Sunday, November 15, 2015

Tobermory: the Mountaineer, the Lochdunvegan and Mishnish Pier

Two interesting photos of Tobermory in the 1930s I came across on Flickr recently:-

From an album found in a house clearance shop in Haywards Heath, Sussex, they were taken by an unknown couple who toured Scotland, Cumbria and Yorkshire by car in 1935: you can see the complete album here.

The arrangement of the davits at the bow of the ship the photographer was on confirms her to have been MacBrayne's paddle steamer Mountaineer (III) pictured below (all pictures clickable to enlarge).

Picture credit - Harley Crossley via

The last paddle steamer to have been ordered by MacBrayne's (though not the last in their service: that was the Islay steamer Pioneer (II) which continued until 1944), the Mountaineer was built on the Clyde in 1910. Though never closely associated with any particular route, she did spend much of her career at Oban deputising for the regular steamers to destinations such as Fort William and Tobermory. In the photos, then, she would likely have been standing in for the MV Lochinvar on the daily Sound of Mull mail service which was the island's principal connection with the mainland before car ferries were introduced in 1964. The Mountaineer was scrapped in 1928.

In the second photo, taken as the Mountaineer paddles astern back from the pier, two things caught my attention. First, the ship at the pier - had the Mountaineer been lying alongside her with her passengers having to clamber over her to get to the pier? Anyway, she is the SS Lochdunvegan, built in 1891 but acquired by MacBrayne's in 1929.  The picture of her below at Kyle of Lochalsh is taken from the Skye & Lochalsh Archive Centre's highly recommended Facebook page

The Lochdunvegan was one of MacBrayne's cargo steamers. Before freight for the islands started to go on lorries conveyed by ro-ro vehicle ferries in the early 1970s, MacBrayne's had two parallel fleets - the mail steamers for carriage of passengers plus the mail and light or perishable goods (bananas) daily from railheads like Oban, Mallaig and Kyle and the cargo steamers for the carriage of heavier goods (fence posts) weekly from Glasgow.

According to the West Highland steamer buff's bible Duckworth & Langmuir, the Lochdunvegan was regularly on a cargo run from Glasgow to Stornoway with calls only at Tobermory and Portree until she was scrapped in 1948. (MacBrayne's subsequently acquired another cargo ship called Lochdunvegan and she too was a regular caller at Tobermory 1951-73: picture here)

The other thing I noticed about the second photo was the cranes indicating building work going on at the pier. This was when the original stone quay of what was known as Mishnish Pier, built 1862 and so called because it was built by Frederick Caldwell, the owner of the surrounding Mishnish Estate (see the statutory notices here and here), was extended out and lengthwise with a steel frame topped with a timber deck. The previous year, 1934, MacBrayne's had bought the pier from Mishnish Estate (since the turn of the century owned by the Sandeman family) with a view to investing in it and, as well as extending it, built the distinctive white art deco ticket office and waiting room. You can see the previous pier building a bit more clearly in the picture below:-

Cargo steamer SS Lochbroom, 1933 - picture credit Vital Spark via
The next picture shows the steel extension to the stone quay which was being built in the second of the two pictures at the top of this post. The ships visible are, left to right, SS LochgarryMV Lochinvar and the Mountaineer and this dates the photo to between January 1937 (MacBrayne's acquisition of the Lochgarry) and September 1938 (disposal of the Mountaineer).

Picture credit Strath-101 via
And in the next one, taken in 1962, you can see the lengthwise extension as well as the art deco pier building built in 1935:-

Picture credit Douglas Campbell
Not everybody was happy with the new pier buildings back in the 1930s, though. A diary entry in the "Women's Topics - Out and About in Scottish Society" section of the Glasgow Herald by Kate Candour in October 1936 noted sniffily:-

Across the Sound of Mull [from Glenborrodale Castle, the wife of whose English owner, Lord Trent, it had been noted, regularly played the organ in Ardnamurchan parish church] another English magnate seems to be adopting Tobermory; but, while appreciating his good intentions, I am inclined to side with the natives, who have no great desire to see their picturesque little town hurriedly brought into line with Southern resorts. Rumour has it that this Liverpool shipowner may be acquiring more territory in the neighbourhood, and I can only express the purely personal hope that he will not be led into repeating the solecism which is the new Tobermory pier - rebuilt, I understand, to his instructions. This thing of white concrete, scarlet woodwork - in a style the very essence of modernism - against the old fashioned little port and background of rolling moorland is, to my mind, somewhat incongruous. But, then, maybe I am prejudiced and showing base ingratitude for the comfortable new waiting rooms, which are a great improvement on the old ramshackle building.  

