Dalmore Daytime

Dalmore Daytime
Sandy Beach

Tuesday, 26 February 2008

Going Home. An Arduous Affair.

The evening before going "home" to Lewis,our house in Renfrew was a hive of activity - suitcases and cardboard boxes being packed and secured with nearly every stitch of clothing we had. When I say suitcases,I shouldn't use the plural. We only had the one,a large case that belonged to my father from his days in the navy. People from Goathill or Matheson Road had suitcases,we used large cardboard boxes with "Kelloggs" imprinted all over. Ah,but were they not expertly tied with special rope,using special knots by a very special seaman and helmsman,my dad,Big Alex Maclennan RNR? Walter Johnston's taxi (a beautiful black Humber Super Snipe)transported mum and the boys,the single suitcase and various massive boxes to Queen Street Station to connect with the 6.00am train(two steam engines pulling) to Mallaig,opposite the Isle of Skye.Known to this day as the West Highland Line,it has been voted one of the great train journeys in the world.The stations we stopped at,or passed through still evoke wonderful memories - Craigendoran,Arrochar,Rannoch,Carrour Junction,Spean Bridge,Glenfinnan Lochailort and Morar.The scenery was,and still is stupendous.The train crawled slowly through Lochailort,and I can still see in my mind's eye the exquisite display of rhododendrons of every hue which assailed my senses.At the port of Mallaig,my brother,Donald or me would be sent flying down the long platform to engage a porter with an enormous barrow. The promise of a couple of half-crowns saw us and our baggage on board the first of two ships we would take on our long sea voyage to Stornoway in the Isle of Lewis. If Lochailort assailed your senses,then Mallaig had an all too different effect.This thriving port was full of different sounds and smells - the raucous cry of thousands of gulls circling above or fighting for fish spilled from a creel,the shouts from seamen and fishermen and the overpowering smell of herring being unloaded from the many trawlers,and the smell from the kippering sheds across the way. The two vessels on these routes at that time were the "Loch Ness" and the "Loch Nevis",and in the absence of stabilisers,you were in for a rough ride.The "Loch Ness" was the first vessel(we called them "steamers"),taking us as far as Kyle of Lochalsh, where, to those travelling further on,the whole rigmarole of securing a porter,moving luggage and passengers had to be repeated all over again. Boarding the "Loch Nevis" for passage to Stornoway was always an unpredictable journey,as this stretch of water,called The Minch,could serve up very rough seas.
Mal de mer has never afflicted me,but if you were susceptible, The Minch and the "Loch Nevis" were sure to leave you prostrate on the saloon floor."Saloon" was a gross misnomer.This saloon was a floating vomitorium,and was equipped as such with a suspiciously large number of receptacles.The plight of mothers and children was heart breaking,the whole atmosphere was fetid and rancid,and the only way to avoid a similar fate was to drag yourself from this charnel house and make your way to the windy top deck.I always stood or sat amidships on the top deck,directly behind the funnel,where the roll of the ship was least. It could be cold but it was still preferable to the "saloon".Even on a moderately calm crossing,the ship still rolled and sea sickness claimed many passengers. It was a frightful journey and it would be some time before this ship reached Stornoway.

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