Elliot Family: Stories

Here's the first Life in Glencoul before 1914 of the promised extracts from JAE's journal, as edited by Al.

Here's the second John Elliot of Glencoul 1844-1928 of the promised extracts from JAE's journal, as edited by Al.

Here's the third Early memories of the promised extracts from JAE's journal, as edited by Al.


I was very lucky to be born and brought up in a place like Glencoul (photo). The nearest house was Glendhu (photo), four miles across a hill bridle path, and a track. There was no road into the Glen from Unapool village which we could see at the north west end of Loch Glencoul. The Glen was a place of such freedom as my children never knew until they had grown up and travelled. We did more or less as we liked out of school hours.

I started school at six, maybe before, because I remember being made to read by our cousin George Ross, son of Jessie Elliot (1839-1923), out of the large Chapman and Hall edition of Vanity Fair, when, I have been told years later by him, I was seven. I remember clearly being corrected for pronouncing "gravity" as in gravy. School was in a bedroom in the house. Teachers were whoever we could get, my eldest brother, Will, as often as not. He ruled Matt, Jock and me with firmness, but he must have had some quality as a teacher, because he taught me to love books. We were, in the Scottish educational system, a Side School. We had a cousin, Norman Kerr from Nedd, for one year, and he was tough. When he joined the Seaforths in the 1914 war we thought the German Army might as well give up. They didn't. Norman was killed in action.

We had one piece of educational good fortune. Andrew Carnegie of Dunfermline 1835-1918, went to the U.S.A. as a young man and became a steel millionaire in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania. He came back to Scotland in 1901. He spent a great deal of money on libraries for Scots schools. We were asked to send in a list of books, which we were allowed to choose for ourselves. Eventually a bookcase and a crate of books came. You can imagine the thrill of seeing what we had got. There were many Scott, Dickens, and Thackeray novels, and several books published by Andrew Gardner and Sons of Paisley. They were probably put in by the Carnegie Trust, by way of help to one of the few Scots local publishers. Among our treasures were books like "The Scottish Chiefs", by Jane Porter, whom I have never heard of since, the "Log of a Sea Waif" and "The Cruise of the Cachalot", both by a forgotten Liverpool mariner, Frank T. Bullen.

I have read Quentin Durward a score of times. One novel that didn't fit in was "John Halifax, Gentleman". I think someone had given it to our cousin, Dolly Stewart from Nedd, who often spent spells of months with us. She was a daughter of our mother's brother, Donald, a sandy haired stumpy wee man with a short pointed reddish beard, known in Nedd as Noah. You can guess what his house was called.

About Pickwick I remembered best for years the recipe for brandy punch because "you must not make the vulgar error of putting in too little brandy".

There was an anthology of comic stories "A Feast of Fun" by the Rev. David Macrae. I bet his godly congregation looked on him with suspicion as not being quite sound. It just wasn't done for Scots ministers to go in for secular pursuits. I wonder how the Rev. John Skinner's flock looked on him after he wrote the famous strathspey "Tullochgorm". "He wadnae hae the root o' the matter in him."

My father was sometimes given books by some of the sportsmen whom he took deerstalking. They were guests of the first Duke of Westminster, Hugh Lupus Grosvenor, (13.10.1825-22.12.1899), and later, the second Duke, who died at Lochmore in 1953.

John Elliot of Glencoul 1844-1928

My father was born at Auchendrean, Glastullich, Lochbroom, Ross-shire, on 29.1.1844. He was the fifth of his father's family. Not having thought to question him about his young days I don't know much about his childhood. He did tell me once that he had been a shepherd on Ben Cruachan and Ben Doran, Argyllshire. The earliest I know of him, apart from this, is that he became manager of Glendhu hirsel (sheeprun) in 1875, for a Mr Thomson, who lived at Kylestrome Lodge, then probably no more than a large farmhouse. Mr Thomson was either the estate manager or tenant farmer. Glendhu, Glencoul, and Kylestrome were not then part of the Reay Forest. Mr Thomson's daughter, Catherine Ann, married my father's brother, William (1849-1913), and they had one child, Margaret Elizabeth, known as Lalla, later Mrs John Moffat of Stronchrubie Farm, and eventually, of Kylesku Hotel. Lalla died in the Lawson Hospital, Golspie, in 1974.

