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The Wild Goat


It was a perfect summer's afternoon when we set out for Glen Trool. We were all
determined that this was the day we were going to climb Merrick which is
the highest hill thereabouts (843m/2765 ft). We had often talked about it
in the past but somehow never quite got around to actually doing it!

We had our dog, Ebony, with us and although she was young, we thought that she was
sufficiently well trained to come. She would have to be on her lead all the way
so that she wouldn't be tempted to take off after the first rabbit she saw.

The first part of the walk goes through woods and beside the Buchan Burn which has
some pretty waterfalls and it is possible to divert slightly from the path
to see them better. Leaving the path when you have children and a dog with you is not
something that I generally recommend - it might be less exciting to stick to the path,
but it is a whole lot safer!

However that day we were very glad that we had left the path.

I had better explain that, in that part of South West Scotland, there are wild goats
whose ancestors were the farm animals driven into the hills during the wars
with England. They survived and thrived and their descendants live there to this day
and can be seen quite easily from the road in a special Wild Goat Park in another part
of the Galloway Forest Park. But this was almost 20 years ago - and we were in
Glen Trool and the goats were much more shy there. In fact we had wondered
if we would even catch a glimpse of one that afternoon.
They are shaggy beasts with large backward sweeping horns and they can disappear
from view very quickly. They generally prefer to leave people alone.

It was so quiet that afternoon - only one other car in the car park
and we met the people returning to that before we even reached the burn.
So we walked through the trees, getting into our stride ready for the climb ahead.

Then we noticed that Ebony was sniffing the air and then we saw.......wild goats.
Not just one or two but a whole herd of them. They all looked nervous and uneasy
but not one moved. They just stood there glancing at us - remember we had a dog with us
- and then looking over towards the burn. That was when we saw
what was wrong and why the goats were acting so strangely.
Over by the fence above the waterfall was the biggest goat we had ever seen
and it was on its knees with its magnificent horns hopelessly entangled in the wire
of the fence. This was the obviously the leading male of the group
and none of the others would leave him there alone.

But what could we do to help? Would the animal allow us to help it or would it panic?
We decided that John would go over to it very slowly and carefully while the rest
of us crouched down, kept Ebony as still as possible and tried not to move ourselves.

It seems hard to believe but that wild goat stopped struggling
- and by the look of the ground it had been trapped for quite a while -
as soon as John started to free it from the fence. The goat stayed quiet and calm
while John loosened some of the staples holding the wire to one of the fence posts
so that the wire could be slipped over those sweeping horns.
It was done quite quickly and the moment it was free the goat was up on its feet
and away with the rest of the goats following. But that wild animal stopped
on the top of a rock and it turned and it looked back straight at us.
It was just as though it was saying "thank you!"
Then it was gone and we were left alone again with only the staples to hammer
back into the post with a convenient rock.
But you should have seen the look that Ebony gave John when he tried to pat her -
she did not appreciate the smell of wild goat.

We went on with our walk, on the path again, and it was a tough climb up to the top
on Benyellary (719m/ 2358 ft). After that it is a ridge walk to the top of Merrick
and much easier. But the ridge walk was not for us that afternoon for,
once we reached the top, we could see that the weather was changing with clouds
piling up to the West - and it is very unwise to take any chances with the weather in
Scotland. So we just admired the view for as long as it took for us to get our breath
back and then we headed back down again to the car park
and the first heavy spots of rain were falling by the time we reached there.
As we were driving home we could see that the top of Merrick was already hidden
in low cloud and mist so we were glad that we had turned back when we did.

But I don't think that we were as glad as that wild goat was that we had left
the path and walked along the Buchan Burn that day.

If you are looking for a moral to this story perhaps a good one would be
to remember always to turn for home if the way ahead looks dangerous -
the Prodigal Son did that; and another could be always to remember
to be like the wild goat and not to struggle when someone is trying to help;
and how about staying by your friends when they are in trouble; and, of course,
a fourth would be to always remember to give thanks - only one of the ten lepers
Jesus cured did that - but we know of a wild goat that did just that!?!

ęcopyright: Elizabeth Tolson 1999.

This is the best picture of a Wild Goat I could find.
"Our" goat had much larger horns!

7th September 1999

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