Another Short Story

The Boat Adrift 

 Another personal experience related by our cycling acquaintance is an amusing near tragedy concerning the Corran Ferry, over Loch Linnhe, eight miles below Fort William.

Mrs ……….. had been exploring Morven, and arrived at Corran in time for the last boat on Saturday evening.  This is a car ferry, a large barge of a craft with a turn table on top, and driven by a petrol or oil engine.  The two old boatmen were local characters who spent all their spare time between journey’s in the Ardgour Hotel, close by the pier.  Whilst thus engaged it was not unusual for impatient motorists to persist in hooting.  At length the sound would bring one of them ambling leisurely out saying ’na na, whads the hurry?  Can a man no’ enjoy his refreshment?  Hoots awa’, its no’ time to go yet!, and he would then return to his companion at their cups.

Whilst the ferrymen were thus worthily employed the crowd for the last boat grew larger and larger, filling the boat beyond capacity.  Nobody could be left behind.  The old boatmen packed everyone on, motorists, cyclists, foot passengers, cast off and headed up tide for the out and back sweep over the Narrows.

Suddenly the engine failed.  The unwieldy craft swung round, and gathering momentum, lurched on the strong tide running through the strait.  Wedges were hurriedly found to wedge the motor wheels, and for a short time nobody was very much concerned, until it began to dawn upon people that the engine was still lifeless, and they were sweeping through the Narrows with increasing speed.  As the top heavy craft began to lurch in the tide-rip alarm grew into fear, and the engineer was implored to ‘do something’ with the engine.  An American lady who until now had kept herself in fur-clad aloofness jumped up in her motor car crying repeatedly “Is no-one going to save us?”.  The question remained unanswered; the boat sailed on towards Salachan Point, the broadening restless waters of the open loch ahead, the ferrymen struggled grimly.

Someone had a bright idea of trying to steady and steer the craft, and an heroic volunteer was found.  He was lowered into the water, behind, held firmly by the ankles, and with a bucket in his hands made a human rudder for a short time, but the supply of rudders was not equal to the demand, and he was hauled back in.

Suddenly the engine spluttered into life.  The instant relief was premature; the engine became silent again, and morale slumped even further.  Now the good ship was careering on the open water, dipping and rolling as if in delight, for such a sedate vessel.  An old, old lady who had been sitting smiling all the time remarked complacently “They don’t realise the danger!”  A pipe major aboard struck up a merry tune to try and stiffen the fallen morale, but as the boat gave more sickening lurches his own morale suffered an eclipse and he passed from a skirl to pibroch, from pibroch to silence.  The shore was a long way off.

Then the engine started and settled into a steady rhythm, which at once struck a chord of hope through the disheartened passengers.  With great care and sober skill, the boatmen brought the craft round and as they came inshore, edged it back across the calmer water of Loch Leven.  They crept back slowly, and at last tied up at Corran where the pier was agog with a waiting crowd.

The ferrymen forgot to collect their dues.  But the police did not forget, and the sequel was heard in the County Court some weeks later when two sober ferrymen were fined £10 for overcrowding.  Had the full penalty been imposed on a basis of a certain sum per person over the capacity there would have been something like £700 to pay!

An Additional Entry


The short story below is from Charlie’s jottings file, an undated original MS as is another next week

The Grey Man of Corrieyarrick

Mrs ……….,  with whom we spent two very pleasant days in Wester Ross, had a fund of interesting experiences to relate.  She is an ardent and hardened Pass Stormer, whose chief delight is to push her way into the most remote corners of the Highlands, always with her bicycle, and often in no other company.  As a matter of fact, a letter of hers appearing in ‘Cycling’ led us to our disastrous Glen Dessary expedition, but we didn’t hold that against her of course!  The kindred spirit thus discovered leads to long and absorbing conversation, in which true stories worth repeating are certain to come out.  The story of a strange encounter on the Wade road over Corrieyarrick, for instance.

This was her first crossing of the famous old General Wade road, and she tackled it from Speyside.  The last farm of Mealgarbha – and the beginning of the ruined track proper – had been accomplished.  Before the final hairpins of the Pass is a ruined bridge near which she saw a man sat by the roadside.  He was dressed in Loddden grey, and was apparently airing his feet, as his boots were beside him.  Mrs ……….., in response to his greeting, sat down beside him and talked to him of the Corriey-arrick, the black wall of which loomed ahead. He remarked that he could take her a near way… ‘but I’d better not’, he reflected.  As she got up to go she gave him a couple of oranges.  His final words, as she turned away were, “You’ll reach Fort Augustus at quarter to four”.  A moment later she reached the parapetless bridge, and, before crossing, some impulse made her turn round.

There was no-one there !

Her first reaction was of utmost fear, and she quickly put the bridge between herself and whoever it was before she ventured to look again.  It was impossible for anyone to hide on the moor which stretched in a long sweep Speywards with no more shelter than the shallow bank at each side.  Where had the man in grey, with his boots off his feet gone?

The disturbing question worried her all the long, boggy track over the Pass and down to Fort Augustus, which she reached at exactly quarter to four.  What ‘near way’ could there be?

Later she heard that the Grey Man haunts the Corrieyarrick.

Mrs ………….., I might add, is very well known in Scottish cycling circles, and is a member of the Scottish Youth Hostels National Executive Committee.  Her husband is treasurer of the SYHA South West regional group.