I was brought up on a large hill farm in Wester Ross. The eldest of a family of 6, I was on my father’s heel from a very early age.
I have fond memories of life on the farm. The shearing shed in the early seventies with 8 men, shepherds and crofters, hand shearing, shouting ‘buist’ (marking fluid) as they finished each sheep.
As children it was our job to run and buist the sheep on the appropriate spot according to whichever flock it came from. Inevitably we were often covered from head to toe in different colours of buist. The woolbags were hung vertically from the rafters, and we as children packed the wool with our feet. The fleeces tossed in over our heads for us to ‘pack’ the bag as tight as we could. Our skin was soft from the lanolin, but our hair was black with grit.
Lambing time was a busy time with none of the mod cons we have now. No quad & trailer, the ewes were transported in the back of the Land Rover. No heat lamp or powdered milk, just cows milk and the odd drop of whisky to kick start a weak lamb lying in carboard boxes in front of the open fire. No marking sprays, just different coloured knitting yarn on the lamb’s tails to cross reference them to their mother. All of this was no mean feat as there were over 2000 ewes on the farm.
Those experiences and many others have set me up to run my own croft which I inherited from my father. I learnt my shepherding skills from my father and feel very privileged to have been given the opportunity to croft, a life I love. Yes, it can be hard work but it has its rewards. I have a flock of North Country Cheviot ewes and a small herd of pedigree Luing Cattle in a beautiful setting on Lochbroom.
Although I am a great advocate for traditional crofting, I do believe there needs to be diversification on the croft in order for there to be a viable business. I have run a successful Bed & Breakfast business from the croft for 28 years. Over the past few years we have refurbished the old croft buildings, the byre and the barn and we are in the process of refurbishing the original ‘But and Ben’ croft house.
We have invested time and money into our crofts to maintain them for future generations. I would love to see the neglected crofts across the crofting counties brought back into use, and to see the townships flourish once again. It is very encouraging to see the enthusiasm from both the younger and new generation of crofters and hopeful the new Crofting Legislation will help protect and advance crofting for future generations.