Salen Notes – By JD from many sources including conversations
with Mrs Humphries, Mrs Patterson, Iain MacPherson, Allan ‘Coax’
MacGillivray, Neil Campbell, Jack Ritchie and others.
Name: The name Salen does not appear on Bruce's
map of 1733, the position of the village is merely noted as the
site of a 'Woodkeeper's House', close to another house symbol labelled
'Tarbert'. There is a dotted line on the map running almost due
north from the Salen burn (about the site of the electricity station)
to Loch Shiel close to Ardsheallach. Roy's map, made in the middle
of the eighteenth century, shows only Tarbert and 'Tarbert Bay'.
On Bald's Estate Plan of 1807, the dotted line running to Loch Shiel
is identified as the boundary between Sunart and Ardnamurchan. Tarbert
means an isthmus; in north-west Scotland it is usually applied to
an overland connection between two sea, or loch routes. It is probable
that the village we now call Salen was originally only known by
the name Tarbert. Possibly the name was adopted as a result of the
confusion with Glen Tarbert at the head of Loch Sunart? In 1854
Salen village apparently consisted of the Pirn Mill, the jetty,
the inn, a shop and one house, presumably the row of cottages next
to the mill had been demolished.
Salen appears in Bald's Estate Plan of 1807 both as a settlement
and a rented patch of land (wooded rather than cultivated), roughly
extending to the present electricity sub-station. Dugald MacNaughton
is noted in estate documents as having a lease in 1828 (a public
house is noted in this context).
According to Mrs Humphries (who I spoke to in 1976 when she was
99 years old, she lived to 103 with her memory unimpaired), Salen
was largely populated in her young days by people working on local
timber operations. The Manuel family came into the area to work
on this project, The timber was all purchased by Morgan of Crieff.
An Irish fiddler called Jack Feelan also came to work for Morgan’s.
Bruthach an Iain-Alasdair - the point about a mile from
Salen on the Strontian road, This is a fine example of Ton's (Fergie's
dad) memory, he had only heard the old people mention this place
but didn't know what it meant, I later found a reference to it:
It was really Bruthach a' nighean Alasdair, the brae of Alasdair's
girl and marks a place where Maighster Alasdair's daughter kept
goats, in the early eighteenth century. Ton was delighted to learn
the real story of this place, but we had no success in deciphering
the name Bruthach Alasdair Mor for the slope above Salen on the
Acharacle road, near the stone age grave. If this name is from the
same period as Bruthach a’nighean Alasdair, it is likely to
refer to part of the old track to Strontian which runs westwards
through the FE block close to the recently-built ‘Wood School’.
North of this track is Refollin (there are many
English spellings), or Ruighe a'Phollain. The name seems odd, it
could mean the pool at the limit or border - which would make sense
since it marks a boundary between Sunart and Ardnamurchan. Pol is
the modern Norwegian word for pool.
Loch above Duncraig - According to Mrs Humphries
it was called Loch na Tunnac (Duck Lake). According to the Ordnance
Survey and everyone else it is called Lochan na Dunaich, the lochan
of sadness. It was said to have been the site of the deaths of two
children; it was also associated with a white 'Kelpie' horse.
The old buildings in Salen, from the east, are:
Sunart Crafts - built as a Forestry Commission
Office, later on it was the base of the local Coast Guard unit.
Duncraig - formerly a temperance hotel - has more
floors on one side! At one time Mrs MacGillivray, Woodend, Alan
and Alastair's mother, was one of four maids here. According to
Jack Ritchie, Duncraig has a feu dating back to the early twentieth
century so it is probably about the same age as Salen Hotel. I have
heard that both Duncraig and the Inn were first leased by Gordie
Menzies (pronounced in the Australian manner) who also had the Store
at that time.
The present iron milepost close to the Hotel is clearly shown in
a turn of the century photograph, so it must be old. The Ardnamurchan
road from Salen had cast iron mileposts, but few of them remain.
All of the other local milestones are granite. (There are some similar
ones in Strontian, the next estate and I have recently heard of
others on Mull - JD). The Salen one has a plate saying it was made
by Smith Paterson & Co Ltd., Foundry of Blaydon (I presume the
Blaydon near Newcastle - JD).
Salen Hotel - built by C. D. Rudd a hundred years ago,
although there was certainly an inn in Salen long before this time.
