Thursday 3 March 2011

Grey days and gathering

There has been much gathering to do lately. Pregnancy scanning has been drawing to a close and the season closes with the hill sheep. They are put to the tup later than those which live further in-bye and hence lamb later in the season and so are the last to be scanned.

We have had many grey days, not unduly wet although rain has been around, more just dank, dull days. However, it got worse as gatherings had to be done and the fog rolled in on the high hill ground. Milder weather helped accentuate the problem, was it steam rising?
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The above is bearable for gathering, you can actually see a fair distance but as you climb higher up the hill the density of the fog thickens until eventually you can see next to nowt.

We were lucky with the gathering, sometimes being delayed in the mornings heading to the hill, waiting for the fog to lift, sometimes setting off and the fog rolling in.

One morning in particular sticks in my mind. I was away out bye and the shepherd and I had headed away out, the fog gave us a fair visibility and if luck was on our side we'd succeed. Ten minutes from us splitting and heading in different directions conditions worsened, I found myself in a pea souper, visibility basically nil. Sigh!

I persevered on my route, altering it slightly and heading further out than usual in the forlorn hope that should some sheep be heading in I'd spot them. I spotted nothing and having altered my route I was finding myself becoming disorientated. I wasn't lost but struggling to get my bearings. There ought to have been a cairn (tall pile of stones) near by, if I could find that I'd know exactly where I was. Eventually I thought I saw it looming ahead of me - no! it was a self seeded fir tree, I wasn't even aware there was one in this area of the hill.

I stopped the bike, turned the engine off and listened, the wind was blowing a hooly (you'd think it would blow the fog away), unfortunately it was blowing in the wrong direction, I was not going to be able to hear the whistles or bike engine of the other shepherd as the wind was too strong and from the wrong art.

Should I turn back? After all this was pointless. No, couldn't do that, neither of us would leave the other out here. There was no way of making contact with the shepherd, for all we both had the headlights on on the bikes they would only be visible for a yard or two.

I turned the nose of the bike down the hill and set on my way, I eventually met a drain I was familiar with, then I came to the burn and found the crossing point. At some stage in the proceedings I had disturbed a handful of sheep, where they had gone I had no idea. What I did know was that both the shepherd and I would be heading for the same point, at some stage we ought to eventually meet up. Usually with sheep infront of both of us.

I was aware that the strength of the wind was blowing the dampness of the fog horizontally, it was quite impressive to see, almost like a rain against a grey backdrop.

I trundled on, Moss sticking close by my side, he seemed to be aware that there was nothing he could do either, although I was forever watching him, looking for the body language to tell me something may be around, that he'd heard, seen or scented some sheep somewhere. The only time he showed any interest was when three roe deer were disturbed with the sound of the bike and took off at a rate of knots.

As I was nearing the spot where shepherd and I meet up the fog briefly lifted, it was quite surreal, almost like walking into a lit room before the switch was turned off and everything plummeted into darkness again. It felt like I literally had seconds to survey all around me before the view was once again hidden from sight. Those seconds amazed me, there were sheep and lots of them away ahead of me.

Sheep which are raked (pushed out at night and in in the morning) and herded(shepherded) on the hill know where they belong, they know where they ought to be gathered to, these sheep proved to be no exception. Fortunately the shepherd had also had the foresight to lay a feed block out for them to help hold them to the spot.

Just as I was approaching the 'meeting' point, headlights broke through the grey gloom and the familiar sight of the shepherd loomed close. A grin spread across his face followed by "That was pointless, only saw ten sheep and no idea where they went"
"Umm, I only saw a handful for a fleeting moment, but they are here, should be waiting just along there"
We split up once again, both heading out, to move in on them from a distance and hopefully hold them in our sights. The ploy worked and we had them under control.

There were far more than we could have possibly hoped for. They had done what they ought to do, hadn't wandered off, tried to hide up the burn, doubled back, no, they had been moving infront of us all the time, congregating at the point they are usually gathered to. Later in the day when the hill was clear I headed back out to collect any stragglers, there were only four - nothing short of a miracle!

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On a totally different occasion, this time looking for cattle on the hill, this stone leaped out at me. A stone which I pass nearby on numerous occasions throughout the year, a stone which didn't catch my attention until the world I was travelling in was grey and devoid of colour. The red lying in the dead beigy coloured grasses surrounded with the greyness of the air was almost shining like a beacon, how could I possibly never have noticed it before?
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