THE annual Blackface tup sales in Newton Stewart earlier this month had one very notable absentee. Wullie Laurie, Glentrool’s best known shepherd and forest ranger, died aged 76 on September 12 after a short battle with cancer.
Wullie’s wife, Peg, recalled that he had never missed a tup sale since he was 12 years old and that for days afterwards he would sit at night and study the prices she had meticulously written down for him in the catalogue. After digesting all the figures he was then able to remember, years later, the exact price paid for a ram lamb or a shearling.
Wullie was born at Slogarie, near Castle Douglas, and attended the primary school before moving to the high school in the town. Although clever, his heart was not in his lessons as all Wullie wanted was to be out on the hills with a dog and a flock of sheep.
In 1957, he came to work as a shepherd at the Holm of Bargrennan for Colin and Nancy McClymont and that glorious place, with the Water of Trool on one side and the Buchan on the other, would remain his home until he was hospitalised shorty before his death.
Wullie and Peg’s happy 50-plus years of marriage was completed with the addition of son William and daughter Margaret.
With the Galloway Hills as a backdrop, Wullie’s working life revolved around the hill farming seasons. Lambing time, dipping time, clipping time, show time and – the highlight – tup sale time. His knowledge of his flock was extraordinary. He could recognise hundreds of sheep individually. When stopped in the streets of Newton Stewart by someone for a chat, Wullie was often at a loss as to whom he was talking. When told, he would often exclaim: “Och, if you were a Blackface ewe, I wud hae recognised ye.”
When much of the land at the Holm was sold to the Forestry Commission for planting, Wullie moved seamlessly into the role of forest ranger which involved deer stalking and maintenance of the vast Galloway Forest Park.
He knew every inch of the land and was a first class authority on the different species of wildlife that inhabited the hills. In the past few years he found fame giving talks on his work to various groups and his popular “Wullie Laurie and Friends” in Glentrool were always packed.
He also had a deep love of all creatures. Peg tells of Wullie and another ranger coming off the hills in the teeth of a wild snowstorm. On the way down they heard the pitiful cries of a young goat kid that had fallen into a ravine near the Caldons. The rangers thought it was a lost cause and walked on. But after travelling a short distance, Wullie insisted they went back as he couldn’t bear the thought of any creature meeting its end in such terrible circumstances. Delving into his rucksack, he tied a length of string to the end of his trusty shepherd’s crook and, crawling down into the ravine as far as he dared, just managed to hook the makeshift lasso round the kid’s neck. Wullie then wrapped the tiny, shivering goatling in his coat and delivered it home to Peg. “Nancy” – the rescued goat – was with them for years after that, Peg confirmed.
This was a man so content with his life he never thought of taking a holiday anywhere else, preferring to drink in the views from his back door and sleep in his own bed. A day out at the local shows or even on occasions the Highland Show was a grand day out for Wullie.
A huge number of friends and colleagues attended the service of thanksgiving for his life in Monigaff Parish Church, travelling from all over Scotland and Ireland.
His friend and fellow ranger, Jock Livingstone, read the eulogy, peppering it with amusing stories about the man. He described Wullie as “a really decent man, a big, civil soul and one of God’s gentlemen”.
Jock said: “At the service I told a few anecdotes about Wullie’s life, some to emphasise his humanity, some his knowledge, but mostly to reflect the respect with which he was held by his workmates, the farming community and all the residents of Glentrool and the Cree and Minnoch valleys.
“Wullie had the gift of being good at everything he did, whether it was shepherding in his beloved Minnigaff hills or rangering in the great sprawl of Glentrool forest where he knew every square yard.”