Saturday, 21 September 2013

The Smoky Smirr O Rain

"The hills aroond war silent wi the mist alang the braes.
The woods war derk an' quiet wi dewy, glintin' sprays.
The thrushes didna raise for me, as I gaed by alane,
but a wee wae cheep at passin' in the smoky smirr o rain.

Rock an' stane lay glisterin' on aa the heighs abune.
Cool an' kind an' whisperin' it drifted gently doon,
till hill an' howe war rowed in it, an' land an' sea war gane.
Aa was still an' saft an' silent in the smoky smirr o rain."

George Campbell Hay

The Autumn mist has made our house quite invisible to the world, the hill at the front floats, only the top can be seen backlit by the full moon and inside, we are huddled around the fire, recovering from a horrid lurgy which struck the whole family, bellies filled by the plums and apples we picked from the garden, settling into the return of the dark nights.

We have worked at getting the harvest in; a bumper harvest of oats this year. The straw and hay for the livestock has been bailed and stacked but best of all, we had a holiday at the invite of another tenant farming family on the Islands.
I won't say which island to preserve the anonymity of those we met but what I will say is that we were treated like family, welcomed with such warmth, love and friendship that it was difficult to return home.

We met many other tenant farming families during our stay, gathering around the big kitchen table, everyone from the youngest to the more mature in years had their say, stories were swapped; not in bitterness just hard facts.
We heard of the young, articulate, highly qualified farmer who desperately wanted his own farm yet who was badly let down at the last moment by the landowner, the farmer who had worked at farming with his sibling all his days yet on the sibling's death, he would lose the farm due to the succession laws which prevent a sibling taking on a tenancy.

As we travelled around the island, there were so many houses like this one.

Houses staring with dead eyes over ground which once saw crops. Houses which once saw families where bairns tumbled off to school, now the schools lay empty, abandoned. There were few shops, just miles and miles of grouse moor.

You did not need to travel as far as the Islands to see this desolation, it is evident all over Scotland and the Islands. Dead eyed houses, empty schools, no shops, miles of nothing but barren waste where once stood crops and workers.

On the last night of our visit, I stood outside for a puff. The air was so pure and the smoky smirr of rain hung in the air. I'm not sure how it happens but nights like those have the ability to catch sound and as I smoked my cigarette, I could hear a man singing at a wedding some distance away. I don't know what he was singing as it was Gaelic but his voice was beautiful and ethereal in the mist. It did not matter what he was singing as the message of his song rang clear and hit my Soul.

I see lights in that little house. I see bairns tumbling off to school, crops being tended, animals grazing, neighbours swapping news in the shops. If ever a message rang home, it was that this land is worth fighting for to bring it back to life and to make the community feel valued again.

Our home too, depressing as it was to return to.
Nothing has progressed despite our meeting with our visitors. NOTHING.

The entire glen has suffered water shortages and I feel for them as they are not used to the disruption, ruined water filters and inability to bathe their children safely. We are used to it as it has happened to us for years. The only difference appears to be their willingness to speak out and try to get something done.
The community received a rather high handed email explaining that 'lack of precipitation' had caused the shortages and no mention of the antiquated, patched, lead in places burst pipe system which has long since died a death.

The smoky smirr of rain has arrived, the rain or 'precipitation' has fallen in abundance, yet still no water.
Still no roof.

A surveyor had a quick look around and we were promised a proper survey...... no word about when he will be back or what the hold up is. What are a few more weeks after initially asking in 1976?
No place to store our oats either. The grain shed is circa 1850 something and built for carts. It holds 30 tons maximum and this year we were able to produce 70 tons. The grain shed is 'fixed equipment' ie something which came with the farm in 1890 yet the roof has fallen in - once an object has passed its life 'through fair wear and tear', it is the landlords obligation to replace - not the farmer's. Tenants are wary of building new sheds as after a certain length of time, if the farmer leaves,the sheds depreciate in value (in theory) therefore the landowner can deem the building obsolete on waygo but in practice, the shed still has many years of  life left. So the farmer has paid for the shed himself yet when he leaves, the landowner can write it off and pay no compensation on waygo but let the farm to a new tenant and include the sheds!
Plus, try getting a fit for purpose shed out of a certain type of is easier getting a pint of clean water.. Aye, right.

The grain prices are low just now as everyone has had a good harvest but it is prudent to store the oats for a few months until the price improves. This is just one example of when a landowner fails to invest in fixed equipment, it can affect the income of the farm. We heard so many similar examples when we were visiting the Island plus many more from others on the mainland.

It is not good enough. There has to be something better than this. What has happened to our country that complete strangers can empathise with your situation as they have experienced the same neglect? They are no longer strangers but become kith and kindred spirits through these shared experiences and hardships in modern day Scotland.

I think we are not getting a roof/ clean water or any water as the question of the absolute right to buy our own farms is raised and some estates would hold tight rather than provide a roof to, let's remind them, sitting tenants. Since 1890 in our case.
Some estates deserve to lose their tenants as the tenants themselves will make a far better job of providing themselves with basics like a roof for their homes and sheds plus that basic human right, clean water, than wait for an indifferent landowner to make the house wind and watertight.

I look forward to the day when the Smoky Smirr o Rain falls on our roof and we are warm and dry will be by our own hands, our own work and a reliance on no laird. I will be so bold as to speak for many Secure tenant farmers who wish the same, regardless where in Scotland they are. These good families deserve better.

Freedom, come all ye.


  1. And do have you any source of assistance other than that of others in a similar situation?
    I am astounded how this is just brushed under the carpet.

  2. Visited Scotland this year?
    Then take a look at this post from a blog - read the whole blog if you've a strong stomach - and see what you've been missing.
    The lady who writes this is fighting for justice for Scottish tenant farmers among whom her family is numbered.
    Exploited by unscrupulous 'sporting' estates, their plight is ignored.
    None of the bodies who might help or represent them take any effective action; no journalists - including those from The Guardian contacted by those who sympathise with her plight - will take an interest.
    Take a dram of the water her family are forced to use....breathe deeply of the human faeces spread on grazing land...thrill as lead shot lands on your porch...
    Read it.

    I've bookmarked it and added it to reading list and whatever is factual and useful I'll put out there. If you have facts which could stand up in courts, just feed them to the grid:

    I don't know anything about this set up, but it was a reply i got to putting your blog on the comments section of The Guardian. You might like to check it out

  3. Thank you, the fly in the web.

    To answer your first question, no, there appears to be no other assistance other than tenants in a similar situation.

    I think that whilst enquiries are conducted at parliamentary level, greater support ought to be given to the tenants who find themselves in a very vulnerable position.
    Issues like rent increases, evictions etc ought to be put on hold whilst these enquiries ask for evidence. (I have heard of four evictions recently plus some tenants are receiving a 100% rent increase).

    Thank you for bringing the comment to my attention; like the Guardian comment section, "Facts are sacred' in this blog and if anyone were to visit the farm right now, they would see it as it is, tumbledown buildings, raw water, etc. Not just our farm either. There are derelict houses, miles of barren moorland, no shops, no pubs, hotel closed....there is nothing here unless you shoot.

    We are working just now on trying to figure out where to store our oat harvest and as a result of the grain store roof collapsing in places and allowing water into the grain drums, we are shifting 40 tons of barley by hand. The barley is too wet and spoiled to be augered out and the tiny sheds were designed for a horse and cart.
    I believe that it is sheer rage which is giving me the strength.