Comann Eachdraichd Uig

William MacGillivray in Uig

William MacGillivray

The renowned naturalist William MacGillivray was born in Aberdeen in 1796 and studied and worked most of his life there or in Edinburgh, but he had a Harris connection through his father and spent much of his childhood at Northton in South Harris (where the MacGillivray Centre now bears his name). As a young man, he returned to spend 1817-1818 there, and his diaries of that period have been published as A Hebridean Naturalist’s Journal (Acair 1996). In October of 1817 he and a party of friends and relations made a journey to Uig.

Luachar, Saturday, 18th October.

Let me describe the scenery, shooting grounds, house and its inhabitants. The scenery is generally of the grand order with little or no beauty. We have a long series of lofty mountains, turning into ridges & forming deep glens. These mountains are all rugged & precipitous, they run north-east and south-west. Stretching toward the north from them are low hills and extensive plains several miles in length and toward the south higher hills & vallies. On the declivities and under the rocks are the haunts of the deer, not easily found by a stranger, but well known to the inhabitants. Loch Rezort terminates the ground of sport on the north, the ocean on the west and south, and the Lewes on the east. The whole ground is broken into little eminences & depressions, covered with heath and some other plants – at this season of the year of a yellowish or brown colour, which renders it extremely difficult to see the deer – though the broken nature of the surface facilitates an approach to them when discovered.

The house, our place of rendezvous, is situated at the distance of between one and four miles from the places of resort of the deer, at the head of an arm of the sea which constitutes part of the northern boundary of Harris. It is what in the Hebrides is denominated a black house and what Dr Johnson calls a hut. Its inhabitants are Ewen McDiarmid, a shepherd in the employment of a gentleman of Kintail who has a very extensive tract in Harris under sheep, a tough, unpolished, but honest and civil man advanced in years; his wife Christina McCaskill, daughter of Mr McCaskill schoolmaster of Uig in Lewis, a genteel woman of about thirty; little John their son, a comical cross-grained boy; two female servants, the one a clumsy lump, the other a half-idiot with only one eye.

Luachar, Thursday, 30th October.

On Sunday, the 19th, Ewen and Miss Nelly and I and little John went to Toray, a small farm two miles down Loch Rezort on the Lewis side. One of our incitements to go there was to see two children of Ewen’s who were lodged there. Here we were treated with cream and potatoes. I made a very hearty repast. The vessels which held the cream were only two in number, so the good-man and the good-woman and Ewen were placed about one, while Miss Nelly and I got the other. Had any other arrangement been made, I had been disgusted, and I could not refuse to partake of their fare without being liable to the imputation of pride. We returned in the evening.

Miavaig

Miavaig, c1940

Rev DA Macrae was born in Miavaig and lived latterly in Harris. He was interviewed by Maggie Smith in November 2004, and died in July 2005.

Our home Miavaig House was built in 1855 for my grandfather James Macrae, who was the Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages and was also an Inspector of the Poor. He was responsible for the Parish of Uig which in those days reached as far as Carloway. At this time there was great poverty and the Destitution Board sent a boat into Loch Roag to deliver meal for distribution amongst the poor. There had been widespread potato blight and I’ve heard of one of the Destitution roads built at this time, in Geshader in this district. This was known as Rathad a’Bhuntata as those building the road were paid in potatoes.

I remember a jetty in front of Miavaig House; this was used to offload the supplies for the destitution stores. The meal store was part of Miavaig House. As the years passed the house was being flooded by the tide, it was eventually knocked down and today Miavaig House is higher up the shore. At low tide the old jetty, used to unload the stores can still be seen today. But in my young days a relative of ours, Duncan Macrae from Callanish had the first motor boat I ever saw, and he brought stores and people to Miavaig pier about three times a week. In those days the Uig people travelled by sea to Callanish if they were going to Stornoway, or any other part of the island, as it saved the very long walk to Garynahine.