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

Chapter VII.—Poolewe to Aultbea


LEAVING Poolewe we follow the county road over Poolewe bridge, behind Pool House, and along the shore of the bay that forms the head of Loch Ewe. Notice the picturesque pool in which the River Ewe joins Loch Ewe, so- much finer than the usual muddy estuary of an east coast river.

After passing on the right the Londubh or Inverewe burial-ground and the home of James Mackenzie at Kirkton (referred to in the last chapter), we cross a small burn. This forms the march or boundary between the estates of Sir Kenneth Mackenzie, Bart, of Gairloch, and his half-brother Mr Osgood H. Mackenzie of Inverewe. Since the parish of Gairloch was entered at Luibmhor, near the west end of Loch Rosque, we have been on the territory of Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.

On the right is Srondubh, with a few trees, and by it the farm buildings of the home farm in connection with Inverewe House. The road skirts along well cultivated arable land until the Inverewe plantations are reached.

Inverewe House was erected by Mr Osgood H. Mackenzie in 1865. It is beautifully situated in a northern recess of the bay at the head of Loch Ewe, in the shelter of a rocky headland called Ploc-ard. The house has a Highland character; it faces due south, and commands a fine view of Beinn Aridh Charr. To the south the summits of the distant Gairloch mountains and the rocky ranges of Craig Tollie and Cliff Hill, with the mouth of the River Ewe and the bay at the head of Loch Ewe in the foreground, form an enchanting picture. From the village of Poolewe the house—surrounded as it is with planted woods now well grown—is a pleasing object. There are walks in these woods, and separate sea-bathing places for ladies and gentlemen. There is the best anchorage for yachts of the largest size close to the house.

The Inverewe gardens are wonderfully attractive, yielding as they do exquisite flowers nearly all. the year round. The following remarks about these gardens are from one of a series of letters from the Highlands which appeared in the Times in the autumn of 1883:-

"Thanks to genial winters, from the softening influence of the Gulf Stream, ornamental gardening richly repays one in those sheltered situations that slope to the sea-arms. The most enchanting spot in that way which I have seen is the garden of Inverewe, on Loch Ewe, rented at present by Lord Fitzwilliam. The garden was laid out by the proprietor, Mr Osgood Mackenzie, whose taste must be as unimpeachable as his knowledge of flowers. The gardens form a terraced amphitheatre, shelving gently towards the Loch, and backed up by the hanging woods, which have only been recently planted. Fruit-trees, but a very few years old, are already loaded with plums, pears, &c.

The low stone walls that front the earth-banks are covered with many of the rarer creepers, some of them almost semi-tropical, with luxuriant myrtles just bursting into flower, and with clusters of roses of wonderful size. But what is most remarkable is the marvellous vividness of the colours in such brightly tinted flowers as crimson roses and scarlet gladioli. The warm damp seems to give a brilliancy to the tints which I have never seen either in England or in southern Europe."

The highroad now takes an easterly course, and, passing young plantations; soon comes in sight of Loch-nan-Dailthean. Here is Tournaig, the residence of the Dowager Lady Mackenzie of Gairloch, with its beautiful little garden, described in the Times letter just quoted, as follows :—

"Even more noteworthy, perhaps, is the less pretentious garden at Mr Mackenzie's pretty cottage of Tournaig, situate two miles inland. There, a mere pit in the heather, which must have originally resembled a stone quarry, has been turned, chiefly by blasting, into a little fairyland of leafy luxuriance and gorgeous colouring, though where the plants find soil to strike their roots is a puzzle. As for the

cabbages, in their swelling proportions they are rather like balloons than ordinary vegetables. And it must be a piquant experience to stroll of a morning among flower-beds that recall the beauties of Bellagio or the Isola Bella, and afterwards to go out ptarmigan shooting or deer-stalking on some of the most storm-beaten hills in the whole breadth of the Highlands."

About half a mile beyond the head of Loch nan Dailthean, and a mile south from Tournaig, is the pretty natural wood called Coille Aigeascaig, whose charms are celebrated in Alexander Cameron's song, given in Part II., chap, xxiii.

There is a small cave among the hills two miles due east from Tournaig. It is called Uamh Mhic 'ille Rhiabhaich, or "the cave of Mac Gille Riabhaich." The cave is close to a loch bearing the same name, on which are two small islands, one of which seems to have been a stronghold. An account of Mac Gille Riabhaich, who lived in this cave, is given in Part I., chap. viii.

