Demise of Thriving Pier and Community

From the Inverness Courier, 27/6/99.


By Donald MacNally

LOCH Ness is the central feature of the Great Glen and is a vital asset for many reasons. It has been an important source of food in the distant past. Currently it draws thousands of visitors to Inverness-shire all hoping to catch a glimpse of "Nessie”.

In living memory, however, to some locals it represented the main source of transportation and commerce available in the glen. This was never truer than for one family of MacDonalds who have been closely associated with the loch for generations. They have lived in the area of Invermoriston for at least five generations and Pat is the oldest surviving member of the clan.

The last Pier Master, Pat MacDonald looks sadly at what remains of the wharf, a few timbers sticking forlornly out of the water, the only sign of life being a solitary seagull.

His family rented the pier from the local estate and ran a thriving business that lasted until the road was upgraded round Loch Ness in the 1930s. Steamers carrying passengers and the mail would arrive at 6pm each evening and depart at 6am the following morning. Each passenger would pay a fee of 2d on disembarking.

Pat recalls one story about his grandfather, Peter Ruadh (Red Peter) who, on being faced with a difficult passenger shouted: “Shut up and pay up!” The man reluctantly did so and left in a foul temper. He had the last laugh though as, a few days later, Peter Ruadh received a postcard with no stamp which meant he had to pay tuppence, and written on the back of the card were the words “Shut up and pay up”.

Boats carrying coal, wood and other cargoes were a regular feature and it was not unusual to see three tied up at the jetty. Glen Moriston was a timber centre and in the 1920s there were at least six sawmills operating in the area. All freight would come and go via the loch, and storage facilities were built at the pier head. Pat's father came to be known as “Danny the Carrier”.

The MacDonalds were a family of entrepreneurs and they built a pub at the steamer terminal called the Beer Cellar. It was a fine structure, full of character - hardly surprising as it was lined with coffin boards. Pat’s grandfather was a carpenter of some note and he built the coffins for the area and doubled up as the undertaker. They were licensed to sell beer and porter and many a ceilidh took place on the premises.

During World War a red alert was sounded, “Invasion Imminent!', and the Home Guard was called out. Most of them worked in the forestry and, happening on a Saturday morning, had hangovers. Gallantly a crowd of them gathered prepared to repel the German invasion (they had one rifle and five bullets) and it seemed natural to use the “Cellar” for their headquarters. The exercise lasted 36 hours before the call came to stand down. It took a further 24 hours for the “de-briefing session” in the HQ to draw to a close. They all finished, as they started, with sore heads.

For over a hundred years the MacDonalds delivered the mail to and from the pier. Much of it was delivered in a horse cart. Passengers were welcome and they pioneered the first public transportation for the region. Patrons for this service included sheep, dogs, hens, pigs as well as people.

Pat remembers one forlorn parcel off the ferry which was a small calf in a sack. Its head stuck out the top and it had a label round the neck. Happily, it was still alive and kicking on being delivered to a farmer up the glen.

The business expanded and, at its peak, Pat was running six buses (28 and 32-seaters) and two large lorries. They went as far afield as Buckie and all operated from the back of his house. On occasion he would have to drive five onto the road to get the sixth one out for a job. He also opened up a garage and petrol pumps at the same location.

Their house is a large impressive structure built by Peter Ruadh in 1908. The previous building was lost in a fire. It has a commanding view of the loch and Pat is proud to point out that the house is still the same as when it was first erected. Many modem houses have appeared in the area and fallen apart while Pier House endures and is likely to do so for a long time yet

They also ran a ferry service for crossing Loch Ness. If folk wanted to be picked up at Knockie Pier (near Stratherrick and Foyers) then they had to light a fire on top of a small hill and wait. One of the MacDonalds would see the smoke and set forth in a small sail boat to pick them up.

Some people commuted to work on this service. One was a Peter Gray. He lived in Invermoriston but worked for Knockie Estate on the other side of the water. One evening, on the shore, he had a nasty fright close up and swore he saw the monster. From that night forth he never went on the loch again, preferring to walk 14 miles around the shore, on a daily basis, to get to work.

Pat has never seen the “beast” but from his house he has occasionally observed what appears to be a hump in the water. On using binoculars it has turned out to be 20 or so ducks clumped close together. When they disperse, to the naked eye, it gives the impression of a hump sinking under the waves.

He says, with a smile, that it was not ducks that scared Mr Gray.

The thriving community of yesteryear has sadly diminished in tandem with the demise of the pier. The school has closed along with the sawmills, petrol station, garage and ferry. Two mainstream churches have closed and only a part-time chapel is in use.

The village hall needs rebuilding and a remaining shop and pub struggle to survive.

The remains of the Beer Cellar can be seen on the shore, and the dump for the coal. A desolate tyre sits on the gravel and is all that remains of the bus service that once thrived here. Bushes and trees shelter the remains from view and silence grows in the shadows.

Peter Ruadh and Danny the Carrier are dead now but memories of them haunt the place yet and Pat the Pier is their guardian.

Note by Donald the Pier:
Pat's father was actually known as "Danny the Pier". His great grandfather, Donald MacDonald, was known as "The Kerrier" (The Carrier).