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By still Shiel Waters (part two)
Charles Dunell Rudd, ‘CDR’ to his family and close friends, owned Ardnamurchan Estate (55,000 acres) from 1896 until his death in 1916. Here, in our second feature, taken from CDR’s son Alan Rudd’s small book about his father, we read more of his early memories of Shielbridge – a short but personal insight to life in and around Acharacle in the early part of the 20th century. It is published here by kind permission of his daughter.
There was an old lady, Peggy, living in a tiny one-room croft just before the stream near the Acharacle Hotel.
She once gave me sixpence – I’ll never forget it. What such a sum must have meant to her and to me. She always talked to us in Gaelic. We loved her. The stones are still showing on the turf today where she lived.
Acharacle Post Office was a tin shed. The Camerons lived next door. He, the postmaster, was a stonemason and he built a new house while we were there and I laid the foundation stone. He told me that he made the two stone balls which flanked the front door steps at Shielbridge front door – by hand, absolutely perfect spheres about fourteen inches across. Marvellous!
My father kept an eye on the old and the ill. When Hugh Cameron’s (the keeper at Gorsten) daughter became very ill suddenly, he ordered a special train from Glasgow and took her to the Infirmary there himself. The local doctor was Dr MacNaughton who travelled by pony trap from Salen. The pony knew the way – especially home! And often he would pass, sleeping soundly with their reins in his hands. Once, when my mother got a salmon fly embedded in her palm and sent for him, he just pulled out his pen-knife to dig it out. She jilted at that!
There was a magic about those pre-war days. We wanted for nothing of course, but as children we were not spoiled in a material way. We were never given expensive presents like today and not too many. Hence we appreciated them. I was mad on boats and that was all I really wanted – for we were surrounded by water. Later we had 6d a week pocket money and never had more. Where we were spoilt was in the over careful way we were brought up. Someone always had to go with us, it seemed, we were never allowed to go away to school friends, although asked and things like that. I don’t know why all this but it turned out to be a grave mistake later.
The Dorlin Estate, on the Inverness-shire side of the river, belonging to Lord Howard of Glossop was, of course, all RC. There was always an RC priest at the RC Church on the way to Kinlochmoidart, usually Father Best, a great fisherman. My father used to give him a rod at times and when he came to lunch he was fun and very amusing. On the other hand Mr MacKinnon, our own minister at Acharacle was deadly, though no doubt a good man.
During the war our only news came from a lengthy telegram sent daily by Mr Allison, my father’s secretary in London, giving the war news (it seemed that the Russians were always advancing!) and it was pinned up in the Post Office window. A copy came to Shielbridge and one was sent down to Lord Howard at Dorlin two or three miles distant. Sheila mostly used to ride with it and Lord Howard gave her a lovely grey pony later as a thank you.
But to return to earlier days. The stables had three carriage horses guaranteed to shy violently at almost anything. There was an old upturned boat on the way to Dorlin and though these horses had seen it a hundred times they always shied, in fact the wagonette was emptied of passengers before we reached the boat and after the shy again remounted.
There was a pony trap and a nice fat pony too, but modernisation could not be halted and we also had a 1903 Panchard four-seater. Later this was followed by an Albion with a special open body and a small Standard two seater. I believe the old Panchard went on for years after we left and in the end was being used for carrying by a hotel in Fort William. We once asked Mr Tarrant to see how fast it would go, and down the slope by the church it did 22 mph – a great thrill.
Cecil and I spent a lot of time on our bicycles and went fairly far afield – this during our last two or three years up there. Often to Salen (three miles), Dorlin (three miles), Laga, about seven, as was Kinlochmoidart, and once or twice to Glenborrodale and back – 20 miles all told. What a joy cycles are, quite easy to push uphill, fast down. We really enjoyed ourselves in those days.
Everything came by the ‘Clanranald’. She steamed up the Loch and back – 22 miles each way, every day except Sundays. The railway from Fort William and Mallaig passed Glenfinnan and there, at the head of Loch Shiel, the steamer picked up passengers and cargo. Old Captain Cameron stood on the bridge in all weathers with nothing to protect him. He navigated up the narrow channel at Glenfinnan and turned in no space at all at the pier with superb skill.
His day, six days a week, was to walk the three miles from his croft at Shielfoot to the landing stage at Acharacle, take the Clanranald up and back by 4pm and walk the three miles back to his croft. He lived to an old age – in the 80s – and never missed a day! A wonderful man.
Stage House Hotel [Glenfinnan] was typical of hotels in those days. They would feed you if they felt inclined, but only if they felt inclined! I was told that they were eventually sued.
The old horse and cart was, in our day, the only transport for goods to and from the station. Glenfinnan was a wet spot. Always raining. We used to put our ears on the rail and one could hear the train coming miles away. Today the Scottish Tourist Board has put a white concrete office down near the monument for the benefit of tourists with all that lovely local stone there for the taking. Incidentally the journey down the loch took about two and a half hours.