Wednesday 14 October 2009

pea souper

Autumn is definitely upon us, the trees are changing and if the winds are co-operative we ought to be in for a beautiful show of autumn colour. The bracken is already over and in the right light make the hills look beautiful with all the different shades of brown and gold.

Then there is those foggy mornings, which aren't always present in the back end, they usually appear when ever Shep is heading away out-bye to gather, just to make life difficult!

We had one such morning recently. I headed off into the Rede valley when life still seemed dark; another sign of autumn - the mornings being slow to lighten. It was probably darker than it ought to have been as when my eyes finally focused and I realised the car windscreen wasn't misted up it dawned on me I was driving in a pea souper, surely that meant I could have been spared and allowed myself the indulgence of another hour in bed?

The fog/mist, whatever you want to call it, was in the bottoms, once I climbed up out of the North Tyne valley and onto the tops it was clear. I stopped and took in the view. The cheviot hills were standing proud above the white blanket, as was the highest ground in Tarset, other than that the North Tyne and Rede Valleys were totally obliterated by a mystical white blanket of fog a beautiful sight in its own but I was in for a greater pleasure. The sun was trying to rise away in the East and it was fiery red - awesome, breathtaking, beautiful, well worth stopping and appreciating mother nature at it's finest. I didn't have the camera but who needs to record a magical moment like that?

On I went, now as I was expected to be gathering sheep I truly was thinking that this was a wasted journey other than for the pleasure of seeing such a beautiful phenomenon which many would be unaware of.

I was mistaken!

It was decided to go out and gather, and yes, it was clear out on the top but as I dropped a few hundred feet I found myself in a different world, an almost surreal world, a world not at all ideal for gathering sheep.

It is so easy to lose ones sense of direction in such conditions and believe you me it is quite correct that you can find yourself walking in circles. Fortunately I was on foot, I say fortunately as I managed to direct myself into many an area which would not have been suitable for the quad bike, also I was able to use my ears, I could hear things that would have been masked by the engine of the bike. A lamb bleating was a definite clue that sheep were somewhere, but where?

Years ago I learnt (through a white out in a snow storm) that should all else fail and you truly are lost, (which even on ground you know well is easy to do) you can follow the water down. A drain will run in a certain direction and eventually lead you to a burn (stream) which will lead you to civilisation. Usually when I recount this I end up saying "and eventually you'll get to the seaside"! It will help you get your bearings though. Also take note of the direction the wind is hitting your face when you set off, or if no wind look to see which way the grasses are bent over as they usually bend from West to East (or is it the other way round?)

Fortunately the ground I was on was ring fenced, a long oblong strip of hill ground of only 1,000 acres which had a road running parallel to it and another along the bottom (horizontal I guess!) the sound of the traffic giving me a good idea as to where exactly I was, as for the sheep? Well, I made a lot of noise and the dogs bounded around in front, occasionally I got a ghostly glimpse of something sheep like and set the dogs in that direction with fingers crossed.

To be honest with you no one in their right mind would gather in such a pea-souper.

Another problem arose as we met at the bottom of the hill and found there were quite a number of sheep in front of us - thank the lord for small mercies! Our problems were just starting though, as we now had a road to cross, not just any old road either, but the A68, the main road to Scotland. The gates aren't far off a brow of a hill and we could barely see across the road as it was........ my knees were quaking I can tell you.

Phone calls back to the farm for assistance proved fruitless and so we stood and pondered. It boiled down to our hearing again. We waited until we could hear no traffic on the road at all from either direction and made a dash for it, just getting over by the skin of our teeth. 200+ sheep didn't realise just how much we wanted them to dash, the grass verges were a tasty bite and with dogs tied on make shift leads of baler twine it all looked a tad dicey for a while. Time to say Thank You to the wagon driver who eventually noticed us and an apology to him also for disrupting his difficult drive on that particular morning. I have to say that personally by this stage a stiff whisky might have gone down well!!

The outcome? I could barely believe it when the hill came into sight a couple of hours later that there were only one or two strays left out there - nothing short of a miracle in my eyes!