Coax's grandfather worked on the construction of Salen hotel and
Gorten House, which was an identical building. At the rear of the
hotel is a substantial building, now converted into a house. Jack
Ritchie has examined it and told me it was a byre with a flagstone
floor - probably used for horses. Next to it is an old iron gate
which I believe once connected to a route which might have been
the main track before the nineteenth century.
Salen Cottage, at the road side - The old house
below Salen hotel was latterly occupied by the MacPherson sisters
and Andra, but formerly it was the Police Station, where Constable
Hugh MacLean from Mull, used to stay. According to Morag MacNaughton,
Constable MacLean was looked after in this house for 13 years by
a family called Cameron who originally came from Tarbert. Constable
MacLean was quite strict and Hugh the Gamie remembers him wearing
a white cover on his cap during the summer (on page 62 of 'Around
Lochaber' by Fiona Maclean, there is a picture of the Salen Sports
Day in 1931 and in the background is Constable Hugh with his white-topped
cap). He used to go to Glenuig to supervise the sheep dipping, but
I have heard that he had a good collie and enjoyed helping in the
rounding up. He covered the area from Ardnamurchan Point to Glenuig
with only a bike for transport. The windows of the house indicate
that the building once had two doors at the front, it is said locally
that the western end of the building was a cell, so this was probably
Salen’s first Police Station. I looked up the earliest records
of Police in Salen:
Oct. 1851 John McGregor
Jun. 1852 John McGregor
Jan. 1854 John MacGregor
Jun. 1856 Duncan Cameron
Aug. 1857 Duncan Cameron
Oct. 1859 Duncan Cameron and Allan Cameron
Jan. 1861 Duncan Cameron
Ardnamurchan (probably Salen?)
Oct. 1862 Robert Currie
Feb. 1863 Robert Currie
Jun. 1863 Robert Currie
May 1864 Robert Currie
Feb. 1865 John MacFarlane
Aug. 1867 John MacFarlane
Mar. 1868 John MacFarlane
Feb. 1874 Donald Martin
Feb. 1882 William Davidson
Oct. 1885 Malcolm McLevin
May 1886 Malcolm McLevin
Sep. 1888 Archibald MacIsaac
Dec. 1891 Walter Beattie
May 1892 Walter Beattie
Of these, McGregor, Cameron, Currie, MacFarland and MacIsaac could
all have been local men (the Curries were a Morvern family).
These dates indicate the Salen Police Station could have been built
either in or before 1851 or around 1862. If it was built before
1854, it apparently spent the years of 1854 to 1861 unused. The
court records indicate that an extra constable was posted in Salen
on sale days.
The inner bay was the scene of great excitement
one stormy day in the late 1960s: a coaster loaded with Scandinavian
timber lost its deck cargo of softwood off Islay and it came ashore
all up the coast. The local fishermen were ashore that morning,
having decided it was too stormy to fish, but when the wood started
appearing they rushed out in their boats to grab and tow in as much
as they could. This beach was soon covered with hundreds of sticks,
planks and stout timbers and every tractor, trailer, van and car
which could carry anything was loading it up and taking it away.
I think there are still sheds in the area built of this wood, it
was stained with a brown fuel oil and quite distinctive. (I had
a bit in my own shed at one time – JD).
The Wyper's prefabricated house north of the bridge
is close to or on the site of the old smiddy. Calum MacPherson the
Salen blacksmith, was an important local man in the late nineteenth
century, As well as the smithy at Salen and also operated one at
Kinlochmoidart, the iron was brought to Salen from Glasgow by steamer.
He was also postmaster, a vet and something of a politician (Conservative)
and conducted Free Kirk services, He is the only person buried at
Acharacle Free Kirk. Amy (Amelia May), Andra, Hugh (Oakie –
Inspector of the Poor) and Jean were his children. Amy was the last
of these to survive, she died in 1983 (aged 89) and was the last
of the original Salen inhabitants people. According to 'Coax', Alastair
Connel's grandfather used to live in this corner of the village.
There is a small building next to the smiddy shown in a photograph
of 1904, some of which can still be seen.
