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May, 1749, in the following somewhat unsympathetic
terms : " Sir, — I am favoured with your letter, and am
extremely sorry Lord Cromartie 's circumstances should
obliege him to solicit the aide of small gentlemen. I
much raither he hade dyed sword in hand even where
he was ingag'd then be necessitate to act such a pairt.
I have the honour to be nearly related to him, and to
have been his companion, but will not supply him at this
time, for which I believe I can give you the best reason
in the world, and the only one possible for me to give,
and that is that I cannot.*'



^



IN THE HIGHLANDS 27

My uncle, however, refers in his Notes to the '45
period in Gairloch, and tells a story of his great-grand-
father as related by the family bard, Alasdair Buidhe
Maciamhair (Yellow Sandy Mclver). I shall quote
from my uncle's Notes about the bard:

" This reminds me that one of our summer evening's
amusements was getting the bard to the dining-room
after dinner, where, well dined below stairs and primed
by a bumper of port wine, he would stand up, and with
really grand action and eloquence, give us poem after
poem of Ossian in Gaelic, word for word, exactly as
translated by Macpherson not long before then, and
stupidly believed by many to be Macpherson's own
composition, though had Alasdair heard anyone hinting
such nonsense, his stick would soon have made the heretic
sensible ! Alasdair could not read or write and only
understood Gaelic, and these poems came down to him
through generations numberless as repeated by his
ancestors round their winter evening fires; and I have
known persons as uneducated, who could not only
repeat from memory interesting poems like Ossian,
but could work out uninteresting complicated sums in
arithmetic. Alasdair related as follows: ' Behind the
western Tigh Dige rose a mass of rock covered with
wood, with a charming grassy level top about one
thousand feet above the sea, which in the sheltered
woody bay flowed within a thousand yards of the old
chateau.' Alasdair told us that in 1745, when men-of-
war were searching everywhere for Prince Charlie, one
of them came into the bay, and the Captain sent word
to our ancestor to come on board. The latter, who really



28 A HUNDRED YEARS IN THE HIGHLANDS

had not been at Culloden, although some of his people
had, thought he was quite as well ashore among his
friends, so sent his compliments to his inviter, regretting
he could not accept his invitation, as he had friends to
dine with him on the top of Creag a Chait (the Cat's Rock),
where he hoped the Captain would join them. The
reply was a broadside against the Tigh Dige as the ship
sailed off, and I can remember seeing one of the cannon-
balls sticking half out of the house gable next to the sea,
apparently an 18-pound shot. Had it hit a few feet lower
it might have broken into a recess in the thickness of
the gable, the admittance to which was by raising the
floor of a wall-press in the room above, although this
had been forgotten till masons cutting an opening for a
gable door to the kitchen broke into the recess, where
many swords and guns were found. Then it was
recollected that Eraser of Foyers was long concealed
by our ancestor, and of course in this black hole.''



CHAPTER III

CHILDHOOD

I CANNOT say I can remember my first coming to
Gairloch, as I was then only about two years old, but
there were soon to be very trying times there, during
the great famine caused by the potato blight. I have
quite clear recollections of my own small grievance at
being made to eat rice, which I detested, instead of
potatoes, with my mutton or chicken in the years
1846-1848, for even Uaislean an tigh mhor (the gentry
of the big house) could not get enough potatoes to eat
in those hard times. Certainly things looked very black
in 1846-1848 in Ireland and the West of Scotland,
though, but for the potato blight, when should we have
got roads made through the country ? My mother
never left Gairloch, not even for a day, for three long
years when the famine was at its height !

In Ireland a very stupid system was started — namely,
the making of roads beginning nowhere in particular,
and ending, perhaps, at a rock or in the middle of a bog.
It was thought that working at an object which could
never be of any use to anyone would be so repugnant to
the feelings of the greater portion of the population that
only the dire stress of actual starvation would induce
them to turn out for the sake of the trifle of money, or

29



30 A HUNDRED YEARS

one or two pounds of maize meal, which constituted
then the daily wage. My mother was totally opposed
to this ridiculous plan in our district, and also against
merely giving miserable doles of meal, which were barely
sufi&cient to keep the population alive. Her plan was
to pay all the able-bodied men a sufficient wage in money
or food to enable them to do good work themselves
and to support their dependents. So with the help of
Government and begging and borrowing (I think)
£10,000, she and my uncle undertook the great responsi-
bility of guaranteeing that no one would be allowed to
starve on the property. Thus the Loch Maree road
was started, and this was about the only thing which
could possibly open up the country.

