The Wheels of History
The Wheels of History
Do you remember where you were when the events that mark the turning of those wheels occurred? At the bombing of Lord Louis Mountbatten’s boat in Ireland, I was passing Portland Bill on a sailing boat. When the Towers fell in New York a group of us were waiting for the traffic lights to show the little green man in Southampton. When Diana, Princess of Wales died in Paris I was with my daughter Emily in our home on the Isle of wight.
Now as we heard the National Anthem being played on the afternoon of the 8th September, two days ago, Rob and I were sitting in the cockpit on Zoonie in the peace and silence of lovely Loch Aline on the Morvern Peninsula, facing Mull in Scotland and 151 miles away from Balmoral, waiting with the rest of the world for the news we were dreading. We were lucky to have had her for so long don’t you think?
So now the daily rolling out of the plans for Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II’s final journey can be seen before all our eyes. The wheels of a gun carriage, possibly muffled to assist the silent solemnity, will move her from Hall to Abbey and after that sad day, a week away, the wheels of time having stopped will move on once more. Bless you Ma’am for all you have done and bless you my readers during this unique time.
Let’s reverse those wheels for a short while to get up to date on our story.
Just Mulling around
A steely eyed heron paused from his fishing to watch us come slowly to the shore in Loch Drumbuie. We had returned there for a couple of days after leaving Isle Ornsay on Skye and decided to walk the other way along the stone track.
We passed through a kind of time warp because the first cottage we came to, deserted but in good shape, was of the mid nineteenth century granite block, post clearance style. A sneaky peak through the windows showed a basic but comfortably furnished interior with home preserves and pots of honey in the pantry, and a latched door to the upper sleeping floor, lit from the two classic Gaelic dormer windows. Framed photos on the walls suggested family use over a long period of time. Had the sole survivor finally died and his family wondered what on earth to do with it all?
The log store was well stocked and an axe thrown down beside the chopping block had a healthy blade. The area around the outside was left to nature’s gardener but an impressive little hydro-electric system was humming away down on the burn, providing perpetual electric power; how resourceful. A series one Landrover with ‘vote for Sally’ written in pink on its doors was waiting at the back of the house. The folk were simply away.
The farmyard was across the track and around its courtyard on three sides the buildings had been well converted for modern living; a letting business possibly. Beyond an assortment of sheds pointed to needs of self-sufficiency from the land and water and babbling burn. Certainly some human energy and passion has gone into the worthy walls.
Later, that night a bright light shone from one of the upper windows, a mystery that required some attention the next day.
On down the track past some little bays one of which contained a wide pontoon from recent times, plastic barrels and containers, containing what I dread to think and polypropylene rope caught up on bushes in high tides. Some evidence of an attempt at small scale commercial fishing.
The first sign of the second dwelling was the cream-coloured chimney pot and then our brief time travel took us back another century, pre-clearances, to a delightful croft in an idyllic spot with views from a little rise in front that looked right up a land locked loch.
It wasn’t difficult to imagine the rough-hewn furniture the family would have worn smooth through use. Or picture the young woman outside on a sunny day with her daughter, each with their tub of hot water and wooden rubbing board attending to the weekly wash while the father and son were away on the loch fishing. A wide cleared pathway led past the suspended tyre from more recent times, to a natural gap in the rocks just wide enough for a small wooden boat to be hauled ashore at the end of a patient day waiting for a bite.
Back then this would have been the only way in and out of the homestead. Imagine having no experience of moving to and from the croft to the outside world, no aspirations to travel, even going to Oban or across the Sound to Tobermory would have been a scary adventure for some and out of the mind of others. Today we have such different expectations don’t we.
I learned this morning from the internet that the croft was cleared by a demented widow and also the present owners are working alongside Scottish Wildlife Action to monitor their wildcat activity in the area.
Some attempts had been made to make the croft usable once more, plastic sheeting over the end roof and the tiles carefully stacked ready to be put back in place. 1950’s style kitchen cupboards. Padlocks on the doors to protect the inside and a picnic table on the rise where the workers could take their breaks. Did Covid bring their plans to a halt and would they ever resume working on their dream? I hope so, someone clearly loved the place.
The next morning Rob pumped up the canoe and off we paddled to see what we could find out about the light in the window.
Two people were walking around the house we spied. Their vehicle was parked beside the track and from our visit to the old croft the day before where the track stopped, we realised they would have come a long way; where we had walked previously up the hill and by the wildcat paw prints and much further for them to gain access, which suggested they knew the place was here and maybe even owned it. I was busting to find out, but at risk of being told to mind my own business and buzz off we didn’t get closer to ask. Quite why not I am not sure because it hasn’t stopped me in the past!
Well, I just had a thought. I remembered the old estate sign we came across on our wildcat walk and it said Drimnin 5 ¾ miles in the direction we had headed this second time. Onto my phone and Google revealed the crofts are a part of the Drimnin Estate which has an informative website with lots of great pictures of the flora and fauna on their 7000-acre property. They also promote their own distillery and cultural events are held around the watermill area and there is a carefully preserved St Columba chapel.
After centuries of decline the estate is on the up with the current owners in residence and old restored properties up for holiday lets. The Distillery is steaming away as we saw on our way down from Skye and the future for this fascinating estate looks good. What’s more they have 120 acres of their estate committed to the Northwoods Rewilding Network which at present has 48 areas of Scotland on its list. Hope for the future I think when one sees knowledge being put into practice.
We spent four perfectly quiet and still days there before moving back to Tobermory to prepare for our return to Iona to spend time with my cousin once removed, Liz and her hubby Alan on the wheels of a modern bus.