Roaming in Southern Scotland

A walk with a botanist suggests that unicorns might be coming more common in the well-wooded Yarrow Valley.

© Kate Foster

I suppose unicorns are quite common?

‘Well, yes’  agreed the botanist. ‘Especially’, she added, ‘if the quality of the woods is improving’.


Scottish Rights of Way must include Access for Unicorns: the signs instruct us to head up the path to Ashiestiel.

© Kate Foster
© Kate Foster

Up, towards the Southern Upland Way. Woodlands around us are in reasonable condition – see the bryophytes? At the edge of the birch wood, a third sign:

© Kate Foster

The plant that is called Yarrow is still in flower in early autumn, and common in upland meadows. The Yarrow Pug is a southern insect, but the Northern Eggar should frequent a good upland meadow. Hares? Yes, should be plenty. Lapwing? well only a very small number nesting on the hill last year – they need undisturbed wetlands.

We enjoyed our rights of way, with the prospect of a unicorn – released from its chains – leaping a closed gate.

For any enquires about Unicorn sightings in the Yarrow Valley go to Fully Wooly  

Any scientific inaccuracy is my responsibility.








Dora’s significant arrival

Last wet May, Leah and I decided to walk upriver to find the source of the burn that flows past the house.



At the head of the valley, in a dip under the ridge, I realised we would not find a point, but instead terrain with pools and trickles. Leah, a geographer, was less surprised.


We looked around, adjusting raingear and snacking, thinking how wind turbines would change the sense of place.


We started back, towards the head of the valley and something caught our eye. Moving closer, we found another visitor to the valley between the tussocks.

dora1SLeah again immediately apprehends the situation (Dora the Explorer, an eight year old Mexican, is much loved by her nephew). I learn that in every episode of her adventures, Dora sets out to help someone – dealing calmly with adversity. We pick Dora up and stretch her out, taking her home to consider her. On further sheep-walks, I add to the collection and mention these finds to the farmer. He explained he sometimes finds other characters in his shepherding duties, mistaking them for lambs, possibly in trouble from foxes. I move my collection to the Sculpture Studios and amongst my finds, Dora’s presence is most commanding.



On closer inspection, she is older than her years, becoming grey in her travels. I wonder, perhaps it is timely to consider material remains – there are several directions my enquiry might go.

eggs, hens and crow

Out there its a killing time – animals feeding furiously in any break in the rain, an atmosphere of desperation as adults feed their young. Except for a small happy flock, dipping into their imported food, with soy-rich pellets.

Six hens, laying an egg each day, scratching under trees in a garden at the foot of a lambing field. It is fenced in, to stop the hens scratching up new seedlings. Accidentally locked out of their coop yesterday – the crop of chickens’ eggs has disappeared. Who took them?


Rat? I’m not good at observing rats. If I am close to one – captured in the ‘humane trap’ – I can’t look him in the eye. We are about to drown him.


Badgers? who leave a trail of digging, rootling for worms – but they are held back the fence, electrified.


Crows? I begin to think it was crow, floppy winged, tightly patrolling the hill-side.


Later, sitting above the hen run on the hill, I see a crow fly down from the poplars, and feed on organic corn and layers pellets.

up with the lark

Slight frost, sun hot already, a week of this. Two larks hopping on grass clumps, beneath the old heather. A bobbing rise together, a few metres high. Then they land and keep looking at the grass.

I watch another lark rise, catching the sun on its front as it winds upwards.

Further along the field, a couple of blackface ewes stood vigilantly by the wall: early twin lambs mewling, piercing the air with the same tone and pitch as a baby.


In the cold, whooper swans arrived on the loch. The sheep also come close to the shore, the animals grazing alongside each other.

Today, the swans glided over: forward swan calling, chorus responding.  I was worried about disturbing them, now I am worried they are seeing me off. I get ready to run.

Instead, we spend time just looking at each other, their curiousity and mine matched.

on the idea of ‘tree-lines’, encountered on sheepwalks

sheep and trees held apart, cast as incompatible

trees as shelter, human and non-human

deadwood,  ‘snags’, woody debris

snow modelling lines

zones of clear-fell, replanting, first growth – delineated from pasture

broadleaves in a valley – snow was so early this year, their leaves blew over the first fall

blocks, ranks

tree-lines –  a malleable idea for further investigation:

… land-use … climatic transition … life-lines  and shelter … diagrammatic rendering (productivity, biomass, carbon sequestration) … pattern and repetition … supply lines … cultural entanglements …

on sheep walks


Determining on sheepwalks as a line of enquiry – a malleable idea to frame such ideas:

the activity of sheep making walks – others using sheepwalks to walk, and look – gathering and departure – compression, degradation – lines of exit and transformation –  incompleted patterns

autumn ram, lamb and ewe sales

a smaller sale than at Kelso earlier in the month, mainly Texels and Suffolk tups

I am drawn to the black sheep

the season’s work in some way concluded, a finished flock of lambs move on

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