Both my half-brothers were absent from the country
at the time, so I, as a small boy, had the great honour
conferred on me of cutting the first turf of the new road.
How well I remember it, surrounded by a huge crowd,
many of them starving Skye men, for the famine was
more sore in Skye and the islands than it was on our
part of the mainland ! I remember the tiny toy spade
and the desperate exertions I had to make to cut my
small bit of turf; then came the ringing cheers of the
assembled multitude, and I felt myself a great hero !
I must have driven or motored past that place thousands
of times since that day, but I never do so, even if it be
pitch dark, without thinking of the cutting of the first
turf, and the feeling of great gratitude to the Almighty
for His having put into the hearts of my mother and
uncle the strong determination to carry through the
great work. Nor did they cease with the finishing of the



IN THE HIGHLANDS 31

Loch Maree road, but went on witli local roads, sucli as
from Kerrysdale to Eed Point, Strath to Melvaig, and
Poolewe to Cove; and instead of the little narrow
switchback road from Slatadale to the Tigh Dige,
an almost entirely new road was made from Loch Maree
to Gairloch through the Kerry Glen. After the good
example of the Gairloch trustees, other neighbouring
proprietors followed suit, and the lairds of Gruinord
and Dundonnell in course of time made a road the whole
way from Poolewe, via Aultbea, Gruinord, and
Dundonnell, to join the Garve and Ullapool road at
Braemore. This gave the whole of the coast-line from
the mouth of Loch Torridon to Loch Broom the benefit
of more or less good highways, which are all now county
roads. How well do I remember the first wheeled
vehicle, a carrier's cart, that ever came to Gairloch,
and the excitement it caused !

My uncle says : " There being no need of wheels in a
roadless country in my young days, we had only sledges
in place of wheeled carts, all made by our grieve. He
took two birch-trees of the most suitable bends and of
them made the two shafts, with iron-work to suit the
harness for collar straps. The ends of the shafts were
sliced away with an adze at the proper angle to slide
easily and smoothly on the ground. Two planks,
one behind the horse and the other about half-way up
the shaft ends, were securely nailed to the shafts, and
were bored with holes to receive four-foot-long hazel
rungs to form the front and back of the cart and to keep
in the goods, a similar plank on the top of the rungs
making the front and rear of the cart surprisingly stable



32 A HUNDKED YEARS

and upright. The floor was made of planks, and these
sledge carts did all that was needed for moving peat,
and nearly every kind of crop. Movable boxes planted
on the sledge floor between the front and back served to
carry up fish from the shore and lime and manure, and
it was long ere my father Sir Hector paid a penny a year
to a cartwright. The sledges could slide where wheeled
carts could not venture, and carried corn and hay, etc.,
famously."

My readers will perhaps wonder how we got our
letters before the Loch Maree road was made. Well,
there was a mail packet, a small sloop which ran between
Stornoway and Poolewe and carried all the Lews and
Harris letters for the south, and which was supposed to
run twice a week, though, as a matter of fact, she seldom
did it even once. There was a sort of post office at
Poolewe, to which the Gairloch and Aultbea letters
(if there were any) found their way, and the whole lot
was put into a small home-made leather bag which Iain
Mor am Posda (Big John the Post) threw on his shoulder.
With this he trudged, I might say climbed, through the
awful precipices of Creag Thairbh (the BulFs Rock)
on the north side of Loch Maree, passing through
Ardlair and Letterewe, and so on at one time to Ding-
wall, but latterly only to Achnasheen. Imagine the
letters and newspapers for the parish of Gairloch and
Torridon (part of Applecross), with about 6,000 souls,
and the Lews, with a population of nearly 30,000
inhabitants, all being carried on one man's back in
my day !

The only possible way of getting baker's bread in



IN THE HIGHLANDS 33

those days was by the packet from Stornoway, and a
big boy, John Grant, came over to us at Gairloch with
the bread and the letters once or twice a week. How
well I can remember him standing, usually dripping wet,
shivering in the Tigh Dige kitchen, while the cook ex-
pressed lively indignation because the bread-bag was
soaking wet. That lad served me as a man very faith-
fully for many years as grieve after I bought Inverewe
in 1862.

