Memories

During this project we have recorded local shepherds about their memories of working on Ardkinglas and Cairndow Estate, without doing this their information and knowledge would be lost forever.
1 Roddy MacDiarmid



2 Alistair MacCallum




3 Malcolm MacKay



4 Alistair Bremner

5 Ernie MacPherson


Roddy MacDiarmid

4 Kilmorich
Cairndow
Argyll






Here We Are

1st August 2016
Interviewed by Dot Chalmers

Shepherding 1959 - 2017

Hi Roddy, I wonder if you could tell me a bit about shepherding on Ardkinglas Estate?

I was born on 23th Feb 1944 in Mark Park, I went to Cairndow school and then Inveraray secondary school, I left there in April 1959. We were living in Butterbridge at the time and I started work at 15 I was herding a hill away at the back of the estate called Ben Vane, I was working for the full Ardkinglas estate before it got broken up. It was owned by Michael and John Noble two brothers and they employed either 9 or 10 shepherds at that time. Donald Morrison asked me what I was doing when I left school and I said I wanted to be a shepherd, and he said well there’s a job here for you, he was the head shepherd, he did not get on with Ben Coutts. At that time I spoke to Ben Coutts he was the factor of the estate and I spoke to Michael Noble and he took me on.

I stayed in Butterbridge till 1962 and the hirsel I started on was Ben Vane the shepherd who was on the much larger hill Beinn Chorranach and Beinn Ime left and subsequently I became the shepherd on these two hills. They were black faced sheep on the hills, mainly black faced sheep when Ben Coutts became factor here there were one or two of the hirsels that weren’t producing a great crop of lambs and he decided to bring in the Swale Dale, so perhaps a small amount of Swale Dales I was looking after. On Ben Vane there was only 220 ewes on that hirsel, on Beinn Chorranach and Beinn Ime there was about three times that, almost 700 ewes on the two hirsels a My father was the shepherd on the other side of the glen, on the hill at the back of Butterbridge house Corrie Creagan, and when he retired my brother Angie took over as the shepherd there in 1961, we stayed in Butterbridge until December 1962 untill we moved down to Clachan.

When I moved to Clachan I worked on a different hirsel, there was an old shepherd from the Ise of Skye he shepherded the Cuil hill, hirsel and when he retired I took over the hirsel, his name was Donald Robertson. There was 550 black faced ewes on the hirsel. It was when the crop of lambs weren’t so good that they introduced the Swale mainly up Glen Fyne but also at Butterbridge.

What was the result?
The lamb crop wasn’t what it should have been and also the quality wasn’t the same as the other hills, this was on Trosgiche and Achrioch so Ben Coutts introduced the Swale. It helped the quality and quantity of the lambs, the Swale ewe is famous for having very nutritious milk.

At Butterbridge I worked alongside my father, I learnt a lot from him, he was shepherd most of his life and new the job very well, he was very strict if he showed me or told me how to do something once he expected me to pick it up there and then, my father’s name was the same as myself Roddy MacDiarmid, I learned pretty quick because I had to, I didn’t like getting a row too often so if he told me how to do something once I took head of it, I watched and listened, I did my best.

My father had previously worked for Ardkinglas Estate in Mark Park up Glen Fyne,11 years and then moved to Strachur, we were there for 3 years and then moved back to Butterbridge in 1950. In 1936 my father started in Mark Park from Glen Shira, he got the job through word of mouth, I never remember him saying who he spoke to about the job, whether it was Michael or John Noble. He worked with a man call Norman MacDonald he moved to the Isle of Jura, he lived down the road past Clachan here, Colin MacCallum was the gamekeeper up the road from Mark Park, my father worked on Newton Hirsel and Beinn Chas. It just comes under Newton, 500 ewes on the hirsel, my father had a book of the numbers of sheep, I have it over in the house.

Could we see it?
Yes, no bother

When I was the shepherd at Butterbridge, during the gatherings we met up with all the other shepherds, mainly the fank at Butterbridge was used but sometimes the one further up the glen Corrie Creagan. Butterbridge fank was a better fank, better laid out, it was bigger, and there was the shed as well. If there was any threat of the rain coming on there was the shed it was great altogether, you would get most of the ewes into the shed to keep dry and that was a god send, keeping the fleece dry.

When all the shepherds were clipping at Butterbridge who fed you all?
In these days it was common for the shepherds wife to feed all the shepherds and whoever was there with at least one meal, sometimes two a day. But mainly it was a big lunchtime and I have seen my mother feeding over twenty people, we had to have two sittings it was common…. if it was Corrie Creagan ewes getting sheared then there would be others, this was mainly at shearing time but also at other gatherings. Was the food supplied from Ardkinglas Estate?Some of it was, the meat and the milk the basics, my mother was a great baker and she would bake scones and pancakes and what have you, and homemade jam. There was one time the meat was coming up…..the maggots were dropping off it! Did you know I was going to say that? I have heard of maggots dropping off sandwiches before, when Donald MacPherson was working in a fank down Hell’s Glen and they had been brought over from the Weirs in Ardno! Michael Noble would say, wash it, scrape them off! People had more immunity to things like that in these days than they have now, people got too soft. And also if you didn’t eat it you would be starving, you would have to eat it. That’s right there was nothing else. Can you remember when your father was in Butterbridge, did he get allowances like coal or feed for animals or anything like that? The house was definitely tied? Yes, my father never had any cattle or sheep of his own, he may have got potatoes, I can’t remember, the coal boat used to come into Ardkinglas once a year and he would maybe get three to three and a half ton and that done you the year, but that was kept off your wages, month by month.So you paid for your coal?Oh yes, you paid for your coal and you were paid once a month.
I thought that it was an allowance?No because there was a shepherd here Neil Aitchison he left because John Noble had taken off all his coal money in one go and the was left to feed his family for a month and he only had about a pound to keep everyone for a month. He went to the estate to complain, but he got nowhere, Neil Aitchison he was a first class shepherd. The only perk was a fat ewe at Christmas time and your house was tied, that was with your job. 1959 SpringUdder locking and spring dippingAt that time all the hirsels were gathered early spring, what we call the spring dipping, we would go through them and udder lock the ewes that were in lamb (what is udder lock?) you put your hand below a ewe and feel if she is in lamb, if she is you coped her upside down and sat her on her backside and took the wool away from the udder, as much as possible so that there was better access for the lamb to get to the teet for sooking. That would be about late March early April, the spring dip that was to keep them clear of mites, lice and ticks, lice is a killer it is very important to keep your stock free of lice.Lambing timeGenerally started about the 24th-25th April and you were lambing ewes for about a month.Were the ewes dipped when they were in lamb?Yes, they were dipped, you took care dipping them, because you can damage a lamb quite simple handling it wrongly, you always took care when you were working with your stock incase you did damage them and that should always be the case and still is. You were out on the hill every day, all the stock was left out on the hill, nowadays the stock that is twinned is brought into the lower ground. Then there could be a ewe in trouble at the top of the hill and when you go to try and help her she would take off, many ewes were lost this way. Out on a huge hill like Ben Chorranach I felt it was a bit of a hit and a miss if you were luck you came on a ewe that was in trouble and needed a hand, unlucky you could miss her and she’s lying dead the next day.


Marking the lambs

All the lambs were given a mark, the male lambs were castrated, a rubber ring put round their testicles, that was in early June, that’s not all, the hogg and yeld ewe sheared, (yeld ewe a barren ewe, a ewe that doesn’t have a lamb) and a hogg ewe (a young sheep coming on to replace the old stock). Each hirsel had a different ear mark that would go on the lamb, so that you would know what hirsel it belonged too. The mark for Ben Ime and Ben Chorranach was a crop on the left and four half on the right. That would be double dutch to you Dot (no believe it or not I know what that means!!) Each hirsel has the different ear mark, not only that the keel mark also, the keel mark is the stock mark. In these days you would get a big tin of keeI, to mark your stock, there would be different marks for each hirsel, the keel mark for Ben Ime and Ben Chorranach was red at the back of the head, in Corrie Creagan it was red on the tail head, Learchan it was read on the kidney, just across the middle of the back, Achadunan, red on the shoulder, you could get blue mark exactly the same marks, one look at that ewe and you would know what hirsel it belonged to. Some ewes strayed of their hirsel this was common maybe to look for better grass, others would never left theirs.



Milk (Clipping) Shearing
After that was all done you gathered them all in again for the milk (clipping)shearing, this was done about the end of June, beginning of July and you would maybe get finished at the beginning of August depending on the weather, one thing just lead into another once you were finished you just started the next.

The fleeces were sold for not very much money; the price of wool has never risen in accordance with everything else. You were nearly getting as much for it then as you do now, maybe not as much but the wool price was good, it always went to Paisley, Scottish wool growers in Paisley, you packed the wool in bags that they supplied, you rolled the wool tightly and they were packed into the bags, you would get 30-40 fleeces to a bag, somebody was always inside it, packing the fleeces down, the bags were hung up with someone inside it.

How much would a fleece be?
It wouldn’t be a pound, I’m not 100% accurate on that but it wouldn’t be a pound.

Spaning
Spaning the lambs, taking them away from their mothers, that was done round about September, October, all the male lambs were sent to market, you always kept replacement stock, that’s the ewe lambs that replaced the older ewes that went away. You took your cast ewes off (that’s your ewes about six years old) they were mostly sent to Dalmally market, it was a good market, Glasgow had a good market as well, we used to send a lot of the cast ewes to Glasgow market. A good cast ewe would fetch about two to three pound, and she would be bought by farmers on low ground, not necessarily in Scotland a lot of them went down to England too, and they could get maybe two years of lambs out of them. Wedder lambs would be sold for not a lot Dot…. three four pound and that was a good lamb.

The first pair of leather boots I bought, were horse hide, they were great boots, really good boots, were made from horse hide, they cost six pounds out of Johnny Dewars in Inveraray, and I remember thinking you could get two lambs for the price of them, that was in 1959.

Before we go onto the next step, there were some farmers who didn’t own as many sheep as say Ardkinglas Estate, they did their winter dipping then as well, to keep their stock free of ticks and lice it kept them healthier, and also the ewes were always dosed as well, when you took the lambs off the ewes you dosed them.

What did you dose them for?
You dosed them to keep them free from fluke and worm. What is fluke?

Fluke is a parasite that attaches itself to the liver and ultimately can kill, it will certainly take the condition off a ewe, so they were always dosed, and all the stock was dosed three or four times a year.

Winter dipping
Gathered again for the winter dipping, this was October, early November never later than that, as the rams went out to the ewes probably about the 24th-25th November, you put them through a tank full of dip, different people made the dip, there was Osmonds, you had a choice of winter dips, really I suppose they all worked they had to or they wouldn’t sell any of their products. A very powerful potion made up your tank, if you missed a ewe out in the hill that never got winter dipped, you could tell the difference a mile away just by looking at them, their condition was never as good, their wool was never the same because of the lice, there was different wee parasites that attached themselves to them and effected the sheep quite severely.

The tups were all kept together on the low ground, you started feeding them three weeks to a month before they were due to go to the hill, to get them in good condition so that they could last all the longer on the hill.

