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Behold the Hebrides
Winter in Lewis
The Old Drove Road

IT is winter in Dalmore; and, although I am far away from my old drove road that leads down to the sea, I can picture all the uneventful scenes that are enacted on it each day. In my mind’s eye I see Calum Mor a’ Chaisteil, Big Malcolm of the Castle, as we call the old shepherd in Gaelic. I can never quite understand why he is thus named, because, in point of fact, he is a little man; and to the best of my knowledge he has never in his life had anything to do with a castle!

Calum has been a great deal in my thoughts during the past few days. You see, at this time of year I know that he will be kept unusually busy looking after the large flocks of black-faced sheep that are entrusted to his care; and of late the weather has been so wet and so trying both for Calum and for his sheep. I feel sure that at this moment he will be trudging with his ancient lorg, or crook, through the bogs and cart-ruts of my old drove road on his way to the western shore, where, as a rule, some patches of excellent pasturage are to be found in winter-time.

Calum is a typical Highland shepherd; and, like most of those who follow his calling in wild and outlandish places, he is kind and gentle and courteous at all times. He is capable of conversing on almost any topic that the wayfarer, whom he chances to meet, may feel inclined to suggest, for, though he has had a wide experience of nothing but sheep, having been an island shepherd all his days, he is very well-read, and possesses not only that abnormal capacity for learning, by which the Western Islanders are distinguished, but also that strong determination to acquire as much useful knowledge as possible.

Calum, indeed, is one of the old Lewisian school—a school pre-eminent for its ability, because the Nicolson Institute in his native town of Stornoway, from which he is some twenty miles distant, has been aptly described as a factory for brains. Calum’s old schoolmates have wandered far from Lewis; and many of them at the present day hold prominent positions in the affairs of state and of empire.

Away in the heart of the heather and bracken-sprent glen, through which my old drove passes, nestles Calum’s house. It is a very small and unpretentious place; but it is a place of warmth and of welcome. Ceud Mile Failte!.—A Hundred Thousand Welcomes!—might be a fitting motto for it. Here Calum has resided since he became a shepherd of sheep sixty long summers ago; and, during all those years, I hardly suppose he has spent twenty nights away from it; and only then when he has driven a flock of sheep to the market in Stornoway, and has been unable to return the same night on account of a storm.

Beside his house a noisy mountain stream chatters incessantly. It is Calum’s barometer; and by its sounds, and by the sighs that come up from the sea a mile or so westwards, he forecasts the weather.

Now, in this thatched cottage by the wayside Calum does not dwell alone, for his cailleach lives there with him. She is a shy, dainty, little creature, and reminds me very much of a gnome. Her name is Morag; and her folks long, long ago used to live in a tiny croft on Cnoc na Moine— the Hill of the Peats. Morag is full of weird tales and legends; and at her ceilidhs I have heard her tell of such eerie experiences that I am now convinced there is something of the witch about her, though I should scarcely go so far as to say that she has the ‘evil eye.’ But I would not for the world that you thought badly of Morag. She is really one of the better-class witches, if you follow me.

That she is gifted with the ‘second-sight’ is a well-established fact. It is said that her mother before her possessed this faculty, and could foretell the queerest happenings, not only in the Islands, but also at sea and on the mainland.

In this cold weather I feel certain that Morag has more to do than she is able for. She has to attend to her cows and see that in their byre there is an adequate supply of winter feeding, because there is so little for them to eat outside. Then, again, Morag has her hungry chickens to feed; and, as I write, I have an idea that they are now gathered around her doorstep, eagerly awaiting their breakfast of bran and meal, which is being cooked in an old black pot that swings over her peat fire. But, besides these duties, Morag has several other things to look after. She may be sure, for example, that in this weather Calum will be caught in a storm, and that he will be soaked to the skin when he returns home. So she is continually drying clothes, for Calum must needs attend to his sheep in all weathers.

With Calum and Morag live two four-footed shepherds, shepherds without which the old two-footed shepherd would be perfectly helpless. Anyone who knows anything about the gathering of sheep on a wild, bleak moor thousands of acres in extent will readily appreciate the indispensability of two lithe and fleet collie dogs, capable of doing a hard day’s work without the necessity of having someone watching over them to see that they are not slacking. A well-trained sheep-dog does not require to be told what to do: he sees for himself what is to be done, and does it of his own accord.

Oh! I do wish that you could see Calum’s collies collect the sheep on the hillsides, and drive them along my old drove road to the turnip troughs and the hay racks on a cold, January afternoon just as the sun is beginning to set.

Sometimes, indeed, the winter is so severe in Dalmore that the timid deer come down from their hiding-places in the mountains and graze with Calum’s sheep.

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