Jonathan: How does the saying go? Blood Will Out ? We exchanged our two sweet little darlings of ewe lambs for Tolsta Foalan – The Beast of Tolsta Moor, we call him! He was bred, born and raised in Tolsta, becoming ram-in-chief, lord of all he surveyed, which apparently was quite a lot. And then he got put in wee field in Eriskay, shared with the sheep equivalent of one spotty teenage boy and six others still in their shorts, dozens of pecky hens – not to mention a mob of cockerels forever at each others throats and who have the temerity to steal – from under his very nose – his morning ration – food being his one remaining pleasure in life. Those ewes he was promised? Each morning he’s been allowed to look at them, smell them, through the bars of the gate, but …
Well, a couple of days ago he was at last let out, swapping places with our home-bred Baghasdal. He was like an old-fashioned clockwork toy car: wind him up, and let him go! And go he did – with all the charm and grace of a the proverbial male bovine in a shop dedicated to the purveying of fine porcelain. Poor Baghasdal was distraught! But he’d get over it! Woudn’t he?
Apparently not! Yesterday, just as it was getting a dark, a call from Belle, an Eriskay neighbour: a Hebridean ram – or at least something sheep-shape and very dark – was seen up beyond the shop – about a mile away. Oh dear! Denise and I got wellies, coats, torches and set off in the van for the croft. Baghasdal had jumped the fence (Denise will insist on telling our sheep they’re going to grow up to be woolly jumpers), and had reclaimed possession over the ewes, driving Foalan off – despite Foalan‘s advantages of size, strength and age!
Having gathered up bucket, sheep nuts and hitched up the trailer, we set off to find Foalan. Peering into the black of night in search of a black ram is clearly not going to work, with or without a torch (the light won’t reflect off the wool, and in any event it would scare him off). So instead we looked for white ewes … and as luck would have it the second bevy of girls we checked was being shadowed by a ghostly presence, manifesting itself in stomps and snorts, which – when I called out and shook the bucket of sheep nuts – paused a moment, then changed direction – towards me. Food or Girls? Girls or Food? Hmm. Hungry work, this. Food! I could scarcely see him, but I could just make out him inching up to me, and then putting his head down …
Amazingly, I did actually get hold of him – by the horns! I started to coax him down off the hillside to the trailer (Denise had it ready), but – oh calamity! – in struggling with the ram and the bucket and the darkness, I tripped on a tussock and … Foalan ran off into the darkness. I gathered my patience, the bucket and scattered sheep nuts, and coaxed him back. Rather than risk another attempt at manhandling him, I coaxed him – rattling the bucket of food as bait – down to the road, past the shop, along the old track behind the school, and down to to the causeway end junction. Great! Only another half mile back to the croft – we should get there by midnight! But then, oh woe! Foalan stretched out his neck, curled back his upper lip, and … yes .. right there … aha … left a bit … right a bit … ah, yes – 237.5m at 13.25deg west of north … a ewe ripe for the … and he was off. Damn and blast!
This morning I found Foalan down on the Baile machair, in hot pursuit of anything on four legs, though apparently being spurned at every turn. Too late, mate! I appeared with red boiler suit, bucket and sheep nuts. Foalan disappeared without delay. Places to be, Things to do. Ewesful things to do. Must be off! I just couldn’t keep up with him. I had to leave him to it whilst I reconsidered my options, and gave warning to other crofters that Foalan had gone AWOL. I’m told he spent the day scoring with the island girls: Certain Mary Ann macIntyre of Rubh’ Ban was impressed: she sent me this picture here of him posing manfully on a rocky crest.
After lunch back at An Gàrradh Mòr I had another try. I found him in Rubh’ Ban, on the high ground above the causeway road. Hah! You didn’t expect me to find you here, ey? He was so surprised he just froze – just long enough for me to make contact with his horns. But only just long enough for a very, very fleeting contact. And a bruising one. Ouch!
I had to get back to maintenance and decorating work at Carrick, where I spent the rest of the afternoon applying sealant in the refurbished shower, morosely contemplating giving up sheep, crofting, and for that matter the whole damn thing called life. But then, unexpectedly, lights of a 4×4 pulling up by the house, and a familiar pair of yellow wellies emerging into the dark of the late winter afternoon. It was Angus MacKinnon from Rubh’ Ban. He’d cornered Foalan with his dogs, and tied him to a fence near the church. Trailer hitched, Foalan fetched, Gate closed behind him. I’ll sleep well enough to night, and in my dreams I’ll be leaning on the gate counting my sheep and they’ll all be there, safe and sound. The Beast is Back!