How many tups were there?
There were 80-90 tups on the low ground, when you put them out on the high ground there were three tups to 100 ewes, and that’s how you worked out how many tups you would need, the likes of Ben Chorranach there you would need 22-23 tups, that’s just for the one hirsel, there were umpteen hirsels here on the one estate, 12 hirsels. When were the tups brought in then?

You would try to get your tups in before Hogmanay! And Ben Coutts brought in a wee scheme here (it was an incentive to work harder at getting your tups in) that if you had all your tups in you would get a bonus, I can’t remember say it was £20, if you were missing 1 it was less, if missing 2 less, right down if you were missing half a dozen you wouldn’t get anything. It was an incentive; I thought that was a better idea. It wouldn’t be good for gathering at that time of year? It depended on the weather; you always kept to your own hirsel, taking your tups in, so it was only yourself? Mainly, if my father was free and he had all his in then he would give me a hand, or if I had all mine in I would give him a hand and when Angie took over from my father, he would give me a hand.

So was there a bit of competition there?
Yes….there was and it was good fun Dot, because when you were meeting you would be asking “have you all your tups in” then you would “crow” if you had all yours in and they hadn’t, it was just good fun, and in these days especially after the place split up in 1966.

Michael Noble had Cairndow estate and John Noble remained with Ardkinglas estate, Cairndow took in Butterbridge my old hirsel.

In December between Christmas and New Year 1962 we moved from Butterbridge to Clachan, to the north flat here at Clachan, and we were there for 25 years. I started work on Cuil hirsel, there was just over 500 ewes, I was on it until part of it was planted it which I think was for 17 years. More than half of it was planted, so there was no need for a shepherd. One thing lead to another and I went across to Cairndow estate, I worked on the hirsel Leaichdain, it is the hill between Cairndow and Butterbridge on the left hand side of the road, I herded that for 2 or 3 years before I went self-employed, I started self-employed in 1979.

When the estate split up it was my brother Angie and I and Ali MacCallum and his brother Colin who were working for Ardkinglas Estate, and one thing that sticks out in my mind, the four of us working together was the camaraderie that we had, we all got on great altogether, Ali MacCallum was put in charge, head shepherd, he done a good job, we had great fun although we worked hard, some in the summertime, at the shearing time we would leave at half past three in the morning to go gathering, we would all be joking at that time in the morning, the crack was good, and even then half past three in the morning, half past three in the afternoon, Ali MacCallum, he would still be the same, never changed he was great fun, he had a great sunny nature, he still has!

What hirsels were the four of you covering?
Cuil, Clachan, Newton and Beinn Chas, Ceann Garbh, Benvalagan, and Trosgiche, we worked hard, we had to but you never thought any more about it, it was just a way of life. It was hard work but good fun, hard work was just the normal thing in those days.

Before Ardkinglas estate was split up, every hirsel was gathered in one go, in one sweep, sometimes some shepherds would go to one end of the hill, some to the other end and meet in the middle, but very often it was everybody at one end, gathered it all to the one end. After the estate was split up, there was only four of us left on Ardkinglas estate, working from Clachan, mostly we had to split each hirsel into two, Cuil hirsel we gathered it in one, the whole four of us just went down to Dundarave castle and gathered it up to Clachan here, it was a smashing hill to gather and one of the easiest so we managed it in a one-er. Next was Clachan, we split Clachan into two, it was already split into two by the Ace Na Caileach burn that’s the deep burn above the Clachan power station, we used to gather the low end of Clachan one day and the next day we would gather the high end.

How did that burn get its name?
Yes, Ace Na Caileach, how it got its name, that’s the old ladies burn, or the old woman’s burn. It got its name from many, many years ago, three or four men carried a coffin over from Glen Shira of an old woman, and they rested it at the top of that deep burn, and they didn’t put it in a very secure place and the coffin took off and landed down at the bottom of that deep, deep burn and they couldn’t get to it, so the old lady that was her last resting place, and that’s how it came to get its name.

Next up was Newton and Beinn Chas, both pretty difficult to gather so we used to gather Newton first, and the next day go back out again and gather Beinn Chas, Beinn Chas (Brannie Burn area) wasn’t just solely in Glen Fyne, you used to have to go away down the back of Beinn Chas and sometimes over to Bein Buichie, the sheep used to stravage, it was a long walk but that’s the way we did it.

The next one up was Ceann Garbh we had to split it into two as well, we gathered the face of Ceann Garbh on the one day and the next day, we got a run round the back round Glen Shira, round the very back off Ceann Garbh, up the top of Beinn Bhuidhe and gather it from there right round to Glen Fyne, it was hard work, because there was only the four of us it made everything that bit difficult, but at that time we never thought much about it we just did it and that was it.

Benvalagan was different, we gathered it in a one-er, Trosgiche exact same we gathered it in a one-er. The four of us had good gathering dogs, and the four of us were good on the hill, but it was just too many acres so we split them up.

We also had the cattle as well, and they were calving, I’m not exactly sure but there would be 20 or 30 cows at Clachan, and in the wintertime they came into the big byre, which is now Loch Fyne Oysters restaurant, they were calving, they were cross highlanders, highland is a very tough breed, and they had to be, short horn, round about that.

When the estate split up were you aware that that was happening?
No no….it was a complete surprise.

Was anyone aware of it?
Well not to my knowledge, none of us knew, if anyone did know they were not letting on, we were just told that Michael Noble was taking over Achadunan and Butterbridge that’s the Cairndow estate, and John Noble was keeping Ardkinglas estate, that was Clachan farm.

How did the shepherds feel about that?
Well….in these days you just accepted what went on, accepted it, you just accepted it and got on with it, I think we were quite taken on with the idea, em, perhaps a novelty.

Was there any competition between the two farms? How good each other’s stock was?
Em… yes there was Dot! In these days there was a sale, either at Clachan or Achadunan which incorporated both the estates, both sold their sheep there, and latterly the Jacksons from Pole farm Lochgoilhead and Johnny Paterson, Succoth Arrochar sold their lambs there to.

Yes there was competition, who could get the best price for their lambs, who could get the best price for their cast ewe, yes, and whoever got the best price later over a dram would bring it up, good natured banter…. And also during the year they always done this, competition if you like….who could get the best crop of lambs.

And who won?
Donald MacPherson on Leaichdain, I remember he had a marvellous crop of lambs one year, he must have been approaching 100% in these days that was really good as there was a fearful lot of twins, the best I ever done on Cuil there was 89% and I had six percent or so killed on the road as the road was unfenced. It was difficult to keep the ewes off the road in the spring of the year and the early summer because down lower the grass was always greener.

Roddy we’ll go back to 1959, when you started, did you buy a dog or were you given a dog?
I got my first dog I think it was the day I left school, he wasn’t a pure collie either Tweed was his name I’ve got a photograph of him in the house. He was a wee red and white dog he was part Alsatian and part collie. My goodness! I knew nothing about dogs then and he knew nothing about work so we were well matched really the pair of us, we were pretty useless the pair of us.

Where did you get him?

I got him from a farmer up Glen Aray, Peter MacIntyre was his name.

And did you pay for him?
No, he was given to me as a gift as he was my first dog, he turned out quite useful, perhaps if I knew more than I did I could have made better use of him but he was okay.

But then in 1960 I bought another dog off a shepherd who was down in Ardno, Steve Fergusson was his name, and I paid £5 and he gave me £2 back for luck so £3 it cost me. And that was the first dog I ever handled at a sheepdog trials.

Was that a custom that you got money back from someone that you bought a dog from?

Yes and it still is, anyone who buys a dog off me I will always give them something, it’s for luck, hopefully the dog will work well for them and Steve Fergusson was very good, I was only sixteen at the time, and he was a smashing wee dog. And I ran him from 1961, I competed with him in my first sheepdog trials that was Ardkinglas sheep dog trials at the village the old course. I can’t remember how I got on (laughter) I know I was extremely nervous.

So did you have him for a while?
Yes I did, I lost him when we moved into Clachan here, that wee dog he got killed on the road I blamed myself too, I was working on the Cuil hirsel at tupping time and he had turned lame, and it started to come on an awful dirty day with sleet and snow and it was turning cold and he was having a job keeping up with me and I was coming through the wood and onto the main road approaching Clachan and the next time I looked he wasn’t there, auch, he’ll follow me he knew the way home, he didn’t he went onto the road and got killed.

I have had a lot of dogs.

What made you decide to enter trials?
Well the first trials I entered was in 1961, that was a hill trial, but I never ran at a field trial until I moved down to Clachan here, and it was a chap Johnny Baker who was going with my sister and ultimately married her, it was Johnny, he did a lot of trialling, keen, he got me my first real trial pup, that was Johnny Baker, we went away down to Kintyre and got the pup.

How much did the pup cost?
I think it was £8.

Why was he a trial pup and not just a working pup?
A trial pup, both his parents were used for trialling. He was my first real good pup I trained him.

You used him for work and trials?
Yes, in these days there were quite a few people, not a lot who just kept their dog for trialing and never worked, it a total and utter mistake in my opinion, working away out on the side of a hill it broadened a dogs mind, it helped him to think and ultimately makes them a better dog. Personally I would never just keep a dog for trialling.

So the price of dogs has completely changed from the £5 which you’re first dog cost, if you were to buy a working dog now in 2016 how much would it be?
Just a good everyday work dog, two thousand up to two and a half thousand.

What age would that be?
Perhaps eighteen months to two years old, trained dog, but there was a dog sold there not so long ago at Skipton in Yorkshire, for seventeen thousand pounds, I know about the dog (I take it it’s a dog) yes, it’s not even properly trained. These big prices Dot are a bit of a con, it’s to get peoples name, oh so in so sold this dog for seventeen thousand pound or ten thousand pound, whatever, and it’s just to get there name in the paper, it’s not so much that money changes hands at the end of the day, that goes on.

Now much would a good trialling dog cost?
Nobody sells a good trialling dog; just say if one did come on the market, em… seven thousand, six, seven, eight thousand.

Well I suppose it will not work for someone else the way it works for the owner?
Well that just depends on the person who gets the dog, entirely that can happen, and it has happened and will happen again, that a dog working great for one person and change and a different person get it and it’s just a different way of working the dog, and the dog does not change it doesn’t adapt itself to the new handler, either that or it’s the new handler had not adapted himself to the dogs way of working, it’s a two way thing, it’s not just one way. A handler must come and go with a dog too. If a dog gets used to doing something, say, up to three or four year old, it’s a big, big change for it, if a new handler gets it and tries to change its way of working, it has to be a two way of working, you’ve got to meet your dog maybe not half way but a portion of the way. The dog has to adapt itself to the new handler, obviously it has, but not one hundred percent, the handler has to adapt his own way of handling to suit the dog as well.

So, what do you enjoy about trialling?
Em….oh the competition.

Are you quite competitive?
Yes, not just quite Dot, very…..when I was young and growing up as a boy, I can remember I hated getting beat, playing a game of Ludo in Butterbridge, now I was only nine or ten at the time, I was playing with my brother Angie and my two sisters Kate and Chris, and I was almost round the board with my four men, and one of my sisters went round the board and thumped me said that’s me home with my four men, and I caught the board and I threw it up in the air and that was me, I wasn’t allowed to play another game for months after. Laugh. I was a bad sport! Eh… I’m not a bad sport now but very, very competitive, if I go into a competition Dot I go into it to win; I don’t go into it just to make up the numbers. I can remember one….

