WEST WORD
Community paper for Glenfinnan, Lochailort, Glenuig, Arisaig, Morar,
Mallaig, Knoydart and the Small Isles

List of Issues online

January 2002 Issue

Contents of the online version:

Top stories
Monthly news from Knoydart, Muck, Rum, Eigg
China Cancer Research Trek
Coastal Ranger Report & Creepy Crawly Corner
Pollen, algae and shifting shorelines
Mallaig Heritage Centre
Local Genealogy & History

News Review of the Year 2001

Letters, e-mails and comments are welcome.
Contact Details & How to Subscribe
Sign our Guestbook

LOOKING FORWARD
What does 2002 have in store for us? What differences will we see at the year end? A new year is always a time of taking stock and hoping for better. January is named after the Roman deity Janus, the god of doorways and entrances. He had two faces, one looking forwards and one looking backwards, and so we all do as the year begins.
There's plenty of looking back in this issue with the Review of the Year and let's hope we see no more of epidemics and terrorism. On a more local note, let's hope the fishing improves. We've just had the worst sprat fishery for 8 years.
So what is on Fate's drawing board for 2002? What will West Word be celebrating in words and pictures?

The signs are that by the time the year is over we will be seeing:
* A new surgery in Arisaig
* A new Police Station in Mallaig
* The refurbishment of Mallaig Playing Field
* A new Playing Field for Morar
* Piers finished on Rum and Muck
* A new pier for Eigg
* The return of the annual events - Games, Shows...

There are some new Community grants coming on line too which will involve representatives from each area taking part to see how we can improve things further.
And while we're on the wish list, maybe West Word will get a new printer!

MALLAIG GETS ITS OWN CINEMA
The Film Project is finally off the ground! The equipment is now here, with grant aid from Scottish International Education Fund and Network 21 among others.
Mallaig & Morar Community Centre Association are a member of Filmbank which enables them to screen films for the public. Films are in video format, and should be available around 12 weeks after they premier at the box office.
The Film Project has already shown two films over the Christmas period - 'The Grinch' and 'Jurassic Park III'.
If anyone is interested in getting involved in setting up a programme of films to be shown, or helping out on the day, please get in touch with the Association on 01687 460039. And don't worry - there is NO committee!


KNOYDART
A Happy New Year to One and All.
Just before the end of last term, Inverie Primary School pupils entertained us hilariously to their version of 'Puss in Boots'. All the characters (and one or two pupils had to play more than one) put a lot of zest into their prose, poetry and song and some had scene changes to attend to as well, in the confined space of the classroom. Well done everyone. I shall try to include a photo in next month's issue.
There was a well attended candlelit Carol Service in Inverie Village Hall on Christmas Eve. Gwen accompanied the carol singers on her keyboard piano.
The first occupant moved into the newly completed first stage of the interim housing on Christmas Day. The building should have proved to be very snug and warm during the period of snow and ice, since it is extremely well insulated and heated.
We say thank you to Tim for supplying Christmas trees to strategic parts of the village.
Anne Trussell

In November Inverie held a lantern making workshop and children's procession. Lots of children and adult helpers turned up to spend nearly a day making willow lanterns, covering them and decorating them. In the evening they held a procession through the village.

ISLE OF MUCK
This month we said farewell to Helen Harper who has been part of the community for more than 10 years. Helen, who looked after many visitors at Godag House, has gone to live in Kelso and we hope she will be very happy there.
A quiet Christmas this year on the island as several families were absent and there were fewer visitors than the last few years. Sadly the fine weather ended on the 18th December but not before Alan and Helen Lamb had come for our pre-Christmas service. Most of the mebers of the Muck Singing Group were there and many of the children played and we enjoyed some fine singing. The Lambs continued to Eigg next day and missed the Christmas party. But they did attend the dress rehearsal of the school play 'The Good, the Bad and the Donkey'.
This year Katie Graves enjoyed a star role as the leading angel and her father as the donkey. Some of the actors were very young but all gave a polished performance.
On Christmas Eve we gathered in the sheep pens for more carols round a glowing brazier which struggles to keep us warm against a biting northerly wind. The Christmas Day service was in the farmhouse with John Taylor and Willie MacRae on the piano and clarinet and there was some spirited singing.
The New Year eve's party was in Port Mor House and on New Year's day the traditional hockey match for all ages while some crazy individuals even took to the sea. At least it was not snowing! Later there was a clay pigeon shoot and of course lots of first footing!
On the farm the year has been much better than I feared in the summer. We have surely seen the bottom of the farming depression and the future is upward.
December included the Christmas sale in Fort William featuring stock from all over the Small Isles except Rum. The Muck ewes andlambs only just made it and they would not have without the kindness of Bill Henderson, who lent us a field at Traigh before the sale. Prices for ewes were probably three times those in October, and the lambs were 50% up. The Muck Cheviot ewes made £26 and the Blackfaces £21, the best for several years. Stars of the sale was a superb consignment of ewes from Canna. The young MacKinnons have certainly inherited their father's flair for stockmanship.
On the Monday following the sale the new Simental bull Blackford Levi arrived aboard Raasay and is now in his pen in the byre. I have met many kind and helpful farmers in my time but it would be hard to find anyone to beat Billy MacPherson the breeder, who looked after my bull for four months.
This is the new year and there are some interesting plans for the farm but I had better leave them for February West Word.
Lawrence MacEwen

