Search just our sites by using our customised search engine
Unique Cottages | Electric Scotland's Classified Directory

Click here to get a Printer Friendly PageSmiley

Netherlorn and its Neighbourhood
Chapter VIII - Craignish, Melfort

"Records hung
Round strath and mountain, stamped by the ancient tongue
On rock and ruin, darkening as we go -
Spots where a word, ghost-like, survives to show
What crimes from hate, or desperate love, have sprung"

SEPARATED from the Sound of Shuna and Loch Melfort by the long, tongue-like promontory of Craignish, a narrow loch of the same name passes inland for 5 miles. It is the maritime continuation or fiord of Glen Domhain (pronounced Doin - deep), and receives the waters of the Duchara and Barbreck rivers which flow down the valley; the distance from the watershed, a mile from Loch Avich and Loch Awe, to Craignish Point, being about 10 miles.

Loch Craignish has been the theme of much poetic description. MacCulloch, who takes the credit of being the first traveller to recognise its beauties, lingers lovingly upon the subject: -"On entering the inlet, and from different positions, we are struck by the magnificent and ornamented perspective of the two boundaries of the water, stretching away, for a distance of six or seven miles, in straight, though indented and varied lines, till they meet in the geometrical vanishing point, vanishing also in the air tints of the horizon. Between these is seen the magnificent vista of the islands; the nearest, rich with scattered woods and ancient solitary trees, rising into rocky hills separated by green valleys and farms, and projecting promontories of the most beautiful forms, between which are seen deep bays, often overshadowed by trees springing from the rocks and spreading their rich foliage over the water. Hence the perspective of the whole range of the islands is prolonged like that of the boundaries of the loch; till also the last extremity of the last island vanishes alike in the aerial and in the geometric perspective. As the general character of all the islands is exactly similar, the effect produced by the incessant repetition of similar objects in a constant state of diminution is most remarkable."

There are two lines of islands, equidistant from each other and the shores of the loch; and it is the remarkable similarity in colour and form of the individual islands, and their seeming reduplication, which gives Loch Craignish a striking and unique character. Eilean Righ (King's Island) and Eilean Mhic Naomhein (Macniven's Island) are large enough for single farms; while the others, and also the curious group of islets outside Craignish Point - Reisa Mhic Phaidein, Cor-reisa, Reis-an-t-shruith, and Garbh-reisa -afford excellent grazing.

The western coast of Craignish on the Sound of Shuna is strikingly picturesque. The region is one of schistose rocks, which weather and disintegrate much more quickly than the slate and quartzite of other parts of the district, and thus we find basaltic dykes much more prominently in relief. These cross the peninsula from side to side, and on the west shore many attain 8 height of 100 feet or more, their breadth being about 12 feet. The resemblance to artificial buttresses and walls is in many cases increased by the growth of ivy, which gives the dykes the appearance of ruined fortifications.

On each side of the mouth of the loch an ancient Highland fortress stands sentinel. On the western promontory, embowered in woods and prettily situated at the head of Loch Beg, Craignish Castle is seen; while a little to the east of Ardifuar the eastern headland, the "Castle of the Turrets," as Duntroon was called, crowns a bare eminence. Repaired by the present proprietors, its gaunt, warlike appearance, and the absence of ornamental woods or policies, make it somewhat of an anachronism, and one cannot but feel that a ruined tower would have been more in keeping with the spirit of the place.

Now in the possession of the Malcolms of Poltalloch, it formerly belonged to a branch of the Campbells of Argyll, descended from Cailein Iongantach (wonderful Colin), the fourth MacCailein Mor and twelfth Knight of Lochow. For four hundred years it remained their property, until sold by the trustees of Captain Niel Campbell about the end of the eighteenth century. The financial difficulties which caused the sale were occasioned by the failure of the Ayr Bank; and it is a peculiar coincidence that it was the failure of the Western Bank, half a century later, which compelled the proprietor of Craignish to dispose of a large part of his property, including the castle.

During the Montrose wars, Colla Ciotach (left-handed Coll) MacDonald, a famous freelance of the Antrim family, came over from Ireland to assist the Royalists. At a skirmish close to Duntroon his piper was taken prisoner, and shortly afterwards an ambuscade was laid for Coll, who, reinforced, was advancing with his "birlinns " (galleys) to storm the castle. The piper, noticing the danger of his master, began to play a "piobaireachd" ostensibly for the entertainment of the captain of the garrison, who was himself an enthusiastic admirer of this form of music. The composition, since known as "Colla, mo run" (Coll, my love), or the "Piper's warning to his master," breathes such a spirit of melancholy and wail of hopelessness, interspersed with passages of quick, nervous music calling for alert and instant action, that the notes, wafted across the water to his friends, could not but convey to those conversant with the style of the musician the warning that some awful danger awaited them. The advancing party turned aside and the Campbell chieftain, fully appreciating the cause, instantly slew the piper. The words applied to the piece, translated, are somewhat as follows:-

"Coll, my love, be ready, depart; be ready, depart;
Coll, my love, be ready, depart;
We are in their hands, we are in their hands.
Coll, my love, avoid the dun (castle), avoid the dun;
Coll, my love, avoid the dun;
We are in their hands, we are in their hands.
An oar, a baler; an oar, a baler;
We are in their hands, we are in their hands,"

and so on.

