Posie's Blog. Tales of island life on a hebridean hill farm

Posie's Blog. Tales of island life on a hebridean hill farm

Thursday, 25 October 2007

A Pain in the Back....

Groans are coming from the farmhouse kitchen; the happy farmer and Farmer T have both got occupational injuries, namely bad backs. The happy farmer has been hobbling about in agony since working with sheep at the fank. Fank work often involves lifting old heavy rusty gates, then spending half of the day stooped over lambs, piercing their ears with the necessary tags, to identify them and the farm, before they head off to market. This and all in a biting cold wind have lead to more than a few moans and groans. I did smile when in hobbled Farmer T today, also complaining of backache, no sympathy from the farmer’s wife then! One of his pals warned the happy farmer not to pick up any sheep today,

‘Any of them approach me and I’ll give them a knock back then, cold shoulder treatment’ was his pained response!

Feeding rounds on the farm have proved interesting too. No tup feed to be seen in the shed, but an untouched bag of pig feed. The culprit was the happy potter. No, he hasn’t run out of muesli for breakfast and changed to tup feed, which does resemble muesli, rather, having being entrusted with feeding the animals while we were away, he got completely muddled up and fed the tup feed to both the tups and the pigs, probably the chickens too, could it be that his mind is elsewhere these days? Something to do with a tall, beautiful lady residing on the mainland me thinks! Luckily those greedy pigs didn’t mind the change in their diet, but the happy farmer had to go shopping quickly!

Until next time.......

Wednesday, 24 October 2007

Working dogs

We woke up to the most beautiful sunrise on the island this morning. There were several photographers out in the fields, our guests from the cottages, snapping away, as I too reached for the camera.

Mist, the sheep dog pup, has been busy, working those pigs again, rounding them up, pacing behind them, tongue hanging out, as they, ignoring her completely, happily munch on cabbage leaves and potato peelings.

The happy farmer took her out for a training session with the sheep the other night. She did really well, working away with the other sheepdog, carefully following the happy farmer’s commands, crouching on all fours, her belly sliding up the field as she skilfully wormed her way around the edge of the gathered flock.…

‘Steady, steady…. down Mist, down…. come up….come up…..that’ll do…that’ll do’,

The words rolling off the happy farmer’s tongue, as he too masters the skills that have been passed on to him, through generations of sheep farmers……
Of course it all went a bit to pot when three happy, squealing children arrived, eagerly wanting to be a part of the ritual of working the dogs, and training our clever pup. I managed to get them to rest on top of the gate, as the farmer got the dogs to hold the assembled flock in the middle of the field.

This morning Mist saw in her element, she got to work with the real thing again, this time ‘working’ in the fank, rounding up the lambs, as the happy farmer separated them into different lots, ready for the auctioneer who is calling by with a float to take them away to market.

Shaking with excitement she took her place next to me as we waited for the sheep to come into the enclosure from the fields. As the sheep gave chase she crouched low to the ground, never taking her eyes off them for a minute, skilfully holding them in a group, listening for her commands from the happy farmer, she slowly moved towards them, head low, tongue hanging out, eyes fixated, carefully following them into the pen, darting after a straggler, who, on having second thoughts, had suddenly decided to made a break for it. Mist, quick as a flash, grabbed the lamb by its scruff, and hauled it back into line.

For now the pup has been confined to barracks. We caught her sneaking out from the garden, heading across the farmyard, towards the fields, not once, but three times, as we sat with our mugs of soup at lunch. A quick call sees her running sheepishly back to the garden, tail wagging away, huge grin on that face, as she waits patiently to take her chance again.

Until next time…..

Friday, 19 October 2007

Home at Last

Layers of mist clung to the island like a security blanket. Visibility on the island was poor and unrelenting. The happy farmer spent a frustrating day at Glasgow airport, as the morning flight home to his island got delayed……. delayed….. and then finally cancelled.

He returned in the late afternoon to go through the process all over again, and was unable to make that flight back until the following morning. The island often gets cut off by air if the mist is low. The ground hostess at the airport have amazing patience as they deal with all of the frustrations and despair of travellers, who in a modern world, expect to travel, without delay.