ISLE OF RUM
Primary School News
What a hectic couple of months this has been! In the middle of November we had a school trip to Fort William to see Puss in Boots at the Nevis Centre. After the boat trip we caught the train (a great treat for the children who usually travel by car). Most of our parents were with us too and we all stayed at the Alex Hotel where the children met revolving doors for the first time! We could have left them there all night just going round and round! It was lovely to be eating altogether in such a nice place. The pantomime was very enjoyable and we were invited back for the start of the afternoon performance to see a Clown in action.
Monday, 10th December was our Carol Service, led by the Rev. Alan Lamb and well attended by our families, etc. As usual, the catering arrangements were second to none and everyone enjoyed a very sociable evening.
However, that was only the start, Friday 14th, saw our grand production of "The Very Hopeless Camel", a musical which called for a cast of thousands but we adapted to suit three 4 yr olds, a 5 yr old, a 6 yr old and an 8 yr old, plus four adults. The title role was played by Michael (8 yrs) and Judith had made him a wonderful camel mask. The children carried it all off with aplomb and they knew all the words to all the songs (we had to keep checking our sheets!). Freddie, the Castle Manager, brought the house down as "horrid Herod". There was hilarious audience participation and the show was very well attended by almost everyone on the island.
What the audience didn't see, of course, was all the stress and tears which led up to the performance. While the nursery children carried everything in their stride, the prima donnas in P1 decided that neither wanted to be at the end of the line, and my serious minded six year old, having seen her mum packing all the furry animals into the crib on top of the doll standing in for baby Jesus was found in floods of tears and crying, "My mother is smothering baby Jesus!". At this point, the teacher threw a wobbly too.
However, all is well that ends well and The Very Hopeless Camel ended with more refreshments! Teacher is heard to say that she will stamp the CD into the mud!
Wednesday, 19th was the Christmas Party. There were lots of games to be played and forfeits to do. More eats and drinks and - a visit from Santa Claus!
I must say a very big and heartfelt thank you to the longsuffering folk of Rum who have spent most of this month baking for our numerous activities. Without their support all these wonderful parties would not have happened.
Other school news. The start date for Liz MacGregor, new teacher for Rum, is 18th March. I will be teaching until 1st March and then Wendy Thomas will take over until Mz. MacGregor arrives. I will be on Rum during this period, cleaning the house and getting rid of unwanted furniture. By this time I will have been almost 6 years on Rum and I am sure it will be a sad time for me.
Chrissie MacDougall

NEW HEAD TEACHER FOR RUM
The six pupil school on the island is to welcome in March Ms Elizabeth MacGregor, who has been Head Teacher at Bracoden Primary School in Aberdeenshire for the past three years. Prior to that she taught in a number of schools in Aberdeenshire.

ISLE OF EIGG
Happy New Year from Eigg where the festive season is being spent very pleasantly with gatherings of friends and family. Leo MacCann played for the New Year Ceilidh with Tam and the Eigg crew, celebrating also the 21st birthday of our Eigg banjo player Damien Helliwell! It was great to see Leo and Linda again after their wedding on Eigg last May and there is talk of an exhibition of the wedding photos taken by Lewis, a well-known American reporter, as part of the Eigg arts programme for summer 2002.
It was lovely to see a bit of snow for Christmas: the Eigg kids did enjoy their sledging. Rum covered with snow looked fabulous: Tolkien aficionados should try and spot what landscape it may have inspired in Lord of the Rings since the writer did spend some time on Eigg, staying at Holin, after WW2!
Farmers and crofters were pleased with the price their cattle and sheep reached in the December sales, with mentions being made of Kildonnan, Bayview and Sandavore, the latter getting the second higher price per kilo for its cattle. After all the difficulties encountered by the farming sector that was at last something to be cheerful about!
Meanwhile, on the wildlife front, John Chester had much to do on his return from birdwatching in Costa-Rica. Here is his report for December:
"They do say that everything come in threes so lets hope that the hat trick of uncommon but deceased animals recorded on the island in December is the end of the matter. First to appear was the 25ft long corpse of a Minke Whale which washed up Kildonnan Bay on the 2nd December - at least it provided the gulls with a generous Christmas dinner. This was followed on the 16th by the discovery of the extremely decayed remains of a leatherback turtle at the Singing Sands. The finder, Stuart Miller did exceptionally well to realise that the large mound of rotting flesh was not simply the remains of a lost cow or sheep washed up. Finally a desperately injured Barn Owl was found by Sheena Kean on the 12th and sadly died soon afterwards.
Nonetheless, the odd living creature was also seen during the month with pride of place going to the three Orcas seen diving near Castle island by the Eigg ferrymen. Typically mid-winter produced few bird sightings of note with three Pink-footed Geese and single Peregrin and Merlin, the pick of the bunch. However one small field at Kildonnan which had been allowed to produce large amount of natural seed, clearly demonstrated what could be done if farming subsidies paid a little heed to the well being of the countryside! Throughout the month this tiny field provided food for 8 Rock Doves, 30 Skylarks, 300 chaffinches, 5 bramblings plus an assortment of other finches. This is "must-visit" site each morning!"
Camille Dressler.

