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High to the north east of the village of Kinlochewe in the parish of Garioch, is Strath Chrombuill, overlooked by an old stalker’s house called Leckie.

Originally the strath was part of the extensive Garioch estate. The quality and quantity of its deer was once exceptional, thanks largely to its owner, Mr, later Sir, Arthur Bignold of Lochrosque who, over two decades, created wonderful habitat and shelter for deer by planting more than eight million trees pre-1923 – something NatureScot and its new age partners might be inclined to forget today. A fine pipe march ‘Arthur Bignold of Lochrosque’ is named after him.

Leckie – from the Gaelic word leacaidh meaning flaggy, as in flagstones – was home to an exceptional stalker called James Ferguson who was well-liked by Mr Edward Hickman, his employer at the time, and by Mr Duncan Mathieson, the estate head stalker.

At some stage, James approached Duncan Mathieson saying that when he died, he wished to be buried far out on the hill amongst the deer he loved. It was an unusual request. However, James persisted and being so highly thought of, his wish was granted. Sometime before he died, he fell ill and his wife employed a nurse to help look after him.

On one occasion, he told them of a dream he had had the previous night. It was, he recounted, a lovely sunny day and that he was on the hill with a stalking party when suddenly he was alone in the foothills of Groban – a high hill above the head of Glen Tanagaidh.

James died on January 19 1930 and the burial took place on Groban three days later.

Interestingly January 22 was fine and sunny – the only settled day in a prolonged period of wind and rain. It was as if the day of his funeral was the one he had dreamt of earlier.

Stories of coffins being carried long distances over the hills are not new but first-hand accounts and photographs are rare.

When I was researching this one, I unexpectedly came across the following which I thought worthy of repeating for its style and detail.

‘By the death of Mr James Ferguson, Leckie, Kinlochewe, Ross-shire, in his sixty-sixth year, an interesting personality has been removed from our midst. Mr Ferguson, who was a native of Insh, Kingussie, will be much missed by a wide circle of friends, particularly in the Kinlochewe district, where he resided during the past twenty-two years. He was well known in other parts of Ross and Inverness and spent some time in Park Forest, on the Island of Lewis. He also served on the Drummond Hay estate in Perthshire.

‘Mr Ferguson was a man of keen intellect and an ardent lover of nature. His chief pastime was reading and his favourite books were The Volume of the Sacred Law; Spurgeon’s Works; The Poems of Burns and the English Dictionary. Truly a comprehensive collection. To quote his own words: ‘In these books I find all the information I require’.

‘He often expressed the wish that when he died, he would like nothing better than his remains would be laid to rest among the hills with which his duties had made him so familiar. He had pointed out to his colleagues the spot where he desired to be laid and so his wishes were respected and his desire duly fulfilled under circumstances which are unique in the annals of the Highlands.

The Ross-shire hills near where James Ferguson was buried. Photograph: Miles Welsh.

‘At 10am on a winter’s day, a party numbering fifty had gathered from far and near to render their last tribute to their departed friend. It was fortunately a beautiful morning and in view of the extremely hard task of bearing the remains six miles into the heart of the hills, it was doubly so. There were in all thirty-six pall bearers divided into nine parties of four and, on looking round, I could not but admire the splendid physique of these men. Their looks proclaimed them what they were – hardy, experienced hillmen, worthy bearers of the mortal remains of one who was, in this respect, in a class by himself.

‘We left the main road at 11.30am and wended our way along the rough track which goes up the side of Allt na Muic. On reaching the top of Gleann na Muic – about a mile and a half from the road – a halt was called and a cairn erected to mark the first resting place – this being an old established custom in the Highlands. Each man contributing a stone to the cairn where they probably partook of a dram as it was recorded that 15 bottles of whisky were consumed that day.

‘After a brief rest, we proceeded with our task which, owing to the nature of the ground, was becoming more and more difficult. On reaching the summit of Cairn Homish – now shown as Meall an Odhar on Ordanance Survey maps – a magnificent panorama lay before us. Nestling at the base of the surrounding hills a beautiful green valley – Glen Tanagaidh – through which a river meandered like a bar of silver in the bright sunshine, broken here and there with the shadows cast by the hills which reminded us that, after all, life is made up of sunshine and shadows. A herd of deer were browsing peacefully by the side of the river, unaware of our approach.

‘At the foot of the Groban, about two miles across the valley, discernible only to those whose eyes were accustomed to searching the hillsides, lay the spot chosen by Mr Ferguson and often designated by him as his ‘Paradise on Earth’. Colleagues acted as pall-bearers on the last stage of the journey and at 2.15pm the mortal remains of Mr Ferguson lay at rest. In a few heartfelt words, which expressed the thoughts of all of us, Mr Mathieson rendered thanks unto the Most High for enabling us to carry out an almost super-human task.

‘The cairn was then erected at the head of the grave and inside the cairn was placed a casket containing the following words: ‘On this, the twenty-second day of January, in the year of our Lord nineteen hundred and thirty, we, the undersigned, laid to rest the mortal remains of James Ferguson, Leckie – Aig Foish (Gaelic ‘at rest’). Then followed the names of the thirty-six pall-bearers. Deep sympathy is felt for his widow and daughter, also to his surviving brothers in their sad bereavement’.’

The final word though must go to Charles Kingsley, the well-known English poet who, although writing more than 50 years earlier, penned a verse in The Outlaw, which might well have been written for the occasion:

Ye’ll bury me ‘twixt the brae and the burn, in a glen far away, 

Where I may hear the heathcock craw, and the great harts bray; 

And gin my ghaist can walk, mither, I’ll go glowering at the sky, 

The livelong night on the black hill sides where the dun deer lie.