Farm Accommodation, farm bunkhouse, Farm Life, Uncategorized, Uvie Farm

Breaking out

Every drop of water drawn from the taps this summer I have hauled into place.

I fill the bowser from the tap at the barn, pull it round to the basement at the west end of the bunkhouse, hook up to the alkythene pipe inserted into a hole drilled in the water tank enclosure and let it fill the system by gravity.
So every cup of tea, every toilet flush, hair/hand wash was made possible. Every shower prolonged pleasurably – was paid for in effort.

Every pot filled, garment washed, crock cleaned – was, in a sense, my artefact.

A pain in the water butt, in truth.

When the borehole pump failed first – I pulled it out for maintenance.
When the time came to replace it in the well with electrical connections reassembled, I tested it before dropping it down the 200ft shaft.
It didn’t work –

well, it worked if I stood in the dark basement like a cave-dwelling caryatid with my finger glued to it,

but it didn’t flow at the command of the float switch as it should.

So I run the quad up to the yard several times a day to handcraft the precious resource.

It has become a duty, like feeding the cattle in winter – a chore, literally, but one with a similar gift of routine. When I drive the quad round in the morning I take the measure of the day ahead, and, at night, take stock. While waiting on the twenty minute fill, I look for eggs, watch the ducklings, chop thistles and dockans, pull ragwort.
The Nog comes with me, joins the routine, noses through the silage pastures for pheasants, hares and partridge, also hunts out any hen’s eggs available for breakfast-(his breakfast)- races the quad, eats the chicken feed.

So this improvisation, born from failure and incomprehension,
has become embedded, a part of my day, of me
like a limp.

I must address this inertia.

Each day I aim by elimination to do some one thing to arrive closer to understanding the fault
One by one I have broken the electrical connections, and remade them, wired the pump to the switch in the basement, connected the dry run probe.
I suffer a teasing hiatus after clicking the trip switch – a moment of imminence- and then the light-

always red: always the stop light.
I had filled the pump with water when testing, but today I insert the heavy cylinder into the aperture used to fill the upper tank and submerge it – just in case there is some requirement for the pump casing to be immersed.

Flick the switch,

wait a half breath for the light to come on-

– green!

And this evening the heather has broken into full flower on the south facing slopes.

Okay it's pretty - but does it hide anything I can chase?!

Okay it’s pretty – but does it hide anything I can chase?!

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Animal stories, highland landscapes, hillwalking, Living with Nature, Uncategorized, wildlife

Quiet in the evening sun

We use the same path most nights, the Nog and I: he has come to expect it.
We leave the yard by the blacksmith’s gate behind the sheds.
Passing along the old highway dominated by Tom na Cruachan, where the hanging tree stood, use broken down field dykes to negotiate the wet ground , ending at the little lift stile that, sluicelike, permits me over and the Nog beneath.
He sits waiting for the evening traffic to clear when we can cross the road into the braes and birches of the overgrown granite workings.
The tracks that used to carry carts and slow sledges loaded with stone, now trace a single thin line though chesthigh bracken. The Nog precedes me on the path, branching onto invisible scent trails between concealing fronds that tremble and sway as markers of his busyness.

Yesterday’s evening sun lay gently on the thickets of thin trees scrambling up grey rockfaces.

It was pleasant to amble with my face turned upwards-

so I tripped over the Nog rigid on the path, intent on something higher up.

After a time I saw his immobility mirrored by a doe, plain to view but indistinct against a background of branches, leaves and lichens. The Nog  looked in my direction, moving his eyes only, questioning:

as clearly as I could I signalled:
‘You go for it if you like but you know you don’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of catching a full grown roe deer so if I were you don’t even think of it, but if you want make an idiot of yourself &c &c-‘
-or thoughts to that effect.
And he listened!
– and trotted comfortably off down the path;
while the doe gathered herself to vault a fallen trunk

and eased herself

silently from sight.

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farm bunkhouse, highland landscapes, hillwalking, Living with Nature, Uncategorized

Cloudy Days

There are times the cloud seems to drag along the braes, catching in the birches so that I half expect fluffy white deposits like sheepswool on barbed wire.
Other times the hilltops are axed flat, bandaged in dense vapour like fabric, impenetrable and mysterious: a time to avoid walking the high tops for fear of disorientation, however familiar the terrain.
On a good day with a breeze and broken sun, the patterns of shadow pass over hillsides and pastures like fast moving geology, picking out grey rock, a flash of green upland pasture, a blaze of bracken, the gleam of water.
Today the wind has turned from the north (where the weather lurks unseen behind the dark mass of Creag Dhubh) to south east: warm but threatening the unaccustomed.