Only a few years ago a party of us went from Inverewe
and back in order to visit the Bull's Rock. In more than
one part of it we could let ourselves down and pull
ourselves up only with the help of our stalwart stalker !
On one occasion a Post Office overseer from London,
who was being sent to Stornoway, and was following Big
John on foot, fainted en route, and Big John managed
to carry the fat official on the top of the mail-bag for
several miles till he reached Ardlair.

When the first Sir Alexander built the Tigh Dige the
timber was all cut in the natural Scotch fir forest of
Glas Leitir (the Grey Slope) on the shores of the upper
end of Loch Maree, and boated down the loch to Slata-
dale, and from there dragged by innumerable men and
ponies for seven miles over that wild hill that separates
Loch Maree from the sea at Gairloch. There was not a
single mark of a saw to be found on the timbers of the
roof of the Tigh Dige, and they are squared only by the
axe.

I spent the nine years of my childhood, from 1844
to 1853, in the Tigh Dige, and did ever boy spend a
happier nine years anywhere ? When I was between

3



34 A HUNDRED YEARS

three and four, my dear mother, who was enthusiastic
about Gaelic, started me with a little nursemaid who
did not know a word of English, Seonaid nic Mhaoilan
(Janet MacMillan). Well do I remember her first
lesson. She took me to a looking-glass, and, turning
the glass up opposite me, she said, " TJiainig e " (" He is
come ''), and then, reversing it, " Dh'fhalbh e " {" He
is gone "). I learnt Gaelic in a very short time. My
good old English nurse, Emma Mills, I fear, felt very
much snubbed, as she was told when out with us to
sit on a stone and merely watch us two playing together,
but not to interfere. Nurse Emma's favourite walk
was to what she was pleased to call the " Heagle 'Ouse "
(where a tame eagle was kept), and she did not at
all approve of my calling it Tigh na h-Iolaire (the
Eagle House), which was much prettier and more
appropriate.

My mother was one of the very few instances of a
grown-up person learning to speak Gaelic quite fluently,
but in this she succeeded thoroughly, though she always
retained a little of bias na heurla (taste of the English).
She started going regularly to church when she under-
stood only the one word agus (and), and she ended by
understanding every word of the longest and most
eloquent sermons preached by ministers like Dr.
Kennedy of Dingwall and others of that calibre. How
I always bless my mother for her determination that she
herself and her two stepsons and I should know Gaelic !
Life for me, living in the west as I have done, would
not have been worth living without Gaelic. No servant
on the place, inside or outside, was allowed ever to speak



IN THE HIGHLANDS 35

English to the young gentlemen under pain of being
dismissed. Dinner was ordered in the kitchen in Gaelic,
and all meals were announced by the butler Sim
Eachainn in Gaelic — " Tha am hiadh air a hJiord le hJiur
cead a bhaintigJiearna " {" The food is on the table, by
your leave, my lady "), so the whole atmosphere was
thoroughly Gaelic. My younger brother Francis, who
was very fluent in the language, did not lose it whilst
for some years in the Navy. When he took a big farm
in Orkney, where no Gaelic is spoken by the natives,
he had so many Gairloch workmen there with him that
Gaelic was the order of the day ; and how proud he was
when John Mackenzie, the clachair mor (the big mason),
and his three stalwart sons were able to beat seven of
the best picked Orkney men at dry-stone dyking !
It was a race between Gaelic and English, and Gaelic
always won in a canter ! At the death of my elder
brother. Sir Kenneth, one of the doctors in attendance,
Dr. Adam of Dingwall, told me that he v/ent out of
this world and entered his eternal rest repeating verse
after verse of the Gaelic Psalms, which had been taught
him by my mother in his childhood.

I ought to mention here that when my mother took
charge of the property there was only the one parish
school, but she started nine or ten, and her rule was that
no child should be taught English until he or she could
read simple Gaelic first. What a success her schools all
were, and what intelligent scholars they produced !
Not long ago I was in a school where the teacher was
an Aberdeenshire woman and the infant class all
Gaelic-speaking. They were being taught a little story



36 A HUNDEED YEAES

about a dog running after a lamb. How could the poor
teacher instruct intelligently when the little pupils
did not understand what dog and lamb meant ? I had
to come to the rescue and tell them that dog meant cw,
and lamb meant imn. Now, this sort of thing would
never have happened in my good mother's day, when
all teachers were bilingual.

