45976: Winter Weather 1947/8

Memories of childhood winters in Garyvard, from Murdo Macleod.

The winter/spring of 1947/48 stands out in my memory. We had the most prolonged period of frost that I ever remember. Day after day of beautiful, calm weather and night after night of severe frost.

As children, of course, we thought it was wonderful. All our entertainment was out of doors in these far off days, and it was a case of sledging and skating to our hearts content. Of course there were no skates and very few sledges, but improvisation was the name of the game, and boots and boxes or boards were the substitutes. Enjoyment of play was somewhat tempered by days of reckoning for damage to boots and clothing, whilst valiant efforts were made to hide the worst of the cuts and bruises.

All the moorland lochs were frozen solid and sometimes sheep went out to the islands on the lochs, but severe warnings were issued about going out to chase them off. We did skate on the lochs if we thought there were no prying eyes about, but tended to keep close to shore.

That same winter, Loch Erisort was full of herring, and the place was alive with boats of every shape and size, from the small dinghy that could only manage a couple of nets, to the big drifters. The small boats landed the herring at Keose and they got a very good price. I think it was between four and five pounds per cran, which was quite a lot of money then.

Some of the best fishing for the small boats was in the bays at Laxay, across from Kershader School, so we had grandstand view. One of the bays became known as "Klondyke" because of the catches it yielded, and I remember we were fond of mentioning that name, probably because it sounded impressive or showed our knowledge of the coast. After the herring left, cod came in large numbers, but they weren’t fished for selling.

Although it was a great time for children, it wasn’t so good for the crofters. Even those at the herring had to break the ice ahead of themselves to get out of the bay each day. The cattle had to be kept indoors because of the risk of breaking their bones on the ice and the iron hard ground. That meant having water for them to drink, which meant breaking more ice!

Sheep suffered badly through lack of grazing. Most crofters had fewer sheep then, maybe fifteen to twenty and many had only two or three lambs. I remember that we put twenty-four sheep to the ram that winter, and we had no lambs at all except one pet that I got from Caversta.

I don’t really recall suffering because of the cold, but it must have been fairly chilly in a corrugated iron house with no central heating and no duvets! I also remember that when we were planting the potatoes in April, you could still find the frost in the ground if you put the spade down twelve to fifteen inches.

Comunn Eachdraidh na Pairc

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