Friday, 26 September 2014

Market day in Fort William

We hadn't taken sheep to market in Fort William before but had decided last year when it began to dawn on us that we needed to take our own sheep to different sales, in order to spread the risk, that we should give Fort William a try.  Some Mull farmers only go to Fort William sales, others never go!  Last September Farmer went to this same sale to see what it was like.  We booked in for this year's sale.

In preparation, yesterday afternoon Farmer brought the wedder lambs up to the field next to the cattle building so that he could load them easily this morning as we had an early start.

As we drove towards the Sound of Mull we could see the beginnings of a beautiful sunrise.  It just got better and better.

The light over the Sound of Mull, and as we drove into Salen was wonderful.  The wrecks were in deep water as the tide was high.

I have wanted to photograph the timber piles at the Fishnish timber jetty since it opened last year.

Once on the ferry, we noticed there were a few other farmers with livestock trailers going to the same sale.

The light over Old Kinlochaline castle was amazing as we neared the other side.

We let all the faster traffic by, and followed 2 other Mull farmers along the dual lane road from Strontian to Ardgour.  Someone's sheep had escaped from a field and were headed in the same direction.

This photograph, looking over to the mountains of Glen Coe, beyond Kinlochleven, I took as we were driving and I just pointed the camera without being able to see what I was framing!

Having let the others past, they got on the ferry waiting at Ardgour and we had to wait for the next one! Never mind, it gave me the opportunity to discover the most colourful and exuberant garden in Ardgour.

Farmer and Daughter waited in the truck at the head of the ferry queue for the next ferry.

Once at the market Farmer reversed up to the stand and unloaded our lambs.  Unfortunately, as usually happens when he has to crawl into the trailer he had an attack of cramps!  He survived and soon the lambs were all in the pens.

We had tea and bacon rolls for a late breakfast in the tearoom and then Daughter and I went to wait for Farmer to go into the ring with his lambs.

We hadn't realised that we were cast so early in the sale. Farming world up here is a small world, so even though we hadn't sold at this sale before, we knew the farmer one pen ahead of us, whose lambs opened the sale, and the farmer who went through after us.

We were Lot 2.  Great - you get through quickly and can go home.  Not so great - as your lambs seem to set the price.  As a result we weren't overly pleased by the sale price, particularly watching following similar lambs going for a bit more, but what can you do? It is part of the annual lamb sales lottery we all take part in.

Fort William market is quite different to Oban. There are obviously the same sort of pens and loading bays outside the ring, but inside the market itself, the ring is far smaller.  I thought it created a feeling of closer contact between animals, Auctioneer and potential buyer, and the atmosphere was very friendly.

The catchment area for Fort William includes crofters and farmers from as far afield as Barra and Skye.  In the programme I recognised various addresses from townships on Skye and lots of exciting Highland names I couldn't place.  The buyers and 'spectator' around the ring increased in number gradually as we watched the lots following ours go through.

After a brief look round the glittering shops of Fort William with Daughter investigating the different ones to those in Oban (we are talking clothes and clutter here) we headed up to the Corran Ferry again, and started our journey home. Stopped in for coffee with friends on the other side, which was lovely and continued upon our way.

It did feel like we were going a long way to sell something we could sell more easily in Oban. But as we drove we counted the timing and realised that it took us 15 minutes longer overall to get to the Fort William market as it takes to get to Oban market, but had we not missed the first Corran ferry (by one vehicle in front of us) we would have got there in the same time.  That is good as far as animal welfare goes, keeping journey times to a minimum is important, but it was also good for us humans as we had a stunningly beautiful drive and Fort William makes a good change.

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