I was five years old when my father decided to move to the north of Scotland, to farm at the edge of the world and the edge of the farming world. Why do I describe it thus? To the north, the east and southeast, his neighbours did not farm. His was the last land up the glen, on which sheep and cattle grazed. Beyond was rock and bog, Munros and eagles; he was at the edge of the farming world.
Much of my father’s approach to farming was informed and tempered by the time he spent working on farms in northern France shortly after the end of the war. He saw food shortages that continued well beyond the end of conflict, the immediate importance of harvest, and food rationing in England in one form or another until 1954. For him, farming was more than an economic activity, it was a role essential to wider social well-being. So, to move from the relative farming luxury of easy-working Thanet brick earth and remarkably fertile north Kent marshes was not to move to the edge of the world, but to fulfil an essential service.
My father ran around 2,000 Scottish Blackface ewes, hefted in four hirsels on the hill. They are a remarkably hardy and resilient breed, but even with their ability to survive and thrive in appalling weather and on a limited diet, much over 50% of the lambs sold in September was a really good outcome. There was a reason nobody was grazing sheep further east into the central Monadhliath. Among the gloomy stats that emerged every autumn was the ‘black loss’, the number of lambs for which there was a record, an ear tag at birth or was at the July clip, but which had not made it through their first summer, details of their demise unrecorded.