Thursday, February 25, 2010

Stromeferry - Part 5

Part 1 here.

In Part 4, we'd got to 1897 when Stromeferry was superseded by Kyle of Lochalsh as terminus of the Skye railway.

As seen in the picture above, the pier was now redundant and deserted but the ferry across the loch was about to come into its own again with the advent of motor vehicles in the first decade of the 20th century.

I don't know exactly when a vehicle carrying ferry was first instituted across Loch Carron at Strome (the name, incidentally, is from the Gaelic word sruth meaning "stream" alluding to the flow of tide through the narrows: it's also encountered at Kylestrome in Sutherland) but it's likely to have been around 1819 when the road from Dingwall to Kyle Akin via Garve, Achnasheen and Lochcarron built by the Highland Roads and Bridges Commission was completed.

That said, Robert Southey, the poet laureate at the time, arrived at North Strome along the new road in 1819 expecting to find a ferry capable of carrying his horse and chaise (carriage) across the loch but was disappointed. Recording that his was the first carriage ever to have arrived at Strome, his plan of returning to Inverness via Kintail and Glen Moriston was thwarted and he had to content himself with crossing the ferry on foot for a walk half way to Auchtertyre before returning to Lochcarron.

22 years later, in September 1841, a Scottish judge, Lord Cockburn, fared a little better. Travelling with his family on holiday in his carriage, he recorded that his was only the third carriage that year to cross the Kylerhea ferry to Skye. That ferry he described as "though boasted as the best in Skye, is detestable, at least for carriages, and as ill-conducted as possible." The carriage was loaded onto the ferry by "dozens of ... Highlanders, all scolding in Erse [i.e. Gaelic], who almost lift it and throw it into the groaning boat."

Cockburn was not much more complimentary about the ferry from Skye back to the mainland at Kyleakin (pictured above) and on arrival at Strome he described the ferry there as:-

"... like the rest - picturesque - (and for this, the worse conducted, the better) and as well managed as mere hands, without proper boats, pier or any apparatus, can ever manage a ferry. When our ferrymen were loitering on the south side, it was curious to hear them excited to activity by the mail horn on the other." 

Loading a motor car onto a ferry like Strome in the early days must have been almost equally as hazardous an operation as loading a horse drawn carriage as the next photo shows: this is actually the ferry at Dornie in 1910 which existed until the first bridge was built in 1940:-

The earliest picture I have of the Strome Ferry is the next one and, again, it's a question of the vehicle being delicately loaded on planks athwart the boat - which was, of course, propelled by oars:-

Quite apart from the hassle and risk involved, taking a car across the Strome Ferry was also expensive, costing 10 shillings (50 pence) for a car in the 1900s. Hence why some early motorists took adavantage of an early form of "Motorail" whereby, for 7 shillings and 6 pence (37.5p) and subject to giving two days notice so that the necessary wagon could be arranged, the Highland Railway would carry a car from Strathcarron at the head of the loch to Stromeferry on the south side, thereby avoiding crossing the ferry.

In the next chapter, I'll tell you about the next generation of car ferry at Strome - the motorised turntable ferry.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Carscaway Castle

From the Royal Commission on Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland 

Occupying a rocky peninsula in a commanding position overlooking Loch Way on the Hebridean island of Greft, Carscaway Castle (Gaelic Dun Cearcabhagh) comprises a curtain wall following the contours of the summit of the peninsula to form an irregular enclosure with a later tower at the SE superadded over the curtain and projecting therefrom. On analogy with similar castles in the region (Dunvegan etc.), the curtain is likely to date from the 13th or early 14th century and the tower from the late 14th-early 15th.

In the NW quadrant of the curtain, steps ascend to the wall head but no details of the wall head arrangements survive. The entrance is in the SW quadrant following a natural defile altered with the addition of masonry and steps cut into the rock to form a corridor curving round in to upper (W) part of the courtyard. The tower is two storeys over a vaulted undercroft, the entrance in the east face at 2nd floor level accessed by a stair against the inside of the curtain of later date. Again, no details of the wall head survive. Inside the courtyard are traces of later buildings against the inside of the curtain of two phases. The earlier comprises a building to the W apparently contemporaneous with additions to the entrance corridor to the upper courtyard. Against the NE wall is a building – possibly the principal accommodation of the castle after the abandonment as such of the tower – with vestigial detail suggesting a mid 17th century date.

