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Gairloch in North-West Ross-Shire
Appendices B


EXTRACT from "A Tour in Scotland and Voyage to the Hebrides, 1772, by Thomas Pennant." Dedication dated at Downing, March 1, 1774.

Mr Pennant accomplished most of his tour in the Western Highlands and Islands by means of a sailing vessel. Landing at Dundonnel at the head of Little Loch Broom, on 30th July 1772, in tempestuous weather, he was hospitably entertained by Kenneth Mackenzie, Esq. of Dundonnel. He made this note here:— "Dundonnel,—Determine to go by land to visit Loch Maree, a great lake to the south ; and direct Mr Thompson to sail and wait for us at Gairloch."

After a rough ride, occupying most of the day, and which seems to have been by way of Achneigie, thence by Glen na Muic and the heights of Kenlochewe to the lower end of Glen Dochartie (a route still indicated by a mountain track), he writes as follows (vol. ii., page 328) under date of 1st August 1772 :—

"Black morassy heaths succeed, named Gliann-dochartai. Dine on the side of a rill at the bottom, on plentiful fare provided by our kind host, whose son Mr Mackenzie, and another gentleman of the name, kindly undertook the charge of us to the next stage. Ride through a narrow strath called Kin-loch-ewe, where we first saw the signs of houses and a little cultivation since morning. This terminates in a meadowy plain, closed at the end with Loch-Maree : the night proved wet and tempestuous; we therefore determined to defer the voyage till next day; and to shelter ourselves in a whisky house, the inn of the place. Mr Mackenzie complimented Mr Lightfoot and me with the bedstead, well covered with a warm litter of heath : we lay in our cloaths, wrapped ourselves in plaids and enjoyed a good repose. Our friends did not lose their sleep ; but great was our surprize to see them form their bed of wet hay, or rather grass collected from the fields; they flung a plaid over it, undressed, and lay most comfortably, without injury, in what, in a little time, must have become an errant hot bed: so blest with hardy constitutions are even the gentlemen of this country!

"At seven in the morning (Aug. 2) take a six-oared boat, at the east end of Loch Maree, keep on the north shore beneath steep rocks, mostly filled with pines-waving over our heads. Observe on the shore a young man of good appearance,. hailing the boat in the erse language. I demanded what he wanted; was informed, a place in the boat. As it was entirely filled, was obliged to refuse his request. He follows us for two miles through every difficulty, and by his voice and gestures threatened revenge. At length a rower thought fit to acquaint us, that he -was owner of the boat, and only wanted admission in lieu of one of them. The boat was ordered to shore, and the master taken in with proper apologies and attempts to sooth him for his hard treatment. Instead of insulting us with abuse as a Char-on of South Britain would have done, he instantly composed himself, and told us through an interpreter, that he felt great pride in finding that his conduct gained any degree of approbation.

"Continue our course. The lake, which at the beginning was only half a mile broad, now, nearly half its length, widens into a great bay, bending towards the south, about four miles in breadth, filled with little isles, too much clustered and t indistinct. Land on that called Inch-maree, the favoured isle of the saint, the patron of all the coast from Applecross to Loch-broom. The shores are neat and gravelly; the whole surface covered thickly with a beautiful grove of oak, ash, willow, wicken, birch, fir, hazel, and enormous hollies. In the midst is a circular dike of stones, with a regular narrow entrance; the inner part has been used for ages as a burial-place, and is still in use. I suspect the dike to have been originally Druidical, and that the ancient superstition of Paganism had been taken up by the saint as the readiest method of making a conquest over the minds of the inhabitants. A stump of a tree is shewn as an altar, probably the memorial of one of stone; but the curiosity of the place is the well of the saint; of power unspeakable in cases of lunacy. The patient is brought into the sacred island, is made to kneel before the altar, where his attendants leave an offering in money; he is then brought to the well, and sips some of the holy water: a second offering is made ; that done, he is thrice dipped in the lake; and the same operation is repeated every day for some weeks: and it often happens, by natural causes, the patient receives relief, of which the saint receives the credit. I must add that the visitants draw from the state of the well an omen of the disposition of St Maree; if his well is full, they suppose he will be propitious; if not, they proceed in their operations with fears and doubts; but let the event be what it will, he is held in high esteem ; the common oath of the country is by his name; if a traveller passes by any of his resting-places, they never neglect to leave an offering; but the saint is so moderate as not to put him to any expense, a stone, a stick, a bit of rag contents him.

"This is the most beautiful of the isles; the others have only a few trees sprinkled over their surface.

"About a mile farther the lake again contracts. Pass beneath a high rock, formed of short precipices, with shelves between, filled with multitudes of self-sown pines, making a most beautiful appearance.

"The south of the water is bounded with mountains adorned with birch woods, mixed with a few pines: a military road runs along its length. The mountains are not very high, but open in many parts to give a view of others, whose naked and broken tops shooting into sharp crags, strangely diversify the scene, and form a noble termination.

