Counting up the sheep in High Field, I’m one short. Count again …
Correct – But best count again, just to be sure …
Two too many? I must have double-counted (the dratted things rearrange themselves as I count!). And again …
One short. And again …
One short. It’s one of last year’s lambs – or hog. Where could she be ?
I’d best go looking for her …
High Field is full of rock outcrops, incised streams, old peat-cuttings. To check at all means to check thoroughly – to make a zig-zag tour of the entire field. That’s hard which is hard going on such terrain, here steep bare rock, then moss all soft and squelchy – and the day heavy with heat and humidity.
A sheep down on the ground – and by that I mean ill or dying, or even a view of its backside as it grazes, so often turns out to be the shadow of a boulder, or a scrape of bare peat on a steep bank …
… or a big clump of heather – which even in early summer wears the drab browns of last year’s foliage. Like so …
For the past week, the weather has been intensely sunny, warm, still – and uncomfortably humid : very un-Hebridean weather, certainly for late Spring – more like high Summer! It’s too early yet to shear the ewes – their old fleeces haven’t yet started to lift away, so the poor girls are struggling with the heat. Tucked down amongst the clumps of heather, their bellies and flanks are pressed into contact with the damp or wet moss, and that helps them to stay cool. The damp moss also keeps at bay the clouds of midges, which just love this close weather.
So, ewe found – safe and sound. I turn and head home for mid-morning coffee and toast.
The lambs born this Spring are already too big to be on the eagle take-away menu, and I’ve sheared all the lambs from last year – the hoggets. So, as they’ve grazed Bothy Field down as far as it’ll decently take, it’s time to move them onwards and upwards. Today they’ve moved up into High Field – though, as the fencing is still not complete, I’ll be relying on the fact that the vegetation there has nevere been systematically grazed, and there’s little chance they’ll make much impact on it in just a few days. In a day or two, I’ll take them through our hill gate out on to the Beinn Sgiathan common grazing, where they’ll stay until Autumn. I’ll still be checking them daily – and that’s a long walk over rough ground, but it’ll give our own fields a rest, and our wallets too: the sheep will have a huge area to roam in search of fodder.
Jonathan: At last, I seem to be making progress. Fencing work seems at first to be all uncertainty and difficulty ; then gradually a bit more certainty – but a lot more difficulty ; and then suddenly it seems to fly along! I’m working on extending the fences along the long sides of the croft – from the south end of Bothy Field right up to the Hill Fence, and thereby forming the new Field 4, or High Field as it will be known. I’m aiming to get the west fence done first because … well, let’s just say because of local politics. The ground varies greatly, and thus the materials, techniques, skill and effort required also. But now the line is very firmly clear on the ground, most of the posts are in – just a half-dozen or so steel posts on rock and about the same of wooden posts where the soil is deep and firm enough to hold the post. (And where the ground is neither bare rock or soil deep and firm enough, you ask? Well, now that’s a big subject … perhaps for another post – or two – or three!) What’s really given me a lift, however, is completion of the new west gate. It’s sited on an eminence of bare rock by the stream just where it tumbles down across the boundary into the croft neighbouring us to the west, 1 Haun. I picked this site because of its prominence, and when I’ve done the east gate too, and painted the gates red, they will be easily picked out even from a distance by hill-walkers finding their way across the croft lands to and from the hills. The gates will in fact normally be kept locked, but they nonetheless provide a means of crossing the boundary that is both easier and safet (and less likely to cause damage!) than crossing the fence itself. In fact it’s essential to provide this means of crossing, because the new boundary fences are to be fitted with a stand-off electric fence of three wires – to keep lambs in.
An Geata Ceoil, looking NW
An Geata Ceoil, looking SW
An Geata Ceoil, looking NE
‘Queenie’ grazing in what will be High Field
Ewes and lambs, settled down – for the first time – in what will be High Field
Hebridean lambs in what will be High Field
The stream beside the new west gate didn’t have a name, or at least not on Ordnance Survey maps, so on the croft map I created a fortnight or so ago, I called it Abhainn* a’ Charraig, because it springs out of huge tumble of boulders at the foot of the scree slopes of Beinn Sgiathan‘s north face. However I have since recalled that the spring is in fact known as Tobar a Phrionnsa – or Prince’s Well (the prince in question being Charles Edward Stuart, or Bonnie Prince Charlie … but that’s another story). So I shall be re-naming the stream as Abhainn a’ Phrionnsa. And the new west gate shall have a name too! The stream plays out a lovely melody as it tumbles and weaves amongst the rocks and little pools, and beside it the hollow steel gate posts act like pan pipes in the breeze, so this shall be An Geata Ceoil – The Musical Gate.
And there’s another sort of progress being made too. Each morning – whether I’ll be working on the fence or not – I take the black bucket with a couple of scoops of sheep nuts up to High Field – as near as the Hill Gate as I’ve been able to persuade them to follow me. On my way I call the sheep Troaibh! Troaibh! They appear from wherever they’ve been grazing since early light. They follow me in two or more skeins of ewes and lambs as we cross the lush gearraidh at the south end of Bothy Field, and then climb the steep slope into (what will be) High Field. Queenie – the alpha ewe – knows where we’re going, and suddenly trots ahead of me, pausing briefly at intervals to check that I’m following her! But her intelligence goes further than that, in fact it goes further than the spot at which I put down food for them yesterday. She seems to understand that we’re working our way slowly up the new field, towards Hill Gate, and she leads the way to the next little patch that’s suitable for putting down sheep nuts. Yes she knows that too: very short grasses and heather shoots on thin turf over hard rock – where the food doesn’t get wet or lost amongst long grasses. Clever girl!
But there’s more!! Queenie is also coming to the understanding that this high ground is where they are allowed to be – perhaps even where they are supposed to be. So, today, after they’d finished with the sheep nuts and a wee bit of sampling the local grasses and herbage, and for the very first time, she did not lead the flock gradually back down to Bothy Field and beyond, but instead settled down right there and then to chew the cud. And the others did likewise – except for two very independent-minded lambs who decided to try out the long lush grasses beside the stream. In one of these photos you can seem many of the ewes laid down with their necks and heads stretched out flat on the short turf, enjoying the warmth sunshine. Just out of shot there was Queenie a couple of the other oldest ewes with their heads up, watching me work on the fence. It seems that my presence gives them the security they need on this still unfamiliar ground! At noon, I stopped work and packed up the tools to go home for lunch: up they got, and headed off back to Bothy Field!
Well, it’s progress!
* Abhainn means a fast-flowing stream or river, and corresponds exactly to Afon in Welsh, and Avon in English