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Elizabeth (Betty) Wotherspoon who died on the 28th of November at her home in Lochaline, was one of a dwindling number of people living in Morvern who could truly call herself local.
She was born on the 10th of August 1931 to John and Elizabeth Munro in a lovely cottage called Torr Molach on Ardtornish estate where her father was head gamekeeper. Betty’s mother became blind when she was 15 leaving her to run a popular and busy household on her father’s wage of £2 a week. Despite having to survive in conditions which today would be described as primitive, she never complained of hardships and always found ways to overcome them. Like Robert the Bruce watching the spider she never gave up.
Betty came from a long line of Sutherland and Ross-shire shepherds, foresters and deer stalkers – a dynasty which instilled in her a deep love and understanding of nature. In growing up at Ardtornish there were excursions on horseback with her father into the hills which, from an early age, led her to shoot, fish, stalk and skin rabbits during the day as well as knit stockings and cook in the evening. She adored all animals except pine martins. Once a messy pair took over her attic necessitating a visit from the local SNH warden. Her advice, much to Betty’s amusement, was to give them a spare radio tuned into Radio 3. It worked and they decamped after a few nights.
Betty went to Claggan, the local primary school known as the academy on account of Miss Jessie Robertson who was an outstanding teacher. Betty never forgot her and always said it was to Miss Robertson she owed her education enabling her in middle age to sit and pass Higher English and History exams. She had wanted to go to university to study law but it was not to be. Sometimes she spoke about her classmates, the St Kildans and an evacuee from London who became chairman of the London Stock Exchange who, she said, wasn’t as good at sums as she was!
During the Second World War, when food rationing began, Mrs Munro bought two pounds of fresh butter every week from a lady living in a remote glen on the estate. To collect it Betty and her sister Elsie would make the 10-mile round journey up a rough track sharing a bicycle which they swapped along the way. Some of the butter was sent to an aunt living in London wrapped in a rhubarb leaf inside a tin box. On one occasion when the box was opened a bumble-bee flew out and was later released in Richmond Park.
Betty was well travelled, flying to and from Australia alone to visit family on more than 20 occasions – the last when she was 83. Her standards were high and she expected nothing less in others – especially where it concerned footwear, maintaining you could always tell a great deal about a person by the state of their shoes. She was exceptionally well read and would devour as many as 10 novels every fortnight from the travelling library. If there was anything she disliked about coronavirus it was the loss of her books.
Betty is survived by two sons, three daughters, 12 grandchildren, 13 great grandchildren, a herring-gull she named the Bosun who flew into her garden every morning for breakfast, and many robins.
Eiluned Lewis’s poem, The Birthright, comes to mind when thinking about Betty Wotherspoon.
We who were born in country places,
Far from cities and shifting faces,
We have a birthright
No man can sell,
And a secret joy
No man can tell
For we are kindred to lordly things,
The wild duck’s flight
And the white owl’s wings;
To pike and salmon,
To bull and horse,
The Curlew’s cry
And the smell of gorse
Pride of trees,
Swiftness of streams,
Magic of frost
Have shaped our dreams;
No baser vision
Their spirit fills
Who walk by right
On the naked hills
Image: Mrs Elizabeth Wotherspoon, Lochaline (Photograph by Iain Thornber)