Sense of Adventure
China Cancer Research Trek by Mary Boyle

My feet were at last on Chinese soil. Ahead of us lay the challenge of the Great Wall. The Great Wall of China is one of the greatest wonders of the world and is even visible from space. It runs 6000 kilometres from the Yellow Sea to the Gobi Desert in the heart of Central Asia. It took 10 years to build and the construction began in the 7th and 8th centuries BC to keep the Barbarians out of China.
Our group would walk different sections of the Wall varying in character and experience a diversity of settings which ranged from the simplest of rural villages to the suburbs of Beijing.

Mary

The Chinese guides reassured us that the first day of walking would be a gentle introduction. We started each day's walk with a pre-walk warm-up, much to the amusement of the locals. As there were 84 of us, we were split into 4 groups each with a guide at the front and one at the back. I found it hard to believe that I was finally walking the Great Wall.

Great Wall of China The Wall is a truly magnificent sight. The surrounding scenery even in the mist and drizzle was stunning. However, the steepness of the Wall was a shock to the calf muscles and the lungs. If this was a gentle introduction, what would tomorrow bring? The first day's casualties included one walker with an ankle injury and another with superficial wounds from a fall. Not a bad result for our first day!
Our next day's walking was from Jinshangling to Sumatei where we would stay in a hostel in the midst of the mountains. This section of the Wall was even more stunning and steep than the previous day. There were unobstructed views of the Wall climbing over the mountaintops with 70% drops on either side revealing the vast empty plains of Inner Mongolia. This remote section of the Wall has a total of 135 watch towers zigzagging up inclines.

The next few days' walking took place around the section of the Wall at Sumatei. We then came off the beaten track and trekked through tiny villages giving us a real insight into life in rural China. It was an enormous privilege to experience the unspoilt aspects of rural life and I regarded my stay in this remote countryside as the most memorable. It was very cold at night in the mountains and the accommodation had been described as "basic but quaint" and required us to sleep eight to a room on two concrete slabs. This was an experience I could have done without, along with the cold showers!
The trek was indeed hard going. We were out walking early each day, as it was dark by late afternoon. It involved steady climbing every day with our packs and sometimes we wondered if we would manage to reach the end. However, we did successfully complete the walk at the Mutianju section. This section of the Wall is near Beijing so it is very popular with the tourists and local people. There was a 3km walk to the start and then a climb of 1200 steps up to the wall itself. The Chinese guides had informed us that this was a challenging part of the trek, ending with steps up a steep incline of approximately 70%.
Our group came from very mixed backgrounds and were from all over Britain. They were a great group of people of varying ages from 20 to 71 years of age. The Chinese guides were a delight to walk with, they were so enthusiastic in telling us about their beautiful country and so friendly and humorous. Most of the Chinese people we met seemed very friendly, gracious and dignified.
Professor Alan Rickson, Head of the Institute of Cancer Studies walked with us and, at our last dinner as a group, he confirmed that we had to date raised £250,000 and that every penny would go to research. The money raised will be an important contribution to the vital cancer research we undertake throughout the UK. This statement brought a cheer from the whole group. Without a doubt, the walk had been worth all the effort.
Mallaig and Arisaig have made me so proud. Together we have raised a total of £3,200 for the cancer research campaign. I would like to thank you all, from me personally and on behalf of the cancer research campaign. Thanks again to Catherine and Angus for their encouragement and valuable advice. I completed the walk blisterless! I shall certainly have some great memories of the experience that will stay with me for a long time.

Mary showed West Word a photograph of a sign,
which reads, in a Chinese language and in English:

