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.