Because you have done really well, you have done amazingly, over now many years?

Yes, well 1961 I started (55 years) I think the best I ever did was in the year 2000, I won 10 sheepdog trials in a row, over three countries, Scotland England and Wales.

You were on One Man and His Dog at one point?
I was on two or three times, I think it was 1993 the first time I was on.

Did you enjoy that?
Yes, I did very much indeed. Em…at that time (did you win?) laugh, No! (were they cheating?) No! Laughter You can’t very well cheat when there’s tens of thousands of people watching you on a screen. No it was enjoyable though, it was good fun, if there’s anyone listening to what I have to say about sheepdog trialling, it is enjoy yourself, especially that One Man And His Dog, it’s a one off, more or less a one off so enjoy yourself! Enjoy your sheepdog trialling career it’s there to be enjoyed, a lot of people don’t enjoy it (their too stressed) yes, (you mean you don’t get stressed Roddy?) No, no definitely not, I went to a sheepdog trial once away down in Newton Stewart, and they were so wrapped up in themselves there was only one man who came and spoke to me, and even then this was a long time ago, I was well known, only one person spoke, I thought I hope I never get like that, and I won’t, I know I won’t.

Is the prise money good?
In some cases very good, maybe one hundred pound, maybe one hundred and fifty pound.

When you think of the work that’s involved in that, one hundred and fifty pound is not a lot of money!
No, but that is good prize money, that’s for first place.

How many people would be entered?
Maybe seventy or eighty. One thing I don’t like, there’s one man, he’s a great friend of mine, he is not alone there, if he came off after a bad run, then the course was wrong, the gates were set up in the wrong place completely, the sheep terrible altogether, and that dog, I’ve never seen him running worse, but I’ve seen it quite often, there’s nothing wrong with the dog, course, sheep, it’s the handler that’s the problem, but there’s a lot of people they can’t accept criticism, they blame every mortal thing, they blame the sun, it’s too bright, the rain, it’s putting the sheep off, the wind blowing, anything and they wouldn’t blame themselves, and that is totally and utterly wrong.




Alistair MacCallum
Old School
Cairndow
Argyll

Alastair MacCallum

Here We Are
29th August 2016
Interviewed by Dot Chalmers

Hi Al, I wonder if you could tell me a bit about working on Ardkinglas Estate when you started, when you left school?

I left school on the 9th June 1959 that was the Friday and I started on the Monday, I was working up Glen Fyne

Who did you approach about a job?
Ah, it was Donald Morrison who was the head shepherd here and it was through him, Michael Noble was the boss.

Where were you living at this time?
I was living up Glen Fyne

What house was that?
Stalkers Cottage

So you started work in the summer?
Yes the beginning of July, they were gathering because they were clipping and the first day it was the sheep that were all round the shore here in front of Clachan that we gathered up for the shearing and then I was very sick, the first time in my life, I couldn’t go out! (Lots of laughter)

That was a bad start!
It was the only time I was off

So who were you working with?
Donald MacPherson, Donald Morrison, Donald Robertson, Roddy MacDiarmid Sn, Jimmy Waddle, Calum MacDonald, eh, young Roddy MacDiarmid, Iain Bell would be there at the time.

When you started were you given a hirsel?
Eh, Iain Bell and I were up on Ceann Garbh.

And how many sheep did you have on there?
There was about 700 ewes, plus the wethers

So what stage in the shepherding year were they at when you started in the summer?
They were through, they were finished the marking and they were going into start the milk clipping, so if the weather was good you were gathering for weeks, you were away early, you would probably be away about four o’clock in the morning and you just finished when you finished at night.

So that was the milk clipping?
Aye

So did they get anything else done to them as well as clipped?
Oh yes, all the lambs and everything was dipped and all the yeld sheep were dipped, they had been clipped in June and marked, so that takes you right on, and if you’re lucky with the weather, good, you would be finished into the second week in August.

Where did the wool go?
The wool went to Paisley, the Wool Growers in Paisley the lorry loads went away in the big hessian bags, big heavy bags; they had to be strung up and packed. Lorry contractors came in and there was always two or three loads went away.

How much would a fleece have been in 1959?
Oh, a fleece would be worth roughly about a pound, which was a lot of money then, eh

So after the milk clipping what was the next step?
It was just a week’s till we started gathering for speaning lambs for sale, Speaning? Eh taking the lambs off the ewes, and then the old ewes were for selling, the cast ewes, well most of them were six years old some of them were five in September

How much would a cast ewe be?
Oh…. The cast ewes at that time were probably five, six pounds

At that time when they were gathered, was there anything else done to them other than being separated from their mother and the cast ewes sold?
That was it, then the next gathering, once you had finished that one you would gather again and everything would be dipped.

What time of year was that?
October time, winter dipping.
So that they were all done and your hogs were all ready for going away to winter.

What about your tups where were they?
Tups they were always kept on the low ground

How many of them were there?
Oh…at that time….well there used to be about four tups to one hundred ewes, it was hundreds of tups.

Hundreds of tups?
Aye...

So when were the tups put out then?
Usually about the 25th November
Once the tupping was bye they were taken back down and dosed again in January for Fluke that was them again till March for the spring dipping for the ticks. Your hogs were home by then from there wintering at the beginning of April.

Where were they?
They were away; they went away all different places, some to Stirling area some in Ayrshire.

How many hogs were wintered?
25% of your stock say you had 100 ewes, 25 would be kept.

Then the lambs would start anywhere after the 20th April and that would take you through to three week to a month, you would just go out to the hill each day, the odd place they had fields, there was a man on every hill, so that took you through to the end of May time and then you would get ready for the marking. And you started your marking, you marked your lambs, clipped your hogs and clipped your yeld ewes, ewes that had no lambs and your wethers at that time to, they were all clipped in June. Then you started the same procedure in July, gathered them all in again, got your milk ewes clipped and then the lambs dipped, and then the same thing all over again.

The sales were in September and then when Ben Coutts was here in I think it was 1962 they started our own sale here at Clachan, and everything was sold on the one day, usually the last week of September. So you had to have everything ready by then, you had to start in August getting everything in, dosed, dipped and inoculated as well for different things and then you would have the big draft sale of between four and five thousand, between ewes and lambs sold here at Clachan, in the yard here where Loch Fyne Oysters is. That was Ardkinglas estate and Ardno was in it then too.

I started on Ceann Garbh and then on to Newton, Iain moved onto Clachan because Calum MacDonald who was here went to Ardno, Roddy MacDiarmid came down from Butterbridge in the early 60s and he was on Cuil, that where old Donald Robertson was, the “cook” they called him, he was at Drishaig, so he went to Croitachonie with Calum when Calum went to Ardno, they were on Ardno side of it.

Then my brother Colin he came back in 1961 and he was on Ceann Garbh.

How would the summer gathering go?
Well it would be all arranged that you would know where you were going the next day, and there was eight or nine of us gathering, some would maybe be driving vehicles and what not, and your day probably started at four in the morning. So you would start of gathering, people would be on the phone but when you didn’t have the phone and it was misty it was a wee bit dodgy because you didn’t know whether to come or go. When we had the phones it was fine you could phone up one another and say if you were going, the bigger hills took five to six hours gathering, so by the time you got in, I always had my breakfast before we were leaving in the morning then we would, likes of my mother and Mrs MacDiarmid, Butterbridge and Mrs Morrison over at Rowantree at the time they did the “handlings” What is that? They did the food, you went to that house and you got your breakfast.

And what would that consist off?
Oh, porridge, bacon, eggs whatever was going then you had your full bowl of soup, meat, tatties at midday and then if you were going on at night, you know shearing then you would get what was called high tea, maybe salad and what not then, maybe a cup of tea in between as well. They would send in their orders to Inveraray to the grocer and it would all come up in boxes, it was fine if you were getting on, if you were hit by bad weather, it wouldn’t keep for all the time, there was no fridges or anything!

Was that why there was always maggots on the meat?
Aye, scrape them off!

So you all went back there at a certain time?
Sometimes up the glen, marking up at Inverchorachan, someone would come down in the Landrover and then we would just take the stuff from the baskets. Depended when you got started clipping it could be two or three in the afternoon you were probably finished by five or six, but if you got started at six, it would be eight or nine before you got finished, but you just carried on and finished them and then you would be back out the next morning and off to the next hill.

Where was everyone dropped off?
We were quite fortunate that the roads were getting made at that time up Glen Shira by the Hydro, and that saved a lot of time, you could run round with the Landrover and so many would start at that side and so many on this side, and so you all had to work and you timed.

Would that be at the top at Benvalagan, bringing them all down?
Yes, bringing them down to Inverchorachan, that was the main fank for handling them for the top of the glen. Then you had a fank at Mark Park for the Newton and then you had a fank at Clachan, which there a new fank was built here at the steadings in the late 50s it was built as compensation for a landslide that came down from the top of the hill there, behind Clachan, but the old main fank was the one up at the whirlpool there, and then also Drishaig.

What hirsels would come down into Inverchorachan then?
Ceann Garbh, Benvalagan and Trosgiche, Newton and Beinn a Chas came into Mark Park, Clachan and low of Clachan came into Clachan and then Cuil came down into Drishaig. Butterbridge well you had the fank there, then half way up Glen Kinglas, Leaicheian, the bottom part of Leaicheian at marking time went into it. Up at the planting there above Tom Turnbull’s dam the road goes through the fank, that’s where the fank was, that was in 1963.
They built a wooden one above it but we only used it once or twice it wasn’t used a lot and then we started taking them all the way up to Butterbridge.

Then Achadunan, Achrioch and Cruich, we had the wee fank at Achrioch and Cruich and the main thing was taken down to Achadunan. Achadunan, it was just a fank there so we used to take the sheep from there across to Clachan, because there was a new shed built here, and we would take them over here and shear them after the Langs went out in 1956/57, out of Achadunan and the byres became available, they we converted for working for shearing and then the big shed was built at Achadunan, that was in 1968 I think it was.

But Butterbridge, Corrie and Ben Vane you had a wee fank at Corrie, marking and everything was done, we got to yeld there weather permitting and the rest was taken to Butterbridge and done there.

So what about the fanks on the other side of Glen Kinglas?
Well Ardno worked them, they were worked till the sheep went off and it was planted. They had to walk the sheep from Glen Kinglas to Ardno to shear them, they didn’t shear them up there so that meant going down the main road to Ardno, to the fank there and then down to the shed.

When you were dosing the sheep can you remember what the make was?
It was Coopers, fluke and worm drench, that was one of the main ones, then they started with other worm doses like Flebenzil???? was one of the first ones, then we had, oh it was green stuff you had to mix it up, I know Mr Michael he bought about a ton of it, it came in drums, oh it was horrible stuff, it was like a hot water bottle thing went on your back, oh, Fenifison that what it was called??

In 1959 it was liquid dip then the name was, it was tick dip, Coopers for the spring and then the summer dip for the flys, then you had the black winter dip that was full of DDT and poisonous stuff, which wasn’t very good for you but you were covered in it anyway.

