An account of the cattle sales at Ardroil from the People’s Journal, 27 September 1958.
In the Outer Isles the folk who make their living off the land can’t come to the market. So the market goes to them. And the cattle sales may well decide whether the crofter and his family have a good year or a bad year.
In Lewis the hub for the sales is Stornoway. It’s there that the buyers from the mainland gather. And it’s from their that the bus hired for the occasion plies its way to Harris, Uig or some other distant spot, with driver Murdo Macleod showing his magic touch, guiding his big vehicle along the narrow, twisting roads and negotiating bridges that give me only an inch or two clearance on either side.
Aboard it are auctioneers Angus Macdonald, of Stornoway, and Duncan MacCallum, Dingwall, and a company of mainland buyers – Hugh Allison, Dingwall; the brothers William and John Maclennan from Inverness; Kenneth Macrae, Ullapool; and Kenneth Munro, Evanton, just to mention a few.
And when the bus finally reaches its destination, say Uig, one of the sale centre, it comes suddenly on a scene of great activity. The quiet, remote countryside bursts into life. Along the road appears a straggling army of crofters, young and old, women and lassies amongst them, bringing their calves and stirks to the sale.
It’s a trek of many halts and obstacles, for the calves, led by a halter – some may be the family pet – just don’t like this sudden disruption of their docile country life. So there are ‘rodeo’ acts and incidents, with sweating crofters tugging, pulling and cajoling to get their beasts to market. Even the parish minister is there with his calf, the product of his glebe.
But finally the gather-in for the sale is completed, and, with bidding brisk, some 60 or 70 animals go quickly through the ring, which in this case is an old stone-fank at the roadside [at Ardroil].
The mood of the crofters and country folk depends on the bidding. This year there were smiles all round, for as auctioneer Macdonald put it, “Trade was very good.”
Gone are the days when the Lewis crofters would accept any price for their stock. One turned down a £46 bid for a neighbour’s stirk that he took to the sale. His neighbour, he said, wouldn’t part for less than £55.
With one sale soon over, auctioneers and buyers set off for the next centre, where the process was repeated. And, at the end of the day, there was another commotion. Reluctant calves and stirks – one or two ‘dry’ cows amongst them – did their darndest to defy every effort to get them into the trucks that would take them to Stornoway for shipment on the Loch Seaforth to Kyle and the mainland.
A tough job, especially for the drivers, men like Angus Mackenzie, who handle their heavy, live loads along treacherous narrow roads with all the cool skill of a Lewis Stirling Moss.