History - The seat of the MacAllans of Greft, there are no contemporary references to the castle until Dean Monro reported in 1549 “ane greite strengthe perteinyng to Alane Alansoune Vick Alane”. The castle was fired and its garrison hanged by Lieutenant Nash of the frigate Hyena in the aftermath of the royalist Glencairn Rising against Cromwell in 1654. It was never reoccupied, the MacAllans taking up residence at Greft House after their rehabilitation at the Restoration. Upon the 25th chief’s bankruptcy in 1850, his estates were bought by Viscount Ogleby. In 1910, Lord Ogleby contemplated a full restoration of the castle (similar to Eilean Donan and Duart) but finding the costs prohibitive contented himself with a detailed survey (see illustration above) and sympathetic stabilisation works to consolidate the ruin. Following acquisition of the island by the Storas Greabhaid (“Greft Resources”) crofting trust in 2008, improved public access is planned in conjunction with Historic Scotland.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010


This is how you disembark nowadays from the ferry at Craignure, the principal "entry port" for the island of Mull:-

Photo credit - Lyn Mac

And this is how you did it before the pier was built at Craignure in 1964:-

Refer back to my post about ferries and steamers. This is the ferry ashore from the steamer from Oban shown in that post.

Medieval as it looks, in fairness Craignure wasn't the main port for Mull before 1964. Back then, there were two main ports where there were piers - Salen, further up the Sound of Mull, which was the pier for people living on the west coast of Mull, and Tobermory, the island capital. The steamer from Oban sailed to both these piers and Craignure was just a minor "ferry call" en route for people living locally in the south east corner of Mull. Tourists going to Iona and Staffa went direct to these islands on a separate steamer from Oban operating in summer only.

Note how on that 1950's map the Class A roads (red as opposed to brown) are centred on Salen and Tobermory. It's a reflection of the transport ethos that prevailed before the 1960s which may be summarised as:

Where there's not a railway, go as long a distance as possible by ship and as short a distance as possible by road.

On Mull, that changed in 1964 when the leisurely steamer from Oban to Tobermory via intermediate calls was replaced by a car ferry to the new pier at Craignure whence you went by road to Salen, Tobermory and points west. The road through Craignure is now red and Salen pier is slowly rotting away through disuse.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Oban again

The absence of McCaig's Tower suggests an early date for this picture:-

The boat in the foreground (behind the caption "Oban from North" - actually it's from the north west) has no masts and what appears to be a crane so I'm guessing it was a coal hulk - i.e. a floating coal depot for refuelling steam-ships. But coal (for steam ships and trains) would presumably have come on the railway so does this suggest a date before 1880 which was when the railway reached Oban?

Also, the photo appears to have been taken from a very high vantage point. If taken from a high point on Kerrera (the island which forms the west side of Oban bay), I feel you would be able to see some Kerrera shore in the foreground. So was the picture perhaps taken from the top of the mast of a sailing ship? If it was, I can’t help thinking the ship must have been awful close to Kerrera!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Stromeferry - Part 4

The railway to Stromeferry had been built in the 1860s entirely with private money and not a penny of assistance from the state: none had been asked. But 25 years later the prospects of any further railways in the far north west of Scotland being funded entirely by the private sector were zero: however socially valuable, experience had shown they were not profitable enough.

On the other hand, there was now the prospect of state subsidy. In the 1890s the government let it be known that it was willing assist a limited number of railway developments to assist the fishing industry which was seen at the time as the panacea to the Highlands and Islands’ economic problems. It was the equivalent of a government today offering to assist a high voltage electricity cable to help unlock the renewable energy potential of the islands - but which would deliver the best value: a cable across the Minch or to the Northern Isles?