So was that banned?
Aye, it was banned in the 70s I think it was, early 80s and they brought in other stuff, but the likes of these old dips you used gallons of dip, probably five gallons of dip to one hundred gallons of water, it used to come in forty gallon drums, then they brought out stuff that you were only putting in so many mill’s to so many gallons of water.

To get that mixed and up there to the fank must have been a task?
We used to put a tap onto it and fill up five gallon cans and take it in that.

How did you get the water into it?
Piped in, we always had a burn quite close, there was no dipper at Mark Park, there was a wee one at Clachan built on.

When was that built on?
That must have been about the 40s, then the big one here (Clachan) when the new fank was built, a great big tank here a big five hundred gallon tank, it was a cracking big dipper, then we had the ones at Inverchorachan too, they were always dam places to work because you put them in at the end of the dipper and they would need to swim, but we kind of devised it that we would put them in at the side, you dropped them in and it made it a lot easier, it was potent stuff some of that dip, aye.

Did you own a sheepdog?
Aye two or three.

When did you get your first dog?
My first dog I bought off Jimmy Waddle, a wee bitch in 1959 when I started, it cost a fiver, he didn’t want anything but I gave him a fiver.

And was it a good we dog?
Aye, I always had to or three, just got them from here and there sometimes you paid something a bit for them other times you would get a pup from someone.

Did you ever do sheepdog trials?
No

Not interested?
No

I take it you helped at sheepdog trials though?
Oh aye, the local one.

So what was involved in that?
Well the whole estate was involved in it, it was a big day out, you had plenty men and the boys from the estate got time off

When was it?
It was always August, because Ardkinglas and Strone had their own guests invited for that day and they would come for lunch, teas at Strone and then they would come up to the dog trials.

So preparing for the trials, what was involved in that?
You would put the tents up, you would have the member’s tent and you would have another tent way separate for the handlers, and then the judge, there was all seats made for it on the hill, it was a great sight above the village there. You would just rely on donations you didn’t pay money, to run at the trials it was only two and six, and it was just Cowal in 1959 and plenty of dogs, shepherds and farmers from Dunoon end and Lochgoilhead, there was shepherds in all places.

For two in six it was a good day out, you got running with a dog, you would get a dram at the field a dram at the hotel and you would get a lunch.

So there was a holding fank up at the top?
Five men went up there in the morning, and then we changed it half way through, the new ones went out then.

So how did it work was there a lot off sheep up in that fank?
Yes, what we used to do was take, well you needed five sheep for every man, so what they would do, they would take half up in the morning and put them in the pen and then when the next boys went up they would take fresh sheep up.

It got shifted in the early 60s it was getting terrible mucky at the holding pen at the top so we shifted it down a wee bit, we carried all the stuff up to make the new pen, and then we shifted it back up again.

In 1959 how many people do you think were entering?
About thirty, it gradually started getting less, people going off the places and what not, and then they opened it up to Argyll in the 70s and into the 80s and then they opened it right up to everyone, from Honolulu if you wanted to get the numbers!

The last trials was in 2014, no shepherds, no one to work it.




Malcolm MacKay
Electric Cottage
Inveraray
Argyll

Malcolm on the right

Here We Are

20th October 2016
Interviewed by Dot Chalmers

Also present Alistair MacCallum and Roddy MacDiarmid

I’ll start off by asking you a bit about yourself Malcolm?
I was born and bred in Glen Array at Inveraray where my father was the tenant farmer, and that’s where I started my shepherding career.

I left school at 15 in 1956 and went to work at Ladyfield Farm where my father was tenant.
My Great Uncle Hugh Tullich had a great amount of knowledge if only I had listened he knew everything about parts of the hill and people who stayed in houses, but it just went in one ear and out the other. It would be good if I could get him back here now…..

You picked up how to do things as you went along , when it was only me I used to follow father round the hill and when you were back working you were supposed to be giving a hand, but sometimes you were getting in the road, you just picked up things, I never went to college or anything like that.

Alistair – better than any college.

Saying about not going to college, I think it is a good thing to go away to college for a while to get different ideas and that, I think that’s a good thing to see how others work, now with book work and everything, that’s the main thing now.

Roddy – we could have been working, the three of us here could be working side by side with a boy who had a college education, he could be as thick as a gate post but by law he could get paid more than us because he has been to agricultural college. I remember thinking years ago that is totally unfair and still do.

He had no work experience?
Roddy - He had no work experience at all, none.

Do you not think that they were interested in shepherding or the farming?
It wasn’t natural; the only experience they had was doing two or three weeks on a farm through college.

Why would anyone want to do that if they weren’t interested?
Roddy - Basically they probably were interested in the job, but being interested and being able to carry out that job are two entirely different things altogether and you’re not going to gather a hill, you’re not going to work a dog going to agricultural college. In all honesty you learn very little. It’s only the very, very, very basics of work experience that you get at college. Whereas being at home you’re out there working with different people that knew the job inside out and you were learning, if you were willing to learn, you would learn something new every day.

So do you think that helped you if you went to work somewhere else, say in Scotland and England?
Roddy - Yes, I think so, because you learned the hard way, if you learned a job the hard way you learned the job the right way, I remember here Ali and me getting a right telling off because we were shearing sheep and we were only about fifteen at the time, and we made a backside of shearing sheep, and we got an awful row from all the older shepherds and that put us in good stead.

You got a bit better in the end?
Roddy – we improved

Alistair – as Roddy Luke said, he’s an uncle of mine who lived at Rosemary cottage, Laglingarton. He had built a wall and gate and this student came along and hit it with the tractor. He said “the more you ........ well educate, the stupider they get”

Roddy – I was there and I saw the wall that Roddy had made at Achadunan, and this third degree student had come roaring up the road with the tractor and trailer, and came right round, almost a U turn, and Roddy had just finished the job and was admiring his work and this idiot came in with the tractor and knocked the wall completely down!

Malcolm - My first gathering was in Drimlee which is in Glen Shira over the hill, I would have been about thirteen at the time and it was great excitement going away in the morning about five 0’clock, we met up with other shepherds at Glen Shira to gather into Drimlee.

Where is Drimalee?
It’s up Glen Shira
We were clipping about 200 at a time as it was all hand shears at the time

What time are you talking about?
I was thirteen year old it would be about 1954 or 55 so we met with the other shepherds, who was Neil Graham he was the head shepherd in Drimlee and Peter MacGregor was the single shepherd and Charlie MacLearn. So we gathered into Drimlee fank and, well we went for our breakfast when we came in, then we did the fank work, you know dipped the lambs, and we took the sheep up to the shed for shearing, that was starting maybe about 1 o’clock and we were shearing about 200 as there was only 3 clippers, I was doing the crogging and Charlie MacLearn was rolling the wool. We worked to maybe about 6 o’clock and then we had our tea, and then we had to walk back over the hill which would be nearly two hours, so we were pretty tired when we got home that night. So that was my first experience of gathering.

Were they all black face sheep?
Yes, they were all black face.

And what time of year was this?
It was school holiday time, it would be July.

So when did you leave school?
When I was fifteen and I worked on the farm as we were the tenant farmers, I spent the first ten years of my working life there with my family. And the farm was taken over for forestation and it went back to Argyll Estates with shepherding in Drimlee with Peter MacGregor.

How did you get a job with Argyll Estates?
Well I was asked

They asked you?
Yes, it was very handy anyway
I worked on Drimlee, there was about 1600ewes on it at that time and there were two shepherds, myself and Peter MacGregor.

That’s a lot isn’t it?
Just a normal size farm at that time

During gathering times did anyone come to help you?
Oh yes, used to neighbour with Kilblan? And that was about it then. But what I was going to say was two years later we were kind of short of men then, so the farm manager and Alistair must have got together.

Who was the farm manager?
John Mackenzie was farm manager on Argyll Estates at that time, so we were short of men so we got together and Ardkinglas men came to us, and we returned the compliment as it was.

Can you remember when that was that you started coming to Cairndow?
1973- 74 maybe, and that was when I had the first experience of gathering in Ardkinglas, gathering in Ceann Garbh. At day break I was picked up at Glen Shira by Alistair, Alistair (MacCallum) was driving and his brother Bealdie (Archie MacCallum), he was there to take the vehicle home.

Well Storkie (Iain Bell) was with us, we went to the corrie buie?? We went away out there, Alistair was going to the top, Storkie was next and I was below that and Peter Macgregor was down the bottom of the glen, and Roddy and Angie MacDiarmid and Brem (Alistair Bremner) came out from the other side. I remember it was a very hot day and it was a big hill compared to what I was used too anyway and your next man was you know miles away you could hardly see them. So we set off anyway, down through the” bad rock”

Why was it called the “bad rock?”
Alisatair – Oh well it was a kind of sticky rock, just above the shepherds fight, the back of Ceann Garbh.

So we went on and on and I thought we were never coming to an end, and then we came down to Inverchorachan and it was getting very hot by then, and then we came down to Clachan and had our breakfast there, Alistairs mother (Tina MacCallum)made the breakfast.
So we went back up and we did the fank work then, oh it was hot by this time, we got the sheep all through the shedder and the ones to be clipped were to go down to the big shed, and once they got out the fank they went straight to the river for a drink they were so thirsty. So it was a long day for me that too.

Was it only on an odd day that you came over or was it once or twice a week?
No….if the weather was good maybe twice, but the Ardkinglas men came to us as well so, that’s the way it was then.

So did you enjoy that?
Oh yes…it was an experience anyway, and I remember another time we had to do it, you’ll remember it Alisatair, you were wanting gathered for the sale and the terrible mist, we couldn’t get gathering, so we got set to go one afternoon away to Benvalagan it was, and the rain, the rain and the burns went up off course, the sheep were getting stuck going across the river but we managed to get them out anyway. There was two old men there, Donald MacPherson and Kenny MacAskill they had to walk away back up before they could cross the burn, how quick it can change.

Alistair – some sheep drowned

Malcolm - However they made for it, the river to try and get across, there was nothing we could do anyway we were committed.

Alistair – I’ve seen this on dry days, you try to put them across and you’ve a job, that day they took off, I’ve never seen anything like it! I thought we would leave them in the fank for the night, by the time we got down, by the name of god, they were away down the glen

Malcolm – Do you remember that day?

Roddy – I wasn’t there

Alistair – Oh it was wet, that was Alex Buchan and them took the same day but they got the rain first we were way round the back when it came on, but by the time it hit them they got back in the vehicles, but we were away by that time and our vehicle was left.

Malcolm – that was some day.

How long did this arrangement go on for?
Maybe four or five years, then Storkie started working with Argyll Estates and Duncan, my brother so we managed to do it on our own.

So what happened with you then Al?
Willie Findlay came into Achadunan then and we started gathering with them and they were gathering with us.(1984)

Malcolm – another experience gathering in Ardkinglas was Trosgiche the famous Trosgiche the rocks and that I was never used to rocks (Alistair is already laughing) going along the row, maybe half way up, I think it was Angie (MacDiarmid) who was above me and sheep went into a rock and needed a prod to get out, off course lost her feet, swish….......(rolling hand movements) it didn’t do my confidence any good anyway!! Oh she went whirling up in the air; I don’t know where she ended up. I was going on my hands and knees after that! (Everyone laughing) Peter MacGregor he was below me here he had on the sandshoes! (laughing) I was holding onto the brackens, the hills up where we were was woods and brackens, here it was rocks like Ace na cailleach up there, a frightening place.