John Elliot went to Glendhu hirsel in 1875 as either shepherd or manager, then the Glens part of the Forest was rented from the then Duke of Sutherland by the first Duke of Westminster (Hugh Lupus Grosvcnor 1825-1899), and added to his Reay Forest. John Elliot then went to Glencoul as deerstalksr, probably a logical choice as he knew the ground in both Glens better than anyone else. The shepherd at Glencoul before 1885 was one John Mackay, and, either before my father at Glendhu, or immediately after him, there was a legendary character named Charles Clark. As boys we heard stories about them, more especially about Charlie. He was a bachelor with a considerable liking for whisky, which he bought in small casks. Probably a small cask of six bottles then, in the latter half of' the 19th century, cost less than a single bottle does now (1975). He was said to have a housekeeper who disapproved of his thirst, so he kept his secret supply on the top of a boulder covered with heather, in Carn Chaise (the cheese cairn), across Glendhu river under the double spout waterfall which we knew years later as the Cuinnean Fall (Gaelic: nostrils). When the drought struck him he presumably went for a wee stroll across the river, and climbed the boulder from behind. J.D.E. [Jock] and I climbed this huge boulder with difficulty one Sunday afternoon when I was home on holiday from Edinburgh, about 1922. We found on top the mouldered remains of a wooden barrel, and a strip of rusty metal which had once been a barrel hoop. We took our hats off in memory of old Charlie.

John Elliot was at Glencoul from 1885 until 1917. The word "forest" in this context has nothing to do with trees. It is derived f'rom Latin "fores" - out of doors. My father married Margaret Stewart of Nedd on New Year's Day, 1891. They lived at Glencoul and all their five sons were born in that house. There were no daughters. The second Duke bought the Glendhu Forest about 1922. My father left Glencoul after John David, his fourth son, was called up in 1917. After the end of that war, my parents lived at Glendhu with J.D.E., who became stalker at Glendhu after serving a year in the Army of Occupation in Germany. He was demobilised and came home in November, 1919. My father died at Glendhu in Sept. 1928. I was a medical assistant at the time near Bury, Lancs. I travelled up by train to Glasgow, walked across Glasgow to Buchanan street for the Inverness train. I passed along that street, and was mildly thrilled to notice the shop of Messrs Shaw and Thomson, 256 Buchanan street, from which my parents used to get vast amounts of groceries sent up by MacBraynes boat, the "Clansman" to Badcall before the war. I got the night train for Inverness. There was a tinker's wedding and the young couple were being seen off at Buchanan street by a large number of their friends, serenaded by two pipers. They were all full of gaiety from bottles, and they danced an eightsome reel, followed by the noisiest foursome reel I have ever heard in my life, on the platform while waiting for the train to leave.

I reached Lairg next day too late for the West Coast bus so I had to hire a car and driver to take me to Kylesku Ferry, from which I walked up the path to Glendhu. My father died a few days later. His body was taken to Nedd by sea accompanied by a procession of boats full of his friends and the family, and buried in Nedd cemetery. My mother, Margaret Elliot, was buried in the same grave in February, 1955. Their son, my brother, Matthew Elliot (1896-1970) was buried there in April, 1970.

I have said that my father was good to animals, but, as St. Paul said, "let there be moderation in all things". He had his odd moments that amused us. Once he was sitting on a stool in the byre chopping turnips on a wood block for cattle feed. The cows were all on his right, chained in their headstalls. Next to him was his pet and favourite Dolly. She was a red cow, with irregular white patches, a mild and amiable creature, with soulful blue eyes. She considered herself privileged, and she adored turnips. She turned her head, looked eagerly down her left side at Dad, and said: "Moo?", in a tone of inquiry. Dad took no notice. Dolly turned round with a violent clash of her headchain, looked reproachfully down her other side at him, and said "Moo?" again. She was like the poet's cat that was "transformed to a creeping lust for milk", only in her case it was turnips. Dad took no notice. You remember Charlotte who "saw her lover borne before her on a shutter Like a well conducted maiden, Went on cutting bread and butter"? With minor and non-essential differences you had the same situation. Dolly did it again. Several times. With increasing indignation in her "Moo?". Dad had had enough. He reached for his walking stick, a stout hazel cudgel, and gave her a good clout on the backside. Dolly was astounded. She had never had the like of this from him before. She sprang round and stared at him, shocked. He glowered back at her. "Ye needna be lookin' ", said he. "It was me that did it".

