WHICH is a more depressing sight on good agricultural land: a suburban housing development or a tumble of abandoned farm buildings? We have both on the small Black Isle farm that my grandfather worked until he got too old and sold it in 1966. The consolation for the former—which provides beneficial new housing, but encircles each chimneyless box with yards of ugly fencing amid a forest of banal signs and flagpoles —is that the stone byre, where I remember the cows being milked by hand, has recently been sold for restoration.
Last month, driving up to my parents’ farmhouse, I found the new owners despondently contemplating their collapsing wreck. They’d had serious doubts about taking it on, they confessed, but then they’d met my parents—my father, barely able to walk, being armed slowly round the garden by my mother on their daily constitutional—and that clinched it: they fell for them and decided to buy. Tears came to their eyes when I told them my father had died earlier that day.
Since then, they’ve come round several times and my mother, now living alone for the first time (she married at 20), has gained some new friends— a young, Gaelic-speaking couple who understand traditional neighbourly values. MM