In 1890s, there was no shortage of railway schemes to choose from with routes to Lochinver, Ullapool and Aultbea all being proposed. But nothing came of these because in the end the government chose to subsidise the line from Fort William to Mallaig and an extension of the Stromeferry line to Kyle of Lochalsh.

Work began on the Kyle Extension in September 1893 and it opened in November 1897. Needless to say the MacBrayne’s steamers to Portree and Stornoway immediately moved their mainland terminus to Kyle. Overnight, Stromeferry became a backwater: the steamer pier was now totally redundant and eventually demolished in the early 1930s. One wonders what trade at the Station Hotel must have been like around the turn of the 20th century?

But a reprieve was soon to come via the route – almost literally - that had originally put Stromeferry on the map. This was the road from Contin to Auchtertyre built by the Highland Roads & Bridges Commission and completed in 1819. It ran down the west shore of Loch Carron and crossed the loch by a ferry at Stromeferry. The arrival of the railway in 1870 had put the road and the ferry out of business for anything but purely local traffic - in the railway era, traffic for Lochcarron (the second biggest settlement in Wester Ross after Ullapool in the mid 19th centuray), Applecross and Shieldaig went via Strathcarron Station at the head of the loch. But that began to change again in the early 20th century with the advent of the motor car – once again Stromeferry lived up to its name to become a place where travellers dismounted a wheeled conveyance (train, car) to get on a boat!

In the next episode, I’ll tell you about the car ferry across Loch Carron.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Small Isles Medical Practice

While researching something completely different, I came across in – of all things – the British Medical Journal an obituary which piqued my interest. Here are some extracts from it:-

Dr. Martha Devon, who practised for more than thirty years in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland, died on December 31, 1961, aged 64. [...]

Her first post was as a locum for eleven months in Islay, and this led to her appointment in 1928 as the first woman doctor to the Small Isles - Eigg, on which she lived, Muck, Rum, and Canna - the last 20 open sea miles from Eigg. There were some doubts about the wisdom of sending a woman to such an arduous post, but Martha Devon soon dispelled them. There was no transport on the islands, no proper roads, no telephone except at the post office two miles away. Visiting was on foot, and the steamer called only once a week. Should she be required on any other island an open boat was sent to fetch her, often entailing long hours in unsheltered waters and in every kind of weather. On one occasion, to the astonishment of that well-known MacBrayne skipper “Squeaky” Robertson of the Plover - who refused at first to believe that she had been out in such weather - she reached Canna in a gale that had kept the whole MacBrayne fleet in port.

Being a constant sufferer from such poor and primitive communications, Martha Devon’s abiding interest was in improving them; and in 1931, when the Department of Health asked her for suggestions, she proposed flying surgeon and theatre sister to the patient. This idea was laughed at, so she promptly persuaded the editor of the Daily Record - then running stunt flights - to fly her to Eigg in a Blackburn Bluebird, which she did in a hundred minutes, landing on the beach. Thus she pioneered the first medical flight to the islands, now almost commonplace.

Picture credit - Ivy and Martin's Webpage

In 1936, after eight years of this strenuous life, Dr. Devon was appointed to the isolated parish of North Glenelg on the western seaboard of Inverness-shire, and on the rough gravelled roads of Mam Ratigan [sic] and Loch Hourn - hill roads sometimes blocked by snow and ice in winter - she taught herself to drive a car. This practice also included Kylerhea in the south of Skye and isolated places in Loch Hourn, both areas involving boat journeys. The war added to her difficulties, as her practice was in a protected zone and locums were therefore almost impossible to obtain. Petrol had frequently to be collected from over eleven miles away. Isolated in this way from her fellows she acted as M.O. [Medical Officer] (without rank) to the Home Guard [...]

Martha Devon was a very intelligent woman and a fine doctor. She did not suffer fools gladly, and [...] Like her father before her she was a “character” and had a fund of stories, many against her self. Arthritis – aggravated by years of strain and exposure – and a severe gastric haemorrhage caused her to retire about a year ago to the drier climate of the Cromarty Firth. Her many friends must regret that she did not have long to enjoy her new home in Evanton.

