A BERWICKHSIRE farmer will celebrate his 90th birthday tomorrow – from the familiar surroundings of his lambing shed.
William Macgregor might be about to enter his tenth decade, but he’s not letting a little thing like that come between him and his life-long work.
Still very much at the helm at South Falaknowe Farm in Coldingham, William dismisses suggestions of retirement with a cheerful shake of the head. “I wish I could!” he says, but his love for his work shines through.
Born into a west of Scotland farming family on March 30, 1922, William learnt the tricks of the trade from his father.
Having moved to Mount Pleasant Farm in Berwick in 1934, 12-year-old William completed chores there before and after his two-mile walk to and from Ord School. “I had jobs to do on the farm before school like lambs to feed and a cow to milk, and jobs when I came in from school as well,” he recalls.
When he was 15, William went into the family business full time. “I just followed my father into farming, and it’s what I’ve done ever since,” he explains.
Having worked in the industry for three quarters of a century, William has seen it evolve and develop significantly during that time. “There’s been a lot of changes in farming over the years - it’s easier now!” he insists. “It used to be very hard work. There were no forklifts for example. I have ploughed a field with a pair of horses in the past! It’s much easier now with machines.
“I wouldn’t be without that,” he says, pointing at the farm’s quad bike, which he tends to ride side-saddle these days for the sake of his knees.
Last year, William’s horrified daughter Margaret watched helpless as her 89-year-old father fell off the back of the quad bike.
“About a year ago he fell off it, he was going down hill at the time,” she says.
But fortunately William was unscathed. “He picked himself up and set off back down the hill after the quad – he ran after it to kick it! If my mother had been watching out of the window she would have gone mad!”
William was lucky on that occasion, but he has been less fortunate in the past when dealing with the older, clunky machinary of days gone by.
He shows me his right forearm, an oddly shaped souvenir of an old injury sustained in 1943.
“I did this when I was 21,” he says. “I was starting a tractor, they were different back then, you had to turn a big handle to start the engine. The handle came back, thwack, and hit my arm.”
The incident didn’t keep him out of action for long though. “I probably went back to work too soon, that’s why it didn’t set right,” he admits.
Some years later, after leaving Mount Pleasant for Edinburgh, where he ran a dairy, William’s other arm was crushed when it bore the brunt of the weight of a massive bull. He rolls back his left sleeve to reveal a long scar running the entire length of his forearm, which is held together with pins and metal plates as a result. “A big bull leant against me in the stalls, my arm was stuck between it and the side and it broke,” he explains. “It wasn’t a wild bull or anything, it was just the weight of it. I can still hear it crack now!” he adds, wincing. “But I’ve been very fortunate really. I’ve never been ill, never, and I’ve never taken any tablets. The doctor says I have the heart of a 50-year-old!”
William’s family have been farming at South Falaknowe for 23 years. Married to Barbara for 64 years, the couple have four children; Alison, Margaret, Stewart and Lindsay, six grandchildren and two great granddaughters, Alayna and Ava, who will both have their first birthday over the next fortnight.
“They’re all lassies but one!” William says of his family. I ask if he feels outnumbered. “No, not really,” he answers, then drops his voice and admits “I couldn’t do without them!”
At 89, the incredible William shows no real sign of slowing down, though he says he has help, and does take it a bit easier these days. “He feeds all the sheep round the fields twice a day,” Alison says. “He has been saying for that last 10 years that this year is his last year of lambing but it never happens!”
The early lambs began to arrive in January at South Falaknowe, and William says lambing should finish there on April 16. “This year has been one of the best lambings I can remember, mostly because the weather’s been so good,” he says.
But it’s an intense and tiring time, and William plans to take a well-earned break afterwards when he and Barbara are due to go to Yorkshire for a fortnight’s holiday. In the meantime he’ll factor in some time to enjoy a bit of birthday cake over the coming days, as the oldest and youngest generations of the Macgregors celebrate milestone birthdays.