NOTICE

1. Those who suffer from high blood pressure, mental disease, horrifying of highness and liquor heads are refused.

2. Those who are above 65 years old and the disabled are refused.

3. Each set of belt for one person only. Hold tightly the belt when you are seated.

4. When you are using the belt, please follow the instruction of the staff. Never use only by yourself.

5. Take good care of your personal belongings to avoid the drop-off from your hand.

Coastal Ranger Report
Dash me, isn't it funny how the deadline for West Word always creeps up on you when you least expect it! Following a very sweet call from Ed. this evening informing me that this was Friday 4th and there was but two days left for my essential? report! I felt obliged to take the bull by the horns and have a go! Actually, as far as the Ed. was concerned, I plead ignorance (which didn't wash very well), after all, having had a week's holiday prior to Christmas, how was I supposed to know what day it was? For goodness sake I'm a Ranger, not a flaming calendar!!
Anyway, as I said I've just enjoyed a great break. The weather has in turn been seasonal, and then just great for getting outside, O.K. so some days have been a touch on the cold side, and roads sometimes not quite what "BEAR" would want, but on the whole we have had a great spell. So you ask, what have I done in the great spell? Dash little really apart from what everybody else does at this time of year, i.e. eat, sleep, get fat and wish you hadn't!! But I did manage one feather in my cap since my last report, want to know what it is, then read on............!
Once upon a time there was a Ranger, new to the job, and looking for a good local project. One day, after going over the boots in a bog on the way back from Loch an Nostarie he decided that enough was enough, so why not just go raise some money and renew the old plank "bridges" over the bad bits on the way to the Loch. In fact, why not make it a real community project and rope in all willing/not so willing "volunteers" to assist. Aye! You remember now! Tough, there is no pulling out now! Believe it or not, persistence has brought it's reward, and S.N.H. have offered me a decent sum to buy some tools and a load of sleepers. I still have to formally accept the conditions, but as things stand at this moment, I can more or less go straight out and order the materials. I am really "chuffed" about this, but it's now over to you. I can't manage this on my own, and I will need all the help I can get, so hopefully everyone who approved of the idea originally will now "muck in" and finally get this project into the land of the living. It won't be exciting work, but, at the end of the day we should have achieved something that should last and be a benefit for many years, and will hopefully be the forerunner of a decent path network for the area.
Well, there you have it, that is my surprise for you for the New Year, and I hope that it will fit well with your resolutions (it might even last longer!!). If it doesn't fit, well may 2002 be a great year for you anyway. All the best to everyone.
Volunteers know the number! Telephone: 01687 462 983
Angus Macintyre

Auntie Mary's Creepy Crawly Corner
Following on from last month's article, this month's question is:
What do wolves really eat?
The Grey or Timber Wolf Canis lupus is a large wild dog which survives in parts of North America, Europe and Asia. An adult male may be around 90cm at shoulder height and have a mass up to 45kg. It is a very social animal and lives in family groups in places where it is relatively undisturbed by humans.
Wolves are carnivores either killing their prey or scavenging on dead animals. Their ability to catch animals which are larger or faster than themselves is increased by hunting in a group, a pack. It is thought that their haunting, howling calls to each other may be part of the reason there is so much fear and folklore about this species.
With the spread of agriculture and loss of wild habitat, and especially the keeping of domestic stock, wolves and humans came into competition for space and food. Throughout most of their range there has been organised wolf hunting for centuries. Today wolves only thrive in areas remote from human habitation.
There are stories of forests in Lochaber and on Rannoch being burnt to destroy wolves´ dens and refuges. In the Highlands the reduction of the Caledonian Pine Forest to about 10% of its original cover by 1600 was followed by the reduction in the wolf population and the last wolf in Scotland was apparently shot in Badenoch in about 1750.
Wolves were exterminated from England by the end of the 15th century. In Anglo-Saxon times it was believed that wolves were most active in January so they called it "wolf-month". One of the consequences of no longer having wolves in the British Isles is that their prey species, such as the Red Deer, no longer have a wild predator reducing their numbers - hence the need for human intervention to protect overgrazed habitats.
Dr. Mary Elliott

(Editor's note: There's a stone marking the spot where the last wolf was shot beside the A9 in Sutherland. Whether it was the last wolf in Sutherland, the Highlands or Scotland I can't remember!)


