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Kinlochbervie
Chapter I - Kinlochbervie


What a beautiful name for a parish! There is music in it for almost any ear. How sweetly it Must fall on the cars of exiles in distant lands, such as New Zealand, in the far south and British Columbia, in the far west! The natives of Kinlochbervie, wherever they wander, carry with them the music of the name as part of themselves.

Kinlochbervie ! How did the parish come to be so called? What is the source and meaning of the name? Can we trace its derivation? We may. At one time this part of the country was called "An Ceathramh Garbh," that is, The Rough Quarter. Sir Alexander Gordon, writing in the seventeenth century, said: "It is all rough with wood, mountains, and tractless paths, and incapable of being tilled or bearing crops, except in a very few places." As it was unsuitable for cultivation it was given up to the rearing of goats, cattle, and horses. The gearrons of Eddrachillis were famous in those days, and are held by some to have been the sires of the modern Shetland ponies. Then, as now, people took pride in their stock. In this district there was a famous herd of golden cattle, the steading of which was where the church and manse now stand—an Leathad Ban. The lake is called to this day, Loch-innis-nam-ba-bhuidhe, meaning, the lake by which the yellow herd graze. The little village that grew up at the end of the lake, between it and the sea, was called Ceann-loch-nam -buar-bhuidhe. English speakers, who did not understand the meaning of the word, were in too great a hurry to waste breath on so long a compound, and called it Kin-loch-her-vie. We seldom find a Gaelic place-name improved by being anglicised, but in this case we have both the name and its meaning euphoniously preserved.

Its Boundaries

The ecclesiastical parish is composed of two parts cut off from the parishes of Eddrachillis and Durness. In 1826 it was formed into the quoad sacra parish of Kinlochbervie.

Its boundary runs by Geisgeach Bay, by the river and lake of that name, to the top of Beinn Dearg Bheag, through Bealach Coire na Caoidh, to the top of Craig Riabhach and Meall na Moine, by the foot of Farmheall to Alit na Guaille, thence in almost a straight line to the top of Cnoc a Mhadaidh and Foinne-Bheinn, across Beallach-na-Feidhe to Meall Horn (Meall a Chuirn), along the bank of Allt-a-Chuirn to Ardachullinn, and to where An Earrachd joins Loch Stack. Loch Stack and Laxford river form the southern boundary to Loch Laxford.

The area of the parish is roughly about 270 square miles, and is probably the most picturesque in the world. It is dotted throughout with fresh water lakes to the number of over 150. These with scarcely an exception abound in brown trout. The principal harbours are Loch Laxford (salmon fiord), Loch Inchard (the high peninsula), and Loch Claise (the hollow).

There are many little spots in which the eye of the artist .finds exquisite beauty. But there are also scenes that cannot fail to appeal to anyone. Take, for example, the view from Beallach-Tigh-Fionghal, looking east and south-east. A glorious range of majestic mountains, not surpassed by any in Scotland, meets the eye. They overawe and uplift the soul. One can stand there and worship before agelong proofs of a Presence that is Divine. Foinne Bheinn is 2,980 ft. high, Meall a Chuirn 2,548, Arkill 2,560, Stack 2,364. Then the mountains of Assynt, Glasbheinn, Cuinneag, Canisp, and Suilbheinn, stand in the distance all clad in heaven's blue, reflecting every change on the sky, yet remaining' unchanged throughout the ages.

Foinnbheinn, Meall Horn, and Arkill, are famous for that sport of kings, deer stalking. Sir Robert Gordon, writing in the seventeenth century, said, "In the Dirimore there is a hill called Arkill; all the deir that are bred therein, or hant within that hill, have forked tails, thrie inches long, whereby they are easily known and discerned from all other deir."

Mr. A. Stewart, writing in the New Statistical Account, in 1840, says, "The description thus given of the deer having forked tails is still applicable." This legend has gone abroad as a phenomenon peculiar to this part of the country. Modern deer stalkers are of opinion "that the fork-tail stag is really an old stag that is in bad condition, and has not got clear of the old hair, with the result that the old hair, still on the tail, parts on a wet day, making a fork at the point. When shot, it is seen that there is no fork in the flesh of the tail." ['So writes Mr. Scobie, keeper, Ardachuillinn. Mr. Munro, Achfary, who has forty years' experience behind him, and Mr. Robert MacAulay, who was born and trained in the forest, agree with this opinion.]

Pre-Historic Footprints

There are good grounds for believing that the district known as Oldshore was at one time well populated and cultivated. There can be no doubt the land was well wooded. The fir roots, preserved in the moss through centuries, afford ample evidence of this. And no one who has dug or burned these has the feeling that they are very ancient. The place names of the district supply us with further evidence. The place now known as Strath Choilleach is simply Strath-naCoille, the wooded valley. Then there is a little lake to the south of Sandwood, Loch Claise-na-Coille—the loch of the valley of the wood. Though there is no wood there now, it is evident there was at one time. Loch-a-Mhuilinn (the Mill loch) tells of time of which we have now neither record nor even tradition, when the people of the district went there to grind their corn. Not far away is Loch-an-t-saic (the Bag loch) rather suggestive in that connection. There is also Loch-na-Larach (the Sites loch) a late name. These give ample proof of human habitation, cultivation and industry. Better still, the river Shinary is telling its own tale to every thoughtful listener.

Let us listen to its tale. Oldshore was at one time, as has been stated, well populated and well cultivated. The wealth and the living of the people was in their stock of cattle. The land about their holdings was cleared of stock early in the season. The cows were taken to the shielings, where butter and cheese were made, and where calves were reared, during the summer months. When harvest time came they returned home to gather in their crops, when the cattle found abundant food on the - home pastures. Shinary (seann airidh or old sheiling) afforded good pasture for the whole district. It provided better feeding than it does to-day, for it was eaten bare every summer, and therefore grew again without wastage. The pasture to-day is less valuable because it is not used and cleaned year by year as it was then. We may still picture the women milking on the moor, and hear them singing their milking songs as the jets of milk fell into the cogies, and the froth rose to the top.

Though the district of Oldshore has been inhabited and cultivated for a longer period than any other part, yet as late as the seventeenth century, Gordon of Straloch relates that the whole district abounded with wolves. In 1601 King James VI. made a grant to Earl John of Sutherland of "the lands and towns of Astlermoir, Astlerbeg, Sandewatt," with the mills and fishings of the same. The mills and fishings even then seem to have been assets of some value.

Oldshore as a place-name puzzled such competent scholars as Dr. Adam Gunn and John MacKay of Hereford. The former thought it was from fas-thire, the fertile land, as opposed to the sterile land of An Ceathramli Garbh, the latter follows the same line. Both were guessing. In ancient manuscripts the name was written in a great many different ways, skewing the difficulty non-Gaelic writers had in giving orthographic expression to purely Gaelic sounds. They made it Astler, Alsther, Alstlair, and so on. In the will of the Hon. Charles MacKay, son of Donald, 1st Lord Reay, he gave in life-rent to his wife and in fee to his son Donald, his wadset of the lands of Sandwood and Alscherinore. There you have a person to whom Gaelic was native spelling the word. He at once revealed the meaning and origin of the name. There are two burns in this north-western part of the parish, which, owing to their position, were called Allt-siar-mbr and Alltsiar-beag. The larger burn flows through Oldshoremore and the lesser through Oldshorebeg. Neither burn has a distinctive name to-day, but the two, without doubt, supplied the district with its name. Oldshore is alit siar, the western burn.


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