The Long Road to Stornoway (1893)

To mark the expectation that our new Enaclete bypass will opening soon (surely), here’s a further extract from the unpublished memoirs of Rev Col AJ Mackenzie, who was born at Kinresort in 1887, son of the gamekeeper Roderick Mackenzie.  The family moved in to the gamekeeper’s house at Uig Lodge in 1891, and a few years later the young Alex John made his first journey to Stornoway, accompanying his parents; his mother was needing the town doctor.

In those days there was only one way of getting to Stornoway. That was by John Gillies’s mail gig which went three times a week as far as Garynahine to collect all the mails for Uig, and from Garynahine to take the returning mail cart to Stornoway. Nowadays no one has the least conception of how slow and tedious and tiring that method of travelling was.

Much of the time had to be spent walking up long hills so as to lighten the burden on the horse. Long before the end of the journey one felt tired out and bruised by the constant jolting on the rough road. It was certainly not the way for invalids to travel. We were fortunate in that we had a horse and dog cart at our disposal at that time, and so could accomplish the journey in easy relays.

One day we set off, It was a memorable day for me: for I was going to see myself something about which I had always been wondering. I was going down the glen to see what was at the other side of the hills. The first stage took us as far as the Calder’s cottage at Kinlochroag. There we passed the night in comfort, the next day we made Garynahine Inn, where we were welcomed and made extraordinarily comfortable by Mrs Macintosh as she was then called. The third day we set off on the last lap of our journey.

So far my mother had borne up well. As for myself everything was a never ending revelation; but the greatest of all was still ahead of us.

About these days what was known as the New Carloway road was in the last stage of completion. We heard rumours that it had already been opened, but there was nothing definite about it. This road besides being beautifully smooth shortened the journey to Stornoway by a mile or two. When we came to the point where it joined the old Uig road we could see clearly two or three wheel tracks and deciding that it was open to traffic my father drove for Stornoway.  As we drew nearer to the town, I smelt coal smoke for the first time in my life.

It never entered my mind that there could be any place in the world so wonderful as Stornoway.  I had often listened to people speaking about it, but the reality exceeded anything I dreamed of: the amazing maze of streets, the pavements, the gorgeous display of things in the shop windows, the seemingly ceaseless traffic of vehicles in the streets, the crowds of men, women and children on the pavements, the ships and fishing boats in the harbour, and above all the great castle looking down on the town. It all seemed too much to take in at once.  My admiration for my father increased every minute seeing how he could make his way through it all with no apparent difficulty. I felt myself perfectly safe in his hands. He drove us through the length of town until we came to the house [in Battery Park] of his old friend James Young, where he deposited my mother and myself, while he himself returned to town to stable the horse.

During the next two days I spend most of my time out of doors, just standing still and watching with amazement the ceaseless traffic of horses and carts and fishing nets passing to and fro between the town and Sandwick Village. (Some pictures of Stornoway c1905.)

In the meantime my mother was being regularly attended by Dr Mackenzie. One day we three, taking Mrs Young, completed our journey by driving down to the Mill House at Garrabost. Then leaving my mother, my father and I returned to town intending to begin our return journey to Uig next day. We put up for the night in the quaint old Crown Inn, then occupied by Roderick Mackenzie, a friend of my father.

After supper my father took me down to the pier.  What a jamb of people was there, boys dashing recklessly in and out of the crowd, while the mail boat was being prepared for sailing. The shouting of dockers and the clanking of winches was rather terrifying, and I clung to my father’s hand. At last all was ready, the ropes were thrown off, and the Clansman (or was it the Claymore?) moved out into the harbour, and in a few minutes was steaming out by Arnish lighthouse. That was another historic moment for me, for I realised that I was actually standing at the exit to the great world beyond about which I was always dreaming.

Early next morning we set out on our return journey. I regarded myself as a great traveller, and had much to speak about when I got amongst the boys again. Perhaps they were a trifle envious of my good fortune; and perhaps I just a trifle lorded over them my superior knowledge of the great world beyond our sheltering hills.