Community paper for Glenfinnan, Lochailort, Glenuig, Arisaig, Morar,
Mallaig, Knoydart and the Small Isles
List of Issues online
March 2003 Issue
(More in the paper version!)
Contents of the online version:
MUIRBURN OUT OF CONTROL AND AUXILIARY UNITS UNDER THREAT
The recent dry and frosty weather has lead to a number of moor fires in the Highlands and Islands.
Over the weekend in the middle of February firefighters attended 19 countryside incidents ranging from remote Knoydart to the Spey Valley. Almost a third of these incidents were the result of muirburning getting out of control. There were fires locally at Glenfinnan, Beasdale, Morar and Knoydart, some of which burnt for days and were very alarming to see.
But while the Fire Brigade put out a safety alert for the Highlands, there were threats to close auxiliary fire fighting units, with Knoydart, Eigg, Muck and Glenuig among the 32 units recommended for closure by HM Inspector of Fire Services.
Ironically it is Health and Safety directives which may force the closure of these vital rural volunteer brigades. And even more ironically, they are in areas where local residents would turn out to fight fires even without equipment, with more risk to themselves.
Local MSP Fergus Ewing is taking up the cause.
Rural Fire Stations Threatened
Bureaucracy threatens the survival of small rural fire stations. Unless funding is forthcoming, 33 communities face losing their remote volunteer firefighting units. Among those affected could be the communities of Eigg, Muck, Knoydart and Glenuig.
£1 million has been secured to provide new breathing apparatus and training at 10 voluntary fire stations in the Highlands and Islands, but stations that do not receive these upgrades may face closure because of health and safety legislation. Their futures will be decided over the next two years, during which time more funding will be sought for the necessary upgrading. It is likely that some units, considered surplus to requirements, will be shut down.
If you live in a potentially threatened area, contact the Fire Brigades Union and support their opposition to the potential closures. Visit www.fbuscotland.co.uk for details of who to contact in the Highlands and Islands..
Blazing In Knoydart
I offered Steve an orange, then two. He looked at me in a confused kind of manner, and said nothing. His eyes were red, rimmed with soot, and his decision-making processes had been completely shattered. He, like most of Knoydart’s able-bodied men, had been fighting a fire which had blackened much of the peninsula west of Inverie. We’d had no sleep for the past 30 hours. Bodies were aching from heather-beating, and bruised from scrambling across ditches and up crags.
Eventually, I gave him one orange. He seemed happy enough.
It had started for me about midday on Monday, walking down Davies Brae in Mallaig. I’d just completed the weekly shop, and was returning to the ferry when I saw the thin plume of smoke rising from the hills of Knoydart. It was only when I spied the fire engine at the pier that I started to wonder if this was more than an innocent bonfire.
Sure enough, when we reached Inverie, the news was that all those able in Knoydart (not just those in the local volunteer fire-brigade) had headed for the hill to attempt to quell what was rapidly turning into an out-of-control blaze. The Mallaig crew stayed until late evening, then returned to the “mainland” to fight more hill fires close to Mallaig.
The tiny road that night was busy with landrovers, vans, cars and quad-bikes, all transporting men armed with beaters, shovels, peat-cutters and oars to various fire-scenes. At about 1130pm myself and Iain rounded a corner to be greeted with a scene defying description: Roinn na Beinn, a craggy mountain in the heart of the Black Hills, was ablaze. Ribbons of fire descended gullies, and whole cliff faces were alight. In front of us, half a dozen people were trying to make sure the fire didn’t cross the road – all the properties in the vicinity were on the seaward side, and disaster would follow if the lower expanses caught. Bernie the Post was moving his new Royal Mail van out of harm’s way, and a line of cars was slowly retreating back from the oncoming heat. Iain, normally taciturn, let out a string of obscenities, and forced his jeep into reverse. It was half a mile before we were able to find a place to park, and jump out with what gear we had managed to cobble together (I was lucky. I had found, hidden in the back of the pier store, a full fire-fighter’s outfit complete with oversized, steel-toecapped wellies).
We joined those beating out the flames at the roadside, unaware that, just around the corner, the fire had jumped the road and was heading towards Sandaig, and ultimately Doune, the marina recently featured on BBC’s Holiday programme. With the only access being a rough path, the consequences of fire here were dire: it would take a fair time for people to reach it, and wooden buildings would be hard to protect. The first we heard about it was Kath from Doune screeching to halt in her wee car packed with screaming children: “You have to go up the road and stop it getting further– I’ve just driven through fire to get here.”
The night was punctuated with incidents such as this, with people asking where others were and which part of the fire they were tackling. In Airor, the community of half a dozen houses at the end of the road, a variety of tactics were being employed to combat oncoming lines of fire. A dam was built at Samadalan, and the Knoydart fire pump brought into use on more than one occasion. Flames passed within 30 feet of one newly-bought house, and people didn’t dare go to sleep in case dampened-down embers flared up again. Much of the land near Inverguiserain farm was ablaze, with the farmer worried about livestock being trapped.
