Here comes August. The usual grey skies, sharp winds and the occasional Scotch Mist – just the weather for the (rather rudely called) “Tartan Swallows” who come North to shoot and fish. You don’t need bright sunlight to lure the salmon or dazzle the grouse. It’s the season of strange, somewhat surreal conversations for such as Iain and me who don’t either fish or shoot. “How is the river fishing?” “How many brace today?” “What’s the moor like?” I’m more at home with “Have you got the harvest in yet?” and “Did the rain do much damage to the crop?” It all invokes childhood memories of my uncle’s farm in Yorkshire where, after a storm, every able-bodied person was issued with a broom handle and put to work in the fields, lifting the drooping crop for the threshing machine. One of the things that has changed in my life time is the advent of the short-straw crops. Straw isn’t needed any longer for bedding animals down so the remainders are like “pieces of string too small to be of use” – the label on a tin in a neighbours house. The other innovation is the roll-ups of hay in coloured plastic, making them look like giant marshmallows. These keep the sheep happy during the winter. Up here, the cattle are kept in during the winter because they make such a mess of the fields with their hooves. The loveliest thing is to watch the calves that were born over the winter leaping with joy when they are let out in the Spring. But that’s for then. For now, the swallows are thinking of leaving us. Ours arrive during the first week in May and leave by the first week in September. You could almost set your calendar by them. The magic is that they pattern their young, flying in and out of the garage that they have commandeered to show the children where to come back to the following year. And they do. They arrive, procreate and leave. When we were on holiday in Egypt we wondered if some of the swallows we saw at the ancient tombs were Swiney swallows. I like to think they were.
But keeping you completely up to date with Caithness “doings”, Iain and I attended the unveiling of a memorial stone to Donald Sutherland Swanson, outside Thurso Police Station. Nevill Swanson, his great grandson, unveiled the impressive stone in the company of Mr. Swanson’s grand-daughter, Mrs. Birkin. He had been an extremely important part of the police network in the nineteenth century. During his thirty-five years’ service he arrested the Brighton Train Murderer and ended his career by being placed in charge of the Jack the Ripper investigation. His status then was Superintendent of the Criminal Investigation Department – which meant he was the top detective in the country. Nevill has given the text of his address at the ceremony to Charlotte for the “Herald”, so you can read all about him there.
Iain and I are now preparing for our visit to Loon Mountain, New Hampshire, USA for the Highland Games at which, this year, Gunn is the honoured Clan. Our good friends Rich and Linda Gunn have volunteered to look after us. What a treat! Hope they don’t regret it.