Pollen, algae and shifting shorelines - by Ian Shennan
Last month I described the background of the research we have been involved in over the last 8 years and how it allows us to say so much about climate and environmental changes since the retreat of the last great ice sheets. At the peak of the last glaciation, about 20000 years ago, an ice sheet, centred around Rannoch Moor, extended well to the west of the present coastline of Morar and Arisaig. As global climate warmed, the ice sheet retreated and by about 16000 years ago Morar and Arisaig started to become ice-free. Sea level was well above present at this time because the weight of the ice had depressed the Earth's crust, as I explained last month.
The glaciers scoured numerous hollows into the rock and following the melting of the ice these basins started to accumulate sediment. We have been putting boreholes down all around Arisaig to collect sediment samples from the basins to tell us when they were above sea level and when, if at all, they were below sea level. It is not possible to do this just by looking at the sediment with your eyes. We have to take the sediment cores back to the laboratory and use various chemical procedures to extract two types of fossil, pollen and diatoms. Flowering plants, as all hay-fever sufferers know, produce vast amounts of pollen as part of the germination process. A pollen grain, while very small (usually 20 - 80 microns), is very robust and in waterlogged sediment can survive many thousands of years (millions of years if the sediment becomes solid rock). Just as plants are quite different, so are the pollen grains each species produces.
Some, such as grass pollen have a very simple structure (basically a sphere with a single pore in the surface), while others are very ornate, with detailed sculpturing across the surface. One of the most distinctive and attractive is the pollen of the Scots Pine. It has two air sacs attached to the main body of the grain. This helps it to be dispersed very efficiently and aided the migration of the tree into the newly deglaciated landscape.
In contrast, diatoms are small algae (10 - 200 microns), that can live anywhere where there is water and sufficient light to photosynthesize. From the different species found in the sediment we can tell whether the basin was a freshwater lake above sea level at that time or was invaded by the sea. Out on the Rhu peninsula, next to the car park a few hundred metres before the end of the public road, there is a tidal pond. This is the modern equivalent of the basins we are sampling. Sediment now accumulating in the pond is full of marine species of diatoms and the pollen of the plants surrounding it, ranging from the salt marsh grasses and flowers, to the heather, bog grasses and trees on the surrounding hills.
With the continued rising of the land, currently at about 1 mm per year, in a couple of thousand years time the rock sill across the mouth of the basin will have been raised above high tide level and the tidal pond will be a freshwater lake. The diatom species will have changed dramatically to reflect the change in water salinity and the pollen will reflect the disappearance of the salt marsh.
We use exactly the same methods to reconstruct the changes in sea level over the last 16000 years. The only difference is that the rate of land uplift in the past was much quicker than now, so the isolation of a basin from the sea occurred much more quickly, 200-500 years in some cases.
At 16000 years ago the sea was about 40m above present and fell for the next 4000 years to less than 5m above present. For these 4000 years land uplift was greater than the addition of water to the oceans from the continued melting of the ice sheets in North America, Europe, Greenland and Antarctica. From about 10000 years ago to 6000 years ago sea level rose in the area, because the melting of ice from these areas was now faster than the rate of land uplift, which was slowing down considerably. When the ice sheets elsewhere in the world had retreated to approximately there current sizes, with no more water added to the global ocean, the slow but continuing land uplift produces the fall in sea level seen in the figure after 5000 years ago.
The work we are doing along the route of the bypass will contribute greatly to the detail of this reconstruction. A basin between the school and the railway at Arisaig has been sampled and will tell us about the maximum height reached by the sea. Out on the hills towards Kinsadel, another basin will tell us the age at which the ice actually left the area. Perhaps the most exciting are the sediments from Mointeach Mhor. They are currently undergoing laboratory analysis and will help tie down the detail changes of the peak of sea level around 6000 years ago to the present.
We have made some maps of where the coastline would have been in the past but they are in colour and won't reproduce clearly in West Word. You can try to do your own by tracing over the contours on an Ordnance Survey map. Trace around the 40m contour and you'll get the coastline of 16000 years ago, the 30m contour for 15500 years ago and the 20m contour for about 15000 years ago (the "Cnoc na Faire Shoreline" as we could call it).
The 10m contour gives the coastline at 13000 years ago and is just a little above the one at 6000 years ago. We have left copies of the maps with David and Jenny at the Cnoc na Faire if you want to have a look at them.
The fieldwork and the laboratory work will continue for some while yet. There is a PhD student starting a project in the New Year as well, so keep an eye out for the Department of Geography, University of Durham van and come as ask us what we are finding. Finally, thanks to the gentleman who towed the van out on our December visit!


What Brings the Visitors? - by Denis Rixson, Mallaig Heritage Centre
With the tourist industry in the doldrums I want to glance at some of the attractions that have, in the past, brought visitors to the Highlands.

Exploration
Within a generation of Culloden the first tourists were visiting the region. Initially they were drawn by the fact that the Highlands were so different. Johnson and Boswell were attracted by a desire to see people with different manners and customs while Thomas Pennant took more interest in the natural history of the area. Following in their footsteps came a flood of travellers such as Edward Daniel Clarke, Necker de Saussure, John Leyden and Elizabeth Murray. These early visitors all wrote down their experiences - which were later published - so within a couple of generations the Highlands could no longer be regarded as foreign or unknown. Now of course there are few parts of the planet that are unexplored. Exploration in the Highlands is more by way of revisiting the neglected or forgotten.

Sport
Hunting, shooting and fishing are in decline as 'sporting' occupations. New generations of urban dwellers are unsympathetic to primaeval practices which are no longer seen as necessary for survival. Shooting large game and birds is now the preserve of a rich and privileged few - increasingly under attack. Fishing has hitherto escaped much attention - but there is no doubt that eventually this will also come under siege.
Although the population of the Highlands was always sparse, its resources were limited and so hunting was essential to survival. Some of the means employed, such as deer and fish traps, would not now be regarded as 'sporting' but they were an integral part of Highland culture. There is a surviving mediaeval deer-trap in Rum and there are probably many thousands of unnoticed fish traps or yairs scattered round the coasts of the Scotland.
In 1618, John Taylor, the poet, wrote of a visit to Braemar where he had witnessed a large-scale deer hunt. This was a great social occasion involving hundreds of men and dogs with splendid feasts and entertainment. Taylor was so impressed that he wrote two sonnets to celebrate. Here are the closing lines of each:

How thousand gallant Spirits come near and far,
With Swords and Targets (shields), Arrows, Bows and Guns,
That all the Troop to men of judgement, are
The God of War's great never-conquered Sons.
The Sport is Manly, yet none bleed but Beasts,
And last, the Victors on the Vanquished feasts.

