Saturday, 2 May 2009
Sheep Round Up
Image Left: Hunter and hunted
Sheep Round Up
I round the headland above the window,(a small cave that opens onto the sea) with three other volunteers. John the shepherd has taken his dogs over the dome of granite above, to search for sheep. This is a full scale round-up of the island’s flock and my job is to lead a small group around the worst of islands terrain pushing sheep ahead of us or just blocking off gullies, while John works with his dogs. We started over an hour ago as a line of about twenty people moving like beaters over the heather and the island’s high point. We passed as a wave pushing the sheep ahead like foaming crests. After descending into the central valley we formed a human corral before the group separated and our small team headed off up the side of Balfour Bay. In our absence the flock and the corral move along a side valley towards the eastern edge of the island where the await our return.
The main task for me, is not finding sheep but keeping pace with the shepherd. With only a year on the island against a lifetime’s experience I struggle. It seems at times that John and his sheepdogs almost flow through the landscape. As I trudge over rock and stumble through heather gullies the pack disappears only to remerge or overtake us as if somehow toying with the constraints of time and distance. Occasionally I find a route that enables me to dance over boulders, running on a earth of sharp points as if a little part of me belongs to the sky rather than the land. After another hour in the island’s labyrinths we come in sight of the human corral. I spot an unmanned flock a little further on and try and move around the rise they have chosen, unseen. They have moved while I am out of sight and I am not in the best position as they run on and I have no choice but to follow. While weaving through the terrain I loose my group of volunteers and have to push on alone. Soon they slow enough for me to catch my bearings and begin to turn them towards the route the rest of the flock will take to pier. I run, walk, jump and come to a halt like a dog spreading my awareness to the flock and the tiny movements that hint at direction. We sweep forward onto the gentle slope behind the croft and I pick up another couple of stragglers and a mother with new born lamb. Behind the corral and flock are on the move and I slow my sheep until they catch up. The two flocks are drawn to each other almost like drops of rain on a window.
We hold the flock behind the croft while John brings in another small group and then move off towards the beach before walking them along the track to the fold above the pier. In the afternoon the sheep receive the second part of their Blue Tongue vaccinations and a dose to discourage ticks. They slowly disperse over the afternoon to dot themselves once again amongst the rocks and heather.
Image Right: Holding the line in the heather