In one of the fields at Tournaig is a place where the natives in the old days used to bleed living cattle landed here from the Hebrides (Part II., chap. viii.).

At Tournaig the road bends to the left, and passes the Tournaig farm buildings, where lives Alexander Cameron, the farm manager, who is a Gaelic poet (Part II., chap, xxiii.). The branch of Loch Ewe which approaches Tournaig is called Loch Tournaig.

In Loch Tournaig is a small peninsular headland, on the north side of the Inverewe Point called the Dunan (see illustration). This headland is insulated at high spring-tides. On it a dun, or fort, is said to have formerly stood, but tradition does not say who held it. There are many loose stones on the top, though no traces of walls or foundations can be found. The strongest evidence that this was the site of a fort or other similar place, is found in the large and regularly placed stepping-stones which connect it with the mainland. The now superfluous height of these stones seems to point to their having been placed there when the sea was at a higher level.

From Loch Tournaig the road ascends, and has a devious and rather tedious course, until Drumchork is reached. At one point on the way is a peep of the well-known form of the Storr rock in Skye; and further on a burn is crossed, which is the march in this direction between the estates of Mr Osgood H. Mackenzie and Mrs Liot Bankes. The western shore of Loch Ewe is well seen, with its townships of crofts. Loch Ewe is a fine expanse of water, opening due north to the Atlantic. Isle Ewe soon comes fully in view, with its little settlement towards the nearer end; whilst in the far distance may be seen, beyond the north-eastern extremity of the North Point and above the mouth of Loch Ewe, the northern parts of the Long Island, or at least of that part which is in the county of Ross, and is called "the Lews." Sometimes the three summits behind Stor-noway may be distinctly discerned.

Drumchork, which is nearly seven miles from Poolewe, comprises a commodious shooting-lodge some way up the hillside (now leased by Mr C. E. Johnston), and nearer the road, on the right-hand side, a square of farm buildings, erected about 1880 on the site of the old house of Drumchork. This place, as well as the village of Aultbea, and the territory on both sides of the following road, including the whole of the Green Stone Point (except Mellon Charles, which is Sir Kenneth's), is the property of Mrs Liot Bankes. Her estate extends westward from here to a burn on Slioch, where it marches with Sir Kenneth's estate. Towards the north her property is bounded by the sea, and then by the Meikle Gruinard river; thus it extends beyond the parish of Gairloch; it may be said to include all the parts of the parish up to Slioch lying to the north-east of Loch Maree, the River Ewe, and Loch Ewe, except Mellon Charles and the Inveran beat belonging to Sir Kenneth, and except the estate of Mr Osgood H. Mackenzie. The latter extends northwards and eastwards to Fionn Loch and the summit of Beinn Aridh Charr. The road turns off, to the left, just below Drumchork, to the village of

Aultbea.

This village comprises an inn and post-office, and at some distance a large Free church and manse, with a stable where horses that have brought people from a distance to attend church can be put up. It may be said to comprise the hamlets or townships of Aultbea, Bad-fearn, Tighnafaoilinn, and Cuilchonich, which cover about a square mile.

The name Aultbea signifies " the birch burn," but there are not many birches there now. The burn runs into the sea close behind the inn. The county road at present terminates here. The bay is formed by the Point of Aird, the channel between which and Isle Ewe is barely half a mile across, and affords safe anchorage. Here stands Aird House, occupied by Mr Muir. It was erected by the Mackenzies of Gruinard, and was the residence of that family for some time.

The inn is old-fashioned, but sufficient for bachelors who do not object to roughing it a little. The landlord, Mr Forbes, is most civil and obliging; and excellent angling, both in Loch Ewe and on some good fresh-water lochs, can be had by those staying at the inn. Mr Forbes can also provide a good horse and trap, and can arrange for the voyage from Laide to Ullapool suggested in Part IV., chap, ii., as a mode of exit from Gairloch. The hand-line fishing accessible from Aultbea, and the lythe trolling round the north end of Isle Ewe, are probably the best in Gairloch waters.

One of the two Gairloch policemen is stationed at Aultbea.

The road beyond Aultbea to Laide, and thence forward to Gruinard, has been put in excellent order by Mrs Liot Bankes, through whose property it passes. This and the branch roads are described in Part IV., chap. xii.


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