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Gairloch in North-West Ross-Shire
Part IV.—Guide to Gairloch and Loch Maree

Chapter III.—Achnasheen to Kenlochewe


THE parish of Gairloch communicates with the great railway system of the kingdom at Achnasheen ; the nearest part of the parish is about four miles from the railway station.

The Dingwall and Skye Railway was opened about 1870, and is now a branch of the Highland Railway. Before 1870 the Gairloch mail-car started from the Dingwall railway station. The mail-car was worked at that time, as now, by Mr Murdo M'lver, the much-respected and courteous landlord of the Achnasheen Hotel. At this hotel the traveller may obtain refreshments en passant, or may linger awhile. Notice the luxuriant growth of the lovely scarlet creeper Tropceolum speciosum, on the hotel. The mail-car leaves Achnasheen for Gairloch soon after the arrival of the morning train from the south. In the height of the tourist season it is safest to bespeak seats on the car. More luxurious tourists may hire open or close conveyances from Mr MTver, whose postal address is " Achnasheen, by Dingwall." The name Achnasheen means " the field of storms," and is generally allowed to be appropriate. The obliging station-master may be relied upon to remedy as far as he can any of those casualties which frequently occur to travellers in the tourist season, who sometimes move about with an unnecessary amount of luggage.

To most people it is an agreeable change to lose sight of the Tailway, a consummation which is achieved a few minutes after you leave the Achnasheen Hotel. Over the bridge on the left goes the road to Strath Carron. Beyond the bridge is the Ledgowan shooting lodge, formerly the hotel. Notice here the wonderful straight terraces, resembling very closely great railway embankments. Geologists differ about their origin ; they look like moraines of ancient glaciers or ancient sea-banks, broken through by the now small river from Loch Rosque, which must have had larger volume at some remote date. On the left we pass the old Loch Rosque lodge, and on the right the new one. Near the roadside, below the new lodge, are  to be seen quantities of iron slag, the evidences of ancient iron-smelting. Similar remains of ironworks may also be observed by the roadside near the other end of Loch Rosque. These old ironworks belong to the ancient class treated of in Part I., chap. xvii. Loch Rosque is over three miles long, and is placed on our list of Gairloch lochs, inasmuch as its western end juts into the parish. Observe on the other side of the loch pieces of detached walls, erected to enable sheep to shelter from the cutting winds which often sweep through this glen. Most travellers get rather tired of Loch Rosque, yearning as they naturally do for the superior attractions of Loch Maree. A small burn near the west end of Loch Rosque is the boundary of Gairloch parish. Just after passing it is a cottage, and near it stands a square upright stone. The stone is called Clach an t' Shagart, or " the stone of the priest. The place is called Bad a Mhannaich, or "the monk's grove." It seems there was here a settlement of some of the early pioneers of Christianity. They say that baptisms were conducted at the Clach an t Shagart. The name of Loch Rosque itself is believed by many to signify "the loch of the cross." (See "Glossary.")

After passing the Gairloch boundary there is another humble dwelling (lately a licensed house), called Luibmhor. It suggests what the inn at Kenlochewe must have been in the old days as described in Pennant's "Tour" (Appendix B). On the green at the head of the loch was the original Luibmhor Inn, the scene of the incident called "The watch of Glac na Sguithar," related on page 51.

The road now ascends; gradually the eastern hills pass out of sight; the rugged mountains of Coulin and Kenlochewe are in view during the drive along Loch Rosque; then they also disappear. At this part of the journey I always think of what occurred to myself some years ago. I was on the mail-car, traversing this road in the reverse direction. Near me sat a tourist, a clergyman of the English Church, who had amused himself during the preceding part of the journey by inquiring the name of every hill and place we passed. As soon as the mountain called Scuir a Mhuilin, to the south of Strath Braan, eastward of Achnasheen, came in sight, he asked me its name. I told him. When we got near Achnasheen he again inquired the name of the same hill, which now seemed larger and grander, and I again told him. Half an hour later he came up to me on the platform of the Achnasheen station, and asked quite seriously if I could tell him "the name of that hill." I said with some emphasis, "Scuir a Mhuilin!" I am bound to admit that the reverend gentleman tendered a humble apology for his unconscious repetition of the inquiry. Whether he remembered the name of the mountain I know not There is no good to be gained by stating the name of every hill we notice.

Soon after leaving Loch Rosque a curious hill is seen away to the left, which is said in all the guide-books to resemble, the profile of a man's face looking skywards, and by a stretch of the imagination any traveller may arrive at the same conclusion.

The ascending road now tends to the right. Near its extreme height an improvement in the line of the road was effected about 1874. The original piece of road is visible a little above to the right. It is a pity some other Gairloch roads are not similarly improved.

