Friday, August 12, 2011

of banishment. Perhaps equally mystifying is the fact that I came back to Eigg last year at the expense of a hard-earned, cosmopolitan lifestyle. I was assistant editor on the

Sandamhor is the former estate farm. In the 1930s, under island lairds the Runcimans, it was a vision of modern agriculture. There was a spotless dairy, an extensive fencing and drainage programme, and a hill herd of 75 Galloway cross Aberdeen Angus cows. The ground extends to 2,500 acres of rough hill, wind-clipped moorland and coastal heath, with small parks of green in-bye. Nowadays, things are a bit different. If Sandamhor was presented as a

Then there's the fact that hill farming is unprofitable and heavily dependent on subsidy: the typical yearly income is only £8,000. A Scottish Agricultural College study, called Farming's Retreat from the Hills, reveals that in some areas of Scotland sheep numbers have decreased by 60% since 1999, and the squeeze on profits and available land make the life unattractive to a new generation of farmers. The average age of a farmer these days is 58. Doomy prophecies envisaging the Highlands as a vista of holiday parks, grouse moors and forestry plantations are not far-fetched. An added burden for island farms is the cost of transporting animals, fuel and feed. A tonne of cow cobbs here costs 25% more than on the mainland. In truth, taking on Sandamhor as a family enterprise would be an impossibility without my mother's salary as a headteacher on a neighbouring island.

Wrestling with 25kg feed bags, hurdles, hay bales and diesel drums has made me stronger, although over the first few months my arms felt like they'd been stretched on a rack. My clothes, which are getting more ripped and threadbare by the day, have taken on a distinct waft of sheep's lanolin, muck and diesel. But even on abysmal days, when I'm cold and snot-nosed, or the quad has a puncture, there's not a great deal from my former life that I hanker after.


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