MORVERN

The Oban Times - - Community News - Iain Thorn­ber iain.thorn­ber@bt­in­ter­net.com

IN THE Na­tional Li­brary of Scot­land there are many pa­pers be­long­ing to Se­ton Gor­don (1886-1977), the well­known writer and nat­u­ral­ist from Skye. They in­clude cor­re­spon­dence with Alas­tair Cameron (1916-1973) of Bunal­teachan, Su­nart – bet­ter known un­der the pen name of ‘North Ar­gyll’, whose let­ters and ar­ti­cles en­riched the col­umns of The Oban Times for more than 50 years. One in par­tic­u­lar, dated March 15, 1958, caught my at­ten­tion and may be of in­ter­est to Scot­tish Nat­u­ral Her­itage and any­one else in­ter­ested in deer and their habits. It has not been pub­lished be­fore.

Dear Se­ton Gor­don The White Stag of Su­nart about which you en­quire in your let­ter was born as far as I am aware, in Coire-nacriche, a cor­rie in the march be­tween Su­nart and Ard­gour, but on the Su­nart side. He was seen shortly af­ter be­ing born by Mr Lach­lan MacInnes, Ari­un­dle, Stron­tian, then em­ployed as keeper by the Depart­ment of Agri­cul­ture for Scot­land on its Su­nart Es­tate.

Late in the win­ter Mr Al­lan MacPher­son (Ban) Scot­stown saw it among hoggs on the Scot­stown crofts. There was snow at the time and he thought at first it was a goat. He saw it again as a knob­ber, on Beinn-a-chaoru­inn, Ranachan late in Septem­ber when out stalk­ing. From there he [the stag] trav­elled west­ward and spent the win­ter and prob­a­bly spring on the Re­sipole low ground. He then crossed over to Ard­na­mur­chan making the Salen- Ca­musinnes hill graz­ing his chief habi­tat. He has been known to make oc­ca­sional vis­its to the Re­sipole ground. His pres­ence was rather re­sented by the or­di­nary coloured deer, and he was pretty of­ten seen alone or on the out­skirts of the herd.

This oc­ca­sioned a Stron­tian cor­re­spon­dent of the ‘Peo­ple’s Jour­nal’ to call him the out­cast, and af­ter one of his reap­pear­ances on the Ca­musinnes ground af­ter be­ing miss­ing all sum­mer, I re­ferred to it in the same pa­per un­der the head­ing of ‘the out­cast re­turns’. He is rather a poor spec­i­men of the species and I understand he had rather an ugly head, from an antler point of view. Whether he did any trav­el­ling dur­ing the rut­ting sea­son I can­not say. He has definitely been seen with hinds about that pe­riod but there is no ev­i­dence so far that he has left any prog­eny.

Since com­ing back from hos­pi­tal at the end of Au­gust I have had only one re­port of him be­ing seen, so I am be­gin­ning to won­der if he is alive, or has left the lo­cal­ity. Of course I have heard of the white hind of Coire Ba, and I am some­times won­der­ing if it was a white hind An­gus Maceachern, Jura, was com­mem­o­rat­ing in his song, Och! nan och! When he refers to the ‘te bhan a bha ’s an fhrith.’ I am no author­ity on deer lore but I think I am right in stat­ing that a white stag is much rarer than a white hind. Alas­tair Cameron Mr Cameron was cor­rect in stat­ing that white stags were not so com­mon as white hinds. In a list of 30 white deer com­piled in Scot­land over a long pe­riod, less than a quar­ter were stags. Th­ese were to be found on Ar­ran, Glen­shero, Kil­liechonate, Glen Af­faric, Clu­anie, Suie, Auch­lyne, Dal­namein and, of course, Su­nart. It is per­haps need­less to say that tra­di­tion­ally white deer were linked with the su­per­nat­u­ral and that it was and, prob­a­bly still is, con­sid­ered bad luck in some places to kill one. When a guest, un­be­known to the head stalker, ar­rived back at the lodge af­ter in­ad­ver­tently killing the white stag of Glen Af­faric on Ben At­tow on in 1937, he was told to pack his bags and to leave im­me­di­ately. Many white red deer, west of the Cale­do­nian Canal, were thought to be de­scended from some an­i­mals sent up to Glen­quoich from Woburn in 1875 for Lord Bur­ton. In all the years I have been stalk­ing I have never seen a white stag but, in 1984, while out on Kin­gair­loch and Glen­sanda, I saw an al­most purewhite hind among a large group of nor­mal-coloured hinds and calves.

An in­ci­dent of an un­usual na­ture and one of suf­fi­cient in­ter­est to be recorded in the stalk­ing an­nals of the time, occurred in 1892 when Colonel Platt, the sport­ing ten­ant of Kin­gair­loch, shot a stag to­wards the end of the day. It was badly wounded and tried to cross Loch a’ Choire where it got into dif­fi­culty. No boat be­ing to hand, Col onel Platt’s son swam out and at­tached a rope to its antlers and, af­ter a strug­gle, man­aged to tow the an­i­mal ashore.

A year ear­lier a Clyde fish­ing boat was making its way down Loch Linnhe when the skip­per came across a stag swim­ming from Kin­gair­loch to­wards Ap­pin. A boat was low­ered; the stag was las­soed, killed and hoisted aboard. Not only did it pro­vide fresh meat for the crew for some days but the cap­tain had the head stuffed by a Glas­gow taxi­der­mist to hang in the lobby of his house in Greenock, ‘as a tro­phy of deer stalk­ing by boat at sea’, as he used to boast to his visi­tors.

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