Up the side road after the bridge is Skipper's Cottage
- said to have been formerly inhabited by the captain of one of
Rudd's yachts. According to Mrs Humphries, Skipper's Cottage in
Salen was originally called Alma Cottage (the Battle of Alma was
in 1854). This is confirmed by an article in ‘The Countryman’,
(Winter 1884/85) in which Bruce Campbell said his father rented
the house in 1921 and the Campbells changed its name because it
had formerly been occupied by the skipper of Rudd’s yacht.
Mrs Humphries said there was a Skye terrier at the house called
Skipper, I presume he belonged to the Campbells. According to the
present inhabitant, it was once the home of the Inspector of the
Poor, but I don’t know if this was ‘Oakie’ or
an earlier Inspector. In the 1960s it belonged to Col. George Todd
M.C., T.D., M.B.E., who had worked for Rudd as a lad and later went
to London for his education. Col. Todd married one of the Menzies
girls, he died in 1970.
The sale area - for local cattle and sheep sales
was at the top of the hill behind Skipper's Cottage, however, on
sale days the whole village was crowded. (This whole area is now
overgrown with rhododendron and I can find no recognisable trace
of the enclosures, although I can remember attending a sale. JD)
Back on the main road:
The store - used to be called 'Matheson's'. When
I came in the 1960s the store was run by Ross Fraser. Many people
came into the area to work for Rudd, he had a keeper called Ross
who appears in several photographs (the grave of Simion Ross in
Acharacle graveyard bears the date 1/1/1926, Ross' daughter married
a man called Menzies who at that time owned the store, Ross Fraser,
was the grandson of Ross the keeper. A shop is first mentioned in
the estate records in the 1850s when it was in the hands of Mrs
Owain MacNaughton, a widow of 38 with nine of a family.
During the 1960s and 70s the assistant in the store was Archie 'Skiffie'
Cameron. There used to be a tin on the counter with string coming
out of hole in the lid and Skiffie would wrap up your purchases
in brown paper, tie them in a parcel and snip off the string with
a huge pair of tailor's scissors - I wonder what became of them,
he guarded them with his life.
On the opposite side of the road were petrol pumps, a paraffin tank
and a coal store where they would measure out the coal for you.
The old wooden shed by the petrol pumps (dismantled in the late
1980's after the shop was sold) was constructed by 'Skiffy', apparently
he was a joiner; on its gable end was a strangely carved piece of
wood which presumably came from some other building, or maybe a
The store is connected to an older house and there are some sheds
at the back and a feed store along the road, later converted into
a house and post office. I was always sorry that I was not involved
in clearing the sheds when the store finally closed - they sold
everything from cheese to wellie boots and from aspirins to gas
mantles, it must have been a treasure house.
Immediately to the west of the shop is a building which was formerly
a feed store and stables and later the home of Mary Fraser, Ross’s
widow, who ran the Post Office downstairs. This building has recently
been converted once again and several names were found written in
pencil on the plaster, presumably by customers at the feed store.
Next to this building is a small quarry above the
road which presumably was involved in the production of stone for
the buildings erected in the nineteenth century. Above the quarry
is an area of ground showing signs of rig and furrow cultivation,
possibly by the early inhabitants of the store building.
An earlier inn existed in Salen in the mid-nineteenth
century, said to be sited ‘about 60 yards from’ the
Pirn Mill (I paced it out and this would put it where the bridge
is, I believe the estimate to be wrong – JD). In the enquiry
into the burning of the Pirn Mill in 1854, the housekeeper, Mrs
Torrance states: ‘….. and informed them that the mill
was afire and to run immediately and inform Dugald MacNaughton,
who lives in the immediate neighbourhood.’ In 1849, 1851 and
1852, Dugald MacNaughton is noted as being the innkeeper at Salen.
The following was a description of a visit to the inn at that time:
It was late at night when I arrived at Salen, a small scattered
hamlet, situated at the head of one of the creeks of Loch Sunart.
I found lodging in a little public house, and had the mortification
of learning from the landlord, that the packet which sails weekly
between Salen and Tobermory had left the creek that forenoon. My
only plan was to pass down the side of the Loch next morning to
a place called Laggan, where I would find a boat and rowers to take
me to Mull. Comforting myself with this assurance, I went to rest,
but long before day-break, my slumbers were disturbed by a continuous
roar, like the rattle of a railway train, and having its headquarters
somewhere about the chimney-top. Daylight revealed a singularly
wild and tempestuous scene. The wind blew up the creek with terrific
violence, driving the torrents of rain before it like sheets of
smoke, and throwing the waters of the loch into frightful commotion.
