience, just fantastic.”
It is clear that Mike finds great delight in all the roles he has played. But being vicar of Llangadog appears to have become the most fulfilling, allowing him the best of all worlds.
“It will be a wrench to leave here when I retire as it is our much-loved home,” he reflects.
“Yes, it’s life in a goldfish bowl and everyone has an opinion on you, but that is part of the job.
“I believe when you are ordained you are set aside from people, but that shouldn’t mean you are set above them.
“I like to think I have been able to offer guidance to the community and been there for their joys and their miseries.
“I’m very much human with many human experiences and hopefully that has meant I have been approachable too.”