"Towards the bottom of the lake is a headland, finely wooded to the very summit. Here the water suddenly narrows to the breadth of a hundred yards, and continues so for nearly a mile, the banks cloathed with trees, and often bending into little semilunar bays to the very extremity; from whence its waters, after the course of a mile, a continual Rapide discharge into a deep and darksome hole, called Pool-ewe, which opens into the large bay of Loch-Ewe.

"The lake we had left is eighteen miles long ; the waters are said to be specifically lighter than most others, and very rarely frozen ; the depth is various, in some places sixty fathoms ; but the bottom is very uneven; if ten feet of water were drained away, the whole would appear a chain of little lakes.

"The fish are salmon, char, and trout; of the last is a species weighing thirty pounds.

"Land; are received by the Rev. Mr Dounie, minister of Gairloch, whom we attend to church, and hear a very edifying plain comment on a portion of Scripture. He takes us home with him, and by his hospitality makes us experience the difference between the lodgings of the two nights.

"Aug. 3. Take a view of the environs : visit the mouth of the river, where the salmon fishery supplies the tenant with three or four lasts of fish annually. On the bank are the remains of a very antient iron furnace. Mr Dounie has seen the back of a grate, marked 'S. G. Hay,' or Sir George Hay, who was head of a company here in the time of the Queen Regent; and is supposed to have chose this remote place for the sake of quiet in those turbulent times.

"Potatoes are raised here on the very peat-moors, without any other drains than the trenches between the beds. The potatoes are kiln-dried for preservation.

"It is to be hoped that a town will form itself here, as it is the station of a Government-packet, that sails regularly from hence to Stornaway, in Lewis, a place now growing considerable, by the encouragement of Lord Seaforth, the proprietor. This is a spot of much concourse ; for here terminates the military road, which crosses from the East to the West sea, commencing at Inverness, and passing by Fair-burn and Strath-braan to this place. Yet I believe the best inn on the last thirty miles is that of Mr Roderick Mac-donald, our landlord the last night but one.

"Ride about six miles South, and reach Gair-loch ; consisting of a few scattered houses, on a fine bay of the same name. Breakfast at Flowerdale ; a good house, beautifully seated between hills finely wooded. This is the seat of Sir Hector Mackenzie, whose ancestor received a writ of fire and sword against the antient rebellious owners; he succeeded in his commission, and received their lands for his pains.

"The parish of Gairloch is very extensive, and the number of inhabitants evidently encrease, owing to the simple method of life, and the conveniency they have of drawing a support from the fishery. If a young man is possessed of a herring-net, a hand-line, and three or four cows, he immediately thinks himself able to support a family, and marries. The present number of souls are about two thousand eight hundred.

"Herrings offer themselves in shoals from June to January; cod-fish abound on the great sandbank, one corner of which reaches to this bay, and is supposed to extend as far as Cape Wrath ; and South, as low as Rona, off Skie; with various branches, all swarming with cod and ling. The fishery is carried on with long-lines, begins in February', and ends in April. The annual capture is uncertain, from five to twenty-seven thousand. The natives at present labor under some oppressions, which might be easily removed, to the great advancement of this commerce. At present the fish are sold to some merchants from Campbel-Urum, who contract for them at two-pence farthing a-piece, after being cured and dried in the sun. The merchants take only those that measure eighteen inches from the gills to the setting on of the tail; and oblige the people to let them have two for one of all that are beneath that length. The fish are sent to Bilboa ; ling has also been carried there, but was rejected by the Spaniards. This trade is far from being pushed to its full extent; is monopolised, and the poor fishers obliged to sell their fish at half the price to those who sell it to the merchants. • "The want of a town is very sensibly felt in all those parts; there is no one commodity, no one article of life, or implement of fishery, but what is gotten with difficulty, and at a great price, brought from a distance by those who are to make advantage from the necessities of the people. It is much to be lamented that after the example of the Earl of Seaforth, they do not collect a number of inhabitants by feuing their lands, or granting leases for a length of years for building ; but still so much of the spirit of the chieftain remains, that they dread giving an independency to their people; a false policy ! as it would enrich both parties; and make the landlord more respectable, as master of a set of decent tenants, than of thousands of bare-footed half-starved vassals. At present adventurers from distant parts take the employ from the natives ; a town would create a market; a market would soon occasion a concourse of snipping, who would then arrive with a certainty of a cargo ready taken for them ; and the mutual wants of stranger and natives would be supplied at an easy rate.

"By example of a gentleman or two, some few improvements in farming appear. Lime is burnt; sea tang used as manure ; and shell sand' imported by such who can afford the freight. But the best trade at present is cattle: about five hundred are annually sold out of this parish, from the price of one pound seven to two pounds five a-piece. About eighty horses, at three pounds each, and a hundred and fifty sheep, at three pounds per score. The cattle are blooded at spring and fall: the blood is preserved to be eaten cold.

"We found our vessel safely arrived at anchor with many others, under the shelter of a little isle, on the south side of the bay. Weigh, and get under sail with a good breeze."


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