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

Chapter I.—Gairloch of the Present Day

THERE is no town, in the ordinary acceptation of the term, in the parish of Gairloch, and there is no village that, properly speaking, bears the name of Gairloch. Of villages or townships there are about thirty-four. They contain the greater part of the population of the parish, which according to the census of 1881 numbered 4594. Many of these villages are so small that in the lowlands they would only be termed hamlets. They have no separate legal existence as villages or townships ; but in those which are townships there is a bond of union, in so far as the crofter inhabitants have their hill pasture in common, and club together for the purpose of herding their cattle and sheep thereon.

All these villages are on the sea coast except the five first named. They are as follows :—

Near the head of Loch Maree—Kenlochewe.

On the north-east side of Loch Maree—Coppachy, Innis Ghlas, and Fuirneis.

On the south-west side of Loch Maree—Talladale.

At the south-west extremity of the parish—Diabaig (part of).

On the south or south-west side of Gairloch (the sea loch)—South Erradale, Openham (or Opinan), Port Henderson, Bad a Chrotha (Badachro), and Charlestown.

On the north side of Gairloch—Gairloch (the hotel, Free church, &c), Achtercairn, Strath (including Smithstown, Upper and Lower Mioll, and Lonmor), Sand (or Big Sand), North Erradale, and Melvaig.

On the west side of Loch Ewe—Cove, Meallan na Ghamhna (Stirkhill), Inverasdale (including Midtown, Brae, Coast, and Firemore), Naast, and Poolewe (including Londubh).

On the east side of Loch Ewe—Aultbea (including Tighnafaoi-linn), Badfearn, Buaile na luib, Ormiscaig, Mellon Charles, and Slaggan.

On the west side of the Bay of Gruinard—Oban, Mellon Udrigil, Laide, Sand, First Coast, and Second Coast.

There are the following churches in the parish of Gairloch :—

Of the Church of Scotland (Established) at—
(1) Gairloch, the parish church; (2) Poolewe, the church of the quoad sacra (or ecclesiastical parish) of Poolewe.

Of the Free Church of Scotland at—
(1) Kenlochewe; (2) Gairloch; (3) Poolewe (meeting-house); (4) Aultbea; (5) North Erradale (meeting-house); and (6) Opinan (mission church).

Gairloch is one undivided civil parish, but has been divided for ecclesiastical purposes by the erection of Poolewe into a quoad sacra {or ecclesiastical) parish.

The minister of the parish of Gairloch is the Rev. Duncan S. Mackenzie, of the manse at Strath of Gairloch, and he officiates at the parish church at Gairloch.

The minister of the Poolewe quoad sacra parish is incapacitated, and his duties are performed by an assistant-minister. The quoad sacra parish of Poolewe includes the west side of Loch Ewe, the east side of Loch Maree, the River Ewe, and Loch Ewe, and all places in Gairloch parish lying to the east of Loch Ewe. It extends along the north-east side of Loch Maree as far as Fuirneis, Letterewe. The rest of the parish of Gairloch is attached to the old parish church of Gairloch. Gairloch is in the Presbytery of Loch Carron and Synod of Glenelg.

There are two Free Church ministers, viz., the Rev. John Baillie, who officiates at the Gairloch Free church, and at Opinan and North Erradale, and who resides at the Gairloch Free Church manse; and the Rev. Ronald Dingwall, who officiates at the Aultbea and Poolewe Free churches, and resides at the Aultbea Free manse. Mr Baillie has the assistance of Mr John Mackenzie, of Melvaig, as catechist; and Mr Dingwall is assisted by Mr William Urquhart, of Cove, as catechist. A catechist can conduct ordinary services, just as a minister can. Mr Dingwall also officiates occasionally in a room in the old schoolhouse at Inverasdale, and in the caves at Cove and Sand, as well as in rooms at Mellon Udrigil and Slaggan.

The parishes or districts attached to the Free churches, are the same as those of the Established churches.

A Free Church minister is provided at intervals, as can be arranged, for the church at Kenlochewe, but there is no manse.

There are ten and a half schools in the parish of Gairloch, all conducted by certificated teachers. They are situated at Kenlochewe, Achtercairn, Opinan, Big Sand, Melvaig, Poolewe, Inverasdale, Buaile na luib, Laide, Mellon Udrigil, and Diabaig, where the school is shared with the parish of Applecross.

The School Board of Gairloch has the management of these schools, and consists of nine members, who meet periodically at Poolewe, with the Rev. John Baillie as chairman. Mr John Ross, of Strath, and Mr Mackenzie, of the post-office, Aultbea, are the officers appointed by the School Board for looking after the attendance of the children.

Mr James Mackintosh, postmaster, Poolewe, who is clerk of the School Board, has furnished me with the following information regarding the ten principal schools in Gairloch relating to the year 1884 :—

Besides the above about twenty Gairloch children attend the school at Diabaig.

