The Story of Maggie Ann

The song “Maggie Ann” is all about my romantic notions for a girl who moved into Glen Artney several months after I had. My relationship with Maggie Anne was a disaster before it became a success and to date she features in four different songs. Allow me to explain.

I was half way through my fifth year at West Calder High School, where I was a happy and engaged student studying for my Highers. Then my parents dropped what was a bombshell for me. We were moving from our farm on the Pentland Hills, up to Glen Artney in Perthshire.

My father, although born on the Isle of Eigg, had moved to Glen Artney in 1916 at the age of four. He grew up there, and it was where he learned his trade as a shepherd. His parents lived at the top of the glen and in 1940 when Dad married my mother, their first home was in the glen. My brother Peter and my sisters Veronica and Sheena were all raised in Glen Artney and to all three of them, it was home.

But in 1954 my father moved the family down to Lanarkshire to learn the lowland way of shepherding. At that time my parents considered their family to be complete. However, as a result of what I suspect was a last night of passion before the lambing season started in earnest, I was conceived. And so, in January 1955, I made my entrance into the world. My father recalled, not his joy at the birth of his new son, but that it was the day of the “Cast Tup Sale” at Lanark Mart and there were icicles hanging from the gutters over three feet in length. Unplanned as I was, my mother was adamant that that had no bearing on my initials… D.A.M.
My early years were spent in Lanarkshire before the family moved to a farm called Crosswoodhill on the north side of the Pentland Hills when I was about eleven.

The family home at Crosswoodhill with Craigengar the highest point in the distance.

The cause of this sudden and unexpected move from Crosswoodhill was an offer my father had received to return to his beloved Glen Artney. It was a chance he grabbed with both hands. For everyone else in the family it was like going home. For me, I was being wrenched away from everything that I held dear. I was losing the school that I loved, along with all my friends there. I was also losing all the close friends I had made in the nearby village of Tarbrax. But most importantly I was being separated from my first true love, Florence. We had been together as boyfriend and girlfriend for about three years and anyone that knew us were certain that we would end up married and live happily ever after. Sadly, that romantic notion carried no weight with my father, and when the flitting day duly arrived, I left behind Florence, and all that was dear to me.

The village of Tarbrax, centre of my early teenage universe. Photo by M.J. Richardson

Glen Artney is a truly beautiful glen, but back then, I absolutely hated it with a passion. Our new home was a farm called Mailermore and it was about three miles south west from the village of Comrie. The glen itself is an eight mile cul-de-sac and at that time it was sparsely populated. From the perspective of a sixteen year old boy who was overdosing on hormones, Glen Artney was Hell on Earth. There was one teenage girl in the Glen but she was in a long term steady relationship with someone. My mother couldn’t drive and my father was too busy with his new farm to drive me to, or collect me from, the village. So if I wanted company of my own age, the only option open to me was a three mile walk down to the village and then, a three mile walk back up the hill to the farm.

Whilst I was fit and lean in those days, it always seemed like the weather was foul when I wanted to go down to the Comrie. To further complicate the issue, and to further fuel my burning resentment of this place that my family all loved so much, the only school which could accommodate me was Perth High School.
About twenty minutes past six in the morning a taxi would pick me up at the farm and then drive around the far flung farms and houses of the area, picking up other unfortunate kids and finally dropping us off in the Main Street of Comrie. From there we would catch a bus for the seven mile journey to Crieff where we had a half hour wait, usually in the rain, to catch another bus to Perth. All in all it was a 35 mile trip to school. Then of course, at the other end of the day we had to endure the same journey in reverse. My school day was effectively twelve hours long and I hated it every bit as much as I hated Glen Artney.

Predictably and immediately, I rebelled, and soon my daily routine was as follows. I would get up, get washed and get dressed in my school uniform. I would then go downstairs in that trance only teenagers can achieve when they have been dragged from their beds before noon. After a silent breakfast I would return to my room, take off my school shirt and tie, and don a rugby jersey. I would hide my shirt and tie in the bottom of the wardrobe and put on my parka jacket. With the hood up, I would zip it up to the neck and head out the door to await my school taxi. Once in school I would attend my registration class and then boldly walk straight back out of the school grounds, down through the housing estates, to the Crieff Road. From there I would hitch hike all the way back to Crieff. I would sometimes be joined by one of my pals, and if his parents were at work we would go to his house and sample the contents of his dad’s drinks cupboard and his mother’s pantry. But invariably we would end up in the Crieff Institute where we whiled away the day playing snooker. Just after five, I would jump on the bus to Comrie and my taxi would then take me up the glen, where I would rush up to my room, change into my school shirt and tie and then come down for tea.

The home of The Crieff Institute in James Square, Crieff

On one or two occasions I took a daft turn, and driven by a mixture of heartache and hormones I went to visit the love of my life, Florence. I followed my normal routine of discarding my uniform and when I got to Crieff, instead of catching the school bus to Perth, I headed out to the bottom end of the town and stuck out my thumb.

I was so unhappy with my lot in Perthshire that I just didn’t care if I got caught. Somehow I managed to hitch hike from Crieff to Florence’s home town of Carnwath, a journey of some 60 miles with no direct route. Astonishingly, I even managed to hitchhike back to Crieff in time to catch the bus to Comrie and arrive back home in Glen Artney as normal.

As far as I am aware, my parents never found out about my hitch hiking exploits during school term. Needless to say, my relationship with Florence faded away under the pressures of separation. Whilst absence did make the heart grow fonder, it didn’t do much of a job of bringing the hormones under any sort of control.