I think Ms Candour is wrong in a number of respects there, though. The "Liverpool shipowner" is likely a reference to Bryce Allan, the owner of the Aros Estate on the south side of Tobermory. His great-grandfather (a Scot) had founded the Allan shipping line noted for trading from Glasgow to Canada. His grandfather, another Bryce, had taken charge of the firm's Liverpool operations and bought Aros Estate in 1873. But another two generations removed, I'm not sure if it would still have been accurate to describe Bryce (II) Allan as a "Liverpool shipowner" or, indeed, as English. And anyway, by the 1930s, he was selling off parts of Aros rather than buying new bits. Finally, MacBrayne's built a number of art deco buildings in the mid 1930s including at Port Ellen and Fort William (others?) although I think I'm right in saying that Tobermory is the only one which survives. So the notion that MacBrayne's were pandering to the whim of a local landowner on Mull seems unlikely.

Mid 1950s - picture credit Andy Carter
In 1964, car and passenger traffic for Mull (and the mail) became centred on Craignure Pier with the introduction that year of car ferries. And after the withdrawal in 1974 of the steamer King George V from the summer "Sacred Isle Cruise" from Oban round Mull to Iona and Staffa, then the cessation of separate cargo services in 1976, the only big ship to stop regularly at Tobermory was the Coll & Tiree ferry from Oban which called three times a week.

Admiralty Chart Mull of Kintyre to Ardnamurchan - National Libraries of Scotland
But the Tobermory call was not a life-line service and the winter incumbent of the Coll & Tiree run in the late 1970s, MV Iona, was not able to get alongside the pier and had to lie off in the bay and be tendered to by a launch. Although the summer ferry, the Columba, was able to berth, the condition of the 1930s extensions to Mishnish Pier was deteriorating and Calmac's preferred (though unspoken) option was to demolish them and leave just the original stone quay which would only be suitable for the smallest vessels.

The inevitable war of words ensued (see here). In 1980, Strathclyde Regional Council refused to take responsibility for the pier but matters didn't come to a head until May 1983 when Calmac abruptly closed it to vessels over 70' which prevented even the Columba getting alongside in summer. Local demonstrations involved stunts such as floating mock mines in the bay, passengers diving off the Columba as she approached to emphasise the desirability of a pier and banners with slogans such as "Calmac murders piers of the realm" (see here and here). Eventually, after first agreeing in September to pay for demolition of the 1930s extensions which rather missed the point (here), the Government agreed in February 1984 to refurbish the pier comprehensively to make it fit for calls by the Coll & Tiree car ferries in winter and summer. The work was completed in 1985 and its layout is best illustrated by aerial photography:-

But despite the revamped pier, the continued run-down of services to Mishnish Pier continued: cars stopped being loaded at Tobermory in 1992 and all calls by the Coll & Tiree ferry ceased in 1998 when the year round incumbent on the route since 1989, MV Lord of the Isles, was replaced by a larger vessel, the Clansman, which was too big to berth at Tobermory. The picture below I took of the Lord of the Isles arriving Mishnish Pier in, I think, early 1998 because - continuing the town's tradition of imaginative protest - I remember seeing in a shop window a large cake in the shape of a Calmac ferry baked by way of protest at the imminent cessation of calls by the Coll & Tiree steamer with the advent of the new Clansman:-

Mishnish Pier remains the property of Caledonian Maritime Assets Ltd (as Calmac became known once it had become merely the ship and pier owning company after the ship operating had been spun out as Calmac Ferries Ltd in 2006 - see here for details of that), its primary function for them now being the overnight berth for the Mingary (Ardnamurchan) ferry which operates from a slipway just to the east of the pier.

