Friday, October 17, 2014

Caithness Convoy

A Holiday in the Highlands

In 1881 an article was published in the Northern Ensign as part of a series called A Holiday in the Highlands of Caithness. Chapter V was about Berriedale and Badbea. I will record the second part of the article for this blog and head back to the beginning next blog. The reason for this is that I have just written about Catherine and Christina who were both living at Badbea at the time this visit took place and may even have entertained these people.

A rare glimpse into Badbea hospitality 1881

The writer says:
A few miles along the coast in this direction, perched amongst the rocks, which descend sheer as a wall to the sea beneath, a depth of several hundred feet, is a little cluster of five or six homesteads of the most primitive character imaginable.
Stones and heather at Badbea
A lady, who chaperoned us on several pleasant excursions, volunteered one day to take us to call upon these out of the world neighbours, at Badbea, as the place is called. What a unique little colony we found ourselves amidst, after picking our way across the heather and rocks, surmounting several styles, and taking flying leaps over black “pots” in a peat-moss, where we lost our reckoning, encouraged by the advice to be cautious, and not to step on adders! “With good heart and our Lady’s grace,” however we reached our destination at last, and if the distance had been ten miles in place of two or three we would have walked every step of it with pleasure to receive the warm reception we met with at Badbea.
On a slope so steep that it seemed incredible they could have been cultivated by the plough, lay the little strips of fields. Potatoes and corn were growing to the extreme verge of the cliffs – the very sight making one feel nervous: one rock being pointed out as the spot where, only a short time before, a keeper named McEwen met a dreadful death by falling into the sea beneath while endeavouring to reach the eyrie of an eagle. The entire party were Gaelic-speaking – three-fourths being Sutherlands – but mostly all knew English, and marvellously good English too. One house, however, we were precluded from calling at, as the mistress spoke only her native language. The most pretentious of the cottages did not contain more than three rooms, and some only one – little “native” looking thatched concerns. The last of the group – standing only a few feet back from the edge of the cliff – gained great interest when we were told that when their children were young, the people were in the habit of tethering them to keep them from falling over the rocks!
A surprising happy contented look pervaded the whole colony, who possessed immeasurably more natural refinement and dignity than many of the denizens of large towns. Almost completely shut off from the outside world, and its hurried life – shut in by seas and rocks, they had all a distinctly self-sustaining air about them, as if constantly thrown on their own resources.
We felt as though we had got round the corner from modern civilisation, for a little while, where scarcely a rumour of the Eastern or any other “questions,” “crisis” or “embroglio” could reach our ears. Entering a cottage by what was evidently the ordinary door, we found ourselves confronted by some half-dozen Highland cattle, in a building closely attached to the dwelling house for warmth in the winter. 
Highland Cottage 1860 
Katherine Ellice

On the wall of the byre hung a sort of large fishing basket – this was the nest in which the hens laid their eggs – a couple in it at that moment faithfully fulfilling their destiny. From this novel vestibule, a door led into the kitchen, in the centre of which was a peat fire, the chimney consisting of a considerable hole in the roof, by no means directly over the fire, for the danger of rain or storm putting it out. Suspended from the rafters –ebony black with smoke- was an iron bar to which pots were hooked. In a corner of the room a hen was fastened by a foot, her flock of chickens darting about the floor, in imminent danger of being stepped on. Everything was very clean, and of boundless interest.

This photo of a Badbea house was taken probably twenty
years after the article was written but it is almost certainly
one of the houses visited, possibly the Gunn house mentioned 
below. The Badbea houses in the early nineteenth century 
were generally smaller and had no chimney

Built on the slope - of course - there was no flat land

From an inner (or more correctly, an upper room, for the houses were on the slope to such an extent, that though all on one floor, a person in the uppermost or parlour end, was several feet higher than one in the kitchen or lower end,) issued “the lady of the house,” who received us with genuine, natural politeness, making us feel instantly at home, which stamped her in our minds as one of “nature’s gentlewomen.” With kindly alacrity, a vigourous young woman, with loveable childlike eyes, was meanwhile heaping an armful of peats on the fire, filling the place with pungent hospitable smoke, which made its escape quite as much by the door as the chimney. 
China plates at the Helmsdale museun. The blue Willow 
Pattern was popular with some even leaving Badbea
 for New Zealand in 1839
The kettle was promptly swung on; marvellous china dishes, each with a story of its own, were disinterred from sundry presses and chests, and in a short time we were enjoying a welcome cup of tea, amidst surroundings the most charmingly natural possible. Taking our complexions in our hands, we wished exceedingly we could have prolonged the visit for a whole. The good souls were kindness and hospitality itself, and paid us the original compliment, telling us we were “fine, plain, homely cratures.” 

This 1881 census extract shows a 2 year old girl named Donaldina Gunn living with her parents Jessie and
John Gunn
The numbering of the houses does not indicate the number of houses at Badbea but the number of houses 
in the Berriedale district
The above three census records show the names of everyone living at Badbea on the night of the 1881 census
A short time back there lived in Caithness a number of preachers or evangelists mostly lay people , who held services in their houses on Sundays, the churches being frequently long distances apart. These “Fathers of Caithness” as they were called were held in the highest esteem and veneration, the people resorting to them from all quarters. One of these had lived at Badbea. And his honoured memory is treasured with affectionate respect. 

Caithness Convoy

On leaving a cottage the mistress of it invariably accompanied us as far as the next one, and introduced us the inmates, according to what is known as “Caithness convoy.” At the last house in Badbea we came upon one of the most beautiful children we had almost ever seen, a lovely little golden haired girl, whose parents had conferred on her the peculiar name of Dolina. 

A Blessing from a visitor

Dear, kindly Badbea folks! May Heaven ever richly bless their banks and their store, kail and potatoes!
Badbea landscape probably at the end of the twentieth century.

Source: A Holiday in the Highlands of Caithness. Chapter V – Berriedale and Badbea. Northern Ensign, Thursday January 13, 1881

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