Arriving on Papa Westray, we have to walk the full length of the island to get to North Hill and the drama of the exposed northern coast. I’m admiring the curious cattle along the way when I spot something not quite right. There’s a wire twisted around the leg of this steer.
It looks sore and as if it might have been there for a while. This is a remote island with a population which would fit on a double-decker bus. There’s no-one around, I don’t know which field this is, nor who owns it. I’m not going in there to attempt to sort it out. I’ve seen the damage animals can do when kicking with their back legs. My brother got kicked as hard as it was possible to kick by a Dartmoor pony when I was a small child. I still smile about it now.
I’ve happily got into a field with sheep before and hoisted a couple of pregnant ones to their wobbly feet. They die on the backs. The only problem was the crotch-high barbed wire on the way in and out. Cattle are different beasts though. Cattle regularly kill people in the UK, usually dog walkers. The dog always survives. I decide to wander over to the nearest farm. There’s no-one there. I climb a gate and head down a path to the nearest house. Almost nobody must call at this house unannounced in a year. The owner is kind, listens to my concern and tells me she’ll contact the farmer.
There are many ruined buildings here. There’s far less demand for agricultural labour since mechanisation. There must be as many ruins as there are watertight buildings.
There are skeleton houses everywhere. What do you think about this skylight from a roofing stone? That’s a pretty small window.
We pass the airport and see a plane. This flight is in the Guinness Book of World Records for being the shortest scheduled flight in the world.
It’s a two-minute flight. I wish we were on the plane rather than having to walk for the ferry.
“Is it arriving or leaving?”, I ask the Puffin Whisperer. “Both”, she says, which is both the funniest and wisest reply I can imagine.
We walk to the end of the island and back, exhausted at the end of a long day. As we pick up the pace to ensure we get the return ferry I spot the same wire on the same steer. That’s really frustrating.