The Raasay is the winter ferry: a larger drive through one operates in summer. The lifeboat has its own pier just to the east of Mishnish Pier - photo credit Gordon Stirling

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Heathrow in the 1950s & 60s

The clue's in the name that this has nothing whatever to do with Kyles or Western Isles but browsing Google Earth recently, I was surprised to see the impact of the new Terminal 2 on the familiar layout of Heathrow's central area:-

I often find myself looking at old pictures of Heathrow taken in the 1950s and 60s such as the ones below and wondering where exactly amongst the current layout they were taken?

BEA Viscount - photo credit Jerry Hughes

BOAC, Air Canada, Pan Am & Air India - Photo credit Wikipedia
A good reference for Heathrow in the mid 1950s is the Ordnance Survey 1:25,000 maps from 1937-61 which you can see on National Libraries of Scotland's outstanding website here - note the "Change transparency of overlay" slider on the left which allows you to overlay present day satellite imagery over the historic mapping. The result is that the first photo above (the b/w one of the BEA Viscounts) is looking south east over the red wedge on the 1:25k map below while the second one (the colour one with the BOAC VC10 nearest) is looking north west over the green wedge. (I've also annotated the map with the locations of some prominent buildings which appear in old Heathrow pictures to assist locating them.)

This all got me thinking about the chronology of the development of Heathrow generally, especially in the 1940s, 50s & 60s so here is what I have discovered with the aid of the excellent (and free) "Flight" magazine archive.

In the 1920s and 30s, London's principal airport was at Croydon but, during the War, those charged with planning life after the conflict realised that it was in too congested a location for future development and that a new site would be required. A private aerodrome called "Great West Aerodrome" established in 1929 by aircraft manufacturer Fairey Aviation near the hamlet of Heathrow was identified and the government rather cynically decided it would be a lot easier to take control of this under emergency wartime legislation as allegedly required for the war effort than have to endure the interminable planning delays associated with establishing an international airport on a new site in peacetime.

In the picture above from the Flight archive, Great West Aerodrome is partially obscured by the tail planes of the Fairey bomber the photo was taken from in 1934. However, the view is looking north west and I've outlined the NW boundaries of the aerodrome in red. The hangar circled in yellow is the building with the BOAC billboard on it in the photo above of the BEA Viscounts: it survived into the 1960s because it couldn't be demolished until a decades long dispute between the Ministry and Fairey's over compensation for the requisition of their site was finally settled.

Below is Fairey's Great West Aerodrome (red with the hangar circled yellow again) as seen on 1940s OS 1 inch mapping superimposed over current aerial imagery on the NLS website.

Construction began in 1944 of a greatly enlarged airfield with three runways in a triangular pattern as seen in the picture below which was taken from the west in August 1946.

From Flight Archive
The runway on the left in that photo is today's 27R/09L, the northmost of Heathrow's two surviving runways.

The new airport - known in the 1940s and 50s as "London Airport" (or LAP) rather than Heathrow - opened in 1946. The original apron and terminal were off Bath Road to the north of the runways - you can see them off the taxiway to the left (north) of the runway at top left of the photo above.  Due to post-war austerity, the first terminal facilities were just tents surrounding a brick, three storey RAF type control tower (pictures here and here) but the medium term plan was to build three more runways to create a "Star of David" layout with state of the art terminal buildings in the centre accessed by a tunnel under the north runway (27R/09L): this would necessitate shifting the west runway of the original triangle (the one running roughly left to right in the picture above) westwards a bit. Below is a film made in 1949 about the development of "London Airport":-

In the picture below - taken from the east in 1952 - the three new runways have been built (and one realigned) and you can see what appears to be the tunnel to the central area being built under 27R/09L. The original terminal is on the right and the BEA and BOAC maintenance and hangarage complex is taking shape at the bottom of the picture: the old Fairey hangar is circled:-

The new facilities in the central area opened in April 1955. These served domestic and European flights (which had hitherto operated from nearby Northolt Airport) and became known as "Central" in contrast to the original terminal which became known as "North" and continued for the time being to serve intercontinental flights.

"Central" comprised three main buildings - the control tower block, an administration building called the Queens Building and a terminal building (which became the nucleus of the old Terminal 2: it was subdivided as "No 1 Building: Europa" for European operations and "No 2 Building: Britannic" for domestic flights). There were two aprons, north east and south east, but no piers or contact gates and passengers walked or were bussed out to the aircraft:-

Flight Archive
London Airport Central in the mid 1950s - view from north east
Delightfully evocative cartoons from the Flight archive depict the joys of air travel from LAP Central
Despite the pride in the new facilities evident in these images, there had been an interesting alternative (perhaps rather too daring) vision for LAP Central which never came to pass here. And a plan for a further triangle of runways north of Bath Road - see here - was abandoned in the early 1950s.

