blog – work in progress by Kate Foster, environmental artist
“Sheep-walks” is a name for upland areas dedicated to extensive sheep farming. This theme has ideas of both site and flow. Sheep walks are areas people use for sheep. To an extent, sheep can choose where to be within their heft – there are places which sheep make for themselves. But they are also made to move, being gathered by people. Formelry, flocks were walked to market in England along drove roads, now of course they are moved in vehicles. Sheep-walks often consist of a rich variety of plants and wildlife. There is constant flux and change, as sheep and other species accommodate to each other – in all weathers. I spend time drawing, looking, walking sheep-walks. These are places shaped by human and animal appetite over the centuries, now cast in the language of land management as sites of ‘biodiversity’ and ‘carbon storage’. My sense as I walk is an occasional glimpse of earthly paradise: above all, trying to see sheepscapes takes one inwards to questions of humanity, landscapes of massed volumes and contrast, shifting tones of extreme darkness and light.
A walk with a botanist suggests that unicorns might be coming more common in the well-wooded Yarrow Valley.
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.
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:
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
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.
Leah 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.
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.