A strange vis­i­tor to Ard­na­mur­chan in 1801

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

This was a well jus­ti­fied com­ment as Ed­ward Jen­ner (1749-1823), the English physi­cian and sci­en­tist who was the pi­o­neer of small­pox vac­cine, had made his first prac­ti­cal ex­per­i­ment only three years be­fore.

She went on, ‘When we ar­rived at the foot of Loch Shiel we could not gain a dry land­ing; but High­landers are never at a loss upon such oc­ca­sions; for they ei­ther wade to shore, or if a gentle­man’s dress does not per­mit it, he jumps upon the back of a de­pen­dent, and thus rides to dry ground. A chair formed by the united arms of two men was soon con­structed for my use.’

I re­call a sim­i­lar ar­range­ment when land­ing on the Is­land of Muck not that many years ago!

Mak­ing her way back to Stron­tian, Mrs Mur­ray tells us that she stayed with a Mr Jef­frey, fac­tor to Sir James Miles Rid­dell, the owner of the Ard­na­mur­chan Es­tate, as the only house of public en­ter­tain­ment at Stron­tian was too bad to sleep in. ‘This inn was con­structed of wood in Lon­don where it was shipped and landed at Stron­tian; on its ar­rival it was put to­gether, erected and called the Lon­don House [now the Stron­tian Ho­tel]. I ex­pected great things from its name, and in fact it might be a tol­er­a­ble house of re­cep­tion if it were well kept.’

Her caus­tic re­marks must have been noted for, not long af­ter­wards, the Lon­don House was de­scribed in an­other guide book as ‘ af­ford­ing ex­cel­lent ac­com­mo­da­tion for the stranger ex­cept at fairs and other public oc­ca­sions’.

Even­tu­ally get­ting round to the pur­pose of her visit, Mrs Mur­ray recorded, ‘The lead mine in which this new earth was found is from 115 to 120 fathom deep but when I was there it could not be worked, be­ing quite full of wa­ter. The Stron­tian­ite was found half way down the mine. I was for­tu­nate enough to gain a large cargo and many spec­i­mens.’ of ex­ceed­ingly fine spring wa­ter’, be­fore de­scend­ing into Glen Hurich to lodge with Mr and Mrs Hope.

The next day her hosts rowed her down Loch Shiel to visit the MacDon­alds at Dalilea. Dur­ing the jour­ney she was told of a large mon­ster which had been seen in the loch whose skin re­sem­bled that of an eel and it lay in waves. The length of each wave was de­scribed by a sailor’s mea­sure, namely that of a boat but, when it floun­dered, it was even big­ger and thrashed the waves scar­ing the eye wit­nesses to such an ex­tent that they didn’t dare go too close so they were un­able to get a bet­ter de­scrip­tion if it.

Sounds a typ­i­cal fishy tale about the one that got away.

Later, Mrs Mur­ray noted some­thing of much more in­ter­est, ‘At some dis­tance we per­ceived a boat steer­ing east; it con­tained a gentle­man and his wife, who had car­ried an in­fant from the head of Loch Shiel to the foot of it, where there was a doc­tor in­oc­u­lat­ing with the vac­cine or cow pox. I was sur­prised that this in­oc­u­la­tion should have been so gen­er­ally adopted as it was in 1801, in such re­mote re­gions as Ard­na­mur­chan and Moidart.’ Be­tween 1796 and 1802, a strange fig­ure was to be seen wan­der­ing around the High­lands and Is­lands mounted on a white horse wear­ing a leather cap trimmed with brown fur and a tar­tan cloak. Her name was Mrs Mur­ray from Kens­ing­ton, Lon­don, who was col­lect­ing ma­te­rial for a book she called, A Com­pan­ion and Use­ful Guide to the Beauties of Scot­land.

The sum­mer of 1801 found her in Ap­pin and Bal­lachul­ish, where she crossed Loch Linnhe by boat to In­ver­sanda en route to the Stron­tian lead mines to col­lect Stron­tian­ite.

It would seem that even in those days there was an in­ter­est in hol­i­day cot­tages as she was ac­com­pa­nied by an English­man in search of a sum­mer res­i­dence in Su­nart. By ar­range­ment, they were met at In­ver­sanda by an An­gus Cameron who was to con­vey them through Glen Tar­bert by horse and cart.

The road must have been very bad be­cause af­ter a few miles the English­man de­cided he would be more com­fort­able walk­ing. Mrs Mur­ray de­scribed Ard­na­mur­chan at that time as a large rugged penin­sula for­merly cov­ered by a thick for­est which had been cut down for tim­ber and smelt­ing.

When she ar­rived at Stron­tian she was un­able to hire a horse fit enough to carry her over the shoul­der of Ben Re­sipole to Glen Hurich where she wanted to view Loch Shiel. Whether the lo­cal horses were too ema­ci­ated or she was no Twiggy, we are not told although her con­tact, a Mr Hope who had some­thing to do with the lead mine, ad­vised her to make her will ‘ be­cause’, he said, ‘if you in­tend to ride to Glen Hurich, it is ten to one but you will break your neck’.

Through time a horse was found. She and An­gus Cameron, who agreed to act as her groom, rested on the sum­mit where she drank from, ‘A well

The Lon­don House at Stron­tian, above, and Glen Hurich.

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