Tuesday dawned bright and cold, with a breeze that didn’t help matters. 5000 acres of Knoydart’s Black Hills were now deserving of their name. It was becoming obvious that the efforts of residents (and visitors) rallying together was working. Back-burning started to be used with great effect – deliberately burning whole areas of moorland to put out slowly encroaching fires. Now this was how to handle the situation! Much easier than beating uselessly at a line of fire up to two miles in length. More fun too. Mark drove up to turn off the hydro-electric power system, as worries were raised about the an arc of electricity being transmitted through the smoke to beaters.
Community spirit is a funny thing – some say here that it doesn’t really exist, despite the fact that sixty of us live in close proximity with only three ferries a week to civilisation. But on Tuesday, as people tirelessly carried on working together to save homes, old enmities very rarely surfaced. As the last flames extinguished themselves on a precipitous crag above the road, twenty tired people with little in common apart the fact that they live or work here, leaned back against the fence and said little. Until the cry “who’s for a pint” went up…
MALLAIG TO STAR IN HIGHLAND FESTIVAL!
One of the attractions of the Highland festival 2003 will be a ‘Big Picture’ collage of photographs with the theme of ‘Clan’. Mallaig has been chosen to represent the idea of the ‘extended family’ of a fishing community. But time is very short and we need your help!
During the coming months, the Highland Festival, in conjunction with Gordon Davidson of Spirit House, Fin Macrae of Pictii Photography and Design, The Highland Council’s Exhibition Unit and Orange are delivering CLAN, a reinterpretation, driven by photography, of what being a member of a clan in the 21st century means to Highlanders.
West Word is spearheading the rush to finish the collage by the end of March. Editor Ann Martin has attended a workshop in Inverness held by Gordon Davidson of Spirit House, to find out what is required and learn some of the techniques needed.
ANNE IS OUR UNSUNG HEROINE
As West Word goes to press Mrs Anne Cameron of Arisaig is enjoying being the guest of Helen Liddell, Secretary of State for Scotland in the Great Hall of Edinburgh Castle.
March 6th is International Woman’s Day and to mark the occasion MP David Stewart asked for nominations for those who make a great contribution to their community. Mrs Cameron was nominated by Arisaig & District Community Council, who wanted to see her appreciated for her tireless voluntary work.
Anne at 72, a mother and grandmother, is an active member of the WRI, organises the weekly Senior Citizens’ Lunch Club, helps run the Children’s Christmas Party, and is a member of the Astley Hall committee and of the Finance Committee for St Mary’s Church. Anne and Mrs Janet Macintyre of Inverness were chosen out of a number of nominations. Also nominated by her Community Council was Mrs Jessie Corson of Mallaig, who spends much of her time fund raising for good causes.
Small Isles rescue exercise 2003
Saturday the 22nd of February saw the largest Search and Rescue exercise ever to be staged off the Lochaber Coast.
As it is a legal necessity for passenger carrying vessels to carry out exercises in conjunction with the SOLAS (safety of life at sea) agreement it seemed sensible to involve ferry operators “Caledonian MacBrayne” and the Small Isles ferry “Loch Nevis”. This would test their reactions and response to an emergency situation.
Lochaber area Coastguard Manager, Phil Wren, who planned the exercise in conjunction with Stornoway Coastguard District Controller, Simon Riley said “an exercise of this size with so many air, sea and land units required much planning and co ordination plus sharp timings and good weather. Fortunately we had it all”.
|Another major reason for this exercise was to establish a protocol to establish the most effective way to transport a sea cliff rescue team to a remote area, whether it be Island or Mainland. Our counterparts in England generally do not have the same logistical problems. We are in the process of re evaluating our equipment with a view to more light weight gear capable of being shipped in with specialist teams either by air or sea hence the importance part played in the exercise by the Mallaig Lifeboat and the Coastguard helicopter. So after many months the scene was set.|
At 0900 on the Saturday the “Loch Nevis” transmitted a PAN PAN (urgency) call to Stornoway Coastguard reporting that there was a fire on board and passengers and non essential crew were taking to liferafts.
One liferaft had been driven ashore under sea cliffs on the Isle of Eigg. The Coastguard team on Eigg (there is a team of voluntary Coastguards on each of the Islands) reports that a cliff rescue team will be required to rescue persons from beneath the cliff.
From this point all the various rescue agencies swing into action. Mallaig Lifeboat launches with the Mallaig Coastguard Cliff Rescue team on board. The Coastguard Tug “Anglian Princess” is diverted from her normal duties and the Coastguard Helicopter is scrambled carrying the Coastguard Cliff rescue team from the Isle of Lewis. During the operation the Mallaig Lifeboat is exercising transferring fire fighting personnel to the Loch Nevis.
