Our first trip to visit our daughter and her family at the Lower Guddon croft since February due to lockdown and shielding saw many changes we were greeted by several “ caddie” orphan lambs that they had managed to accumulate, one or two the result of predator attacks, the rest gifts from neighbours. Gone was the damp muddy ground the land was a very rich green mixed in with beautiful wild flowers in vivid shades of blue, mauve, and yellow, it did help that on our return it was a glorious day with a gentle northerly wind.
We had missed the shearing because of the travel restrictions as we were not residents of the island of Yell or essential travellers. I was disappointed to have missed the event I would have liked to have sheared one of my Katmogit ewes and seen the fleece coming off each sheep to see first-hand the wool quality. One of the fleeces I did see shorn was a beautiful light grey with dark fringes, and with a very fine handle and well-defined crimp.
However to make up for missing the shearing our grand-son Aidan took me through the flock of newly shorn sheep and I could see the Romney cross offspring from my Katmogits up close I was very impressed by the size of the lambs most were as big as their mothers. I had never noticed before one of the Katmogit ewes had a set of horns, I wondered how common this was. Aidan not only works on the Guddon croft but also helps out friends and neighbours especially at this time with the quite arduous task of shearing. He tells me he is seeing quite a lot of the island, unseen places unless travelling through the hills and in his case helping “ caa” gather in the hill sheep with his dog Gody. His latest trip was to the uninhabited island of Hascosay which lies of the east coast of Yell. They travelled there in a landing craft type boat which he called the “Papa” boat. Certainly a blast from the past as this boat was built by my old boss Jim o Berry; if my memory is correct my first trip in her was in the early 1970s on route to Papa to work with the Papa sheep.
The Guddon house is typical of many of the traditional crofter’s dwellings to be found in the islands, built mostly by the hands on crofter and his family. Materials used in times long past were often built from sea driven wood, parts of the Guddon home was wood recovered from a shipwreck out along the coast. The unfortunate vessel was a German sail training vessel which sank at the Ness of Queyon in 1924, with a crew of 39, many of them young cadets and the loss of four lives. The reconstructed figurehead of the Bohus, known as the White Wife looks out over the bay the scene of the tragic accident.
We travelled down from the Lower Guddon to the beach at Swarister and out along the shore marvelling at the views and the wild life. The resident seal colony put on a show for us in the crystal clear waters below the cliff face their outlines fairly visible against the sandy sea bed. Just around the headland from the Guddon you come upon the aptly named “Otterswick” no doubt named after the abundance of otters to be found in the area, unfortunately for us they appeared to be taking their mid- day siesta out of sight.
There were birds in abundance, waders included “Whapp,” Curlew, “Shalder” Oyster Catcher, “Saandiloo” Ringed Plover, and we were constantly dived bombed by “Tirricks” Artic Terns with their piercing calls which forewarned you of their attack. Out at sea we saw “ Solans”, Gannets, diving for fish, “ tysties” black guillemots, “ rain-goose” red -throated diver with its mournful cry and the “ Dunter” Eider Duck, busy protecting their young from the “ Bonxie” Artic Skua. A mix of gulls, Common gulls, “Swabbies” Black Back, “Mallies” Fulmar Petrel, and Kittiwake were busy searching offshore for whatever food source they could find.
This area and Yell in general had its fair share of ruined croft houses relics from bygone times where hard working crofter fishermen inhabited the area surviving from the bounty of the sea which was hard earned and the produce from the meagre crofts which were worked from mainly poor land. The better pastures were the property of the land owner or “laird”; we came across the remains of larger properties which no doubt housed the better off. Not far from the lairds house at the Ness of Gossabrough was the outline of a Broch which over the centuries no doubt had been the source of building materials for the nearby houses.
Travelling by road through Yell you fail to see the hidden gems of this island, which on first sight appears to be mostly heather clad hills and peat moors, in order to truly appreciate the surroundings you have to travel out along the coast line to appreciate the natural beauty on offer.
Our next trip to Lower Guddon and my next blog will see preparation for the long winter months get underway, such as the harvest coming in, the building of the peat stack and other more general croft work, before the weather takes a turn for the worse.