To leave the house seemed for that day to be impossible, and so
I resigned myself, not in the best humour, to the penance of confinement
in a room some eight feet by six, in one of the bleakest and most
solitary spots it is possible to conceive.
One single incident alone occurred to break the monotony of that
dreary day, and as it throws some light upon the customs and industry
of the people, I will give my readers the benefit of it. While I
was pacing up and down my room, a wild ditty, sung by two or three
voices at the other end of a long passage, broke upon my ear. It
reminded me of the chorus sometimes sung by sailors when lifting
their anchor, and the opening and shutting of the door of the apartment
from which it proceeded had the effect of modulating the sound,
as if it had been wafted by the wind across the bosom of the sea.
For a while I stood wondering what it could be, till at length the
mistress of the house entered my room, and having mentioned the
matter, I was kindly invited to satisfy my curiosity by paying a
visit to the kitchen. Glad of an opportunity of extending my acquaintanceship,
I proceeded along the passage and found myself introduced to a novel
and motley scene. By Robert Somers in 1848.
The only surviving building of that age which is long enough to
have had a ‘passage’ is the Store and it seems likely
that it was the inn in the mid-nineteenth century although it is
over 100 yards from the Pirn Mill. We know from court records that
the Hotel was in the hands of Donald Cameron in the late 1890s and
he used to hire out a carriage (called a ‘machine’),
which I presume occupied the ‘feed store’ building.
The question then becomes: if this building was the Hotel, where
was the store?
I have several old books which were discovered in an outhouse at
Loch Shiel Hotel about ten years ago. Some have writing indicating
they were once in Salen Inn - one of them is a reference book printed
in 1763, there are some pencilled dates from the early nineteenth
century. None of the present buildings in Salen appear to date from
The road bridge to the south of the shop is hump-backed and with
curving parapets, i.e. a ‘Parliamentary Bridge’
which was almost certainly built as a part of the connection between
Salen Pier and Ardtoe Pier around 1830. West of the bridge was the
tailor's house, now replaced. The tailor was a lame man called Andra
MacPherson (I have heard he was injured in an accident, his grave
is in Acharacle, he died in 1960 aged 90 – JD).
The next building is the old post office. Until
about 25 years ago this still had the original telegraph equipment
in a back room. A hundred years ago they used to deliver telegrams
all over the area by bicycle. Living at the Post Office were Amy
and Jean MacPherson - Andra's sisters. They had another brother,
Hugh, who lived for a long time at Corrie Cruinn, Acharacle (known
locally as 'Oakie', his grave shows he died in 1955). Salen Post
Office was the first one in the area, Acharacle didn't get a post
office until shortly before the First World War.
I associate this part of Salen with the Manuel family. Jimmie and
Peggy used to live at Crocus Cottage, above the Old Post Office
garden (Jimmy died some time ago - Peggy moved to the south of England
and died in February 2005). Jimmy's brother Archie was an MP and
lived at Eorna on the Strontian road. His sister, Miss Chrissie
Manuel (who lived latterly at MacNaughton Crescent) had, like many
people in the area, some connection with the Marquis of Bute. She
was skilled at leatherwork. Arts and Crafts were greatly encouraged
in the old days; Mrs Humphries remembers an exhibition being held
at Acharacle School, these being opened by Miss Maclean of Ardgour
and Mrs Ryan of Roy Bridge. Even at an advanced age, Chrissie was
an amazing driver and used to drive to Edinburgh in three hours.
Before I came to the area, there was yet another Manuel brother
in Salen: Willie, who moved to Kilmarnock, I believe he was married
to a woman from Shielfoot. The father of the Manuels was William,
who died in 1930.
