Dalmore Daytime

Dalmore Daytime
Sandy Beach

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Catch Me If You Can.

Each year, Shonnie would send a hen to his brother and sisters in Renfrew, always for New Year (never Christmas). I can still see that badly stained parcel delivered by the postman, a parcel which would in those days deliver up a special meal for my family. Nowadays, we deliberately misrepresent what we know to be a hen, by calling it a "chicken", or for that matter, we never eat mutton now, only "lamb". What Shonnie sent was unquestionably an old "cearc",whose laying days were spent,or her husband the "coilleach", now old and exhausted. A real chicken was small, chirpy and probably yellow, and might have no fear of the pot. It was always soup that was made with the hen, and very tasty the old "cearc" or "coilleach" was, served with the "chicken" soup and potato.
You will remember from previous posts, that Shonnie was an innovator, an entrepreneur, a man of ideas. You see, Shonnie wasn't married and could devote time to his schemes. How the "guga" became the focus of this enterprise, I can only guess at. The guga is the solan goose, whose fledglings are harvested annually by the Niseachs on their visit to Sula Sgeir, a small island in the wild seas north of Lewis. Shonnie had observed that out the Pentland Road,about 3 miles from Carloway, the many lochs there provided excellent breeding grounds for various species of water fowl, mainly ducks and geese. Shonnie had it in his mind that the geese on these lochs were the young "guga", and that, should they be caught and fattened up, they could be sent out to Renfrew, instead of the scrawny "cearcan" we received each New Year. He was excited about this "guga" scheme, and so were we in Renfrew at the news. I am no ornithologist,but I doubt that the geese in question were solan geese, but were more likely to be barnacle geese or Canada geese, the kind I see when fishing Loch Awe. Whatever kind they were, they were definitely geese, and by mid summer they were getting to be quite a size, but were as yet unable to fly.
Shonnie's plan was to capture possibly half a dozen of these geese,keep them in a large cage beside the house, and feed them up, to give him and each of us on the mainland a huge goose for New Year. He decided that, for his purposes, Loch Laxavat Ard, about 3 miles from Carloway, would be "the locus of action". The loch was teeming with water fowl, and at one particular point, its waters are very close to the road, from which a small boat can be launched.
Shonnie approached the Ness man, who had built the 14 foot clinker- built boat (SY 92) for him, and ordered a small boat, with which to bag some geese on Loch Laxavat. Shonnie always had some interesting "plan" in hand, maybe because he wasn't married, and had the time to dream ! It was a beautiful little boat,clinker-built and about 7/8 feet in length. This was the very thing, mused Shonnie, which could easily be man-handled onto the tractor's trailer in Dalmore, and as easily launched at the loch side. The new boat, though smaller than "its big sister", was still a fair weight,and proved a lot more awkward to handle, than theory had allowed (it always is). Shonnie started the reliable 4HP British Seagull outboard engine, and he and his bonnie wee boat moved away from the lochside at a respectable speed. Unbeknown to the big "guga" hunter, the bush telegraph among the loch's water fowl, was in a state of high alert. Geese and goslings quickened their pace, with one eye on the "guga" boat, another on the nearest landing. But Shonnie was patient with so much at stake, and attempted to sail parallel to the little trains of geese, with a large net at hand. When Shonnie would get as close as he could, he would turn the boat through 90 degrees,give the Seagull full throttle,heading towards the "gugachean" at full speed. The theory was that parent geese would be put to flight, leaving the young gosling, still not fledged, at the mercy of the hunter's net. Well that was, as I've said, the theory. If Shonnie's boat was propelled by the four horse power of a seagull, it struck Shonnie that, at that moment, the young "guga" had at least 20 horses under the "bonnet". The young geese, using their webbed feet and near perfect wings, would disappear in a blur of spray across the surface of the loch, well out of reach of Shonnie and his net. After a few more tries, he knew that his theory of catching the young "guga" was full of holes,and the project was abandoned forthwith. I don't think Shonnie was too happy with the outcome of events, that day on Loch Laxavat Ard, nor did he realise that the "gugachean" were not what he thought,but some other species of geese, raising their young on those remote Hebridean lochs.
We continued for a few more years receiving a "cearc" for New Year dinner, until we adopted the steak pie, which was the norm in Renfrew, and we discovered, in the rest of Scotland.


thecroft said...

Brilliant. You couldn't make it up!

D.J.Maclennan. said...

The Croft.
Thanks for all your comments - much appreciated. You do know that "Dalmore - Tales of a Lewis Village" is now a book,published and available online from www.blurb.com or from many outlets in Lewis, It is also serialised each month in that fine historical journal "Back in the Day",published in its sister paper, the Stornoway Gazette. Last week,"Dalmore Tales" was very favourably reviewed in the "Cassette".

thecroft said...

It's on the Xmas list D.J. don't you fear!