I was born in Scotland, came to Australia when I was 6. On my first visit back with my brother and mother, I was 24, and instead of helping my mother pack my Grandmother up and settle her affairs before bringing her to live with us in Australia, my brother David and I were more interested in sampling whiskey at amazing Scottish pubs, hanging with our cousins and having fun.
It wasn’t until I was about 35 that with husband and youngest child in tow, I first visited Tarbert. Granny had repeatedly insisted, Tarbert LOCH FYNE, not Tarbert LOCH LOMOND. But we were on a bit of a road trip and went to both. Just to the north of Loch Lomond, we found ourselves at a pub with stuffed scary animals….
However, eventually we found our way to Argyll and spent an afternoon in Tarbert Loch Fyne, sampling the local fish, some mighty fine tablet and listening in wonderment at some of the locals speaking Gaelic. I didn’t take many photos, apart from the fact that we were more sparing of the shutter button in those days of only film, Tarbert looked exactly the same as it did in all the lovely postcards I had received from Granny and Aunt Chrissie over the years. It was rather nice to find a place where “progress” was not the be all and end all.
We had named a dish in our restaurant in honour of Granny’s fishing stories; “Loch Fyne Crepaze” a very rich dish layered with the thinnest crepes, spinach and smoked cod, oozing with a creamy brandy sauce. Yum! So it was great to be eating lunch outdoors at Tarbert harbour and toasting to Granny and the Crepaze, but that was about it.
Looking back, I wish that I had paid a visit to some of our cousins that Granny used to stay with, it was in 1998, I didn’t meet up with any of them until my next trip in 2008.
I’ll put some photos here in my next update. They must all be in a box somewhere.
In 2008, I returned to Tarbert for a 2 day visit with my daughter. It felt a little sad that most of the cousins my Granny regularly stayed with throughout her life had passed away.
Well, it was raining, cold and miserable, perfect weather for staying at Stonefeild Castle Hotel where we had booked rooms in the old house, but not so great for exploring the town. Many of the shops were closed, being the end of winter, but we did enjoy meeting Ian at the general store, a drink in the pub (we were the only women) by the open fire and the chance to wander round in peace.
My main mission in Tarbert was to visit the crofts of Baluachdrach, up on the hill behind the school as Granny had so often described. So after getting directions from Ian, we headed up the hill past the school, not exactly knowing how we would get to the croft which was up behind some modern homes.
I had to take a picture of the school, because I was reminded of a photo I had been sent from our Crawford cousins. I’m not sure of the date of this photo, but Duncan Crawford left Tarbert to come to Australia around 1910, and you can see the children and schoolmasters at the same school here, next to the wall, at least 100 years prior to my visit.
After passing the school, we continued on up the hill, past a row of modern (ish) homes and tried to work out how to get in behind them as there was no road and we were sure the little plateau at the rear of these houses was where we would find Uncle Duncan McDonald’s croft. We found a sort of gravel driveway which led us across damp mossy grass which was very uneven underfoot, and sure enough, there it was, a crumbling ruin, standing stark and alone, a forgotten relick of a bygone era. But how exciting!
We wandered around a bit, stumbling over stones and rubbish long overgrown, startled a red fawn (camera not handy in the moment) walked towards the castle ruin, which is very close by, and then decided we would take a look inside. According to Granny, after Uncle Duncan McDonald died, his daughter Mary McDonald, who never married, lived in the croft and I would say it has gone to ruin since she passed away in 1986.
Well, it is a tiny two room cottage, and it’s hard to imagine a family living in it. But at one stage Uncle Duncan, Aunty Betsy and their five children lived there. The stone crofts in that part of Tarbert had been built with stones from the castle ruins. In the 1800’s and before, they were thatched, but later, the roofs were made from slate. Baluachdrach was a little cluster of cottages, not just one, and in early images of Tarbert, you can see about 5 or 6 crofts close together, up on the flat behind the school. From census reports, it seems the family occupied three of them, but it’s a bit hard to tell exactly which ones as it was all just referred to as “Baluachdrach”, and sometimes there was more than one family to a croft! The 1891 census shows the McDonalds living next to the McFarlanes in “Uppertown”, the Anglicised version of Baluachdrach. Margaret McDonald (jnr) had become Margaret McFarlane by this stage. Also interesting to note the visitor on the census night, Archie Crawford the painter. He had married Mary Galbraith, sister to Margaret (Galbraith) McDonald of Baluachdrach and it was Mary and Archie who immigrated to Australia with their children in 1910. Archie and Mary’s son, Duncan, is in the class photo above. Complicated!
As for Granny McDonald’s cottage, well, my Granny said she though it had been incorporated into a more modern home, and sure enough, not far from Uncle Duncan’s croft, we found “Uppertown Cottage” and I think you can just see the rough stone wall of the original croft in the photo taken on my phone (my camera was out of battery by this stage). Here’s my collection of photos through the ages, starting with GW Wilson’s photos which appeared in Tarbert in Picture and Story, my mother in 2000, my cousin and Granny in 1998, and of course my pictures from 2008. Click on any of these images to enlarge.
So after retrieving some souvenirs from the croft ruin (a piece of stone and an old rusty hook, probably used to secure ropes on a fishing boat), we made our way back down to town and headed out to the hotel. Very comfortable, friendly staff, fabulous meal at the restaurant (Loch Fyne Queenies, very good) , an annoying poltergeist, good internet speed and great photos on the walls around the old part of the hotel. Amazing how times have changed in just over 100 years. Granny told me that they didn’t own the crofts, but that rent was paid to the laird at Stonefeild. She also proudly described getting a glimpse of Lady Eileen in Tarbert on one occasion, and that her mother’s employer used to be asked to Stonefeild House for tea. Yet now it’s a very affordable hotel… I guess we are still paying rent of sorts to the laird!