Up the side road after the post office is a track leading to High
Croft. According to the late Iain MacPherson, Ardtoe, this
house was probably occupied by a family called Cameron who went
to Glasgow in the 1920s. Ian’s daughter in law recently found
a bible in Fort William which had notes by a family of Camerons
at Salen Hill (which I presume means High Croft). There was a father
called Duncan with sons called Alasdair, Angus and Colin and a sister
called Sarah. Colin was a Corporal in the King's Own Yorkshire Light
Infantry and died near Ypres in 1917. I managed to find more details
from the War Graves Commission: Colin died on 28th September 1917
and is buried at Hooge Crater Cemetery, he was twenty-one years
old and was born in Salen, his parents being recorded as Duncan
and Christina Anne (nee Murchison). This means that the Camerons
were in Salen in the late 1890s and, judging by the appearance of
the house, could have been its first occupants. Alasdair and an
uncle called Sandy both died in 1926 and in that year the rest of
the family moved away. I thought they went to Glasgow (Colin is
recorded as having a Glasgow address during WW1) but I later found
out that some of them at least moved to Shielfoot (the house now
occupied by the O’Rourkes) and are related to the MacPhersons
of Shielfoot and the Stewarts of Newton, they also have relatives
in New York. Another local link is to the Grahams of Liddesdale,
which is how I tracked them to Shielfoot. Iain thought that another
Duncan of the same family used to work in the BA factory and might
have been the link with Fort William.
The Pirn Mill at Salen was sited behind the Old
Post Office. It was constructed to produce bobbins or pirns for
the Clark Company in Paisley. It operated from the early 1840s until
1854, when it was destroyed by fire, and was said to have been largely
manned by lads from Glasgow. It was powered by water, the dam being
on the hill above. Jack Ritchie found remains of the tail race under
Dr Swales' recently constructed garage.
In a Clan Cameron Archive on the Internet is the following unsigned
comment: An extensive manufactory of bobbins for thread is carried
on at Salen, on Loch Sunart; the machinery is very ingenious, and
moved by immense power, the water-wheel being forty feet in diameter.
John Somers, writing in 1848, said this about the Pirn Mill: The
extensive woods on the estate of Ardnamurchan afford a considerable
amount of employment to the people. All along the side of Loch Sunart,
and round the skirts of the parish generally, the sides of the hills
are clothed with a profusion of birch, oak, and other natural trees.
Wood-cutting is never at an end; for, when the foresters have concluded
their work in one place, it is time to begin somewhere else. To
promote the consumption of birch, which is the most plentiful description
of timber, a pirn manufactory has been established at Salen, which
works up about 1,400 tons of wood yearly. The price paid to the
proprietor is 7s 6d per ton, laid down at the mill door. The pirns
are cut by means of machinery; but in addition to a few men there
are twenty-six boys employed in the factory, the greater part of
whom are destitutes from Glasgow, who are fed and clothed in return
for their labour. It is said that 75,000 pirns are made daily.
I did a quick calculation based on the weight of a wooden cotton
reel being 20g. Assuming they wasted half the wood, 700 tonnes of
wood would make 35 million reels. The mill couldn't work when it
was dry or the river was frozen, so if they only worked 200 days
in the year, at 75,000 reels per day they would make 15 million
reels per year, but since they also produced sawn timber for use
on the estate, this could be close to the right value. It seems
likely that the stone from the Mill was used to build the old Post
At the inquiry into the mill fire in 1854, Mrs Agnes Torrance, the
housekeeper, gave this description of the mill:
The dwelling house is immediately above the mill and is entered
by an outside stair at the back. The dwelling house is divided into
two, - the one end having a kitchen, a bedroom occupied by myself
and some other small places for lumber. The other, or south end,
is divided into four apartments, a parlour and three bedrooms. All
neatly furnished. There is a fireplace in the parlour and one of
the bedrooms on that end. There is also fire places in the kitchen
and bedroom in the other, or north, end. In the centre at the stair
head there is a milk house and pantry. The light to all the rooms
was by skylights from the roof and by windows from the gables. The
wheel of the mill was next [to] the gable on the south side - the
parlour side. A large pole ran up thro' the roof from the mill,
into the parlour, as a support for the trows or waterway. The end
of the pole was in the corner of the gable at the south side. The
mill itself is divided into two apartments: the one apartment on
the north side, and immediately under the kitchen is called the
Saw Shop. A number of saw tables and circular saws and benches are
fitted up in it. A partition wall of stone and lime separates this
shop from the Machine Shop in the other end (south) of the building.
This Machine Shop is directly under the parlour and three bedrooms
before described. Three bobbin machines are fixed in this shop and
various other pieces of mechanisms suited to the trade which I can't
describe. There were a number of wooden boxes or bunkers for receiving
pirns as they fell from the machines lying in this shop. There were
also a number of other loose articles lying about. There was a fireplace
in this shop; near to it was kept a wooden press fixed to the gable
in which oils and other articles for the use of the mill were placed.
