On the Road is a weekday feature spotlighting reader photo submissions.
From the exotic to the familiar, whether you’re traveling or in your own backyard, we would love to see the world through your eyes.
These images are from a 1978 trip I made to Britain with my great friend Dave. It struck me that photo submissions at BJ generally lack human subjects and a story so I thought I would try to gather some human-centric images and spin a tale. This is the result.
Dave rebelled against his well-off family in England by heading to Scotland to become a shepherd. Years later, he made his way to America and when he came to visit me in Colorado, he ended up getting a job wrangling cattle. In the summer of ’78, though, he felt the pull of his former life and the two of us went back there to shear sheep. This is the backyard of Dave’s parent’s house.
Dave’s folks bought us a used Austin to get around for the summer and sold it when we left. At one point, the hydraulic line that supported the suspension on the passenger side burst, giving the car a decided list to port. This is the car before Dave and I fixed it with a spare hydraulic line that Norman Achlyness (see below) had salvaged from a car he unintentionally drove into the loch.
The weather in Scotland that summer was unusually wet and since sheep need a couple of weeks to dry out before shearing, we had time to kill. He wanted to drive back to England to get his favorite sheep dog whom he had given to friends when he came to America. Since I had no money and had been counting on working sheep to earn my keep, he got me a job at the Cluanie Inn on the road between Loch Ness and what was then the ferry (now bridge) to The Isle of Skye. I tended bar and pumped gas for tourists making a last stop before Skye. This is a picture I took of the Cluanie Inn from the hillside opposite the inn.
Danny and his whole family had come from England to manage the inn for the summer. He was my boss. Everybody treated me like family and I loved working there. I wasn’t paid directly but room and board was provided for me. This is Danny, his father and his son.
The sheep finally dried out and the shearing began. My job was to catch sheep in the fank (pen) and bring them to the shearers. They let me shear one sheep. It was both literally and figuratively a bloody mess. This is Dave hard at work. You might notice that his shears are not powered.
After being sheared from the sheep, the wool is rolled and stuffed into a huge burlap sack. I was allowed to do this since there was little potential for bleeding injury. A day spent handling sheep and their wool leaves one’s hands remarkably smooth and soft. Here’s wool being rolled for stuffing.
Shearing sheep is not particularly lucrative so Dave and I supplemented our income fishing salmon. We sold them to local hotels and bed & breakfast places. Since this was illegal (all this land is owned by rich absentee English landlords who don’t like people taking their fish without paying for an expensive salmon license), we stealthily set out gill nets at night and reeled them in early in the morning. We also kept our fair share to eat. This is Dave at either 11 at night or 5 in the morning rowing out to tend our nets.
It was fairly common up there for people with a common first name to be differentiated from each other by the place from which they came rather than a proper last name. This is Norman Achlyness in sheep’s clothing. Guess where he lived?
These are three of the locals at the end of a day’s shearing.
This is a tired group of people who have been working hard all day. I set my camera in the grass to take this picture and because I had to hustle back to get into the shot, I don’t have a well deserved can of McEwan’s in hand.
Loved these pictures and narrative.
Hopefully you remedied that McEwan’s deficit immediately after the last shot. Cool story, and well illustrated!
What a great adventure!
A woman from anywhere (formerly Mohagan)
I’ve read that the lanolin in sheep’s wool is good for the hands and you have confirmed it. I was tempted years ago to take a shearing course but was dissuaded by the physical strength and/or technique needed to handle the sheep and the backbreaking work of the shearing, leaning over all day. I admire shearers a great deal. Good ones never cut the sheep, are quick and efficient and can keep most of the wool all in one piece. Thanks for a great story and photos. Sounds like a great summer.
Wonderful photographs and a great story. Thanks!
Great story! Thanx for the break.
There go two miscreants
I was allowed to do this since there was little potential for bleeding injury.
Possibly the funniest line I will read all day today!
What a delight! Thanks for sharing.
It’s a whole lot easier with power clippers, but still not easy. And still takes a lot of skill (of which I have none)…
The joy of simpler times when viewed in retrospect. Lovely tale. Superb pics.
Thanks for putting a smile on my face to start the day.
What a great summer, and what evocative photos. Thank you!
Wonderful narrative! I’d love to read more about this summer or other adventures. It also seems like a simpler time. I wonder now if Dave would be able to get you that temp job tending bar, given Brexit and all that junk.
I love this story, and the pictures. Scotland is one of my favorite places.
I love this story of your adventure! Would love to see more like this from you and other peeps.
Thanks, Cope, lovely story and wonderful pictures. So colorful — the characters as well as the grass and the sky! Among other things, it makes me want to be young again so I’d be happy traveling to beautiful places in a car held together with chewing gum on a budget that wouldn’t keep me in breakfast foods today.
The solution to duplicate names thing (given name, then town) reminds me of how much trouble I had searching the Ellis Island database for my Italian forebears. First of all there were the (sometimes fantastically garbled) mistakes in transcribing the old handwriting of the ship manifests into the database. On top of that, there was the custom of naming after the previous generation. For instance, my dad’s oldest two brothers were named after their grandfathers (paternal grandfather for oldest son, male side takes priority of course), and his two sisters were named after their grandmothers. My grandma had a very common last name, and a lot of people came from the same few villages in southern Italy — I think, like the Somalis who came to Maine in great numbers twenty or so years ago, a few came and saw that it was good, and told their friends and relatives, and they came too. In fact I know this to be true of my ancestors.
I don’t know how common that naming practice was, but that and the common origin in a few specific villages meant there could be a dozen people with the same name listed from the same village in the database.
My parents’ generation dropped the practice — they named their kids after themselves, and doubly so in some cases. (I.e. both a son and a daughter named after their father.)
Thanks again. I love the way these photo sets trigger memories!
ETA: tweaked for clarity.
All that needs is a soft voice speaking in nearly unintelligible dialect. Superb.
What a wonderful summer that must have been, adventurous and wide open with possibilities!
Did it give you a taste for more travel? Are you and Dave still tight?
Do you dream of fields and fields of baaing sheep?
@CaseyL: I grew up traveling abroad and living overseas before I was ten so it’s always been in my blood. Ironically, this fourth summer in Scotland was my last trip out of the U. S. unless the Bahamas count.
Sadly, he and I are no longer in touch but scanning these slides and others has put it into my mind to get back in touch with him and send him prints. I also have his crampons and ice axe which I am unlikely to use here in Florida. Oh yeah, I still have his favorite Who album too.
@cope: I envy you, growing up traveling like that!
Be funny if Dave also moved somewhere warm, and also won’t need the crampons and ice axe (though axes are always good things to have, just on general principles!). It also makes me wonder how many of us have faithfully lugged around, through many years and multiple moves, things that belonged to friends on the chance that, one day, we might be able to return them. (Someone who offered to hold a box of my books while I was gone for the summer between my soph and junior year at college finally tracked me down something like 15 years later to return them, since I had moved across the country instead of returning to that college. I had completely forgotten about them; it was like getting a time capsule of my past self!)
Love the pictures and narrative. It created good comments as well
Yes, this was a much simpler time, in terms especially of having ease and choice in work and movement. Time seemed to move slower and travelling was much easier all around, although possibly very difficult if a major problem occurred.
You captured the spirit of place and work. The shearers look as if they wear Scotland on their lined faces, in contrast with conveying the beauty of it as well.
Upon reflection of my words, the easier times and range of choice/movement pertain to those with white skin predonimately.