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Isle Ristol: Eilean Ruisteil

Isle Ristol
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Abigail Anne Campbell
North West Highlands Geopark

Isle Ristol, the innermost of The Summer Isles, is a registered Scottish Wildlife Reserve. Over fifty higher species have been identified amongst the flora on the Isle Ristol machair, amongst which are moonwort and adder’s tongue. Isle Ristol is a tidal island, in Loch an Alltain Duibh, that is separated by a narrow channel from Old Dorney Bay.…

Isle Ristol, the innermost of The Summer Isles, is a registered Scottish Wildlife Reserve. Over fifty higher species have been identified amongst the flora on the Isle Ristol machair, amongst which are moonwort and adder’s tongue. Isle Ristol is a tidal island, in Loch an Alltain Duibh, that is separated by a narrow channel from Old Dorney Bay. Access is by boat from Old Dornie or is walkable at certain low tides. It forms the ‘Isle Ristol Common Grazings’.

The eighteenth century saw a mission from the British Fisheries Society to encourage the local communities to participate in industrial fisheries. Up until then natives fished for their own requirements, but rarely made a living from fishing alone. When the British Fisheries Society set their sights on Ullapool, Isle Ristol was the proposed site that offered a closer port to the open sea to off set the initial worries that Ullapool was too far from the fishing grounds. It was likely to have also formed a strategic port of call for many fishermen and early voyagers traveling the Western Seaboard. A curing station and sheds for drying cod were proposed. 

Isle Ristol Ross and Cromarty OS Names Book 1848-76

In 1788, George MacKenzie and David Aitken along with a  land surveyor attempted to assess the island for the British Fisheries Society but bad weather meant they had to rely on the surveyors notes from the previous year.

“the Island is worth to a tenant six pounds ten shillings rent yearly. The factor also examined the tenants of Dornie who occupies the island as a sheeling in the month of July – and a wintering for their cattle in winter and spring. But found there never had been any separate rent put upon the island. That it was always included in the rent of the Farm of Dornie which is present lett at £22.11 Stg yearly. And from every information the Factor could obtain from the tenants – he is of the opinion Lord Macleod should give it to the Society at the six pounds ten shillings stg yearly rent. In regard to Island Ristoll from its centrical situation to the cod and ling fishing if the Society should judge it expedient at any after period to build a populous village there – the Surveyor would recommend to the Society to get a servitude from Lord Macleod upon his moss’s in the neighbourhood – upon the same terms with Ullapool as the moss’s in the Island will soon be worn out”.

However, Robert Melville, the local agent for the British Fisheries Society, also referred to as “the little emperor of Ullapool” by Jean Dunlop, did not support the venture on Isle Ristol, and whether these were ever built remains unknown. Nonetheless, a shed for stores is known to have been completed and let to one John Macauley, however, he did not establish himself and was insolvent after three years. The island was then leased to McDonald of Tanera but he sublet it for grazing and it was neglected for many years.

Ross and Cromarty Sheet 1906

The two decades following the purchase of Ullapool and Ristol saw the repeated failure of the herring fishing in Lochbroom, and this proved too erratic for commercial supply. Many people began to leave annually for the season’s fishing in Caithness. 

Despite the failings of the herring fishing, it is evident that people on Isle Ristol were not dependent entirely on the herring and were able to work in the cod and ling fishery, which did not suffer the same inconsistencies. In addition, as later census returns show, East Coast fishermen began to come regularly to Ristol for the fishing and fish processing.

Audio:

Tobhar an Dualchais: Murdo MacLeod, Tanera Mor and Isle Ristol, interviewed by Dr John MacInness https://www.tobarandualchais.co.uk/track/80521?l=en 

Music:

Charlie Grey and Joseph Peach – Waves Rise From Quiet Water

Album Available to buy at: https://www.ullapoolmuseum.co.uk/product/waves-rise-from-quiet-water-charlie-grey-joseph-peach/ 

Additional Reading:

Isle Ristol – Archaeological Evaluation – 2003 

Isle Ristol Management Plan 1995-2000

Acknowledgements

Images:

Isle Ristol Ross and Cromarty OS Names Book 1848-76: Scotlands Places OS1/28/32/83 Copyright: NRS

Ross and Cromarty Sheet IIIa Date revised: 1902, Date Published: 1906, https://maps.nls.uk/view/76343410
Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland’ Copyright: NLS

Header Image – Isle Ristol: Copyright: Public Domain.