The hustle and bustle and restaurants of the city beckoned though, and no sooner was the happy farmer home than he got hauled away with the rest of us for a well earned city break of shopping, cinemas and ten pin bowling, mixed with Thai, Mexican and Indian cuisine, like only the cosmopolitan haunts of a city can offer.

We returned yesterday, to a peaceful, sunny island, the autumnal hues blazing brightly as the ferry glided along the Sound, between the two islands. The BT boys followed us off the ferry to deliver goodies of strong cheddar cheese from their local creamery.

Farmer T was busy checking his ‘coos’ and so a cup of tea was the order of the day. He was in good form. He announced that he was acquiring a new sheepdog, the happy farmer and I nearly fell off our chairs at this point. Farmer T is acquiring a squad of sheepdogs, or should I at this point say ‘pot lickers’, that could put Battersea Dogs Home to shame. I jest, but we never fail to be amused as yet another much hoped for sheepdog, fails at the first hurdles of training. The tales of which are amusingly recounted with Farmer T’s unique brand of humour and wit, we can but hope that this particular dog will provide so many endless hours of entertainment. Hopefully this dog will make the grade, it certainly seems promising, his latest addition is coming from a man who uses sheepdogs to round up ducks at displays at agricultural shows. If the dog fails Farmer T could always diversify away from sheep, and invest in a squad of ducks, thus making him even more ‘quackers’.

The happy farmer’s new tups and sheep arrived off the evening ferry last night. The happy farmer left to unload them. He returned, covered in mud, to announce they were good sheep that the auctioneers had got for him. The fact that it was pitch dark probably helped him in his judgement then, that and a good dram off our German guests, who were leaving for home this morning.

Until next time.

Wednesday, 10 October 2007

Horny Issues...

One delighted happy farmer has gone off on a shopping trip. Now before you all get too excited and wonder where on earth I managed to find a male who likes shopping I must spill the beans and come clean, it most certainly isn’t a ‘girlie’ shopping expedition, no, he has gone to the auction market to purchase some tups for the mating season that will soon be upon us. That spoilt all the fun then. It is probably the nearest he gets to shopping, apart from supermarket jaunts.

At the very last moment he got the good news that the ban on the movement of livestock, in the wake of the recent foot and mouth crisis, has been lifted, and he will at last be able to purchase some much needed tups and have them delivered to the island in time for the mating season among the sheep.

I came down the stairs, bleary eyed, this morning to find the front door wide open; did I really leave it wide open all night long? After a few seconds of major panic, I realised my son was up before me and was out and about taking pictures of the beautiful sunrise, layers of mist rising from the sea, encircling the hills, the sky bursting with orange rays and purple clouds. The air filled with the sound of those stags still roaring in the background, which I have decided can be compared to the sounds that used to bellow from my brother when he had one too many after a good night out, in his younger years. Must check with my sister in law, bet he still bellows like a stag now!! It certainly takes any romanticism right out of yesterday’s blog then!

In among the Highland cows there was an agitated visitor of the horned variety this morning. One of those stags was frantically pacing up and down, trying to find a way out of the field as the Highland cows eyed him suspiciously, all that is except for Rainbow, one of the calves, who took a shining to the stag and followed him about the field out of curiosity. The mist descended, and then he was gone, which is just as well, as next moment one of the gamekeepers and his partner turned up for a coffee on their way to the Colonsay ferry.

Until next time…

Tuesday, 9 October 2007

Lingering Summer Days....

It is getting to that lovely time of year again. The log fire roaring in the evenings, the Rayburn lit once again, radiating heat and the lovely smell of home baking throughout the house. I love the summer months, but as the autumn takes hold, and winter draws ever closer, you reach that stage where you are ready to spend time indoors by the fireside after a summer of outdoor living.

The whole island takes on a different feel, as the green and yellow coats of the summer months are replaced with the vivid rusty shades of autumn. The hills have a sharper more defined appearance, the sea a bold blue metal sheet, set against skies bursting with lilacs and purples. Everything looks so much more dramatic and ever more beautiful at this time of year, when the sun is lying low in the sky, casting its rays ever closer.