Alistair – we were stalking on Trosgiche and it was an American guy shooting, and he wounded a stag and it went down, and we went over to get it, came to the edge, Gee……..s it’s a precipice down there! He couldn’t go down, no we were doomed!

Malcolm - All of us got on well together and after a hard day’s work we usually adjourned over to Cairndow hotel and two or three swallay’s and it was great the gathering and clipping that went on in there, in no time at all the sheep were all gathered and the wool and dogs. (laughing)

Did you have a dog?
Aye

Where did you get your dog?
I never bought a dog they were all given to me, maybe got a pup from somebody, I never did any
trials, they did the job, nothing great right enough.

Another experience I had at Ardkinglas, mind when we used to gather Cuil, all the dogs were loaded in the van, it was early in the morning, you would open the door and the dogs were going everywhere, except for Roddy MacDiarmid’s though, it was at his heal, the rest took off full of excitement, barking, onto the road!

Roddy – In a land rover it was nothing for four or five of us to be in the back with a dozen dogs, and the dogs would be as crabbit as a bag of weasels and they would start a fight and you’re sitting in among them, and their tearing lumps out of one another, doing their duster

Malcolm – Aye and doing their business (laughter)

So it was all good fun?

Aye

Can you remember how much you earned when you left school?
When I was in the farm we just got what you were given.

Well when you worked for Argyll Estates?
I think it was about £40 a fortnight, that would be in 1970, and I’m no very sure right enough, and you had the keep of a cow, and you got potatoes, I had my own house right enough, I got an allowance because it was my own house. Somebody …….?? in the next house they got their house.

Did you get coal?
No, not in my time, there was always lots of fire wood right enough.

Did you get a dog allowance?
Yes, for two dogs

Can you remember how much it was?
I can’t remember how much it would be

When we were younger and the schemes were going at the time and the young ones were earning big money.

The schemes?

The Hydro schemes, oh they were getting hundreds of pounds and we were only getting pennies, and we were working, away out at five in the morning, working till ten o’clock at night sometimes, going to dances, the workers they would have plenty of money and we were scrounging about for pennies, that was a bit off a sore thing.

Did you never think of moving going to work on the schemes?
Thought about it right enough but never got any further than that.

Was that because you were working on your own farm?
Aye, on my own farm with my family.

Would you not have been allowed or you just didn’t want to?
Well in my case I wouldn’t be allowed anyway, because it was our own farm and I needed to help.

I left Argyll Estates as Tullich(sp) farm became vacant, they planted Ladyfield Farm, Tullich(sp) they couldn’t plant so I got the tenancy of it, that was in 1980 I think or 1979 so I had the tenancy then, but I still stayed in the Electric Cottage and travelled up the road every day, it’s about four miles. So that’s where I spent the rest of my working life there in Tullich. I worked there myself; it had about 600 ewes and 25 cows, until I retired in 1998. I am 75 years old now and I am still living in Electric Cottage I have been there since 1969.


Alistair Bremner
11 Kilmorich
Cairndow
Argyll



Alistair Bremner (Brem)driving the tractor


Dot Chalmers
Here We Are
9th December 2016

Where were you born Brem?

I was born in Thurso, Dunbar hospital.

And how long did you stay there for?
Well, my first school as in Watten which is up there, in Caithness. I was only there for about six months I think and then the chase of the holy grail, of the better job started and then we moved to a place called Ousdale it is in Wester Ross, then we moved to a place just outside Dingwall the name of the farm was Woodlands, but I went to Evanton school and that maybe took me till I was eight and then we moved to Ulva, which is an island off Mull, and sure enough after one year we moved from Ulva onto Mull, to Lochbuie and we worked for a guy named John Corbett.

What age are you now then?
I am still in primary school, went to Lochbuie school in Invergeldie , and then we moved from there back to the mainland, Invergeldie, to Funtullich which is up the back of Comrie in Perthshire, and then after again probably a couple of years we moved to Eileann Shona, which was my last primary school, which is near Acharacle and that’s where I went to high school, for some reason we stayed there a good long while because I never went to any other high school, I went to various primary schools but I only went to Lochaber High school. When I left High school I started work in Glen Lyon, we were moving again, moved to Pubil and that is where I got my first job that was where I got my first dog.

What age were you then?
15

Left school at 15, can you remember how much you got paid then, what your first wage was?
Yes, I think it was £18 for a month.

And did you get a dog allowance?
Yes, possibly actually I’m not sure.

I worked on Megernie Estate, owned by WH & HO Wills the tobacco people, Sir Edward Wills. For some reason because I was young I was seconded onto the stalking at that time of year and I had to look after the pony, which they had for bringing the stags in and the pony had a saddle on it, and the deer was put on the saddle (what a carry on that was) as it had to be tied on the correct way and what not. Because of the nature of the land, you know Glen Lyon quite steep and rough that was the only way you could get them off, and that was my job, I would be following round below, when they shot a stag I would come in with the pony and get the pony organised and get this bloody deer on it! There was no Argo’s then!

Did you enjoy that?
Ehm…No, it was cold and wet and you just did it because you had to, there was no choice in it, augh it was only for a couple of years anyway and then we moved to Islay, and we were there for four or five years.

What was your job out there?
Stockman, which meant you looked after sheep and cattle, we did some tractor work but we didn’t do any ploughing or anything, again when it came to hay or silage you were expected to take a week at hay and maybe a week doing silage, especially if they happened to be filling the pit, where we stayed like at Killinallan if they were making silage there you would be involved in it. But we seemed to be making silage in Islay for ever, used to start at the middle of May the first cut, and you would be still cutting silage going into September. And the pits were massive, we used to have draff from the distilleries and of course there are a lot of distilleries in Islay, so we got a lot of that and it was put into the pits first and then the grass went on top of it, but there was a lot of cattle there. It was Lord Margandales Islay farms that we worked for, which most people new it as Islay House, it doesn’t exist anymore.

When we went there first of all, Killinallan house was in a bit of disrepair so we stayed in Bridgend, the blue houses for a couple of years and travelled to Killinallan every day to work, it was three or four miles it wasn’t far but Bridgend was where Islay House is, that was there headquarters as you might say, they had a big workshop, employed three people and they looked after the tractors and all the machinery and they did a bit of other farms work, they would bring in their machinery as well.

And then we moved to Killanallan and we got various perks because it was isolated, we did quite well out of it. They used to have the breeding stock that was kept at Killanallan, they were all year olds and two years olds, you know they were calves, as soon as they came off their mother they came to us and we would keep them till they got first bulled heifers, and then they would go to their various farms in Islay Estate.

What breed of cattle were they?
They were cross highland again at that time we used to have pedigree highland cattle, and we used to go to the Highland Show and quite often won it! They were quite good cattle! But we had about fifty at Gortantaoid, the next farm down the way from us and we looked after this fifty cattle, I don’t know if you would be allowed to do it today, but the cattle we had there had their horns cut off them by the vet, so it would help with feeding, so that they didn’t damage each other with their horns.

What was the name of that farm? I’ll never be able to spell it!
Gortantaoid it was gaelic.

It was my father that looked after them, that was his job, he was the shepherd down there, there was about 800 sheep and this fifty cows, they were pure highlanders, but there was a short horn bull that went on them, they were quite difficult to deal with, but they weren’t quite so bad because they were crosses and we didn’t need to tag them immediately, it was in the first few days you could get the tags on them. But if we had highlanders, they had to be done that day. And oh….what a carry on it was because the highland cow would have her calf and hide it, you would know she had calved but you would need to watch her for half the day till she went back to where the calf was, and then you would have to get a hold of this bloody calf, and get the tag on it because it was pedigree, and you had to know when it was born and its mothers tag number. They all had gaelic names as well and the boss who was from Aberdeen had to name them and he did not speak gaelic!

Was the mother quite protective?
Oh….very quiet often you would need to bring the tractor and trailer, and get the calf under the trailer because as soon as you caught it, it would go “bhaa” and the mother was wondering what you were doing to it and she would be trying to get under the trailer to get at you….but it was fun!

But that was all part of the Highland Show business, because they were going to the Highland Show you were se-conded into training whatever was going to the show to go on a halter….and that was fun, because they had never seen a man hardly, and then you had to get them to lead them round the show ring….and it was interesting!
Sometimes there was cows that they wanted to show but they were too wild they couldn’t get them to walk on a halter.

There was TB testing everyone tested for that, but there was Brucellosis accredited cattle, that was another job getting blood from them all. So because of that all the farms in Islay House had double fencing round them to stop the accredited cattle making contact with the non-accredited cattle, the fences were not that wide so it was a piece nonsense really. The Islay House herd was accredited.

We had a bit off a tragedy, when we had these young cattle the year and two year olds, and one night the tide caught about thirty of them, and they just appeared on the shore, drowned and that was probably the biggest reason for leaving Islay, because it was a bit of a sickener, it just happened. We were on Islay when the moon landings took place and down from Killinallan there was what was called the “warren” which was sand dunes with the rushes, and I remember us sitting in the house watching the moon landings on TV and my father came in and upset my sister Margaret by saying he had seen them down in the “warren” and it was a fake, and she was quite upset. It was funny that years later there was some issues that the shadows were the wrong way around, but he definitely didn’t see them in the warren! The young cattle used to shelter in that, but we don’t know what happened, but some of them turned up in Colonsay which was the island next to us. My father was quite upset by it and he wanted out of there.

Brem could you tell me when you moved here and where you moved from?
I moved here in 1972, I came from Islay; a farm in Islay called Killinallan.

And what age were you then? What is your date of birth?
2nd of April 1952 so I would have been 20.

What was the reason you came to Cairndow?
Well, yes, um, my father was always wanting to go looking for the holy grail, wanting a better job, we had stayed a while in Islay and it was an island, and that had its drawbacks so we decided to come back to the mainland and we came on the 12th or the 4th of July I know it was that

Why do you remember that?

Because its either, America’s Independence Day or it’s the big thing in Ireland, marching bands and when we were in Islay we had Ulster television so therefore everything to do with Ireland was more known about than about Scotland because we didn’t get STV we got Ulster TV.

How did your dad find out about this job then?
I don’t know but I think it would have been advertised in the Oban Times or the Scottish Farmer one of them and Johnny Noble and David Drummond came to interview us in Killinallan.

Was that John or Michael Noble?
I think it was Johnny Noble, yes it definitely was, and then we got the job and Ernie MacPherson, Alistair MacCallum and Angie MacDiarmid came out with a cattle float and moved us.

And can you remember that day?
Oh aye! And that was my first time meeting Ernie, and I came on the lorry with Ernie, and it was interesting.

