I got back after a few days away yesterday to find a sheep on the croft. The give away signs were the stench and paths strewn with dung. Sheep are not welcome here, despite their conventional association with crofting life. Apart from the fact that they are smelly and stupid, they are a disaster when it comes to trying to grow trees as they eat anything they can get their ugly little teeth around. Because regenerating the woods is our aim for the land, sheep are banned. Most of the time the stock fence around the croft is adequate to keep them out, but at this time of year the grass grows better on this side of the fence, under the shelter of trees, largely ungrazed by hairy herbivores. The temptation is such that in spring we regularly have sheep breaking and entering, eyeing up vulnerable fence posts and squeezing their fat haunches between the wires.
We chased her around, up and down the path, out onto the rocky knoll, back down into the bog, across a marshy bit into the woods and then, finally, she tried to make a break past me between the ruin and a sheer drop. I tackled her as she went past and managed to hang on, with two hands in her fleece, to shouts of approval and jokes about the All Blacks.
Once caught, the ewe appeared to give up all resistance. We tied a bit of twine around her neck and front leg and tried to lead her out down the path to the gate. She was having none of it. She sat down. You can't drag a sheep with a bit of string and she was not going to co-operate. I fetched the wheelbarrow. We turned her onto her back, picked her up by her legs and heaved her into the barrow. She rolled her eyes and acted like a lamb in a doll's pram. I pushed her off the croft, trying not to look too closely at her tick-infested belly, and tipped her rather unceremoniously out of the barrow onto the road on the other side of the fence. She sat there, with that dumb sheep glaze on her face that has a great Scots word for it, invented for sheep and these days applied more often to drunks - glaikit. We said goodbye and she picked herself up onto her hoofs and trotted off up the brae to find her mates, or so we thought.
How foolish we were. This morning, setting off for a bumble in the woods, there she was, nibbling away on the path beside the ruin again. We have a well-rehearsed routine for this, I cut round the knoll to open the gate, staying out of eyeshot while the sheep is herded gently down the path. All was going swimmingly until I spooked her near to the gate and she sprinted off into the woods. Another chase began. It's not as if it was a nice spring morning. The snow was lying and the ground beneath it was soggy, slippery and, when you make a dive for a sheep, cold on the knees. The sheep duly submitted once again to our athletic prowess and was, once again, wheelbarrowed off the premises. No way were we letting her loose, though. This time she was tipped into the boot of the car and driven 5 miles up the road to her home township, precise location to remain secret, where we bundled her out of the back, untied her and left her to tell the other woolly maggots about her alien abduction experience.
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