A few years afterwards Coll's son, Alexander MacDonald (Alasdair MacColla), during his memorable invasion of Argyll, attacked Craignish Castle; but it was stubbornly defended, and Alasdair, who in derision had said of it,

"Caisteal beag biorach na faochagan,
Cuiridh oiteag do 'n ghaoth air chridh e,
(" The little pointed castle of the whelks,
a puff' of wind will make it tremble,")

was forced to raise the siege.

The district of Craignish was for centuries the scene of more than ordinary strife; it seems to have been a sort of debatable ground for the possession of which, not only different clans, but also rival and closely-connected branches of the later proprietors, the great clan Campbell, contended. Its earliest traditions refer to battles betwixt the natives and the Danes. On its western shore, at Bagh Dal nan Ceann (the Bay of the Field of the Heads), are a number of cairns erected in commemoration of such a fight: while in the Barbreck valley are numerous monoliths and tumuli which tell of a great conflict when the Danes, under their King Olaf, attacked the Scots at Drumrigh (the King's Ridge); the latter were forced to retire, but making a stand a few miles up the valley at a place called Sluggan, the Danish general was killed--a "standing stone" still marks the spot. The Danes being driven back to where Barbreck House now is, were there completely routed and King Olaf slain. A large tumulus, Dunan Aula, was erected on the fatal field to commemorate the victory and mark the burial-place of the king.

A little bay near Craignish Point is known as Port nan Athullach (the Atholmen's Port). In 1681, after the forfeiture of the Earl of' Argyll, his property was placed under the control of the Earl of Atholl, who was secretly instructed to ravage the estates and show no mercy to the Campbell lairds and followers. The Craignish chief had taken all the cattle away to the islands for safety, and on returning met and utterly destroyed a party of Atholmen at this spot.

The earliest possessors of the peninsula and strath of Craignish of whom tradition speaks were the MacEachrans of Nether Craignish, the MacMartins of the Strath, and the Gillieses of Duchra and Glenmore. From MacEachran, whose foster-son he was, Dugald, son of Archibald, fourth Knight of Lochow, who flourished about 1190, got as a patrimony the estate of Na-h-Ard, or Nether Graignish, and from him the Campbells of Craignish received their patronymic – Mac Dhughail Chreaganis (the MacDougall Campbells of Craignish). This family - the eldest cadets of the house of Argyll - was a virile race, its members in all generations, to their cost, little disposed to diplomacy or guile, but staunch defenders of their rights and good soldiers. By marriage alliance and conquest they quickly acquired large possessions, and their growing power was noted with apprehension and jealousy by the parent house of Lochow. Unfortunately, in the eighth generation the family was represented by a female-Cairistiona Nighean Dhugail Chreaganis - of whose weakness and imprudence the Knight of Lochow took advantage to have the estate resigned to him, she receiving back a small portion of the upper part of Craignish under his superiority. The nearest male representative-Raoul Mor na-h-ordaig (Big Ronald of the Thumb) -fought hard for his heritage, and Argyll was obliged to allow him possession of a considerable portion of the estate, but retaining the superiority, and inserting a condition in the grant that failing a male heir in the direct line the lands were to revert to the Argyll family. In 1544 the direct line failed. In the same year the nearest collateral heir, Tearlach Mor (Big Charles) Mhic Dhughail, of Corranmore in Craignish, had the misfortune to kill Gillies of Glenmore in a brawl; he fled to Perthshire and settled on Lochtayside, receiving the protection of the Breadalbane family. From him many honourable families were descended, his offspring being known as Sliochd Thearlaich Dhuibh (the Race of Black Charles). This unfortunate occurrence prevented Charles claiming the estate which, with the exception of the small barony of Barrichibeyan, became the absolute property of the Argyll family.

The later history of the collateral branches and of the property which they possessed is exceedingly chequered and full of romance, but too lengthy for repetition here.

