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Sandwood Estate: culture




On this page: Human history. Crofting. Memories.

Above, L: barrow on abandoned peat cutting. The peat roads are still used, but most people rely on electric power.
R: at Blairmore. WILL BOYD-WALLIS

Human history

Some township populations over 50 years.








































There is evidence of people living in this area for thousands of years. Notes and maps from the Highland Sites and Monuments Record describe scores of places on the estate. Some characteristic remains of highland communities can be seen: the ruins of shielings, used for sleeping and storage during the summer grazing season, and lazybeds - ridges of ground that were improved by digging in seaweed and other material.

The first maps of the area, in the 17th century, describe an 'extreem wilderness' infested with wolves. Two important industries were developed in the 18th century: the manufacture of kelp (fertiliser from seaweed) and the herring fishing. Salmon netting was also a source of income. In 1793, the First Statistical Account recorded about 1000 people in Edrachillis parish (the parish that includes Sandwood), and about 2500 each of cattle and sheep.

The 19th century: In 1820, there was an influx of people cleared by landowners from the north coast. Overcrowding, clearances, emigration, and finally the Act of 1866 that set up the crofting system, were the pattern of the century. In Edrachillis, the 1840 Statistical Account recorded nearly 13,000 sheep!

Sandwood was "cleared" in 1847, and made into 1940 acres of sheep run let to Hugh Mackay, a merchant of Kinlochbervie. The Sirius sailed from Loch Laxford on subsidised emigrations. Sutherland Estate provided clothing, provisions and money for the emigrants. And in the same year, the townships of Sheigra, Oldshoremore and Oldshorebeg were reorganised as crofts.

20th century: Oldshoremore meal mill, despite investment, closed in 1928. Though a concrete pier was built on Loch Clash in 1908, Kinlochbervie was to become the dominant fishing port of the whole north-west coast. Kinlochbervie's success is perhaps the best hope for keeping a balanced population in the Sandwood townships, because a new school opened there recently, bringing secondary schooling and other community facilities to the area.


Crofting and fishing continue to be the main sources of employment. There are about 50 crofts and 30 crofting tenants, of whom at least a dozen are active.


In the fank at Oldshoremore. Drawing and photo WILL BOYD-WALLIS.


A crofter rents an enclosed area of land (the croft) and uses the open moorland (common grazings) for sheep and cattle. All the estate is crofted. The three grazings areas are shown on the map. The JMT is the landlord, but everything that we do on the ground is discussed with the estate management committee, where each grazings committee is represented.


Memories of Sandwood

Mystery millstone


Cathel Morrison and Will Boyd-Wallis, present and past conservation managers at Sandwood, on a long-lost millstone, shaped and then abandoned on the moor. DENIS MOLLISON.
Full amazing story.

Alexander Gunn and the mermaid

Alexander GunnJMT member Dick Clark wrote: Sandwood first came to the attention of the family through a friend who wrote in the 1930s, R. Macdonald Robertson. His book 'Angling in Wildest Scotland', published in 1936, was to become a fascination to me from my early teens. Macdonald Robertson was an ardent angler and travelled over little more than tracks with his reliable 'Prince Henry Vauxhall' car, himself generally dressed in kilt and face adorned with pencil moustache.

Macdonald Robertson related many times his talk with Alexander Gunn, Balchreick (left). Mac met Alexander Gunn in June 1939. According to Alexander Gunn, on 5 January 1900 whilst looking for one of his sheep, his collie dog suddenly let out a howl and cringed in terror at his feet. On a ledge above the tide a figure was reclining on the rock face. At first he thought it was a seal, then he saw that the hair was reddish-yellow, the eyes greenish blue and the body yellowish and about 7 feet long. To the day Alexander Gunn died in 1944 his story never changed and he maintained that he had seen a mermaid of ravishing beauty.

"They spoke with affection and awe of the place"

Norman Morrison, in The Scots Magazine


In a photo taken about 1900, Mr Morrison's mother is the small child on his grandmother's knee.


After more than 70 years of his life, Norman Morrison made the journey to Sandwood Bay a few years ago for the first time. In a letter to The Scots Magazine, he wrote:

My mother was born in 1897 in a croft at Strathchailleach, and then moved with the rest of her family to Sandwood Lodge, leaving there for Lewis at the age of eight. Both she and several of my aunts and uncles lived at Sandwood Bay and spoke with great affection and awe of the place but, as so often happens, we, the next generation, did not listen to all that was being said and consequently did not ask enough questions.

What does stick in my memory is my mother's description of feeding the hens with salmon, the beautiful and spacious beach and the fact that one room in the house had to be kept unoccupied and in state ready to accommodate the "toffs" when they came to Sandwood to fish.

Sandwood Bay, when I saw it after that trudge from Blairmore, lived up to all expectations. It amazed me how people managed to transport their belongings and provisions to such an isolated location. Even the registration of my mother's birth at Kinlochbervie involved my grandfather in a whole day's journey.

By today's standards, living in such isolation would be regarded as something of a trial. Not so for my mother and her siblings. They had such happy memories of the place, most of which, unfortunately, they took with them.

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