Next to this press and in the corner was the pole running into the
parlour and thro' the roof before referred to for the support of
the trows. A door on the west side of the building led into the
Machine Shop. The Machine Shop by two doors in the partition communicated
with the Saw Shop, and there was also a door in the north gable
into the Saw Shop. The whole mill was lighted with large glass windows
which opened for air to the workmen. At the north end, or rather,
attached to the north end, of the mill was a wooden shed having
a wooden roof containing two stacks of squared larch of the size
suited to be converted into bobbins. One of these stacks was piled
against the gable. The other stack was in the opposite end of the
shed, sufficient room for a person to pass with a barrow being left
between. On the outside of the shed was another pile or stock of
cut wood. This pile was unprotected. Behind and on the east side
of the mill there was a wooden cottage having a wooden roof covered
with tarred canvas to protect it from the water. This cottage is
situated quite close to the mill, a passage of a few feet only being
between them. The cottage sat on higher ground than the mill and
in consequence, tho' a much smaller building, its roof was nearly
on a level with the top of the side walls of the mill. The outside
stair leading to the dwelling house and before referred to was made
of wood. The cottage was occupied chiefly as sleeping apartments
for the boys engaged at work in the mill.
No picture of the mill exists, but the same company operated a second mill at Druimsallie, apparently this one was simply a sawmill used to produce cut timber for transport to Salen and converting into bobbins. It is assumed that the Druimsallie mill also closed in 1854. The Druimsallie site is now occupied by a salmon hatchery and there is no discernible sign of the old mill. The remains of an old pier in Acharacle is known as 'Clark's Pier' and was presumably used by boats bringing pirns to Salen from the Druimsallie Pirn Mill, but once again there is some confusion since later on the Coat's company were involved in collecting birchwood in the area and that name is also associated with this pier - the chimney of a woodcutters' bothy near Gorteneorn was called Coats' Chimney.
According to old estate records, Allan Cameron of Tarbert was paid
in 1848 for carting stave and bobbin wood, implying the mill was
also used in the preparation of materials for barrels, presumably
Opposite the Old Post Office is the house of the late Sir William
Grey, a former Lord Provost of Glasgow - hence the special lamp
post. There is garage in front of the house occupying the position
(and possibly some of the structure) of an old boat house which
belonged to Dr Fergusson (after whom Fergie MacDonald is named),
he died in 1952.
Paradoxically named ‘Pirn Mill’, the Police
Station survives as a private house. It was probably built
soon after WWII and ceased to function in the early 1970s when operations
were transferred to the new station in Strontian. Many old bobbins
were dug up close to this site, and I believe there are more in
the mud at the bottom of the bay.(but I have never seen one JD).
All around this area there are the concrete foundations
of many huts erected during WWII when the area was occupied by troops
in training. Salen itself was occupied by U.S. Army Rangers who
suffered heavy casualties in the D-Day landings. Just north of the
hall is the foundation of the cookhouse. I was told that the troops
ate in the Hall. One can find spent USA ammunition on the hill above
Salen, a cartridge from Tarbert has been identified as having been
fired from an American Remington carbine.
The hall used to contain the remains of a ‘Coats’ Library’
in which books were noted as having been presented by John Coats
of Paisley to Refollan School. (It was presumably called Refollan
to avoid confusion with Salen, Mull, also in the same education
area). Hugh the Gamie thought the hall fireplace might have been
put in by Rudd (who died in 1916).
The hall was the scene of many dancing and theatrical events before
WWII and soon after. Dr Fergusson's Dancing Team used to practice
in the hall: Maggie Buchan, Jimmy Buchan, Mary Jane MacNaughton
(Alan's mother), 'Auntie Ann' MacDonald, Ton, Dr Ferguson, Gordie
Menzies (plus another lady, maybe Mrs Ferguson?).
There is a photograph of HMS Beaufort in the hall. This was a navy
survey ship which visited Salen in the 1930s. While it was here,
one of the crew was found dead in his bunk but they never really
found out what happened. He is buried in Acharacle churchyard.
