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

Chapter VI.—The Gairloch Hotel to Poolewe


STARTING northwards from the Gairloch Hotel, the hamlet of Achtercairn (Part IV., chap, x.) is the first place we pass; Achtercairn House (Dr Robertson) is on the right.

As the road ascends the Achtercairn Brae the village of Strath of Gairloch is well seen. The house in the largest grove of trees is the Established church manse (Rev. D. S. Mackenzie), in the enlargement of which in 1823 the celebrated geologist and author, Hugh Miller, took part as a mason's lad. In another grove in Strath is the Cottage Hospital, founded by Mr Francis H. Mackenzie, but now-disused and occupied as a dwelling-house.

From the higher parts of the Achtercairn Brae there are splendid views of the Bay of Gairloch and the hills of Skye. From one point near the top of the Brae the jagged summits of the Cuchullins in Skye may be discerned.

To the left of the road, as the higher part is gained, there is a fine deep gorge down which the Achtercairn burn or river rushes; it forms a pretty cascade in the higher part. A rock on the north side of the gorge is called Craig an Fhithich, because a raven formerly nested in a crevice on the face of it. After a short descent notice a large boulder.on the right of the road called "The shoestone" (Clach nam Brog), from the fact that women who had walked barefoot over the hills on their way to church at Gairloch were (and still frequently are) accustomed here to resume their shoes and stockings. To the left is a reedy loch on the minister's glebe, called Loch Feur, a haunt of ducks and other wildfowl. Another small loch, called Lochan nan Breac, or Lochan nan Breac Adhair, lies still further to the left.

At this point notice a singular-looking hill to the right of and nearer to the road than the Lochan nan Breac. It is an interesting subject for the geologist. Dr Geikie, speaking of the hummocky outlines of the gneiss emerging from under the overlying sandstones, writes as follows of this hill:—"Little more than a mile to the north of the church (Gairloch) the road to Poolewe descends into a short valley surrounded with gneiss hills. From the top of the descent the eye is at once arrested by a flat-topped hill standing in the middle of the valley at the upper end, and suggesting gome kind of fortification; so different from the surrounding hummocky declivities of gneiss is its level grassy top, flanked by wall-like cliffs rising upon a glacis-slope of debris and herbage." Further on, this flat-topped hill, seen in profile, looks like an enormous railway embankment.

By the side of the road, on the left, there is or was one of those heaps of stones formed by funeral parties (see pages 115 and 116).

About half a mile beyond the shoestone, and some two hundred yards to the right of the road, is a pond or very small loch, called Lochan nan Airm, or the " tarn of the arms," into which long ago warriors vanquished in a fight near the place threw their weapons (see page 21). The commencement of a drain, intended to empty the tarn so as to discover the weapons, is still to be seen; it was stopped by the then laird of Gairloch, whose permission had not been obtained for draining the tarn. This tarn is in a hollow on the side of one of the moraines of ancient glaciers which hereabouts flank the highroad.

About two and a half miles from the Gairloch Hotel the summit of the watershed is reached. The pass through which the road turns, after a long ascent, is called "The glen," where is a good spring. To the left is the rock called Craig Bhadain an Aisc, at which the two little boys of Allan M'Leod, of Gairloch, were murdered by their uncles and then buried (see page 26).

At the further end of "The glen" there is on the right hand side of the road a flat moss called Blar na Fala, or "the plain of the .blood," because this was a place to which cattle were driven in order that blood might be taken from them (see page 136).

Further on, Loch Tollie, a mile in length, is spread out on the right. The trout-fishing of this loch is attached to the Gairloch Hotel, and there is a boat for the use of anglers. The small island near the shore with a few bushes on it {see illustration) is of artificial origin; it was a crannog or fortress of the MacBeaths, and afterwards of the M'Leods. The traditions connected with the island will be found in chaps, vi. and vii. of Part I. An anecdote of a very different character, telling how a wild cat and her young were. killed on this island, is given in Part III., chap. iii.

The hill to the south of "The Glen" bears the name of Meall Aridh Mhic Criadh, and is 1140 feet in height.

