Friday, August 30, 2013

Christenings in New Zealand

I have already mentioned in a previous post an old settlement called Badbea whose residents frequently drew water from the Grey Hen’s Well.

A memorial monument was built to the former residents of Badbea by David Sutherland the son of Alexander Sutherland who had been born in Badbea in 1807. Alexander Sutherland, his wife Elizabeth McKay and their baby daughter Christy left for New Zealand in 1839.

David Sutherland visited Badbea in 1901, by which date the population of the village had dwindled to very few. Seeing many old granite stones of deserted houses lying about, David Sutherland decided to use the stones to build a monument to the people who had lived at Badbea and to his father Alexander, or Sandy as he was known. The monument was unveiled in 1912. The names of many who had lived at Badbea were inscribed on panels on the sides of the monument.

Some references suggest that many Badbea inhabitants emigrated to New Zealand. This is not correct. Alexander Sutherland was the only person born at Badbea who actually left for New Zealand. His eldest sister Christina Sutherland born in Badbea about 1798 married John McLeod of Ousdale. John and Christina McLeod raised a family of eleven children at the Rumsdale Estate in Caithness. Seven of that McLeod family, all born at Rumsdale, eventually made their way to New Zealand to settle. Here they kept close ties with their uncle, Alexander Sutherland with even some marriages amongst cousins. Thus there are many Sutherland and McLeod descendants born in New Zealand who still keep alive the stories of their fore fathers and mothers from Badbea. Many still return from the Pacific to visit Badbea.

Most Badbea inhabitants were deeply religious Free Church Presbyterians. Those who went to New Zealand continued to be faithful and even staunch Presbyterians. For many years it was the custom of visiting New Zealanders with ties to Badbea to collect water from both the Grey Hen’s Well and the nearby Badbea burn and transport it carefully home to New Zealand. This precious and symbolic water was used in New Zealand at family christenings where babies were "Baptised in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, to be faithfully and prayerfully brought up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord". Thus the wellspring of water from the Grey Hen’s Well, that has never yet gone dry, and which sustained a fragile community for many decades, was used in rites and ceremonies of great importance in New Zealand for some Sutherland and McLeod families. This water symbolised what they saw as God’s ancient covenant with their fore fathers and mothers reaching out across time and space to their children’s children.

This photo was taken in the summer of 1924. It shows the Badbea memorial monument. Standing from left are: John Gunn formerly of Golspie Mills now at Glasgow, Miss Sutherland, her parents Mr David Sutherland who had the monument constructed., and Mrs Sutherland.

The Badbea monument taken in 2011

Unless some reader brings welcome new information, this post concludes my series on the Grey Hen’s Well. Other posts of related interest will follow. 

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

The Silver Darlings

Caithness author Neil Gunn wrote of the Grey Hen’s Well in The Silver Darlings.

Chapter III  Catrine Goes Into A Strange Country 

In the course of time, wearied, she came to a well near the roadside. In these great primeval moors, there was no human habitation, and she stood for a moment looking around, the desolation touched her with a strange feeling that was not quite fear, as if the brown were the brown of some fox-beast that would not harm her but still was invisibly there. Yet, like the fox, she was a little hidden away herself from all she had been before, and in this lonely weariness she lay down in the heather. From being wide awake she passed in a moment into a sound sleep.
The sky was now milky blue and the sun warm. The tiny buds on the heather were pink-tipped. The water trickled from the well through a tongue of green grass, and a wild flower here and there drooped suddenly under the weight of a noisy bumble bee excited by the honey scent that was already stealing over the heath.

Chapter XX Finn Goes to Helmsdale

‘Doesn’t the world feel young today?’ asked Finn in his pleasant voice.
She did not answer for a minute; then she said, “It seems to me very old and wrinkled.  It’s we who are young.”
Finn checked his laugh in a marveling astonishment.
“You have the wisdom of an old woman!”
She glanced at him quickly, smiling. “Come on, we’ll go.”
In no time Barbara was as interested in the world as a young butterfly. She was attracted by the smallest thing, as if the journey were a thrilling adventure. Often they walked in silence. At the Grey Hen’s Well, Barbara drunk twice. “Once for Aunty Catrine and once for myself,” she murmured, wiping the water from her nose.
“Why that?” he asked, astonished.
“This is where your mother rested,” she said, “long, long ago, when for the first time she crossed the Ord and entered into a strange land.”
He smiled at her legendary tone, but he saw, too, that there was something behind it and, whatever it was, all in a moment it touched his heart. So he got down and drank – hesitated – and drank a second time.

Gunn, Neil M. The Silver Darlings pgs 50-51 & 440-441, Faber & Faber, London. Edition 1999

                                                      ...she lay down in the heather.

                                              The tiny buds of the heather were pink-tipped.

