Dalmore Daytime

Dalmore Daytime
Sandy Beach

Wednesday, 28 May 2008

Fainge Dhal a' Mor. The Dalmore Sheep Fank.

A "fank" is a sheep pen,an enclosure where the animals are temporarily corralled, offering the shepherd close access to his sheep. "Fank" is not a word you often hear,and I'm not sure if it's used at all outside the Highlands and Islands of Scotland. The Gaelic for "fank" is "fang" ( no, not a wolf's tooth ),but pronounced "fing-e",the "i" pron.as "eye". I used to think that "fang" derived from the English "fank",but it is in fact the other way about.
Let us clear up a couple of ovine facts,if we must. LAMB in Britain is called "lamb",if it is sold within one year of its birth.After this it is known as a "hogget" (or an old season lamb ),but the meat is still called lamb. Only when the animal has its first incisor tooth (forget about wolves),around 1 year to 18 months,will the meat become MUTTON. Although lamb is tender,it lacks the flavour of mutton,especially the Lewis variety. They say that it's the young heather shoots favoured by the sheep, which makes the meat so sweet. But,I was talking about fanks.
During July and August each year,various fanks took place in our district.Of course,the Dalmore fanks were the ones that interested me most,as it concerned our own villagers, although there were some interested parties from nearby townships. Our fank was " at the back of Dalmore",by the road to Dalbeg,and utilised a small gravel quarry,used a long time ago to build the road. Stone walls were built to complete the circular enclosure. The lands around the fank, and especially far out on the moors was where our sheep were to be found,and this took the concerted efforts of the men and their magnificent sheep dogs. There would be perhaps twelve dogs,each obedient to the commands of its own master, who used the voice,the whistle or even arm gestures.From a small hillock,you could witness the outrun of of all twelve dogs,going as far out as one or one and a half miles on the moors towards Beinn Bhragair. Working in concert,and moving right and left behind the sheep,these dogs demonstrated their instinctive skills,all on the single command of "Way Out" or "Mach a'seo",given a long while back. Hundreds of sheep and lambs were coaxed into a large group,inexorably moving towards the fank. Often sheep and lamb would attempt an escape but would be quickly brought into line. Close quarter shepherding saw the large flock enter the fank,and the "gate" closed behind them.
The men would start moving among the sheep and lambs,identifying their own,and passing them up to their people at the fank's side. Identification was possible using coloured markings on the fleece,or having your name or address burned into a horn (ours was GLASS). The ear markings on the sheep,cut into them as lambs,were the definitive identification of one's ownership. Each house had a unique set of ear markings ( holes.slices,cuts etc. ),which were centrally registered. The sheep were sheared ,the lambs set aside and sheep from distant climes held,and their owner contacted.The conversations were light hearted,the banter playful and the laughter infectious.Sometimes there was a bit of sexual innuendo,but it was never taken seriously. Sometimes the less responsible young men would release their dog to fight with another's dog (male machismo?),but the hue and cry of the womenfolk put an end to that. If they were anything like my mother,Anna Glass(and they were!),these young men had no option.
All the Dalmore sheep were brought across to the village's "common grazing" through the Board of Trade's "iron gate",a gift of yester year.If it were the season for separating the sheep and their lambs,the latter were taken into the village,proper. The bleating of these lambs for their mothers,and the ewes calling for their "little ones" was constant,and to me,quite upsetting.Day and night for 2/3 days these sad cries filled the valley of Dalmore,but in sheep and in crofting, there is no room for sentiment.I could ,even then,understand that argument,but I knew that I loved the crofting life, only at a distance (ie. from Renfrew ).

Tuesday, 20 May 2008

Ag Iasgaich air a Chuan. Fishing at Sea.