The following are the present teachers of the ten schools:—Kenlochewe, Miss Maclean; Opinan, Mr A. Nicolson; Achtercairn, Mr M. Lamont; Sand, Mr J. Mackenzie; Melvaig, Mr J. MacRae; Inverasdale, Mr J. Maclennan; Poolewe, Miss Ferguson; Buaile na luib, Mr H. Murray; Laide, Mr H. Macleod; Mellon Udrigil, Miss Johanna Mackenzie.

Mr Mackintosh tells me that the number of scholars in all the school districts of Gairloch is decreasing, with the exception of Achtercairn, and perhaps Inverasdale. At the commencement of the Education Act in Gairloch, the number of children of school age for whom accommodation was then provided was 850.

There are also what are termed side-schools at Letterewe and Slaggan, for a few children at each of those places whose homes are at a considerable distance from any board school. The school-rate is one shilling and sixpence in the pound.

Those who are acquainted with the working of schools in the south, will consider the average attendance at the Gairloch schools rather meagre as compared with the numbers on the rolls; but allowance must be made for the great distances between the homes of the children and the schools, for the rough roads or tracks some of the children have to travel, and for the stormy weather, especially in winter.

Notwithstanding these difficulties several of the teachers succeed in passing 98 per cent, of the scholars they present at the annual examinations by Her Majesty's inspectors, and the average percentage of passes is about 80 per cent.

Mr Malcolm Lamont, Achtercairn, is registrar of births, deaths, and marriages for the parish of Gairloch.

Pauperism is too prevalent in the West Highlands. There are on the Gairloch roll of paupers one hundred and thirty-eight persons receiving parochial relief, viz., forty-six males and ninety-two females, besides fifty-three dependants, such as children, who are relieved along with the paupers. There are also six lunatics 'boarded at home, and nine in the joint-asylum at Inverness. The other paupers are relieved at home. The total outlay on these paupers, dependants, and lunatics was £1172. 14s. 10d. for the year ended Whitsunday 1886. The poor-rate is one shilling and tenpence in the pound, half of which is paid by the proprietor and half by the tenant. The poor-rate is administered by the Parochial Board, which includes the proprietors of the parish or their representatives and certain elected members. Mr Mackintosh is the inspector of poor for the parish, and has kindly given me the particulars here stated. Dr F. A. M'Ewen, who resides at Moss Bank, Poolewe, is the only general practitioner in the parish. He receives a fixed salary for medical attendance on the paupers of the parish. He is a duly qualified surgeon and physician.

There is one highroad in the parish, viz., that which leads from Achnasheen, down Glen Dochartie, past Kenlochewe and Talladale, on to Gairloch, and thence forward to Poolewe and Aultbea, where it terminates. It has a branch from Kenlochewe towards Torridon. It is a county road, and is entirely maintained by the county, the cost being defrayed by an assessment averaging about fivepence in the pound. This road is generally kept in fair order by the local contractor. All other roads are private estate roads, maintained by the proprietors, with certain contributions from their tenants.

There are but two policemen in the parish, the one stationed at Achtercairn, the other at Aultbea. There is a lock-up with two cells at Achtercairn. There is little crime in Gairloch. The few offences are due either to the temporary presence of workpeople from other places, or to the too free use of the ardent spirits obtained at the licensed houses.

Several justices of the peace reside in Gairloch parish, but they seldom hold courts. When they have business they meet at Poolewe. Ordinary misdemeanours are tried by the sheriff at Dingwall.

There are six licensed houses in the parish, viz., the hotels or inns at Kenlochewe, Talladale (the Loch Maree Hotel), Gairloch, Poolewe, and Aultbea, and the small public-house at Cadha Beag in Fisherfield Bay, at the northern extremity of the parish. The hotels are described in their places in the Guide. The license to Luibmhor inn has been discontinued.

There is a daily post, conveyed by Mr Mover's mail-car, from Achnasheen to Gairloch, and thence, by a smaller mail-car, also daily, to Poolewe and Aultbea. Letters are conveyed by runners three days a week to the villages on the north and south sides of the Bay of Gairloch and on the west side of Loch Ewe. There is also a runner who takes the post-bags three days a week (in winter, only two days a week) to the villages between Aultbea and Gruinard. Mr M'lver's mail-cars leave and collect post-bags and parcels at all the villages and places along the line of the county road.

The telegraph to Stornoway runs alongside of the county road to Poolewe, and thence for six miles along the shore of Loch Ewe to Firemore, where it becomes submarine. There is a supplemental wire serving Kenlochewe, Talladale, and Gairloch, to and from which places, as well as to and from Poolewe, telegrams may be regularly transmitted.

The carrier of Messrs Wordie, of Edinburgh, conveys goods from Achnasheen to Kenlochewe and Torridon in the first half of each week, and from Achnasheen to Gairloch and intermediate places in the second half of each week.

The bank at Gairloch, a branch of the Caledonian Bank, is a substantial building, a little to the north of Charlestown, and nearly a mile from the Gairloch Hotel. Mr Alexander Burgess is the manager.

There are cattle markets held twice a year at Gairloch and Aultbea, and once a year at Kenlochewe and Tollie; they are of little more than local importance.