Beyond Loch Tollie, to the right, is the northern end of the fine range of Craig Tollie, which is peculiarly rocky, and wild.

The hill to the left of the road before we got to Loch Tollie was Meall a Deas (749 feet); and now, as we leave Loch Tollie, we have on the left the end of Meall na Cluibha, or Cliff Hill (750 feet), which is much finer on its face towards Poolewe, where it rises from a lower plateau.

From the higher part of the road as we skirt Loch Tollie there is a good view before us, at a distance of some six or eight miles, of Beinn a Chaisgean (2802 feet), in the parish of Loch Broom, beyond Fionn Loch, and through a gap in it may be seen some of the jagged summits of the Dundonell mountains.

At the lower end of Loch Tollie there was formerly a weir or dam in connection with a mill far down the burn which flows from the loch, and this kept the water of the loch at a higher level than it now stands at.

After leaving Loch Tollie we can easily trace the old road from Slatadale winding down the glen behind Craig Tollie. Shortly before it joins the road we are travelling it is overshadowed by a bold crag, called Leth Chreag (see illustration), on the opposite side of the burn. The name means the "half rock," and refers to the sheer aspect (as if half had been broken off) of the face of the rock towards the burn.

The first view of the lower end of Loch Maree now comes in sight, with the graceful form of Beinn Aridh Charr rising above it. A peak close to the summit of this mountain bears the name of Spidean Moirich, or "Martha's peak." It is said that a woman of that name having climbed this peak sat down and began winding thread on her spindle. The spindle fell from her hand down the steep rocks to the north-east. Martha tried to recover the spindle, but fell over the rock and was killed. Hence the name. To the left of Beinn Aridh Charr are the spurs of Beinn a Chaisgean Mor, called Scuir a Laocainn and Scuir na Feart, with the Maighdean to the right. Reaching the point where the branch road leads down to Tollie pier, a magnificent view of Loch Maree presents itself to the eye. The whole length of the loch, and Glen Dochartie beyond it, are in sight On any tolerably fine day the road up Glen Dochartie is plainly seen at a distance of not less than fifteen to sixteen miles, a proof of the wonderful .clearness of the northern atmosphere. Beyond Glen Dochartie in the extreme distance are peaks, thirty miles away, of mountains in the Monar forest, which retain some snow long after it has disappeared from the mountains of Loch Maree. Half-way up Loch Maree is seen Isle Maree, with its grove of tall trees. The immediate foreground is softened by the natural woods of birch, oak, and rowan round the bases of Craig Tollie and of the lower hills on the east side of Tollie farm. This view of Loch Maree has formed the subject of celebrated pictures by the late Horatio M'Culloch, Mr H. W. B. Davis, R.A., Mr A. W. Weedon, and other well-known artists. The road so far is the same as that which is traversed by the carriages or "machines" conveying voyageurs to the Loch Maree steamer. For our present purpose we shall suppose the tourist to be proceeding towards Poolewe.

The road now turns abruptly to the left, and rapidly descends the hill called Croft Brae. The present road is a great improvement upon the old one, which takes a higher course and has a steeper incline. The old road went straight down to the banks of the Ewe, but our way proceeds from the foot of the hill along level ground a little above the river. The small hamlet or village here is properly called Croft of Tollie, misspelt in the Old Statistical Account " Croft of Jolly," the last word being decidedly a lucus a non lucendo. This hamlet is usually called Croft. A short bit of road to the right leads to the landing-place at the lower extremity of the navigable part of the River Ewe, called Ceann a Chro, or Cruive End, i.e. the head or end of the cruive (for taking salmon), which formerly spanned the river just below. At Cruive End is a thatched house called "The still," occupied rent free by several poor widows. It was originally built for a whisky distillery. Close to Cruive End there formerly stood a small thatched church or place of worship (see pages 70 and 99), which was used in the memory of old people now living, i.e. up to about 1826. All traces of it have now disappeared.

On the left of the high road, two hundred yards beyond Cruive End, is the green hillock called "The hill of evil counsel," where Allan Macleod, who lived in the island of Loch Tollie (see page 25), was murdered by his brothers.

