... what makes Laurie’s book so remarkable, and so profoundly enjoyable to read, is that for him, many of these decisions seem almost instinctive. He follows his heart, in choosing his patch of land, the breed of cattle he loves, and the presence of curlews as a measure of the health of the landscape; and often, it seems as though the Galloway land itself, on which his family has lived for centuries, is breathing and speaking through him, sometimes driving his prose to extraordinary heights and depths of rich, sweet lyricism. At some moments it’s hard not to think of Lewis Grassic Gibbon’s heroine Chris Guthrie in Sunset Song; and his extraordinary power to conjure up in words her passionate love for the land of the Mearns, and its old farming ways ... weaves into those chapters not only a practical account of the working of the farm, and those extraordinary moments of poetry and communion, but also much reflection on the history of a region that Laurie describes as 'forgotten,' and also the story of the profound personal sadness of childlessness, as experienced by Laurie and his wife in a farming life built around cycles of successful breeding. For all that, the book sometimes seems just a shade repetitive, as if it could have made its mark even more powerfully at a slightly shorter length ... Yet its importance is huge, setting down a vital marker in the 21st century debate about how we use and abuse the land. It reflects both the hardness and the joy of a life that nurtures the land for the long term, rather than simply raping it for profit; it warns us that even the best-intentioned policies, determined by faraway governments, can do great damage if they ignore the hard-won knowledge of past generations.
This is a book about a place you will probably have never visited and never will: but you should read it nonetheless because what it says has a wider importance, about some of what we have got wrong in the way we respect nature and farming and what we might get right if we change our ways ... At a time of lockdown it is also that most valuable of things, an escape to an open land where curlew still cry and the wind and rain cut in from the sea and city life feels a million miles away ... Laurie has the deep love of a place that’s at the heart of explaining it to others. There’s a certain sort of landscape writing that delights in antique mysticism: as if remoteness and spirituality are the same thing. This book is far better than that. It confronts the loss of open hills to sterile conifer plantations, which make nobody local rich but have obliterated a way of life and the nesting grounds of curlew, a bird which merits the obsession Laurie has for it.
Whether handling his kye or repairing the farm’s one-gear tractor, Laurie has an authentic ability to balance the pains and joys of small farming ... The great strength of Galloway is that it allows a touch of sentiment back in. Laurie works a remarkable balancing act. The blackened fingernail, bruised by bustling cattle, presses down on a key as richly ambiguous as the curlew’s cry.