Thursday, 28 February 2013

Of Sheep and Men: a wee bit of history

Sheep have got a lot to answer for, in my opinion.

You might have noticed in the pictures above that, most unusually, I am wearing the dreaded lead, despite being nowhere near a road.

So it had all started just fine. Gail decided she wanted to take a photo of me "posing nicely please" in front of one of the many ruined houses along the shoreline close by our Loch Torridon cottage.

But "posing nicely please" when one's nose catches the scent of live sheep is never going to be an option, is it pups?

You know I only ran off after those sheep for a bit of fun. And it's not like I didn't let Gail catch up after a minute or two.

That Gail could be so shouty came as a surprise to me. Her mother was similarly surprised when, on her honeymoon in Dublin nearly six decades ago, HGD took her to a rugby international at Lansdowne Road. She says until that day she thought she'd married a quiet man.

Anyway, I digress.

I expect you're wondering about the ruined buildings, and where sheep come into the story.

Well back in the olden days, a couple of centuries ago, far more people lived in the Torridon area than do now. It was never an easy life for the inhabitants of this barren, wet, and inaccessible corner of the British Isles, but in the 1840s their situation became much, much tougher. This was the era when many big landowners in the north and west of Scotland decided it would be more profitable to use the land to graze sheep than to let it to the resident crofters. Around Loch Torridon, the local population were forced on to a narrow strip of land by the shore where they built these meagre dwellings, had barely a patch to grow potatoes, and struggled to survive. Life literally on the edge was not sustainable and most were compelled by poverty and hardship to leave for the cities or indeed to emigrate to North America or Australia, and these ruins are all that is left of a sorry chapter in the history of the area. At least in Torridon there is no record of the notorious forced clearances, people being attacked and burned out of their own homes, as happened elsewhere in the Highlands.

But on reflection, surely I should have been praised for chasing those sheep after all?

PS A fascinating little book called 'Old Torridon: Notes on the History of Torridon' and written by our neighbour Murdoch MacDonald, tells you much more about life in times past in this area of Scotland.


  1. Thank you, Bertie. It's a sad history for such a beautiful spot. BTW, chasing sheep is probably not a good idea. In this part of the world, farmers still have the right to shoot dogs that get on their property and chase their sheep.

  2. First of all we noticed that LEAD straight off! All that beautiful area to run free in and you were held back...scandalous.

    The clearance was a sad part of history, but we think you'd be in big trouble if you chased a few sheep...they're not the brightest of creatures and don't know how to have fun.

    XXXOOO Daisy, Bella & Roxy

    We think Gail must have inherited her 'shouty' from her dad.

  3. oh dear.... sheep are Horatio's only vice too. He can catch a whiff of them at half a mile on the other side of a hill. I'm sure Bertie, your intentions are well meant - you just want to play, right? Well Mr Farmer and his mate, Mr Gun don't quite see it that way. In the Pentlands down here in Edinburgh, Mr Farmer even has signs up with his mobile number promising to appear within minutes with Mr Gun, if dogs are seen worrying sheep.... so unfair...

  4. Sad to see those old buildings empty. I would chase sheep too and lord knows what would happen if I saw a bunny or a pheasant. Peeps always shouts at me when I run off. LOL! Have a terrific Thursday.
    Best wishes Molly

  5. Isnt it depressing how old things just get torn down. Mom was quite depressed to hear that in NYC they tore down the historic apollo theatre and those building by you are a million times older, hopefuly they leave them alone. Sheem must be very tempting all we have to chase around here is squirrels

    urban hounds

  6. Bertie OMDS a whiff of sheep to a Foxy Terrier must be like a whiff of fish to a cougar Diva Khat!! MOL

    Thank you so much for this informative post!! Mom is supposed to be of Scot and Irish decent..(but in reality she is Southern American through and through).
    Hugs Madi your BFFF

  7. How interesting and sad. The pictures of you are beautiful...very classic looking.

  8. That is SAD.... about the People... and about you being forced onto the LEAD.. and the Shouty stuffs and the No Chasing of the Sheeps.

  9. So sad but we did enjoy learning something new. Thanks Bertie
    Benny & Lily

  10. Animals have the right not to be terrorized by
    shouty little dogs who think its fun. Its not a bit fun for the one being chased. However, knowing that the farmers sometimes shoot, I would suggest Bertie, that you just chase things in your own yard and garden. I would hate to think of you all shot up, too sad and a waste of a good little pup.

    Jo, Stella and Zkhat

  11. First of all, yes a dog must chase sheep when given the opportunity ...actually I've never such an opportunity so give it a go for me, too!

    I had no idea of this sad history and would like to read more. My assistant is a bit of a history buff. We will look for your neighbor's book.

    Your pal, Pip

  12. Bewtie
    I leawned two things fwom you today...sheeps awe to be chased and thewe is lots mowe sunshine in Towidon than hew in Boo da Pest. How sad fow those poow people's to have to scwabble to suwvive. I hope you get to chase those sheeps all you want
    Smoochie kisses

  13. That looks so beautiful there, Bertie! I must go there!
    we should be thankful that the old Scots took sheep there, because we benefit by barking at them and chasing them!!!
    My human-friend-brother(?) was hill walking at the weekend, he went to Torridon! So I woofed at him and told him about you!!! But he didn't see you. Oh well...maybe one day he will!
    Pippa :)

  14. We concur with the consensus that Gail was just shouting because she was in fear of your life. We don't want you to get shot, Bertie, even in the pursuit of your natural inclinations. We disagree that the sheep are to blame, however; it's human greed. The poor sheep have no control over where they go or how they are exploited. At least you have some legal protections and the RSPCA: the sheep have nothing.

  15. HOwdy Bertie, that is a sad story. Mum can only imagine how hard their life would have been. Bertie, I too am a sheep addict. It only took one chase and I was hooked. Now mum doesn't trust me anywhere near them, sigh. Hopefully you will be lead free on your next walk. No worries, and love, Stella (sheep addict) and Rory (goody two shoes).

  16. Great post, fabulous photos. What an incredibly sad story.

    I'm also a big fan of sheep, by the way :)

  17. Those ruins and the history of Torridon is fascinating. Did you experience any ghosts, Bertie?