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Gairloch in North-West Ross-Shire
Part II.—Inhabitants of Gairloch

Chapter X.—Posts and Road-making


IT is impossible to fix the exact date when a post was established to Gairloch ; it was probably some time in the latter half of the eighteenth century. In 1730 letters from Inverness to Edinburgh were carried by a foot-post, as we learn from Captain Burt, so that it is not to be wondered at that our remote parish of Gairloch did not have any post until even a later period. Originally one post-" runner " was employed on the service. He seems for a long time to have come regularly only when the laird of Gairloch was in residence at Flowerdale in summer and autumn. The post-runner came from Dingwall by Strath Braan and Glen Dochartie to the head of Loch Maree, then along the east side of the loch vid Letterewe to Poolewe, and thence, if necessary, forward to Flowerdale. Sometimes, during the residence of the laird at Flowerdale, the post-runner seems to have gone by the west side of Loch Maree to Slatadale, and thence over the pass, by the falls of the Kerry, to Flowerdale. During the winter months the post was suspended ; even in summer he originally came to Gairloch only once a week. When a second runner was employed the post bags were brought twice a week. After the construction of the present roads the mail came by horse and trap three times a week, and in 1883 tne P°st Office authorities granted a daily mail, i.e. every day except Sundays.

Dr Mackenzie, writing of the ten years commencing with 1808, describes the Gairloch post as follows:—"Then the mail north of the Highland metropolis (Inverness) went on horseback; and when we squatted on the west coast (Gairloch) our nearest post-office was sixty miles away in our county town (Dingwall), and our only letter-carrier was one of my father's (Sir Hector's) attaches, little Duncan, a bit of kilted india-rubber, who, with a sheepskin knapsack on his back to keep his despatches dry (for Mackintosh waterproof had not been dreamed of then), left the west on Monday, got the sixty miles done on Wednesday, and returning on Thursday delivered up his mail to my father on the Saturday, and was ready to trip off east next Monday; and so all the five months of our western stay, doing his one hundred and twenty miles every week! I never heard of his being a day off work in many a year. And what a lot of news was extracted from him ere he got away to his home on Saturday evening! When we retired to the east the natives left behind us got their postal delivery the best way they could."

James Mackenzie states, that before 1820 there were two Gairloch post-runners, viz., Donald Mackenzie, always called Donald Charles, grandfather of the present John Mackenzie (Iain Glas) of Mossbank, Poolewe, and Roderick M'Lennan of Kirkton, father of George M'Lennan of Londubh, who is at present foreman to Mr O. H. Mackenzie. James Mackenzie thinks that Dr Mackenzie is mistaken in giving the name Duncan to the post-runner he mentions, and that it was Donald Charles (who was the last single post-runner) that Dr Mackenzie knew in his youth. This opinion agrees with the fact that Donald Charles always wore the kilt, then falling into disuse among the common people of Gairloch. The kilt seems, however, to have been generally in favour with the post-runners, who doubtless found it suitable for their long walks; both Rorie (Roderick M'Lennan) and William Cross (a subsequent post-runner, descended from one of the ironworkers) always wore the kilt. Donald Charles and Rorie alternately brought the post from Dingwall. They came to Poolewe on Wednesdays and Saturdays, walking "through the rock," i.e. via Letterewe, the Bull Rock, and the east side of Loch Maree. When the laird was staying at Flowerdale the post-runners went there first.

Another post-runner—one M'Leay, from Poolewe—was found dead about a mile from the inn at Achnasheen. In his hand were a piece of bread and a bit of mutton, which his sister, who was a servant at the inn, had given him just before he left. He was a young man. A brother of his was found dead at the back of the park at Tournaig. He had been sent by Mr Mackenzie of Lochend to Aultbea to fetch whisky. His face was "spoilt," and his mouth full of earth. His death was thought to be the work of a spirit! A memorial cairn was thrown up on the spot where the body was found, and is there to this day.

John Mackenzie, son of Donald Charles, was the last running post to Gairloch. He was called Iain Mor am Post, and was a remarkably strong and courageous Highlander. When the mail-car began to run he emigrated to Australia.

