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Icy weather may cause havoc for farmers but snow turns the hills into a wonderland

WE woke last Monday to a wintry scene following the first fall of snow in our area.

Fortunately, it was just a covering and was gone that evening, which is just as well – as the last thing Scottish farmers need after the appalling summer is a harsh winter.

Frost and snow bring a whole host of problems and inconveniences to rural dwellers and farmers.

Apart from blocked roads and the problems of getting the milk tanker in and out of dairy farms, or feed and fuel deliveries, as well as children to and from school, there are other daily irritants. Topping that list are thawing water pipes so that livestock can get a daily drink and feeding expensive hay to snowbound sheep.

Having said all that, while I disliked all the problems that came with a prolonged wintry spell, I always thought the views from my farm were made all the more spectacular when covered in snow.

The farm that I used to rent, Auchentaggart, was a high-lying plateau overlooking the Mennock Pass that winds its way up to Wanlockhead, the highest village in Scotland. Auchentaggart, which means fields of the priest, and was where the ancients worshipped at the solstices, had spectacular all-round views, particularly of the majestic Lowther hills that overlooked us.

A magnificent gold collar called the Auchentaggart Lunula was ploughed up in the winter of 1872-73 by John Wilson, who was ploughman for T B Stewart, the tenant of Auchentaggart at the time. It is estimated to have been made between 2000BC and 2500BC and was probably placed in the water of a pond or small lochan, that eventually filled with peat, as a votive offering to the spirits who dwelt in the underworld. It is now on display at the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh – a permanent reminder that ancient priests did indeed worship their spirits and gods from the plateau that forms Auchentaggart.

Once the snow melted, the hills that overlooked my farm took on a darker and more menacing appearance during the winter months. As the days began to lengthen in the new year, the sun's rays got stronger and felt their way down the braes into darkened glens and hollows.

As cloud shadows chased each other across the hills and glens, you could witness unbelievable changes of light, shade and colour that an artist would find almost impossible to recreate. Even if he did, few would accept that such colours were natural.

The variety of colours in a hill landscape are at their most vivid in late summer when the purple heather is in bloom. Gradually the areas of heather turn to black as the purple flowers fade, at the same time as the bracken turns from dark green, through russet to dark brown – making the hills dark, brooding and menacing for the rest of the winter.

While the Lowther hills take on a more sombre appearance, further down the Nith Valley the leaves of the trees, particularly in the Drumlanrig Gorge, between Sanquhar and Thornhill, begin to challenge New England for beauty in the Fall.

Sadly, thanks to the wet summer and the low sugar content of the leaves this year, we did not get our usual spectacular riot of russets and golden browns this autumn.

Now those trees have lost their leaves and face the bleak winter naked.

Fortunately, seasons come and go and we all have spring to look forward to. The harsh storms of winter will hopefully give way to warmer weather in April and May so that shepherds can enjoy a kindly lambing.

That's also when the smells of April showers on warm earth, and the sight of the grass changing colour from greyish brown to verdant green encourage livestock farmers to look forward to turning their cattle out to grass for the summer.

After two consecutive wet summers, most farmers will be hoping for a more favourable one next year, but who can see that far into the future?

As I said, my farm had panoramic views of the surrounding countryside, but the best sight of all was in summer and early autumn evenings when the sun went down over the distant Cumnock hills. Some of those sunsets are spectacular beyond belief and I don't think I could live without them.

Fortunately, my wee retirement bungalow sits on a hill looking up the Nith Valley towards the Cumnocks – so I can still see the surrounding hills and enjoy the sunsets.

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