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A Highlander Looks Back
Invershin and its Surroundings

TO live in a district continuously for thirty-six years, as was my lot in lnveran, Invershin, one sees many changes. From Balblair in the east to Linside on the west, a distance of some three miles, there are not more than six people left of what might be termed middle-aged when I came to the district in 1914. All have passed away.

I know of no prettier surroundings; let me briefly describe it. The delightful estate and mansion house of Balblair overlooking the Kyle of Sutherland is indeed a most picturesque spot. When I first knew it, it was owned and occupied by a Mrs Hadwin, for whom and whose husband a massive memorial window was placed in the Creich Parish Church, at Bonar Bridge.

Mrs Hadwin often called at my lnveran Hotel for tea, in a very imposing phaeton carriage with pony and a coachman in livery. The phaeton was set very low as, being a lady of more than even ordinary oversize, she had some difficulty in getting in or out of the conveyance. On this account I was told that Mrs Hadwin dreaded a railway journey.

Later Balblair became occupied by a Mr Paterson, after whom it was bought and occupied by that internationally-known gentleman Mr J. R. Campbell, of Shinness and Glencassley, and Mrs Campbell. As a sheep farmer, and indeed in anything pertaining to farming, Mr Campbell was outstanding; as an expert judge his services were sought for all over the world. And what could be more appropriate or more satisfactory to the people of the district than to have Mr Campbell’s son, Captain Ian Campbell, C.B.E., now following in the footsteps of his respected father as laird and occupier of the Balblair estate.

Young Ian, as he is affectionately called by his more intimate friends and acquaintances, has truly inherited all the great qualities of his father. His farming is a picture of the highest intelligence, and his sound commonsense always ungrudgingly given can be relied upon.

On the Balblair estate there is a very pretty little hamlet called Balchraggan. Here for generations a boat-building business has been carried on, and who has not heard of the boats of the Macdonalds of Balchraggan? This family as I first knew them have passed to their rest, but fortunately there is now a nephew, Mr Frank Macdonald, a highly skilled and interesting craftsman carrying on the old home and the business of his ancestors. It would be sad to contemplate what the loss of Frank would mean to the community.

Near to the Macdonalds, there was a large family the name of Gunn, all now gone. Here was the smith, Mr Hugh Gunn, with whom I spent many happy hours, and often watched his brawny arms as he beat the anvil now forever still.

Hugh could tell great stories of the days of the Land League and Crofting Commission, the while he hammered off the most artistic workmanship. Usually he ended by revealing his devout faith in the laws that man can break, but can never alter their truth nor their well-being to mankind. The little smithy might to some seem a dingy place, but truly within its walls there was the atmosphere of the righteous uprightness of a Godfearing man.

Today where the Gunn family lived there is a very pretty modern cottage built and occupied by Mr and Mrs Peter Sutherland, who are greatly respected.

I knew Mr and Mrs Charles Grey who lived nearby, now also having joined the great majority. Charlie, as he was locally known, was an expert gardener and interesting conversationalist, and the flowers and various plants grown by him around his peaceful abode were aWvays greatly admired. Charlie Grey’s house has come under the notice of modern ideas, and has been modernised and reconstructed making it a real haven of rest, the alterations having been carried out by Dr and Mrs Chalmers, who formerly owned the Station Hotel, Invershin.

On the opposite side of the main road there live Mr and Mrs Roderick Ross and family. Roddy, as he is locally termed, is a blacksmith to trade, and a good one at that, having served for a considerable time with the late Mr Hugh Gunn. He built a smithy of his own, but owing to the disappearance of the horse and of iron articles commonly required in his younger days he has now to augment the trade of blacksmith with more remunerative employment.

Three or four hundred yards from here stands the attractive Station Hotel, Invershin, now owned and managed by Mr and Mrs Black, who have greatly improved the place. Here the visitor is assured of a kindly welcome, and attention equal to that of the best city or Highland hotel. On leaving the hotel going westward, one passes below that imposing steel bridge which carries the railway across the Kyle of Sutherland.