The conspicuous Southall gasometer in the background identifies this view as looking over the north east apron of LAP Central towards the holding point of runway 28R: Photo credit Ian MacFarlane at
The Hunting Clan Building in the background identifies this view as looking over the south east apron: Photo credit Martin Snelling
With short haul operations now ensconced at LAP Central, attention in the later 1950s switched to bringing long haul operations in to new purpose built facilities in the central area and allow the always temporary ad hoc LAP North to be closed. Work began in 1960 and "Building No 3: Oceanic" on the south west face of the central area (which became the nucleus of Terminal 3) opened in November 1961.

London Airport long haul terminal (later T3) in 1962 - Flight Archive
Before we leave the now redundant LAP North, however, photos of it seem to be rare and the best I could find are the following:-

Aerial view looking north west over LAP North
Looking east at LAP North: photo credit Miocene
The site of LAP North is now occupied by the Renaissance Hotel

LAP North then and now via National Libraries of Scotland (move the transparency of overlay slider)
The next phase of development of LAP, in the mid 1960s, was to add piers to the two central area terminals (short haul, latterly T2 and long haul, latterly T3). I don't know the exact sequence of events in this but the diagram below from Flight Magazine shows the stage reached by 1967:-

Heathrow 1967 - Flight archive
The picture below shows the long haul terminal (T3) at this time:-

Terminal 3 from the north west in 1967: photo credit Steve Williams via
Below is an interesting photo looking west over the long haul terminal (later T3) in the early 60s before piers had been added:-

BOAC Britannia and Qantas and South African 707s; photo credit germany1985
I can tell you that adding piers to T2 (short haul) was underway in June 1965 because the picture below taken that month shows the south west pier almost complete and the north east one not started yet but the planes parked around a row of oil drums in anticipation of it:-

The south east apron in transition to T2: photo credit David Russon
Incidentally, my impression from looking at the various photos is that the T2 piers were not initially built with contact gates (jetways) but that these had been added within a few years: compare this picture taken in 1966 with this one in August 1968. I don't know the transition to contact gates at T3 either but suspect it was after construction of the piers as well.

The other thing to note from the 1967 diagram above is that the triangle of grass enclosed by the north east apron and runways 27R/09L and 23L/5R has been concreted over to provide additional stands. I think this happened quite early in the 60s and this is the area - the site of what was to become Terminal 1 - where you see photos of parked planes seemingly stretching into the distance: compare the picture below taken in 1966 with the one of the Aer Lingus Constellation above taken from roughly the same position on the spectators' gallery on the Queens Building:-

Looking north east over the site of what was to become Terminal: photo credit Ken Fielding 
Terminal 1 (for BEA) was opened in November 1968 and at this time "No 1 Building: Europa" and "No 2 Building: Britannic" were renamed Terminal 2 (for non BEA European flights) and "No 3 Building: Oceanic" became Terminal 3 (all airlines long haul). In the meantime, "London Airport" had been formally renamed "Heathrow" upon its being transferred from the Ministry of Transport to the newly formed British Airports Authority in 1966.

The last big change to the footprint of Heathrow in the 1960s was the addition of the T-shaped pier to the south west of T3  as seen at the bottom of the postcard view below: it was built to accommodate the Boeing 747 "jumbo jet" which entered service in January 1970 (and a factoid I never knew before I googled tonight for the date of the first scheduled 747 flight to LHR  - the aircraft which performed that flight, on 22 January 1970 for Pan Am, was the plane written off in the Tenerife air disaster.)

Having reached the 1970s, that's where I'm going to stop this blog simply because it brings us to Heathrow as I recognise it when I became interested in my childhood. I realise I haven't covered development of the cargo facilities to the south in 1967/68 (see here), for example.

