Keeping the cows out…

Have I ever mentioned that my barn is quite remote – stuck up a hill in the middle of nowhere. Bit of an issue when people ask me to ‘just send them an email at the weekend’. No problem. If I walk up the hill and sit on the fourth fence post along, and the wind’s coming from the Northeast and it’s not too cloudy – yep, you’ll get your email…

As for actually using the Internet – I drive 30 miles on a Sunday morning just to find a wifi signal strong enough to upload this blog – so next time you’re moaning about your 3G not being a 4G, spare a thought for those of us in the wilds who don’t have any G at all!

But living in a rural community can have its advantages. I’m a commuter-belt England girl where gardens are usually the size of postage stamps and boundaries are jealously guarded. Put your fence panels half inch too far to the left or get a bit too enthusiastic in pruning your neighbours’ invading cherry blossom and you’re likely to start a turf war. Up in the wilds of Scotland, everyone’s too busy with the farming to worry about the size of the privet hedge. Even so, it was with some trepidation that I agreed to meet the local landowners to discuss the question of fencing.

Living as I do in the middle of farmland, animals are constantly being moved around, so the issue of fencing can be quite important. When I first bought the property, there were no fences around it. As the barn was being used to house animals, clearly it was less of an issue if they took a detour into the building to inspect the decor. But now I was trying to turn the erstwhile animal shed into my des res, cows in the living room are something to be avoided if possible.

To be honest, I didn’t really have any clue how much land owned. I mean, the property brochure when I bought it said 2.47 acres. But how much is that?? The only reference point I had was a site map drawn by hand on an A4 sheet of paper, with my property shown as an L-shape, about 3cm long, right in the middle of the page. Not exactly imbued with accurate detail.


My neighbour had helpfully tried to point it out to me when I first went up there after winning the bid. “Well it goes from the gate in that field there, down to one of those trees, the 4th or 5th one down. Or maybe the 6th. Somewhere down there. And then it comes back up to a corner behind those trees. You can’t really see from here…”


Excellent. That makes it all clear as mud.

I met up with the farmer and the local Laird on a drizzly Sunday afternoon and we walked around ‘my estate’, to mark out the boundaries.

“What do you reckon? About here?”

“Seems about right.”

“That’ll do then.”

It seems that in a remote community the issue of territory is a bit less fraught.

Having thus ‘formally’ marked out the boundaries, by the simple expedient of dropping a few large boulders in strategic places, it was agreed that the laird would get his estate manager to arrange the installation of the fences and we’d split the bill three ways. Since I’d assumed I was going to cop the cost for the lot, that felt like a bargain. A week later all my fields were fenced off.

That just left me to sort out the fences around the house and the track. And here the farmer had added a note of caution. “Not so much of an issue at the side of the house along the track, we can pen the cows in. But if anyone accidentally leaves the gate open at the top, and a bull gets out and comes running down the the hill, and sees himself reflected in the glass of your windows, well he won’t be able to stop…..” No pretty white picket fences for me then. Any fences I put in had to be stock proof- ie. had to be able to stop 2000lb of charging bull invading my kitchen. No pressure then…

And I had a deadline. The farmer had told me that the annual animal-field rotation party was due to start again the following week. Having taken down all the temporary security fencing, I needed to get its replacement installed that weekend. Well hey – bit of fencing – how hard can it be….

So I ordered in a large number of hefty posts, umpteen hundred metres of rails, two 10ft gates and a couple of tree trunks to hang them on. And set to work.

I hit the same problem as the guys putting in the GSHP pipes – there’s an awful lot of rock to dig through. It was back breaking work. I hired a pneumatic drill. It was still back breaking work, just with added vibration.
And of course, it started to rain.
For the fencing to be solid enough to hold back the hoards of angsty livestock, not only do you have to have larger-than-average posts, but they also need to be truly madly deeply buried in the ground. I swear my fence posts are a bit like icebergs – 90% of them are hidden beneath the surface.
Deep and narrow is obviously a job for specialist tools. I just had my vibrating drill. And a shovel. Until the shovel didn’t fit. When I moved on to a narrower trench shovel. Till that didn’t fit. And I was on my hands and knees with a garden trowel. Until finally I was lying full length on the ground in a puddle, with my head down a hole, scooping out mud with a tablespoon. I can think of better ways to spend a weekend.

Very cold, very wet, and feeling like I’d gone ten rounds with Mike Tyson, I finished about 10.30pm on the Sunday. But job done. The sheep arriving on their annual summer holiday to the higher fields would not be using my house for their afternoon tea stop.

And I can say with some pride, that in the all years my fences have now been up, I’ve never had a bull rampaging through my china cupboards.


2 thoughts on “Keeping the cows out…

  1. Hey Shirley! I love the countryside community, whenever I’m up in the Lake District there’s never any hard feelings, just people getting on with their lives and enjoying the conversation with their neighbours! It’s really awesome that you’ve got your field sorted, and I can’t wait to read more posts!


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