Dr. Devon operated under the Highlands and Islands Medical Service (HIMS) set up in 1913 which was a sort of forerunner to the NHS. The H&I were not the only part of Britain where poverty denied people access to private medical care but the problem was particularly acute because of the large distances doctors had to cover to get to some of their patients (72 miles from end to end of one practice in Lewis, for example) and their habit of levying a mileage charge in addition to their consultation fee. Hence the HIMS was born whereby doctors were obliged to visit any patient in their practice and charge only a nominal fee and no mileage charge. In return, the government topped up the doctor’s income to a reasonable living.

Today, under the NHS, there is still a GP practice on Eigg covering Muck Rum and Canna as well and the present incumbent is also a woman (as was Doctor Devon’s immediate successor in 1936). I enjoyed the admonition on the practice's website:-

Please note that the Rigid Inflatable Boat available to the practice is for visiting the islands and is not a rescue vessel. Nor is it to be used for patient transport. Visits to the islands are only possible during the hours of daylight and not in adverse weather conditions.

Photocredit - Marion Gilroy

(By the way, can you guess what I was researching when I came across Dr Devon’s obituary?)

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Kyle of Lochalsh

Kyle is a most evocative place, I think, and I'm sure I'll be coming back to it a lot but for now here is an interesting old postcard of the Skye ferry from an era when the passengers went on a different boat from the cars.

The car ferry on the right is the MV Kyleakin (I). She was the first custom built turntable ferry over Kyle Akin and served from 1928 to 1951. For a few years thereafter, she served as the Kylerhea ferry.

Note that a crewman on the ferry appears to be punting with a long boathook and you just wonder if they were struggling to control the vessel in what looks like quite blustery conditions - was the owner of the car watching nervously from the launch wondering if his pride and joy was about to be washed up on the shore at any minute!

The passenger launch on the left is, I believe, the MV Skye which served as the principal passenger carrier on the crossing from 1923 to 1950.

Note that the hotel in the background is still called the Station Hotel and has not yet been extended and renamed the Lochalsh Hotel - I believe that happened in the mid-1930s.

Below - the Lochalsh Hotel from the Railway Pier in December 2009.

The Flying Scotsman

Well I did ask for suggestions but when asked for the Flying Scotsman, I have to admit my first reaction was that, while I’m interested in railways, I’m not that interested in locomotives and consequently don’t know much about them. And, anyway, what does the FS have to do with the west coast of Scotland? But it would have been too unutterably churlish to decline and, when I began to look into it, I found it was a more interesting subject than I’d anticipated. And there is a “Kyles link” as well.

The first thing discovered was that the Flying Scotsman was not, originally, a locomotive but the name of a rail service – specifically the London & North Eastern Railway Company’s simultaneous 10.00am departures from London King’s Cross to Edinburgh Waverley and vice versa. A locomotive built in 1923 was named Flying Scotsman after the service.

(Picture credit SSPL Prints)

The Flying Scotsman run goes back to the 1860s but first you need to understand the structure of the British rail industry in these days. If people got frustrated after the privatisation of British Railways in the 1990s produced a couple of dozen railway companies to choose from, then pity the traveller a hundred years earlier who had a much greater number of local companies to contend with.

Three of the bigger private railway companies were the Great Northern Railway (GNR) with its headquarters at King’s Cross and main line to Leeds via Doncaster; the North Eastern Railway (NER) with its HQ at York and main line from Doncaster to Berwick-on-Tweed via Newcastle; and the North British Railway (NBR) with its headquarters at Waverley Station in Edinburgh and its main line to Berwick.

In 1862, these three “big beasts” of the Victorian railway industry formed what would now be termed a joint venture to run trains from London to Edinburgh over what would become known as the East Coast Mainline railway. The 10.00am departures were known as the Scotch Special Express. It took 10hrs 30mins to Edinburgh and included a half hour stop at York for lunch as there were no dining cars on British railways before the 20th century.