T4 was added to the south of runway 27L/09R in 1986 for British Airways long haul flights, thereafter becoming the Skyteam alliance terminal after BA vacated T1 and T4 upon the opening of T5 (to the west) in 2008. But apart from some relatively minor tweaks (a third, south east "Europier" added to T1 in the mid 1990s for e.g.) that's how the central area of LHR remained from the 1970s until redevelopment of T2 began in 2010. This involved demolition of the distinctive red brick Control Tower Block built in the 1950s in January 2013:-

I passed through Heathrow three days before this picture appeared in the Daily Mail
And it was only while googling this blog that I discovered that T1 had finally closed on 29 June 2015 to allow for continuing redevelopment of T2:-

The south east pier at T1 in 1971: same view as the Air France 707 above - Wikipedia
But because this blog was inspired by trying identify the location within today's Heathrow of photos taken in previous decades, I'm going to leave you with one which tormented me for ages before I cracked it:-

Photo credit R A Scholefield via
The gasometer on the left horizon means this is looking northeast so that's got to be looking north east along the north west face of T1, perhaps before the NW pier had been added, right? But it can't be because work on T1 didn't begin until 1966 and BOAC withdrew its Comets in 1965.

I then discovered that there's another gasometer to the south west of Heathrow at Egham (I think it's been demolished recently). And the church tower visible to the left of the gasometer is the church of St Mary the Virgin at Stanwell. So in fact, it's looking south west along the south east face of T3 (or "Oceanic Building" as it was called when the photo was taken in September 1964) before its piers were added. It's also confusing that the layout of the parking stands appears to have varied during the period between opening T3(OB) and the piers being added: compare with the picture of the BOAC Britannia and QANTAS and SAA 707s six photos up.

Finally, a selected timeline to assist dating of photos:-

31 May 1946 - Heathrow officially opens
13 March 1952 - Entry into service (EIS) of Airspeed Ambassador ("Elizabethan") with BEA (here).
2 May 1952 - EIS De Havilland Comet 1 (BOAC)
April 1953 - EIS Vickers Viscount (BEA)
10 January 1954 - BOAC Comet 1 fleet grounded after loss of "Yoke Peter" at Elba
late 1954 - retiral of Vickers Viking by BEA
17 April 1955 - opening of Heathrow central area
1 February 1957 - EIS Bristol Britannia (BOAC)
30 July 1958 - retiral of Ambassador by BEA (here)
4 October 1958 - EIS Comet 4 (BOAC) (here)
26 October 1958 - EIS Boeing 707 (Pan Am - New York to Paris Le Bourget) (here)
27 July 1959 - EIS Caravelle (Air France) (here)
18 September 1959 - EIS Douglas DC8 (Delta - don't know date of first flight to LHR)
September 1959 - roll out of BEA "Red Square" livery (I assume first applied to Viscounts) (here)
1 April 1960 - EIS Comet 4 by BEA.
27 May 1960 - EIS 707 by BOAC (here)
1 March 1961 - EIS Vickers Vanguard (BEA) (here)
13 November 1961 - opening of Oceanic (longhaul) Building, later T3 (here)
Spring 1962 - LAP North closed (here)
19 May 1962 - retiral of DC3 by BEA
1 February 1964 - EIS Boeing 727 (Eastern Airlines) (here)
11 March 1964 - EIS Hawker Siddeley Trident 1 (BEA) (here)
29 April 1964 - EIS Vickers VC10 (BOAC) (here)
26 April 1965 - retiral of Britannia by BOAC (here)
November 1965 - retiral of Comet 4 by BOAC (here)
10 February 1968 - EIS Boeing 737 (Lufthansa) (here)
Mid 1968 - roll out of BEA "Speedjack" livery (earliest picture I've seen here)
6 November 1968 - Terminal 1 opened (here)
1969 - addition of "T Pier" to T3 in anticipation of Boeing 747
22 January 1970 - EIS Boeing 747 (Pan Am)
14 April 1971 - EIS 747 (BOAC) (here)
1 April 1974 - Formation of British Airways by merger of BEA and BOAC

Taken in August 1960, the final picture below sums up the transitions at Heathrow in the late 1950s and early 60s - from piston engine (the DC3 on the right) to jetliner and the mix of old and new BEA liveries:-

Photo credit R A Scholefield at

Thursday, August 27, 2015

The Point House and the Lochinvar

This postcard listed on eBay recently doesn't identify the scene but I think it's looking east up Loch Etive across the mouth of the River Awe at Bonawe near Taynuilt: the nearest I can get to the scene in Google Streetview is here. The OS 25 inch map from the turn of the century marks a house in this location called the Point House which isn't there anymore. 

