Archaeological Points of Interest
The chapel seems to have remained in use for worship until at least the end of the 18th century and was in use for burials by 1834, the earliest decipherable date on any of the gravestones within the walls. The burial ground has been substantially enlarged on all sides and remains in use. To the west of the chapel denuded remains of a segment of a probably circular ditch with a double bank can be traced.
The chapel is placed nearly east and west measuring 8.8m by 5.8m with walls 0.7m thick and bonded with a shell mortar. The east and west gables remain substantially complete with the west gable even retaining most of its skew stones. The east gable is pierced by a partially destroyed mullioned two-light window and there are remains of two further mullioned two-light windows in the south wall, flanking the lower courses of the doorway. Unfortunately the north and south walls are reduced to approximately 1.5m, the height of the windowsills.
The position of the door, centrally within the south wall, may date to the post-Reformation period, although this may not be the original arrangement and the east wall appears to show several different phases of work. The windows seem to have had a double chamfer moulding separated by a rebate and an internal check for glazing. The walls are rubble built bonded in shell mortar with red sandstone dressings. The lime for the mortar was obtained by burning the sand from the shore which is mostly crushed sea shells. It is also understood that egg whites were used to bind the mortar.
The old walls of the chapel have deteriorated considerably during recent years and funds are urgently required to make the walls safe and carry out such work as will prevent further damage by the weather. Local fundraising is currently being carried out for this purpose and any donations will be gratefully received.
The Ruins of Alltan-Tursainn
Map Reference NG 888 939
Alltan-Tursainn means the cross burn and this ruined village sits at right angles to the Udrigle burn which runs out of Beast Loch or Loch Alltan Tursainn as shown on old maps. It later became known as Beast Loch when someone was supposed to have seen a monster in it. In fact the story was so widely believed that an attempt was made to drain the loch to get rid of it.
At one time there were five or six families living in Alltan-Tursainn but they were "cleared" sometime between 1841 and 1851 in order to enlarge the sheep farm of Udrigle rented at the time by John Morrison. Some of these families moved or married into Achgarve. One Alexander Gunn became the tenant of No. 3 Achgarve, his sister Lexie married Donald MacKenzie of No. 2 Achgarve and they in time became the tenants of No. 3 Achgarve. Another family, MacAskill were in No.8 Achgarve and their daughter Cirsty married Kenneth MacLennan and they eventually became tenants of No. 8 Achgarve. A brother of the above Alexander Gunn became the Innkeeper at Little Gruinard. Another of the Gunns, Peigi Gunn, lived alone in a wee house on No. 8 croft and her occupation is shown in the 1891 census as knitting stockings. Some of the descendants of these families are still in the area today. Several years ago I was sitting next to a holiday maker from Australia in Eden Court Theatre in Inverness, we got talking and it transpired that his people had come from Alltan-Tursainn.
When one looks at the ruins of the houses and out buildings one might think that there are not enough stones remaining to account for a settlement of that size. However if one looks at the large sheep fank some hundred yards or so away one can see where the stones went. I suspect this fank was built after Alltan-Tursainn was cleared.
The Meal Mill at Second Coast
Map Reference GN 933 906
Most meal mills were built by the lairds, who then forced their tenants to take their grain to the estate mill, where the Laird got his share of the meal. It is unclear when this mill was built but it was probably in the time of William IV of Gruinard or the Davidsons of Tulloch.
At the time of the 1841 census the Miller was a John Fraser and in 1846 the Miller was a Robert Forbes who had come from Kilmorak in Strath Glass, Inverness-shire. The Forbes` family were well known Meal Millers, one of them was Miller at boor near Poolewe and another was Miller near Ullapool. The above Robert Forbes would appear to have been followed by his son Alexander who is shown as Miller at Bad ant-luig (Third Coast) in 1851 and was married to Flora MacKenzie from Little Gruinard by the 1871 census. Their son George was known as Seoris a Mheiler, George the Miller, and lived at Second Coast. It is unclear whether George was in fact a miller or was just given the name because he was the son of the miller. Alexander and Flora had a daughter Peggy who was the Grandmother of Alice MacLennan who lives in Aultbea today.
The Polachar Caves at Sand of Udrigle
Map Reference NG 912 918
The larger of these two caves was used as a place of worship for a number of years following the disruption of the church in 1843. The caves also became well known because of the widow, Isabella MacKenzie of Gunn from Drumchork who lived in one of them for several years with her daughter or granddaughter.
In 1862 Meyrick Bankes applied for a court order to evict Isabella from the Polachar Cave and in the 1871 census she is shown as a pauper living at Sand. By the time of the 1881 census she was living in Achgarve and it is unclear where she went from there until 1892 when she was living in Dingwall and on the register of the poor. The sum of 1/6d was being paid from the parish of Gairloch to Dingwall on her behalf.
A little way to the west of the cave is the rock pillar which was much photographed prior to 1950.
This rock had another rock perched precariously on top of it which looked as if it might fall off any minute.
However it remained thus for many years until a severe gale from the north blew it over in 1950.
Map Reference NG 845 940
Slaggan must have been a lovely place to live under the old crofting way of life when one could live off the land and the sea and when animals were sold to drovers. They had a sheltered area near the shore to grow their potatoes with plenty seaweed for fertiliser. Milk, butter, cheese and eggs were all available along with fresh fish from the sea and mutton during the winter. The only items they required money for were tea, sugar and clothing.
However, they were a long way from any source of employment for the young people and although they had a "side school" at one time they had to house and pay the teacher. As a result most of the young people moved away and as the population got older it declined until at the time of the Second World War there were only about six people living in Slaggan.
The last people to live in Slaggan were George MacKenzie, his brother Alick and sister Kate, none of whom were married. Later another sister Isabella who was married to John MacLeod from Achgarve came to live with them after her husband died. She retained the croft and house in Achgarve and all four of them moved back and fore between Achgarve and Slaggan as the work on the crofts required.
There are two tall gables still standing in the ruined village and these are the remains of a much more modern house built in 1936 by the above MacKenzie family with the help of Crofter Commission grants. It tragically burned down while they were all in Achgarve about 1942/3 and we will never know what actually happened. Isabella had returned to Achgarve from visiting the house in Slaggan and may have left some fire in the fireplace from which a spark may have stated a fire in the furniture.
On the other hand it is thought that some of the Royal Navy personnel from the base at Aultbea out walking the hills took shelter in the house and were careless with a cigarette or match. No one knew about the fire until the Mackenzies next visited Slaggan, only to find that all that was left of their house were the two gables.
The Mackenzies then moved permanently to Achgarve leaving Slaggan deserted. Their subsequent history can be found in the book `Achgarve the History of a West Highland Crofting Community` by William MacRobbie of Achgarve. This book can be purchased locally or by mail order through the GALE web site.