Monday, 20 September 2010

Turus ag iasgaich anns a Ghearraidh. A FishingTrip to the Gearraidh.

It was after lunch, and everyone in the Shoudie house was just coming round after his/her siesta, which in Lewis translates as "norrag" or "forty winks." Stowlia, the Shoudie dog, had been sleeping outside on a small knoll of sweet smelling grass,and wakened to see Iain climbing up the outside of the house, and onto the "tobhhta", where he disentangled a long bamboo rod from a covering of rye grass and nettles. The rod was upwards of twenty feet long, thick at one end and tapering to a narrow point at the other. Those bamboos may have come from distant lands, but in the isles they were used for fishing. They were called "slats", and in Dalmore, no one had to second guess where a man was going with a "slat". The best place was over in the Gearraidh, on a rock known as Bandaberie, situated in the wild inlet called Sheilagadh. Bandaberie would normally yield a good catch of fish, but one was always aware of the dangers of fishing there - an exposed rock surrounded on all sides by dangerous swirling eddies.
Stowlia had often gone with Iain to Bandaberie, and she knew how difficult it was to negotiate the descent down a shear rock face. Fancy and Jura could come along if they wished, as if they would miss out on such an adventure. They would have to wrap up against the cold winds, as they could be out on Bandaberie for some time. Stowlia was endowed with a thick coat of hair, but Fancy and Jura were not so well padded. Fancy had her pilot's outfit, of course, but Jura, the labrador, with its smooth black coat, would need some extra cover. Aunt Dolly came up with the ingenious idea of adapting an old Harris guernsey(minus sleeves) as a body warmer for Jura. It was a coat of many colours, knitted from a mixed-bag of bobbins.
They crossed high above the beach," outside the fence", heading for Geodha na Muilne and the Gearraidh. Here. on these green slopes, known as Nan Eilidean, they encountered Tom Warrener emerging from a rabbit burrow, covered in sand from the top of his head to the tip of his tail. They exchanged a few pleasantries with Tom, but they could see that he was eager to return to the work in hand. The fishing party eventually reached Bandaberie, and although there was a bit of a swell on the sea, it was decided that fishing was possible, but only if a lot of care was taken. Generations of the women folk of Dalmore feared for the men who fished on Bandaberie. Iain Shoudie decided that it was better and safer for Stowlia and Co. to stay up top, and to watch the operations from a clear vantage point, 25 feet up the sheer rock face. The waves hitting the rocks were moderately strong, but the plinth on which Iain stood was as yet safe. Ground bait of cold boiled potato tossed into the ravine had spectacular effects as Stowlia, Fancy and Jura witnessed Iain's bamboo bending time after time, the line alive with wriggling fish. Of course, Jura had never witnessed anything like this (understandably so), but her excited barking drew smiles from her country cousins. This was something to tell Solas and Fred back in Glasgow. With his bag full, Iain stopped fishing, and carefully scaled the rock face. "Well, my friends, we'll have a great fry-up tonight, along with Murdo and the cats," said John.
" Since Jura has come all the way from Labrador," said 'An 'Houdie, "we must show her round this little bit of Lewis." Jura appreciated Iain's stab at metaphor! "Firstly, I must find a place to leave the fish, as it's quite a heavy load to carry." He deposited the hessian bag of fish behind a large rock, well out on Rudha an Trileachan, where man never ventures. The attention of the three dogs was drawn to the large amount of sea shells strewn across the ground here. It was like a "midden", a word known to both archaeologists and Glaswegians alike. This was the drop zone where sea birds would release their newly caught shell fish from on high, smashing them on the rocks below. Moving downhill a little, Fancy was first to reach Allt na Muilne where in past times the people would grind their corn or oats in one of the two corn mills located on the steeply descending river (Allt na Muilne - The stream of the mills). Fancy and her two friends explored inside the old stone walls of the mills, splashing about in the semi-darkness. The cool waters of the "allt" was a footbath like none other.
Over at Sheilagadh, a broad deep inlet with a rocky beach, they could see from the powerful wave movements , that this was a dangerous place, on whose shore all sorts of flotsam and jetsam were strewn - reminders of the position that Lewis occupies at a crossroads of the Atlantic's waterways. Sheilagadh is an ugly, unforgiving place. They rejoined the "allt" further up its course, where now it is called "Allt a' Ghearraidh". There were some small trout in the river, and Stowlia tried her hand("spogs" actually) at guddling, much to the amusement of her companions. Result? A wet dog, no poissons.
At this moment, they espied three horses emerge from behind "Cnoc a' Choin" (The Hill of the Dogs). Jura asked if Stowlia or Fancy knew any of these dogs. Iain Shoudie laughed and awaited their reply. " Jura, that was a long time ago," replied Fancy "but I think my grandmother may have known one of them." Charlie, Jimmy and Tom were Dalmore's three horses, who were free to roam the common grazings, unless they were needed for work on the croft - ploughing, carting peats and hay etc. Charlie was Shonnie Glass's horse, a chestnut stallion, a tireless worker with an excellent temperament. But he also valued his freedom, and played hard to get when summoned for work. Shonnie would send his nephew, Iain, up into the hills, to find the horses and bring Charlie back to the croft for a spot of work. Charlie often shares this story with Jimmy and Tom.
" You can see wee Iain approaching from afar calling my name - very touching, really. Bare-footed, he wears a pair of long short trousers, a tweed jumper, of course, and his hair is cut in the mandatory pudding-bowl style. He carries a bridle and bit in one hand, and half a Stornoway loaf in the other. Tearing the bread in two, he approaches nearer, calling me, and proffers the bread. Just as I take the bread, he tries to get the bit into my mouth and the bridle over my ears. Jerking my head to the side, I gallop off to join you two. Now, I know that should he fail again, the lad would have a long trek home for more bread, with no guarantee of success the next time. So, a while ago I resolved to allow my capture on the second offer of bread. I shake my head, neighing loudly, but I open my mouth to accept the bit, and my surrender is complete. For Iain, the wee Glasgow boy, there is great pride in this achievement. For me, it's a harmless piece of fun, and I'm only too happy to oblige the wee fella'."
"Time to head back home", said 'An 'Houdie as they made their way across the old lazybeds in the Gearraidh. Climbing up towards Rudha an Trileachan, they could hear the hellish shrill cries "of a thousand birds". There, in front of them, huge gulls were engaged in a battle royal over the contents of Iain's bag of fish, hard won at Bandaberie. The seagulls dispersed, leaving a sorry mess of fish strewn across the grass, but on closer examination, about half the catch was untouched and would be on the frying pan later. A grand banquet and soiree was planned for the old "taigh dubh" that night.

A little information/explanation.

" tobhta" In the traditional Lewis thatched house ( 1830-1900 ), sometimes called a "taigh dubh" ( black house), there were double walls, and in between a turf infill. The walls were about 6 feet thick and rose to a similar height. The timbers which supported the thatch originated at the inside edge of the inner wall. When complete, there was a turfed "path" all the way round the "taigh dubh". This was the "tobhta".

"guddling" (a Scots word) involves fishing for trout/salmon in a river, by gently placing your hands under the fish and tickling its underside. When the fish is in rapture, you sweep the fish up, and onto the river bank. Poachers sometimes guddled a salmon - "one for the pot"

"lazybeds" In early days, with only a spade or "croman"(hoe) for digging, parallel ditches were excavated to afford ground drainage, and the soil was heaped up on top between ditches to give ground for growing some crops. Lazy - I think not.

"Nan eilidean"   Fallow grounds.   Here the short grassy ground fell away steeply to the sea

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