some stories to enjoy.

Ben Hinnie

DROVING MISS BETSY

Standing here, in the car park at Cullow, my mind drifts back over the years to five days in June when Miss Betsy and I crossed those distant hills together. I see myself walking alongside her at the steady pace that would take us twelve miles every day over those 60 long miles from Aberdeenshire to the Braes of Angus.

Cullow, in Glen Clova, is an ancient rendezvous site where cattle (or Kye) from the north were gathered, before drovers walked them to the annual Tryst at Falkirk, halting at overnight stances. At Falkirk their numbers were swollen by cattle from the Western Isles before the long weary walk to the markets in England to feed the growing population and the men of the British Navy and Army.

We were part of a band of drovers, five challenging teenagers and four challenged staff from an Aberdeen school, recreating the essence of such a drove over the original droving roads. Our herd was small, just six cattle, each one tended by a student. I took responsibility for Miss Betsy.

For six months I had worked and trained with Miss Betsy, learning to read her moods as we practiced the skills we had to master to travel safely over tracks, hills and tarmac roads. We developed a relationship that seemed to work well enough and over the five days of our drive and I shared many amusing and memorable moments with Miss Betsy.

On the second day of the drove she became nervous and restless as we came off the hill at Easter Davoch farm where we were forced to halt as a rather amused farmer, who, on seeing our herd, came to remove five frisky young bulls from fields bordering the path we were on. I understood Miss Betsy's skittishness, she was a fine looking beast and these lads looked a bit rough and over eager to say the least!

I had to calm her on the day the young drovers panicked and bolted when one of the leading cattle disturbed an adder on the Muir of Dinnet. The cattle became agitated by this sudden commotion and Miss Betsy looked at me in dismay. I patted her back and hugged her neck reassuringly, laughing till the tears ran as the boys ran around jumping up and down like boiler suited Morris dancers in wellies, screaming like banshees "SNAKES, SNAKES!!!"  all the while aimlessly lashing the heather with the long switches of hazel wood that are an invaluable tool when driving cattle, useless when hunting adders! Miss Betsy and I knew to stand still as the snake slipped quietly away.

We had lunch that day by the ruins of an old cottage once a Drovers Inn. As their cows grazed contentedly these city boys come cowboys no longer fazed by the ever present wildlife, lay in the heather, a buzzard soaring above them.

 

Later in he day, a shrill human scream reminded us that, whilst droving cattle was now our daily routine, it was no longer the kind of thing other people see every day. On the old railway path from Cambus o May to Ballater we summoned all our inter-personal and droving skills to placate a group of very nervous pensioners from Bolton before 'herding' them safely past the kye.

Out for a stroll from their hotel in Ballater they were terrified to find themselves surrounded by what they thought were wild cattle and even wilder looking young cowboys. Their anxiety levels rose as I positioned myself between Miss Betsy and a raging farmer trying to read the number on her ear tag. His loud accusations that we were 'rustling' his cattle did little to convince them that Scotland was not still a wild and lawless place.

Word of our droving party had spread and our afternoon ended magically when children and staff from the local primary school turned out to greet the herd with flowers and garlands they had made. The children formed a human corridor through which we herded the cattle towards the track leading to our next overnight stance. Miss Betsy led the march proudly wearing a garland of flowers over her left ear.

As we drove the cattle over the royal estate at Glen Muick the following day, the heat was so intense that in the early afternoon both drovers and cattle were exhausted and we rested by the river for a couple of hours. The drovers swam and splashed around in the cool waters while the cattle drank copiously as they waded, lowing contentedly with a look in their eyes best described as bovine bliss.

Miss Betsy's proudest moment came on our final day heading for our rendezvous with the transport that would take us all home. On the slopes of the Gallow Hillock on the Capel Mounth track, we stood in a circle, drovers strategically positioned to prevent a breakaway by the herd, with the cattle resting in the centre.

A young German girl appeared from the trees and approached the group. Giving Miss Betsy a warm hug round the neck she asked in broken English "What am I seeing here?" it transpired the girl, who was walking over the hills to Braemar, had an uncle who kept cattle in the mountain pastures of the Austrian Tyrol. As a child she had often helped him walk the cows to their high summer pastures. We were bemused when she kissed Miss Betsy on the snout, declaring her to be a beautiful girl who would grace any of her uncle's Alpine pastures. The frauleine continued on her way singing an Austrian yodelling song. Die Bless, mei Kuah. (Scots translation - Goad, bless meh coo)

Smiling at this encounter with the girl we nicknamed Heidi as descended to our rendezvous in Glen Clova, herding the cattle onto their transport. Many an eye moistened as we silently watched the lorry take Miss Betsy and her friends homewards to resume their leisurely life grazing the lush fields of Aberdeenshire. I often wonder if her memories of our time together were as warm as mine still are 30 years on.