Aboard the Lifeboat and ashore were observers from Northern Constabulary and the Ambulance Service plus Dr Weldon the resident Doctor on Eigg who looks after all the Small Isles. Coastguards from the neighbouring Islands of Muck, Canna and Rum were also there.
The exercise continued on the Sunday when the Coastguard Cliff team from Portree were flown in by Coastguard helicopter to evaluate a different situation.
Phil Wren said “this exercise has proved to be extremely valuable for all involved and gives us greater confidence in our efforts to provide a rescue service to all remote Islands and coastal areas of the West Coast of Scotland”.
Barr’s are making big strides with the road now, and the entrance to Arisaig, with bollards, islands and pavements, looks like the entrance to a town. The tarmacing is being done as I write. They’ve begun work at the other end now, near the Hotel Byre, where the middle road will be blocked off and a turning area provided.
Good news for the Astley Hall, with at last some action on the heating problem. Another row of heaters have been installed on the ceiling in the main hall, below the existing ones, so now we keep our fingers crossed that there will be a substantial difference in the output of heat! Also good news is that finally, after two years of nagging, we’ve got a timer switch again, so that folk can leave the hall at night and see where they’re going.
Even more good news for the Hall is that we’ve received a £2,200 grant from the Scottish Arts Council towards a bigger arts programme this year. More of that later but things in the pipeline include Daimh next month, the Scottish Guitar Quartet playing jazz in May and ‘For the Islands I Sing’, a play by George Mackay Brown, staged in July, and some more summer entertainment for the children. Meanwhile we have a bassoonist/poet on the 23rd of this month, who must be worth a listen out of curiosity! and who will be doing a music workshop in Arisaig Primary School, courtesy of the Hall, the day after the concert.
Many congratulations to Anne Cameron for her well deserved ‘prize’ as an unsung heroine. Anne of course is also a stalwart member of the Hall committee and one of those who sat through boring hours of meetings while we thrashed out the application for the restoration project.
ISLE OF MUCK
In an attempt to cut the cost of completion of the slipways Highland Council dispatched yet another team of divers to Muck on the 11th. Their mission was to reduce the work required and negotiate a lower tender with the contractor who is reputed to be Balfour Beatty.
On the farm it has been great to have so much dry weather ~ it reminds me of the 1970s when many Februarys were dry and cold. It has been perfect ploughing weather. I had been hoping to purchase a plough from John Douglas but nothing suitable was available. Just in time Duncan Ferguson from Eigg kindly lent me his three furrow conventional machine, which soon ate up the small acreage which we still cultivate. It has also been perfect weather for burning heather as some farmers have found to their cost. On Muck there has been very little heather burnt in the last 50 years while a 20-year burning rotation is the ideal for rapid recovery. Muck is a green island and the heather is patchy so there is little danger of the fires getting out of control.
The cows are making somewhat heavy weather of their 800+ bales of silage. Those made early in the season are very popular but those made later when the weather was better are much dryer and they are not keen on them. It is obvious that there is going to be a carry over till next winter. It will be interesting to see what comes out of these bales.
ISLE OF EIGG
The month of February seems to have reverted to the familiar cold frosty weather instead of the torrential deluge that we experienced last year. This has been a great help for the RG McLeod team who are pleased with their progress: the causeway is plainly visible now and the straight wall for yachts and fishing boats is almost done. Forestry and building work is progressing, gardeners and crofters are preparing the ground for spring (the knotwork garden at Shore Cottage looks like it will be a major visitor attraction again this year) and young calves can be seen frolicking about. Robins and song thrushes are now singing away on every tree in Cleadale and the daffodils are showing up nicely. But as breeding calls, the Red Kite which we had admired flying about for three or four weeks, finally disappeared back to wherever it came from about mid February.
The clear weather also allowed for a good turn-out for the "anti-war bonfire" at the People's stone to support the Glasgow march on 15 February, which saw such a good turn out from the Highlands. It was nice to think of all the other islands involved in the chain of bonfires and of being part of a huge global protest.
(If only we could a fraction of this support in Scotland for the recycling cause, we would not have to wonder in amazement why the council has suddenly decided to drop its can recycling scheme in Lochaber. At a time when government is asking for more recycling, we seem to be taking a step backwards, just when the last survey showed that people in the Highlands wanted progress on the issue!)