With an air of resignation I was slowly adjusting to life in the glen. But things improved massively when one evening my mother told me that there was a new family moving in to the farm just down the road from us, and it was strongly rumoured that they had a teenage daughter. The farm was called Wester Migger and for the purposes of this story and song, the girl’s name was Maggie Ann.

This was the stuff that romantic folk songs were made of, and my hormones, in a heightened state of anticipation and excitement, promptly got together and had a ceilidh to celebrate. I just knew that she was going to be gorgeous and that she would fall hopelessly in love with me. I willed every second away until the time that I could meet the girl who would be, without doubt, the girl of my dreams… providing of course that she wasn’t ugly.

Sadly, the romantic notion does to always turn out to be the romantic reality.

I can still recollect walking down the narrow, twisting glen road past Wester Migger Farm far more often than I needed to, all in the hope of catching a glimpse of her. Initially I though she must be agoraphobic as she was never anywhere to be seen. The song tells the story of that first encounter, where not only did my hormones get their first opportunity to assess my new neighbour, but more importantly, I got a chance to impress her.

Wester Migger Farm in Glen Artney

The story of Maggie Ann, although not 100% true, it is none the less based on an amalgam of actual events. Sung to the tune of “Tramps and Hawkers” it was runner up in the 1999 Edinburgh Folk Club Song Writing Competition.

I often introduce it as a song of unrequited love set against a backdrop of barbaric agricultural practices. The agricultural practice to which I refer is the de-horning of bull calves. Whilst working on a neighbouring farm I found myself assisting in such a task. The calves were about half grown and had developed short and very sharply pointed horns about an inch to an inch and a half in length. The bull calves were at a stage where they were testing their strength and throwing their weight around and the risk of injury was a real possibility, not only to each other, but to anybody handling the beasts. So it was as a safety precaution that the horns had to go. There may well be some humane way of doing the job now, but sharp knives and branding irons were there order of the day when I was a youngster.

Bull Calf

A Charolais Bull Calf (copyright nelsonhirschepurebreds)

A halter with a long length of rope would be placed over the young bull’s head. The rope was taken around all four legs and a sharp tug brought the animal crashing down onto it’s side. My job was the marry two parts of the rope tightly together, trapping its legs to stop the calf from kicking and getting back to its feet. Whilst I struggled to keep control and immobilise the calf, the farmer would use a small but razor sharp knife to swiftly slice off the horns. The blood spurted everywhere and needless to say, the animal was non to happy about the situation. He would try to lash out and escape, whilst I hung on for grim death to the rope. The farmer would then take the red hot end of a branding iron and ram it into the hole where the horn used to be, thereby cauterising the wound. Despite being told it for for their own good, I still felt heart sorry for the calves. I thought that gluing a rubber ball onto the end of each horn would have been just as effective. It might have looked a bit odd but I was certain, that if those young bulls were given the choice, I knew which one they would vote for.

“Maggie Ann”

“A new girl moved intae the glen doon at Wester Migger Farm
I spied her there that summers night as she come oot frae the barn
She’d been in feeding her chookie hens, och and man, she just looked sae braw
Just yin glimpse o’ young Maggie Ann fair stole ma heart awa

Well every day as I went tae work I walked richt past her door
There was a kind o’ spring all in ma step that wisnae there afore
And I’d pray for a glimpse o’ young Maggie Ann but ma prayers were all in vain
And for the next few days as I gin by, I ne’r saw her again

Then came that fateful Friday – I arrived at ma work
I’d combed back ma tousled hair and put on a cleanish shirt
And I gaithered in the five bull calves and shut them in the byre
And sharpened up the farmers knife and put the brand irons in the fire

We haltered up the biggest calf and coup’t him tae the floor
The farmer sliced off his horns and the bull gi’d oot a roar
And the blood did flow from that young bulls head and how that blood did spurt
It hit me square all in the face and went splatterin’ doon ma shirt

Well the fairmer stemmed the flow of blood wi’ a brand iron frae the fire
The bull gi’d oot a muckle kick that sent me fleein’ doon the byre
I cracked ma heid on the byre floor and the stars they spun aboot
And I lay there dazed just wishing that, I had mucked the byre oot

Well I wondered hame that Friday night past Wester Migger Farm
And there I saw my Maggie Ann as she came oot frae the barn
She had been in feeding her chookie hens – how my smilin’ face did beam
I raised ma hand, gi’ her a wee wave – but she just let oot a scream

She ran away across the yard still screaming as she ran
The screaming and the yelling stopped only when the door had slammed
Looking back on it noo, its nae surprise that she fled intae her hoose
I must have looked just like a murderer who’s bowels were kind o’ loose

So come all ye fairming laddies and listen untae me
If ye see a bonny lassie givin’ the chookie hens their tea
Make sure that yer kind o’ tidy and no gi’ her a fright
By turnin’ up all soaked in blood and yer backside caked in dung”

3 thoughts on “The Story of Maggie Ann

  1. Bob Brews

    What a fantastic recollection of childhood dreams and school days and a lovely wee tale of unrequited love.
    The song has your usual mixture of storytelling, love and comedy and I loved every minute reading this..

  2. Fiona Jollie

    Wonderful story Duncan, fair made me smile as your stories always do. When I pass Crosswoodhill going down to Carnwath each week it brings back memories of those youthful days, the folk nights at Tarbrax village hall and Lazy Y.

  3. Stan Ginter

    I’ve always enjoyed this one Duncan and it never fails to leave me with a smile on my face. Isn’t it terrible how we all love to laugh at other peoples misfortunes.


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