Early Memories

One of my earliest personal memories, from about 1907, was that we had several men mowing hay, neighbours from Unapool. My father put out port glasses of neat whisky for them, and when his back was turned I drank about half a glass. I was very rapidly very tight, and felt so ill I wept. Nobody thought this could be dangerous. There was a case reported in Taylor's Medical Jurisprudence of a 16 year old boy who died after one glass of neat whisky, swallowed after a dare. My cousin, Alex Stewart of Nedd, who died at Lentran, Invernesshire, about 1950, took me out on the loch in a boat. I can remember very clearly that it was a brilliant calm hot summer morning. I don't remember the rest of the day. I probably spent it in an alcoholic stupor. That should have put me off whisky for life. It would have been much cheaper for me if it had. It was then about 3/6 (17p., 1975). From 1938 to 1948 I drank, with help, about one bottle a year at 12/6 to 15/-. Now in 1969, when I started this, 2.10/- to 3.10/-, depending on quality and age. I hear from J.D.E. that there is more whisky drunk in West Sutherland now, especially about New Year's Day, than there ever was when it was 3/6 a bottle.. He and M.E. 1896-1970 [Matt] had never heard of anyone doing any illicit distilling in our day, though the present price of whisky must have made some enterprising person think of doing it.

Our housekeeping might be of some interest. We were self-supporting in some things. We had a venison allowance from the Estate. We had our our own mutton, lamb, pork, hams, fowls, eggs, butter, cream, cheese. My mother made soft cottage cheese ("crowdie"), and she had a huge stone cheese press for making harder cheese, which would keep for months. We salted venison in the shooting season, and stored it in barrels.

How did our parents get groceries when the nearest shop was 14 miles away? It was 5 miles by sea, then 9 miles road journey, using a borrowed horse and cart, because we could not get our own horse and cart to the road, there being no road into the Glen.. There were only a 2 mile path, a deer track, and the sea as means of 'getting in and out of' Glencoul. No wonder it was called Glen Coul (Gaelic cul = back "the glen at the back of beyond"). Well, my parents kept a grocery book, added items to it from time to time as they remembered, and sent the completed list to Messrs Shaw and Thomson, 256 Buchanan street, Glasgow, who sent the complete order up by the Clansman to Badcall, Scourie, from which we got it to Kylestrome by horse and cart, then by boat under our own steam to Glencoul.

Their grocery order might well appall the modern house wife. It included such items as 3 or 4 boll bags (140 lb.) of flour for bread, 2 bolls oatmeal for porridge and oatcakes, which she baked on a griddle over the open peat fire, l boll coarse salt, 2 14-lb. blocks of finer salt, which she powdered on a board as required, using a whisky bottle as a roller. There would be also 2 bolls of sugar, 2 or 3 7-lb tins of biscuits, often Rich Tea made by Macfarlane Lang, sometimes by a firm with the magnificent name of Wylie, Barr, Lochhead and Ross.. She got large 7-lb tins of Lyle's Golden Syrup, orange and lemon candied peel, Harvey's Sauce, sometimes a barrel of Ontario apples. Oranges we saw only at Christmas, sent by our aunt, Mrs Norman Stewart, from Milford Haven, Pembroke, whose husband was my mother's brother. Their daughter, Peggy, years later married Matthew Elliot, of Kylestrome. Only once that I remember we went to Badcall, Scourie for the cargo of groceries. On a perfect June day, my father, my brother Alistair, Jock and I sailed in the Fern, a Fifer, pointed at bow and stern, which Dad bought from Pennan, Banffshire, about 1912. She was a boat with one large mainsail, and she sailed like a dream. We had a perfect brilliant day with a steady wind from Glencoul down Loch Carn Ban, through Calva Sound to Badcall, a great adventure for us younger ones. We were now on the deep Atlantic, not in our own well known Loch. As we went through Calva Sound, lying well over in a good steady breeze, there was a mid-channel reef on our right, with waving tangle on it. I had a cold fear on me as we passed. This was the Ocean.

We reached Badcall pier, Dad collected our considerable cargo from Sandy Thomson, MacBrayne's man in charge of the pierhead warehouse, we loaded up and were on our way. The excellent breeze lasted to Kylesku Ferry. We went in for a dram, some of us, and we rowed the rest of the way in a flat calm. We landed on the back of Fiaclach Island, as the tide was only halfway in to the house pier. Dad, following his usual habit, threw his jacket ashore, and there was a sharp clash of breaking glass as it fell on the rocks. Bang went his newly bought flask of Bell's whisky, cost then two shillings.

MacBrayne's and the Clansman reminds me of the many tales of that famous firm and their legendary skippers. The head office was 119 Hope street, Glasgow. One verse about them went: "The Earth belongs unto the Lord And all that it contains, Excepting the West Highlands And that is all MacBrayne's".