The good weather made for a very enjoyable outing of the Eigg History Society to the east coast of the island guided by Steve Boyle of the RCHMAS, who took the group to the mysterious oracular site in Stro, the newly discovered iron age fort nearby, and after a steep climb to the Ben Buidhe plateau, to the shielings near Bidein an Tigherna. The day was rounded up with a talk by Steve summing up the Royal commission work on Eigg: over 2000 sites have now been recorded, shedding a new light on the island's past. Among these, the Shetland-type house at Craigard and the Pictish graves at Laig dating from the 2nd or 3rd century AD, offer some interesting puzzles. Of note is also the survey of the Grulin Clearance villages, which showed how a new and uniform way of building black houses was introduced through 18th century Post Improvement practices. To round it all off, we now have a date for the wreck in Galmisdale bay: carbon dating has shown it to be about 250 years old, which tallies with the suggestion it might be the wreck of the famous Dubh Ghleannag: all we now need is the Time Team!
THE SMALL ~ WHAT?
Last month we wrote about new EU guidelines on the definition of an island, which took Muck, Canna and Rum out of the category. We asked for suggestions for a new name if they could no longer be called The Small Isles and received this reply:
‘I had to check it wasn't April 1st when I read that the Euro-crats in Brussels are actually producing guidelines for what can be termed an island. May I suggest that they are simply referred to as the 'Eilean Beags' in future...!
John Bointon, Watford, UK
SCOTTISH ISLANDS NETWORK
West Word has received the third edition of this newsletter, which is now reaching over 600 island based or island related individuals. The Scottish Islands Network aims to promote, publicise and advance the interests of Scotland's islands and has a website at www.scottishislands.org.uk.
This month’s Rant of the Month concerns the postbus service between Colonsay and Oronsay which drives across at low tide, transporting tourists and residents as well as the mail.
After a programme on Gaelic TV, a number of viewers said this practice was dangerous and Health and Safety officials have agreed and suspended the service after thirty years of safe trips. Oronsay residents now have a ten mile trip to collect their mail from Colonsay Post Office. There will also be a drop in visitor numbers.
Keep up to date on this by visiting Colonsay’s online newsletter, The Corncrake, at www.colonsay.org.uk
SIN’s newsletter includes this piece:
New Crofts for Eigg
The Isle of Eigg Heritage Trust has announced a new scheme that will re-organise existing croft land into more manageable units and will create new crofts. The scheme will attract new residents to the island and will revitalise the crofting community. For further information about the scheme contact the Isle of Eigg Heritage Trust, An Lamhrig, Isle of Eigg, PH42 4RL, or e-mail email@example.com.
Other articles are about Tiree’s new Auction Mart, St Kilda’s bid to achieve World Heritage status, Broadband, and the Scottish Executive’s National Waste Plan. This latter lists a number of island recycling projects but has nothing on about Eigg’s—yet!
It says: ‘Islands are particularly affected by marine litter. To raise awareness of this problem in the Western Isles and encourage better litter control and identify polluters a new website has been launched—www.flotsam.org. Marine industries are vital to many island economies but they are also the biggest culprits when it comes to polluting the coastline. 30% of marine litter is attributed to fishing, 19% to shipping and 11% to aquaculture.’
Archaeology on the Isle of Muck
In March 2002, the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland spent a week on the Isle of Muck as a preamble to mounting a full-scale mapping survey of the island’s archaeological remains later in the year. The survey of Muck complements fieldwork already carried out on Canna (1994-6) and currently underway on Eigg, and in the longer term will form part of a publication on the Small Isles. This initial trip in March established the overall extent of the remains, and was followed by two ten-day trips in May and June, when all the sites and monuments were mapped and recorded. In the final trip, more detailed plans of the key sites were also undertaken, including the Iron Age fort at Caisteal an Duin Bhain and the deserted township at Keil.
Before the survey, we had only ever seen Muck from the tail-end of the ferry or from one of the neighbouring Small Isles, from which it appeared as little more than a low green swelling that barely interrupted the distant horizon. Setting foot on the island, however, revealed a rather different picture, with crags and ridges breaking up the smooth profile that had been seen from afar. Like both Canna and Eigg, Muck is composed of basalt lava flows that have eroded into flights of gently sloping terraces and have produced a relatively fertile soil. These terraces have provided ready-made fields and still bear traces of lazy-bed cultivation, while the rear of the terraces have also offered more sheltered positions for houses, buildings and shieling-huts. On Muck, the terraces are cut by numerous dykes of hard dolerite, which trend from north-west to south-east across the island.
Prior to our fieldwork, twenty-nine archaeological sites had been recorded on Muck, including not only the fort and the township, but also a handful of Early Bronze Age cairns, a Late Bronze Age sword, and several other buildings and farmsteads. Of these, only three appeared in the Royal Commission Inventory of the Outer Hebrides, Skye and the Small Isles, published in 1928, the result of a week spent in the Small Isles in early July 1925: a day each for Muck, Eigg and Rum, and four days on Canna. Additions to the archaeological record since then are largely the result of a visit by staff of the Archaeology Division of the Ordnance Survey in 1972, and the Royal Commission’s desk-based First Edition Survey Project during the 1990s. The latter was a nationwide assessment of all unroofed buildings, farmsteads and townships depicted on the first edition of the Ordnance Survey map, and did not involve any fieldwork.
