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Memoirs of Rev Col AJ Mackenzie I: the Gamekeeper's Family
Memoirs of Rev Col AJ Mackenzie I: the Gamekeeper's Family
An extract from the memoirs of AJ Mackenzie, born Kinlochresort in 1887.
My father was a gamekeeper who worked on the Gruinard Estate (Wester Ross). It happened he had made the acquaintance of two brothers named Paget who were impressed with his qualities both as a keeper and an all round estate worker. They had taken the fishing and shooting of Barvas, in the Island of Lewis. Dissatisfied with the amount of sport they obtained and knowing that it was capable of much better showing, they asked my father if he would consider coming to Barvas with a view to trying to improve its fishing and shooting. It did not take long to make the necessary arrangements and one day the little family with all their worldy goods and chattels embarked on the good ship Ondine for Stornoway. In due course they found themselves at Barvas and settled in a modest thatched cottage there being no lodge or keeper's house available. For five years they lived there. It was here the life long friendship began with James Young who leased the bag net fishing rights in several parts of Lewis including Kinresort.
The Pagets ultimately severed their connection with Barvas but the Lewis Estate retained my father's services and offered him the position of keeper at Kinresort where there was a house that would more adequately meet the needs of the increasing family. The house, unfortunately, would not be available for a year. In the meantime there was the problem of where to live. This was solved by their old friend James Young who offered them accommodation in a house which he owned in Carloway in connection with his salmon fishing. Taking a few necessary pieces of furniture with them and storing the remainder in one of Young's store house at Barvas, they proceeded to Carloway where they resided a whole year before they finally settled in at Kinresort. It was during this stay at Carloway, that the disastrous fire occurred in the store house at Barvas in which all their furniture was destroyed. The friendship with James Young continued at Kinresort.
The Education Act of 1872 was now in force and large well equipped schools with highly qualified teachers were available in many districts. One of these was in the vicinity of the extensive fishing and shooting of Uig. The head keeper here had no family and when my father suggested to him that they should together approach the Lewis Estate with a view to exchanging spheres, he readily agreed. The proposal was put to the chief authority who was known by the imposing title of the Chamberlain of the Lews.
No objection or difficulties were raised and it was arranged that the exchange should take place in April 1891 thus giving both parties time and opportunity to see to the planting of potatoes and the sowing of seeds before it should be too late in the year. The immediate problem now was how to transport the family and all our goods and chattels to our new home in Uig.
It was obvious that the simplest way would be by sea, out Loch Resort, then down the open Atlantic, to Crowlista on the Uig Bay. This would put us within a couple of miles of our home. In those days Crowlista was an important centre of deep sea ling fishing and curing, especially ling. Three large boats of the Zulu class about forty foot keel carried on the industry, they were the Admiral, the Lord Lothian and the name of the third I have forgotten.
It so happened that these boats were in Stornoway to collect equipment for the ensuing fishing season and were due to return in April. My father immediately got in touch with Malcolm Macleod, skipper of the Admiral and arranged with him to call in for us at Loch Resort.
The packing up was got under way, everyone in the community helping. Furniture, trunks and heavy things were carried down to a point on the shore from which it would be easy to transfer them to the Admiral when it arrived.
One day the admiral arrived and anchored just off the shore where our goods and chattels were piled. Next morning the work of embarkation began. I can still recall the bustle and hurry of the last moments. Brother Murdo and Annie the servant girl had already been sent away with the cows across the moor to Morsgail from where they were to make their way along the road by easy stages to Uig. The rest of us had to face the perils of the deep.
It was late in the afternoon when we set sail. The fishermen had hoped to make our destination long before nightfall. But our voyage was not destined to be smooth sailing. We had in fact a marvellous escape from being ship wrecked.
Loch Resort is a treacherous place for sailing craft. The width from shore to shore is at no point very great, while the south side of the mountains rise precipitously from which squalls come down suddenly like bolts from the blue. This is especially the case in the vicinity of Taran, a great mountain about halfway down the loch side. It was here we nearly met with disaster. We were sailing along in good shape and to all appearances we would soon be gaining the open sea and with favouring wind and tide setting a straight course for our destination. Suddenly without the slightest warning the Taran opened fire on us. A squall like a shot from a great gun came down on us, and ripped the sail from top to bottom. In a moment the loch was a seething mass of white fury and the Admiral was being helplessly driven on to the windward shore. I remember looking out and seeing my father and the fisherman with oars struggling to keep the boat off the rocks. Oars of course had little effect on a craft of that size.
What happened next I cannot recall - whether the anchor was let go or not. Anyhow it took a considerable time to get the sail repaired and the Admiral under way again. When next I looked out the day had taken a big leap forward and the Admiral was rising and falling in a deep Atlantic swell. By this time all the family except my father were desperately sea sick. Our little boat which was being towed behind was getting into difficulties and had to be hoisted aboard. Fortunately I fell asleep before I became helplessly seasick. The fishermen were most kind and tried to make our lot less uncomfortable. But it was impossible to contrive much comfort in the congested space in which we were huddled under deck. The baby was thrown out of the bunk in which she was laid and she scrambled about the floor till she was discovered by one of the fishermen and restored her to her place beside her mother. It was dark when the Admiral at last tied up at its anchorage at Crowlista. The fishermen had to lead us by the hand up the rough stony path to the village where we were distributed among the house for food and sleeping accomodation.
So ended the memorable and unforgettable voyage. For years and years the fishermen in fact so long as they lived and some of them lived to a great age, spoke of it as the most perilous experience they had ever had at sea.