The Rona Postmen

And Finally:

Julia has been in touch and corrected me on the story below. ‘The Rona Postmen’ I was going to put in the various corrections but thought I would just put on the edited email I received from her. It is not easy to read my writing after scribbling down a conversation via the mobile phone, so it is easy to get things mixed up but I try my best:

“Hello Ronachs
I hope you are still there and haven’t been blown away, what terrible storms and rain
Must be ten times worse with you?
Now for corrections  in your story of Norman, first of all …. Never spell Cumming with an the end  or Torran with an …I,  here ends the first lesson.
Father rowed across in his little boat twice a week I have never known him to be held back by the weather.
The reason I did not go to school till I was seven was not so that I would not be on my own but I had to wait till Betty was able to walk that road, which  was just a rough
craggy sheep track ,but she did it at about five and a half, she was always quite tough
And altogether much bolder than I was.
About fathers boat….I don’t know where he got the wood for the mast,probably from the
The South end where there would be suitable trees, he would finish it off to his liking
But to my mind it was too heavy  for the little boat,the sail was made from a large tarpaulins,  I think mother would have had some input into that  with her sewing machine
He would do all the rigging himself as he was very good at any thing to do with the sea,
he was really great with the net mending needle, I can picture him now mending his nets in the corner of the living room, what a good job he made of it too, on a winters night I
can picture him and usually mother spinning or carding at the other side.
During the war a fashion came for a certain head  gear called a snood made of some kind of mesh , father made a couple of lovely ones for mother, with the net mending
Now a correction………”I went to Rona with my father, not when  I was a little girl but
when I left school about 14.
When we got caught in the terrible storm,we had walked from port anTeampul to the
Lighthouse  after calling on the Macraes, I won’t repeat that saga as its all in my book
The time when he was in the storm by himself, he was losing the battle and being drawn
Down the Minch  until he was spotted by a fishing boat that took him back home
The boat was owned by a Mr Fimister (Phimister), I think from the East  Coast
I think you maybe got the story of mother being angry with  from John at halls, I remember him saying something like that as he was walking and talking to some one.
But I can never remember her angry except  to scold him for being so  foolhardy
and causing her so much worry, her upset would never last long  as she was a very happy forgiving  person who never sulked.

He never used the mother launch for the mail  to my knowledge just to go to Portree  for provisions,a lot easier than than getting them from the supply boat, my Father or brothers James or John  would reply on our home made  cow horn Trumpet. (This was the story about the supplies coming from Greenock I think but will check it out, the ship would deliver up and down the West Coast and the ‘cow horn ‘ was the signal that they were coming out to collect their order as the ship sat off Julia’s house’).

The launch was never sailed  Father bought it from some one in Ullapool,it had a Kelvin
Engine and that is how it came from Ullapool , I expect he would have had someone with him maybe one of the Fladda lads they were wizards with boats.
Father taught himself how to use the engine, though he had never had anything to do with engines
Hope this might be of help excuse mistakes
Love to you both

The Rona Postmen                                                           (Update: 1st Feb foot of page)

Norman Cumming and Friend

Norman Cumming and Friend

I was going to tell the story of the ‘Three Men In A Boat’ stamps next post, which were never issued. But after a chat with Julia MacKenzie my good friend who now lives in Inverness, to-day. I decided to write down as much as I could remember from our discussion and my notes, before it was lost.

So here we go. Julia has been a good friend and supporter of our efforts on Rona since I came here in 2003. Without her help and inspiration I do not know if we would have lived here so long. Julia was born on Eilean Tighe, the first neighbouring Island, she was the first of her family to be born there, 93 years ago. Her Father ‘Norman Cumming’ was a crofter but also the Rona Postman. He held this post for approximately 30 years, giving up during or near the end of the Second World War. The picture above is the small rowing boat that he used to go to Rona with the mail, once a week. The journey was less than a mile but could often be carried out through fast moving tidal, stormy seas. Julia cannot remember him missing a trip. Often he would go to Acarseid Mhor, where we live at Rona Lodge. Then onto the Lighthouse. The MacRae’s, tenants and caretakers after 1929 were the only full time inhabitants latterly, apart from the Lighthouse keepers and their families.

At this point I must say that this was a general conversation with Julia, one of many on which I have tried my best to take notes but often after a while I cannot read my writing. Julia is a bit unsure of dates but most of the facts are as she remembers. She has an incredible memory for these times, speaking often fondly of her time at her homes both on Eilean Tighe and the ‘Farmhouse’ Kyle Rona. Some of the facts may not add up but we try to write it down as we hear it. So apologies now for any errors and I am happy to be corrected

The boat was provided by the Education Department to take the children across from Eilean Tighe so that they could get to school. This entailed a journey as Julia recounts of walking several miles down to Torrin to the schoolhouse each day, with nothing more than a bowl of porridge in their stomach.  I quote ” I did not go to school until I was seven’ Why not I asked? ” Well, I could not go on my own and had to wait until Betty was over 4 years old, then we could walk to school together”. Imagine a 7 and 4 year old walking from Eilean Tighe or even Kylerona which is shorter, to Torran, it must be over 6/7 miles? Those that have walked it will really wonder!!!!

