Not baa-aa-d for a be­gin­ner

The Courier & Advertiser (Perth and Perthshire Edition) - - NEWS OPINION - An­gus Whit­son

Re­cently I’ve driven past sev­eral fields of an un­fa­mil­iar white flow­er­ing plant. In­quiries re­veal that it is fod­der radish, and it is sown as a game crop and a soil con­di­tioner. Au­tumn flow­er­ing means it is a wel­come late source of pollen and nec­tar for bees, but­ter­flies and other in­sects. It’s a tallish plant, pro­vid­ing cover for par­tridge and pheas­ants and when the flow­ers die back its seeds at­tract game birds and the coun­try­side song birds.

Its third ad­van­tage is that it is a green ma­nure, mean­ing it is its own fer­tiliser and the whole plant is ploughed in to con­di­tion the soil. Mean­time, while in flower it adds colour to a land­scape that is in­creas­ingly look­ing brown as the potato har­vest is lifted and golden stub­bles are ploughed in and win­ter crops of oil seed rape and wheat and bar­ley are sown.

Lost her­itage

Last Satur­day the Doyenne and I drove to Colins­burgh in Fife where I gave a talk and read­ing of Scot­tish ver­nac­u­lar po­etry, our for­got­ten Scots po­etry writ­ten in our mither tongue.

It’s a lost legacy which doesn’t de­serve to have fallen into ob­scu­rity. I sus­pect most peo­ple’s ex­pe­ri­ence of it is hear­ing Rab­bie Burns de­claimed at Burns Sup­pers, af­ter which they tot­ter home and for­get about it for a year.

It was the po­etry of the lawyer, the doc­tor, the school­teacher, the plough­man (Robert Burns, the plough­man poet), the weaver, the min­is­ter, the fish­er­man; ama­teur and recre­ational po­ets – in­tel­li­gent and ed­u­cated men and women who could tell a story and had the words to ex­press them­selves through their verse.

The event was in the Colins­burgh Gal­loway Li­brary, pur­pose built as a li­brary and a ver­nac­u­lar build­ing it­self, which was threat­ened with clo­sure by the lo­cal author­ity un­til a group of en­thu­si­asts formed a char­ity to save it for the com­mu­nity.

Fife is a part of Scot­land we should know bet­ter be­ing just an hour’s drive from home. It has a softer, rolling coun­try­side than the An­gus glens we are more fa­mil­iar with.

A beg­gar’s man­tle fringed with gold was James VI’s de­scrip­tion of this part of his king­dom. The fringe he re­ferred to was the Fife coast­line with its string of fish­ing vil­lages and trad­ing ports – where still, to­day, there are jewel-like re­minders of its pros­per­ous past and mon­u­ments to gen­er­a­tions of fisher folk and mariners.

We like Fife, it has a great feel­ing of light and space. The high­est peaks are the three peaks of the Lomond Hills, be­side Loch Leven, at a height of 1,700 feet, and Largo Law, just along the coast from neigh­bour­ing Elie, is a mere 950 feet.

Fifers tell you they live in the King­dom of Fife and there’s his­tor­i­cal va­lid­ity for this be­cause it was once an in­de­pen­dent Pic­tish king­dom. They haven’t lost that sense of iden­tity as can be seen in things like the name of their lo­cal ra­dio sta­tion – King­dom FM.

They say you need a lang spune to sup wi’ a Fifer, mean­ing you need to be wary in your deal­ings with them. We had no need of lang spunes – we were made most wel­come and urged to re­turn, which we will do.

Should you pass through Colins­burgh on a Tues­day or a Satur­day take time to visit the li­brary which is very much as it was when it opened in 1903. It is re­mark­ably in­tact with Arts and Crafts in­flu­ence ev­i­dent in the qual­ity of the join­ery work and in the fire­places and the brass door fur­ni­ture.

Young shep­herd

As we were half­way there we car­ried on af­ter my talk to son James and his fam­ily in the Bor­ders for a fly­ing, one night visit.

Our grand­daugh­ter Tilda has be­come a shep­herd – ad­mit­tedly with a flock of only two, but ev­ery shep­herd must start some­where.

With no farm­ing back­ground what­ever, for the past three springs she has helped with the lamb­ing on a neigh­bour’s farm, work­ing all hours dur­ing the Easter school hol­i­day. Bon­nie and Betty are her two black He­bridean ewes which she in­tends to show and in due course to breed from.

As we ad­mired the flock a black cat crossed our path. It was Basil, who re­gards Inka with undis­guised con­tempt.

He may have been good luck for us but he wasn’t for the ill-fated field mouse whose tail was hang­ing out of his mouth.

With no farm­ing back­ground she has helped with lamb­ing on a neigh­bour’s farm for past three years

Pic­ture:Tilda Whit­son.

Bon­nie and Betty, the He­bridean black sheep in grand­daugh­ter Tilda’s flock of two.

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