                                                                 A tongue of green grass,...

... and a wild flower here and there...

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The Well at Badbea. A Love Poem

The Well at Badbea.

Nobody drinks now at the Grey Hen’s Well at all,
Not even the wayfarer on the long moor road;
For they are dead, my people: ‘Twas only the call
Of the pee-weet remembered me where the houses stood.

O house of my fathers with the red moor about you,
How have you vanished in the dust that gave you birth!
Doth even the storm forget to blow without you
Because you have gone the way of all earth?

Where are the children that drink in the Wishing Well,
Slaking their sweet red throats; and the maids and men
So earnestly wishing for love; they tell and tell
In your still water their secret desire again.

They are all vanished my people, and their dwelling
Has sunk down to the last grey senseless stone;
And they are no more than a tale that stirs one in telling.
‘Tis told: but the Grey Hen’s Well stays on alone.

And I search and search in all the world’s lonely places,
On moors and shores and on the misted hill:
Hoping to catch a glimpse of the kindred faces;
For I think that behind your shadows they live on still.

MacLeod, Angus, ‘The Well at Badbea’, John G Sinclair, Anthology, The Edinburgh John O Groat Literary Society Magazine, Edinburgh, 1970

                                              The still water that only keeps a spider's web

                                             O house of my father's...How have you vanished

                                Doth even the storm forget to blow without you

Monday, August 26, 2013

Mail and Coach Stop

In 1977, under the non-de-plume of Comraich, a series of articles were published in the John O Groat Journal entitled A Background to Badbea.

According to Comraich, from about 1813 the wall demarking Badbea from Ausdale was commenced. The main road north, which crossed the Ord and followed the coast, had now been replaced with the new Government road which had roughly the same route as today's road. Badbea was becoming isolated.
From about 1819 whatever mails and coaches were to pass were met at the Grey Hen's Well and a short distance later at the Berriedale Inn.

At least one Badbea resident, John Sutherland aka John Badbea Sutherland (1785-1864) was a prolific letter writer.  Many of John’s letters would have been delivered from the Grey Hen’s Well to ‘The Men’ of the Free Church in Scotland encouraging and exhorting them in the discourses of their faith. Transcriptions of some of John’s letters still survive.

We can imagine the letters of the pious John Badbea Sutherland being taken up to the Grey Hen’s Well either by himself, or his faithful housekeeper and niece Catherine Sutherland, to meet the mail coach and the newspaper from Glasgow that he so enjoyed being brought back in return.

John Badbea Sutherland’s obituary notes:
‘He carried on a considerable amount of correspondence with Christian friends in different parts of the kingdom, and was known and prized as a correspondent by some who had never seen his face. A number of John’s  letters, sewed together, constituted, in the case of one known to us, a highly prized part of the reading, on the bed of sickness, of one who was looking for a better country.’

An extract from one letter dated Badbea, 12th July, 1838 to Mr Sinclair, Thurso says:

My Dear Friend,

I have nothing particular to write to you – only I know that you are lonely, and I have heard that you are poorly. You need not to expect to get free of these as long as your pilgrimage will be in this weary wilderness – neither will I…..

I am, my dear Friend,
Your affectionate
John Sutherland

Sources:  Auld, Rev Alexander, Ministers and Men of the Far North, Wick 1868. Pgs 202 & 397

John O Groat Journal, 20 May  1977, Comraich A Background to Badbea

On the old walking track between Badbea and the Grey Hen's Well. There are said to be plenty of adders hiding on this track. 2011

Thursday, August 22, 2013

An Unveiling Ceremony in 1912

Close to the Grey Hen’s Well were several settlements, one named Badbea, still accessible via a walking track. More on Badbea later. In 1901, David Sutherland, a descendant of a Badbea family, now living in New Zealand, visited Badbea and decided to build a monument from stones of ruined houses now long empty. Names of previous Badbea inhabitants were inscribed on panels on the walls of the monument.
In 1912 there was a gathering of over 100 people of neighbouring clansmen, and others, to unveil the monument.
There are two lengthy newspaper reports of this function one of which tells of the relationship between the Grey Hen’s Well and the people of Badbea.

