Native by Patrick Laurie

4 out of 5 stars

Farming is hard and relentless work even with modern machinery and techniques, to do it takes a certain amount of tenacity and a lot of sheer bloody-mindedness. It is part of the reason why a lot of people are choosing not to follow it as a career, even those that would be considered farming stock.

There are some though that cannot ignore that desire to work on the land. Patrick Laurie is one of those people. They pour their money into a small farm in his native Galloway, but rather than acquire modern breeds and the latest expensive equipment, he decides that he would rather get an older tractor and most importantly buy the Riggit Galloway cow, a hardy traditional breed, that is perfectly suited to this landscape.

He is one of the rare people wanting to move back onto the land; most deserted it years ago. The inevitable square plantations of commercial forest have sprung up, the centuries of tradition and sensitive land management have gone and the wildlife has suffered, in particular the curlew. These new Riggit Galloway’s need a completely different method of care compared to modern stock, and as Laurie learns about what they do and don’t need to survive, he discovers that these techniques could bring life back to the landscape.

Taking the land back to the old techniques of rotation and coupled with this and older species of cattle to make the land work as it used to, very quickly bring benefits. He restores an old mower to make hay as they did in the old days rather than take silage off the fields, this longer cropping help the curlews nest. He plants barley and rather than get a combine in to harvest it, it is cut and stooked (what a lovely word) in the old way.

Pain is a different thing under wide and rushing skies. Even in the bleakest moments of solitude, I draw a selfish glow from that kind of darkness. I hoard the prickle of sleet on my face and endure it, telling myself no one else would. I turn away from the warmth of sharing because now I see this place runs far deeper than play or simple sunshine.

It is a brutally honest book, he portrays farming in the cold light of day, the small successes and the brief moments of pleasure are set against the sheer amount of hard work it is just to stand still. It is a dangerous job too, he is not afraid to tell of near misses and the almost callous attitude you must have at times. What is very evident in this though is his deep, deep love of the landscape that he lives in. He is obsessed by curlews, those magical birds that have been disappearing for far to long and are now seriously threatened. I really liked his writing style, he is not nostalgic in any way, though he respects the old ways of working with not against the land. It is a book very much about the place, about Galloway, an often-ignored part of Scotland that has a beauty of its own without the dramatic hills of the highlands. Highly recommended.

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  1. Liz Dexter

    This sounds great unless there’s too much of having to harden oneself against grimness and death …

    • Paul

      It is good, but there are some grim moments

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