Ordnance Survey 25 inch map c.1900 from National Libraries of Scotland

Note the two gents on the shore to the left of the house with the boats - they may have been associated with the commercial salmon fishery at the mouth of the Awe (note Corfhouse on the map - a corf house was a building used in connection with salmon fisheries for storing nets and packing and curing fish etc.) or else with the passenger ferry that used to operate across the mouth of the river here (note the Ferry House on the map).

The red star marks the location of the post card view
Postmarked at Oban in July 1914, the message on the back of the postcard is also interesting:-

"Saturday. Just left Oban. Arrived Glasgow yesterday. Not seen any wet yet. The scenery by Callander & on to Oban was fine. Very hot both yesterday & today. On "Lochinvar". It is a petrol driven but very slow but runs very smoothly. It is rather misty on account of the heat. Weather seems settled. JAS".

The "Lochinvar" was MacBraynes' regular vessel on the Oban to Tobermory run from 1908 to the mid 1950s. She was an early example of a ship not powered by steam: motor vessels were rare before World War I and had a reputation for vibration and noise compared with the smooth running of steam engines, hence why the writer thought the ship's propulsion and its smooth running worthy of remark. 

MacBraynes were early proponents of motor powered ships (British Railways, by contrast, continued to commission steamers for the their cross-Channel fleets right into the 1960s) but their ships continued nevertheless to be known as "steamers" until car ferries were introduced in the 1960s. Although state of the art, however, the Lochinvar was no beauty:-

There is a superb series of photos of the Lochinvar in service on the Sound of Mull in the 1950s here. Sold by MacBraynes in 1960, she sailed for a few years across the Thames estuary between Southend and Sheerness in Kent but had a rather tragic end when she was wrecked with the loss of her entire crew on the Humber in 1966.

To round off the story of this postcard, here is the address it was posted to: 19 Cranbourne Road, Bradford 

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Dundonnell House

While searching the web for something completely different, I came across the picture below of Dundonnell House at the head of Little Loch Broom in Wester Ross:-

The picture is from Thomas Pennant's "A Tour in Scotland and Voyage to the Hebrides, 1772" but what grabbed me about it is that Dundonnell House still looks almost exactly the same today, 240 years later. The only difference is that it's had an extra half storey added (the dormer windows):-

Picture credit Sylvia Duckworth
Pennant was a Welsh naturalist who made two tours in the Highlands of Scotland in 1769 and 1772, a time when very few people did such a thing: before even Johnson & Boswell's more famous tour in 1773.

The circumstances of Pennant's visit to Dundonnell, on his second tour in 1772, were rather fraught. He had departed on the sailing vessel he'd chartered for his trip from Isle Martin just north of Ullapool (which hadn't yet been built in 1772) with the intention of returning south except the boat was driven by contrary winds into Little Loch Broom where it anchored. Although a couple of hours were agreeably spent there fishing, conditions soon deteriorated:

"The night was most tempestuous: our situation was disagreeable, as Mr Thompson [the master] thought our vessel would drive [drag anchor], and that he should be obliged to cut his cables [anchor chain], and put to sea; which, under the circumstances of a black night, a furious storm, and rocky narrows, did not contribute to the repose of fresh-water seamen."

The following morning appeared to bring a respite in the weather but no sooner had Pennant's vessel weighed anchor than:-

"a furious squall arises, and blows in blasts like a hurricane, driving us before it at a vast rate, till we arrived within a mile of the bottom [i.e. head of] the loch. Drop anchor, but without effect; are obliged to weigh again, while the furious gale engages an attention to the sails, and flings into a double perplexity in this narrow strait, where for an hour our tacks [changes of course] were almost perpetual, and the vessel frequently in no small danger. The blasts from the mountain were tremendous, not only raising a vast sea but catching up the waves in eddies, and raising them up to a surprising height. At length we were relieved from distress by a successful anchorage."

In layman's language, the boat was being blown up the loch and, if the anchor hadn't taken hold, it risked being beached at its head. I have proverbially "been there, done that" and it's frightening enough in a modern yacht with an auxilliary engine to get you out of trouble!

