Pollok house and grounds.
Cattle breeds have always captivated me. They tie us to a past where we depended on cattle for our sustenance. On our farm we are lucky to have had many different types of cows. When I was young we had a Jersey named Natasha, while today we have mostly Highlands and Hereford crosses and a few Charolais that I convinced my father to buy. However, our Highlands have a special place in my heart, and one would be hard pressed to find a breed that evokes reaction like the regal Highland; they are stunning animals and a true crowd pleaser.
Malcolm who shows and cares for Pollok’s Highlands and my husband brushing a highland cow.
My husband and I were flying into Glasgow en route to Belfast so I lobbied for an extended stop over. In this spirit, I contacted Pollok House to inquire if I could see their herd of prize-winning Scottish Highlands. Pollok House is within a beautiful park in the middle of Glasgow. The park’s director and the herdsman gave us a private tour of the grounds and their prize-winning Highland fold. We felt like superstars! A herd of Highland cattle are called a fold: in ancient Scotland cattle roaming the highlands were taken into “folds” when the weather was particularly inclement, or if there were wolves or thieves about. I have never met a non-gentle Highland, but in the past their horns and fur where excellent protection against predators like the wolf. It doesn’t take much imagination to envision a fold of Highlands fending off the winds and predators on the rough Scottish uplands.
Highland cattle are one of the oldest breeds in the world, and archeologists have uncovered remains going back to at least the 6th century. Unlike their ancestors, the Highland fold at Pollok Park are city residents, and serve to teach Glasgow residents about Scotland’s cattle heritage and agriculture. Each year they host hundreds of school children that learn about the fold and its history and the special ecosystems that pastures cultivate. They also take the cows to events around the city, which helps to raise awareness; one event brought a beautiful Highland cow into a fancy restaurant. Ha! I was a bit jealous; it would be great if we had a herd of cattle or dairy cows in Prospect Park, wouldn’t it? Perhaps the divide between city and rural perceptions of agriculture could be breached if more people saw cows grazing around us.
School children learn about pastoral ecosystems when they visit Pollok Park, and the park pastures support a diversity of insect and plant life. Pollok is the only known breeding ground for honeybee mimics, and also hosts a variety of bees and rare wildflowers. One cow produces over four tons of manure a year, which helps to feed a variety of insects, which in turn feed foxes, hedgehogs, bats, newts, shrews, toads and a variety of birds. Pastures are one of the few human creations that actually promote biodiversity, and when managed correctly can heal natural environments and encourage wildlife and flora.
The fold’s prize winning black bull, that is my husband with him.
The Pollok fold also serves to preserve and promote the quality of the Highland cattle breed, which is much needed in a world were many heritage breeds are threatened. Pollok Park was originally a grand estate, and has had Highland cattle for over two centuries. This tradition continues now that the city of Glasgow owns and manages the park. One of the most promising trends in the culinary world is attention to the different flavor profiles and quality of domestic animal breeds, and one of the best ways to preserve domestic animal diversity is to support farmers who do so. Slow Food has encouraged this with their Ark of Taste program that identifies and promotes heritage foods, breeds and heirloom seed varieties. In Scotland, there is a lot of excitement surrounding Scottish beef, and this is helped by the fact that cattle are a source of national pride. My father believes that these old breeds tie us to our past, and that it is important not to lose these wonderful animals There are cultural reasons for this, but also practical reasons: many of these older breeds excel on grass, which could become important to us in a world of shifting resources and tastes.
Rare dunn colored bull.
Pollok’s fold has a diversity of colors, many of which I had never seen here in America. They have black Highlands, yellow, white, different shades of red, some brindled, and a beautiful silver-dun color. The centerpiece of the fold is the gorgeous, prize-winning black bull. Malcolm, the fold’s knowledgeable and passionate herdsman, told us that black was their original color, and gave us a peek into their past via a historical account featuring Rob Roy.
Pollok Park is also home to an incredible art collection called the Burrell Collection, and their beautiful Chardins delighted me. The collection is astounding and rivals many of the world’s best. My husband and I thought the combination of art and cattle was so marvelous! We definitely need more people to preserve culture in this wonderful and elegant way! Pollok Park is not to be missed on a trip to Glasgow! The café is excellent too, so be sure to make a day of it if you do get the chance to visit!
Special thanks to Marilyn Muir it’s Facility Manager and Malcolm Moy and the delightful staff at the café where we had a lovely lunch that celebrated Scotland’s amazing produce!