Friday, 7 September 2007

Lost World

Since I've been driven in by the dreaded midges, I thought I'd take the opportunity to share with you a fascinating little book I found in a second-hand bookshop a few years ago. It's a slim volume - a year's diary of a woman living alone in a croft in the West Highlands of Scotland. The book is called From a Highland Croft and it's written by Wendy Wood. I've found it inspiring to turn to when I've found the going tough here in the pond since the Golfer died.

In preparing this post I did some research on the net into the author and was surprised to discover that she was not the simple countrywoman I had thought - see here and here. So much so that I wondered if her tale of simple country life could still be trusted. I decided that, at the worst, she was an early downshifter and that, in any case, her prose is so lyrical and the picture of a way of life now all but gone that I had to share it. Here's a quote from her September entry - can you guess what year the book was published in? I'll reveal the date at the end of the post - I think you'll be surprised.
When the wind rises, the air is full of the swish of silver birch, occasionally interrupted by the clatter of falling oak or alder leaves, crisp and dry. There is a tang in the air and I am getting anxious about the bigging of my new byre.

There is something very primitive about prising stones out of the hillside with a crowbar and rolling them down. There was something decidedly primitive too about the adder that was coiled up asleep below one stone and met my hand as I levered. The sharp edge of a spade soon severed his connection with life, and by morning the birds had cleared the pieces.

Meanwhile, the cattle sale is due and that is the greatest day of the year for us...Some of the crofters have as many as eighteen miles to drive their beasts to the sale, five miles of which is dangerous going, where contest among the animals for place may throw them to destruction.

The owners arrive at the place of sale hungry enough to want a kebbock of cheese apiece of a size that would need a peat cutter to make inroads on it. Once the beasts are safe in the sale field on the side of the hill it is time for a dram, followed by a ceilidh round the fire.

Lots are drawn for the places on the sale list, each glen hoping to sell after the bidding has warmed up and before the buyers are cold - if the buyers would just go to the hotel now and have a dram!

Men hate to part with their beasts, but the money gained is the rent and the grocer's bill and the cost of feeding stuff for the year, plus a 'fairing' for the family which is to be bought down at the shop before starting for home in the gloaming.

Wonderful stuff! So, when did you think this lady was describing life in rural Scotalnd? 1952 - only fifty years ago - almost in my living memory. I am still blown away when I think of the way our lives have changed - in many ways for the better of course, but we have also lost something.

I'd like to share more of Wendy's life in her croft with you all; I hope to post an extract every month and I hope that you enjoy it as much as I do.

By the way, I should add that harming or killing adders is now illegal in the UK.

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