In the early 1950s(I'd be 12/13 years old),my Uncle Shonnie bought a boat which he and his friends in Dalmore could use to fish the waters of Loch Roag,and in fair weather,the fringes of the Atlantic itself. The boat was an open "clinker-built" vessel,14 feet long,built of wood and made by a man from Ness,a parish at the very north of Lewis,renowned for its great seamen and for the boats they built. It was a lovely little boat,painted white on its hull and blue on the super structure,and it looked so important bearing its registration, painted black at the prow, SY 92. This was not a fishing boat,but a boat for fishing (if you understand the distinction).
Fishing in the sea lochs and close to shore,where the sea was less deep,people used "small line" fishing.In the 19th century,the larger fishing boats,then under sail,used the "large line" and operated 3 miles out,fishing for the larger species eg. ling. The small line carried 250 medium sized hooks baited with herring and contained in an open wooden box,and the line of baited hooks arranged very carefully in rows,so that they could be played out without tangling. Preparing the small line for fishing would be an afternoon's work for someone,who knew what they were doing. One or two others joined Shonnie in these fishing trips,usually Seorais(George)and my Maclennan uncle,Iain Shoudie,while I was "elected" as helmsman,in charge of the 4HP British Seagull outboard engine. We would leave the Dunan pier about 6.00pm and sail out of Loch Carloway until we reached the "caolas"(the sound)of open sea between the islands of Bernera and Little Bernera and the Lewis mainland.These two islands were where we Maclennans first settled in Lewis in the early 1700s. There were some small islands like Creagam and Dubh Sgeir in the vicinity,whose dangers a young helmsman was made aware of. Each of the fishermen had their own small line,and as one line was played out,other small lines were attached. That made for a lot of baited "hyooks",as Iain Shoudie pronounced them,lying perhaps 20-30 feet down on the white sandy bottom. The combined lines of say 500 or 750 "hyooks" were laid out in a straight line of several hundred yards,using well known landmarks as markers, such as the golden sands of Croir on Bernera,the light at Laimishadair or the imposing island called "Sean Bheinn",the Old Hill. The decision on where to set the lines was taken by the experienced crew members who suddenly were blessed with the "second sight",but actually, any course chosen was pretentious fish finding and a large dollop of luck,which no fisherman ever admits. A buoy was placed at either end;we would slowly make our way back and sit bobbing about in "eithear Shonnie" (John's boat)for about 20 minutes. Time for small talk and a smoke of the pipe.One should mention that during the laying and raising of the lines only the oars were used.The helmsman sat back,eating his Highland Toffee - he didn't smoke a pipe,yet.
In those days,before the super trawlers came and raped our fishing grounds,small boats like ours would normally expect to catch something - possibly 40 or 50 fish per small line,giving us fresh fish for a couple of days,some for the elderly villagers and the rest for salting/drying. However, there was one fishing trip "air eithear Shonnie"(SY 92) which exceeded anyone's expectations and was renowned among the Dunan fishermen for years after. And this wee fella' was there! On this occasion in the boat were Shonnie,Iain Shoudie,Seoras "Lipton",Archie "Bones" Maciver and of course,myself. That was four small lines and 1000 baited hooks. The entrails were examined,the chicken bones thrown and "Coinneach Odhar" Shoudie chose our course. It was a busy night out there on Loch Roag,with about another 6/7 Carloway boats in attendance. After casting the lines,and waiting the alloted time,it was time to see how we'd fared. Right from "hyook no.1" it was obvious that we had struck piscine gold(more like silver). Iain Shoudie began shouting "Sight below,sight and sight below!!".As we hauled,we could see deep into the sea,the white bellies of fish upon fish coming to the surface. There was a fish on EVERY hook: it was unbelievable.The great majority of fish were beautiful large haddock(No.1 fish for us) with whiting,sole,skate,gurnard and some dogfish making up the rest. It took some pulling to bring in this harvest,and soon the boat was filling with fish. We had to decide to tie off the line,attach it to a float and sail back to the Dunan to empty the boat.By the time we returned with the rest of the catch we were tired,it was late and we were elated.After all, it's not every day a small "eithear" from Carloway brings home 1000 fish.Whatever happened on that summer evening,it was never to be repeated again. I can still hear my uncle,Iain Shoudie(him of the "hyooks")with a "Capstan" cigarette in one hand,pulling in the line with the other,and leading the chorus of "Sight below,sight and sight below".
P.S. Athough there were 4 fishermen,the catch was divided into 5 shares. The boat always had a single share,entitling the owner to 2 shares.

Wednesday, 14 May 2008

Ag Iasgaich. Fishing the Rivers and Lochs.

