YOU know the saying, once a farmer always a farmer, and that’s certainly the case for Doddie Weir, a former international rugby player who has retired from the sport to tend to his stock in the Scottish Borders. 

With his six-foot six-inch frame and a gait once likened to a mad giraffe on the charge, Doddie was always easy to spot on the rugby pitch as well as off the pitch in his bright tartan suits, but it was his early years on the family farm near Fountainhall, Galashiels, that set the scene for his retirement from the professional game. Bred, born and brought up among livestock at Cortleferry Farm – which included ‘big black coos, Blackface and Greyface ewes’ – by parents Jock and Nanny, it’s fair to say there was something of a competitive spirit among the Weir family members. His two brothers, Tom and Christopher, as well as father Jock, played for Gala RFC while Doddie played for Melrose RFC – meaning he had to settle for driving the old International tractor while the other three drove the newer, shinier, fancier Fiat. 

Playing rugby started early doors at Stewart’s Melville College, as did riding horses which led him to representing Scotland at events as a youngster, but it wasn’t until what he described, with a twinkle in his eye, as unforeseen circumstances while his sister Kirsty was riding his horse that rugby become the main sport for the then late teenager. 

“I never thought playing rugby could become a career as at the time it was an amateur sport. But having been an international player from the age of 20, in 1995 – after the World Cup in South Africa – Newcastle Falcons came knocking,” explained Doddie, who studied at Edinburgh for an HND in agriculture and gained his first cap on November 10, 1990, in a 49-3 win against Argentina. “I don’t remember a whole lot about that game, as that 80 minutes goes so fast. You wait all your life to pull the Scottish jersey on and it’s by in a flash.”

The Scottish Farmer:

          In action winning a line-out in a 24-15 victory over Ireland during the 1991 World Cup

In a 10-year span, Doddie pulled the Scottish jersey over his shoulders a total of 61 times before retiring from the international scene in a Six Nations match against France on March 4, 2000. During this time as a lock, he notched up an impressive 19 points from four tries, including one under the old four-point system and two in one game against the All Blacks. 

It was during his time playing for Melrose that he collected the most silverware however, contributing to the team that won five Scottish club championships in six years, before helping edge Newcastle Falcons a premiership title. He was selected for the British and Irish Lions, too, which he described as the cream of the crop and a great honour, but it was with the Scottish team and his club sides that his real passion lay. 

Initially, you wouldn’t think the combination of horse riding and rugby playing would be a successful one, but Doddie contributed much of his line-out success to those early years in the saddle. 

“I’d say most of my rugby skills came from my time with the horses: I had a decent core which allowed me to get plenty height in the air and manoeuvre during line-outs, and the ability to see ahead when correcting a stride or making a turn mid-air transferred to line-outs too,” he explained. “But the bigger picture was learning line-out calls and when you’re used to learning showjumping courses and dressage tests, this was a big influence.”

His passion on the pitch has now transferred to the farming sector as, in 2005, after two years at Borders RFC, Doddie and his wife Kathy ‘retired’ to Bluecairn Farm, which is just a few miles over the hill from where he was brought up at Cortleferry. Having moved there with three young boys – Hamish, Angus and Ben, now 16, 15 and 13, respectively – Doddie also took on work as the Scottish representative for his father-in-law’s company, Hutchinson’s Environmental Solutions, selling sewage tanks across Scotland. 

On the 300 acres of Bluecairn on the edge of the village of Blainslie, with views looking south to Melrose and Galashiels, the Weirs run a total of 130 breeding sheep and 15 suckler cows, and it’s a case of sticking with what you know as the fields are stocked with Greyface ewes and those ‘big black coos’ from his early years. To date, Texel and Suffolk rams have covered these Mule ewes but there’s been a slight change of emphasis in recent years as a number of North Country Cheviot ewes were purchased to cover by the Bluefaced Leicester and, just last year, Doddie invested in some Texel cross and Suffolk cross ewes to improve conformation and achieve a quicker daily liveweight gain. 