(Special Report)

Halfway between Berriedale and Ousdale going south to Helmsdale, on the left hand side is a wire fence. Close beside the road are steps by which one gets over the fence. Before coming to these steps is a well or spring of clear water.  This well is called the Grey Hens Well. It is sometimes called the wishing well and used frequently to supply water to a small township about to be described.
It was from the well beside the fence runs a path which at length comes to a gateway through which one goes, and at once there opens on the view a wild and unexpected scene. On the right hand runs a rough wall, five feet high, which extends for several miles.  Between this wall and the sea are the remains of rough patches of cultivated land, in some places running to the edge of the precipices which here are of a great height. Close to these patches are the ruins of a number of houses. Behind where the houses are a rugged hillside, interspersed with innumerable boulders of rough grey and red granite with patches of brown heather in between. A small and picturesque burn divides the locality into two distinct portions.
Not far from this burn has just been erected an impressive memorial cairn on the site of the ruins of one of the houses. The cairn recently completed  has been erected on the site of the residence of a distinguished and pious man who lived there, and is intended to commemorate not only this man, but also the other natives or residents in the locality who are mostly now all passed away, and their descendants scattered over many parts of the earth.
There is a nearer access from the Ousdale side coming Northward, for upon coming about a mile from Ousdale there is seen a rough-roadway track on the right hand side by which one arrives in a few minutes near to the head of the burn already referred to, called the Badbea burn, and the township is called Badbea.

John O Groat Journal 08.11.1912

The rest of the report will follow in a later post. I have the scanned image of the original article but it is not really good enough quality to post.

Photo taken at the Monument unveiling ceremony

Source photo: Sutherland, Alex, Sutherlands of Ngaipu, A H & A W Reed, 1947, Wellington. There is a better photo of this event in the Johnston Collection. Index Number JN22073B019

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

The Horse Myth Re-written

His Grace,the late Duke of Portland has something to say:
"The Grey Hen's Well does not commemorate my famous horse St. Simon."

The Grey Hen's Well has gathered another myth which seems to be remarkably widespread, claiming that the Duke of Portland placed the stone at the Grey Hen's Well to commemorate his famous horse St. Simon.

Joy Corley of the Welbeck Estate, Berriedale has this to say:

"According to two previous factors, both knowledgeable in the history of the Welbeck Estate, the Duke of Portland's famous horse St Simon. had no affiliation whatsoever with the stone marking the Grey Hen's Well. Nor has any other horse.

The Duke was famous for erecting stones and had a great sense of humour so the story of the old lady spying on her daughter would have appealed to him.

Elderly locals currently in the Berriedale area also have never heard of the legend of the horse."

 From the old Berriedale cemetery looking towards the Langwell forest and the Welbeck Estate

Sources: Duke of Portland caricature aka : Cavendish-Bentinck, Vanity Fair, 1882-06-03. Wikipedia
Joy Corley personal communication 2009

Damn that Grey Hen

A courting couple who were employed by the 6th Duke of Portland went for a stroll across the moorland. The girl's mother disapproved of her daughter's relationship with the young man and would follow at a safe distance. The young man thought he would have a look to see if there was any sign of the girl's mother around, saw her grey head to which he exclaimed, "Damn that Grey Hen" and so this is supposed to be the origin of the name.
It was told to Mrs I. Patterson in 1959 who was aged 92 then.
Also the well is famed for never having run dry.
Source: Joy Corley,Welbeck Estate Office, Berriedale

Here is the Google Earth image showing the style, and the transmission lines pylon. Also visible is the path or track that was one access way used by local residents to access the well.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Legend of the Grey Hen Version Three...

Sir. - Towards the end of the 18th century there was an extensive crofting community in the valleys of the Langwell and Berriedale rivers and on the high ground to the north of the military road.
One of the tenants was an elderly widow who had a bevy of pretty and attractive daughters. The girls were much courted by the young men who would tryst with them on the summer nights at the well.
As dusk fell each night the widow would appear and usher her daughters home. This habit, and her appearance earned her the sobriquet "The Grey Hen" and hence "The Grey Hen's Well."
As told the writer by Mr George Mathieson, Newport, Berriedale.
I am, etc.,
R. I. Mowat.
Portland Arms Hotel,
This Letter to the Editor of the John O Groat Journal was published on 23 July 1976
Bog Cotton growing near the well

Legend of the Grey Hen - Version Two . . .

Sir, - Re last week's article "Mystery of the Grey Hen's Well".
On the No 4 (west) tablet of the memorial at Badbea to the last residents there, there is recorded "John Gunn, last tenant 1911".
His daughter Mary came to live at Helmsdale and each summer as long as she was physically fit returned to visit the site of her father's homestead. She was very old when I recall her visiting in her connection with my researches into the historical past of Badbea.
On taking her to Badbea once she told me that the Grey Hen's Well was so named because it was the drinking well  for the inhabitants of an old thatched cottage nearby, the last survivor being a war widow (husband was killed in Waterloo, 1815) who was nicknamed in Gaelic "the Grey Hen". In her dotage she was tormented and annoyed a great deal by young folk who shouted the nickname at her frequently.
When the cottage, after her day, crumbled away, the doorstep was used to form the front "kneeling pad" at the well for drawing water. When the late Duke of Portland had the large stone erected it was said that "she would by it be remembered for all time whereas those who had annoyed her in her declining years would be absolutely forgotten."
I am, etc.,
Swiney House
This Letter to the Editor of the John O Groat Journal was published on 23 July 1976
Is Betty saying that the Duke of Portland used the old kneeling pad for his stone? I like that thought. Here is a picture of the stone taken in winter by David Glass.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Legend of the Grey Hen - Version One..