Looking towards the head of Little Loch Broom - photo credit Liz Smith
Anyway, despite - or perhaps because of - his ordeal, Pennant recorded laconically:-

"Most agreeably detained with the good family of Dundonnel ... . Observe after dinner that Cloud-berries, that grow on the adjacent mountains, were served as a dessert."

At the time of Pennant's visit, Dundonnell House was brand new having been built just five years earlier in 1767 by his host, Kenneth, 3rd MacKenzie of Dundonnell. Inevitably, I found myself researching the history of this part of the country and here it is:-

The "Barony of Lochbroom", which comprised the quadrant of west Ross-shire stretching from Loch Maree to Loch Broom, had been granted in the mid 15th century by Alexander Macdonald, 10th Earl of Ross (but better known to history as 3rd Lord of the Isles), to his second son Celestine for a "blench duty" (nominal ground rent) of sixpence a year. The Lochalsh family, as Celestine's successors styled themselves after other lands contained in the same grant, ended in the male line after just three generations with the death of his grandson, Donald Gallda, in 1519. His estates passed jointly to his two sisters, one of whom was married to William Dingwall of Kildun and the other to Alexander Macdonald of Glengarry. In 1543, the Dingwalls sold their half share of Lochbroom to John MacKenzie of Kintail, the chief of clan MacKenzie. In 1572, John's grandson Colin obtained the Glengarry share after a lengthy feud with the Macdonalds and thus consolidated the whole of Lochbroom in MacKenzie hands.

Two generations later, in 1623, the MacKenzie chief, another Colin, was ennobled as Earl of Seaforth but by the third quarter of the 17th century his nephew, Kenneth, the 3rd earl (pictured above), was in financial difficulties. He responded by selling parts of his estates to his kinsmen. This was typical of clans at this time: the kinsmen rallied round to save the honour of their chief by bailing him out and, as far as the chief was concerned, having the clan territories in the hands of kinsmen was functionally the same in clannish terms as owning them himself. Thus, in 1673, Seaforth sold the lands of "Achtadonnell" to his kinsman (third cousin, once removed), Roderick MacKenzie of Redcastle. In 1690, he exchanged Achtadonnell for property belonging to another distant cousin, Kenneth MacKenzie of Glenmarksie (at the bottom of Lochluichart). The latter promptly renamed his acquisition "Dundonnell" and embarked on a programme of expanding his new west coast base by purchasing other neighbouring parts of Lochbroom. He was also involved as "chamberlain" (factor or steward) of Assynt Estate in Sutherland and lived for a time at Ardvreck Castle by Loch Assynt.

The reliably photogenic ruins of Ardvreck Castle by Andrew McKie

The first laird of Dundonnell's son, another Kenneth, continued to buy up neighbouring property and the process was continued by the 3rd laird, Pennant's host, who built Dundonnell House and died in 1789. Around 1816, the house was raised by an extra half storey lit by dormer windows (compare the picture from Pennant at the top of this post with the photo after it) but the fortunes of the family were very soon to crash spectacularly.

So extravagant that he had to flee to France to escape his creditors, the debts of the 5th laird, another Kenneth, mounted until, in 1824, the estate was placed in the hands of a trustee who had to resort to selling parts of it off. With no children of his own, Kenneth bequeathed the remainder of Dundonnell to his wife's brother, a lowland lawyer called Robert Roy, to the exclusion of the laird's brother, Thomas, who had expected to inherit. The Roys' attempts to establish themselves in the estate after Kenneth's death in 1826, provoked local resentment and a series of disturbances known as "the Dundonnell Atrocities" involving shots being fired at the house and Roy's carriage horses being killed. Himself also a bankrupt, Thomas MacKenzie could ill afford to challenge his brother's will but a legal fighting fund was set up by "the country Gentlemen of Ross-shire": as many of these were MacKenzies, this was a sort of last fling of clannishness in a 19th century context. After five years of litigation  - known as "the Dundonnell Cause" which you can read all about here - the bequest to Roy was overturned on the grounds that Kenneth MacKenzie, a simpleton, had been prevailed upon by his avaricious wife and brother-in-law. But it was a pyrrhic victory for the estate was by then utterly bankrupt and the trustee appointed by the late Kenneth sold it in 1834 for £22,000 to Murdo Munro-MacKenzie of Ardross. But it wasn't long before Dundonnell was back in the courts, embroiled in another disputed inheritance.

