Shepherd of the Cabrach
A story by Willie Sinclair about his time as a shepherd on the Cabrach
Well, we used to walk the sheep at Kennethmont right up to Cabrach in the spring. We lambed them down at
Kennethmont and then walked them up to Cabrach.
We took them down about some time in January – depends on the roads and that. There used to be a lot of
snow at that time and roads were blocked and that. Often couldn’t get them down – we just had to leave them
there until the road was clear. Then we took them down and they lambed at Kennethmont. He’d a farm there
as well. So we lambed there and then walked them up to Cabrach. Maybe 100 at a time, or 120. Just a few at
a time. Ewes and lambs.
“And how long did you work up there?”
I think I was with him – I left in the winter time and then went back to lambing again. I worked with him in the
“Was this when you were a young man?”
Just about 20 odd.
“And you had your sheepdogs for that as well?”
Oh aye – and they’re good dogs for keeping them on the road and that. And for letting cars past with the
“So you’d walk up there in the spring and the summer as well?”
Oh aye – I was there in the summertime and the clipping time and all that.
“Did you have to walk long distances?”
Oh aye – well there was a lot of sheep walked on the road at that time, through here, big lots of sheep. There
used to be a guy used to walk them from Rhynie right up to Braemar. Three or four days it took. The man
Cooper – he used to walk them right to Braemar. It took a few days.
“And did you ever walk for a couple of days?”
No, that going to the Cabrach, we did it in one day. A lot of us in one day.
“It’s quite wild up there isn’t it?”
Aye – wild in the wintertime.
“And how did you get from here to the Cabrach to start your work? Or did you used to live up there as well?”
I lived there. There was one summer I went back to Kennethmont every night and went up through the day.
“And you would drive to Kennethmont?”
Oh aye – there was a Landrover. But there were lots of sheep walking the road at that time.
“And was that the old drove roads?”
Aye. Oh there were lots that went through. There was another lot from Cabrach used to come down here a
lot. Smith, he had a good lot them – three or four hundred. They came down here to pastures all around the
back end and that.
“So you were moving them on to new pastures?”
Well, there isn’t much for them in the Cabrach in the wintertime. There wasn’t enough for them to eat there so
they came down to onto different ground.
“It’s pretty sparse up there, isn’t it?”
Aye, it’s alright in the summertime.
“So did you prefer working up there when it was summer?”
Oh aye, I liked it alright.
“Maybe a bit harsh in the winter, was it, for you? Just had to get dressed up warm.”
You had to walk! Especially when the road was blocked, from Kennethmont up to the Cabrach. If the road
“And how long would that take you?”
Oh, it took nearly all day. You went out and left in the morning before eight and went up there and fed the
beasts and walked back again.
“Gosh – just to feed them?”
Aye – and some days it was as windy and what you were feeding them on blew all over the place. But I didn’t
often have to walk. It was just if there was a bad storm. Used the Landrover most of the time.
“Well it could get over some snow, I guess. So did you ever take them to market as well?”
Well they were sort of selling in the Cabrach at that time. They sold the lambs up in the Cabrach at that time.
“It’s pretty quiet up there these days.”
Oh aye but the pens are all down now. There used to be a market in Rhynie as well but that’s all gone as well.
And they used to have a market in Strathdon – that’s gone. And Alford – that’s gone.
Aye – that’s gone too.
“And of course, that’s the Heritage Museum now, isn’t it?”
“So was the Cabrach a busier place? More people?”
Well, it was just one sale in the year. I think Rhynie was the same – just cattle at Rhynie. A one-day sale in the
year. And they walked the cattle from round about here down to Rhynie and sold them there.
“So they had no way of transporting them on the road – you had to just walk?”
Just walked them slow down the road. There’d be maybe a good few farmers would put half a dozen each or
eight or four and put them all together and walk them down the road.
“With the dogs as well?”
Well there was a lot of folk buying the beasts. There was a lot of them not accustomed to dogs and they just
had to walk them without dogs.
“That sounds tricky.”
Aye. But the cattle was easier managed at that time. Was nae near so wild. Oh, they’re different breed of
“So they just use different ones now?”
They’re all different breeds nowadays. Limousins and that are wilder.
“So were they just more accustomed to people?
No – they were just a different breed of cattle – they didn’t allow Aberdeen Angus crosses at that time. that’s
crossed with Aberdeen Angus cattle.
“So when people talk about the local Aberdeenshire cattle they mean the Aberdeen Angus, do they?”
There’s a few shorthorns too at that time.
“And of course they were bred quite near to here, weren’t they?”
Oy aye, they’re all – well there’s a lot of folk going into them again now, and the shorthorns. And the Aberdeen
Angus. They’re a lot easier managed, not that wild beasts.
“So when you stayed at the Cabrach, when you were walking there, where did you live? In the farmhouse?”
There was a house there at that time, a steading. It’s away to the left, as you over the Cabrach, a grey place
to the left, maybe a mile away across. You just see the steading and that now. The Laird, he burnt the house.
He didn’t want folk up there so he burnt the house.
“Which folk did he not want up there?
He didn’t want folk living in the houses up there. He burnt two or three houses up there.I think he burnt
another one at Bogie Bay, that was burnt as well. But he got into trouble for that. But there’s nobody would
live up there now.
“Just a bit too far out, isn’t it? Too remote. So this was the Laird that was the Laird when you worked there?”
It’s still the same Laird as burnt the houses. He’s still there now.
“So were people coming and camping out in them without his permission?”
No, no – I dinnae ken – he just didn’t want them. It would maybe have been the poll tax – I don’t know what it
was. The community charge you call it now.
“Oh – he didn’t want to pay for it. And what kind of man was he?”
Well, I’ve never, ever seen him but he’s not a very good man, I’ve heard. He’s doesn’t get a very good name.
“Oh, I see. So you were working up there for a farmer – it wasn’t for the Laird?”
No, not for the Laird – for a farmer that rented it. He had two or three fields – all into one.
“So you must have been quite fit and healthy if you were doing all that walking?”
Aye – no bother …