At the head of the watershed, 804 feet above the sea-level, we enter Glen Dochartie, a truly wild Highland glen. Its stern character is greatly relieved by the exquisite distant view of Loch Maree, halfway down which, at a distance of about twelve miles from the spectator, Isle Maree may easily be discerned. There used to be a very good well just below the road at the head of the glen ; the water still flows at the place, but the well is covered by the new road; this was formerly a favourite trysting-place of the Gairloch and Loch Broom men when they went out to lie in wait for the Lochaber cattle-lifters. Glen Dochartie, and the Great Black Corrie in Glen Torridon, were the entrances to Gairloch from the south and east. (See stories in Part L, chap, xiii.) Glen Dochartie has many attractions, especially in the great variety of colouring on both sides. Perhaps it is best seen on the return journey by this route. On the right is Cam a Ghlinne (1770 feet), and on the left Bidein Clann Raonaild (1529 feet). There are remains of ancient ironworks near the head and at the foot of the glen (Part I., chap. xx). We travel rapidly down the glen, passing at the foot of it, to the right, the farm of Bruachaig. Shortly before finishing this stage Meall a Ghuibhais and Beinn Eighe (or Eay), come into view, the latter being perhaps the most effective mountain, from an artistic point of view, in the kingdom. Leaving the Kenlochewe shooting-lodge to the right, and crossing the bridge over the River Garbh, we pull up at the hotel at

Kenlochewe.

The name of this place is in Gaelic Ceann-loch-iu. It signifies the head of Loch Ewe, by which name Loch Maree was called in the seventeenth century. Hugh Miller, in that interesting book "My Schools and Schoolmasters," says :—"The name—that of an old farm which stretches out along the head or upper end of Loch Maree—has a remarkable etymology; it means simply the head of Loch Ewe, the salt-water loch into which the waters of Loch Maree empty themselves, by a river little more than a mile in length, and whose present head is some sixteen or twenty miles distant from the farm which bears its name. Ere that last elevation of the land, however, to which our country owes the level marginal strip that stretches between the present coast line and the ancient one, the sea must have found its way to the old farm. Loch Maree, a name of mediaeval origin, would then have existed as a prolongation of the marine Loch Ewe, and Kenlochewe would have actually been what the compound words signify,—the head of Loch Ewe. There seems to be reason for holding that ere the latest elevation of the land took place in our island, it had received its first human inhabitants,—rude savages, who employed tools and weapons of stone, and fashioned canoes out of single logs of wood. Are we to accept etymologies such as the instanced one—and there are several such in the Highlands—as good in evidence that these aboriginal savages were of the Celtic race, and that Gaelic was spoken in Scotland at a time when its strips of grassy links, and the sites of many of its seaport towns, such as , Leith, Greenock, Musselburgh, and Cromarty, existed as oozy sea-beaches, covered twice every day by the waters of the ocean?"

Kenlochewe is a thoroughly Highland village, with its shooting-lodge, hotel, church, school, smithy, and not far away the old burial-ground of Culinellan. The village is beautifully placed, near the head of the level strath which spreads south-eastward from the head of Loch Maree. It comes in for a good deal of rain, being the centre at which four glens meet, viz., Glen Cruaidh Choillie (often erroneously called Glen Logan), Glen Dochartie, Glen Torridon, and the great glen of Loch Maree. The shooting-lodge is surrounded by a well-grown plantation ; and other younger plantations are growing up near the village. The hotel is exceedingly comfortable, and visitors staying here have the privilege of fishing in the upper parts of Loch Maree. As the hotel is not large, rooms should be engaged beforehand. In Pennant's "Tour" (see Appendix B) is his account of the accommodation he found at Kenlochewe; read it, and be thankful for the luxuries of the present well-kept house. The neat little church was erected in 1878 by public subscription; it belongs to the Free Church, but has not a regularly settled minister. There was in old days a church or place of worship at or near Kenlochewe. There is a large grove of tall ash trees in the Culinellan burial-ground, and a colony of rooks nests annually in them. Several of the stories and traditions given in Part I. refer to Kenlochewe or its neighbourhood. A little to the north of the Kenlochewe Free church is the hillock called Cnoc a Chrochadair, or "the hangman's hill," where some of the M'Leods are said to have been hung (see page 45). Below the Culinellan burial-ground is the ford on theriver called Athnan Ceann, or "the ford of the heads." The story relating the origin of this name is given on page 13. Kenlochewe is a favourite resort of artists, who find many subjects in the neighbourhood. Beinn Eighe, and the more distant Liathgach,—both in Glen Torridon,— are superb mountains, and they are best seen from Kenlochewe or near it.

There are two modes of reaching Gairloch from Kenlochewe. One, described in the next chapter, is by the county road past Grudidh bridge, Talladale, Slatadale, and the Falls of Kerry to the Gairloch Hotel. The other is to take the steamer from Ru Nohar, down Loch Maree to Tollie pier, and to proceed thence by road to Gairloch, as described in Part IV., chap. xiii. The mail, which, as has been said, is worked by Mr M'lver, of Achnasheen, is not at present in connection with the steamer. Mr Hornsby, of the Gairloch Hotel, by previous communication, or Mrs Macdonald, of the Kenlochewe Hotel, so far as regards those who are staying in her house, will arrange for the conveyance of passengers and luggage to the steamer at Ru Nohar pier, which is two miles from Kenlochewe Hotel. In the busiest part of the tourist season there is a large conveyance awaiting the arrival of the mid-day train at Achnasheen, to carry to Ru Nohar those who wish to avail themselves of the steamer route.

 


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