Monday, 16 January 2006


<![CDATA[ As an avid walker in the wilds of Lewis and Harris, my sole companions tend not to be fellow walkers, but sheep. Or at least, those tend to be the most numerous four-legged creatures alongside the path. They are not normally very taken with my (or anybody's) presence, so they scuttle off helter-skelter out of the way. There have been exceptions, as the accompanying gallery will show. Sheep have this unfortunate reputation of being stupid. Tend not to agree. They're not the brightest card in the pack of creation, but then which creature would be able to find the spot in the moor where they themselves were born to give birth themselves? It is only bettered by the salmon, which manages to find the very river where it spawned after a journey of thousands of miles and of many years. Sheep are also said to know their farmer. Don't believe that. Look at the reception I got at Dalbeg - picture in gallery. As winter progresses, the condition of the sheep deteriorates, and by the end of the 2004/5 winter, I came across a sorry procession of animals that had not survived. The look on the face of the Tolsta crofter who had piled up another two carcases at the bottom of his croft said it all. I still wonder what happened to the sheep that panicked to such an extent that it jumped clean into a fast-running and deep river north of Tolsta. It was carried downstream, and managed climb on to the riverbank. It was a freezing cold day, and that can't have been healthy. The track from Bogha Glas to Langadale, just across the Lewis / Harris border has seen me quite a few times at the beginning of 2005. I also became quite acquainted with the location of the dead sheep. Even not seeing them did not prevent me from knowing they were there - the smell said it all. In April, I discovered this dead sheep that was lying in the ditch beside the Marybank cattlegrid. As the days and weeks progressed, it was not moved, and deteriorated gradually. By August, only the fleece was left, and by October, even this had disappeared. Worse than that were the few unfortunate creatures whose eyes had been pecked out by a hooded crow, a corvine I have come to dislike. The poor animal was pedalling its legs, but could not get up. When I approached, I could see its eye was missing. I retreated as there was nothing I could do. Even more painful was the sight of the little lamb near Kinloch Seaforth in late April, standing uncomprehending near its prostrate mother, which was dying after losing its eyes. I was able to help the dumb animal that I found stuck in a bog a mile north of Laxay (Lochs). Managed to pull it out single-handed, and as soon as the animal realised it was free, the sheep started to feed like mad. To compensate, there was this ewe near Bragar who gingerly approached me with its lamb at foot, almost as if to say "isn't he beautiful?" And the twin lambs at Huisinis, Harris, which lay together in the bright sunshine.

Not one of my most pleasant entries, I agree, but it's all part of island life.

Ram at Eorodal, Ness
Lambs at Huisinis, Harris
Sheep at Huisinis, Harris
Sheep at Dalbeg
Sheep with lamb at foot, Bragar
Lambing field at Breascleit


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