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A Highlander Looks Back
Inveran — Hotelkeeper

IN my thirty-five years in hotel business I have met many distinguished people and to all of them I would like to pay homage. By their influence my life has been enriched, for no man could have had a more delightful clientele to deal with. Mr Norman P. Donaldson of the Donaldson Shipping Line and his late lamented brother—that generous-hearted gentleman Mr W. B. Donaldson-fished the Shin when first I came to lnveran and, that being so, I have for them a special corner in my heart of cherished and deeply rooted affection. The tenants usually had from the Skibo Estate a tenancy of a month and sometimes a fortnight; a new tenant was a very rare occurrence; little wonder then that the parties as they arrived developed into an annual family party.

The month of August was looked upon as the bishops’ month. This best suited their vocation and usually there would be five in a party including the Archbishop of Canterbury and his Lady, Lady Davidson, the Bishop of Newcastle, the Bishop of Wakefield, the Bishop of London and the Bishop of Salisbury. The bishops always held a morning service at 11 o’clock on each Sabbath during the month. Besides the hotel guests people came from the surrounding shooting lodges and neighbouring hotels.

The service was held in the bishop’s private sitting room, and as many as fifty usually attended. It was a lovely service, and in the evening after dinner when the hotel staff could attend the other service held they always did so, and I am sure that those who like myself had the privilege of attending those services will look back upon them with a high sense of beneficent, spiritual uplifting. Those great men who so kindly added to the happy home life of lnveran have passed to their rest leaving behind them a fragrant memory and the seeds of deeds that will not perish.

In addition to the business I was now carrying on at lnveran, Mrs L. G. Matheson of Achany called one day at lnveran, and asked me to become her factor for the estate of Achany and Ullapool. I considered this a great honour as hitherto I had no experience of this kind. It was, however, to “add grist to the mill” and as the good lady had confidence in my fitness, I accepted the position. For two years I carried on, enjoying the work, and apparently giving satisfaction, until 1939 when war broke out again, and my assistant joined up for military service. I then found that with my other duties it was too much for me and had with regret to resign. Mrs Matheson was a lady of good understanding and easy to get on with. The same can truthfully be said of her tenants whose friendship and co-operation I enjoyed to the full, and will always look back upon with very great pleasure. Mrs Matheson is no longer proprietrix of her Highland estate of Achany. It has passed into the hands of the Forestry Commission and the Department of Agriculture.

Throughout the years I have not let my piping down despite the fact that for weeks and sometimes months my other commitments did not allow me much time for practice, and in the eve of my days it gives me great joy to take up the old pipe and play the tunes with which I was familiar on the Braes of Catlodge.

In Inveran I was often asked by the hotel guests to play for them, and with this following a good day’s salmon fishing it was usually commented upon as “the end of a perfect day”. In my time I have played my bagpipe at all kinds of celebrations and occasions and in connection with this I am proud to have in my possession a letter I received from the late Sir Reginald MacLeod of MacLeod, of which I now insert a copy:—

Dunvegan Castle, Skye.

July, 1933.

“Dear Mr Macpherson,

“The memory of your taking part in my brother’s funeral is so fresh in my mind I wish to assure you of the satisfaction it would give me if you or your son were to take part in the celebration of the MacCrimmons, which is arranged for August 2.

“I shall be particularly glad if your present arrangements permitted your attendance, but I could only permit it on condition that I undertook to meet the expenditure involved.

“Hoping for a favourable reply.

“Yours very truly,

(Signed) “MacLeod of MacLeod.”

Playing at the memorial to the great MacCrimmons of undying fame was an honoured occasion as was also the funeral referred to by Sir Reginald, and in all modesty I firmly believe that I played as never before, due, of course, to the hallowed and historic Dunvegan Castle overlooking the scene.

In the month of September when the fishing season draws to a close on the Shin river, and before the Northern Meetings, half a dozen of my piper friends, all champions, used to visit me at Inveran, and here would be heard the cream of piping, all practising for the Northern Meetings competition. On one occasion I was given the privilege by the angling tenant for any of my friends who cared, to fish the home pool. At that time of year the salmon were seldom got so far down the river, but the privilege, however, was gladly accepted, and from that day I verily believe that salmon will respond to good music. The late Pipe-Major John Macdonald, of Inverness and I chose to go fishing, and did not forget to take our bagpipes also, and whilst one was fishing the other was playing his pipe. John, like all pipers of his time, was a good fisherman and had his first go with the rod, but could not move a fish. It was now his turn to play a tune, and before he was halfway through his piobaireachd, “Donald Doughall Mackay’s Lament” I was into a beautiful salmon. I signed to John to keep going and by the time he finished his piobaireachd the salmon was ready for the gaff, and John did the needful as magnificently as he performed that masterpiece of MacCrimmon production. We often spoke of this incident years afterwards.

Here I make reference to a very rare personality, a distinguished author and an authority on ceol mor, the classic bagpipe music, Mr Seton Gordon, C.B.E. For the past forty years I have enjoyed Mr Seton Gordon’s friendship. Mr Gordon is no mean performer of the Piob Mhor, bagpipe, and what he plays he does with distinction. He can claim to have had instruction from the late Pipe-Major John Macdonald. To see and hear Mr Gordon play that lovely piobaireachd “The Battle of Bealach Nan Brog” (the Valley of Sorrow) on the banks of the Shin river is a picture for the artist and a theme for the poet. I have spent many happy hours in Mr Gordon’s company both fishing and playing the bagpipes.

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