Of Ronald Mor the following story is told. He was bound under charter to render certain services to the Baron of Barrichibeyan, one of which was that the proprietor of Craignish had to cut the corn at harvest for the latter. To a man of Ronald's high temper this service was irksome, and he adopted a plan to make the fulfilment of it unpleasant for the baron. Alleging that although he was bound to reap, he was not bound to tie, he caused the tenants to cut the corn during a, storm of wind, but did not allow them to bind it, with the result that by next day the corn was scattered in all directions. It became a saying when reapers did not bind as they cut -- 'Buain Raoul mor na-h-ordaig. Buain an diugh, 's ceangail a maireach" ("The shearing of Ronald Mor. Reap to-day and bind tomorrow").

On the ridge betwixt Kilmartin and Craignish, a river, called Allt Atha mhic Mhartein (the River of MacMartin's Ford), takes its rise. Here, a laird of Craignish, returning from visiting Lochow at his castle of Innis Chonail, was overtaken by a, party of MacMartins and forced to fight. The MacMartins were defeated, and their chief, who was Craignish's wife's brother, was killed. Craignish, out of pity, took MacMartin's son and placed him in charge of his brother Duncan Campbell, called MacRath or the Fortunate Son. One day, when the boy had grown up, his foster-father took him to the wood to cut harrow pins, and while resting after their labour the boy began toying with MacRath's dirk. Being asked what he would like to do with the dirk, the boy replied that he would kill the man who killed his father. MacRath, thinking it better to put a probable avenger of MacMartin's death out of the way, stabbed the boy and threw the body into a loch near by, which has since been called Loch Mhic Mhartein. It is said that Duncan MacRath (pronounced MacRa) Campbell, after the commission of this savage deed, fled to the north, and became the progenitor of the fierce MacRaes of Kintail.

The road from Craignish skirts the sea-shore, and passing over the promontory of Asknish, debouches upon an interesting country hemmed in between an amphitheatre of torrent-scarred hills and the shores of Loch Melfort. Circumscribed as it is, and with a free outlet by the sea only, this little corner presents scenes of rural beauty unsurpassed in any part of the Highlands. At Culfail, the centre of the district, pleasantly situated in a sheltered hollow on the side of a mountain spur, ample facilities are given for fishing the lochs and tarns which stud the uplands; while no one could wish for a more peaceful retreat, or for more comfortable headquarters from which to penetrate into the wild mountain fastnesses which guard the approaches to the valley of Loch Awe.

The configuration of the country is strikingly different from that of the sea-board. Instead of the long ridges of the slate and schistose regions, the andesite and other igneous outpourings of the Old Red Sandstone age, which cap the older metamorphic rocks, are intersected by river gorges and valleys into dome-shaped hills, giving the comparatively small area in question a somewhat chaotic, but entertaining, as it is unexpected, variety of scenery. One of these river gorges - the famous Pass of Melfort - has been formed by the passage of the River Oude. The stream has cut its way deeply through a huge mass of andesite; at the deepest part, where the cutting has been completed, the rocks on each side are several hundred feet high; while at the middle of the pass, where the wearing back of the gorge is actively in progress, the river pours with thundering noise in a series of foaming cataracts. The public road, constructed about 1828, has been cut out of the side of the ravine, and in some places is completely overhung by beetling cliffs. During a spate of waters, the scene, at all times fine, is of the grandest description.

About three-quarters of a mile to the east of Culfail is a pretty little lake known as Loch a Phearsain (the Parson's Loch); on it is a finely-wooded island with ruins. The stream just as it emerges from the lake forms a fine cascade, falling fully so feet.

The view from the head of Loch Melfort is attractive. Unlike other lochs in the district, this arm of the sea runs east and west. Its course seawards is interrupted by the islands of Shuna and Luing, which lie athwart its mouth; while high ridges of hills hem it in on both sides, that on the north indented with pretty little bays between finely-wooded promontories; that on the south, bare, smooth, and green, and devoid of beauty, but adding by contrast to the charm of the other. Its total length is about 5 miles and its breadth seldom over 1 mile, so that the eye receives, from this compression of parts, the impression of a completed and pleasing picture which would be wanting were the proportions upon a more ample scale.

The lands of Melfort, at one time in the possession of the MacDougalls, Lords of Lorn, were granted about 1343, by King David II, to Gilleasbuig Mor (Great Archibald) Campbell, Knight of Lochow, who conferred them upon a half-brother Niel, from whom were descended the MacNeill Campbells of Melfort. Son succeeded father in unbroken succession until 1838, when the property was sold by Colonel John Campbell to an English powder company, the only portion of the lands retained being the family burying-ground. The small property of Kilchoan, however, which was purchased from the MacLachlans by Colonel John, and accepted by his mother as a dower to facilitate the sale of the estate, remained in the hands of the family until 1906.