What do you mean by interesting?
Well, local chap he knew everything about everywhere and was pointing things out as we were going along, because I was from the sticks remember, being in Islay.
And I remember when I got the job here I started off as tractor man and I was a bit concerned, coming to the mainland that they would be much more modern, and, so we had got a new tractor on Islay Estates as it was, and I was getting all the information on what was different about it, and when I came here it was like going back in time, because the tractors were small and old, I should have been going to look at the old crofter farms in Islay, they didn’t even have that then they had all been modernised and we had a system where we would buy new tractors every second year, two of them were replaced and it was quite up to date, they were all Massey Fergusons and they were quite big in comparison to the 135’s that we had here, and we used to call one of the tractors “The Big Tractor” it was big tractor because it had a big cab on it that was all, it wasn’t any bigger than any off the rest. And the silage making was quite old fashioned here compared to what we did in Islay but anyway.

Was it making much less silage or was it the whole process?
Well the whole process off doing it was much smaller here, I mean the cut was probably about two foot, but it was quite remarkable that in later years we caught up and we had the exact same machine here as we had had in Islay, maybe five years previous or more!

So that would have been Cairndow Estate you came too?
Yes it was, yes the Ardkinglas Estate was different, but my father went to Ardkinglas Estate he was engaged by Ardkinglas Estate, that’s why Johnny Noble was over for the interview.

When you got here where did you live?
We lived up in Stalkers cottage.

So you and your mother and father and who else?
My whole family, George and Hughie, Tina and Margaret, Tina and Margaret went to Dunoon high school and George went to Cairndow, I suppose Hughie went to Cairndow as well, they were all still in school then.

So you are the oldest?
Yes

So what was it your father was doing on Ardkinglas Estate?
Shepherding, he was a shepherd

So, did he have a hirsel?
Possibly, but I don’t know where

Do you know who he would be working with?
Yes, I can tell you that, it was Alistair MacCallum he was head shepherd and Roddy and Angie MacDiarmid were there, and that was it I think.

When you came to work for Cairndow Estate were you always tractor man?
Yes, I was engaged as tractor man that was all, it was only after years gone bye, that I became more involved with the sheep, I had one dog, it was the same dog as I had from when I left school, and she was still with me so I would help now and again, with gathering and dipping and clipping, but it was not my job.

So you were never in charge of a hirsel?
No

I learned to clip in Islay, it was petrol driven shears

Petrol, I’ve never heard of petrol?
Yes,they were Briggs and Stratton motors, there was two worked off them, they were good because they could go anywhere if there was not power and that was the case in Islay, one of the places in Islay was near Bunnahabhain distillery and there was no power there, so there was no power at the fank so we had to use these mobile ones

When you came here did you use electric shearers?
Yes, we did and the clipping sets, where as in Islay we didn’t have the clipping sets.

What did your job involve when you were tractor man?
Making hay was Michael Nobles passion, I had to make hay, he would be in the House of Lords in London and he would come up, by plane, get into his big Rolls Royce, car and not stop till he was in the fields seeing if the hay was ready for baling. That was his passion, oh aye, if we succeeded in getting a lot of bales of hay in, you had done a good job and he was delighted.

Did you get a bonus or anything for that?
No, …. Ha ha

When you moved to the house, the house would be a tied house through the estate?
Yes,

Did you get any allowances, like coal or keep a cow?
Definitely not, we didn’t have a cow I don’t think we were allowed; we had a cow in Islay that was the good thing about Islay, you didn’t get paid much but you got a lot of perquisites, perks, you would get coal we had free electricity as we were on the generator for Killinallan as there was no mains electrivity, we got a fortnight off to cut your own peat and that wasn’t part of you holidays, you just got the time off.

That was good though, so you didn’t pay for your coal, can you remember if you got coal here?
No, no.

I think it came to Islay in a puffer.

The same as here.

That was certainly the case when we were in Mull before we were in Islay.

So, when you were working at Achadunan then I take it, it was Achadunan you were mainly working at?

Yes

Who were you working along with?
Em, any of the shepherds when required really, silage making and we used to us the kids

When you say kids, who was that?
John (Beattie), your brother and Pokey (James MacCallum) and Brian Wilson was another one.

So that would be the late 70s?
Yes, I suppose so, because John started working with us full time when he was 16 when he left school.

And what was it he did?
He was on the tractor as well.

I can’t remember that
Well he was.

When you moved to Ardno, were you working at Ardno or were you still working at Achadunan?
My mother and father left after about a year, on my 21st Birthday and I went into lodge with John Baker who moved to Cairndow and was in Achadunan Cottage, and then about another six months a year I got married to June Livingstone from Inveraray and we moved into Bridge Cottage, we stayed in it for, probably a year maybe more and then they moved me to number 4, Hydro Houses, I don’t know why maybe to get me somewhere bigger, because the Bridge Cottage only had one bedroom. And then from there I moved down to Ardno because the new house that had been built, it was built on an agricultural grant and they were going to have to pay back the grant if they didn’t have an agricultural worker in it, because it was a holiday house, and I got it.

That was nice?
Aye it was..... very.
The problem with number 4 was the under floor heating we couldn’t run it because it was so expensive, so I moaned at that and the house at Ardno needed an agricultural worker so I got put into it, and then I was given a mini pickup to go up and down to Achadunan, so although I was living at Ardno I never really worked there.
When it came to hay or that all the shepherds were involved in it, especially when it came to taking the hay in at night, when it had been baled, into the shed, as I said earlier Michael was delighted when it was in the shed, didn’t matter that it was the worst rubbish hay ever or the best as long as it was in a bale and in the shed he was happy.

Did you ever have any dealing with Michael, did you speak to him?
Oh yes, lots of times, you would be summoned to the kitchen at Strone, and he was a heavy smoker and he smoked, I don’t know what they were but they were in a tin and I mean he shouldn’t have smoked because Christ he would go into a fit of coughing and you didn’t know what to do, whether he would come out the other end or not! He would tell you any changes that were going to happen.

Was he quite approachable?
Yes, he was always there and that was the difference when he went there was nobody and he was the figure head and if he said yes, it was yes and if he said no it was no. Whereas when the family took over, you had Johnny Delap giving you instructions on bits and pieces and how he thought the farm was doing and then there Captain Warburton, Maria’s husband, they were the only two that took anything to do with it, Rebecca’s husband Jonathan Boyle didn’t take much to do with it.

What about Denzil How?
Well he just took to do with Ardno, but Kate would speak to you, she was probably the only sister who took anything to do with anything and the employees, but then I was staying at Ardno she sort of moved into Ardno at that time and then I left, when Willie took over.

So what fields were all hay then?
Point park was always hay, don’t know why just tradition.

Is that the one in front of the house?
No, it is the one in front of the house I was talking about, the bungalow, and the one in front of the house was hay as well and the one next to that, in fact all the lower fields were hay, but then over time they had to start making silage, because the weather was so poor we weren’t able to make decent hay, or any hay so we made a pit sort of temporary thing, nowadays health and safely would have a fit but however….

Where did you make that?
It was at Ardno, it was just a sort of temporary job

That lasted for years!
Dug out the ground.

And then it was just throw in and covered?
Yes

At Achadunan what fields were hay?
Well there wasn’t a lot of them hay, it was more traditional that it was all silage, the first, second, third and fourth field were all made into silage because they were closer to the pit, the pit was in the yard at Achadunan, between the big shed and the old buildings.

Was there anything else grown at Achadunan?
We did direct drill kale, turnips which were stripped grazed by the lambs at the back end of the year to try and fatten them up for sale, the cattle got the silage and the sheep in the big shed got the silage as well.

So was this the sheep that were in for lambing?
They tried to work with improvers they were Finnish Land Race cross breed, they had loads of lambs they weren’t very productive. The idea was they were wanting them to have three or four lambs but as time progressed that wasn’t very successful as a sheep only had two teets and she can’t rear any more than two successfully. But when they first started in the big shed, they were trying to get more per ewe than the norm and we had these cross breed things, ucht it didn’t last very long. And we went onto the mules the same as everyone else, and of course we had the old black face ewes as well.

Mules did you say?
Mules, which is a cross breed which is on the go now, a cross between blackies and grey faced Leicester. Well anyway we worked with them, just like most people who have crosses now, and they were better, they were much bigger and the obviously the lambs were bigger and more successful. I think, I, we had one or two Suffolk’s as well which were crossed, they were kept in the fields during the summer and then in the winter they were in the big shed.

There was about 30 cows which were crossed highlands or Luing, tried to get them as a sort of breed of its own as it were, they were short horn bull put to the highland cow and this gave you this cross that they thought was quite successful, I don’t know if it’s still on the go or not.
The Cadzoe Luing on the Isle of Luing they introduced this for some reason. Going back to the other crops we had we had two or three acres of potatoes, which we grew for the workers, they were put in a pit, either at Ardno or Achadunan and you could go and help yourself to them, it was just part of the wages.

We used to grow Golden Wonders, which were rubbish

Were they!
Well they were small and never very great but we grew them anyway because Donald and Ernie liked them, and we used to grow Pentland Dells and Kerrs Pink which were big and white and soft, they were very good, well size wise, you could get lots of them for the same bit of ground. We grew rape as well it was a green, not unlike kale, it was not as strong as kale it was for the sheep.

So there was quite a lot of experiments on what would be best for the sheep and the cows?
Oh aye, they were quite innovative I suppose that was Michael wanting to make the best of what was there, like the big shed I don’t know who’s idea that was, it was there when I came here in 1972, and over time we used it more and more, we had the annual sale there, it was generally in October, we sold all the lambs and old ewes, we had both Ardkinglas Estate and Cairndow Estates it was all one big day.

Was that to private sellers or was that to the market?
The market would come with their buyers, it was just another sale, but instead of us having to pay for them going to the market the buyer had to pay to take them from us and we used to get the same buyers coming back year after year, you know if they found that the sheep had done well with them, you would get the same people coming back for the old ewes and the lambs.

So do you think that Cairndow Estate farms had quite a good reputation for their sheep?
I think they probably did because the same people used to come all the time, there was a guy Smith from down the Borders seemed to buy a lot of them, he always bought the top lambs for some reason. We didn’t sell cattle at that sale, it was just sheep and it was all over in a day, it was a lot of work leading up to it because everything had to be tidied up to the sale. We used to get people who weren’t normally involved in the farm, in the run up to the sale like Charlie McLaren who stayed down at Inverfyne he would come for maybe the month prior to the sale and help making the pens, there was quite a number of these sort of people, another guy was Roddy Luke and he would get pens ready, tidy up and fix fences, just to make the place look good for that day.

Did you have any students working with you?
Yes, we did we had one or two, we had one who was a student vet for two summers.

Was he off any use, was he helpful?
Yes, he was good, I can’t remember his name that is a disgrace! He was a big guy who played rugby.

So you were talking about having cattle, about 30, where were there?
There were in the, what is now the brewery at Fyne Ales, that had been the byre, a traditional byre, years previous it had been owned by the Langs and they had a dairy there, and when it was decided to use it for cubicles and the cattle were put in there in cubicles and we used to clean it out with a scraper on the back of the tractor every day, and then we had this slurry that we spread on the fields and that helped to keep them fertilised.

So was the cows never out then?
Oh aye they were out in the summer but were in there in the winter, they more or less went in, it would be November or so, just when we needed to start feeding them. By that time we had round bales, and we used to dump the round bale in a tray thing that the cattle just gathered round and eat from it.

