Monday, 25 April 2011

The Shepherd

Image Above: John the Shepherd and his dogs.
Location: Isle of Erraid. Mull, Scotland

The ewe had no intention of being cornered despite the firm tether of briars that anchored her to the ground limiting her movements to a tight radius. I had heard her earlier from the back door of the cottage and assumed she had or was about to lamb. It was Phil who finally grabbed her and I took the horns with both hands as the shepherd had once shown me. With all four legs she bucked and pushed and I felt like I was holding onto the handlebars of a bicycle on unfamiliar terrain. Phil always the gardener took out his pruning knife and cut the briars out of her fleece, I waited until I was sure she was clear and then released her. We were out early to roundup the sheep from the rear of the cottages and meet the shepherd as he brought in the smaller flock that grazed the lower northern shores of the island. While we were waiting for Roger to come down from the quarry the ewe we had just released turned back towards the cottages. I ran and she ran, so I ran faster. There was an inevitability about it and I stopped. She walked on behind the cottages backtracking over our route, we left her and moved on.

When Roger caught up we made a spartan line across the heather, enough to push the hand full of sheep that remained towards Christine’s bay, the croft and John the shepherd. He was still a way off waiting with his dogs on a knoll, as we came into view he moved pushing the flock he had already gathered into the gap left between our line and the waters of the bay. The flock passed us and fences took over limiting the options for the sheep under pressure from the dogs. We fell in behind John on the track from the beach. The line of sheep past the bottom of the front gardens until channelled by the walls of the settlement it turned towards the pier and the fank*. When the gate was closed behind them John set off to retrieve our ewe which was now braying on the hill behind the cottages as it looked down on the flock from which it was now separated.

*fank: an enclosure for working with sheep.

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