Rena MacKenzie

This article, taken from The Edinburgh Evening Times, was contributed by John Cameron who used to live in Caberfeidh (now Hill Cottage) at the Pier until the 1960s, when he was about 15. His mother Rena MacKenzie, and her sister Rena were also brought up there, and here Rena (married name Shaw) recalls her childhood in Invermoriston. Find photos of her family here.

What A Life We Had, Down In The Glen

By A. R. Shaw

REFLECTING on my childhood and early schooldays 50 years ago in the Great Glen, I am amused and amazed at the incredible changes - social, material and moral - which have overtaken us all.

We all walked to school, with the distances ranging from a mile to three miles. I cannot recall any child cycling to school.

The school comprised one room, with long desks and forms, inkwells choked-up with bits of blotting paper, slates and slate pencils capable of blood-curdling screeches. There were copybooks which had a double purpose - to teach good handwriting and morals, for example: "A rolling stone gathers no moss." Added to this, world maps hung on the walls, showing vast areas of "red" which, we were taught, "belonged to us - the British."


From the age of five we began to learn by heart the Shorter Catechism, Psalms, Paraphrases, the multiplication tables and poetry. "Oft have I heard of Lucy Grey" was not a hardy annual - more a perennial ! The three Rs were relentlessly taught, as was parsing, history and geography. Older pupils began algebra, geometry and Latin.

Singing was a joyful period, with everyone from the age of five to 14 participating. The teacher with the tuning fork, and the modulator on the wall (no such refinements as a piano in our school) and away we went into a brisk exercise in tonic sol-fa: "Doh rah me fah soh."... After which a selection of songs, such as "Ho Ro My Nut Brown Maiden."

The teacher's desk was elevated on a small platform. The desk contained the strap. The hidden deterrent !

A large, cheerful fire burned for most of the year. On the hearth stood a variety of containers of cocoa, milk or tea, placed there to warm up for the midday break. No splendid school dinners for us. A "piece" was accompanied by our warm beverage and at once we were out to play games like tig, hide-and-seek, skeetchy and stotting games with a ball.

The lobby where everyone hung their coats contained one wash basin with a cold water tap (no soap or towel) and in a discreet corner of the playgrounds were dry toilets! One learned to use them as little and as briefly as possible.

Walking to and from school held so many adventures and interests. The postmistress's elderly father, who used a tricycle, was a very kindly man and if you weren't "a bad rascal" he would give you a "shot" on his unusual bike, which, contrary to common belief, was very difficult to steer.

The one and only village shop was another important place to those of as who had a penny. A little of everything was stocked in the shop – ham, cheese, aprons, bread, tackety boots, jam, lisle stockings, tea, paraffin, daily papers and dried cod hanging side by side with sisal door mats.

These and so many other items combined to give out a unique and attractive aroma.

At Christmas the shop was truly an Aladdin's cave of wonderful things, enhanced by the gentle light of paraffin lamps.

The "Christmas Treat" in the village hall was attended by everyone. All the girls in their best frocks and hair ribbons, while the boys were almost unrecognisable in their Sunday-best suits, hair plastered down with water.

Usually, the Laird and his Lady paid a visit during the proceedings, which immediately put a damper on the fun and noise. We would all stand and wait for the moment when our names were called out and we each went forward to curtsey or salute the lady when she handed out gifts.

At Easter, we rolled eggs and had a picnic, quite undeterred by the biting east wind from Loch Ness.

Bird-nesting was rather secret, as we collected "knowledge" and never destroyed nests. Similarly, with frog spawn, the evolution to tadpoles was observed daily on our way to school.


At the appropriate time of the year, we stayed a while on the bridge to watch for salmon leaping up the falls to reach a more-secluded haven to spawn. We watched in silence and with bated breath while the salmon tried, failed, tried and eventually succeeded in leaping over the sharp rocks. Bruce surely never watched the spider with more interest!

On hot summer days we ran down the steps to drink the delicious cold water from St Columba's Well. No fluoride in those days - and no Cokes or ice lollies.

Nearby was the smiddy, a hive of industry, where brothers Willack and Dunk mended ploughs, harrows, gates and shod the many horses of the glen.

No children were ever scolded or chased away and we were treated as adults.

The village had a singing class, or choral union, as the more erudite called it, and in the summer their annual picnic was held. Nearly everyone, young and old, was invited. All were transported to the chosen spot by lorries fitted with bench seats covered by rugs of various hues. The venues were places like Kintail, Dundreggan or Nairn.

Church every Sunday was as natural and accepted as going to school.

We would alleviate the tedium of long­winded sermons by counting the panes of glass in a window, or the number of pieces in a section of the parquet floor.

When singing Erin Copeland's hymn, "Shall we gather at the river," one pondered as to where were we to gather, as the river flowed below the church and every yard of it was well-known to us children.

By the same token "I To The Hills Will Lift Mine Eyes" brought Stronenamuich to mind, a vast mountain to child-like eyes (all of 900 feet) which dominated the village.

Occasionally, we were very privileged by getting a lift home from school with McBrayne's lorry, which had replaced the steamer for delivering goods between Inverness and Fort Augustus.

Seven or eight of us benefited by the kindness of the driver, Hector, and we were so proud to be driving along at all of 20 miles per hour in this splendid red vehicle.

To those who had to walk nearly three miles each way to school, an occasional lift home was a bonus.

Sometimes we travelled in more style when given a lift by the parish priest or the Free Church minister.

Catholics, Free Church, Church of Scotland - all went to school together and played together. The word "ecumenism" was not in common use, but the ethos was working naturally.

We were naive, yet what we lacked in knowledge of town life, was surely compensated by a knowledge of nature and country lore. We were also well aware that an alliance existed between the teacher and our parents, the basic principle of which was that discipline and courtesy always ruled - and paid.

As for memory training, these marathons certainly worked. Anyone like to hear Isaiah Chapter 55?

The Loch Ness Monster was known as the Water Horse and spoken of in tones of portentous awe by my grandfather - but that is another story!