Invershin has its railway station. Here I have seen three changes in stationmasters, Mr Mackenzie, who was transferred from Lairg, met me on my arrival in 1914. We became fast friends, and the memory of that delightful couple, Mr and Mrs Mackenzie will ever live green in my heart.

In January, 1917, Mr John Bartlett look over on Mr Mackenzie’s retirement. Young and active Mr Bartlett was the very embodiment of all that is best in a railway official and never relaxed his prompt attention to the railway company nor the general public, and on his retirement on 18th July, 1952, he was presented with a handsome gift from a wide circle of public gratitude. Nothing could be more pleasing than now seeing Mr Bartlett’s son George occupying the position so long carried on by his esteemed father, a position which I am sure he will carry on with distinction and with satisfaction to all concerned.

From Invershin railway station one gets a clear view of that very imposing building Carbisdale Castle, built by a one time Dowager Duchess of Sutherland. When first I knew it the interior was very elaborately got up even to the extent of having depicted in gorgeous Eastern fashion an Opium Den. All is now changed, and its former pomp and grandeur are things of the past. It is now used as a Youth Hostel.

Carbisdale Castle is built upon that rock of historic note “The Hill of Lamentation”, which takes its name from the fact that here was fought the battle in which Montrose and his forces were defeated in 1650 by General David Leslie’s army. In the Kyle of Sutherland near to where Carbisdale Castle stands there is an island called “Montrose Island”. Local tradition has it that Montrose passed a night upon this island before fleeing in defeat to the west of the County of Sutherland where he was captured and betrayed and imprisoned in Ardvreck Castle on the shores of Loch Assynt.

He was then taken to Edinburgh and executed.

On his way thither Montrose got shelter and hospitality for two nights in Skibo Castle, on the Dornoch Firth, and in this castle there is a bedroom dedicated to his name.

Travelling westward from Invershin there is the farm of Invershin, which has been tenanted by three generations of the name of Young. It was my privilege and pleasure to know the last two. The farm is now tenanted by Mr Donald Mackay, who applies more modern and progressive ideas. On the farm there stands a pretty pine wood in the centre of which are the ruins of a very old castle, probably occupied in the time of Montrose.

The wood still bears the name of “the castle wood”, and the adjoining field “the castle field”. In one of the fields there is a peculiar stone of considerable height, obelisk fashion, on which there is no inscription, but it is recorded that here was buried a Norse soldier of repute who doubtless took part in the battle of the Hill of Lamentation.

Invershin has its public hall where many commendable entertainments are held for the benefit of the community. Near to the hall there stands a pretty cottage called “Rowan Cottage”, and within its walls live Mr and Mrs MacMorrison, who are ever ready to give liberally of their best to acquaintance and stranger.

No Highland community is complete without a Highland piper and in Pipe-Major William Macdonald, Invershin has a man of considerable merit who in his spare time cheers the inhabitants with his musical talent. A man who has seen military service and took part in the great Battle of Alamein in the last War, he suffered the sting of a German bullet, which fortunately has left no permanent injury.

Educationally, Invershin is most fortunate in having had for the past twenty-five years a schoolteacher who, for ability and personality, is unequalled. Her deeds speak more highly than can the spoken or written words, and to Miss Matheson both parents and guardians will ever feel grateful for giving to their children at their most impressionable age a grounding that will always stand them in good stead. To visit the Invershin school, as is often my privilege, one finds the atmosphere of cultural advancement, and under the care of Mrs Campbell as school cleaner, cleanliness in the highest degree.

Beyond lnveran Bridge there is Linside Croy and Linside, a most picturesque hamlet of some twelve crofters overlooking the valley of the Kyle of Sutherland. From lnveran, on the left bank of the Shin river, one comes into view of Auchinduich and Aultnagar Lodge, the latter built by the late Mr and Mrs Andrew Carnegie of Skibo as a retreat to the hills on occasions from the arduous duties of entertaining largely during their stay in their Highland home, Skibo Castle.

In these surroundings, which I have endeavoured to describe, I spent the major part of my life and could not have wished for better, and in the eventide of my journey quote from “MacCrimmon’s Lament”, in the ancient language of the Gael, “Cha till, cha till, cha till mi tuilleadh".

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