And now for some more about those delightful nine
years of my life spent in the old Tigh Dige. The house
used to be full up every summer and autumn. My uncle,
John Mackenzie, who was factor for the estate, with his
wife, two sons, and five daughters, were often there,
and lots of Hanbury relations from the south also came.
We were such a merry party. On one or two occasions
when Gairloch was let my mother and I resided at
Poolewe, either at Pool House or in Inveran Lodge,
and that gave me the opportunity of acquiring a wider
knowledge of the enormous Gairloch property and its
population. I saw comparatively little of my mother
for some years at Gairloch, owing to her being away on
horseback from Monday morning to Saturday night
superintending the making of those miles of road I
have spoken of. She was also engaged in abolishing the
old runrig system, under which the wretched hovels
of some five hundred crofters had been built in clusters
or end on to each other like a kind of street, so that
when typhus or smallpox broke out there was no escape.
All the new houses had to be built each one in the
centre of the four-acre croft.

There had never been a doctor in Gairloch, and my
mother doctored the whole parish for over three years —




/-e^n-o^ <.^ C/z.c^i^^Tyi.ce'



./^ (a^yea-nacA^.



LONBOKiEnWAKD ARH0L1).



IN THE HIGHLANDS 37

a population of about 5,400. She was most successful,
and so famous did she become that on one occasion they
brought a good-sized idiot, carried on a man's back
in a creel from Little Loch Broom, to be healed, such
was their faith in her ! But after the doctor arrived her
work became a little easier, and she began to take me
constantly with her on her riding expeditions, my little
Shetland pony carrying me everywhere. I then started
fishing, both on sea and loch, and took up ornithology
and egg-collecting, in which she encouraged me in every
possible way. When I was about seven and knew Gaelic
perfectly, she sent for a French boy of twelve from a
Protestant orphanage at Arras to come as a sort of
page, and to go out with me, and I never had any trouble
in learning French, which seemed to come to me quite
naturally. Edouard, the French boy, learnt Gaelic as
quickly as I learnt French, and could be sent all over
the country with Gaelic messages.

How different from nowadays many things were when
I first remember Gairloch ! Such a thing as a lamp I
never saw in the Tigh Dige. Only candles were used;
paraffin was quite unknown and had not even been heard
of; and the black houses depended for light chiefly on
the roaring fires in the centre of the room, with, perhaps,
an old creel or barrel stuck in the roof to let out the
smoke. For use in very exceptional cases the people
had tiny tin lamps made by the tinkers and fed with oil
made out of the livers of fish which were allowed to get
rotten before they were boiled down. But the main
lighting at night was done by having a big heap of
carefully prepared bog-fir sphnters full of resin all



38 A HUNDRED YEARS

ready in a corner, and a small boy or girl did nothing
else but keep these burning during the evening, so that
the women could see to card and spin and the men to
make their herring-nets by hand. I do not remember
hemp being grown, as it was, I believe, at one time in
special sorts of enclosures or gardens, and prepared and
spun for the making of the herring-nets. But it was
common^ done in the west. I do not think they grew
flax to any great extent, but on the east coast they grew
it quite extensively, and all the Tigh Dige sheets and
damask napkins and table-cloths in lovely patterns
were spun in Conon House, our east-coast home, and
woven in Conon village !

I shall now quote from my uncle to show what a good
housekeeper my grandmother was. He says: " I doubt
if there ever was a much better housekeeper than my
dear mother, or more busy and better servants than in
those times. They cheerfully put hand to work, the
very suggesting of which would startle the modern
ladies and gentlemen who serve us. A common sight
in the Conon kitchen after dinner was four or five women
all the evening busy spinning and carding flax for
napery, or putting wicks into metal candle moulds in
frames holding, say, a dozen, and pouring the fearful-
smelling tallow into the moulds. In those days I seldom
saw any candles but of tallow anywhere, unless in
chandeliers or against walls where they could not easily
be snuffed; so my wise mother made heaps of as good
candles as she could buy from the spare suet in the house.
Then, where could a storeroom be seen like my mother's



