Distant relatives

It has taken time but, with the persistence of an unreformed trainspotter, I have concluded that this motorcycle is a Triumph 494cc Model P.  Standing proudly in front of the sidecar is my mother aged about four while Mrs Kipper sits, queen-like, on her mobile throne.  The motorcycle was introduced  at the 1924 Motor Cycle Show and fits perfectly with family chronology – this photograph was probably taken by my grandfather around 1926-27 and I would guess the machine is nearly new, just possibly on its maiden voyage.

Motorcycle diaries

The tell-tale signs are the shape and markings on the fuel tank, the forks and the size and shape of the guards which distinguish it from the Triumph Ricardo.  All of the minor details match images of other Model Ps. The number plate indicates it was registered in Portsmouth, an invigorating fifty mile ride from Andover.

According to Bonhams, the Model P was a landmark machine in the development of the motorcycle in Britain.  A no-frills, sidevalve-engined model, the newcomer was priced at £42 17s 6d, at which level it undercut every other 500cc machine then on sale in the UK. The first batch manufactured was not without its faults, but once these had been sorted the Model P was a runaway success. Output from Triumph’s Priory Street works was soon running at an astonishing 1,000 machines per week, and the Model P’s arrival undoubtedly hastened the demise of many a minor manufacturer.  At auction, a restored Model P will now sell for around £9000.

As the owner of a Triumph Scrambler, I now know there is a distant connection with my maternal grandfather’s choice of machinery, at a time when there were many more manufacturers to choose from. My Scrambler is an 865 cc, air-cooled, DOHC, parallel-twin.  You can trace the origin of this machine back through the 1959 T120 Bonneville, the 1953 Tiger T110, the 1950 Thunderbird and the 1938 Triumph Speed Twin.  My bike and that of my grandfather’s are not so distantly related as might be imagined.

The Scrambler, back at Crindledykes on new rubber – Michelin Anakees

 

 

Ard Neakie

I am travelling the north coast of Scotland from Durness and have reached Reay.  This, I should emphasise, is purely in a virtual sense.  In the real world I remain tied to my keyboard and screen in deepest Northumberland, still waiting for signs of Spring.

Having turned left off the A836 into the car park at Reay Golf Club, I have become distracted by Ard Neakie, a place not far from my starting point.

Ard Neakie is a would-be island on Loch Eriboll’s eastern shore, attached to the mainland by a narrow strip of sand and shingle.   Viewed from above, on the main road, it appears a bleak and abandoned place, the main evidence of earlier human endeavour being the lime kilns.  It was not always like this.

The kilns processed limestone quarried from the high ground of Ard Neakie and from Eilean Choraidh, an island in the middle of Loch Eriboll.  The quarry workers’ lodgings are on the northern side of the approach to the 19th century Ferry House.  This is how it looked when I last walked down to the strand in the late 1980s:

The quarry workers’ lodgings, taken in the late 1980s.

By the end of 2009, it looked flimsier still and there is a suggestion it may have since collapsed entirely. The nearby Ferry House is a different proposition.  I may have neglected to take pictures back in the 1980s but Canmore, the online catalogue to Scotland’s archaeology, buildings, industrial and maritime heritage, provides the opportunity for a virtual tour, inside and out.

The Ferry House was not only home to the ferryman and his family but also a shop providing supplies to North Sea trawlers seeking shelter from the storm.  Trawlermen, quarry workers, the shop, the ferryman and his passengers, the boats transferring limestone from Eilean Choraidh and the ships dispatching lime to east coast farmers, on some days Ard Neakie bustled.

The history of this place, and Sutherland in general, is encapsulated in the lives of one family – without these stories, Ard Neakie is just a collection of old stones and rotting timbers.

When Anne and her husband Alexander Mackay were cleared from their croft at Totaig, they were resettled at Achnahuaigh, Melness, just south of Port Vasgo at the head of the Kyle of Tongue.  It was here that they raised their daughter Dolina who would in 1887, marry local cabinet maker, George Mackay. George had been planning to better himself by emigrating to Canada but was persuaded by the Duke of Sutherland to use his woodworking skills as a boatbuilder and to run the Heilam Ferry from Ard Neakie across Loch Eriboll to Portnacon. They raised seven sons at the Ferry House, the eldest being Hugh who would eventually qualify as a teacher, having studied at Aberdeen.  Hugh’s highway to Aberdeen was by sea, regularly catching a lift from trawlers as they stopped by at Ard Neakie.  This connection with the sea is significant and points to a time when these coastal communities were better served by water than by land.

Hugh served with the 1st battalion Seaforth Highlanders during the Great War and survived despite being declared ‘missing, presumed dead’. He returned to teaching, married his first love, Catherine Sutherland and eventually retired to Connel Ferry, near Oban.  Once he left home, he never lived again at the big house on Ard Neakie, unlike younger brother Alec.

