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

Chapter VIII.—Excursions from Kenlochewe


THE drives from the Kenlochewe Hotel include those to various points of interest on the county road in both directions,—i.e. towards Achnasheen on the one hand (Part IV., chap, iii.), and towards Talladale on the other (Part IV., chap. iv.). Both sections will bear repeated examination, especially the part from Kenlochewe to Grudidh bridge in the direction of Talladale.

The excursion to Loch Torridon is perhaps the most interesting expedition.from Kenlochewe. The distance from the hotel to the head of Loch Torridon is eleven miles; the excursion, including a Test at Torridon village, will occupy five hours. For a shorter drive or walk the bridge on the Allt a Choire Dhuibh Mhoir, or "burn of the great black corrie," may be made the limit. As it is only a good six miles from Kenlochewe the horses will not require a rest. The road is not at present complete beyond Torridon, and the visitor who proceeds there from Kenlochewe must return by the same road, unless he has a yacht awaiting him at Torridon, or takes the route vid Shieldaig of Applecross recommended in Part IV., chap. ii. The road to Torridon leaves the Gairloch road at the north end of the village of Kenlochewe. It keeps the Garbh river to the left for some miles. About half a mile from Kenlochewe, in a picturesque bend of the river, is the hamlet of Cromasaig, where lived the old bard mentioned on pages 51 and 175. There are patches of natural birch wood and some rocky salmon pools on the river. To the right the magnificent mountain Beinn Eighe, with its quartzite peaks, rises very grandly; and in front are fine views of the Coulin hills. Fe (or Feith) Leoid is on the hill to the left; its name records the slaughter of Leod Mac Gilleandreis

by Black Murdo of the Cave (Part I., chap. iii.). Four miles from Kenlochewe, Loch Clair is reached. It is a beautiful sheet of water, about three quarters of a mile long, with fine old fir trees on its shores. The new private road to Achnashelloch, ten miles from Kenlochewe, diverges at this point, and is seen skirting the eastern shore of Loch Clair. There is a rock near Loch Clair called Maelrubha's Seat, where it is said the saint of Isle Maree rested when travelling between the monastery of Applecross and his cell on Isle Maree. Half a mile beyond Loch Clair is a smaller loch on the left, called Loch Bharanaichd. Two miles beyond Loch Clair the march or boundary between Gairloch and Applecross parishes is reached. To the right of the road, on the Gairloch side, is a pile of very large stones—evidently artificial—heaped up on a flat space. It is called Cam Anthony, or "Anthony's cairn," and is said to have been erected long ago in memory of a son, named Anthony, of one of the Mackenzie proprietors of Torridon. There are some remains of smaller heaps of stone by the side of the Torridon road formed by funeral processions at places where they halted to rest (Part II., chap. iii.). Half a mile beyond the march the road passes over the burn of the great black corrie. To the left, below Loch Bharanaichd, is a large hollow filled with a vast number of circular knolls or hillocks. This hollow is called Coire Cheud Cnoc, or "the corrie of a hundred hillocks." These singular mounds appear to a casual observer to resemble the artificial sepulchral tumuli found in other parts of the kingdom, but in reality, as geologists tell us, they are due to the natural action of ice or water in ages long since past. Some guide-books erroneously call the place Coire Cheud Creagh, or " the corrie of a hundred spoils;" the spoils were cattle lifted—i.e. stolen—in Gairloch; they were often driven this way, so that the name though fictitious has some justification. It was at shieling bothies near this place that Alastair Ross called for the Lochaber cattle-lifters, as related in Part I., chap. xiii. Another traditional incident assigned to this locality is that, illustrating the Rev. Mr Sage's muscular Christianity, narrated in Part I., chap. xvi. The remainder of the road to Torridon is overshadowed by the mighty precipices of Liathgach, the highest top of which is 3456 feet above the sea level. The prefix Beinn often put before the name of this mountain is superfluous and out of place. Her Majesty Queen Victoria drove to Torridon on 15th September 1877, and in her diary refers to "the dark mural precipices of that most extraordinary mountain." Her Majesty writes :—"We were quite amazed as we drove below it. Beinn Liathgach is most peculiar from its being so dark, and the rocks like terraces one above the other, or like fortifications and pillars—most curious; the glen itself is very flat, and the mountains rise very abruptly on either side. There were two cottages (in one of which lived a keeper), a few cattle, and a great many cut peats."

The dark hill to the left is Sgurr Dubh (2566 feet), a gloomy mass of steep rocks. On its west side, in an elevated hollow invisible from the road, is the little loch or tarn called Lochan an Fheidh, where the battle between the Mackenzies under Alastair Breac and the Macleods under Iain Mac Allan Mhic Ruaridh took place in 1610. The Macleods were completely routed, and nettles still grow over the spot where their bodies have long since returned to dust. Further on, to . the left, is Beinn na h' Eaglais (2410 feet), or "church hill," a name evidencing the widespread labours of the followers of St Columba, who brought Christianity to these parts. The descent down the narrow glen towards Loch Torridon becomes steeper as we proceed, and in due time the little village of Torridon, at the head of the loch, is reached. Since the boundary of the parish of Gairloch was passed the road has been entirely on the estate of Mr Duncan Darroch, proprietor of Torridon, descended from MacGille Riabhaich (see page 28); he is an enthusiastic Highlander, and since he acquired this property in 1872 has done much to improve not only the estate but the condition of the people. He has erected a noble mansion on the shore of the loch about two miles beyond the village. He has recently sold the Beinn Damh estate, on the south side of the river and loch of Torridon, to the Earl of Lovelace.

