Churchill and Lochrosque
There are many anecdotes and historical facts surrounding Lochrosque, and I shall certainly cover these in future issues. The following story is recorded by Martin Gilbert in his biography of Churchill.
In September 1914, when Churchill was the First Lord of the Admiralty, he travelled through Ross-shire on his way to visit the fleet at Loch Ewe. At Achnasheen an aide drew Churchill’s attention to a searchlight on the roof of a large private house. They were puzzled. And they wondered if it was a spy’s searchlight used to alert Zeppelins to the naval base. When they arrived at Loch Ewe this was mentioned to one of the officers who reported that an aeroplane had been spotted in the area, but had not been traced. Convinced that he had unearthed a possible German spy network, Churchill decided that he would return to the house and find out, and with armed men proceeded to travel back to Lochrosque Castle.The butler answered the door, and told them the house belonged to Sir Arthur Bignold, a former Conservative MP. Churchill demanded to see him. On questioning (and being told who they were) Sir Arthur explained that the light had been installed to catch the gleam in the eyes of the deer on the hillside, so that it would be easier to stalk them the next day.
Churchill was still suspicious and even went so far as to inspect the light, and contrary to Sir Arthur’s wishes took essential parts from the light, so that it was no longer functional. Of course Sir Arthur wasn’t happy.
When Churchill returned to London he wrote to Admiral Oliver, who had accompanied him to Lochrosque, saying “...I do not understand why the searchlight placed on the roof of Sir Arthur Bignold’s house in close proximity to an anchorage of the fleet, has not been made the subject of police report. Let the fullest report be made on the circumstances in which this searchlight came to be placed in position, together with all other facts about Sir Arthur Bignold, his guests, friends and servants. There are repeated rumours of aeroplane activities in the neighbourhood. Are there any suitable landing grounds for aeroplanes in the neighbourhood? …”
Of course, all checks found nothing untoward, all guests were cleared, and no Germans were found in the area, nor any confirmation that a plane had crashed or had ever been in the vicinity.
As author Martin Gilbert says in his book “The adventure had been harmless. But had the house contained German spies instead of patriotic Scotsmen it might have had a less simple ending…”
The photograph (apologies for the poor scan), shows Lochrosque Castle with the searchlight intact (before Winnie dismantled it!)
It is recorded that at 4.45pm on the 12 September, 1877, Queen Victoria embarked from a special train at Achnasheen to make her way by horse-drawn vehicle to Talladale (Loch Maree) - it is rumoured that the vehicles, coming from Kinlochewe, were delayed and that she had to stay the night in Achnasheen in the house known as The Cottage (if anyone know where this story originates I’d be grateful for the reference for further reading and clarification). Her party included her youngest daughter Princess Beatrice, General Ponsonby (secretary), Sir William Jenner (court physician), the Duchess of Roxburghe, John Brown, and the Queen’s collie (Noble). At the time she recorded in her journal “…very shortly after this (Glen Docherty) you come across the loch, which is grand and romantic...”
At the time the Station Hotel, Achnasheen, was run by Murdo MacIver who also operated the Kinlochewe and Gairloch mail service. Mr MacIver was a religious man and when it was requestedt for him to provide horses and mail service to carry the queen’s post on the Sabbath during her stay, he politely refused. I wonder if this is where ‘we are not amused’ was first used by Her Majesty.
A stone commemorating the Queen’s visit can still be seen at the front of the Loch Maree hotel inscribed in Gaelic, together with a stone translating “The Queen in her gracious condescension willed that this stone should be a remembrance of the pleasure she found in coming to this part of Ross-Shire".
John Maclennan and the Stag
I’ve been told different stories about this poor man, and finally found a book called The Deer Forests of Scotland by A. Grimble published in 1896 (I believe that only 500 copies of this book were ever published).
In it the author gives a good account of the ensuing tragedy, “In the winter of 1891 a bad accident happened in the enclosed deer park at Strathbran. With the tame deer there was a royal red deer stag, who had been taken as a calf out of Corrie Reoch in Fannich by John Maclennan, the forester there. It has been hand-fed with mil, and eventually turned out into this park, and was eleven years old at the time of the tragedy.”
In December 1891 it seems, for some reason (not given in the book, but some believe to attend a funeral) John came across from Fannich to Strathbran “...he crossed the park where he well knew this stag was, while at the same time he was equally aware he was a dangerous beast. The rash man had not even so much as a stout stick with him, and had gone but a short distance were he was attacked and killed, his cries for help being heard, but not understood, by some women in the road…”.
The poor man was found, eventually, lying with his head on his arm, his body pierced in two places - the heart and chest. He was buried in Lochbroom.
However, it is known that Sir Arthur Bignold placed a monument to the memory of John Maclennan, and this lies in the woodland nearby to this day. I shall be reporting more on this, as I will investigate further and, hopefully will be able to take photographs of the monument and publish here.
It is interesting to note, that previous to this terrible tragedy that the same beast had attacked another forester, Duncan Fraser, who struggled with the animal for some time - the book states “...after three quarter of an hours fight with the stag, who surprised him quite unarmed, whereupon Duncan instantly jumped plump onto the stag’s head, holding on by the horns, and being a strong man, he contrived to keep his seat, while the stag kept carrying him round the enclosure. At last his cries for help were heard by a shepherd, the father of the John Maclennan this stag killed….” With assistance Duncan managed to struggle free and make his escape, but was so exhausted by the experience that he fainted immediately.
No further mention to these incidents is made in the book - one can only presume that the stag was promptly despatched.
Other people mentioned in this informative book include Donald Mackintosh, the head forester, who lived in Achnasheen for over 30 years - unfortunately, it doesn’t say exactly where. However, contained in the papers for the auction sale of Sir Arthur Bignold’s estate, in 1920, there are some interesting insights into who lived where at that time, explaining that “the cottages on the Lochrosque estate are substantially built…”, the details are as follows:
Head Keeper’s House, containing two sitting rooms, three bedrooms, kitchen, wc. Water laid on. Lit by electric light.
A cottage, containing sitting room, bedroom, kitchen and wc, occupied by the estate electrician. Lit by electric light.
Cottage at Badavinich, containing sitting room, three bedrooms, kitchen and wc. Near the cottage are byre for two cows and a small barn.
Cottage at Druimdbhu, containing sitting room, two bedrooms, kitchen, wc.
A pair of cottages in Achnasheen - one occupied by A. McRae, stalker, containing sitting room three bedrooms, kitchen and wc. Small byre and barn.
Let to Murdo Mackenzie, grocer, containing two bedrooms, kitchen, wc. There is also an old cottage in Achnasheen let to Murdo Mackenzie, grocer, and used as a shop, a store house adjoining, and a commodious barn.
Elsewhere in the papers it states “There is a post and telegraph office at Achnasheen, and there is a daily delivery of letters.”
Under the section listing the Game Bag an interesting comment was made “...in 1913 stalking ceased on 27th September owing to a death in the Mansion House…”
This refers to Capt Bertram Dickson who died at Lochrosque, and who is buried at Achanalt - more about this fascinating man next time...
My grateful thanks to the Seligman family for granting me ongoing access to family archives, plus their help and assistance in compiling the information regarding Sir Arthur Bignold, Lochrosque estate, family members and the interesting visitors to Lochrosque, Strathbran and the surrounds.
If you have further information, photographs, or would like to comment on any item mentioned please contact me via email or post. All photographs will be scanned and returned.