Some of the earliest evidence for human occupation in Scotland, dating from about 7,500 BC, comes from Rum, where excavations in the early 1980s revealed Mesolthic settlement remains. Many of the stone tools associated with the occupation had been made from Rum bloodstone. It is inconceivable that the other Small Isles were not also exploited at this time, but no traces of this have yet been found, and any surviving clues are presumably long since buried beneath the ground.
Stone artefacts still provide us with the earliest archaeological evidence on Muck, but these are probably Neolithic in date (4000-2500 BC). They include a thumb-nail scraper and two flint blades from a ploughed field on the north-east end of the island, which, when found by the Royal Commission’s team, brought some reward to a thoroughly wet day in May!
Settlement remains of the prehistoric period are restricted to the Iron Age fort at Caisteal an Duin Bhain and a possible hut-circle from the west end. The fort, overlooking the entrance to Port Mor, is well-known and is mentioned in documentary sources in the early 17th century; it also appears pictorially on the 1809 plan of the island, drawn up by James Chapman, where it is annotated as an old castle. Occupying a precipitous stack, it has a remarkably well-preserved drystone wall, which still stands up to 1.4m high in seven courses. The interior is now occupied by the remains of at least two subrectangular buildings, undoubtedly of later date, and has been cultivated with lazy-beds. A broken saddle quern was found amongst the scree and tumble below the west side of the fort, and it seems likely that this was once incorporated into the fort wall.
One of the most interesting aspects of the archaeological remains on Muck is how few shielings (summer pastures) have been recorded in comparison with the other Small Isles, where the characteristic clusters of small huts are often encountered on sheltered slopes. However tempting it is to suggest that seasonal grazings were never really necessary on such a small island, other factors may also play a part. Could it be, for instance, that some shielings have been swept away by later forms of land-use? There are no easy answers to this question, but at least one group of huts at Fionn-aird on the south side of the island has been subsumed within later plots of lazy-bed cultivation. Strung out along the rear of a terrace, the huts appear to be little more than piles of tumbled stones, but within each the outline of a small hut can still be made out. A few also appear to be set upon a mound of stone and earth, derived from the remains of earlier huts, and almost always a sign that a site has been reused time and again.
The post-medieval township at Keil is arguably the best-preserved in the Small Isles. There are at least fifty buildings and by planning them in greater detail relationships and relative chronologies were observed. Some buildings are clearly multi-phase, some appear to be built entirely of stone, while others have walls with a stone-face and a turf core. Some buildings have adjoining enclosures, but the general pattern of walls suggests that the main enclosure visible today is perhaps one of the latest phases on the site. What has also been clearly demonstrated is that there is no street running through the township. The supposed west side of the street can be explained by a series of late enclosure walls, while the east side is more recent still and continues beyond the township to the north.
Barring the inevitable loose ends, fieldwork on Muck is complete. The analysis of the material has yet to be carried out, and it will be interesting to see how well the documentary side marries with the archaeological evidence. This often throws up more questions than it appears to answer. Be that as it may, the survey has recovered a wealth of new information, as was also the case on Canna and Eigg. The results of the Canna survey are available as a broadsheet, and information on the sites recorded is available on line at www.rcahms.gov.uk. A broadsheet is currently being prepared for Eigg, due to be published this summer, and it is hoped that funding can be found for one on Muck next year.
Angela R Gannon (RCAHMS)
Coastal Ranger Report
I am quite stumped, I cannot think
Just what to write with pen and ink
This monthly column, always late!
Takes hours for me to generate
But once again it’s challenge time
I’m stuck – so I’ll go back to rhyme!
In verse or stanza, take your pick
Or will my doggerel do the trick??
This month, I must admit I’m beat
So to fill this page I needs must cheat
A list of walks the easy out
At least – that’s what my job’s about!
I’ve long ones, short ones, mid size too
And all have time for picnic brew!
So this year, why not go for change
And pick one from this extensive range
There’s hill walks, shore walks, all with views,
So all you have to do – is choose!
Please note in May there’s some days missed
For me I hope it’s time sun kissed
For one whole week I give up hikes
And go observe some motor bikes!
It’s “Six Days” time I’m on the track
Of Trialsmen and some dash good craic!
So bear with me for seven days
I’ll soon be back to lead the ways
Through bog and heather, bracken high
Your Coastal Ranger is the guy!!
P.S. As July ends we have a dream
For youngsters there’s a child’s Play Scheme
So all you kids that like to play
Get names in long before the day!!
Proposed programme of walks for 2003.
