Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Porter's Lodge

Just before the end of the public road out to the Rhue of Arisaig there's a splendidly remote cottage which rejoices under the rather incongruous name "The Porter's Lodge".

As is so often the case with such names, there's an interesting story - this is it.

A few hundred yards past The Porter's Lodge, at the end of the public road, there's a stone shed with a slate roof looking out towards the islands of Rum and Eigg.

This was the goods shed for Arisaig Pier which used to stand here but has now completely crumbled away. Before the railway to Mallaig was built in 1901, Arisaig Pier was the port of call by steamers for the Arisaig - Morar area given that Mallaig and its harbour (like Kyle of Lochalsh) didn't exist before the railway.

The pier was away out here, about 3-4 miles by road from Arisaig Inn at the end of the road from Fort William, because the loch the village sits at the head of - Loch nan Ceall - has a narrow, shallow and reef strewn entrance unsuitable for steamers to enter as the Google Earth image below shows ...

and the 1858 Admiralty Chart confirms:-

So the MacBrayne's steamers, Claymore (1881-1931) and Clansman (1870-1909), on their weekly trips from Glasgow - which were the main means of conveyance of passengers and goods to the remote parts of the West Highlands before road transport became prevalent in the 1930s - didn't go up the loch. Nor, even, did they come alongside the pier at its mouth because Arisaig was a ferry call - i.e. where the steamer lay off shore and a small launch (the ferry) went out from the shore to meet it.

The eponymous "porter", then, was the ferryman who had acquired his alternative job title because, amongst his duties, was lugging the trunks of passengers - very often gentry visiting the various "big houses" in the area during the season - in and out of the ferry. And the "lodge" was not just where the "porter" lived but also the waiting room for steamer passengers.

A ferry coming out to a ship I know, although you can't see it, to be the Claymore at an unidentified location

I'm obliged to the online edition of the Arisaig, Mallaig and surrounding areas and islands local newspaper, "West Word", for educating me about Arisaig Pier and The Porter's Lodge. The October 2000 edition carries a reprint of an article originally written in 1965 by the Arisaig postman, Pat McCarthy, who lived at The Porter's Lodge and whose great grandfather, Donald MacKinnon, was the last (indeed possibly only) ferryman at Arisaig. The article contains some interesting details such as that the pier was built in 1885 and "the Lodge" a couple of years later. There's a description of the waiting room and a small photo of the pier when it was still in use equipped with a hand crane.

Steamers stopped calling at Arisaig when Mallaig harbour - where they could get alongside - was opened with the arrival of the railway in April 1901. Apparently, MacBrayne's offered their redundant ferryman, Donald MacKinnon, another job in Glasgow but he declined it. Presumably, if his descendants were still living there in the 1960s, they sold him the equally redundant Porter's Lodge - one would like to think at a pretty cheap price as compensation for not having offered him a new job at Mallaig!

The Claymore at Mallaig


  1. Read that the railway was supposed to go south from Lochailort but the compnay couldn't strike a deal with a landowner down that way. Could it have been Professor Hugh Blackburn and his artist wife Jemmima Wedderburn from Roshven - although I find this hard to believe as they were extremely well connected with Westminister and would have surely welcomed good communication links with Glasgow where he was professor of mathematics at the university. Had a deal been struck, Mallaig would probably not exist today.

  2. Very interesting Neil, I spent many a holiday at Milburn Cottage on the Rhu Peninsula. A very remote and wild place. The good thing about your blog, is that it is ALWAYS interesting!!

  3. Thanks Rob. Did you know the story of The Porter's Lodge and the old pier?

  4. No, I didn't. It good to get the story behind things you remember, and have visited. I always assumed the pier used was the one Arisaig Marine use nowadays to sail to Eigg, Muck and Rum.

  5. As a descendant of Donald mckinnon I can tell you the house was never given in compensation. It was only ever rented and it was sold in the 70s when my uncle pat Mccarthy moved into the village. Sadly it is now used as a holiday home.
    Liz McBride

  6. As an ancestor of Donald mckinnon I can tell you the house was never sold to Donald and was only ever rented. Sadly my uncle pat moved to the village in the 70s and the house became a holiday home and was lost to the family

    1. Thanks for that clarification Liz. I should rephrase to say I hope MacBrayne's let Donald have the house at a peppercorn rent!