Dalmore Daytime

Dalmore Daytime
Sandy Beach

Tuesday, 17 June 2008

Dalmore's "Gang of One".

From an early age in Renfrew,I and others were fortunate to have access to the wonderful grounds of Blythswood Estate,located on the right bank of the River Cart,where it meets the Clyde(opposite the site of John Brown's famous shipyard). We spent happy times there,more so since my school pal's grandfather,old Mr.Stewart was the estate gamekeeper(the last as it happened),who lived with his wife in a cottage straight out of a fairy tale. Amongst other things,we were practised builders of the "gang hut",which every boy aspires to,but in which he spends as little time as possible. A gang hut is good in theory,but damned cold and damp in practice. To be honest,even the theory doesn't stand scrutiny.
My skills in building were to prove invaluable when I decided to build the ultimate in gang huts in Dalmore,where I would be spoiled for location and building materials. I chose a site with a commanding view,near the Allt Garbh(remember the blue clay!)on an outcrop of large rocks high above the traigh,with a clear views of Beinn Dhalemor,An Ghearraidh,the graveyard(only one at that time)and over in the direction of Dail Beag. Lord of all I survey! That was the idea,at any rate.
The walls were already in place,and was the result of a large stone having been separated about 4 feet from two other rocks,probably thousands of years back in prehistory. Essentially, I had a ready-made bolthole of three massive rock walls,and these amongst the oldest rock in the world. But the sheep,God bless'em,were the other residents during my absence. Wood and rope from the traigh were used to construct the "load bearing beams" on which large turfs would be laid to complete the roof. A "triangular lattice" of wooden beams was used to support the turfs. I only mention this for the technically minded. A wooden stucture at the entrance was my door,with enough gaps to allow in some light,and to persuade the sheep to toilet elsewhere. Talking of which,and digressing a moment,this brings to mind a time when my wife, Buntie, came to Dalmore with me on holiday. It has to be said that she was not fan of Lewis,and used to say that she could well understand that the rocks here were among the oldest in all the world,and it seemed nothing much had changed in the interim. Ouch! One day I caught her staring out of the window looking out across croft no.6 towards the Beinn.I asked her what she was looking at,to which she answered."Well,Iain,I have to say that there's nothing here but sheep shit and boulders". My wife was from Fife, and harboured some reserve about Lewis,probably due to the rough justice meeted out to the "Fife Adventurers" in Stornoway around 1598.
Even with some odd pieces of "traigh furniture",the gang hut was cold,dark and cramped, and the builder might well have learned something from the Skara Brae people. Anyhow,my duties thankfully were mainly extramural - digging a well(the water was oily and foul) and obtaining rations from 5 Dalmore(usually lettuce and tomatoes - you don't eat salt herring,even in a Lewis gang hut). No hut worth its salt(sorry!) is complete without a flag pole,and this was soon rectified by purloining Shonnie's "slat" (long bamboo fishing rod) from the long grass beside the weaving shed. He wasn't too happy with this,but my mother persuaded him that it was better stuck in a rock,drying in the wind, than rotting away in the grass. I had more fun raising and lowering the white flag(a pillowcase)accompanied by the "Last Post" or the "Heilan' Laddie", than I ever got from sitting inside the hut. If I were to revisit the past,I'd just have a flag pole,and forget about the gang hut(a gang of one,at that).
I remember two occasions in particular,involving me and my gang hut. The first of these occurred on a hot summer's afternoon. Replete after a huge lunch of lettuce and tomato,I had fallen asleep on a little creagan above the hut. After a little while,I felt that I was not alone.Shielding my eyes from the sun,and still hazy from sleep,I became aware of a tall girl standing over me saying,"I am your cousin,Mary-Ann and your Mom told me where I'd find you". This was no ordinary girl - this was a real Yankee girl,who spoke like they do in the movies. Her father,Tormod Mor was home on holiday from Detroit,with his Lewis born wife,his daughter"Merry-Enn", and the biggest Ford automobile I'd ever seen! My mother fairly landed me in it,to entertain a girl at my gang hut.Girls don't do gang huts,but I quite liked her, and gave her what was left of the lettuce and tomatoes.Just as well it wasn't salt herring.
The second occasion that comes to mind was the day of Domhnull Chalum's funeral in the cemetery at Dalmore. He was a good pal of old Glass,my grandfather. During the funeral,someone looked up towards the brae and noticed that Iain Maclennan's white flag was at half mast,it being what one does as a mark of respect for the dear departed. There were smiles and just a few chuckles in the cemetery that day.

Shelley: A' thocht ye waur deid! Good to hear from you again!
Mary Ann settled in Scotland(her parents then living in retirement in Lewis),married a Lewisman and worked in Glasgow. She regularly visited my parents in Renfrew.


Shelley said...

You still in touch with your Yankee cousin?

Shelley said...

Nae, not dead, just dragged hither and yon by my 4 not-so weeans. ;)

Besides, there isn't much I can add to your beautifully vivid prose. You answer all of my questions before I can ask them! :D

So when will you put these essays into a book WITH PICTURES PLEASE??

In time for the Christmas rush? :)