Morvern Lines – 9.7.20

Glencripesdale Farm House home of Peter Robertson. Photograph: Iain Thornber

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Following on from last week, here is the second part of an essay sent to me more than 20 years ago. It was written in the early 1880s by Mary Inglis, the primary school teacher of Kinlochteacuis side school in Morvern.

‘We attended the Free Church of Lochaline, where the Reverend Alexander MacDiarmid was minister. There are happy memories of his gentleness and kindness. Mr Robertson with his unfailing goodness, reserved a seat in his gig for us and we joined up at the top of the school road, and the morning journey to church was an entrancing delight. We attended both services Gaelic and English. Our eldest sister frequently led the praise in English, and we all joined heartily in the Gaelic – as well as we could!

‘Monthly services were held in the Kinloch Teagus school. These were conducted by the Rev A MacDiarmid and the Rev Donald Macfarlane of Fiunary. Mr MacDonald arrived on Saturday night and was the guest of Mr and Mrs Robertson of Kinloch. Mr Macfarlane, who drove his own phaeton, journeyed by coast road to Lochaline and thence to Kinloch Teagus arriving in the late afternoon. These services were much appreciated and loyally attended, the folk coming from Barr on the far side of the loch on these occasions, and it was a full cargo that arrived. This romantic mode of ‘coming to church’ never failed to delight us.

Services were held occasionally by Mr Malcolm Hunter, church missionary, stationed at Glenborrodale, in Ardnamurchan. One summer evening we watched a boat coming steadily up the loch, the solitary rower jumped out, and anchoring his craft to a big boulder, came to call. It was discovered that Mrs Hunter had attended the same college as our sister in Aberdeen, and so began a happy friendship, which brought much pleasure. Mr Hunter also preached in Gaelic and English. In Gaelic he had a powerful dramatic delivery which held our attention to the point of fascination. The hearty singing at these services was a special feature as Mr Hunter, in Gaelic, led the way mostly lustily.
‘Our return visit to Glenborrodale was on a Friday afternoon, when Mr Hunter rowed the three inmates of the schoolhouse to his home for a weekend. Part of the summer holidays I spent in Glenborrodale when Mr Hunter kindly took me with him as he voyaged on visits to his people. The shores of Loch Sunart were beautifully wooded and very colourful, there was the glowing saffron of the seaweed, wild pink roses grew in great abundance on small islets, where the tide washed almost round their roots, Mr Hunter’s boat was drawn up on a ledge almost embowered in roses. He visited houses on both sides of Loch Sunart, at Ardslignish and Glencripesdale.

‘To reach Glencripesdale House our track up the hill led past an ancient burying ground, impressive in its loneliness, its ancient trees standing in reverent bending lines keeping silent guard over the grey recumbent tombs. There is a memory of a visit to Carna, where leaving our boat tied to a stone, we scrambled up a rocky path, pushing past struggling bushes of the wild pink rose. Neighbours gathered for the short service conducted in the house. The warmth of the welcome extended to Mr Hunter on all these visits always impressed me. We afterwards were entertained to tea in one of the houses.

I can recall the quiet courtesy with which one teaspoon did duty round the table.
‘The Sunday School at Glenborrodale was conducted by the headmaster of the school. I found it very delightful for the teacher both asked and answered his questions – the lesson was on Joseph and his brethren – in a pleasant running rhythmic style which was wholly satisfactory to us his pupils.

We had a Sunday School at Kinloch Teagus and my sister prepared pupils for the Welfare of Youth Scheme of the Free Church. In the course of time my special friend Maggie Robertson, of Kinloch – who had returned home from Perthshire – and I were sent in as candidates in the Shorter Catechism section. Much of the preparation I did in the open air on still Sunday evenings sitting on a heathery stool among the tumble of rocks behind the school house declaiming proofs. The silent grandeur of encircling mountains thrilled to the majesty of the words.

Maggie and I passed our examination. Did it not involve a journey to Lochaline, where we were for the night, guests of Mr MacDiarmid. We were cared for in the manse by his housekeeper, Miss Paterson, who was a sister of Mr Paterson, former school master of Kinloch Teagus. Next morning the examination took place, two happy candidates writing at opposite ends of the table in the minister’s study. Previous to this, when my elder sister was a candidate in the Welfare of Youth examination, she had all the adventure of a voyage to Tobermory for the purpose.

‘My friend Maggie Robertson and I had another adventure when she was a performer at a concert held in the school at Claggan. We walked all the way, along the margin of the loch, and over the bridge spanning the River Aline. We were hospitably welcomed and were the guests overnight of the school mistress, Miss Stewart, a gentlewoman whose air of stately charm greatly impressed us. Additional inmates of the school house were two Marys, the housekeeper and a school girl boarder.

When our hostess had occasion to leave the house there was a quaint formula, which charmed us because of its unexpectedness and gentle tones. “Can I trust you Mary MacDonald?” “Yes ma’am.” “Can I trust you Mary Clark?” “Yes ma’m.” The concert was lengthy and delightful, mostly Gaelic. Two items only can I recall. Bingen on the Rhine was recited by a young lady from over the hill, given with considerable dramatic power. When her name was called out my friend Maggie left her place by my side at the gallery, made her way sturdily, her steps sounding all the way to the platform. Her song was in Gaelic, all joining in the chorus.

Tho’ I’ve neither sheep or cattle was the first line. The air is familiar still. In school at Kinloch Teagus we sang so lustily, Farewell, farewell to Fiunary! I should like to go on pilgrimage and see Morvern again.’

The Robertsons, whom the writer mentions with such affection, were on old farming family from Breadalbane who came to Morvern in 1866. James John and Peter jointly took on the agricultural tenancy of Rahoy, Glencripesdale and Kinlochteacuis from the owners, the Stewarts of Auch, who sold up in 1871 to three Newtons brothers from Warwickshire. Although the Morvern leases ended in 1892, various members of the family stayed on in Morvern, while others went to Killiechronan on Mull and elsewhere in the Highlands.

Among their descendents were Jessie, the primary school teacher, Claggan, Morvern, from 1902 until 1939, and Peter (Pat), headmaster of Lochgilphead and Rockfield school in Oban, who are still remembered in teaching circles for their skill and popularity.

Lord Robertson of Port Ellen on holiday in Morvern.
Photograph: Iain Thornber

James John’s great grandson George, is Lord Robertson of Port Ellen, one of Britain’s most distinguished statesman who served as the 10th Secretary General of NATO from 1999 to 2004 and Secretary of State for Defence from 1997 to 1999. Lord Robertson, former MP for Hamilton, is also a Knight of the Order of the Thistle – the greatest order of chivalry in Scotland, conferred by Her Majesty the Queen on Scottish men and women who have held public office or who have contributed in a particular way to national life. George was born in the police station in Port Ellen, Isle of Islay, on April 12, 1946, where his father and grandfather were policemen. His grandfather played a leading role in the aftermath of the sinking of the SS Tuscania and the SS Otranto during the First World War, when hundreds of troops perished. Self-discipline and service to community and country are traditions which have continued in the Robertson family for generations.

Glencripesdale, Kinlochteacuis and Rahoy are now three separate estates. Before they were split, the last two were owned by the Highlands and Islands Development Board as an experimental deer farm but it was short-lived.