When we were young,we messed about in the rock pools on the traigh - we caught tiny silver fish, and little green crabs which could be kept alive among peats drenched in sea water.This was the received wisdom at the time. I don't think the crabs appreciated our efforts,as they invariably disappeared.
Later we tried our skills at "fly fishing" for trout in Allt na Muilne(The River of the Mills),but known to us as Allt a' Ghearraidh.The rods belonged to London John,who was very rich(we thought).We caught a few tiddlers,but,thinking back,the allt was not blessed with many "breac".But there was one,and John Maciver was the one to land a monster brown trout,all of half a pound. We were amazed at this,but none of us could repeat the feat again. I believe his old grandfather,"Na Cnamhean" (Bones)had the trout fried in oatmeal, for his lunch.
My Uncle Shonnie decided to inject a little excitement into our piscatorial endeavours,being a "wee devil" himself,and a boy at heart.He fashioned something which was unknown previously to us,and totally illegal. He made us an "otter board". It consists basically of a plank of stout wood,about 18in. long,12in high and 1.5in. thick. The leading and trailing edges of the board are cut at 45 degrees to the board's plane,but opposing each other. A piece of lead pipe is nailed to the board's base so that the "otter" sits vertically in the water,with about half the board submerged. The line is attached to the board by a ring which slides along a wire. At this end of the line there is a caste of 7 flies. When the board is placed in the water,the "otter-trawler" starts to walk along the lochside,and glory to behold,the otter moves diagonally out into the loch in the same direction, as the line is played out. One can see why it's called an otter and why it is an illegal method of fishing. If and when a trout takes on one of the flies,invariably some others are attracted to the caste by the thrashing of the water,and it was not unknown to have 3,4 or 5 fish on at the same time. Now,to bring in the otter and its catch,you must pull on the line in the opposite direction and the board begins to cut back in towards the side of the loch. That's the theory of the otter board,but for any conservationists out there,practice is another thing. We did not empty Loch Neadabhat of all its trout. Anyway, Uncle Shonnie told us it was illegal and we were not to do it very often.

Shelley. Loch Neadabhat only had small brown trout ( a beautiful native species ).The otter board does not discriminate between small and large fish. In theory,and in practice,the otter board would remove many more fish than the legal rod and line. It is considered as "unsporting",and as such is proscribed as a method of fishing by a UK Act of Parliament - The Salmon and Freshwater Fisheries Act (1975)
Still an intelligent conjecture. Keep 'em coming. D.J.M.

Monday, 5 May 2008

Domhnull Lamont wins the Military Medal (M.M.)

Domhnull Lamont came to stay in Dalmore with my aunt and uncle,but even in this small village,he did little in the way of "ceilidh"(visit/parley). He preferred to roam the moors and glens,he helped out with the animals but,more than anything,he loved sea fishing off the tall rocks at Bandaberie. Infrequently he would drop in to his cousins' houses,and I was there in Taigh Glass(No.5)when this giant of a man stooped under the lintel to enter,sitting on the being(bench),resting his enormous hands on his dungaree trousers. I was primed to question Donald,and thinking he would be responsive to my innocent enquiry,with a beatific smile on my face,which I'd borrowed for that moment,I said."Donald,could you tell me how you won your medal?" Donald put down his scone and tea cup,turned round to face me as I sat on grandpa's chair by the fire,and replied in a sort of strangled bellow,"Medals?,medals? What good are medals? - they're only scraps of metal,scraps of metal!" I felt he had nothing to add to this statement,and my mother's headshake confirmed as such. And so my first interview with a war hero was brief,but I got the impression that he thought of this as something that happened a long time ago, on which he had nothing to say. Or so I thought.
My Shoudie uncles(Maclennans)were as friendly with Domhnull Lamont as anybody could be,and Iain Shoudie could be quite persuasive,armed with a good bottle of whisky. It would have been around 1968 when my 4 year old daughter,Carolyn came running over to No.5 saying excitedly, " Dad,Uncle Iain says,that you had better hurry across to Taigh Shoudie,because Domhnull Lamont is there".When I arrived I might as well have been invisible.Talk was of old times,and with a few more drams,Iain gestured that I say nothing while he steered Donald round to a certain night in France,a long time ago. I could not believe that nearly 15 years on,I was about to hear of "Donald's medal" from the man himself.
It was dark, and Donald and "a small man from Glasgow" were on guard duty. A river separated the German troops from their erstwhile combatants,the British. Everything was quiet,the night was clear and Donald and his wee pal could see the camp fires burning on the German side,as well as on their own. There was no artillery or rifle fire, as calculating range and trajectory in the dark,was a waste of time and munitions. Donald and his buddy were positioned on a high prominence overlooking the river,and as they watched,they could just make out some movement on the farther bank of the river,but in total silence. As they continued to watch,they quickly realised what the Germans were preparing to do. They were launching pontoons,securing them together with ropes,and gradually a bridge was advancing towards the British side. "We'd better get the hell out of here and back to camp,Donald",said the wee Glasgow man, "and tell our men what's happening". Seems to me the wee man had it right. "Stay where you are",intoned Donald,whose intonation sounded very like an order. Under the very nose of our two intrepid guards(well,one at least) the German pontoon bridge was nearing completion,and German units were lining up,ready to cross. The wee man made a final plea to Donald to get the hell out of there. Donald pointed to the full box of hand grenades lying beside them,and suggested what use might be made of them. " If you won't throw the grenades,then at least you can pull the pins." There was no time now but to fall in with Donald's "plan".The German soldiers,perhaps a many as 150,were silently advancing across the pontoons,and when the bridge was full,the wee man started pulling the pins,and Donald hurled one grenade after the other onto the unsuspecting German soldiers, " I could see heads being blown off,arms and legs going sky high and falling back into the river.I think that those who weren't killed by the grenades,probably drowned in the water." Although this was a terrible carnage,Donald and his fellow soldier probably saved the British camp from an equally dire fate.Donald was recommended for the Victoria Cross(it was said),but in the end he was awarded the Military Medal(M.M.). Two postscripts to this story :-
1. The medal was to be presented to Donald at Carloway school,in front of a large gathering. Mr Ronald Macdonald,the headmaster,went across to Stornoway to meet the Seaforth Highlander's officer designated to make the presentation of the M.M. to Donald. After a little discussion and discreet enquiry,the officer realised that,of all the Donald Macleods in the Seaforths,he had reason to remember this particular Donald Macleod. He related the story to Ranald Macdonald,how as a sergeant major,before the war at Fort George,he had unwittingly insulted this man,and had paid the price. He asked Ranald to turn his horse and trap around,and to present the medal to Donald in his stead,which he duly did.
2. Donald's brother, Angus Macleod,also won the Military Medal in a completely different action. These brothers certainly served their country beyond the call of duty.