I haul the mountain bike from the pick-up and drop it over the gate to the hill-road on Catlodge. A Blue-Grey heifer is watching, head-up, ears pricked. As I wobble off down the rocky track the rest of the herd take flight and stampede down the track ahead of me, as if on a strange new steamrailway with me the monstrous locomotive. I curse under my breath, ashamed at the disruption as if a dog was running loose

Finally, the animals turn up the hill and slow, watching me pass.

When the road turns to grass, I prop the bike against the derelict fence of some forgotten environmental scheme, pull my whistlestick from the bungey holding it to my pack, and start the foot climb. I follow the half seen road used by the old peat cutters toward the green saddle that gives onto the far valley with long views to the west.

The first drops hit smartly, and turning I see cloud lowering over Drumochter Hills. Testing the wind I am forced to acknowledge the bank of rain heading for me like vengeance.
I look for the bright broken elements that presage showers, and the chance of drying off between downpours.
This I have learned to be comfortable with. but there is no relief in prospect.

I climb on-
until suddenly-
as I walk the wild-
my mind calls up an image of bedsheets left on the line.
That does it!
The Nog obediently turns with me as I head for home –
and a world of duty.

No No - I'm talking about all those black clouds!

No No – I’m talking about all those black clouds!

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Farm Accommodation, Highland cattle, Living with Nature, Uncategorized

Parallel worlds

What is to report?
Two Italian lads arrive to help on the farm
and cook pizzas
in the Highlands.
Vapour scarfed the river this morning.
I sold two bullocks:
the boys who make a fuss of the new calves.
I was scammed by a man on the ‘phone
who went shopping in London
on my credit card.
The water still needs tankered round from the barn.
The animals chew summer cud-
sign of contentment
in a small world

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Animal stories, Farm Accommodation, Farm Life, Highland cattle, highland landscapes, Living with Nature, new birth, Uncategorized, wildlife

Spaces

The birches vanish progressively
as the plastic is pinned to the inside of the studwork
nominal walls til now,
skeletal rectangles allowing light and wind.

Plasterboard starts to define the interior space

where owls perched and pelleted the rough screed floor
now tiled.
Around the house the birds swoop and soar ceaselessly,
the martens spilling wind, pulling their wings back                                                 to flutter briefly in stasis

as they pluck insects from the new hatch
while  swallows wheel in the higher air.
I wait in the doorless portal
knowing evening warmth and calm
and the busiest time of opportunity,
the cattle grazing as if at harvest.
The hills are softened in vapour
and mottled with shade
from cloud teased by distant winds
blowing seagulls in from the east.
Young lambs on the hill
demand to suck:
their calls enter the new room
claiming it.

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farm bunkhouse, highland landscapes, Living with Nature, Uncategorized

Yellow flowers follow flows

Yellow is being worn today.
Slow draining rivulets along the margins of the farm sport finery.
Peaty and filled with black mud that has clarted my boots many times on my way up the hill, these semi stagnant waterways obstruct hard paths around the farm.

I think sometimes there must have been stone bridges- there are old roads after all, winding their way around and between the townships that dotted the drier slopes above the river’s floodplain.
Today’s road shortcircuits the connecting loops that wander between habitations – at walking pace, at cart pace. The routes describe the journeys, mostly short and where longer, diversionary, topographic – one had to keep one’s boots dry after all.

The new road is far from arrow straight; the cliffs of Creag Dhubh are as unyielding as ever, the low ground as liable to flood as at any time, but the cars fly past on their way to somewhere else.
Watching them as I walk parallel to the road, I am looking not just from these woods separated by a few metres from the facilitating ribbon, but from an old time as if through an opening in a rotting stump.

Here hanged felons swing beside the highway as a warning,

and kingcups blaze above the slow movement of dark water.

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Animal stories, Farm Life, Highland cattle, Uncategorized, Uvie Farm

Spring into summer

George Halfcalf gets himself stuck behind the fence separating Logan’s meadow, where the main herd luxuriates in the new grass, from the coarse whitegrass and rashes of the wee lochain, beloved of waterfowl.
Winter is over now- not because the leaves are on the trees (apart from the aspens, still gaunt and grey), but because I no longer start the day with a feed-round.
The year does not divide into separate apartments though; I do not step through the door of spring into the renewed world. It moves like a travellator at an airport. After staggering through the dark and cold, lugging baggage, I suddenly step onto a moving belt surging towards the departure gate, blinking and off-balance.                                                                          The martens work in squads,                                        the swallows in pairs,

and I work alone –                                                                  all of us building, relishing the damp warmth lifting vapour from the burgeoning growth at ground level. The birds collect mud from puddles: I collect plasterboard from Inverness.

