Monday, December 4, 2017

Mallaig (again)

In quick succession from the last ones, another couple of stunning pictures of Mallaig I chanced across. This time, they're of Mallaig before Mallaig was built:-

These photos are both by James Valentine from the National Galleries of Scotland's website. The links to these two actual pictures are here and here and the rest of Valentine's photos are worth a browse here.

The village and harbour of Mallaig as we know them today didn't exist before the arrival of the railway from Fort William in 1901. Before then, Arisaig was the terminus of the Road to the Isles. It was established by the local landowner, Macdonald of Clanranald, in response to the completion of the road there from Fort William by the Highland Roads and Bridges Commission (see here) about 1810. The road and Arisaig were established for exactly the same reasons as the railway and Mallaig were with the new technology of steam a hundred years later, namely, exploitation of the west coast herring fishery. So Arisaig is really the old Mallaig except that Arisaig was less successful than Mallaig became due to the difficulties of navigating the reef strewn entrance to Loch nan Ceall that Arisaig sits at the head of (see here about that). In not continuing their "Loch na Gaul Road" to Mallaig, the HR&B Commission was probably guilty of spoiling the ship for a ha'ppence worth of tar.

Arisaig in 1858 as seen on the Admiralty Chart
Arisaig Inn c.1880 - photo credit National Libraries of Scotland

So what was there at Mallaig before the arrival of the railway? Well, not very much if the Ordnance Survey 6 inch map drawn in the 1870s is to be believed:-

National Libraries of Scotland Georeferenced Maps

Note that the settlement labelled as Mallaig on that map is what we now know as the small crofting township of Mallaigvaig round the corner on Loch Nevis. But on the shore of the Acarseid na Coille Moire ("Ach-car-sitch na Killy More" - anchorage of the big wood) a pier is marked. The Mallaig Harbour Authority's website tells us that this pier was built in 1846 by the local landowner, Lord Lovat, as a project to aid destitution caused by the potato famine. (I've written before - here - about Destitution Roads so Mallaig's is a Destitution Pier.) I believe this pier is at the root of what's now the fishery pier at Mallaig.

Mallaig in the 1880s by Erskine Beveridge - photo credit Canmore

The MHA website also tells us that a barrel and salt and salt store was built in connection with the herring fishery in 1883 and I think you can see that if you zoom right in on the second picture at the top of this blog:-

And are the house with the two dormer windows and the block at right angles to it with no roof (still under construction?) what's now the Tea Garden at the foot of Davies Brae in Mallaig today?

Google Streetview

So there was more going on at Mallaig before the arrival of the railway than I had imagined - one of the herring stations around Loch Nevis but without any claim to pre-eminency.

It's a fascinating place, encapsulating as it does in its history the transformation from rural subsistence, potato famine, through to the arrival of the industrial era in the form of the railway and the fishing industry, the contrast with Arisaig just down the road and all in a quintessentially scenic West Highland setting - there's usually interesting stories to tell when industry intrudes on rural areas and there's stacks of that at Mallaig but I'll conclude here with a couple of contrasting photos of very shortly after the railway came.


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