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A Highlander Looks Back
Return to Sutherland

ON the 24th May, 1914, I returned to Sutherland, having been chosen by Mr and Mrs Carnegie to become tenant of their Inveran Hotel and farm, on the banks of the Shin River. The words “We will not lose sight of you” were now revealed in their true significance. I now set forth on a course very much to my liking and for which past experience had fitted me, and with a wife equally well suited, we sallied forth to our new home with lightsome hearts. The first to sign the Hotel Visitors Book were Mr and Mrs Andrew Carnegie, Miss Margaret Carnegie, Miss Estelle Whitfield, Miss Maggie Lauder, and 21 others, members of the Carnegie Dunfermline Trust, all being the Skibo Castle Party.

Mr Carnegie kindly presented me with a copy of his book “Problems of Today” on which he wrote: “To our Piper of old, and Friend, Angus Macpherson, from Andrew Carnegie”. I prize this book very highly, which on every leaf contains wisdom and sound common sense. Many of the problems set forth are still baffling our statesmen, and not until they are solved will there be, in my opinion, a better world for all mankind to live in.

At this time—May, 1914—it could be said that from many aspects our country was at the height of its prosperity and all augured well for the business I had now taken over, but there were clouds looming ahead. The German Kaiser and his confederates were restless and would appear to be bent on world domination. Despite the best efforts on the part of the peacemakers, Germany could not be reconciled, and the hideous instruments of war were let loose on 4th August of that year.

It was now no longer a matter of “business as usual” as all must suffer the exigencies of war. It was a matter of death or glory for all who valued freedom, and proudly did our country accept the challenge. After four years of incalculable devastation the tyrants were laid low and Britain never stood higher in the estimation of mankind.

The older anglers retained their memory of the Shin river, the younger were called up for military service. My commitments exempted me from military service, but my staff in common with all others, was depleted and two of my best horses commandeered, All must do something to help in the common cause, and although never militarily inclined, I was glad when accepted into the Home Defence Forces and deemed worthy of a lieutenancy. I feel sure that if those old boys were called upon for active service they would have given a creditable account of themselves, and I for one would not fear any tight corner in their company.

When I came to Inveran and for many years after, we had two of the best fishing ghillies that ever handled a rod, namely Hugh Sutherland and John Ross. When the former died at a comparatively early age he was greatly missed and regretted by the angling tenants. John Ross had a long angling connection with the Shin river, his grandfather having been at one time water bailiff. He carried on to a grand old age. When at last finding the rocky paths too much he retired, it was much to the regret of the tenants and indeed the whole community for he was a wonderful personality, not only for his great skill as a fisherman, but from the fact that, as one prominent angling tenant said of him: “He could talk angling to the angler, finance to the financier, and theology to the bishop, as well as being a great naturalist”.

The following copy letter is an appreciation written by the late Bishop of Newcastle:—

“I venture to write to you a few words about Mr John Ross who has lately been called to his rest. Others can best speak of what he was to his neighbours from his knowledge of agriculture and local lore: I can only speak of what he was to us who had the good fortune to have his help at the angling on the Shin.

“It is my privilege to have known him for the past 36 years: for the majority of these years he was ghillie and water bailiff on the Shin but after his retirement I used to see him at any rate once in each year. His skill as a fisherman and his knowledge of the river was unrivalled and in addition to this he was a very careful observer and his knowledge of the ways of birds, animals and insects as well as of fish was both deep and accurate.

“But perhaps one’s most lasting remembrance of him is as of a true friend, a man of wise counsel and faithful affection. His interests, partly due to the variety of the anglers with whom he fished on the Shin, were very wide and everyone found in him a sympathetic interest in every kind of subject and an intelligent judgment brought to bear on them all.

“There will be many who will feel that they have lost a friend of unique character and that a gap is left which is never likely to be filled: amongst these I wish humbly to count myself.

Yours faithfully,

(Signed) Harold Newcastle.”

I had the good fortune in finding in Inveran an excellent shepherd, Norman Campbell, from the Misty Isle of Skye. A better man never trampled the heather, conscientious and honest to a degree, and a man whose advice and skill were often sought by neighbours and ungrudgingly given. He served me for many years until his lamented death. He was presented with a certificate and medal from the Royal Highland and Agricultural Society for long and faithful service, and as a tribute to his memory I composed a March entitled “Norman Campbell’s Farewell to Inveran”. It gives me much pleasure to listen to this tune now being played by some of our leading exponents, bringing back memories of one of nature’s gentlemen.

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