The birds pick dry moss off the rocks: I buy packs of rockwool. I’m halfway home with the  loaded cattle  trailer before I realise I left them behind.

We all move forward; no-one must be left behind.
George wobbles through the gate, setting out across the lengthening grass.

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Animal stories, Farm Accommodation, farm bunkhouse, Farm Life, Highland cattle, new birth, Uncategorized

Did Garbo lie in the grass?

I have two days to renew my electricity contract.
If not my friendly supplier will continue to supply me-
at five times the cost.
A pine marten would, I suppose,
display no less rank predatory opportunism
among my hens.
As I complete the task I notice Holly
lying alone: atypical behaviour triggering a latent alarm.
She watched me head-up this morning as I rode the quad to the yard.
She was watching still at my return.
I put it down to a quest for morning feed,
now discontinued.
I kick myself for ignoring a possible signal-
where is her beautiful white heifer calf?
When animals suffer
or die
any stockman takes it on themselves.
Ishouldhavebeentheregotupearlierinthedawnseenthesignals.
Two months ago I saved Demi-Og’s baby by the merest chance,
a matter of seconds,
sometimes I fail.
Season before last Holly’s calf died
for no reason.
I saw her first thing,
by lunch she had stretched out
and expired as I pumelled and exhorted
in the exact same damp spot that April’s newborn had passed
a month earlier.
I will never permit an animal to calve there again-
just in case they are called to follow..

Dear Holly – not again-
I run from the office, coat and boots collected,
run to the field-
please No!

The calf, big and white, is easily spotted over the brow,
picking at tufts on the ledges of the rabbit warren.
Relieved, I tickle Holly as she lies in the grass.
Angus Halfhorn, as fickle as any harem master should be,
has forgotten yesterday’s dalliance with Moira:
Demi Og is today’s sweetheart.

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Animal stories, Farm Accommodation, farm bunkhouse, Farm Life, Highland cattle, Living with Nature, new birth, Uncategorized

The king is dead. Long live the king!

I tag the last calf this morning –
old white Moira’s bull calf,
her last
and Billy’s.
I coral him in a tight pen at the entrance to the race.
It confines him nicely, but the hurdle closing the entrance has no chain
to close it: being strong  he could force it open by charging the bars
the way they do when frightened,
while I seek a tie.
I use my trousers,
restoring my dignity once the lad is released.

Logging the birth online,
filling Billy’s tag number as sire
for the last time
I see the animals in the field below the window
alert to something in the wood.
From the balcony I spot Moira being harrassed by the bullocks,
circling to escape their attempts to mount her.
She has come into season-
the first time after George’s birth.
She could be injured by these crude suitors,
incapable but only too willing.
I run down, divide them and shepherd her and George through the gate.
The boys watch her forlornly as they amble toward the other animals
She and her halfcalf are once more part of the herd-
and Angus Halfhorn is waiting.

Their future,

my future

is his now.

 Come back!- we didn't mean it.

Come back!- we didn’t mean it.

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Animal stories, Farm Accommodation, farm bunkhouse, Timber building, Uncategorized, wildlife

Surfing the air

The void between the buildings is spanned by an oaken bridge.
The bunkhouse sits below the roundhouse so that the bridge leaves the roundhouse deck to strike the first floor at the other end,
10 foot off the ground,
and level with the bunkhouse eaves where the swallows dart.
I make the crossing to my office at the westen end of the bunkhouse
The prevailing westerlies hit the gable end of the office to curl round the mouth of the bridge and down its length.
Swallows make their homes here, housemartens adopt the round walls of my home.
This natural specificity is dictated by the respective build systems; mud and grass for materials –
but while swallows prop their nests on a ledge – maybe a downpipe elbow-
martens bracket their nests to a vertical.
They need purchase – choosing the dry head of my rough lime rendered wall.

Today I walkexterior2 out onto the bridge and across to the wide platform
overlooking the bright growth of upper Strathspey.
A swallow brushes past my shoulder using the air as I use the timber deck.
The wind is strong enough for the birds to hold themselves up,
feathers fluttering, with a litany of chirrups and washboard clicks.
There must be a couple of dozen surrounding me,
within inches of my head,
like butterflies
or blessings.

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