Alexander Mackay was born in 1889 and attended Eriboll School before joining his father George, to run the ferry and to learn the trade of boatbuilding.  Like my grandfather Fred, Alec was in the Territorial Reserve and both would see active service at Gallipoli.  Both Fred and Alec were transferred to Alexandria but whereas Alec fought in Macedonia and France, Fred transferred into the Royal Flying Corps and served the rest of the war at the RFC Training School, Aboukir.

Fred is in the middle, back row,

Alec survived the war but suffered disfiguring facial injuries in France and was not finally discharged until March 1920.  The expectation was that Eriboll Farm would be divided to provide land for returning local servicemen and Alec was fully expecting to receive a share.  In another example of shoddy behaviour by the estates and landowners, this never happened so Alec returned to boat building and operating the Heilam Ferry with his father.

There is a photograph of the young Alec standing in front of the workers’ lodgings holding a large salmon by the gills.  A prize catch for an innocent young man dressed in heavy tweed.  The man who returned to Ard Neakie was not the same boy who went to war in 1914.  Like Hugh, the young Alec never returned and we will never know the demons that accompanied him as he walked back down the strand to the front door of the Ferry House in 1920.  He would live out the rest of his days on Ard Neakie where he died a bachelor in 1957.  The last of the family did not leave the Ferry House until 1990 since when the lease has not been renewed and the building remains empty, except for the echoes from the past.

This story is told because I have a soft spot for the small ferries of Scotland – I have written elsewhere on this subject – my first such crossing being at Ballachulish in the late 1950s.   It is an oft repeated ‘fact’ that the Heilam Ferry closed in 1890 when the road around the loch was completed but this makes no sense. Firstly, when Alec returned from the Great War in 1920, he returned to operate the ferry and T Ratcliffe Barnett writing in 1930 (Autumns in Skye, Ross and Sutherland) refers to the operational ferry at Portnacon. Secondly, bearing in mind this was a passenger service (you might be allowed to to take a bike), why would the opening of an eleven mile road around the edge of the loch negate the need for a one mile crossing by water.  I am on a mission to find out when it really closed and what the ferry looked like in operation – we will be there again in late April.

Having driven the road around Eriboll many times, I am always surprised that there was never a car ferry between Portnacon and Ard Neakie – I would pay a premium, even in the 21st Century for the novelty of the loch crossing, for the convenience and to avoid the tedious eleven mile round trip, destination, almost where you started from. While digging around looking for small ferry images, I came across this wonderful photograph of the ferry at Dornie (The Face of Scotland – Batsford and Fry, published 1935) – it seems precisely the sort of device that should have been used at Loch Eriboll:

Loch Duich – Eilean Donan Castle and Dornie Motor Ferry

The stories of the Mackays is taken from A Full Circle – The journey through time of the Mackay Family of Heilam Ferry, Loch Eriboll from 1841 – 2014 – The Clearances to the Present Day, produced by Fiona Mackay while working as a voluntary archivist at Strathnaver Museum.  The story of Alexander Mackay’s war service is taken from Pibrochs and Poppies – A commemoration of WW1 Pipers from North West Sutherland.

It started with a kiss …

Now I have your attention, I confess it started with something much more mundane – a trip to Newbiggin by the Sea to collect a waterproof jacket and trousers from the golf club.  An entirely appropriate purchase given the links were empty, the rain coming down sideways, the skies forbidding and the gulls struggling to maintain their flight plan.

We have been meaning to see the Couple for years, and so it works, public artworks attract visitors.  On the bitterest of days we walked the prom and the beach to see them staring out to sea:

I must go down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life,
To the gull’s way and the whale’s way where the wind’s like a whetted knife;
And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover,
And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick’s over.
John Masefield

When first installed, as with most public art, opinions were divided but I would be surprised if many now object; they are part of Newbiggin’s fabric, not just the couple but locals.  If I have a criticism it is that they are too inaccessible – Sean Henry‘s works are finely detailed and should be seen up close but this remains the preserve of strong swimmers and gulls.

And what came next was a desire to give the couple a permanent residence on this blog – so after nearly five years the theme has has been replaced and they have joined a number of images that randomly appear in the header – a change was long overdue.

The Couple ...

The Couple ...

The Couple ...

The Couple ...

A late addition:

Over the rooftops and houses …

When you’re asleep they may show you
Aerial views of the ground,
Freudian slumber empty of sound.

Over the rooftops and houses,
Lost as it tries to be seen,
Fields of incentive covered with green.