And

Through Heather, Moss, 'mongst frogs, and bogs, and fogs,
'Mongst Craggy cliffs, and thunder-battered hills,
Hares, Hinds, Bucks, Roes are chased by Men and Dogs,
Where two hours Hunting four score fat Deer kills.
Lowlands, your Sports are low as is your Seat [situation],
The Highland Games and Minds, are high and great.
At any rate sport has been bringing people to the Highlands for several centuries. We tend to ascribe this passion for hunting wild animals to the Victorians but it long predates them. A visitor to Talisker House in Skye in the late eighteenth century commented on the trophy horns in the hallway. A visitor to Arisaig Hotel in the early nineteenth century remarked that the sitting room resembled an armoury - decorated by fishing flies.

Beauty
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. The picture-postcard beauty of the Highlands is a modern construction. Words such as 'bleak' and 'horrid' would have tripped off the tongues of earlier visitors quite as readily as 'tranquil' or 'serene' do today. After the Battle of Culloden an officer at Fort Augustus justified the organisation of games and races on the grounds that "otherwise, by the constant View of Mountains surrounding us, we should have been affected with Hypochondriacal Melancholy". The very peace and tranquillity which attract an older generation - or those fleeing the urban rat-race - are precisely what drive away so many young people.

The Ghoulish
There is something bloodthirsty in us all and the darker scenes of Highland history have always attracted visitors. The "Massacre of Glencoe" has had a long life in the public consciousness and contributes appreciably to the local tourist industry. Whilst there were bones to be collected the Massacre Cave in Eigg drew visitors from far and wide. Once the local minister had the bones buried the site lost something of its immediacy. In 1797 a party of English visitors to Culloden Moor found a local guide who lifted some of the turf with his spade to reveal the Highland skeletons beneath. This theme has continued ever since. In his poem High Wood, Philip Johnstone writes of a First World War battleground that has become a tourist site:-

Madame, please,
You are requested kindly not to touch
Or take away the Company's property
As souvenirs; you'll find we have on sale
A large variety, all guaranteed.

The wreck from the Spanish Armada in Tobermory Bay has brought bounty hunters for centuries. Even now there is the issue of preserving wartime boat graves from divers. The ghoulish has always drawn the crowds.
It is not practicable, in today's climate, to resuscitate these older pastimes. We cannot arrange a spectacular mediaeval deer-hunt or lift the corners of old battlefields to glimpse macabre relics beneath. We are not allowed to shoot seals, eat geese or shearwaters - although in other parts of the world indigenous hunting practices are now vociferously preserved. Even where traditional hunting continues in the Western Isles it is questionable how long it will survive Scottish Natural Heritage overview. What is so ludicrous is that 'protection' can soon result in over-population - whether of deer in Wester Ross or geese in Islay. 'Balance' is always held to be desirable in nature - but sensible harvesting of a natural resource seldom seems part of any environmentalist's wish-list. Who knows, it might even help the Highland economy if Islay goose replaced Norfolk turkey on the Christmas table. I, for one, have always been curious as to whether Manx Shearwaters are indeed a little 'oily' - as Timothy Pont described them in the 1590's.

Solitude
Finally there is the issue of solitude. Many people visit and settle in the Highlands precisely because they are isolated. The Highlands are also cheaper to live in. A modest house in the South can be sold to provide something far more substantial in the north and west. The demographic composition of the Highlands is changing as more and more people move into the area from outside. This was partly foreseen three centuries ago. About 1695 Martin Martin wrote:-

If any man be disposed to lead a solitary, retired life, and to withdraw from the noise of the world, he may have a place of retreat there in a small island, or in the corner of a large one, where he may enjoy himself, and live at a very cheap rate.
If any family, reduced to low circumstances, had a mind to retire to any of these isles, there is no part of the known world where they may have the products of sea and land cheaper, live more securely, or among a more tractable and mild people.

I am not convinced of the cheapness of the 'products of sea and land' - but the rest rings true enough.


A Little Genealogy by Allan MacDonald (email: ealasaid6@btopenworld.com)