Friday, 2 May 2008

Domhnull Lamont. Donald Macleod M.M.

Domhnull "Lamont"(or is it "Lamonn"?)was a cousin of my mother and of my father(remember they were themselves second cousins),and was a living legend in his day. As usual,the origin of the acronym of "Lamont" is long forgotten,if it were ever understood,but as Donald Macleod(yes,another one),he needed another handle to his name. When Donald's name was first mentioned in my presence,I was still a young lad,but the stories of his exploits,his great strength and his unquestionable courage were known throughout the west coast of Lewis,and beyond. When I first recall hearing of Domhnull Lamont,he had been "missing" for a great number of years(ie. neither his relatives nor anyone else knew much,if anything at all,about his whereabouts or his situation).When he was a young man in Borriston(Carloway),he was tall and gangly,possessing phenomenal strength,especially in his upper arms and hands. His wrists were thin and sinewy,and the width of hands was double that of another man. He appeared quiet,a loner who did not easily relate to other people. I'm sure in the jargon of today,Donald might have been placed somewhere at the U.V.end of the "spectrum",but I would not envy the professional who had to explain this to the young Donald.
It was said that Donald had a deep love of his mother,and that no one ever commanded his affections,except her. This tall,awkward young lad was called up by the army in 1914 to take on the Kaiser's army(not on his own,of course).He reported to Fort George garrison,the massive barracks of the Seaforth Highlanders,near Inverness. Donald found the first weeks of drill and marching very difficult,principally because he could not understand the clipped orders of the sergeant major on the parade ground.It did not seem to bear any resemblance to the King's English his teachers back in Carloway were so keen to inculcate. Donald's drilling was shambolic and the sergeant major's patience was exhausted. Walking up to Donald,and standing a few feet in front of him,the drill sergeant uttered these words,which would often have been used on parade grounds the length and breadth of Britain."Macleod,You may have broken your mother's heart,but you won't break mine". The words were hardly out of the poor man's mouth,before he lay unconscious on the parade ground in front of hundreds of raw recruits. Donald had taken these words to heart,and had flattened the sergeant with one punch. Later,after some time in the "glass house",Donald was ordered to run round the perimeter of Fort George four times carrying full pack.Donald put this little contretemps behind him, to emerge from training a highly trained marksman. He was to perform as a sniper in many parts of France during the First World War.
In the late 1960s or early 1970s,Domhnull arrived back in Lewis after a lifetime "somewhere else". It seems that, during his long absence,he had spent these years in the merchant navy,choosing Cardiff in Wales as his home port.Donald must have been close to 70 years old when he came to stay with some relatives in Carloway. Donald was not an easy man,but for some reason he had loved Dalmore as a boy. My Uncle Norman,then living at 9 Dalmore with his wife Jessie, offered to put Donald up for "a week or so". In fact, he was to see out the rest of his days here in Dalmore in contentment,with people who cared for him.