An old Ap­pin land­mark

The Oban Times - - DISTRICTS - Iain Thorn­ber iain.thorn­ber@bt­in­ter­

A FEW years ago, when I was look­ing through the won­der­ful Oban Times ar­chives, I came across an ar­ti­cle about a lit­tle known road­side well in Ap­pin, dated Au­gust 28, 1880.

Ac­cord­ing to the con­trib­u­tor it had been re­stored by a Ma­jor Robertson [1823-1886] of the 79th Cameron High­landers who pro­vided an in­scribed drink­ing cup in the shape of a Ro­man hel­met, found in a fort in the Ochils, and a plaque with the fol­low­ing Gaelic in­scrip­tion: To­bar Chloinn Don­nachaidh ‘s e mar thanbhar­tas do Mhuin­ntear na h-Apann le deagh rubn a Seu­mas Robanach, maid­sear ann an Reisea­maid

Fhir na h-Ear­rachd, 1880, which trans­lates as: ‘ The Well of Clan Don­nachaidh as a good­will gift to the peo­ple of Ap­pin from James Robertson, ma­jor in the Reg­i­ment of the Man of Er­racht [Sir Alan Cameron], 1880’. Fur­ther re­search among the pub­lic records and The

Oban Times added to the story. James Robertson, the wid­ower of Is­abella Trail Bal­four, lived at Glaiceriska Cot­tage, be­tween North Shian and Druim­neil House, where he died on the De­cem­ber 18, 1886, aged 63 years. Ma­jor Robertson was the el­dest sur­viv­ing son of Lord Robertson, a Court of Ses­sion judge. It seems he took a spe­cial in­ter­est in the poor, which, in the days be­fore the NHS, made him pop­u­lar in Ap­pin, to such an ex­tent that when he died his cof­fin was car­ried shoul­der high to Port­nacroish grave­yard – a dis­tance of four miles.

The well is a few feet from and slightly above the un­named pub­lic road that fol­lows the coast from Port Ap­pin to In­ver­folla on the North Shian Penin­sula, and ap­prox­i­mately 300 yards south of the present Glaiceriska Cot­tage.

The well, which ap­pears to be con­stantly filled by wa­ter from the hill­side above, is stone lined and mea­sures about two-foot square and of the same depth. As it does not fea­ture in any of the stan­dard printed ref­er­ence works on heal­ing wells and springs, it is per­haps not of any great an­tiq­uity and only came into use af­ter the build­ing of the coastal road for the con­ve­nience of man and beast. It does not ap­pear in the first edi­tion of the OS Six Inch to the Mile se­ries (1871) but is shown in the sec­ond (1892-1960), most likely thanks to Col Robertson’s ac­tiv­i­ties.

As I was near­ing the end of my re­search I came across an­other re­port in The Oban Times of Oc­to­ber 4, 1930, writ­ten by a Miss Mar­garet Mac­Don­ald, part of which reads: ‘ Blessed is the man, who pass­ing through the val­ley of Baca, made in it a well.’ [ Psalm 84: 45] Baca means weep­ing. The lovely dis­trict of Ap­pin hardly sug­gests mourn­ing but, yet, per­haps the bless­ing is there, too, for the man who makes a well, and may I humbly sub­mit hope for the woman who re­stores it!

‘ The well ac­tu­ally ex­isted when he went to live there and was the source of sup­ply for a cot­tage which stood near, but it is now a ruin, and when he [ Maj Robertson] had the idea of en­clos­ing and nam­ing it, the peo­ple who lived in the cot­tage were afraid he was go­ing to de­prive them of their drink­ing wa­ter.

Need­less to say, he did not do so, but only put a fence round, erected a slate bear­ing the words “To­bar Clann Don­naichaidh, 1879,” and, hung up by a chain, a lit­tle brass drink­ing cup in the form of a hel­met. He sent spe­cially to the War Of­fice for a pat­tern for this. It bears the in­scrip­tion in Gaelic that this well was given for the use of the peo­ple of Ap­pin by James Robertson.

‘ Last year [1929] when I vis­ited Ap­pin, I found the well in a very bad con­di­tion; the ground around was boggy, the rus­tic fence and gate all de­cayed away, the heavy slate head­stone was ly­ing flat, and the cup was fas­tened to a very thin sapling.

‘ I felt then that I would like to re­store it, and see­ing my way to do so this sum­mer, I sought and ob­tained the kind per­mis­sion of the Laird of Ap­pin, Cap­tain Laing An­der­son, to do so.

‘ The work has been car­ried out by Mr Don­ald Black, gar­dener and con­trac­tor, of Ap­pin, who, I am told, has made a very good job of it, the work be­ing taste­fully and thor­oughly car­ried out. The slate is em­bed­ded in con­crete, and has a bor­der of whin stones round it; the ground has been thor­oughly drained, and a wooden path leads up to the well’.

Miss Mac­Don­ald, I am sure, would be de­lighted to know that the well still ex­ists but, un­for­tu­nately, the in­scribed slab and drink­ing cup dis­ap­peared at the time of the Sec­ond World War and are thought to have been taken away by some Amer­i­can sol­diers who had come ashore from a bat­tle­ship an­chored in the nearby Lynn of Lorn.

It would be a grace­ful act on the part of the Ap­pin Com­mu­nity if it would ask the present land owner for per­mis­sion to tidy up and erect a sign at this once no­table his­toric fea­ture.

Ma­jor James Robertson, the 79th Cameron High­landers, from a por­trait.

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