I’m safely aboard my second train of the day and headed north toward Inverness. We are just leaving the outskirts of Glasgow. The train is moving at a snail’s pace. Must be lots of traffic. As Anne would say, “Off like a herd of turtles!”
Before I start, let’s have a tiny vocabulary lesson. Know how we use the words “great” or “okay”? Well the direct translation for those words into Scots is “lovely”. Everything is “lovely”. And you say it like this: loo-vlee! And your voice goes up on the vlee part. Got it? Try a practice version. Excellent! I mean loo-VLEE! You’re now speaking Scots.
So, back to what I’ve been up to for the past two and a half weeks! Let’s see… Lots of going to bed while the sky is still light, listening to the ewes and lambs calling back and forth to each other, drinking cups of tea and coffee, trying out various biscuits (translation: cookies), making pizza (I really have, twice!), eating salad fresh from the garden, sniffing honeysuckle on the evening breeze, avoiding nettles (ouchy), marveling at stone walls, riding on a four wheeler, petting dogs, laughing and talking life, politics and planning of the day, and pointing over the hills to shout “Look! The sea!”
My hosts, Charlie and Elaine Wannop are graceful and kind enough not to make fun of me when I get all excited about seeing the water. They see it almost every day, both on the horizon or falling from the sky. But they understand I’m from an arid, mountainous sort of place which I’ve described as “two-days’ drive from the nearest ocean”. Probably hard for them to imagine. No one in Scotland is ever more than an hour and a half from the nearest ocean. Trippy, eh?!?
Elaine and Charlie have owned this property for about 20 years. In that time, they’ve turned it into a beautiful, financially sustainable, and much loved family farm. I’ve never seen people work so hard while simultaneously laughing so much. They have been a joy to be around. Both have been farmers for most of their lives, though each has done and continues to do lots of other things as well. Charlie grew up on a farm, taught at the university in Edinburgh for several years and does consulting in organic farming, training techniques and probably lots of other things I’m not aware of. Millie (oh, that’s Elaine’s nickname and gets used interchangeably with her given name) also got her degree in agriculture many years back but also taught yoga for years, has kept the farm and family while Charlie worked away, makes beautiful felted work, and makes a mean flapjack. (Not a pancake, but a type of biscuit. I mean cookie.) They’ve been raising sheep and cows for many years but are now mostly focused on sheep. About 600 sheep! Spread in fields all across their place, each flock separated from the other by dry stacked stone walls. Miles and miles of stone walls. Amazing stone walls. Most stand alone but some have an electric wire in front of them to keep the animals from trying to go over or push into them. They’ve been here for ages. It’s Millie’s job to stack and repair the walls when needed. Beautiful work. Much better looking than our miles of barbed wire!
I believe the Wannops are in their 60s but couldn’t give you an exact age. The only way I could tell they are older than me is by the age of their children. Dan, here in Scotland is 30. Their daughter, Jenny, lives halfway across the world in Oz (Australia) and has two young children. Charlie and Millie are proud grandparents! The kitchen is full of pictures. Actually, the kitchen is full of cards and pictures and things pinned up on a bulletin board as reminders of upcoming events, gatherings and invitations. These are very busy folks. Lots of family. Lots of friends. Lots of community interaction. Lots of travel. Lots going on. All the time. Despite all that, it’s easy to see that what Millie and Charlie love unequivocally is their farm.
And in Millie’s words, the best days are “when I can be on the farm all day, not speak with anyone, and even unplug the phone!”
Reminds me of my own weekend mornings spent in the courtyard or back garden at the old house, coffee cup abandoned somewhere on a table, cell phone far away. “Don’t bother me, I’m puttering about in my own little slice of heaven.” Although the Wannops don’t putter. They get shit done. Every day.
Mornings started on Castle Creavie each day with the sound of the four-wheeler heading out. Every morning, one or both of them rides out to check on the livestock in every field. That’s 600 sheep to lay eyes upon and be sure that all is well. Oh, and six cows. Recently, while Charlie was away, Millie somehow procured six cows. And there’s a borrowed bull hanging out with them right now as well. Millie refers to them as “my cows” and gets a twinkle in her eye when she talks about them. Charlie rolls his eyes. But I’ve seen him when we’ve been out checking stock or moving sheep. He talks about how beautiful they are and how much he likes the gentle nature of cows. So I know his grumpy demeanor is all for show. They did keep cows at Castle Creavie for many years. Never could find a way to make it profitable so finally they decided to stick with sheep.
Oh, by the way, the four-wheeler goes out again every evening as well to do the same visual check of all the stock. That’s lots of driving, lots of opening and closing of fences, taking dogs out of the kennels and putting them away, lots of time out in every kind of weather — even in the winter, when days are short and dark and its “f-ck all” terrible weather (which I take to mean relentless rain and mud).
Once the morning stock check is done, everyone gathers in the kitchen for breakfast (usually toast – with orange marmalade or marmite – or muesli). There’s plenty of coffee and tea. Eventually someone says it: “Right. What’s the plan of the day then?” At which point we do a run down of everything that needs to be done, who is doing which and at what location, when we are stopping for lunch, and what other things need to be in discussion for the day or the immediate future.
Last sips of coffee are taken. Dishes are rinsed and placed in the dishwasher. Boots go back on socks-only-in-the-house feet. And we’re off!
Three notes before signing off:
1. In the time I’ve written this and posted, I’ve traveled by train from Glasgow to north of Perth via Stirling! (Again, have a look at Google maps).
2. I try to retread and make corrections before posting. Sometimes I don’t catch them. But typos made in the photo captions are such a pain in the butt to correct, I just leave them there. Sorry ‘ bout that! Hope you can figure out the word that should be there.
3. There’s no castle at Castle Creavie, though there are ruins of a very old (Iron Age???) one. I kept meaning to get the full story on the farm’s name. Never did. Was the castle named Creavie? Is creavie a word for something else, like a hill or lookout, making the farm’s name more like a description (i.e. Castle Hill, or hill where there used to be a castle but now it’s mostly sheep residing there) or, or, or… Guess I’ll just have to continue with my wondering.