There were no roads in Gairloch until the military road was made, which took nearly the same course as the present county road; it can still be traced in most places. It was part of the system of military roads constructed under the supervision of General Wade in the first half of the eighteenth century. It is usually called General Wade's road, though it is possible he never saw it. In the beginning of the nineteenth century this old road had become impassable by wheeled vehicles.

There was a bridge at Grudidh on General Wade's road; when the new road was made there it was doubled in width. The bridge at Kenlochewe was built in 1843; that near Flowerdale (widened about 1880) long before. The bridge at Poolewe was built about 1844; that at Little Gruinard, on the northern boundary of the parish, a little later.

The road from Gairloch to Poolewe was made by Sir Hector Mackenzie in 1825. It was set out by Duncan Mackenzie, the innkeeper at Poolewe, who had been butler to Sir Hector.

The Dowager Lady Mackenzie of Gairloch, widow of the late Sir Francis Mackenzie, has communicated the following statement with regard to other roads in Gairloch:—"I came to reside permanently at Flowerdale in June 1844. For ten years from June 1843 I was trustee for the Gairloch property with Mr Mackenzie of Ord. There was no road then between Rudha'n Fhomhair, at the upper end of Loch Maree and Slatadale. The potato disease commenced in August 1846, and this road was begun the following spring. When the government steamers called in at Gairloch, inquiring as to the distress and poverty caused by the potato disease, I did not advocate the sending of supplies of meal, &c, but urged continually, in speaking and by letters, both to the Destitution Committee and to the Home Secretary (Sir George Grey), and to Lord John Russell, that money might be granted to make the road from Rudha 'n Fhomhair to Slatadale, and thus to open up the country, I, on my part, as trustee, guaranteeing to support the people who could not work on the road. The Edinburgh Destitution Committee was not willing to agree to my request without the sanction of the government; and the government said, however much they approved of my plan, and however desirous of assisting me they felt, they could not grant the request of one individual, without incurring the risk of many more applications ; but after some delay and consideration, they said they would send me Captain Webb of the Engineers and a corporal and two privates (who had been employed in Shetland) to line out the road and map it, ready for a contractor's offer. This was done. Captain Webb was my guest at Flowerdale for six weeks during the winter; and early in the following spring, the maps and plans arrived from Woolwich, and the road was begun, my son (Mr O. H. Mackenzie) cutting the first turf. Though mentioning my own name throughout this transaction, I could not have done anything without the indefatigable assistance of Captain (now Admiral) Russell Elliott of Appleby Castle ; he was at the head of the Destitution Committee, a sort of generalissimo of the whole concern; also I was much indebted to Sir Charles Trevelyan, at that time Secretary to the Home Secretary. By the aid of such good and able friends, the Destitution Committee was induced to advance in all two or three thousand pounds, the district road trustees undertaking to advance equal to what was advanced on the Loch Maree road ; and money was afterwards received from the Destitution Fund to carry on the road to Badachro, now the large fishing station, where curers purchase the herring, cod, ling, &c, from the people. Lord John Russell sent me ^100 out of a fund he had from the receipts of a ball or concert for the destitute Highlanders, and I had several large sums sent me by strangers, besides some from my own relations. Money also was granted from Edinburgh to assist in making the road from Poolewe to Inverasdale. After I received money from the Destitution Committee several other proprietors applied for assistance in the same way. Mr Bankes of Letterewe, and Mr Hugh Mackenzie of Dundonnell, both received grants on the same terms. The road from Poolewe to Aultbea was thus made, and also I think the road from Dundonnell, by Feithean, to the Ullapool road."

Mr Mackenzie, Dundonnell, took a leading part in obtaining Destitution money for road-making. Nearly £2000 from that and similar sources was spent on the Loch Maree road; it cost £3403, the balance being raised by the district road trustees, who also gave ,£1000 towards the Aultbea road, the Destitution Committee giving £370. That Committee also assisted the making of the roads on the north and south sides of Gairloch, and on the west side of Loch Ewe.

There is no account to be had of the making of the road from Poolewe to Inveran, but it seems to have been formed some time before the road from Gairloch to Poolewe was made.

Mr Osgood H. Mackenzie completed the road from Kernsary to Fionn Loch in 1875. One road connecting Kernsary with Inveran was made about 1870.


 


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