IN THE HIGHLANDS 39

at Conon ? The room was shelved all round with
movable frames for holding planks, on which unimagin-
able quantities of dried preserved edibles reposed till
called for. There were jam-pots by the hundred of
every sort, shelves of preserved candied apricots and
Magnum Bonum plums, that could not be surpassed in
the world ; other shelves with any amount of biscuits of
all sorts of materials, once liquid enough to drop on
sheets of paper, but in time dried to about two inches
across and half an inch thick for dessert. Smoked
sheep and deer tongues were also there, and from the roof
hung strings of threaded artichoke bottoms, dried, I
suppose, for putting into soups. In addition, therc^
were endless curiosities of confectionery brought nortl
by Kitty's talents from her Edinburgh cookery school,
while quantities of dried fruit, ginger, orange-peel,
citron, etc., from North Simpson and Graham of London
must have made my dear mother safe-cased in armour
against any unexpected and hungry invader. Then every
year she made gooseberry and currant wines, balm ditto,
raspberry vinegar, spruce and ginger beer. I remember
they were celebrated, and liqueurs numberless included
magnums of camomile flowers and orange-peel and
gentian root bitters for old women with indigestion
pains."

My dear old foreman of works, Seoras Kuairidh
Cheannaiche (George of Rory Merchant), who was at the
head of everything, and who did everything for me at
Inverewe when I began there in 1862, used to tell me
the difficulty there was in his grandfather's and even
in his father's day in getting any kind of planking and



40 A HUNDRED YEARS

nails for cofi&ns. It was a common thing, lie said, for
a man going to Inverness on some great occasion to
bring back a few nails for bis own cofi&n, so that they
might be in readiness whenever the last call came. The
ordinary way of interment in the time of George's
grandfather was to have the dead body swathed in blue
homespun, carried on an open bier to the graveyard,
and slid down into the grave. His grandfather could
remember when, if one lost a hook when trout-fishing,
the only way of replacing it was to go to Ceard an
Oirthire, the old tinker at Coast (a little hamlet on the
bay of Gruinord) and to get him to make one, and to tell
him to be sure to put a barb on it ! And in the days
of old Jane Charles, who was a sort of connection of the
Gairloch family, there was only one looking-glass in the
district other than in the Tigh Dige, and the girls had
to arrange their hair for church or for a wedding by
looking at their faces in a pail of water ! I can quite
well remember when not a sack made from jute was to be
seen, and one saw the big sixteen or eighteen feet rowing-
boats on fine winter days arriving from the outlying
townships at the mills at Strath or Boor piled up with
bags of oats and barley (or rather bere), all in sheep-skin
bags, with a certain amount' of wool still on their out-
sides to remind one of their origin. It was rare then to
see such a thing as a hempen rope. Ropes for retaining
the thatch on the cottages were called seamanan fraoich
(heather ropes) and made of heather. Ropes to hold
small boats were generally made of twisted birch twigs,
while the very best ropes for all other purposes were
made of the pounded fibre of bog-fir roots, and a really



IN THE HIGHLANDS 41

well-made ball maitli guithais (a good fir rope) could
hardly be beaten by the best modern ropes.

I never saw a wire riddle for riddling corn or meal in
the old days ; they were all made of stretched sheep-skins
with holes perforated in them by a big red-hot needle.
Trout lines were made of white or other horsehair, and
when one stabled a pony at an inn, it always ran the risk
of having its tail stolen ! Also, the only spoons in the
country were those the tinkers made from sheep and
cow horns melted down. How one used to smell the
burning horn at the tinker encampments after dark !

Knives and forks were hardly known in the crofter
houses, and everything was eaten with fingers and
thumbs. Even now I hear them say herrings and
potatoes never taste right if eaten with a knife and fork.
My mother was one day visiting some poor squatter
families who in those days resided on Longa Island,
and one woman was very anxious she should partake
of something. My mother was hungry, for she never
carried luncheon with her on her long daily expeditions
from early morning to night, trusting to her chance
of getting a bowl of milk and a bit of oatcake or barley
scone from those she visited. Well, the poor woman
confessed to having no meal in the house and conse-
quently no bread; all she had was a pail of flounders
just off the hooks, and she asked if the bantighearna (lady)
would condescend to partake of one of them. My
mother said she would, and a flounder was instantly
put in a pot. When it was boiled the woman took it
out, neatly broke it in two or three pieces, and placed
them on a little table without plate or cloth, knife or



42 A HUNDKED YEARS

fork. My mother set to it with her fingers, and after-
wards declared it was the sweetest fish she ever tasted.
When she finished the woman brought her a pail of


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