The Ladies of Low Arvie
Review is by Molly
Linda Watson’s The Ladies of Low Arvie: Living the Farming Dream is writer Watson’s account of what transpired when, at retirement age in 2002, she and her partner Richard bought a 20 acreage called Low Arvie in SW Scotland.
“Have you ever had a dream? A dream of living life to its fullest extent. … A life that means that when you are too old to work any more and you can only sit by the fire and re-live your yesterdays, all the memories will make you smile.”
Watson first began a daily blog to recount the adventures she and Richard faced during their three year search for just the perfect farm where the pair could begin a rural adventure to carry them well into old age.
That search for acreage was culminated Saturday, 18th May 2002, and from that point, the pair began an adventure of a lifetime. I like Watson’s down to earth, chatty memoir in which she chronicles, chapter by chapter, first how the pair came to locate the farm, make their bid, and begin the work to turn a neglected piece of land into both a thriving farm and a spot where wildlife critter, bird, insect and plant abounds in a protected environment.
I am a farmer’s daughter and thoroughly enjoyed reading of the ventures and misadventures of the pair as they explore the system for purchasing a piece property in Scotland where; once the bid is entered, the buyer is committed to the purchase, if that bid is the one that is chosen. For a USA resident who is used to seeing land that is appraised prior to being listed for sale, marketed with prices listed on each piece of property, owners who are resistive to lowering prices, etc, I found the Scottish method of, make a bid and hope, to be fascinating.
Watson’s narrative is free flowing, attention-grabbing, written in a breezy highly understandable mode as she relates the trials and mysteries of rural water systems, and the hurry up and wait so often encountered when purchasing property. Watson tells how once their bid was accepted, and with many things to do to get ready prior to moving they were told to wait for the word when to have the bid money ready only to be told days later that the money would be needed within a few days which mean scrambling to get the purchase amount gathered from various accounts and investments before the check might clear.
From worrying with perhaps needing to leave writer Watson’s aged mother in Yorkshire, to a stint at Strone House Bed and Breakfast where Watson and Richard fill in for the owners as they set off for a holiday in Spain which led to Watson’s most opportune meeting the B and B guest who just happened to be an official with the Abbeyfield Society a care facility offering some care to total care of the elderly, to Watson’s deciding whether to continue her Strathclyde University work with an eye toward a Postgraduate Diploma in Counseling; The Ladies of Low Arvie is a very entertaining, appealing read.
Watson’s mother had lived in her own home during her adult life, writer Watson had shared the home with each woman having their own apartment in the construction, Mom downstairs, Watson on the upper floor. Watson’s mother was not at level to need total care, but trying to locate suitable housing where she might have some care and be close by was somewhat daunting until meeting Mr and Mrs Tickle.
On the 10th July, possession of the farm became a reality. Watson tells that she had lived in her small Yorkshire village for nearly the whole of her 54 years, had only live in 3 houses during her lifetime, and was now preparing to leave her previous life behind and begin the trek to a new area where she knew no one yet. That is a tad daunting for anyone at any age to contemplate.
Armed with the knowledge that her mother would be eligible to enter one of the Abbeyfield houses, chiefly the one in nearby Galloway was reassuring. Decision was made that Watson, Richard and Watson’s mother would all be making the move just about the same time and would be leaving Watson’s aunty Ethel who lives in a residential care in the home village behind until a nearby location could be found.
11th July 2002 found Watson, Richard moving van, trailer, and well packed little green car on the road from Yorkshire to Galloway. Getting her mother established in the village of Auchencairn while waiting for the room at Castle Douglas Bothwell House some ten and a quarter miles from Low Arvie to be readied and realizing that college must go on hold for a bit were tasks quickly settled.
Deciding on the breed of cattle to buy: Highlanders, Galloways, Belted Galloways all were possibilities. Learning the rules and regulations regarding farming and the dire consequences of missing due dates, clearing drains, ditches, reclaiming land for a ready made nature reserve, mowing grass and baling the haylage, remodeling the house, studying fertilizer, building habitats, applying for subsidies, becoming regulars at various farm and estates sales have become a way of life for Watson and Richard.
Watson soon learned that anything on a farm that can break, will; anything you need for working will need one more part to make the haying, digging or whatever go easier; everything will cost more than anticipated, rural water can be really iffy at times, and, learning to haunt farm sales can provide many of the necessities all farms need at a very decent price.
Attending cattle sales, and finally purchase of ‘The Ladies of Low Arvie’ culminated on November 20th 2002 when twenty five Galloway mothers and calves and Blondie, one mixed Galloway girl and her calf, arrived in three loads. After attending cattle auctions, Watson and Richard actually purchased The Ladies from a local farmer who wanted to sell his herd intact.
Worry for mad cow disease, hoof and mouth, TB and Brucellosis testing are now a natural part of their lives as is early morning rain followed by boggy land, winter cold and snow, keeping a diary of birds, and flowers, and critters out across the open areas of land, farm machinery, and calves.
Naming the calves became the focus for the Farm leading to the blog and the book to follow. Each of the Little Ladies was named Lady A, B, C through the alphabet. Calves were named for the women in the lives of Watson and Richard, her mother and his, her daughter and grand daughters, Linda’s own name, all are now worn by one of the Ladies of Arvie.
“A farm, a small piece of land that we could call our own, where we could live out the second half of our lives in harmony with nature and at peace with the world, perhaps grow corn or rear cows, whatever the land we bought dictated. This was our dream. We were lucky. We found it and we live it.”
I found Linda Watson’s The Ladies of Low Arvie Living the Farming Dream to be well written, filled with notable personal quips, highlights and witticism. It is a moving recitation designed to instill the writer’s love for the land, the critters and the world in which she lives. An altogether lovely aspiration for any of us, I suspect.
I like writer Watson’s command of language and while the narrative is at times humorous it clearly delineates what all farmers know; life and death and everything in between is part of the tale of all life.
While the reader does not need to be a farmer to find him/herself drawn into the narrative, I do suspect farming folk in particular will laugh, nod their heads knowingly or tsk in sympathy as Watson fills her work with the descriptive expressions needed to bring the words alive in this slice of life memoir.
I find Linda Watson’s The Ladies of Low Arvie: Living the Farming Dream highly readable, most entertaining and well worth the read. I recommend The Ladies of Low Arvie for high school and all other library shelves, it will appeal in particular to the farming community as well as the public at large, and is sure to be a delight to all who enjoy memoir filled with light hearted, joyous writing.
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