A Morar Family
Early in October 2001, a lady from Kent (Mrs Dean) came to Arisaig to see if we could help her with her family research. She had some information on her father, John Stephens, and his mother, Isabella Gillies.
After some time discussing various Gillies families, she remembered that Isabella had a brother Eneas. This narrowed the gap to Bourblach and, when I mentioned Johnny (Foxy) and Morag (Eneas), we managed to make the connection. Isabella and her son John lived in the house now occupied by Bob Poole and his family in Bracara.
To follow up her research, she went to the Archivist in Inverness and the BDM Record Office and has given me some more information on the Gillies family.
They appear on the 1861 Census as Ronald Gillies (72) and his wife Isabella (60) as tenants in Enrisaig No 1. They have a daughter, Mary (30), who lives with them. In No 2 are their son Donald (32), his wife Sarah (26) and their son, Peter Finlay (1). (Donald in the 1841 Census is 14) Their family then became Peter Finlay 1859, Ronald Thomas 1861, Donald Andrew 1863, Eneas 1865, Elizabeth (Isabella) 1868 and Catherine 1872.
Sarah MacKay's father was Finlay MacKay of the line of Trobast in South Uist who was a brother of Rev Donald MacKay, Parish Priest in Morar from 1842 to 1870 (Paul Galbraith, Blessed Morar) and can be traced back to Flora MacDonald in history. Donald Gillies died in 1914 and Sarah MacKay in 1917. John Andrew Joseph Stephens, Mrs Dean's father, died in 1960 aged 64.

A Skye Family
December is the anniversary of the Lockerbie Air Disaster which left its mark on Skye. John and Isabella Robertson of Orbost House, which lies at the foot of MacLeod's Tables outside Dunvegan, had 4 daughters who married their respective husbands and became Mrs Bullough of Fasnacloich, Mrs Campbell of Kingsburgh, Mrs Edward Hilleary of Edinbane, and Lady Tarn.
Sir William Tarn and Lady Tarn had a daughter, Otta, who married Colonel Swire and wrote a book called "Skye and its Legends" published in 1961. Otta and her husband had a son, Doctor Jim Swire, who had a daughter who was killed in Lockerbie and is buried in St Mary's Chapel, the little centuries old graveyard down on the shore of Loch Caroy near Struan, on the Sligachan to Dunvegan road. Dr Jim Swire became the driving force to bring to justice the terrorists who planted the bomb on the plane.
My own mother, Mary MacLeod, lived within 2 miles of Orbost.

Next month: The MacDonalds of Morar


Last month we published an article called 'Finding Joy in the Past' by Marlene MacDonald Cheng, the first in a series about how Marlene has gone about tracing her roots. Next month we will print her second article, 'Growing up a Highland Scot in Nova Scotia' - but first we thought we'd let her introduce herself properly.....

Marlene MacDonald Cheng (Màiri Éilidh Dòmhnullach)

I was born in Antigonish, Nova Scotia, the daughter of Robert B. MacDonald and Constance A. MacEachern, in the last year of the second World War. Both parents' ancestors came from the Morar area of Scotland.
On my father's side, I am a direct descendent of John (of Guidale - Iain Gaothdail) MacDonald, whose grandson, Angus MacDonald (Aonghus Mac Iain Òg), came to Nova Scotia with his family in 1801. Angus MacDonald was my great-great-great-great grandfather.

The line of descent is:
Angus MacDonald (m. Mary MacEachern);
Hugh MacDonald (Uisdean MacAonghuis `ic Iain Òg, m. Janet MacDonald);
John MacDonald (Iain MacUisdean, m. Mary Gillis of the Oban Gillises);
Hugh MacDonald (Uisdean MacIain `ic Uisdean, m. Alice Floyd);
John Hugh MacDonald (Iain Uisdean MacUisdean `ic Iain `ic Uisdean, m. Catherine Sutton);
Robert B. MacDonald (m. Constance MacEachern);
and Marlene MacDonald (that's me).

My grandfather, Iain Uisdean, was the last fluent Gàidhlig speaker in our family. He had a tremendous influence on me, teaching me Gàidhlig as a child. Although I have lost most of it, I am in the process of re-learning to be a fluent speaker of my native tongue. My aim is to be moderately fluent by fall of 2003 when my Gaelic choir will be performing at the Royal National Mòd in Oban.
Family word-of-mouth tells me that my mother's people were MacEacherns from the Arisaig area of Scotland. They came first to Pictou, Nova Scotia, and settled finally near Judique, Cape Breton. They were mostly blacksmiths and horse traders. I am still in the process of confirming the MacEachern genealogy and hope to travel to Cape Breton next summer to find records which will confirm the ancestry.
The Highland Scots who settled in Cape Breton and eastern Nova Scotia had a great sense of their Highland heritage and a strong oral tradition. They experienced many hardships after leaving their homeland. I have been writing down many of the stories related to me by my grandfather and others, in the hope of sharing that information so that it is not lost. A small local Victoria newspaper, the Victoria Scottish News, has published many of my stories, but they do not have copyright of them. It will be my pleasure to share my stories with the readership of West Word.

If you have interest in any of my information and would like to write to me, please feel free to do so. My mailing address is:
Marlene MacDonald Cheng, 2543 Wootton Crescent, Victoria BC V8R 5M7.
My e-mail address is: mcmcheng@shaw.ca.
I would be very happy to hear from you.


