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Roads in Uig I: The delights of the big city
Roads in Uig I: The delights of the big city
by Dave Roberts, Uig News.
Roads are such an important part of our lives nowadays, it is difficult to imagine a time when a sea journey was easier than one on land. It is also a big surprise to hear that fifty years ago few Uig people felt the need to visit Stornoway at all. I recall my first trip to Uig in 1970 very vividly. I was in a mini-van and was driven at some speed from Stornoway to Mangerstadh road end and then back again, before the ferry left on its return trip to Kyle of Lochalsh. The Uig road felt as though it had been laid on railway sleepers, and by great design it managed to link up every cnocan, each with a blind summit and a turn at the top, always in the opposite direction to the one that I expected. I can safely say that the voyage to Mangerstadh was a lot rougher than the six and a half hour trip, in a force eight gale, back to the mainland. I am told that in comparison with the road 53 years ago, there was nothing to complain about!
A hundred years earlier, Sir James Matheson, the proprietor of the island, planned a complete network of roads. In 1844 there were only 44 miles of road, and one horse drawn vehicle on the whole island, but by 1883 there were 200 miles in Lewis and Harris. He had planned an extension from Mealastadh to Ath Linne, but this was never completed. The Uig road was laid in the 1850s. The purpose was not to provide easier access to places for local people, but for the speedier transportation of fish and shellfish. The kelp industry in Uig, which had been so profitable for 60 years or so, had collapsed but lobsters, mussels, whelks, oysters, cod and ling, were valuable.
The road was constructed by pouring stones onto the track until a hard base was formed and gravel was placed on top to smooth the surface. In places, the road cut across an expanse of peat and it needed a lot of stone before it became firm. In most places the original road still exists beneath the tarmac, and when buses or lorries pass over some sections it is possible to see and feel the movement. The best bit of road was in Glen Valtos which was only constructed in the 1930s, when the road was moved down into the Glen.
In the 1920s, Murdo Maciver of Breanais had a motorbike. He worked for the Post Office and was very mechanically minded. In the 1930s there were four cars in Uig. The two ministers both had cars-one was a Vauxhall. The Doctor had a car and so did Norman Mackay, the Public Assistance Officer-he had a Ford 8. There was also the Morris van that brought the mails. Motorbikes were driven by Donald Macaulay, no.19 Breanais, he had an O.E.C. and John Morrison of no.20 Breanais had a B.S.A. They were both joiners and had the money and the need to travel to their work. Louis Macdonald of Ardroil also had a motorbike. John Maciver, son of Murdo from Breanais, must have learnt a lot from his father's biking days. His mechanical expertise must have extended beyond his motorbike, because he went on to open an electrical shop in Stornoway, in partnership Fred Dart, a Londoner whom he met in the war.
From the summer of 1941 until November 1942, there was a considerable amount of activity on the Carnais to Mealastadh stretch of road. Gravel was quarried at Carnais for the buildings at Geodha Sgoilte, Breanais and Mealastadh. All the heavy traffic on the roads, which after all were really made for a horse and cart, meant quite a lot of damage was caused. The men and boys who had found work on the buildings, continued in paid employment repairing the roads. The War Department provided the money, and the men provided the muscle! It was all "1 RB" (pick and shovel) stuff, with much of the material for filling holes coming from the small quarry at the Mangerstadh shore road.
The money earned on this wartime work also opened up a whole new world to an almost 16 year old Iain Tobaigh. He was able for the very first time, in 1941, to afford the bus fare to Stornoway. The furthest he had ever been was Valtos for his holidays, and occasional visits to his grandfather's in Geshader. It was mid-June when he set off on Sgail's bus, for his trip into the Great Unknown. For two hours he was able to marvel at the new scenery and then eventually the bus arrived at the stands in Bayhead. He just stood transfixed; "Goggle-eyed! The people! The cars! Cor blimey, a country yokel found it hard to take in! Nowadays you go to Stornoway to be born. I waited nearly 16 years before tasting the delights of the big city! But after that I went as often as I could."
The next thrilling episode is entitled "the delights of the country bus or to paradise and back."
Dave Roberts and John Macdonald, Islibhig