Miss Flora Stuart: The world’s foremost authority on the Belted Galloway breed

Miss Flora Stuart

1941-2005
The world’s foremost authority on the Belted Galloway breed

Miss Flora Stuart pictured last summer, preparing her Belties for Wigtown Cattle Show. Scotland’s agricultural community is in mourning after the death of Miss Flora Stuart of Old Place of Mochrum on Sunday, February 27, 2005.

Miss Flora was known the world over for her role as President of the Belted Galloway Cattle Society, and for her dedication to the breed’s promotion and improvement. Such was Flora Stuart’s standing, from Adelaide to Argyll, anyone discussing Belted Galloways would invariably mention her name in the same breath.

Her interest and support for Quarter horses also commanded much of her time, taking her to events across Scotland, most especially to riding courses in Argyll. Her love of rare livestock breeds was not confined to the ‘Belties’. Flora also maintained a small herd of Shetland sheep and assorted goats on her land around the Old Place of Mochrum. It takes a certain tenacity to forge a living from the high moors – and Flora had that in spades. Skilled and innovative in stock-rearing, she had earned a universal reputation for her capacity for hard work, which often found its reward in champion tickets for her beloved Belties.

But Flora, at heart an intensely private woman, rated winners tickets some way behind the furtherance of the breed as a whole, and it is largely because of her endeavours that Belted Galloways are so well known around the world. Only a few weeks ago Flora was beginning to select her cattle in preparation for this year’s shows.

Always in great demand as a judge and adviser, Flora made many trips abroad, helping to ensure the international success of the breed she loved. Farmers in Germany, Australia, the United States, New Zealand and Canada were among those to benefit from her advice and know-how, and to send their respects when they heard of her passing.

Loved and respected for her warmth and courtesy, Flora also found time to pursue her hobbies of spinning, an evening at the ballet, and music. She would regularly attend the monthly meetings of the Wigtownshire Spinners, Weavers and Dyers group in Glenluce, and members would spend many a Saturday spinning out at Culshabbin at Flora’s invitation, her quiet conversation enjoyed by all.

Miss Flora Stuart was born on the Isle of Bute in 1941, and moved with her family to Wigtownshire in the post-war years. She was the daughter of the fourth Marquis of Bute’s third son, Lord David Stuart, and Lady David, Ursula Sybil Packe prior to her marriage. Tragedy struck Flora’s family in early 1962, when her 15-year-old sister Rose was killed in a car accident, a loss Flora felt particularly keenly. She subsequently devoted her life to hill farming in the moorland wilds of Drumwalt, under the shadow of Airylick and Craigeach fells.

One of Scotland’s true cattle enthusiasts, Flora prided herself on the quality of her stock. She built up her herd of Belted Galloways to become one of the finest in the land, a fact she took great satisfaction in. Flora bred all three varieties, Black, Dun and Red, to the breed’s immeasurable benefit worldwide. She inherited a great family tradition in rearing cattle and through hard graft, careful husbandry and astute stockmanship built on the foundations laid down by her ancestors. Miss Flora’s grandfather John Crichton-Stuart, the 5th Marquis of Bute started off the herd and her father, Lord David Stuart continued the work in turn.

Though she will be sorely missed by all those who worked closely with her and knew her, she leaves the Belted Galloway breed in good heart. Last summer, when I had the privilege of interviewing Flora in the week before Wigtown cattle show, she must already have been ill. To what extent would have been impossible to determine, for her stoicism and fierce sense of independence ensured her energies were directed solely at the job in hand. Self-reliance, not self-pity was ingrained in Flora’s character.

Flora was a staunch supporter of all the local and national shows, and was always enthusiastic about the Belties’ prospects. “There’s just an incredible demand for the cattle – hardly a day passes but there’s a phone call from someone asking ‘how can I get a hold of some cattle? We’ve already got orders for cattle that haven’t been born yet,” she told me then. She never contemplated retirement, though her illness, especially latterly, must have been sapping her strength. Neither did she ever think of calling it a day with her Belties, even in the dark days of BSE and Foot and Mouth. “There was never a time I thought I would give them up, especially now when there’s such a demand for them,” Flora had resolutely said.

Over Craigeach, Drumwalt, Challochglass and Airylick Flora’s Belted Galloways still range, the last farm holding some extra special suckler cows. There Flora crossed some of her Beltie cows with a White Shorthorn bull to produce distinctive Blue Grey sucklers – but still with the trademark polo-mint stripe round their middles. In turn these cows are crossed with a continental bull – in this case a Blonde Solaire – to produce beef animal containing the best qualities of both the Scottish and continental varieties. Flora felt such innovations were helping to secure the breed’s status in the Scottish beef industry – and she was right in her optimism about the future, judging by the latest Galloway sales prices.

I once asked her what had been her biggest ever highlight in a long history of showing Galloway Belties. She thought for a little while and remembered the moment when one of her cattle won the Champion of Champions at Wigtown Show – “the highlight of my year” as Flora called it – in 1992 or 1993. “She was a cow called Mochrum Kestrel, the mother of Mochrum Kingfisher, who appeared in ‘2000 Acres of Sky’,” Flora said.

Miss Flora Stuart will be laid to rest next her parents and sister at the family’s ancestral home at Mount Stuart, on the Isle of Bute, on March 10th.

–Stephen Norris Copyright © The Galloway Gazette, February 28, 2005.