Steve Hackett, Tony Banks, Anthony George Banks

Second flight ... Second flight ... Second flight ... Second flight ...

As someone who has dabbled with pole photography (don’t Google that – you could come away with entirely the wrong impression 😀 ) – it was inevitable/compulsory that some day I should acquire a drone.  With wide open spaces and unrestricted airspace I am ideally placed to practice being the Red Baron.  These were taken on my second flight – on the maiden ascent I used video but the still camera produces much more interesting and better quality results. In enlarged view you can see as far as the bridge at Corbridge and there is even a selfie – the white dot to the left of the arched window is me with the controller 🙂

The first surprise has been evidence of ancient ridge and furrow farming in the surrounding fields, something not at all apparent at ground level.

Expect the sequel to Golf in the Wild to include a host of aerial images 🙂

Here comes the sun …

Sunrises and sunsets are a photographic cliché but this doesn’t stop me rushing for the camera every time I see one.  If they occurred with the infrequency of the northern lights it would stop us in our tracks.

We are fortunately placed, with a near uninterrupted view of the sun rising across the high ground above the Tyne Valley.  These images were taken a short time apart – above the valley the mist has burned off to a gin clear day while down in Hexham, there is fog on the Tyne.  If you look closely to the right of the video, you can see the fog bank shifting along the valley – these time-lapse videos have a certain sameness but I admit to compulsive habits and this is just one of them:

... across the field at Beaufront Woodhead

Fog on the Tyne ... Fog on the Green ...

Nik’s story …

The young man had memories like mine and more.  Staying out too long for one last cast across inhospitable waters, he never made landfall again.

This assumption from the previous post was based on vague memory and the fly rod sculpted into the headstone.

I am always astonished by the kindness of strangers – in this instance, Mary from Scullomie Pages and Iain from the Melness Social History site who, giving their time, uncovered the sad truth behind the headstone at Melness cemetery.

The body of a youth drowned while creel-fishing from a north Sutherland clifftop on Thursday, was recovered yesterday. Nicholas Wyper, 18, was washed into the sea while hauling in lobster pots from Port Vasgo, near Talmine.
Taken from the Sunday Herald at the time.

This from Iain:

Nicholas lived with family in Melness and there is still family there. I have attached a few photos for you as there is another memorial at the spot where it happened. Sadly the stone and the cairn is broken, like the hearts of his family. By all accounts he was a fine young lad who loved Melness, its beauty and freedom. The site looks benign in the September sunshine, but there are dangerous undercurrents and deep water round the inlet and Stac Dhu, so a good place for lobsters, but very hard work to pull up pots on uneven ground.

1009-nikwypermemorialcairn-wordpress1010-nikwyperstacdhu-wordpress

The images are reproduced with the kind permission of Iain C Morrison www.melness.org.uk

The words on the cairn memorial read as follows:

IN
MEMORY OF
NIK WYPER
WHO WAS SWEPT
FROM THESE ROCKS
ON
29TH JUNE 1989
AGED 18 YEARS

A YOUNG MAN
WHO WILL ALWAYS
BE REMEMBERED

“GOING HOME”

The Kyle of Tongue

I know this place.  I remember the many days along the edges of the Kyle.  I remember scrambling at low tide to the feathery eider nests on Talmine Island while nervous mothers sat tight; the night a pod of dolphins performed aquatic ballet in Tongue Bay, between Midtown and Scullomie; the dunes as high as water towers with sand so soft you could run down their steep faces, safe in the arms of gravity; the day on Rabbit Islands in the company of seals and the nervous wait on the shore – would the fisherman remember us; spinning off the rocks near the causeway as oystercatchers, in faithful pairs, skimmed the fast running tide near inquisitive selkies, heads bobbing in the water, watching our every move; the sad sight of the lone grebe, too exhausted to fly from its watery grave beneath Ard Skinid; the evening walks to the little that remained of Port Vasgo and the abandoned boats along the shoreline at Talmine; the busy otter, scurrying across the sands at low tide beneath Tongue Lodge, late, so late for a very important date; catching a first brown trout on Loch a Mhuilinn – a fish so young, it knew no better than to rise to my inexpert fly; always, a harem of seals sunning on the sandbar.  All this, and the reminder of how fragile we are – the beautifully sculpted, poignant headstone at Melness cemetery.

The young man had memories like mine and more.  Staying out too long for one last cast across inhospitable waters, he never made landfall again.

Melness graveyard ...Tongue Causeway and Bridge ...Memorial to a fisherman ...

The text is an extract from Golf in the Wild – Going Home – the sequel to the first book.

(as most will know, the film excerpts are from Local Hero – the appearance of the helicopter, like a rising moon, and its subsequent arrival on the beach at Camusdarach is one of cinema’s great moments).