The field beyond the hall was used for local sports. A casket containing
the signatures of villagers is said to be sealed in one of the gate
pillars (which commemorate the Jubilee in the 1935). The gate pillars
presumably once contained metal plaques but these have certainly
not been there in the past forty years.
Close to the sports field are said to be the possible remains
of an ancient cairn. The cairn is noted in the Ancient
Monuments record for North Argyll: ‘What may possibly be the
remains of a burial-cairn can be seen in marshy ground some 30m
S of the old Schoolhouse of Salen. Heavily overgrown with trees
and shrubs, it is an irregularly shaped pile of stones about 6.5m
in diameter and 0.9m in height.’ The recorder is not named.
The date of the record is given as 1972, which is surprising since
the Hall was certainly not in use as a school at that time. After
some searching I eventually located the cairn, about 30m S of the
Hall. The dimensions seemed about right although the site was even
more overgrown with trees than before. However, among the stones
of the cairn were several pieces of concrete! I conclude that the
cairn represents the bases of army huts which were cleared after
the war to restore the sports field to its original condition.
At the pier there used to be two large buoys which
were said to have been used to moor C. D. Rudd's yachts. The largest
vessel was called the Mingary and the small one the Mulloom. According
to Alan Rudd, C.D.’s son: ‘Mingary was given to the
Government for war duty and became a submarine depot ship based
on Rosythe. That was the last we saw of her. Mr Galbraithe, the
chief engineer, served aboard throughout the war.’
The largest buoy (the only one now on view) still has holes in it
allegedly made by the gunners of an American Catalina sea plane
who used it for target practice. During an ‘expedition’
on 9th October, 1999, Charlene Johnston noted that the smaller buoy
(now lying behind the shop) had a cast plate on it indicating its
association with Telegraph cables.
The pier was constructed around 1830 as part of an overland route
to Ardtoe pier, to enable small boats to avoid the trip around Ardnamurchan
Point. This was an early attempt to revive local employment after
the herring fishing failed in Loch Sunart in 1818. This pier was
used until recently by puffers and fishing boats, the puffers were
beached so that the coal could be loaded straight into carts or
The gate posts of the doctor's house have a strange
appearance (possibly old grave stones or even stone anchors?) but
I have not discovered any stories associated with them. The house,
Carnlia, was probably first occupied by Doctor MacNaughton, a popular
man and a skilled photographer, Iain Thornber has a collection of
his photographs. MacNaughton Crescent, in Acharacle, is named after
Dr MacNaughton Dr MacNaughton appears in the 1881 and 1891 census
returns and his younger son, John Alex died in Salen in 1910, aged
25 years, the house appears to be marked in the early O/S map which
probably dates from the 1880s.
The next old house, Sunart Cottage, south of the
road, was occupied by a man called Peter Hume who was one of the
Salen policeman who retired and stayed in the village. His successors
were first Ross and then MacKinnon. 'Coax' thinks MacKinnon was
still alive in Dunoon in 2000. It is said that before Peter Hume
bought the cottage it belonged to Maggie 'Tailor' Cameron. In the
1891 Census records for Salen, Hugh Cameron, a widower of 57 years,
was noted to be a tailor and he had a daughter called Maggie, who
was then 15. It seems likely that she was later the owner of Sunart
Beyond Sunart Cottage on the landward side is a
new house with two interesting features: Just inside the gate on
the left hand side is a garden ornament formed of a large gear wheel
and there is also a large timber lintel across the door of the garage
with three eye bolts fitted. There was a tradition that both of
these items were salvaged from the old Pirn Mill, but ‘Coax
believes the gear wheel came from Bellsgrove (in which case it could
have been a hundred years older than the Salen Mill, and the timber
could have come from the old steamer pier. Certainly the eye bolts
in the timber beam appear to date from later than the mid-nineteenth
Beyond Sunart Cottage on the seaward side one can
see two tracks going down towards the shore. The first leads to
a seat which probably came from the hall/school. The second leads
to the second of the Salen piers - a large wooden structure which
was used by steamers from Oban and Glasgow. There is still a fairly
big stone terminal area remaining which one can imagine crowded
with people arriving and leaving. A hundred years ago the steamers
were an essential part of local life - Peggy MacKay's (Ardtoe) mother
told me that at Kilmory in the 1890s, they used to get their bread
from Glasgow the day after it was baked. I have since learned that
it travelled by train to Oban and came up by sea from there, there
was a tradition that it was possible to get loaves at Glenborrodale
still warm from the oven!
