Animal stories, farm bunkhouse, Highland cattle, highland landscapes, hillwalking, Living with Nature, Uncategorized, Uvie Farm

Ridge world

Old roads, half hidden, carry ghost traffic up the hill.

Carts hauled by small horses coaxed up the zigzags eased over the years by a stone placed here to support a slope, an incline there dug level. At one point where two drains meet in a small gully at the base of the climb to the ridge, tumbled stones mark the remains of a handbuilt dam protecting a ford where the vehicles might cross. I take a moment to study the contours to check the extent of the lagoon that would be created by such a barrier: but it’s too long gone.
The Nog is waiting above, I turn to follow.
The hill divides as we arrive at the crest where a fence separates sheep pasture from genuine moorland. The Nog finds the low section and jumps over, follows the peat road crossways, runs forward and then halts – winding something.
I come up to the near edge of the plateau to find him intent on the near horizon.

A herd of fifty red deer enjoy the calm of late afternoon. Hinds and calves graze with their heads down in the dead ground below. The breeze at their backs gives them no warning: they are unaware of our presence. The ridge above is lined with stags, mature beasts with full antlers. They have seen us but at this time of the year are not too alarmed – just enough to lift their heads to face us full on. Some are standing, showing the full mass of their powerful bodies silhouetted. Others remain prone, swivelling their necks, heads outlined against the distant snowy slopes of the Monadhliath foothills.

The antlers rise towards the hazy blue of the sky in a symmetrical bow like a prayer: alert ears extend along  horn reinforcing the base of cupped void like petals against a stem.

As I move forward, they gather and turn. Arrived at the position they have abandoned I find them strung out to the far horizon, watching but unconcerned.

The lead stag, a royal, waits down the hil, alone – assessing when to rejoin the herd.

Standing here I have a view round three quarters of the snowfields bounding the horizon. A chill breeze breathes from the north east but the sun is warm mitigated by a storm haze that sends windwracked clouds floating overhead like aquatic mammals.

Down at the farm a small red calf is waiting to be let in to the night pen.

I call in the Nog as I turn to descend.

With luck he ‘ll be able to run further tomorrow.

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Farm Life, Other People's Stories, today's story

New life beckons in the place of execution

The farm horizons change daily. Snow comes and goes, clouds hide different levels of the slopes. Today as I walk up the road I don’t recognise Creag Dubh. There is a white wasteland behind the ridge. It is as if the Monadhliath plateau has drifted like a liner to berth against the summit. It is a white desert beckoning. I wait to understand that it is simply the higher contours picked out by a night-time blizzard, while the foreground remains dark. My sense of the familiar is further rocked to find Moira gone. Flora and Morag alone wait at the gate to be fed. There is always a lurch of anxiety when an animal breaks a routine and I need to set my mind at rest urgently.

The calving paddock housing the three elderly cows is constructed around the new shed built 18 months ago. The shed provides a refuge, there is a south facing slope for the animals to soak up precious winter sun, open ground for the babies to scamper, trees for cover and a granite mound at its centre that provides shelter whatever the wind direction. It is my calving mound but its gaelic name, Tom na Cruachan, indicates a very different past. Cruachan is a cruck or frame: as a joiner I have made many types but not this one. When I mount the rock ledge bordering my calving mound in search of Moira, I am climbing towards the old gallows site.

Behind the shed and skirting the mound, there are some large rocks telling of the old entrance to the farm while the level path winding through the trees is in fact the old road before the new highway was embanked and straightened to become the A86. I stand where felons swung, poor wretches. Here I can see on all sides in search of the missing animal: in the past, road travellers would have looked up to this eminence- and shuddered. It is never a comfortable place to stand, but serves its new purpose. I have spotted Moira’s rear behind the far end of the shed where she has been sheltering.

It will only be a month or so now before the first babies bring new life to the place. It has been quiet long enough.

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Highland cattle, Living with Nature, Uncategorized, Uvie Farm

Granite granny & the birds

A covey of french partridges whirr away from bracken at the base of the Aspen paddock. Black Abby and dun Holly are given a cursory tickle just to maintain friendly relations, and I’m headin up the old township road toward breakfast. Watching the birds skim the grass like portly sprinters- a short expletive makes me look up: ‘Tchack’ -just that. Twoscore jackdaws high up head due west from somewhere downriver. I see this every morning: these birds are commuting: I have no idea why or where to. ‘Tchack’ drops like a stick from the beak of one of these sociable intelligent birds – it may be in the old speech of the place- Gaelic. The poetic gaels had a wonderful way of eliding, compressing meaning in musical syllables: the name of the farm, a case in point. Uvie was spelt Ubhaidh – a name that is almost a story: ‘Place of beauty in the lap of fear’. Write it again! ‘Place of beauty in the lap of fear’. This tells how my pastures are suspended between granite outcrops like an apron over bony knees. Follow the knees upwards and your sight fills with the dark granite cliffs of Creag Dubh – again from the Gaelic-‘ the Black Mountain’. A place of fear indeed and yet the crag is a granite matriarch hunkered with her sheltering back to the north wind and her knees spread to catch the warmth of the southern sun, skirts rolled up to her knees. It was her name that the fighters of Clan Macpherson yelled as they ran into battle: feared she may be – and loved.
So the terse call of the jack may be understood as something close to: ‘ No good watching your wellies, look up!Something will be happening in the sky.’
A smaller flock sweeps past the windows of the house, and lower yet a foursome fly so close to the ground they curve into the slight hollow of the Apron pasture. It is often like this – there appear to be set flight paths distinct for each group.
As I watch a flock in middle air steering busily toward the west in their untidy way, a single bird glides close – easily mistaken for one of the same but larger. A solitary raven brushes past angling downwards, as inscrutable in its lone mission as these foragers in their clannish foray. The raven lives and breeds on the cliffs above, a small blackness launched from the crag to patrol the farm.

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