Monday 23 October 2023

Harris and Lewis

 Still in Scotland, rushing around, in Edinburgh today. I think it is around 5 weeks since we left home, but I stopped counting some time ago. The weather is quite nice as we head for the beach in East Lothian today, the place where we used to live and indeed where we got married. Its Mrs F’s birthday this week so I have bought her some DIY. No, not power-tools but half an acre of brightly coloured Harris Tweed which she will make into some kind of shawl, via a pattern given to us by ‘Granny Annie,’ a little old lady in a shed in the middle of nowhere on the Isle of Harris. To be fair, just about everywhere was in the middle of nowhere on Harris, such a wonderfully quaint place mainly populated by sheep or the odd mad person. Lewis was a little more densely populated but still wonderful, especially the beaches to the west of Stornaway where the mobile phone had yet to be invented and the only means of communication, other than shouting above the wind, was the odd red phone box! I sat and read a novel for a few blissful days, a murder mystery based on the Island. Whoever wrote it certainly had met some of the colourfully eccentric locals, that’s for sure. From there we crossed by ferry to Ullapool and then up around the top corner of Scotland, now known as the North Coast 500.

Last time I was up there is was just the A9, peaceful and forgotten, but now it is polluted by foreigners in campervans cluttering up the roads with no idea how to operate reverse gear. To be fair, it wasn’t as bad as I thought it might be, and we had nice stop-overs in Tongue and Dunnet Head and even took a burl around Castle of Mey, once home to my favourite Royal, The QM herself. The gardens were fabulous and I took a wander around their Angus cow herd, as well as their prize winning flock of Cheviot sheep, nodding my head in a knowledgeable fashion with my judges cap on.

And, of course, sheep it is that are the focus of this tour. A few weeks ago we visited the Royal Highland show, only taking one sheep, Crackerjack, who came a commendable fourth in his class. I know this didn’t repeat the glory we had last year but it was good to show face. During the week I was not only assigned to my TV commentary duties but this time also had to compere something called the ‘young handlers’ competition which involved kids as young as 8 bringing out their animals and parading them in front of a judge who gave them points for tidiness, cleanliness and their ability to control the beast as well as hold a reasonably eloquent conversation. One wee girl brought out a Clydesdale horse which was at least 9 feet tall and scary as hell but she definitely had the measure of it, although it didn’t like me coming anywhere near it. Another lass had a Shetland pony which was nothing short of a savage. Poor wee thing was in floods of tears as I interviewed her, asking perhaps, “does it bite?” At that it took a chunk out of my microphone, kicking out at the judge at the same time. Bloody thing had a screw loose and I kept well away from the both of them after that, instead staying up the other end of the show field with the cattle, sheep and goats. One 12 year old lad, Finlay Barclay, was not only winning the sheep section and has his own YouTube channel, but is starring in a programme called This Farming Life due out in September, so you may even see me on BBC TV. In the end it was a pretty girl in pigtails that one the competition, parading her goat, Nellie, who liked Smarties, apparently. The show was tiring and afterwards my Fitbit assured me that I had walked 92 kms (over 50 miles) during the duration, in boots a little too tight for me. Couple that with just over 3,000 miles on the camper so far, I surely am due today’s rest on the beach.

With more sheep travel, we went to the Great Yorkshire show in Harrogate last week, another full seven days of show-time, and picked up 2 thirds and a fourth, so things are looking up. Next week, it’s down to Wales for the finale. Chances of winning anything at the world’s biggest sheep show? Dim byd o gwbl! But we can but try.

Until next time, hwyl fawr, or, as they say in English, see you next Tuesday!

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