Dundonald [sic] at the head of Little Loch Broom in 1832 on John Thomson's Atlas of Scotland
Shortly after he bought it, Murdo Munro-MacKenzie entailed Dundonnell. That meant it had to pass down a pre-determined sucession of heirs, none of whom could sell the estate or bequeath it to a stranger. This was the dilemma of the Bennet sisters in Pride and Prejudice: due to Longbourn being entailed on male heirs, there was nothing their father could do to prevent it passing to their nearest male relative, the unctuous clergyman, Mr Collins. The same theme featured more recently in Downton Abbey: Lady Mary could not inherit and the estate had to pass to distant cousin Matthew. But when Murdo Munro-MacKenzie's son Hugh died in 1869, the bar to his only child, a daughter called Mary, succeeding was not that she was a woman (for the Dundonnell entail seems to have been unusual in allowing female heirs to succeed) but that she was illegitimate.

Mary's father, Hugh Munro-MacKenzie, had bought two properties marching with Dundonnell on the south east, Mungasdale and Strathnasheallag. As these were not entailed he could bequeath them to his daughter in his will which also included a sweep up clause bequeathing to her any other unentailed property he might own at his death. Mary sought to claim Dundonnell itself by challenging the entail on the basis of an alleged technical defect in the deed creating it with the result that the estate would be carried to her by the sweep up clause. The case was defended by the heir of entail, Mary's uncle Kenneth, a sheep farmer in Australia: he argued that the entail was valid and, even if it wasn't, the sweep up clause in his brother's will was not in explicit enough terms to carry property to an illegitimate female over the head of a legitimate male heir. As a lawyer, I can tell you Mary's challenge to the entail was legally quite hopeless. But the weakness of her case didn't dissuade her from pursuing it all the way to the House of Lords who eventually threw it out (decision here) with the consequence that she had to sell Mungasdale and Strathnasheallag to meet the legal bills.

I don't know how Dundonnell passed from the Munro-MacKenzies but by the 1940s it was owned by Sir Michael Peto. An officer in the Coldstream Guards who had served with distinction during the First World War, he rebuilt many of the cottages on the estate with the proceeds of a compensation claim from having stepped into a lift upon the door opening only to discover the car was still one floor below and falling and breaking both his legs. In 1948, he was also instrumental as landowner in attempting the resettlement of the abandoned crofting township of Scoraig. The scheme failed due, Sir Michael plausibly claimed, to the County Council refusing to fund a road to the peninsula (the reason, no doubt, why it was abandoned in the first place). But the abortive attempt may have planted the seed for what later became a thriving settlement of what, 30 years ago, would have been termed "hippies" but are now old enough to be classed merely as people who live "off grid".

Glasgow Herald 6 September 1948
In 1956, Dundonnell was sold to the Roger brothers. Three bachelors who had inherited their parents' self made fortune, the most celebrated was Neil: known to his friends as Bunny, he was a couturier and socialite noted for his flamboyant parties. You can read about the Rogers here. Alan Roger (his obit here) created a bonsai garden at Dundonnell. I can remember visiting it in the 1970s on one of these "Scotland's Gardens" open days when a rain soaked yellow paper notice fluttering by the roadside would advertise one off access to a garden not normally open to the public. I recall seeing a large, florid looking gent in his 70s in a white linen suit and broad brimmed panama hat with a ring with a massive red stone in it. Which of the Rogers he was, I don't know but he certainly had a artistically rarefied air about him

Sandy and Neil Roger
Sandy Roger died in 1980, Neil and Alan in quick succession in 1997. Dundonnell was left to the son of their Chinese man servant. He put the estate on the market and I have a copy of the sale brochure.

A bedroom at Dundonnell as pictured in the 1997 sale brochure
The estate was bought by Sir Tim Rice and his wife Jane although I gather they've since separated and Lady Rice lives at Dundonnell alone now. She remains the nominal landlord of the off-grid and still roadless crofters of Scoraig. I leave you with a photo I took in December 2013 of crossing Little Loch Broom from one part of Dundonnell Estate (Scoraig) to another (Badluarach) by a method Thomas Pennant would have recognised on his unscheduled visit back in 1772.