A Backward Glance by Rev George W. Baird: Church Memories
We went to Mallaig in 1922. In Peterhead, Dad's church had been the United Free, so it was the United Free we joined in Mallaig. The Church of Scotland was just above us up the brae. Both churches were built for the expanding population that came with the railway and the fishing boom at the beginning of the last century. There was no other church. Catholics walked to Morar. A while later, a chapel was built in Mallaig, on a wee park we used to play in.
Our minister was Rev J Shanks, who had been a missionary. In the parish church was Rev Walter J Matthews, who had been a naval officer. He wrote that fine children's hymn, "Jesus, Friend of Little Children". W hen I was about 5, I broke my arm falling off the end of the loading platform that ran along the big pier. It was on a Sunday afternoon and it would be Monday before I could go by train to hospital. I was whimpering when Dad said, "Sing that carol you had at Sunday school". So I sang, "Once in royal David's city", all six verses it was said. Sunday school was in the afternoon. Some fine teachers come to mind: Sam Aitchison, a fisherman from Burnmouth; Jimmy Sutherland, a fisherman from Hopeman; Chrissie Haggarty and, a little later, 'Wull' Aitchison and Annie Wallace. At lesson time, older ones would be taught by the minister in the vestry, the rest of us in classes in our various pews. We got well grounded in the stories of Jesus and stories from the Old Testament too.
A great event was the annual soirée. After songs and recitations, applauded by parents and friends, we tucked in to our bag of buns. Bags were burst in one loud bang at the end. The other great event was the picnic to Morar sands, with a tin mug around our necks. It was by Jimmy Gates' horse and cart, bigger ones walking; later by train to Morar. Oh! the fun of games and races for all ages, even mums and dads. The eats soon disappeared down hungry thrapples - a wonderful day!
Mention of Jimmy Sutherland and I jump forward 30 years when I was entering St Giles for the opening service of the General Assembly. Who went walking in beside me but Jimmy Sutherland and his minister from Mallaig. Oh! the joy of that meeting! I speak of it often yet.
About 1927. Mr Shanks was followed, as minister of the UF church, by Rev Maclennan, an elderly Lewis man, cousin of Donald Maclennan, a local grocer and a good church-goer. A new manse was built for him, across the road from Donald's house, 'Hillcrest'. Around 1931, the two churches united in the nationwide union of Parish and UF churches. Rev Sinclair was minister. He retired not long after, and Rev R F Aitchison was called. The new manse was only occupied by Rev Maclennan for a few years. It was sold to McBraynes as a house for their agent in Mallaig.
What was my call to the ministry? It was a growing notion of my own -
God-given, I came to feel. I was encouraged by dad and mum, who loved and served the Lord, and showed us His way. Encouraged, too, by my minister, and by good Christian folk like Mary Aitchison (auld Mary), Chrissie Haggarty, Jimmy Sutherland, Donald Maclennan and others.
It was Rev RP Aitchison, who was my never-failing friend and mentor in university and college days as I prepared for the ministry. I owed a tremendous lot to him. His encouragement lasted on, as he came to my induction in several changes, staying the week-end and preaching me in on the Sunday. I went to his induction in Gigha, and we kept in close touch with him and his wife in their retirement in East Kilbride. It was in Mallaig church that I was licensed to be a preacher of the Gospel on 13th April 1942. I treasure, and still use, the Bible that was given to me by the Presbytery of Lochaber that day.
How my knees knocked when I took my first service in Mallaig Church! I scarcely looked at the fold I knew so well. The minister tried to put me at my ease, as did Mr Wallace, the beadle, and Mrs Cairns, the organist. There were almost two congregations. There was the morning one ?? faith for village members and visitors in the summer. The evening service was different. Local folk were often swamped by men of the boats, east coast mainly. They lifted the roof with their lively Sankey hymns. There was also a piece by the choir, reinforcing the minister's sermon.
Mr Aitchison was handicapped by lameness in one leg but he got there in his own time. Mrs Aitchison was an excellent wife and mother and they had one daughter, Mary. She often went visiting some shut-in person, always taking something to them in her bag.
The Women's Guild had a yearly fund-raising concert. There was a kitchen comedy often, and this was warmly applauded. My mother had difficulty learning her lines. Did that deter her? Not a bit. On the big night, she happily improvised as they went along.


Watch this space for extracts from next month's issue!
Letters, e-mails and comments are welcome.
Feel free to Sign our Guestbook

Current Issue - List of Issues online

News Review of the Year 2001

SUBSCRIBE NOW!
And receive all the local news posted to your door once a month including:

  • Reports from the local communities
  • Logs from the coastal range, lifeboat, police and fire services
  • Columns on gardening, sport, recipes
  • Poets corner, book review, letters, snippets,
  • Feature articles, local events
  • .....and more!

West Word
Morar Station Buildings
Morar
Inverness-shire PH40 4NR
Scotland
Tel/Fax: 01687 462 720
E-mail: editor@westword.org.uk

Sign our Guestbook or Read our Guestbook
(Your comments may be printed in next month's issue)

______________________________________

Copyright © 2002 West Word
Page last updated: January 2002
http://www.road-to-the-isles.org.uk/westword

Site designed by
The Internet Guide to Scotland