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Fishing Station at Eilean na Rainich

Eilean na Rainich
[58.261352, -5.021747]
Brendan O’Hanrahan
North West Highlands Geopark

James Anderson Sr, a Peterhead-based merchant, was initially involved in the northwest of Sutherland along with his business partners Thomas and James Arbuthnot, also merchants from Peterhead. In 1773, the Arbuthnots took on the salmon fishings and kelp-shores on the Reay estate. Two years later they extended the lease for a term of 21 years…

James Anderson Sr, a Peterhead-based merchant, was initially involved in the northwest of Sutherland along with his business partners Thomas and James Arbuthnot, also merchants from Peterhead. In 1773, the Arbuthnots took on the salmon fishings and kelp-shores on the Reay estate. Two years later they extended the lease for a term of 21 years with George Mackay of Skibo, for which they paid £94. In the same year Anderson obtained a lease of the lands of Keoldale and the store-house at Islandrannich, “for the purposes of the herring and cod-fishery”. 

Sutherland, Sheet 1878

They initially established their base at Islandrannich (Eilean Rainich or Eilean na Rainich) at Kylestrome, where a storehouse was erected. By the late 1780s, however, Islandrannich had been abandoned and the estate sought another more suitable site for a fishing station on the coast of the estate. In 1787, a new lease was signed for kelp and fishing rights on the estate, with Lieutenant General Alexander Mackay who looked after the estate, as his nephew Hugh Mackay, 6th Lord Reay, had been deemed a lunatic.

The Highland Historic Environment Record states that to the north of the current standing building on the island, between it and the shore, are the low grassy footings of a second structure, sub-rectangular and measuring 3m by 5.5m, this is presumed to be the remains of the storehouse mentioned in those late 18th century leases.

Eilean na Rainich pier today

The Old Statistical Account for the parish of Eddrachillis in 1793 said that;

“our creeks and harbours were full of the finest fish, and there was none to take them; for as the inhabitants had no salt for curing and could find no buyers, they desisted from killing them”.

After the turn of the century there was clearly some organised exploitation of the seasonal herring stocks in the sea lochs, perhaps under the aegis of Charles Clarke, originally a farmer near Durness, who had taken on the lease of the sheep farm at Glendhu  in 1801, who was described in 1823 documents as a ‘fish-curer’. 

In the 1820s it was reported that

“Loch Glendhu and Loch Glencoul are no less celebrated for the quantity and quality of their herrings than for their singular wildness”.

An 1829 source estimated that the value of herring caught in Loch Glendhu was around £30,000 and up to 100 herring buses were visiting the loch.

Eilean na Bearachd Island and Eilean na Rainich : Sir Francis Cook

But just a few years later, in 1836, Lord Teignmouth observed that;

“The people of this neighbourhood have suffered from the unfortunate caprice of the herrings, which formerly frequented the kyle, giving employment, twenty years ago, sometimes to 200 fishing vessels, and often to 60 or 70 since that period. But those fish have since entirely forsaken this part of the coast.” 

This testified to the notoriously sporadic nature of the herring breeding stocks, which could boom in some spawning areas for decades and then just as suddenly disappear for years on end.

By the time of the 1840s New Statistical Account for the parish the parish minister noted that

“it is to be regretted that the cod and ling fisheries are not more prosecuted. The natives are excellent herring fishers but too lax as to the other.”

Lochs Cairn Bahn, Glen Coul, and Glen Dhu, Surveyed: 1846

Additional Reading:

Cathay Dagg, ‘Maddie Burn Hydro Electric Kylestrome, Eddrachillies, Sutherland’,

Acknowledgements

Maps:

Sutherland, Sheet L, Survey date: 1875,  Publication date: 1878, National Library of Scotland, https://maps.nls.uk/view/74431041, ‘Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland’.

Otter, Henry C. ‘West Coast of Scotland. Sheet IV. Including Lochs Cairn Bahn, Glen Coul, and Glen Dhu’, Surveyed: 1846, https://maps.nls.uk/view/189001232  ‘Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland’.

Images:

Francis Ferdinand Maurice Cook (1907–1978), https://artuk.org/discover/artworks/eilean-na-bearachd-island-and-eilean-na-rainich-near-scourie-scotland-137711  © the artist’s estate. Photo credit: Sir Francis Cook Collection

Header Image – Ullapool Museum Photograph Collection. Copyright Ullapool Museum