“Greyfaces are great hardy sheep, but my late brother-in-law, Michael Dun, of Gilston, said Cheviots are the best sheep in the world. We’re finding them quite wild in comparison to the Greyface, but they’re great mothers and last well,” explained Doddie. “Rather than breeding pure, we’ve changed to the Bluefaced Leicester ram to produce our own replacements. We’ve tried pure Suffolks and on the cattle side pure Aberdeen-Angus, and our son Angus likes the pure Texel, but there’s a lot of work involved so it’s back to simplicity for now. 

“We’ve been building up numbers in the last 10 years and there’s the benefit now that the boys are able to help out. They’re keen to come and help but we all know it’s not a big enough farm to sustain an income.”

So keen are the boys that Hamish won the Border young handlers’ final held at Peebles having secured first or second at the majority of local shows, with Angus making it through to the final as well. 

The Scottish Farmer:

          Former NFU Scotland president, Allan Bowie, gets on the same level as Doddie at the RSABI gala dinner earlier this year

With Doddie admitting the three things that grow well at Bluecairn – grass, air and rock – all contribute to the lambs’ ability to finish off grass, they are sold through United Auctions, Stirling, or through Border Livestock, with Doddie finding the latter a great help when it comes to grading lambs.

Despite reaching the glitzy heights of a professional sporting career, Doddie has his feet firmly on the ground when it comes to farming and is all too aware of the challenges facing the industry, not to mention the time and money invested at Bluecairn in order to get it to where it is now. 

“When we moved here there were a lot of teething problems – we were under 35 and received no help at all, bar from Jimmy and Alice Guthrie who we bought the farm from and would be totally lost without them, particularly when it comes to finding water pipes. We’ve still a lot to do yet – re-roofing the steading, new gates, a lot of maintenance, and there were no fences when we arrived so we set about putting 50,000m of top wire on the dykes.

“It’s been a fantastic learning curve and I do enjoy it but there’s a lot to learn. I was never involved in the finance or business sides of the farm back at Cortleferry, but farming has definitely changed over the years. All farmers are never too happy with the price they’re getting and it’s a major issue that the money we make goes straight back into the job. If you had to survive of farming alone, there’s no way it would be viable.”

A household name among rugby fans in the 1990s, Doddie is now back in the spotlight as he raises awareness of Motor Neurone Disease through the ‘My Name’5 Doddie Foundation’, founded after his own diagnosis last year. 

“When diagnosed with MND, I was basically told there’s nothing you can do – there’s one treatment drug which came out 20 years ago and, in the world we live in today, that’s not acceptable. The current research is non-existent. Two people in every 100,000 have MND, so raising awareness is a priority, and we’re now embarking on change,” he said. 

“Through the ‘My Name’5 Doddie Foundation’, I’d like to help myself and others, and there’s no doubt the family and farm spurred have me on, but understanding the situation takes a long time to develop. What you need to remember is there’s no timetable to my condition and no drug to slow the muscle breakdown, and I feel very lucky to have got to this stage with no obvious effect,” he added, likening the disease to a puncture as there’s no way of knowing if that puncture will be a slow puncture and you’ll get miles and miles out of it, or whether it will impact quickly, and there’s no way of putting air back in that tyre. 

It’s this to the point manner that seems to be the hardest hitting, seen by many who watched the handover of the ball ahead of the New Zealand match in the autumn tests, and the way he is going about raising awareness is admirable. But that’s the Doddie Weir way and here’s hoping with all that’s been done so far, a cure can be found sooner rather than later.

  • A significant amount of money has been raised so far for the My Name’5 Doddie Foundation, with contributions from the rugby, farming and Borders communities and beyond. There is to be a first MND conference in Boston, Massachusetts, next year. If you would like to donate to the foundation, visit