Back to the boat, it seems that this boat was used for the post as well and Julia can only suppose that the various departments got together to provide it. There is a mast and sail, these were home made, the mast from a lovely straight piece of driftwood Norman found on the shore, the sail from old sacks. Ever inventive Norman decided to use these home made additions to ease his workload given that he had a six mile walk both ways after he landed and made fast the boat at the Port an Teampuill at the South end of Rona. Julia recounts two incidents, once when she rowed to Rona, her a young 6 or seven years old, the storm got up and nearly blew them past the mouth of ‘Big Harbour (Acarseid Mhor). She remembers her Father who was on one oar, her on the other keeping her going by pushing her in Gaelic to pull harder otherwise they were in danger of being swept away. They made it!! Another time she tells how her Father left sailing and this time did get blown away and got picked up by a fishing boat out in the Minch, three days later he return much to Julia’s Mother’s annoyance. Whether it was because she was worried or that  he missed his dinners she is not sure.

Before Norman took up the postman’s job Julia’s GrandFather ” Johnie Mhor” had delivered the mail. Another man she cannot really remember his name but it may have been Alasdair ‘Post’ delivered for a short while then her Father for the next 30 years. After her Father gave it up Calum MacLeod of ‘Calum’s Road fame’ took it over. A lot of this information can of course be read in Calum The Road, a Book by Roger Hutchinson and Julia’s own Book, “Whirligig Beetles and Tackety Boots’. Of which I have many copies here.

Julia's Book

Julia’s Book

The delivery to Rona was once a week, perhaps more if the mail was particularly heavy although if the weight was above 55lbs on the day, Norman was able to employ his son John or other family members. Julia can remember getting a job doing the post occasionally, she said “of course you got paid but it was a pretty hard slog”. Christmas time was the worst as there would be much more mail compared to other times. Nothing changes, this year I had to walk up to the Lighthouse to retrieve our mail. But this time it was taken out by the helicopter, the short walk after the trip up most of the way on the ATV motorbike was still quite trying in a full gale. I cannot imagine how it was at that time walking the length of Rona and back, wet weather gear would have been an oilskin and at the best rubber boats, then rowing back to Raasay.

Julia reports her Father had no fear of the sea, although a non swimmer he just took it in his stride. One of the many interesting anecdotes was the story about the sailor Dr Robert Carslaw. He wrote the well known sailing tome, “Leaves from the Rowan’s Log”.
On sailing into Acarseid Mhor one day to deliver the mail, Norman was hailed from the yacht ‘Rowan IV’ (Built for him by McGruer &Co) which was anchored in the Bay, on it was Dr Carslaw, he recognised Norman as he was passing. Dr Carslaw  had operated on him in Glasgow not that long before. Norman had had a Duodenal ulcer which Dr Carslaw on seeing him at the time had pronounced  “incurable”, a small world.  Julia believes it may be mentioned in his book. Funnily enough one of Dr Carslaw’s boats (he had a few Rowan’s) was here last season with Dr Drysdale on board Rowan, his son had found the yacht in the South, renovated it and now keeps it on the Clyde. Dr Carslaw was  the present owners Great Uncle.

The Portree Boat

The Portree Boat

The boat above was Norman’s last boat, he may have used it for the mail, Julia is not sure, it was bought in Ullapool and sailed down, Norman used it for going to Portree and collecting stores. Although he would have picked up mail in it.

My conversations with Julia often range over a wide area of her time on Eilean Tighe and Raasay, her knowledge is very clear of that early times and it is great to have the opportunity to try to write it all down. I’m looking forward already to our next chat.

Update of the Postmen Story:                                                             1st Feb’

Julie (Calum the Road’s daughter) asked who was the passenger in the boat?

It was Eric Eason (or Eeson?)who had come up from Glasgow, a student at the time of this photo’. He would visit with Julia’s cousin, Angus MacPhee. They stayed with them all in Julia’s house, making a total of over a dozen plus people in their wee thatched house. They would fish, work with Julia’s Father and just generally have a holiday. He ‘Eric’ came regularly for many years and became a Headmaster of one of Glasgow’s many schools.

Calum Nicolson was the name of the postman who did the job for a short while between ‘Alasdair Post’ and Julia’s Father.

Julia remembered an interesting footnote, she and her sister Betty got empty stamp books which ‘Alasdair Post’ used to give them to play Post Offices with, when he did the job.  She can remember there was a small wooden bothy at ‘Port am Teampuill with a desk in it where the stamp books used to be kept. Her Father used the Bothy on nights when it had become too stormy to cross, he would get shelter there and not risk it, although he did go out in not so good weather many times. The ‘wee’ bothy is no longer there, all overgrown although that may explain why there is an old iron bedstead/head at an TeamPuill!!

The Post delivery was twice a week (mostly).

From Julie’s email re: boat passenger.

“Dad (Calum the Road)was  posted to Kyle Rona along with John MacLeod N Arnish, and from c1943 for a couple of years they extended to a once a week service to the lighthouse. In May 1945 the lighthouse tender was stationed at Fladda, and this was crewed by the same two men carrying the mails by sea.”