Away for a few days in Scotland to go deer stalking, we took the opportunity on the Sunday to go for a walk along a nearby loch and came across a deserted graveyard ringed by a dry stone wall.
Wise protection from the Scotch black faced sheep grazing in the surrounding field.
Horizontal through stones offered a set of steps over the wall and in the middle of this seemingly deserted place, where gravestones tilted or lay flat on the grass, stood a roofless Kirk. Whilst we were visiting on a sunny day, my imagination ran riot in this isolated spot. The perfect setting for ghosts and ghouls,
But there was no hint of this. Surprisingly, although many of the stones testified to the passing of families in the eighteenth century, several had memorials carved for late twentieth and even early twenty first century dates.
The most poignant and amazing one to me recorded the death to a family of a seven year old child. Born to a young mother at the end of the nineteenth century, the stone also recorded the death of his sibling, aged ninety nine years in the twenty first century. Clearly born when the same mother was of a more mature age.
Throughout the area flocks of the Scotch black face were being primed for romantic trysts. Tupping falls here in late November.
Much later than when our tups go in at the beginning of the same month. The tups themselves could be seen grazing on the low ground whilst the ewes were up on the hills.
We understood that come tupping time the tups are turned out onto the hills to find a willing partner. Or two, three, four, five and more. Much more.
This did present a problem to the stalkers. Crawling, edging and creeping up on an unsuspecting hind and fawn and preparing to take a shot could be severely hindered by a startled ewe deciding to spook every deer in the vicinity.
“The sheep were all over,” John said. “More on the lower ground where the better grazing was, but there was no guarantee that they were not on the top acting as virtual early warning system for the deer.”
One benefit existed however. Sheep tend to create their own pathways on the hill.
Well worn tracks that follow the contours of the land and provided much easier, safer walking than across rough ground.
Easier being the key word for knees beginning to show the effect of many years chasing after rogue sheep in our own part of the country.
So at night, after a successful day out on the hill for John and his friends, those same knees ended being cosseted in hot baths and oiled by stiff whiskies.
The professional stalkers taking them out on the hill are all much younger, hill fit men. Let’s hope those tups will have some of the same stamina for the job in hand in a few weeks; they will need it soon.