- April 1st. Duke’s Walk (B)
- 3rd. Local Heros (B)
- 8th. Arisaig Past Present and Future C
- 10th. Five Lochs (C)
- 15th. Brinacory and Lochan Stole (C/D)
- 17th. Caves and Clearances (C)
- 22nd. Dukes Walk (B)
- 24th. Five Lochs (C)
- 29th. Smirisary and the White Beach (B)
- May 1st. Local Heros (B)
- 13th. Caves and Clearances (C)
- 15th Five Lochs (C)
- 20th. Kinlochmoidart (B)
- 22nd. Sniper’s Valley (D)
- 27th. Arisaig Past present and Future (C)
- *29th. Brinacory and Lochan Stole (C/D)
- June 3rd. Caves and Clearances (C)
- 5th. Local Heros (B)
- 10th. Glen Beasdale and Sidhean Mor (D)
- 12th. Duke’s Walk (B)
- 17th. Arisaig Past Present and Future (C)
- 19th. Five Lochs (C)
- 24th. Smirisary and the White Beach (B)
- *26th. Brinacory and Lochan Stole (C/D)
- July 1st. Five Lochs (C)
- 3rd. Local Heros (B)
- 8th. Roshven (B)
- 10th. Caves and Clearances (C)
- 15th. Arisaig Past Present and Future (C)
- *17th. Snipers Valley (D)
- 22nd. Duke’s Walk (B)
- 24th. Smirisary and the White Beach (B)
- 29th. Caves and Clearances (C)
- 31st. Brinacory and Lochan Stole (C/D)
- August 5th. Roshven (B)
- 7th. Arisaig Past Present and Future (C)
- 12th. Smirisary and the White Beach (B)
- 14th. Caves and Clearances (C)
- *19th. Brinacory and Lochan Stole (C/D)
- 21st. Duke’s Walk (B)
- 26th. Five Lochs (C)
- *28th. Glen Beasdale and Sidhean Mor (D)
- September 2nd. Local Heros (B)
- 4th. Five Lochs (C)
- 9th. Duke’s Walk (B)
- 11th. Caves and Clearances (C)
- 16th. Smirisary and the White Beach (B)
- 18th. Arisaig Past Present and Future (C)
- *23rd. Brinacory and Lochan Stole (C/D)
- *25th. Glen Beasdale and Sidhean Mor (D)
(Walks are graded A to D, where A = easy)
Mallaig Heritage Centre ... more and more by Malcolm Poole
Last month I was blethering on about how sometimes items come into the archive that seem to be of only passing interest and then, sometimes years later, someone else contributes something else which makes the first item far more interesting. I mentioned one example of this and promised to give another example this month, so here goes..
In June last year the Heritage Centre was visited by a gentleman from England who had come to Mallaig as a result of reading a book which had been written in tribute to a relation of his named Thomas Bramwell, who died in 1916. Thomas Bramwell was employed in a steelworks in Rotherham, a town in which he clearly earned a great reputation as a musician. After his death a book of tributes to Mr Bramwell was compiled and published in Rotherham.
Our visitor very kindly left us a photocopy of the chapter which describes Thomas Bramwell's visits to Mallaig. It describes Thomas Bramwell's annual visits to Mallaig, his excursions to Loch Morar, Borrodale, Loch Nevis and Skye, and tells us of concerts held in the village by Mr Bramwell and his daughter.
The chapter is written by someone called James Brander, a name which did not seem to awaken any memories for anyone I have mentioned it to until now. By pure coincidence, it was only when looking at the Nursing Association Report which I mentioned last month, that I came across some more information about him, as he appears as one of the Subscribers to the Nursing Association, contributing 10 shillings to the fund in 1913. He probably lived between the Police Station and the Railway Station and was obviously quite well-off, as only two other people in Mallaig contributed such a large amount. Perhaps a West Word reader knows more about him.
A few weeks ago I was copying a postcard of Arisaig Church kindly lent by Moe Mathieson and checking to see if the postmark would help me to date it when to my surprise I noticed that the card was addressed to none other than Thomas Bramwell! It's quite amazing that a postcard posted and received in Rotherham almost 90 years ago should have survived to make its way back to this area and be seen by probably the only person to whom the name of the recipient would have any significance.
Whales in the Sound Exhibition
Christopher Swan (Swanny) of the Marguerite Explorer has very kindly put together an excellent display of photographs of whales and dolphins taken in the waters between Mallaig, Rum and Ardnamurchan. This is really worth seeing, so why not find 5 or 10 minutes to pop in and see what is lurking out there!
Free Admission continues
As Easter is relatively late this year we have decided to continue the "Free for All" policy until 30th March, after which date admission will be free for local schoolchildren and senior citizens. Make the most of this chance to see the Eigg Archive Exhibition and the Whales in the Sound Exhibition!