Just as I am waxing lyrical about tucking up indoors the weekend saw us heading for the beach complete with kids, dogs and BBQ! It was a beautiful day; the sun was splitting the skies, and lifting the autumn chill from the air. Pals had stayed over as it was our son’s birthday, and so we packed all the necessaries and headed across the farm to our nearest beach, situated beyond the distillery. It is a rocky, shingle beach, with old ramshackle boat houses from yesteryear, at least two of which belong to the happy farmer. They are sadly neglected and in need of some serious TLC, and so are going to become next summer’s project. We’ll get everyone on board for the stripping and painting complete with the necessary BBQs and driftwood fires.

We set up camp in one of the old boat sheds, placing the BBQ in among the lobster creels. The children set off to explore, coming back frequently, laden with shells from crabs and sea urchins, and bits of old pottery, weathered by the sea. Across the water
You could hear the roar of the stags on Jura, the rutting season has began, along with the distant bangs of the stalkers guns. It is an eerie howling sound the stags make, attracting the does and warning off other stags.There was further excitement when one of the children spied an otter on a nearby rock tucking into his recent catch, and then another scampered across the beach, heading across the shingle, before gracefully slithering into the sea. We sat skimming stones across the bay as the happy farmer took charge of the burgers.

Our tummies full we wandered home along the track, hoping that it won’t be too long until we get to BBQ again.

Until next time…

Monday, 1 October 2007

'To Hoot.....'

The happy farmer has gone into overdrive, I arrived home on Friday lunch time to find he had ripped out the patio doors leading off our kitchen. For once we had a ‘spotless’ view of the garden. Thankfully it was a beautiful day. The ‘not so laid back forester’ arrived up after work, just at the right moment, the point where the new door frame wouldn’t quite fit, and the lip on the new French windows was catching. I crept quietly round them, trying to get on with cooking, very aware that we had one hundred and one other things to get done before Hoot’s funeral. By the time darkness fell the new doors were in place and looking quite splendid in their new home.

A massive digger has arrived today and is clearing and levelling the ground in preparation for the foundations on the extension, the happy farmer racing back and forth with tractor and trailer, scooping up the debris. The pottery cats have taken refuge on the farmhouse sofa, that’s their excuse anyway. The sheepdog has decided she really wants to be a house dog today and keeps creeping in and hiding under the kitchen table, I am seriously thinking of joining her!

We laid Hoot to rest on Saturday. In a moving service at the village church, his son sang the most beautiful Gaelic hymn and his nephews played guitars and accordion. A procession of about fifty or so cars made the two mile journey along an old farm track, to the hillside where Hoot was to be buried. Cars and the traditional hearse were abandoned at the farm steadings, the coffin, moved onto a trailer, pulled by an old 125 tractor, and followed by a quiet stream of mourners to the graveside. Hoot’s final resting place is in the corner of a field, shrouded by the Paps, and looking out down the hillside to the sea and the Sound of Jura. In the distance you could hear the roar of the waves in the Sound, and above on the hill a lone piper played as Hoot was laid to rest. Cheese and oatcakes were washed down with drams of Jura malt whisky, as Hoot’s friends picked up shovels and began to fill in the grave. As time passed a steady stream made their way back to the croft, the happy farmer driving the tractor and trailer back, drinking and driving, the Hoot would have been in his element. Back at the croft several of the boys were busy pushing the traditional hearse, as another reversed it back, skilfully, out of the ditch in which it had become stuck. Huge pots of soup were warming on the aga, chairs and tables were laid out in the old steadings, sandwiches and clootie dumpling were served, a gathering of Hoot’s family and friends.

As we headed back to the ferry we passed the hearse on the single track road, heading in the opposite direction, they managed to flag down our jingly jangly friend to lend a hand, as at the last minute they remembered the tanoy system they had left in the village church. They all raced round the corner in the nick of time to catch that ferry back across the Sound. Our jingly jangly friend joined us back at the farmhouse kitchen together with our lovely Dutch friends who had arrived off the afternoon ferry to stay on the farm for a week’s holiday, and we toasted our special friend…..Hoot.