This post is for Heather, who loves sheep so much she wrote a whole post about her family’s sheep safari on the Isle of Skye. There are always plenty of sheep about in the Highlands and Islands, but my recent visit was during lambing season, so it was a real treat. I was reminded of overhearing an Aberdonian woman on the train telling her husband that she wanted to see “lommies” (lambies). She would have loved the “lommies” I saw!
There were many Mother and Baby duos about:
The next photo shows you what almost always happens next:
Sometimes those “poor wee lambs” (Scottish phrase of affection and sympathy) aren’t particularly steady on their feet as they clatter off behind their mothers. Watching them skitter uncertainly along the road with legs akimbo is a sweet sight. At all times of the year, you have to drive very carefully on these roads. Sheep have no road sense whatsoever. Like pheasants, they can turn and dart right back in front of you.
On one of my walks I witnessed a familiar parenting scenario (photo below). The mother jumped over a ditch, but her baby was scared to follow. “Bê! Bê!” the baby called to its mother. “You don’t actually expect me to jump over this abyss! With this American woman stomping about right behind me! Save me!” Its cries became quite piteous, but the mother kept facing forward, and looking only slightly back, replied, “Go on! You can do it! Yes you can! Come on! Pay no attention to that woman! Jump!”
And of course, after a few fearful backings-off from the edge of the precipice, the lamb did jump safely to the other side. I wish I could have captured the little dance of happiness that it did. It was so surprised, and clearly delighted with itself. As Michael once said, “It’s such a pity that lambs turn into sheep.” Perhaps the sheep don’t see it the same way.
Catrìona told me that the sheep on Scalpay would be taken up to the Common Grazings in May. These are fenced-off parts of the island. Until that time, the sheep roam freely all over. Catrìona can’t leave her gate open for a millisecond or they will be in the garden eating everything in sight. She told me that the ewes who have had lambs this spring won’t be sheared until later on in the summer, but the other sheep will be sheared and dipped in June. In the summer you often go past sheep gathered in the “fanks” (pens), with the crofters and their sheepdogs nearby. Shearing and dipping is a group task. If you’ve read the post on Harris Tweed, now you know where the wool goes.
In days gone by, women and children used to go stay in the higher summer pastures with the sheep, in small huts called “shielings”. I don’t know when this practice died out but I’ve read people reminiscing about what fun it used to be.
The Dafter’s reaction to the picture below was: “That photo sums up Harris”. The washing on the line (oddly non-horizontal, as it was a calm day), the shed, the roadworks, and the sheep – Harris in a nutshell for her. The sheep here weren’t about to move, having important business to attend to.
I came home with a lot of photos of sheep, but I will leave you with only one more: sheep put to pasture on a small island.
This island is pretty far from human habitation, about half-an-hour’s sail from land. The sheep will have been taken there by boat, and left to enjoy the good grass. I presume none of these castaways are mother sheep, or mothers-to-be. But I don’t know any more than that.
In my next post I will tell you about how I got that photo: going across to the Uists for a short visit with friends.