Crossing the Caimbe
Tuesday 8th August 1893, as the Inverness Courier reported ‘was kept as a holiday in Arisaig and Morar, on the occasion of the formal opening of a handsome and substantial bridge which has been erected by the County Council over the River Caimbe. From time immemorial this stream formed the boundary which divided the two districts. Mr Macdonell, Morar, who represents the division in the County Council, had invited a large company to be present.’
Eneas Ranald MacDonell’s kilted larger-than-life portrait is in the Mallaig Heritage Centre. He was a J.P. and Deputy Lieutenant of Inverness-shire as well as a member of the new County Council. Eneas grew up at Morar House, Traigh, before going to Stonyhurst, a boarding school in Lancashire. After studying law at Edinburgh University he became an advocate, married an heiress and bought the Morar estate in 1855. Twenty-three years later he sold out to the Astleys after spending vast sums of money - on good projects and bad. Houses for rent at Cross, Garramore, Rhubanna and Camusdaroch (which he built for himself) were offset by a Peat Development Company which failed to drain the Moss of Keppoch.
Eneas’s father had also dispensed his wealth like a chieftain of old: ‘Colonel Donald Macdonell, on his return from India where he had accumulated a fair fortune, was exceedingly kind-hearted. The giving of a small piece of tobacco used to be considered a great compliment to a poor person, and Colonel Donald, who always carried a big spleuchan, never gave a less measure than from his waist to the ground; which, as he was a tall man, would be the handsome present of a full yard of tobacco twist. His big whisky bottle was well known and in high popular repute among the people of Morar, Arisaig and Knoydart.’ The son kept up his father’s style:
‘An imposing cavalcade of vehicles, headed by Mr Macdonell’s char-à-banc and pair, crossed over the bridge from north to south, amid the deafening plaudits of the assembled multitude, returning from the end of the embankment, across the old ford, to a marquee on the north side, where the company were entertained to luncheon. The whole countryside had turned out to celebrate an event of such great local importance. All were regaled in right Highland fashion, a large cask of whisky being conspicuous, from which, for several hours, an abundant supply of the Corrychoillie blend was drawn.’ Eneas had his whisky brought in by sea from the Ben Nevis distillery in great jars, and six men rowed it ashore from Rhu while his piper played.
The old Caimbe ford was below high water, and when Christian and Frances Cameron came up from Inverailort to play with the MacDonell children they had to get back before the tide came in. For the young men of Bunnacaimbe, Back of Keppoch and beyond the ford was a gathering place - sometimes for fights. Hallowe’en was a magic time each year: All Saints in church the next day, after thoughts of love down by the riverside. If you took a pebble home from the Caimbe without speaking and put it under your pillow, you dreamt of the one you would marry. And when there was a noisy Hallowe’en crowd on either side, the first name heard was that of your intended. Eneas believed it. His grandfather Ranald MacDonell of Scotos in Knoydart heard the names of Ann and Eilidh at the Inverie ford and married each in turn. They were not even local girls.
In his speech Eneas said it was ‘almost with regret that he had that day driven through the old ford for the last time. Thirty-five years ago one crossed the Caimbe by large stones, now removed. When these were covered with water the active young women of the country were wont to carry the men across’ - or sometimes the other way round. His daughter Catherine ‘was on one occasion being carried across the ford by a strong young fellow, but imbecile. His foot coming against a stone, he staggered a little, when the lady said she feared she was too heavy and that he had better let her wade. At once he took her at her word and dropped her midstream, to her no small astonishment, but infinite amusement when she recalls the occasion.’
When a school was opened beside the road above the Catholic church, Canon McIntosh helped his pupils cross the Caimbe. Chinese willow-pattern plates show a footbridge sloping up at both ends, no hand rail, with wooden supports in midstream: ‘Taking the design from the blue plates at one time so common, with characteristic energy and resolution he succeeded in erecting that old structure, so great a boon at the time, but now of no further use. The country maidens were thereby relieved of the opportunity of revealing their shapely ankles.’ Eneas had an eye for them, according to local gossip.
He moved on to more serious matters: ‘From the very first Council meeting, about four years ago, every member had acknowledged the urgent necessity of a bridge across the Caimbe for vehicle traffic. The want of it retarded the improvement of the postal communication north of Arisaig as, in high floods and spring tides, the post messenger was often delayed until the stream had subsided. Fortunately the Government Grant for the construction of footpaths and bridges to enable children to get to school dryshod became available for this purpose. The old narrow wooden structure, always a source of anxiety to parents when their children had to cross over it in stormy weather, was considered unsafe and condemned. Mr Macdonell concluded by expressing a hope that the inauguration of the bridge would be the beginning of an era of prosperity for the district and that its resources would be developed.’