A preserved GNR Stirling class locomotive of the sort which would have hauled the Flying Scotsman in the 1870s (Picture credit Wikipedia)

The equivalent on the west coast was the Royal Scot service to Glasgow, a partnership between the London & North Western Railway (LNWR - based at Euston Station in London with lines running as far as Carlisle) and the Caledonian Railway (based at Glasgow Central Station). The Royal Scot also departed at 10.00am, running over what’s now known as the West Coast Mainline railway.

In 1923, the numerous private railway companies were all “grouped” into the so-called “Big-Four” companies. The east coast partners, the GNR, NER and NBR, all became part of the London & North Eastern Railway (LNER) while the Royal Scot partners in the west, the LNWR and Caledonian Railway, both became part of the London, Midland & Scottish Railway (LMSR).

In 1924, the LNER officially renamed the 10.00am departures from London and Edinburgh the Flying Scotsman although they had been unofficially known as such for many years. (There were, of course, other daily departures between the capitals but only the 10.00am departures were branded as the FS.) As a publicity gesture, the LNER also named one of their locomotives, a Class A1 Pacific built in 1923 to the design of the GNR’s (and afterwards the LNER’s) Chief Mechanical Engineer, Sir Nigel Gresley, with number 4472, “the Flying Scotsman”. It’s important not to confuse this locomotive with the Flying Scotsman service and to that end I will refer to the loco as “No. 4472”. It regularly hauled the FS but the FS was often hauled by other locos as well. Every loco hauling the FS had a name board on the front saying “Flying Scotsman” so if you see an old picture of a steam locomotive with that on it, it’s not necessarily the famous No. 4472.

(Picture credit Philandthehounds)

Now it would be pleasing to imagine that the LNER’s Flying Scotsman and the LMSR’s Royal Scot competed with each other furiously, vying to be the quickest to Scotland rather like the Transatlantic liners competing for the Blue Riband. But in fact they didn’t. After a few races in the late 19th century, the rival companies settled down to a cosy agreement not to compete with each other on speed (imagine that nowadays - they’d have the Competition Commission all over them before you could say Crewe Junction!) and in the 1920s the Flying Scotsman took a relatively leisurely 8hrs 15mins (an average of 48mph).

That’s not to say the LNER and LMSR didn’t compete at all, however, and, in 1928, the LNER began to schedule the Flying Scotsman as a non-stop service at the height of the summer season. At the time, it was the longest non-stop railway journey in the world and the inaugural non-stop service, on 1 May 1928, was hauled, appropriately enough, by No. 4472. (In summer, there were actually two trains, both departing at 10.00am and designated the Flying Scotsman, but one went non-stop while the other made the usual stops at Grantham, York, Darlington, Newcastle and Berwick.)

It took tens of thousands of litres of water and 9 tons of coal to generate enough steam to drive a heavily loaded train the 392.7 miles between London and Edinburgh. Water could be picked up en route without stopping the train by ingenious means but a specially large tender (fuel truck towed behind the locomotive in front of the coaches) to carry the necessary coal had to be built. There was also the practical point that a single fireman couldn’t shovel 9 tons of coal for more than 8 hours. Hence the tender also incorporated a narrow corridor allowing, for the first time in railway history, communication between the locomotive and the coaches it was hauling so that a relief crew could come forward half way through the journey.

(Picture credit SSPL Prints)

In 1932, the speed limiting agreement between the LNER and the LMSR was scrapped and the time of the Flying Scotsman was reduced to 7hrs 40mins (7hrs 30mins for the non-stop service involving an average speed of 52.4mph). In 1934, No. 4472 made history again by hauling the first train officially recorded to exceed 100mph - not on the Flying Scotsman but between Leeds and London: 100mph was only exceeded over some 600 yards although the average speed over the whole journey was 71mph. The record for the fastest ever steam train, 125mph, was achieved by another LNER locomotive, a Gresley A4 Pacific, No. 4468 Mallard, in 1938 and that class of loco often hauled the Flying Scotsman as well.

