65066: Roads in Uig II: To paradise and back

By Dave Roberts, Uig News.

part I

Sgail (John Macaulay of 8, Islibhig) drove his Commer bus to Stornoway, two or three days a week. He started the run in the early 1930s, taking over from Murdo Macaulay of 5, Islibhig. He was a man with a quick wit and an amazing ability to forecast the weather accurately. He was a big man and he struck a splendid pose in his Harris tweed plus fours. In 1944, due to failing eyesight, he sold the bus run to John Mitchell, who was always quick to spot a niche in the market. When the boys returned on leave, they invariably sent a telegram ahead of them to the police, in the hope that an Uig bus would meet them from the boat. In wartime, of course, the timing of the boat was all over the place and all too often they would be stranded in Stornoway. To cater for this, Mitchell’s bus left Breanais at 1pm, arrived in Stornoway at 3pm and waited for the boat, before returning to Breanais. This service continued until 1947, driven from 1945, by a very young (!) Norman Macaulay.

Peter Macritchie of Ardroil was renown for his dry wit, amiable disposition and incredible patience. He started his bus run in the 1920s and continued until 1950. He was a tailor by trade, hence his Gaelic name Tailleur. Some days there would be five buses on the Uig-Stornoway run, but the population was high and the buses were only fourteen seaters. One of these bus operators was John Maclean, "Seoggaidh", of Aird, and the others were Murdo Mackay of Valtos and Angus Mackay of Carishader. Peter’s bus, a Bedford, ran five days a week. Wednesdays were half-closing in Stornoway, so he drove his grocery van around the district on that day. He often finished his round in the early hours of Thursday morning.

The bus would leave Breanais at 8.30am and along the route would be waiting either passengers or those wanting messages. Peter noted each person’s order in a notebook and purchased the items during the day, charging about a shilling extra for his time, and no one begrudged him this. He also collected eggs from various people and delivered these to the Royal Hotel. He never passed a child on the road without giving them a free lift and a handful of sweeties. The first task of the day for most of the male passengers was a quick dram at the Lewis, and Peter invariably paid for the round.

The bus would be at the stand on North Beach at 6pm, but not all the passengers would be there on time. It was Peter’s job, as he saw it, to take back all the passengers that he brought in, so the stragglers had to be found. He never left anybody behind but many of them were loath to leave the bars of the Lewis and the old Crown Inn. They all knew how patient a man he was, and they all took full advantage! He did the rounds, dragging many a well-oiled Uigeach, reluctantly away from the warmth and conviviality.

Those who travelled in, at the rear of the bus, had to find other places for the return journey because the back seats were usually removed to accommodate the sacks of oatmeal, flour and other bulky items. There were always discharged accumulators on the outward run and charged ones on the return.

The length of the trip back to Breanais depended on where the passengers stayed, what had to be unloaded along the route, how many stops there were for a "quick one" at someone’s house, and, of course, there were a number of unofficial stops for those with excess liquid on board! Sometimes it was 11 o’clock or more before Peter managed to get everyone and everything delivered safely.

The journey to the Grimersta gate was fairly comfortable and quick due to the tarmac surface, although Peter was no "speed merchant". After that it was much slower on the narrow and winding gravel road, and there were gates to open and close at each township. In the dry spells the progress of the bus could be traced from miles away by the clouds of dust surrounding it.

All good things must come to an end, and a man’s got to do what a man’s got to do, so in 1948 John Macdonald converted from his BSA bicycle and the bus, to a 350 Panther motorbike, which cost him 25. Fuel could be obtained from Maivaig, where Cyril Gooch had installed a hand operated pump in the 1930s. Then, in 1949 John gave his Panther to his brother and set off to the mainland, worked for a short time on the dam at Mulardoch, and eventually arrived in Leith, Edinburgh to sign on for eighteen months in South Georgia. When he returned in 1951 there was tarmac all the way to the Breanais turning point. When he drove his newly purchased Triumph 350, it was on the new surface, s’math sinn. He braved the elements in oilskins, gauntlets and goggles (essential in summer), for another five years, but inevitably he went soft, and bought himself a 1947 Morris Minor van, for 90.

Since the 1950s the road has gradually improved. Long stretches from Garynahine have been rebuilt, some single track, some double and an expensive bridge spans the river at Ceann a Loch. In some places the old road lies deep beneath a considerable thickness of tarmac. There are many fewer heart stopping blind summits and bends, with their telltale black stripes. It is now possible to drive from Breanais to the Co-op in less time than it takes to get through the tills there, on a Friday afternoon!

At the recent local elections we were promised more improvements!! So, soon the road could be just a slight inconvenience, a forty minute dash from Breanais to Stornoway, compared to the delightfully meandering and highly entertaining, excursion to "paradise and back," on the remarkable Peter Macritchie’s bus.

John Macdonald and Dave Roberts, Islibhig

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