Sometimes a solitary figure can be viewed sitting motionless on on our hill for no apparent reason. It could be Jake, it could be me.


The image has probably been captured on Google Earth or DEFRA’s satellite monitoring unit. In the future, historians will view this image and ask the simple question, “Why”? The simple answer is – because we can’t get any mobile phone reception closer to home.

So many people and organisations nowadays say they will confirm things by text. Thus, periodically, Jake or I have to set off up the road on the bike simply to find a place where we can check for text messages. So much for living in a digital age.

There can be some side benefits, however. It was while Jake was on a recent text-checking mission that he happened to spot a cow with a mystery illness. She had been perfectly normal in the morning but was now looking very sick. I helped to shepherd the cow towards the steading, but we soon gave up because she was weakening and wouldn’t take any notice of our waving arms. It turned out that she was blind.Like Jake, the vet who came out to see the cow hadn’t encountered anything like this before, but after a discussion with colleagues, she suggested that since we were on an army range, perhaps we should try treating her for lead poisoning. This diagnosis was confirmed by blood testing a few days later.

The treatment entailed five visits from the vet to administer an antidote and pump water down the cow’s throat to keep her hydrated. Her condition stabilised and she gradually grew stronger, regaining her sight as the toxins were flushed out of her system. Eventually she seemed well enough to be turned out into a field. Jake admitted that a tear came into his eye when the cow lowered her head and started to graze for the first time in days. Subsequently, another tear came into his eye when he opened the vet’s bill.

In other activities, the army appear to be practising for World War III at the moment, with firing going on until three o’clock in the morning. While Jake has been largely oblivious to this, I have been woken up by the explosions. Jake’s mum came to stay recently and she also found it less than restful. I think she could envisage the house being hit at any moment.

Parts of the range are certainly taking a pounding. One of our neighbours was telling me that the new fence which the estate erected in the spring has already been shot to pieces and will have to be replaced. He wondered why the soldiers weren’t given a map with the fences on and told to aim beyond them. Quite so.

The main task on the farm at the moment is the sheep clipping. Jake has been doing this himself, with a bit of help from Archie for gathering, and from an old friend for wrapping and packing the fleeces. I have been trying to encourage Jake to do a few stretches and warm-up exercises before he begins, but he has a rather traditional view on these matters, so he is currently creaking ever so slightly.

The clipping has provided an excellent excuse for Jake to miss out on some of Julia’s end-of-term activities. There seems to have been weeks of it and there is more to come, including a “prom”. The worst aspect of the prom, from my point of view, has been the search for Julia’s outfit. I do not enjoy shopping at the best of times, however, trailing round in circles from shop to shop with a teenager is misery. We went to one place three times before eventually finding something she liked online. Compare this to my own schooldays, when the main end-of-term activity was being allowed to bring in board games on the last day.

This has also been a very sociable time of year for Jake and I. We have been to lots of excellent parties and barbecues recently, where I’ve noticed several differences between the hill people (us) and everyone else. The first difference is on the question of al-fresco entertainment. We can’t ever enjoy this at home because of the midge menace. I know some people swear by citronella candles, but we have tried and never found them effective. It hardly seems worth drenching yourself in some sort of insecticide in order to eat a burger outdoors without being eaten alive, and as a result, our barbecue has undergone a career change. It’s main function nowadays is to heat the burning irons when Jake is branding the sheep horns.

The other main difference with lowlanders is that hill people (ok, us again) don’t really like to display a great deal of flesh, whereas bare legs are clearly on trend everywhere else, among all age groups and both sexes. There are several reasons for our reticence, not least the bruises and battle scars from dealing with horned sheep, which we would rather keep to ourselves.