Sir,- Re the Grey Hen's Well and your request for information last week, I have the following information from my great-grand uncle, the late Lewis Dunbar of Australia and later of Thurso.
Lewis Dunbar was an ornithologist and taxidermist of international repute.
The Black Grouse (male - Black Cock, female- Grey Hen) was introduced to Berriedale by one of the Sinclairs, probably Sir John Sinclair of Ulbster who owned the estate of Langwell for about 23 years and sold it in 1814 to James Horne.
The Black Grouse flourished and spread to Sutherland and other parts of Caithness.
The Grey Hen's Well was situated near a "lek" - the stamping ground of the Black Cocks during their amazing nuptial display behaviour.
While this display went on the Grey Hens congregated nearby in the vicinity of the Well. This well was known to travellers and was a boon to man and horse on that lonely stretch of moor.
The late Duke of Portland erected a stone to perpetuate the name. I am, etc.,
10 Bower Court, Thurso
This Letter to the Editor of the John O Groat Journal was published on 23 July 1976.
So thanks to Lewis and Louise for their information but since the Grey Hen's Well was there before Sir John Sinclair introduced these grouse there must be more to the story. Version two next blog.
Here is another look at the photo I have used as background for this blog. The blue line just above the braes is the wide and often wild blue ocean of the Moray Firth. The wooden fence surrounds the well. There is plenty of room for the "lek" here if that part of Lewis' story is correct. The wire fence keeps stock from wandering onto the A9 roadway which can be busy. There is a stile over it. 

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Mystery of the Grey Hen

The Grey Hen’s Well, like many other sources of water, has stories and myths around it. They show the Grey Hen’s Well is not just a place, but resonates as part of Caithness and Highlands history. While the records and stories I have found are not ancient, going back only two centuries, some are still being re-written, and each are as authentic as the other. There are many wells in Scotland that in ancient times were deified and known as magic or holy wells but I have no knowledge of any ancient myths that tell of this well being a shrine to a local deity, or being a holy well.
But these days, while many cars are driven on past, other folk return specially and stop, telling us that the Grey Hen’s Well is a precious place for Scottish people from all over the world. Why is that? Could it be because this place was once the water of life not only to travelers between Berriedale and the Ord but to the residents of nearby villages where crofters struggled to live for a time before being forced to scatter to the four corners of the earth.
On 16 July 1976 the Editor of the John O Groat Journal published the following request for information under the heading 
“Mystery of Grey Hen and the Candlesticks”
“Just a few yards to the east of the A9 on a straight stretch between Ousdale and Berriedale is a    spot where people often stop.
Known as Grey Hen’s Well.  It is largely over –grown, and what draws the attention of the passers-by is a large stone marking the spot which was erected by the late Duke of Portland in 1934.
Caithness District Council are now to clear up the area round the well, and sought further information about the history of the well and origins of its name from the Portland Estate on whose land it lies.
But resident factor Mr M. Leslie said that he too had been unable to trace the history of the well.
“The present Duke and Duchess could never find out about the origins of it and the name seems to have been passed down from one generation to the next,” he said.
“Apparently Her Grace has also tried to find out about the history of the two stone-built towers on the edge of the cliff between the cliff and the arable land just south of Berriedale. They are known locally as the Candlesticks which is about all we know about them.”
If any reader can throw light on the Grey Hen and the Candlesticks the council would like to hear from them – and so would we.”

Thursday, August 15, 2013

The Grey Hen's Well

What and Where?

The Grey Hen's Well is in the Highlands of Scotland. It is an old disused roadside well with a modern stone around it. A nearby plaque bears the legend 'The Grey Hen's Well Erected by the Duke of Portland 1934.' The Grey Hen's Well with its brown fence is clearly visible on Google Earth, Street View on the seaward side of the A9 between Helmsdale and Berriedale, where the transmission lines cross the road near the Badbea parking access. 

This is my first blog. I plan over the next few weeks to tell some fascinating myths and legends of the Grey Hen's Well - who was the Grey Hen and what was she doing there? Later I will use the Grey Hen's Well as a place from where I can draw many other stories of the nearby district, including Badbea and Ousdale. I will tell stories of some of the old inhabitants, Clearance stories, and describe my own visits there (one slightly spooky - you can be the judge) in search of my ancestor's dwelling places. They drew water from the well. 

The Grey Hen's Well

The plaque for the Grey Hen's Well

Badbea is on the bottom left hand edge on the coast.

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Grey Hen's Well by Farr McLeod is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.