Are you still talking about the seventies Brem or are we into the eighties by this time?
I think we will be talking about the eighties now.

So where did the cows go for sale?
Oban

The shepherds that were here when you came here?
There was Donald who was the head shepherd, and Ernie stayed in Lindsays which is now Croft Kennels, and the Campbells stayed in which is still Campbells.

See old Archie what did he do?
He was sort of handy man at the hotel

Was he?
I think so

So he wasn’t a shepherd or anything?
No not then.

And Michael Griffen was in the house next to that.

Lower Croitachonie and was he a shepherd in 1972?
Yes, and there wasn’t anybody in the house above, I think it quite soon became a holiday house.

There was another guy Kitt Reid who lived over the loch next to Jimmy Waddle he stayed in Rowantree. Donald Beaton was in Butterbridge, Johnstone Munro was in Laglingarten.

Where did that Kitt Reid stay?
Glaschoine

He stayed in Glaschoine?
Aye, he had a part of it, yes Kitt was there.

Who was in Upper Glaschoine then?
I don’t think there was anybody, I can’t remember a worker being there. Johnny Baker came and he was in Achadunan Cottage, his job was to look after the low ground sheep, these ones that we were crossing and trying to make more prolific. Johnny came from Bishoptown, he was working there in the same sort of roll for the ship building guy, Lithgow, he worked for Lithgow, and he also has a place down at Ormsary. (Landcatch fish farm).

Now long did you work for Cairndow Estate?
I think it was about 12 years.

And why did you leave?
Well after ten years, well Michael died and the farm was let to Willie Findlay and I was made redundant by Cairndow Estate, and I was reemployed by Willie, because I knew the hills and whatnot and would be able to help him when he started, and I was with them for two years as I was obliged to, that was part of the condition that I would stay for two years, so I stayed for the two years and then I decided that I wanted to change and I went to work over on the other side of the Rest felling trees for a week, and I thought I spent more time on my backside than I did doing anything else, and I thought “this is no for me” and Ernie, good old Ernie came up and I was staying by this time in Rowantree. The last time I spoke I was living in Ardno, well I got moved from there back up to Achadunan, and then to Rowantree when I first started with the Findlays.

I think I went to Rowantree because it wasn’t a tied house and I was paying rent, when I was made redundant by the Estate, when Michael died quite sudden and I think we had about a year of the family running it and then they decided they couldn’t or didn’t want to continue and wanted to let the farm to a farmer and that is when Willie came in. He had a year when he still had Blairvockie Farm at Balmaha so we were running back and forward to both places, working both of them, it was quite hard going. I remember Live Aid was on so that will give you some idea of what the date was, because we were clipping sheep over at Blairvocky when Live Aid was on.

Well as I was saying, Ernie appeared and said he was going round to Iain Mirrlees to offer him a job on the fish farm, and I said if he doesn’t take it I will, he came back round and said he wasn’t taking it he wasn’t interested, and it was a job at the hatchery, well it wasn’t really at the hatchery, it was working night shift for Rostad working week on, week off watching the cages which had just appeared.

So I started that for about six months, eight till eight, seven days on, seven days off and then on my week off I worked with John MacDonald, so it was quite lucrative for me then, I was reasonably well off because I had two wages.

You had two wages but you were burnt out?
Ough well, I was younger then.

So sometimes on your weeks off you would go and do lambings, where was that you went?
Flass Farm, Weststruther that was for Tom and Mary MacFarlane, they had just been there for one lambing prior to me going, and I was there for their second lambing and it was very very intensive, and just completely different from anything I had ever done before, because it’s in the Borders and it was quite educational because the farm had roads on it everywhere, you know where its normally farm tracks going from field to field, well they had concrete tracks everywhere so that everything could move fast. And with the cattle, well on when I worked on Cairndow Estate there was thirty, they had about six hundred cows in slats and when the lambing was coming to an end you had to go and look these cows and there was an elevated walkway that you could walk round and look down and see every cow, and if there was anything calving you had to take her out and, well Tom’s theory was if the two feet and the nose were there get it out there was no reason for it staying in there, and he had a sort of machine for doing it, and it was reasonably simple. I went there for about ten years.

How many sheep were you looking after at the lambing?
There was about six hundred to one thousand, they were all inside in every shed in the place, there were little drops here, there and everywhere, and for one or two years I was there he lambed the hogs, you know that’s the year younger, but he didn’t continue with that. There was me and an Irish man who used to come from Northern Ireland for the lambing as well, he was Alisatair as well.

We were though seeing Tom a couple of years ago and he says he doesn’t do it that way anymore as he can’t get anyone daft enough, to do the work that we did.

It was long nights wasn’t it?
Well we started at ten and we were supposed to finish ten but it inevitably went on till dinner time, you would be there till half twelve one o’clock then you would have your lunch and then go to bed.

It was a big eye opener, because every lamb when it was born was given cows colostrum, and Mary his wife did a lot of the work during the day, and we did it at night. We were predominately having twins, by this time scanning had come in and you knew what everything was going to have and the bulk of them were expected to go out with two lambs, so anything that was having one and you saw her lambing, there was other ones a lot of them were going to have three, if you could manage it, if you had time, you were quite busy right enough, you would pinch one of the three’s and give it to the one who was having one, so that everything went out with two, that was the theory, and it worked!

We had around one hundred and fifty and two hundred individual pens, and some nights because you were there from ten until supposedly ten you would quite often have more than thirty lambing or thirty lambed. And he worked on a system when the lambs were two days old he wanted them out of individual pens into communal pens, so that they were able to mother up, and then in another two days they went out to the fields, and this was in the middle of March and I would be there for two or three weeks, and this would be my holiday when I worked on the fishfarm. I would try and get two or three weeks because then again it would pay for holidays abroad, which we quite often used to go on.

So it was worth it?
Oh aye

Did you enjoy it?
Yes, and I looked forward to it because they were nice people and they’ve got two kids now. Every year on their Christmas card we get an update on how the farm is doing.

So they are still there?
Oh yes, he is well known, Scot Sheep was held on their farm on the Flass, a few years ago now, I don’t know if Scot Sheep still happens, used to be a biannual thing, where a farm would open its doors for a day or a few days to let other people see what was going on and how they did things. He was very, very modern. All these six hundred cattle I was talking about weren’t sold to store, they went to the abattoir.

What does that mean, sold to store?
Sold for other people to fatten them up, he did that himself and everything went to the abattoir, he was very aware that, I think Scot Beef or somebody went bust once and he was lucky enough that he didn’t have any cattle owed to him so he was very good at spreading it about so that if one of them went bust he wouldn’t go bust with them.

How many people worked on that farm then or was it very modernised?
It was very modern, there was only about three of them.

My goodness!

There was a tractor man and a stock man and that was about it, he used a machinery ring, and a pool of labour from other farms when needed, they would come in to lift stones, hundreds of them, clear a field of stones. There was a lot of folk that would come around, they came during the lambing time, but all they did was bedding in the individual pens, they had a big machine that bedded the cattle, they would take a round bale and blow it into each individual shed so that there was no manual work needed.
Down there one farm would maybe buy a big combine harvester, and it goes into a machinery ring, each different place would get the use of it, I would be working at night and you would see someone ploughing there all night, it was never ending. There was only the one stockman, the whole time I was there, and Tom and Mary, Tom would appear about five in the morning and he would still be there at midnight.
We went to see them last year and as ever it had evolved things had changed, where they are they got waste from sweetie factory’s to feed the cattle, you would be walking along with silage under your feet and maybe some marshmallows and liquorice, and you are thinking “what a waste”! The sheep were eating them as well, making use of what was available.

While I was there the foot and mouth was a worry from their farm way in the distance you could see one of these pyre’s that they had for burning the carcases.
That most have been about 2000? Well that was about the last time I was there.

That would be scary!
He had a brother who was near Dunns, Dunns was affected by it but luckily he managed to stay clear of it, but it was a worry then it was too close for comfort then.



Ernie MacPherson
Clachan Beag
Cairndow
Argyll









Interviewed by Dot Chalmers
21st May 2012 Here We Are
Transcribed by Christina Noble, May 2014

Shepherding in Cairndow 1961 - 1984



I was born 15 August 1946, and I stay at Clachan Beag, Cairndow.
My father was Donald MacPherson who was born at Upper Succoth at Strachur. and my mother was Elma MacLaren born in Inveraray.
My grandfather was Dougie MacPherson who came from Mull, and my Granny was Mary MacInnes who belonged to Furnace.
I was born in Inveraray and brought up in Croitchonie in Cairndow. which is now called Upper Croitchonie. I was there for about 9 months, my father was working for the Weirs at Ardno and he moved over to which is now called Croft Kennels when I was about 9 months old and we stayed there till I was about 15.
My father moved, he was getting employed by Ardkinglas Estate as a shepherd.
I have an older sister called Netta and a younger brother who is ten years of difference between him and I called David.

I left school in 1961. I got a start as trainee shepherd on Ardkinglas Estate. I left school on the Friday, got an interview on the Saturday by Mr John Noble, who said he was glad to see young boys following in their father’s footsteps, and while we were there I asked him what the wage would be and he said it would be £3.9/ 6d and I asked him if he would make it up to £3.10s and he said he would see how we went.

Where did you go for the interview?
I went down to Ardkinglas to the office at Ardkinglas house.

Did you just go yourself?
No, there was two of us – Angie MacDiarmid and I. We started school the same day and we started work the same day. The factor took us round to the interview and when we were finished we asked, when we would start, and he said see the factor. When we went back out, he was Ben Coutts and he said we were going to gather Ben Ime at 4 o’clock on the Monday morning. So we were delighted to get started.
Well we had to get up before 4 because we had to be at work before 4. I had one dog. We gathered at Clachan farm which was the main farm for folk, the centre of the estate and we got transported by Land Rover up to Butterbridge to start the gathering.

How many people would be there ?
When I started work I think there was 9 shepherds. Donald Robertson, Calum MacDonald, Alastair MacCallum, Colin MacCallum, Ian Bell, Jimmy Waddell, Donald my father, Roddy MacDiarmid senior and Roddy MacDiamid junior and then the trainees.

There would be between 8 and 9 thousand sheep at that time on the estate. So it was quite constant work.

Count and marking the lambs
In June you started gathering to get the ewes in and count and mark the lambs. Each farm had its own mark, you marked the ewe lambs by cutting whatever the mark might be out of the ear, and wether lambs they were castrated by a rubber ring, or burdazors a machine that would cut the cord in the testicles of the lambs.

How long would the gathering take?
It depends what hill you were on, some hills were easier than others, also depends on the weather. You could start gathering at 4 in the morning and the mist might come in when you were half way through the gathering. You would try and halt everybody to see if it would clear because you couldn’t see the sheep at that point. And it could take up to 5 hours to gather, and the next day it might only take 4 hours. It would depend on the weather and the hill you were gathering.

After that?

