Dalmore Daytime

Dalmore Daytime
Sandy Beach

Sunday, 11 October 2009

Dalmore - A Few Tails More.

This blog, "Dalmore - Tales of a Lewis Village", will be taking a rest, for a while.
However, in the meantime, may I recommend that you take a look at that other Dalmore blog, "Dalmore - A Few Tails More". With a wee twist, the word 'Tales' morphs into 'Tails'. Neat? Well I thought so! In these stories, we will share in the lives of some of Dalmore's celebrity animals - So-Sally, Rupie, Kenny Iceland, Filax, Stowlia and Fancy and some others.
To access this other Dalmore blog, go to


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.

Friday, 2 October 2009

There Had to be an Easier Way.

"Iain Glass",my uncle John Macleod, emigrated to Canada in 1923,and rose to be Superintendent of High Schools in the Province of Saskatchewan. He was commissioned from the ranks during WW1 and won the Distinguished Conduct Medal, second only to the Victoria Cross. He won the Battalion's Cup as top marksman in a shooting competition, and this was celebrated with a dinner in the Lewis Castle in Stornoway. Amazingly, the runner-up in this competition was another lad from Garenin. My mother, Anna Glass, was all of 17 years his junior, and adored her brother John. Many's the time she told us about her favourite brother,his achievements and the many stories relating to him.
One thing she would often relate to us was that, while at the Nicolson Institute(around 1910-1913), there were occasions when he had to return home to Garenin, whether for provisions or during holidays. I wonder if John's weekend visits required him to return to Stornoway with a boll of meal, like every other "lad of pairts" we've read of. According to my mother, John would travel across the moor between the town and Garenin, and back again during the same weekend, a distance of possibly 30-35 miles. To this 10 year old, this was an amazing feat which only added to the aura surrounding my Super Uncle, and which would exercise my imagination for a very long time into the future.
During the late 1980s, I took up sub-Corbett hill walking and invested heavily in brand names like Berghaus and Tissot. I was at least determined to look the part. My intention was to retrace John's youthful forays "tarsuinn air a' mointeach" (across the moor). I would set out from the Dalmore road end on a bearing of 130 degrees, hill walker's compass in hand, leaving details of my walk with Murchadh a'Bhoer who looked at me in wonderment. I authorised him to raise the alarm if he had not received a phone from me by a certain time. I was feeling good,all shipshape and Munro-like! Murdo would have been reluctant to call in the police and the RAF rescue,as instructed,and was probably by now questioning my sanity. It was a sunny morning when I launched myself onto the moor, heading out in an approximate South East direction, on as close to a straight line as lochs, peat bogs and other unknown impediments would allow.
For those interested in such things, or are prepared to retrace my steps, here briefly are some locations along the way.
Dalmore road-end -----> southern end of Loch Rahacleit(area of very many ruined sheilings)---->straight thro' between Loch Galavat and Loch na Leac(4 mls out)------>
north end of Loch na Breac---->north end of Loch Gaimheach na Faoileag(just north of Stacashal)---->between Beinn Mholach and Beinn Chailean(9mls out)---->headwaters of the Laxdale River---->follow the Laxdale R.---->Laxdale Bridge---->Caberfeidh Hotel,Sty.(Total approx 14/15 miles). Things to be aware of, if you care to try this journey.
1. Don't do it! but if you must :-
2. The number of "airidhean"(sheilings) on the moors here is considerable. Ruined now, they must have been like a string of little hamlets, with people from Bragar up to Barvas, perhaps, looking after their cattle during that eight week period when they had by law to move their livestock from the crofts. There was a relaxed lifestyle on the "airidh" as long as the children were vigilant in keeping the cattle from fighting(and possible injury). Children might be born here, lovers arranged trysts and people died out here(refer to blog on the Dalmore Church). My mother once sang to me songs of the sheilings,which were beautiful, but I regret to say that I didn't record them. On one of his visits to Lewis, my uncle Iain from Canada visited his family's sheiling about 2 miles out on the moor at Loch Tom Liathbhrat
3. The old peat workings of the people on the West Side,so far out on the moors, have now been so eroded by the elements, that what is left is a vast array of giant pinnacles of old peat like the termite mounds you see in Northern Australia. With the soft spongy ground in between, this is a hellish area through which to navigate your way.
4. When you pick up the "source" of the Laxdale River, The Ordnance Survey map would have you believe that it's easy now, downhill all the way to Stornoway. The terrain here is another spongy expanse of moss and rushes, difficult if not dangerous to cross. I had to walk on the very edge of the river, following every last meander. This was a gruelling time, and possibly the worst part of the whole traverse of the moor.
5. When rest/lunch breaks were subtracted, the total time was 6.5 hours. I was picked up in Stornoway at 5 pm and Murdo Bear was informed that I had survived.

On returning "back home to Glasgow", I visited my mother, and bursting with pride I told her how I had retraced Uncle John's cross country trek, and how difficult it was, and how much I admired him for it. My mother listened to me for a little,and then asked the fairly obvious question "Why would John, who lived in Garenin, travel up to Dalmore to start his journey?" It hadn't dawned on me that John started out from Garenin. I had put myself in John's shoes forgetting that I, and not John, came from Dalmore.
The words that my mother uttered next nearly floored me.
"Iain,A'Ghraidh, your uncle John travelled the Pentland Road to Stornoway, like everyone else; how else?" I forced a smile,gave a nod of my head,and never again mentioned my trip to Stornoway, "tarsuinn air a'mointeach", UNTIL NOW ! Much,much later she asked if I had encountered Mac an t-Stronaich out there on those desolate moors. Thankfully, my sense of humour had been restored by then!
NB. The building of a road from the "busy fishing port of Carloway" to Stornoway was approved by John Sinclair, 1st Baron Pentland while he was Secretary of State for Scotland(1905-1912), just in time for wee John Macleod from Garenin to find an easy, quicker way to Stornoway.
NNB. Mac an t-Sronaich was supposedly an evil man and murderer, who hid out on the Lewis moors around 1830, a fugitive from the law, for crimes committed on the mainland. The stories surrounding the "Fantom" (sic) were debunked in James Shaw Grant's book, "The Gaelic Vikings".