Looking back there are beautiful views of the upper reaches of the river Ewe winding through low wooded hills, which may be called "the Trossachs of Loch Maree," and a distant peep of the loch itself heightens the charm of the view.

Further on to the right is the Poolewe manse, well placed on a brow overlooking the river. To the left is the Poolewe post and and telegraph office, formerly a school.

The group of houses a little further on to the left is called Moss-bank. The tallest house (Mrs Morrison) is a lodging-house. The next is Mossbank Cottage, occupied by Dr M'Ewen ; it has a fruitful walled garden. Another house, of the usual local type, is occupied by John Mackenzie (Iain Glas), the present water-bailiff of the river. In a cottage a little further on lives Finlay M'Kinnon, the Poolewe artist (Part II., chap. xxiv.). We now enter the village of

Poolewe.

It is not a beautiful spot, but it perhaps gives one more the idea of a village than some other more scattered places in Gairloch parish. Mr H. F. Wilson, of Cambridge, has well described Poolewe, in his racy ode, dated August 1885, and entitled "Carmen Pooleviense." After speaking of the Ewe, he says you may see,—

Poolewe was formerly called Clive, and, according to the retour of 1638 (page 61), was once "a burgh of barony." There are three merchants' shops in the village street, also (on the left) the salmon depot or boiling-house of Mr A. P. Hogarth, of Aberdeen, the lessee of the salmon-fishings on the extensive sea coast of Gairloch. It is managed by Alexander Mutch, of Aberdeen, who generally arrives at Poolewe early in April and remains until September.

The first building on the right is the Poolewe Public Hall, which though but a small room suffices for the wants of the place (see Part IV., chap. i.).

On the same side at the further end of the village street is the Established church (Church of Scotland), and on the right is the Poolewe Inn or Hotel, kept by Mr A. Maclennan. Compared with the Gairloch, Loch Maree, and Kenlochewe hotels, it yields "but humble accommodation. Some improvements are being effected, and I believe even ladies find the house comfortable enough. Mr Maclennan carries on a posting business. Boats can be hired for sea-fishing in Loch Ewe, and trout-fishing can generally be had on some fresh-water lochs.

On the flat plain behind and to the south of Poolewe and Moss Bank (called Bac Dubh), a large market, called the Feill ludha, or "ewe market" (page 104), was held for generations, and was discontinued about 1720.

Mr Macbrayne's large steamers call at Poolewe once a fortnight. A jetty and storehouse, where goods are landed and kept dry, have recently been provided just below Poolewe church. There are considerable quantities of clayband and hematite iron ores to be seen both here and nearer Poolewe bridge,—evidences of those ores having been landed here (see page 89).

The Poolewe Free Church meeting-house, and the smithy, with a number of dwellings, are on the other side of the river. They are, properly speaking, in Londubh.

At the other side of the mouth of the river is Pool House, formerly the Londubh Inn. It has been enlarged and improved by Sir Thomas Edwards Moss, Bart., who has a lease of it with some shootings. He has erected a stable near the east end of Poolewe bridge, where the smithy formerly stood.

The hamlet or township of Londubh, including all the dwellings and buildings on the east side of the lower part of the River Ewe, has since the erection of Poolewe bridge become virtually a part of Poolewe. The name Londubh signifies "the black bog." I have heard a native suggest that the name of the metropolis of Great Britain is pure Gaelic, for the Gaelic for a brown bog (which the Strand is said to have originally been) is just Lon-donn!

Many of the houses in Londubh are on a flat hidden by the old sea terrace, and are therefore scarcely visible from the main road. Londubh, or Baile na h'Eaglais, was formerly called Inverewe, a name now only applied to Mr Osgood H. Mackenzie's house opposite. The most conspicuous house in Londubh is that called Kirkton House, a little above the road skirting Loch Ewe beyond Pool House. Londubh was formerly part of the Kernsary estate, and this house, where James Mackenzie, so often quoted in these pages, now lives, was then the home of the proprietors of Kernsary. Close to it is the old Inverewe burial-ground. A wall was built round it a few years ago. Here is the burial-place of the Kernsary family, formed out of the ancient church or chapel (page 101) which in old days occupied the site.


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