The glory days of the Flying Scotsman service, then, were the 1930s but the entire British railway system took a severe battering during the Second World War just as it had during the First. This time, the response was not amalgamation but nationalisation and the LNER and the LMSR (along with the other two private railway companies, the Great Western Railway and the Southern Railway) were absorbed into the state owned British Railways (BR) in 1948.

(Picture credit SSPL Prints)

BR continued to market the 10.00am departures from King’s Cross (KX) and Waverley as the Flying Scotsman (although the non-stop service was dropped in 1950) but by the later 1950s, the days of the steam locomotive were numbered. BR committed itself in 1955 to the phased replacement of steam traction by diesel and electric and the Flying Scotsman began to be hauled by diesel locomotives from 1962. No. 4472 was retired by BR in 1963 and the last BR steam hauled service anywhere on the network was in 1968.

(Picture credit SSPL Prints)

The next big shake up to hit the Flying Scotsman service was the privatisation of BR in the mid 1990s by which time the fastest time between Edinburgh and London was down to 3hrs 59mins. In April 1996, the franchise for services on the East Coast Mainline (ECML) between KX, Leeds and Edinburgh (and on to Glasgow Central, Aberdeen and Inverness) began to be operated by Great North Eastern Railway Ltd (GNER) owned by Sea Containers Ltd, an international shipping company which also owned the Orient Express: GNER continued to market the 10.00am departures from Waverley and KX as the Flying Scotsman.

(Picture credit cooldudeandy01 )

In late 2006, Sea Containers entered Chapter 11 Bankruptcy in the USA and the British Government terminated GNER’s franchise on the ECML when it threatened to default on outstanding instalments of the £1.3 billion it had paid for the contract. Its place was taken by National Express East Coast (NXEC), a subsidiary of the National Express Group bus company, from December 2007. It continued the tradition of branding the 10.00am service to Edinburgh the Flying Scotsman. NXEC had offered £1.4 billion for the ECML franchise until 2015 but it had bitten off more than it could chew. NXEC suffered losses on the contract during the 2008-09 recession and walked away from the franchise leaving the services to be run from November 2009 by a state owned company called East Coast Mainline Ltd. EC still has a 10.00am departure to Edinburgh (arriving 14.25) but does not, so far as I can see, brand it the Flying Scotsman thus ending almost 150 years of railway history.

As for locomotive No. 4472, on her retirement from BR in 1963 she was saved from the scrap yard by being preserved. She toured America and Australia (where in 1989 she broke her own record of longest non-stop journey by a steam train by extending 393 to 442 miles) and occasionally hauled the Orient Express. But keeping an 80 year old steam locomotive in running order is an extremely expensive business and, having passed through various private owners, No. 4472 was put up for sale again in 2004. Happily, she was acquired by the National Railway Museum at York with the aid of a Lottery grant and a donation from Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Trains (which is a little ironic considering VT are the current franchisees on the Flying Scotsman’s historic rival line, the LMSR’s West Coast Mainline from Euston to Glasgow Central!) She is currently undergoing a comprehensive refurbishment and is expected to be back in commission again during 2010.

(Picture credit jononon)

And the “Kyles Connection”? Well, it’s a bit tenuous but here goes: if No. 4472, the Flying Scotsman, is the most famous preserved steam locomotive in the world, then the most famous preserved steam ship in the world must be the paddle steamer Waverley. And the connection is that both belonged to the LNER and both are now preserved in their original LNER liveries - red funnel with black top and white stripe for the Waverley and apple green for No. 4472!

(Picture credit GlasgowPhotoMan)

Tuesday, February 2, 2010


I'm very chuffed, not to say astonished, to have won third place in the "hyperlocal blogs" section of the Scotblogs Awards 2010!

Thanks to everyone who voted and, indeed, thanks to everyone who reads. Do leave a comment (which is what bloggers - even award winning ones like me! - like best) if you enjoy what you read or - perhaps more to the point - if you don't and/or with any suggestions for future postings (not that I'm short of ideas!).

Thanks again,


Monday, February 1, 2010

To Oban via Kingshouse

I came across on the internet the other day the oldest picture of Oban I've ever seen. It's an illustration from a book published in 1807 called Travels in Scotland by an Unusual Route by the Rev. James Hall:-

You can clearly see Dunollie Castle and Maiden Island and I think the picture must be taken from roughly where Argyll Square is today.

