Leaving secondary education in Burra Isle was a very sad day for me I was to travel by ferry and bus a journey of 2 hours, to Lerwick it was a total change and so I found myself in the wider world, I realised gone was the security of Island life where you knew everyone. The town appeared huge and most of the people complete strangers. I stayed with a Lerwick family as a lodger Monday to Friday and would look forward to Friday and returning home. Schooling was also different class sizes were huge in comparison to what I was used to, and I took time to adjust. However after only one year I received word from the education department that I had been granted a place at the Agricultural College at Aberdeen.
In order to attend the college it was necessary to have one year of hands on experience by working on a large farm and as there were no suitable opportunities available to me in Shetland a list of farms was sent to me I chose MacRoberts Farms, at Douneside Tarland in Aberdeenshire, home to a pedigree herd of Friesian dairy cattle. Douneside was one of the many farms belonging to the MacRoberts Trust and was situated in the beautiful Howe of Cromar on Royal Deeside on the edge of the Cairngorms National Park and close to the idyllic village of Tarland.
I stayed in a bothy next door to the byre, it was quite basic with two rooms a toilet no bath and only an open log fire for heating. Our meals were prepared by the cattleman’s wife and were one of the major pluses of life on the farm. My working day started at 4am when I made my way to the byre to be met by a herd of black & white cattle trooping in the door in almost military fashion. Each one knew its place in the stalls and only had to be secured, it was indeed a far cry from my early memories of the Tait family’s single cow back home in Burra some shock to the system! I was shown how to feed, wash and prepare each cow for milking and on my side of the byre. I was responsible for the care of 35 cows. Although the farm work was very hard it was also very rewarding. There was a mixture of general farm – for instance I found my first experience of driving a tractor a daunting task. As the seasons changed so did the work schedule approaching winter the cattle would be kept in the byre, thus creating more work, cleaning and feeding silage and food concentrates. My pay would be £2.10 shillings (todays value £44.00) food and accommodation were free, and I was given overtime pay when working nights. It was a seven day week with a weekend of every month.
The little social life I had was spent in the hills and woods, Dad shipped down my bike so I had great times exploring Royal Deeside the highlight being climbing Morven a mountain just short of 3,000 feet. The views from the top were breathtaking and in the distance I could make out Douneside nestled in the hills distinct because of its silo tower. On returning back in the early evening I was met by my boss, Norman Anderson the head cattleman, he had received a phone call from a neighbouring farmer about one of his young ”loons” (boys) climbing Morven. He said, “you don’t have mountains in Shetland! People are known to get lost up on our mountains!” It was my first and last mountain although perhaps he was correct, maybe I could still be there roaming the mountains as a young Highlander, as written by a previous fellow adventurer of the region the illustrious Lord Byron who penned one of his poems inspired by Morven, “When I Roved a Young Highlander”.
A year flew by and it was with very mixed emotions I bid farewell to all my friends and fellow students and caught the bus to Aberdeen and then the ferry back home to Shetland; secure in the knowledge that my journey to Royal Deeside and Douneside would never be forgotten.