The Milk Clipping
The next time we would gather….. in between you would probably have to make hay, or de-horn calves or something. Or get your machinery and stuff ready for the next gathering which would be what we called the milk clipping that was when all the ewes were clipped. At the marking time you only clipped the young sheep (i.e the hogs?) Then from July onwards you would clip your milk ewes and all stock got clipped at that time. The clipping was all done by hand then in 1961. There could be up to 30 men clipping sometimes, because your neighbours came along to give you a hand. And vice versa and you went to them as well to help them. Up to 30, mostly on stools in those days. And the young boy’s job was to crog the sheep to them, to catch the sheep and take it to the stool. You could be kept going pretty hard, it was quite a hard job for a young boy.

What was the price of a fleece then?

About £1 a fleece in these days and they used to say that the wool cheque would pay more than the shepherds wages for the whole year. All through my time at the farm it didn’t vary very much sometimes it would be up a bit and sometimes down.

In my 24 years at the farm it never really got much more than £1 or £1.50 or something.

The wool was bought by the wool marketing board and it was sent to Paisley. In between the clippings, if there was a wet day you got to pack wool into wool bags which were supplied by the wool marketing board and the estate lorry would transport it to Paisley where it was graded, different grades.

Mostly I think in those days it went into the mattress trade and the carpet trade. Quite a bit in the sixties and seventies it was used for textiles until nylon and suchlike came in and put the price of it down a bit.

If we were gathering at Butterbrdige the shepherd’s wife would have to make all the meals for the shepherds. The estate would supply the food and she got paid a small fee for making the meals - breakfast, lunch and maybe afternoon tea if you were lucky, and then if you were working really late it could be high tea too.

In between the clippings what would you do?

We would have to make the hay as well; we used to help the tractor men to ruck hay and suchlike.

Where was the hay?

Mostly the fields at Clachan when I started, because that was all they had. Then when Mr Lang died at Achadunan, the Estate took back the Achadunan fields. It must have been in the late 50’s, and grew potatoes and stuff over there for the estate workers and that, maybe about 10 acres, to supply all the workers and the big houses. Mostly it was silage and hay. It depended on the weather; if it was dry it would be hay, some years we made both.

Ardno?

When the Weirs had it they had it as a dairy farm and they grew turnips, and corn and hay. But when the estate took it over after one of the Weirs died, the estate took it back into their own hands and it was just hay that was grown.

That was early 60’s mid 60’s I would say.

At that time Calum MacDonald and his wife and family were shifted from Clachan to go to Ardno.

MacDiarmids were at Butterbridege, the Langs still had Achadunan House. Then later on my father, who had remarried (Betty Lang) after my mother died, they stayed in Achadunan.

Alastair MacCallum eventually got the head shepherd’s job at Clachan, him and his wife stayed at Clachan. When I started it was the tractor man that stayed at Clachan, Johnny Bell. Walter Beattie was the other tractor man and they had an assistant George MacPherson.

Coming up to September you would start gathering again to take the old ewes off the hill. And the wether lambs for sale and your ewe lambs would be kept for stock. You keep the ewe lambs for stock for the next year, because you are selling your cast ewes which would be sold on to low ground farmers. They would take a cross lamb out of them for maybe another 2 years. At that time we would also dip the sheep and put the Hirsel mark on them, it was a keel mark. We would paint it on certain parts of their body different for each Hirsel. Some would have red keel marks some would have blue keel marks, some would have keel on the back of their head, some would have keel on their kidney, some would have keel on their tail head, and you knew which hirsel it was off.

The top of the tail hirsel?

That was Coire Creagach it had a red tail head, Beinn Chorranach and Ben Ime on the back of the head, Learchan had a red kidney, Achadunan had a red shoulder. And so on. It was put on when you were dipping so you knew which hill it was from, to keep a count of your stock. Also you took off your wether lambs for sale.

Later on, it would be October the ewe lambs would go away for the winter. We would send them off to farms that had better grass for winter, they would be transported up north to Nairn, or down to Ayrshire, or somewhere, maybe some were wintered locally. Walkers transported them and the estate had its own lorry’s too, big numbers 400 or 500 hogs.

They were brought back in the spring on the 1st April every year because the farmers who had them they wanted them off the grass again. 1st April the hogs had to be home. When they came home they were dipped and an ear tag was put on them with the farmer’s name. We had M Noble and J Noble and they were put back onto the hirsel they had come off in September.

We had some hirsels that just had wethers on them. You kept some of the second grade lambs and wintered them, put onto those hirsels, maybe 50 or 60 young sheep, you took off 3 year old wethers for the market, which there was a big demand for at the time because the butchers liked the 3 year old wether for the meat. Wethers were maybe making £15 to £25, in the 70’s.

Lambs would be making in the 60 shillings, top lambs would be making maybe about 80 shilings, about £4 in the 60s. In the 70s there was maybe a better trade maybe £25 or £30 for top lambs. That was for the best black face lambs. Then in the 80’s they took another jump £30 or £40 for top lambs. All the cross lambs would be making ten pound more than the black face lambs, they were a better quality of lambs. We didn’t have a great deal of crossed lambs to start with and then in the 70’s it changed.

In 1966 the estate was split into two estates Michael Noble had one part and John Noble had the other part.

Michael had Achadunan and Ardno, and John had Ardkinglas and Ardkinglas woods. In the early 1970’s a new breed of sheep was tried at Achadunan. Michael built a big shed at Achadunan, with the proceeds of a silver tea pot he sold at Christies and with the money from that he built this shed. He was in partnership at the time with a fellow called Brian Cadzoe, who introduced a new breed of sheep that was called an “improver” and we were crossing it with a black face ewe to try out this improver sheep. I would say in those days it was before its time, because the tups could produce (because of the way they were bred,) on the black face ewes, they were having 3, 4 or 5 lambs. This wasn’t a great success for us because any more than two lambs had to be fed. There were milk bars which had to be set up in the shed, and it was really a lot of work. Twenty teats on it and every lamb had to be started on it, and the powdered milk had to be mixed and done every day and all had to be sterilised.

In the shed we had seven hundred ewes it was a lot of work, and at lambing they had to be looked after 24 hours a day. All the blackface cast ewes which were meant to be sold, they were 6 year old, they were locked up with the “improver” tups and then they were put into the shed and they were in there all winter until they lambed and there was a lot of work in it. It didn’t work out very well because we couldn’t sell the wether lambs because they weren’t a very good conformation body. The ewe lambs were worth a lot of money but the wether lambs, well hips and their body weren’t very great for meat. Every year we would sell off those ewes, and then bring in again the cast ewes off the hill, the ones which otherwise would have been sold as cast ewes at the market. So the rotation was one year. The scheme was dwindled out later on.

1961 we started our own Farm sale here, at Clachan, in the yard at Clachan. The yard was set up to become a sale ring and the auctioneers came in and brought the buyers, and it was well advertised it was quite a success. Because you didn’t have the transport costs to get the stock to market. Then when the estate was split in 1966 the sale stopped for a while and then in the 70’s again we started it up in the shed at Achadunan. And we had the sale right through till the last of the shepherding. It was very successful because you had no overheads for transport, in the latter years we took in sheep from Succoth Farm at Arrochar and Pole farm at Lochgoilhead. These farmers were delighted to be selling their stock so close to home. So it was very successful the sale on the farm.

I worked on Strone (Cairndow) Estate. I went to Strone because when the estate was split I was working the hill was on the Strone estate, so anybody who was on that side of the river went to Strone. I was working on Achadunan at that time and then I got moved onto Learchean – The Fiddler.

And then I was moved to Ardno. In 1973 Calum MacDonald left Ardno and I was given the job of head shepherd at Ardno, my wife and family moved to what was the bothy at Ardno. It had been just 4 walls but it was all done up and new bathroom put on and suchlike. So we moved from Croitachonie to Ardno to be in charge of Ardno. So I had 4 of a staff, Archie Campbell, Johnstone Munro, and Andy Wilson.
When my father was made head shepherd in 1961 we moved to Clachan Beag.
Then when I got married in 1967, 17th March, in Cairndow, I married Irene Russell from Ardrishaig and we moved back to Croitachonie (Croft Kennels). We had two children – Laura and Douglas we moved to Ardno in 1973.
Ardno the big house, was let out, it was made into a holiday house, for visitors in the summer and such like.

What did you do at weekends?

Weekends.....used to go and play shinty nearly every weekend for Inveraray and then when they folded up at one point I went and played with Strachur. Then it was also the time for going shopping and such like, it depended on the weather, if it was good weather we probably had to work, hay and silage to make. Or if you had had a bad week for gathering you would have to try to arrange to go to gather on the Saturday. So it all depended on the weather. We always tried to get Sunday but again it depended on the weather if it was hay making time you had to work.

We were in Ardno for 11 year, Michael Noble died in 1984 and I was made redundant. I got a letter from their family, the day after I was made redundant, telling me I had ten days to vacate the house and sell my cattle which was a bit of a shock after 24 ½ year. But we had nowhere to go so we just stayed put till we found somewhere to go.

We actually got a chance to buy a house off Johnny Noble, Ardkinglas Estate, which was Clachan Beag and I moved to there. That was the end of the farming career for me.

My father had retired before then.

Well the sheep had gone off Ardno in 1978, all the ground was sold to forestry but there was one hirsel was kept on so I still had a job on this hirsel and the low ground, so from ’78 until we left in 1984, I was on my own at Ardno, plus helping out at the estate (Cairndow) as well At that time we did quite a lot of improvement to the fields at Laglingarten. We re-seeded them and such like and managed to get the lamb crop up from about 80% to over 100%. The ewes, if they were just on the hill, you were lucky if you got average of 80% lambing but with improving the ground in bye, we re-seeded some of the hill parks and such like, we were able to bring the ewes in in October. It was what we call “flushing” them, putting them on to better ground, in the re-seeded parks. Then they would get into better condition, so when they went to the tup they were producing more eggs and were producing twins and such like. We managed to get the lamb crop up to just over 100 % by taking them in and “flushing” them before the tupping, and after that they were put back onto the hill. Then in the spring again we looked after them better. Because we didn’t have so many we would feed them and put blocks out for them so that was a help to them for the lamb crop.

When you were made redundant and moved to Clachan Beag, where did you work?

Six months I didn’t have a job I was just helping farmers and planting trees and then I got word that the local fish farm was looking for a handy man at the hatchery at Ardkinglas, so I went for an interview and got the job.

So I started for Rostad Salmon as handy man for a year and then got the hatchery manager’s job, after two years I moved to the processing factory and managed that.

You retired recently?
I retired after 26 years, between the hatchery and the processing plant. I enjoyed the farm more than the fish farm, just because it was in my blood I think.

Any of your family involved with shepherding or anything to do with farming?
No, my son is a joiner, and my daughter she works with Loch Fyne Oysters in their smokehouse at Cairndow. No, nobody, in the farming line.

So farming today, so how you would see it?
In the Cairndow area? Well there is more or less none. Only one farm left Ardkinglas estate have about 1000 sheep I think which is rented out to one of our local famers from Lochgoilhead. The rest of the sheep are all put off the hills.

There’s more people working in Cairndow now than there was when farming was on the go, between the fish farm processing area, and Loch Fyne Oysters and the quarry and local builders there’s more people travelling to Cairndow for work its quite a prosperous wee place. Which is good for the area. You know yourself we managed to get new houses for staff for folk to come and work in the area.

It has helped the area quite a lot.