Hall gives an interesting insight into travel on horseback in the Highlands of Scotland in the first decade of the 19th century and it's worth reproducing his account of his journey to Oban from Fort William. Instead of following the present day A82 road down the east coast of Loch Linnhe to the Ballachulish Bridge (that road hadn't built in 1807, never mind the bridge), Hall followed the military road south east inland to the head of Loch Leven to the Kingshouse Hotel near the head of Glen Coe.

Hall writes "Finding the fort [at Fort William] neither so regular, nor so extensive as Fort George, nor seemingly of any use, except as barracks for soldiers, I bent my course towards Inverary. After a tedious and wearisome journey of more than twenty miles, the greater part of which lay over two mountains, I reached at length, exhausted and in a melancholy mood, the inn called the King's House, situated on the side of a rapid river, issuing out of the dreary and dreadful pass of Glencoe. Here, provisions were as scarce and poor as at the general's hut on Lochness; [Hall is referring here to an inn he had stayed at so called because General Wade of military road fame is supposed to have had it as his base. On his stay, Hall was appalled to find he was eating food prepared by a maid suffering from "the itch".] With the important difference, that, if there was any cause of disgust, as there probably was, I fortunately did not perceive it. It is a miserable and dirty hut; though the landlord has this, with some pasture land, rent free, besides 10l. per annum from government.

"However, I slept soundly, and early in the morning, well refreshed, and in good spirits, proceeded through Glencoe, which is ten miles in length, and whose horrors have often been described, to a small but not uncomfortable inn at the ferry of Ballyhulish. Here, an isolated hill, beautifully rising in a conical form, and verdant to the top, with the waters of Loch Lynn [Loch Linnhe], which on one side wash its base, form a pleasing contrast with the gloomy precipices of Glencoe, and the savage rudeness of the mountains with which it is environed.

"By Appin, Aird, Ardnamurknage, Dunstaffnage, and Dunolly, gentlemen's seats distinguished; some of them by the rude magnificence and frowning defiance of former times; and others, by the elegance and convenience of modern improvement, I arrived at Oban. This flourishing village is situated on the bay of Oban in the sound of Mull, which bay is of a semicircular form, from twelve to fourteen fathoms [20-25 metres] deep, and large enough to contain above five hundred vessels. It has every where good anchorage, and is defended from the fury of the winds by the island of Mull and Kerrera.

The village is rapidly extending itself round the edges of the bay. The houses and gardens, rising above one another on the acclivities that bound the bay, exhibit a picturesque and pleasing appearance. When the custom house, in 1766, was transferred from Fort William to Oban, it consisted only of three or four houses or huts. At present, its population amounts to near seven hundred souls. It has several flourishing manufactures; twenty sloops employed in the fishing and coasting trade; and a ship of three hundred tons in the Baltic trade: such are the effects of natural advantages seized and improved by wise economy.

"An English traveller, equally patriotic and intelligent, and particularly conversant with naval affairs, the late Mr T Newte of Tiverton, recommends Oban, I think by considerations that could not but have weight if they were attended to, as one of the happiest situations in Great Britain for the erection of a royal dock yard and arsenal. Having staid all night at Oban, where I met with some very well informed people, I pursued my route to Bunawe, on the lake of that name, where the Furness company have a house and place for making charcoal; and in the neighbourhood of this place an iron work. Here I rested, and passed the night in a small inn, or alehouse, that formed a perfect contrast with the King's House; a blessing for which travellers are indebted no doubt to the Furness company."

You can read the rest of Hall's account of his travels through Scotland via Google Books.

I don't know about the inn at Bonawe (as it's spelt nowadays) but the Kingshouse Hotel is still in business, catering more nowadays to weary climbers and skiers than travellers.

Picture credit the44mantis

I don't know whether it still gets £10 a year from the government and whether it's still a "miserable and dirty hut", you can judge for yourself from the reviews on