Louise Mangles (nee Nicol) kindly sent us her memories of winter.
People often reminisce about how the summers were so much better when they were young. After my upbringing in the early 50s in rural Aberdeenshire on the edge of a grouse moor my memories are of how much worse the winters were! We had real snow then and it didn’t exactly make my fathers life as a gamekeeper very easy.
It was always a rule in the winter to bring a shovel into the house last thing at night because the snow used to drift up over the back door. When you opened the door you were faced with a complete intact wall of snow that had to be cleared away before we could step out. The snow also drifted up over the roof from the back of the dog kennels and sometimes the dogs had to be dug out in the morning too. In spite of snow frequently many feet deep Father still had to get out and about to check his traps and snares so he acquired an ancient pair if wooden skis to enable him to get his work done. I also had fun on them although the antique bindings and my wellies didn’t always agree with each other. I also came to grief one day skiing down a long field when the front of my skis went under the top wire of a fence otherwise hidden by the deep snow and I came to a very sudden stop.
Getting to school was also a challenge. I had to walk a couple of miles to school along an exposed country road and the drifts often filled in the road completely so I had to walk along the tops of the fence posts by the side of the road. On one occasion a snowstorm blew up during the day and my father came to meet me from school. The blin’ drift was so bad that we actually passed on the road, our heads bowed and faces covered with scarves against the fierce wind and snow. It was only after a few steps that my father noticed some of my little footprints in the snow that he realised that we had passed each other. We often took our sledges to school and at playtime we tied them together in a long train and then hurtled down the long steep slope to end in a heap against the stone wall at the bottom of the playground. Amazingly none of us were ever killed! Beldorney school was on a very exposed site on top of a hill so it was frequently closed for days on end. In better weather the steep hill up to the school was considered too dangerous for me to cycle up and down on my little bike. My instructions were to leave my bike at Dumeath Farm at the bottom of the hill. However I was sometimes tempted to cycle all the way and then whiz down with some boys who were allowed their bikes all the way to school. Imagine my surprise when I was severely reprimanded by Father one day for my disobedience. I couldn’t understand how he’d found out but he’d had been watching me with his binoculars from the top of a nearby hill when out looking for grouse!
The extreme winters were so common we were prepared for them. The grocery and butcher vans that travelled the country roads with our provisions often couldn’t get through so Mother always had plenty of spare packets and bags of dry ingredients in the larder. The rule was — one open in use and at least one other behind on the shelf. We always stocked up with everything — just in case!
The biggest weather event of my little life was the great gale that swept the North East of Scotland in 1952 — or was it ’53? The gales screamed across the land and caused massive devastation. We had a stand of Scots pine trees behind the row of kennels and Fathers garage. He reversed his car — a black Ford 8 — out just as a tree crashed down through the roof of the garage. More than three quarters of these trees were blown down. The roads around were blocked for many weeks with the fallen timber. All the men in the district pitched in and the sound of sawing could be heard for days on end. At a time before power saws it was all done ‘by hand’ with cross cut saws and cutting through the huge tangle of fallen trees must have been very hard work. At that time horses were still used to pull out the sawn lengths and their endless patience as they struggled over fallen trees and upturned roots was memorable. The great holes in the ground where the roots had been wrenched up when the trees were blown over filled up with rainwater and you could often find frogs spawn and tadpoles in them later that year. There were lots of tales of hen houses, still with hens inside, being tumbled across fields and far away from their farmyards. Presumably the eggs were well scrambled!
The huge importance of the weather conditions when you live and work in the country cannot be underestimated. It was, and still is, the last thing you checked at night and the first thing you checked in the morning and the weather forecast on the radio was always listened to intently in those days. Whether it was on days for heather burning when the wind had to be blowing just in the right direction with no rain or on grouse shooting days then the direction of the wind bad also to be considered to determine which drives would take place. The grouse were unwilling to fly if it was too hot and the pheasants flew too wild if it was too windy. The amount of rain determined the speed and depth of the rivers and burns tthat then affected getting across them and also the state of the fishing. Urban dwellers know nothing of these complications in their daily working lives and blin’ drift is rarely experienced in town centres!