673: Geshader Canal, Lewis

Lost and almost forgotten, the Geshader Canal is being reclaimed by nature. Once a major feature and lifeline for the villagers, it has become almost invisible, overgrown and indistinct. At a time when only a few of the older people in Uig still had a dim memory of the canal, this article published in the Uig News helped to bring its existence and function back into public consciousness.

Edited excerpt from Uig News, October 2003, by T A Murray

“Did you know there was a canal in Uig?” I was asked recently. In such a rocky, hilly landscape, a less suitable setting for a canal cannot be imagined. Yet two hundred years ago, at the time that Thomas Telford’s workforce was beginning work on the Caledonian Canal, a canal, complete with lock, was in use in Uig. Insignificant in comparison to the 60-mile long, state-funded Caledonian Canal, nevertheless it served an important function. Being designed and planned by people who had probably never left their native island, it showed ingenuity in the use of the local terrain and was built using local labour without any public funding.

Unlike the military use for which the Caledonian Canal was intended, the local people were more concerned about growing enough food to stay alive. The canal was in Geshader and was used to transport seaweed from the sea in West Loch Roag to the shores of Loch Geshader to be used as fertiliser on the land.

The channel ran parallel to the burn and was 3 to 4 metres wide, about 100 metres long and possibly half a metre deep — a shepherd’s crook pushed into the soft ground sank almost to the handle. Large boulders supported the bank at the north end. It is reckoned that the level of the loch at that time was a foot higher than it is today. It was dammed and the water diverted to fill the channel. During the high spring equinoctial tides, seaweed was harvested from the rocks around Vuia Bheag, Flodaidh or any of the other islands and towed ashore. The high tide and buoyancy of the salt water allowed the rafts of seaweed to be dragged up the Tob to the start of the canal. At low tide the seaweed was transferred to flat-bottomed cobles and so taken up the loch to the crofts at 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 Geshader.

Seeing Geshader from a boat on the way to Strome, William Mackay (Uilleam Ruadh), 33 Valtos, commented, “Tha Geisiadar mar gum biodh tu anns a’ choire a’ coimhead a-mach tron an t-srup.” (Geshader is as if you were in a kettle looking out through the spout.) The same wit on seeing the road out of Geshader from a distance remarked, “Nach ann as a’ chlo mhor a tha an ad.” (What a length of tweed laid out to dry.)

These pithy remarks describe the geographical location perfectly and the inhabitants made ingenious use of the natural resources to relieve some of the heavy labour of an essential but back-breaking and unpleasant task. The people of Valtos, in contrast, had to carry creels of seaweed from the quay to their crofts and even out to Cliff machair. After Murdo and Donald Mackay, 30 Valtos, had acquired their first bus, each spring when not carrying passengers, the canvas sides of this adaptable vehicle were rolled up and it was used to transport seaweed brought ashore at Miavaig to the machair and to crofts adjacent to the old road. Donald Maclennan (Domhnall Alasdair), seeing the heap of seaweed brought to his land at Reithmir with so little effort declared, “Tha an aiteach agamsa deannta!” (My spring work is completed!)

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Geshader canal

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