One or two members of the preventive service are stationed at Gairloch;. their chief work is to-detect illicit distillation.

Mr David Macbrayne, of Glasgow, provides a service of steamers on the west coast. One of his large steamers, with cargo and passengers, calls every Saturday at Gairloch, Poolewe, and Aultbea. In summer there is a regular service of swift steamers to or from Oban, and to and from Portree in Skye.

Mr Hornsby's little steamer the Mabel plies on Loch Maree during the summer months.

Full particulars of these steamers are to be had at the hotels; and Mr Alexander Burgess of the bank, who is agent for Mr Macbrayne, is always ready to supply every information.

A company of rifle volunteers was organised by Mr Alexander Burgess (who was the first lieutenant) in 1867, and is still in a flourishing condition. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie was captain for nearly fifteen years, and was succeeded in the command by Mr Burgess, who, on his retirement from the corps in 1883, was permitted, after his long service of sixteen years, to retain his rank of captain. The present officers are, the writer as captain, and Mr Malcolm Lamont and Mr Anthony MacClymont as lieutenants. The sergeants are as follows :—Colour-Sergeant Alexander Macpherson, Opinan ; Sergeant Roderick Macintyre, Strath ; Sergeant John Maclennan, Inverasdale ; and Sergeant Alexander Bain, Lonmor. The corps includes a number of fine tall men ; the right-hand man stands six feet four inches in his stockings, and a number of the rank and file are fully six feet in height. The pipers are Mr A. Mackenzie, Mr W. Maclennan, and Mr W. Boa. The company is worked in three separate sections, viz., the headquarters section at Achtercairn, the "south-side" section at Opinan, and the Poolewe section. The sections meet occasionally for combined drill during the spring months. The disused schoolhouse at Achtercairn has been granted by Sir Kenneth Mackenzie, Bart, of Gairloch, at a nominal rent, for an armoury and drill-hall. There is a good drill-shed at Opinan, and the Poolewe Public Hall is hired for drills there. There are rifle ranges at each of the three centres. Each section has its annual shooting competition, the prizes being mostly provided by subscription, to which the gentlemen in the neighbourhood handsomely contribute. Besides money prizes, there are an antique challenge cup presented by Mr Bateson of Shieldaig, and a challenge cross given by Mrs Burgess, which are competed for periodically.

The principal houses in the parish of Gairloch are the Kenloch-ewe Lodge, Flowerdale House, Shieldaig Lodge, Pool House, Inver-ewe House, Tournaig, Drumchork House, Inveran, Ardlair House, and Letterewe House. Flowerdale House is occupied part of the year by Sir Kenneth S. Mackenzie, Bart, of Gairloch. It was built in 1738 by Sir Alexander Mackenzie, Bart., the ninth laird of Gairloch; it is an interesting old house, and has a curious facade (see frontispiece). Its gardens contain some plants which exemplify the general mildness of the west coast winters. Flowerdale is usually let with shootings for the shooting season, from 12th August till the end of October. Inverewe House is the beautiful residence of Mr Osgood H. Mackenzie, situated in the north corner of the bay at the head of Loch Ewe. It is also usually let for the shooting season, and sometimes, with angling, for the spring and summer. Kenlochewe, Shieldaig, and Drumchork are also shooting-lodges, but Mr C. E. Johnston lives at Drumchork House during a greater part of the year than the ordinary shooting season. The Dowager Lady Mackenzie of Gairloch resides at Tournaig; and the writer at Inveran. Mr and Mrs Liot Bankes have erected a spacious mansion, with extremely lovely prospects, at Ardlair, beneath the cliffs of Beinn Aridh Charr. Mr Charles Perkins, the lessee of the Fisherfield deer forest, has enlarged the old house at Letterewe, where he resides during the shooting season, and he has erected a shooting-lodge near the head of the Fionn Loch. Sir Thomas Edwards Moss, Bart, is the lessee of Pool House, at Poolewe, which has been enlarged, and he rents shootings along with it.

Of other houses mention may be made of Kerrysdale, an old house, which has been frequently occupied by a younger brother or by a son of the laird of Gairloch. There is a roomy house at Carn Dearg, about three miles from the Gairloch Hotel. It was erected by Mr George Corson, of Leeds, and commands a fine view of the bay of Gairloch and the Minch with its islands. It is remarkable for its high-pitched and red-tiled roof. The old house on Isle Ewe is occupied by Mr William Reid, the farmer. The farmhouse at Slata-dale is a modern building. The Established Church manses at Gairloch and Poolewe, and the Free Church manses at Gairloch and Aultbea, are substantial houses.

There is at Poolewe a building used as a public hall. It comprises a reading and recreation room, which is available for meetings, and though comparatively small is sufficient for the population. It was opened on 12th February 1884 by a meeting, at which Mr Osgood H. Mackenzie presided. It contains accommodation for a caretaker, and it is intended to provide an additional recreation room. The profits, if any, of this book are to be devoted to this little institution.


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