Port-na-con

Port-na-con meaning “Port of the Dogs”

Since 2012 Port-na-con has been a private residence. For about 10 years previous the store was a guest house and restaurant

Consists of a pier and storehouse built mid 19th century with a wooden jetty. The fishing pier was also used by a ferry, which crossed the loch until the 1930s. Approached by a short road there are a number of derelict croft houses, which indicate that Port-na-con must have, been a busy little community at one time.

The first shepherd on the Rispond Farm had a house constructed at Port-na-con and the ruined walls can be seen. The ferryman’s’ house, which was also the local inn, has survived and from here the ferry to Heilam on the opposite shore of Eriboll ran until about 1930. The shop that was at one time on the pier sold groceries and paraffin for lamps the goods being brought by steamer from Aberdeen, this was referred to as the Custom House.

 

A memory of past times.

Written in November 1968 by Norman & James Mackay Morrison.

The family, was born at the east end of Laid but about 1898 the Father, John Morrison, took over the job of Ferryman at Port-na-Con on the death of the previous ferryman named Mackay. John Morrison had previously gone south to Aberdeenshire every summer to work at the herring fishing and in the winter worked lobsters and gathered whelks.

There were two ferrymen, John Morrison at Port-na-Con, and the father of Anson Mackay at Heilam.

The ferry originally ran from Port Chamuill, where there was no slip. The ferryman there also built boats. No date given for transfer of ferry to Port-na-Con. Name means Port of the dogs, and was said to be so named because when people first landed there they found two dogs fighting.

The ferry from Port-na-Con landed passengers at Eriboll, Kempie or Heilam. The fare, in James’s time was 1/- to Eriboll (single), 9d to Heilam, 1/6 if taking a bicycle. The boat was a 15ft sailing boat (no engine). Often the weather prevented it sailing in winter, and Norman remembers being stranded on the far side, and walking back, with his father, round the head of the Loch. The wind was so strong that at Whale’s corner they had to hang on to each other to resist wind. (Name of Whale’s corner derives from a stranded whale, type unknown but about fifteen foot long, which was stranded on shore in 1930. It took two horses from Eriboll to drag it high enough up shore to bury it.

The house half way up the hill to the main road was occupied at this time by a family. Four children, Hugh, William, Dolly and Maggie Morrison. This had enough land to be worked as a croft, unlike the houses at Port-na-Con. The men also worked shellfish, in winter, and went away to fishing in summer. The Father died fairly young, and Granny also lived in the house with them. One daughter married and went to live in the house at present owned by John Phillips in Laid.

The house at the top of the hill, near the main road, was built by the widow of the ferryman previous to John Morrison. She was related to Jimmy Gunn of Sangomore. The house was later occupied by a family named Campbell.

Men going to Aberdeenshire for herring fishing took the ferry from Port-na-con about 4 or 5 -P.M, walked over the Craggans road across the ford at Cashel Dhu through Strathmore to Altnaharra and then walked on the main road to Lairg arriving in time for the midday train on the following day.

The pier at Port-na-con was built about 1889 by an Arbroath firm. Once a month a North of Scotland Shipping Co. vessel arrived with general cargo and passengers. The single fare was £1 (cf. Mrs. Robina Campbell). The ships were the St. Ninian, St. Clair, St. Ola and in addition as a special run the Queen brought back men and women from the herring fishing, calling at Scrabster, Melness (landing passengers by boat), Port-na-Con and Loch Clash.

Norman went away to herring fishing in summer and in winter worked the shellfish with his father and Jimmy. The latter stayed at home, at first helping his father with the ferry and later running it himself. It ceased to run in 1939, as it no longer paid due to the improvement of the road and coming of motor transport. Norman remembers sailing ships coming from Brittany to fish for lobsters. They had a well amidships in which the lobsters were kept alive.

Both Norman and Jimmy went to school in Laid. Teachers, Mr. Taylor followed by Mr. Macdonald (from Plockton) during Norman’s time and Mr. Clement in Jimmy’s time. During the first war, they had women teachers. Each pupil took a peat to school, for the classroom fire, during winter. There were thirty eight children in school when Jimmy was there.

The ferryhouse at Port-na-Con was originally an Inn, and the pegs that held the sign are still visible on left front of the house.

The tall building next to the ferryhouse, now used as the byre, was originally a store, with a shop for sale of general groceries. Above it lived William Mackay, his sister Isabella and their father – Mackay, who came originally from Laid, but emigrated to Australia. Presumably he married an Australian and the children were born there. When he returned to Port-na-Con, he left his wife behind in Australia. They ran the store until, eventually all died. Neither child married, the daughter was lame and with a deformed hand and arm. All buried in Balnakeil.

The small building most recently used as a shop, was a fish smoking house. William Mackay smoked the fish, and took them round with a bicycle, to sell at houses. The house north of the burn was occupied at the time the Morrisons moved into the ferryhouse, by a family called Mackay, John, David and Donald, and their sister Christina. All the men went blind.

After this family, the house was occupied by a family called Mackenzie. At least one baby was born there, and Norman had to go by their lorry on a very bad night to fetch the nurse (English, called Jackson) from Parkhill.