A pleasant hour may be spent while the horses are being rested at Torridon. The low promontory jutting into the loch near the village is the Ploc of Torridon, mentioned in the story of the visit of John Roy Mackenzie to Lord Mackenzie of Kintail (Part I., chap xi.). From some points of view Beinn Alligin and Beinn Damh are conspicuous in the landscape. Beinn Alligin (3232 feet) is to the north of Loch Torridon, and is the mountain seen so well from Gairloch; Beinn Damh (2956 feet) has not such a noble contour. The traveller will probably return by the road just traversed. In some respects the views seem finer on the return journey.

Another pleasant little expedition from Kenlochewe is to the Heights of Kenlochewe, distant about three miles ; the road is traversable so far by wheeled vehicles. Cross the bridge over the Bruachaig river just above the Kenlochewe lodge, and follow the road which soon bends to the right. There are good views from different points, especially of Beinn Eighe. The "Heights of Kenlochewe" is the name of the sheep farm, but the road does not attain to a level of more than three hundred feet above the sea. The glen has been erroneously called Glen Logan. The local name is Glen Cruaidh Choillie. The south-east side of it is called Leacaidh, or "the place of flags." Can "Logan" have been invented by some one who mispronounced Leacaidh ? The great glen north of the head of this glen is called Glen na Muic, or the "glen of the pig;" they say wild boar were formerly hunted here; it must have been long ago. Some old people of the district locate the Fingalian legend of the "Boar of Diarmid" in Glen na Muic; but that well known and almost universal story is connected with many other places in the Highlands.

The path on the east side of Loch Maree forms an interesting expedition, or series of expeditions, for the pedestrian. Cross the bridge over the Bruachaig river, as if going to the Heights; turn to the left, and take the path past the head-keeper's house and the kennels. At a house to the right Duncan Mackenzie, the Kenlochewe bard, lives (Part II., chap, xxiii.). A little further are the farm and burial-ground of Culinellan; some remains of a house outside the burial-ground are called " the chapel f it may have occupied the site of an ancient church, but this is mere conjecture. It is however certain that there was a church in this neighbourhood in the seventeenth century, and probably much earlier (see page 99). The river was formerly on this side of the burial-ground; a great flood altered the course of the stream, and they say washed away some bodies. Further on, immediately to the left of the path, is a small well, called Tobar Mhoire, i.e. the well of the Virgin Mary, or perhaps of the god Mourie (see Part II., chap. xi.). There is no better water in the country than this bubbling well supplies. Some of the old inhabitants believe that the ancient church called " Heglis Loch Ew" stood near the well. From a point half a mile beyond Culinellan the path lies along the bank of the Kenlochewe river. It is about two miles from Kenlochewe to the south-east corner of Loch Maree. Half a mile before this is reached is the small pond or swamp called Lochan Cul na Cathrach, into which the Fasagh ironworkers are said to have thrown their tools when the furnaces there were abandoned (Part I., chap. xx.). The name means "the lakelet or tarn at the back of the fairy seat;" a large mound or hillock at this place is called Cathir Mhor, or "the big seat of the fairies;" evidently the "good folk" frequented this place. Some other mounds here are called Torran nan Eun, or "the mounds of the birds;" the locality was formerly wooded. A large pool on the river is called Poll a Chuillin, or " the pool of the hollies," but there are no hollies there now. Another half mile brings us to the remains of the Fasagh ironworks, on the east side of the Fasagh burn, which comes from Loch Fada. These ironworks are described in Part I., chap. xx. The dark crag above is called Bonaid Donn, or "the brown bonnet." There is a wooden bridge over the burn, a little above the ironworks, and again above this bridge a narrow gorge; through which the burn has worn a deep course; it is a very picturesque spot. A quarter of a mile further the Cladh nan Sasunnach, or " English burial-ground," lies on a low flat bank close to the loch (Part I., chap, xviii.). Two hundred yards to the east of this burial-ground the path bends due north; it leads to Letterewe, and is well worth following as far as Regoilachy. The hamlet of Smiorsair is about four miles from Kenlochewe. It is situate in a hollow or dell, between the mighty Slioch (on the north) and a ridge of no great height stretching between the secluded plateau where Smiorsair nestles and Loch Maree. It is a romantic place with its waterfall, and a quiet burn meandering through the flat ground. The path next passes through a narrow gully called Clais na Leac, where they say ironstone used to be quarried. A mile beyond Smiorsair is the place called Regoilachy, near the shore of Loch Maree; there are remains of houses, but no one lives there now. The other hamlets between this and Letterewe are each about a mile apart; they are Coppachy, Innis Ghlas, and Fuirneis. Letterewe House is again a mile beyond Fuirneis; it is a walk of nine miles from Kenlochewe to Letterewe. The expedition may be continued beyond Letterewe to Ardlair, four miles, and thence on by Inveran to Poolewe, another four miles; but some portions of the path can scarcely be distinguished by strangers, and the part along the Bull-rock is, to say the least, difficult, and I do not recommend it. The Fasagh burn and Smiorsair may with advantage be made the objects of separate excursions, especially by those who sketch.

Perhaps the most generally enjoyable excursions from Kenlochewe are expeditions on Loch Maree itself. Boats can be hired in connection with the Kenlochewe Hotel, and many sailing or rowing trips undertaken in them along either shore of the loch. Not only the angler, but the searcher after health, the archaeologist, and the artist or amateur sketcher, will find much to interest and delight. The Fasagh burn and its ironworks, the Cladh nan Sasunnach, the curious Grudidh island, and the beauties of the lower part of the Grudidh river, may be visited by boat.

 


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