Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Play Misty for Me

Have you ever wondered how you get 2 tonnes of mini-digger back on its feet?

That's funny, I spent half the night pondering the exact same thing.

Come morning, we loaded the argocat with everything we could possibly think we might need. We had big posts, little posts, flat boards, ropes and strops, ratchet straps and hand winches, spades, pinch bar, high-lift jack, engine oil, hydraulic oil (in case these had drained out while the digger was having its wee lie down), shovel, fuel etc etc etc.

As forecast, it was pissing rain but, coupled with that, the hills were obscured by a thick mist. Prudence has us wondering if we should leave it for another day but we eventually decided that if we could get it back on its feet, we wouldn't attempt to take it anywhere.

We trundled out to infinity and beyond. Visibility made negotiating the maze of peat hags even harder. After a couple of hours of travelling I eventually cut the motor of the argo and said "I don't think we can be far from it now.....but how are we going to find it?"

We decided the best thing was to walk in a line until we came across it or its tracks.

"But then how do we find the argo again? asked Mark.

"Er... good point. Hmmmmm."

Then Dave gave a shout. He'd wandered 10 yards off to have a pee.

"It's right here!!" And so it was- about 60 metres from where we parked.

The pictures tell the rest of the tale. With a bit of improvisation we got it upright again.

Unfortunately, even after letting it sit for a while, the engine wouldn't turn over. It's a shame the whole machine wouldn't show the same reluctance.

I pray it's oil in the cylinders. We've left it overnight in the hope it will drain out in that time. But when I go back out tomorrow, I'll be taking spanners....and sockets....and screwdrivers.....

Tuesday, 29 March 2011


Last April (see blog of 2.4.10) saw me whinging about creating 'gritting stations' by hand.

What we are trying to achieve is a network of large mounds all over the hill. These are focal points for grouse (they like a room with a view) and at these sites we provide grit coated in medication to rid them of parasitic worms. (They pick grit because it helps break down the food in their gizzards.)

Anyway to create these mounds by hand means digging lots of divots with a spade and piling them up. It's back-breaking, monotonous work.

So we have hired a couple of mini-diggers.

7am saw me atop a hill, digging one of these blessed machines out of the bog I got it stuck in yesterday evening. Fortunately it didn't take long.

Thereafter it was 2 hours of bone-shaking torment as it made its inexorable way out the hill road to our final destination.

The final destination was the most remote end of my ground. It's an open, rolling moor. With lots of peat hags.

For the rest of the day, I nervously picked my way through all the bogs and hags, digging piles every couple of hundred metres or so.

Every time the machine lurched into a heather-hidden hollow my heart missed a beat. Every time I needed to use the arm to pull me through a soft bit, my stomach tightened lest it be the final resting place for the ponderous beast.

At 5pm my luck eventually ran out. It looked like a perfectly innocuous bit of hill. (Especially considering some of the places I'd been in the course of the day.)Anyway, the thing went down quicker than the Spirit of Free Enterprise. What was worse was that it was left at an extremely dicy angle.

I tried to use the arm to get myself out of this mess but every time I touched one of the controls, it listed another couple of degrees.

Oh how you would have laughed to see me climbing out the window as it sloooooowly sank over onto its side. Rats!

I started the long walk back to the landrover in a mood to match my appearance- filthy. But it was a nice evening and I found myself so glad to be away from the noisy, jolting, uncomfortable bastard of a thing.

My innards felt like they had been vibrated to jelly, I had a headache (from the noise, or the concentration, or the stress) and I was surprised to find myself aching in places I didn't know I had.

And tomorrow I'll be right back out there to get the thing unstuck. If I do, all that will be in store for me is more of the same. Except it will be raining.

I would give my left nut to give this job a body-swerve. Do I have a bidder?!

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

If You Can't Stand the Heat...

More heather burning today. And it's getting dry. As am I.

I took a pic of the gear we need for this mullarky. Gas torch for lighting the fire. Besom for putting out the fire (that just rolls off sooo easily). Bag with spare gas canister and lunch. Dogs for eating in an emergency.

Monday, 21 March 2011

Suffering from Wind

A week ago I sat here, absolutely knackered, and declared that the heather burning was jiggered for a good while.

The remainder of last week was spent catching up on other stuff. We checked some fences; caught up with our stoat traps; hell, we were even out on the snowbikes on Friday. (We were out on the high, far ground looking for foxes. One was spotted, but it wisnae gotted.)

But the snow took a huge shift over the weekend and we were back to burning heather today. Unfortunately, none of the forecasts I saw made ANY reference to the GALES that we were to experience.

Our trainee and I went off to this really rough, steep, heathery face and chased fires all day. And guess what. I'm absolutely knackered.

Monday, 14 March 2011

A Numbers Game

Well that will be the heather burning jiggered for a while!

We had a foot of snow over the weekend, with more forecast for tonight. Hey ho.

However, every snowcloud has a silver lining it seems. This sudden return to winter has, at last, given us the conditions we need to do our deer count.

The principle is that all the estates in the area go out and count on the same day. They also liaise with each other if there is any movement of deer between estates. This negates the chance of deer getting counted twice.

From the results of the count we get a picture of the population and its distribution. And from that each estate can tailor its cull depending on what it's wanting to achieve.

When there is total snow cover, the deer are easier to find, easier to count (remember they can be in herds of hundreds), and less likely to move far if they are disturbed.

There is a downside.

I spent 6 hours plunging through snow up to my knees. Leaving no stone unturned on the whole beat. It took me an hour and a half to climb/crawl out this looong, steep slope at the head of my glen.

I got back to base, ready to drop. Only to be sent out on the snowbike to another part of the estate that hadn't yet been covered.

This heavy, fresh snow is far from ideal conditions for the 'bike. I wrestled and fought it all the way 'oot the hill'.....and all the way home again.

I can tell you now, it's not just the heather burning that's jiggered. At least I wont need to be counting sheep when my head hits the pillow.

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

A Low Ebb

My wife, Louise, works three days a week. Which means that our young son, Jack, goes to nursery for 3 days and pre-school for the other 2 days of the working week.

This gives him double the opportunity to pick up all manner of bugs, viruses and diseases. To us, it's like sharing our home with a Black Rat!

Which is why you haven't heard from me for a while. I've been struggling on through days of heather burning, grouse gritting, firewood cutting and trapping. All the while, I've been fighting a bug- and not winning, either.

However, I feel I've now turned a corner. So, hopefully, it will be business as usual within the next few days. Which is maybe just as well. There's more snow forecast. Michty!