Alastair MacDonald Portnadoran remembers the bridge, and his father Arthur was eighteen at the opening ceremony of 1893 – maybe old enough for whisky. The bridge was made of strong wooden planks with a half inch gap between them, and had iron sides to prevent cattle going into the water. According to Alastair, the gaps made beasts nervous about crossing the Caimbe. When the time came for it to be replaced in 1938 a new bridge was brought to the site, and it lay for a while by the side of the road. Alastair recalls an old bodach who looked at it for a while and pronounced – in Gaelic of course – that they would need ball-bearings to get it into place. About that time the Bunnacaimbe Bridge on the A830 trunk road came under the Scottish Executive. About twenty years ago it was closed briefly and strengthened for the big lorries with reinforced concrete beams. When the new road from Arisaig to Morar opens, the old road and its bridge will be ‘de-trunked’ and returned to the care of Highland Council.
A Little Genealogy by Allan MacDonald
The oral evidence of genealogy is a tricky thing and I was caught out beautifully and disastrously in my compiling the Family Tree by relying on it, and assuming that ‘those in the know’ knew it all.
Back in November, I made mention of the MacKinnons of Eigg, who were supposedly descended from the Rev Malcolm MacAskill, via Margaret MacQuarrie, nee MacAskill. In December I said that Fiona Glover from B.C. had ‘thrown a spanner in the works’ because she’d contacted me and said that she had Margaret’s death certificate, which said that Margaret’s parents were Kenneth MacAskill and his wife Mary. This flew in the face of anything I knew, but fortunately Tearlach MacFarlane from Glenfinnan had sent me some family trees for an Comunn Eachdraidh Arasaig. I decided it was time to look these out and study them carefully, and from it I gleaned this very interesting and accurate information:
John MacAskill was born c.1720 in Minginish in Skye, and married Marion (Cuimon) (sic) Cumming, b.1721. Their son Kenneth MacAskill married Mary and they are both in the records as having been born in Eigg and were crofters. Their daughter Margaret was born c.1786, married Lt. Neil MacQuarrie and died at Cleadale, Isle of Eigg, on 1st August 1855 aged 69 years. Tearlach has, in brackets, related her , to Dr Donald MacAskill. Neil, b. 1755, died in Eigg on the 24th October 1870 aged 95 years.
I wonder if John MacAskill, b. 1720 in Minginish, is the same person that Alasdair R Murray mentions in ‘Skyeviews’ which he wrote in the late 90’s about his own MacAskill relatives. I quote what he wrote in his article: John MacAskill was tacksman at Rhu-an-Dunan in 1640, his son Kenneth in 1664, and his son John Dubh in 1683. The latter married Catherine MacLeod of Drynoch and had two sons. The younger son married Janet MacLeod of Bay and started the line of the MacAskills of Bay, whilst the eldest, Ian Mhor, took over Rhu-an-Dunan and married Janet Bethune of Skeabost, again with two sons. The younger of these was the progenitor of the MacAskills of Eigg.
I had an e-mail from Miles MacEachen, Florida, whose great-great-great-great-grandfather John MacQuarry emigrated from Eigg in 1793. He has an interesting slant on this part of the MacQuarries and the connection to the MacCormicks of Eigg and Culloden.
John MacQuarry was Lt. Neil’s uncle and Neil’s daughter, Mòr, married Finlay MacCormick, from whom descended the late Angus MacKinnon (d. 1990). Finlay’s father, Angus, was one of the people drowned at Eigg when the Dubh Gleannach sank in 1817.
John MacQuarry was married to Sarah MacCormick, and she could have been Angus’s sister , and they could have been the children of Robert MacCormick who was a veteran of Culloden and sold into slavery in the West Indies. His wife Kate was a widow aged 60 in Cleadale in 1765.
Can anyone tell me of this family, or connections? Catherine Gillies was in Arisaig in 1868 and died in 1948. Her mother was Christian MacDonald, 1835~1924, who was born in Rhu-an-Dunan in Skye, and was the daughter of Angus Gillies and Christian (Christina), and grand-daughter of Angus Gillies and Margaret MacEachen of Morar.
Contact Allan on firstname.lastname@example.org
COMUNN EACHDRAIDH ARASAIG = ??
The Club Room of the Astley Hall was packed last month with local residents eager to see some of the fascinating collection of slides of Arisaig 1963-1983. There are more slides in the collection and further slide shows are promised.
An Comunn Eachdraidh Arasaig is looking for ideas for a logo for the Society to use in its publicity, letterheadings, etc. Do you have any bright ideas? It should be something that reflects our historical culture in some way.
Suggestions would be welcomed ~ there could even be a bottle of wine for the winner!
Please give any ideas—with a sketch if you can—to Allan or Elizabeth MacDonald.
Watch this space for extracts from next month's issue!
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