The Melfort Campbells during the last one hundred and thirty years have had a most distinguished record in the civil and military services. During that period the descendants of Captain Archibald Campbell of Melfort, who died in 1773, and his wife Annabel, daughter of Campbell of Barcaldine, and granddaughter of the famous chieftain Sir Ewen Cameron of Locheil, gave to the service of their country two admirals, one captain R.N., one commander R.N., four generals, four colonels, two majors, six captains, and six lieutenants. Three of these were Knight Commanders of the Bath, two governors of colonies, and one governor of the then important fortress of Fort George. Three sons of Lieutenant Colonel John Campbell of Melfort were killed in the Polygar and Mahratta wars at the beginning of last century – two of these, Captain John and Lieutenant Alexander, both of the 79th, on the one day, at the storming of a Polygar fort; the third, Lorn, also in the 74th, at the battle of Assaye in 1803. In connection with the death of Lorn Campbell the following perfectly authenticated story is told. " Mrs Campbell of Melfort was one night startled by seeing her youngest son standing by her bedside looking sadly at her. She marked down the month and the day. Some long time afterwards she received the mournful news that her son had fallen that day in battle."

A fourth son, Lieutenant Colin, so distinguished himself in the same wars at the storming of Ahmednuggur, that Sir Arthur Wellesly, who was a witness of his gallant conduct, promoted him on the field to be his Brigade Major. He was ever after a close personal friend of the Duke of Wellington, and served with him in almost every action in the Peninsula, thereafter in Belgium, at Quatre Bras and Waterloo; became Lieutenant- General and K.C.B., and was successively Lieutenant-Governor of Nova Scotia and Governor and Commander-in-Chief in Ceylon. He received eleven medals from his sovereign, the foreign Orders of Maria Theresa of Austria, Knight of St George of Russia, of Maximilian Joseph of Bavaria, and was Knight Commander of the Portuguese Order of the Tower and the Sword. In a private letter the Duke wrote him, the following occurs. "We are both getting old; God knows if we shall ever meet again. Happen what may, I shall never forget our first meeting under the walls of Ahmednuggur·"

In 1801 the Duke, then Sir Arthur, had written regarding Alexander Campbell: "Upon this occasion Campbell of the 74th (Jack's brother) was killed, and, I believe, all the officers of the 74th were either killed or wounded, among others, Jack Campbell himself, who has since died of his wounds. He is a loss to the service for which, in my opinion, all the Polygars in India cannot compensate."

Another of those heroic brothers, Admiral Sir Patrick Campbell, K.C.B., in 1801, when a Captain commanding the Dart a sloop of twenty guns and one hundred and thirty men, taking advantage of a dark night, ran the gauntlet of a whole French squadron of frigates lying for safety in Dunkirk Roads, and cut out and carried by boarding the Desiree a French frigate of forty guns and three hundred men. "Lord St Vincent pronounced this to have been one of the finest instances of gallantry on record. In his despatch he alludes to the unparalleled bravery of Captain Campbell. He used to call him 'the little man with the big heart.'"

During the time of James VII, the lands were alienated and bestowed upon the Duke of Perth, whose successor bears the titles of Viscount and Earl of Melfort in the peerage of Scotland, and Duc de Melfort in that of France. The estate was restored at the Revolution in 1688.

The property was at one time divided into different farms, tenanted, after the coming of the Campbells, by their original possessors. The chiefs made their dwelling at Ardinstur; a tribe of MacColls remained in occupation of Kenmor; while a family of MacOrans occupied the farm of Fernoch, where the present mansion-house, erected in 1808, stands.

About the end of the fifteenth century, MacOran had the misfortune to kill a son of the chief. Flying to Perthshire to escape the vengeance of the clan, he entered the service of the Earl of Menteith, in whose household he obtained rapid promotion, marrying Miss Haldane, a niece of the Earl, and receiving, rent free, the farm of Inchanoch near the Lake of Menteith. Here for some generations the family resided; but it was observed that any members who left the district assumed the name of Campbell, so that it became a saying that "there never was a Campbell in Inchanoch nor a MacOran out of it." In 1805, James MacOran and his family left the farm, and removed to Glasgow, assuming, as was the custom, the name of Campbell. His son, James MacOran or Campbell, became a successful merchant, and, as Lord Provost of Glasgow at the time of the birth of the Prince of Wales in 1891, received the honour of knighthood. His eldest son was the late James Campbell of Stracathro, for many years Member of Parliament for the Universities of Aberdeen and Glasgow; while his second son was the late Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman, Prime Minister of Great Britain and Ireland.

Return to Book Index Page


This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.

comments powered by Disqus