Only a few rotten bits of timber are left of the old pier
but it was still quite extensive in the 1960s. This pier
does not appear in the first Ordnance Survey map of 1871 but it
is on the map produced in the mid-1890s.
John Somers noted a weekly steamer service in 1848 and a witness
statement in the Mill Fire Enquiry noted: on Tuesday 18th July 1854,
the Steamer 'Maid of Lorn' came into Salen from Glasgow early in
the forenoon … the steamer sailed for Glasgow about 2 p.m.
There is evidence of early steamer traffic in Loch Sunart, the first
mention is only ten years after Henry Bell’s ‘Comet’
started the world’s first commercially viable steamship service:
'In March 1822 'P.S. Highlander' was placed on the Fort William
route as consort to the 'Comet', and thus a twice-weekly service
was given; but not for long, as in May of the same year 'Highlander'
was transferred to the Tobermory station. Later her sailings were
prolonged to Skye and for a time she ran also to Strontian.'
'The schooner-rigged steamer 'Ben Lomond' appeared in the West Highlands
about 1828. On 18th June in that year the sailings for the season
BENLOMOND - Will leave Tobermory every Monday for Strontian and
the celebrated Spar Cave in Skye alternately.'
In 1834 a notable addition to the fleet was made, viz. 'Glen Albyn',
which was much larger and more powerful than her predecessors. She
was the property of the Glen Albyn Steamboat Co. of Tobermory, composed
of landowners and merchants in the North and West Highlands and
was placed in service along with 'Staffa', 'Maid of Morvern' and
'Inverness' in 1835 received a thorough overhaul, being fitted with
new cabins and machinery. She was then placed on the Mull, Ulva
and Strontian route under the Burns' flag.'
Messrs Thomson and McConnell themselves in April, 1838, took over
the wooden paddle steamer 'Tobermory', which had been placed in
service at the end of November 1836, having been built in that year
"for a body of enterprising gentlemen, consisting of landed
proprietors, tacksmen and merchants connected with Mull, Morvern
and Ardnamurchan." From 'West Highland Steamers' by Duckworth
After the steamer pier, the next old houses are Tarbert
House, which used to be the house of the skipper of the
‘Mingary’, and Tarbert Cottage, which
was occupied by the mate. 'Skiffie' used to live in the Tarbert
Cottage, before he moved to MacNaughton Crescent. Tarbert House
was the home of Mrs Patterson, who was Mrs Humphries' daughter and
the niece of Calum the smith. It has nice cast iron gateposts which
were popular in the area. The shore below Tarbert is the site of
a slipway which once led up to a boathouse where the smaller of
the two yachts could be serviced during the winter. One of the rails
and a few wheels could still be seen until recently. There used
to be a gate on the road at the west end of Salen, on one of the
old maps the last house is marked as the Gatekeeper’s House.
According to Mrs Humphries, the line of the road used to curve up
to the edge of this house.
Between the Shellfish company and the Gatekeeper’s House,
on the right side of the road, is a track going up through the forestry
plantation. This is known as Telegraph Hill and
the TV, emergency services and some mobile phone aerials are at
the top of it.
There are the remains several houses of the old village
of Tarbert, close to the 'Telegraph Hill' track just above
the power line, some of which used to have clear ‘cruck slots’,
but these are now more difficult to detect. Tarbert was a village
with a considerable history, at least nine working men lived there
in the 1840s and there are records of four men of working age in
1716. A gravestone in Acharacle churchyard commemorates Hugh MacNaughton,
a weaver of Tarbert who died in 1897.
Close to the shellfish base is a stag-headed oak next to the road;
an appearance indicating the loss of major branches and their replacement
with new branches. This is common in England but less often seen
A few hundred yards west of the village is the picnic site at Camus
Torsa. Camus Torsa village, which is about two kilometres
to the west, also has a long history, with nine men of working age
in the 1840s. Mrs Humphries could remember Camas Torsa as an attractive
croft before it was forested. There are two handsome specimen trees
near the picinic site: a Cryptomeria and a big Douglas Fir. Further
to the west there is a group of four specimen trees next to the
road: A grand fir, a Douglas fir, a Cryptomeria and a coast redwood.