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
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.
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.]
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
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.