Past & Present

History of Bayhead (Leac a Lì)

bayhead john walsh.jpgBayhead    (Photo: John Walsh)

Bayhead usually known as “Ceann a’ Bhaigh Mhor” is situated at the head of Loch Stockinish in a scenically picturesque setting as viewed from the road bridge across the ford. The old road or pathway to the northern parts of Harris passed through the croft and wound up past the “Creag Mhor” and up above the Ardvey crofts. The footpath can still be used. The access path to “Bealach Creag an Eoin” the path or pass to Seilebost and the west side was also through Bayhead. Many a meal was served in the crofthouse there to weary travellers who had walked from Seileabost and Horgabost to the Bays. Most of the new crofters living in Seilebost in the 1930s had come from the Bays area and there was much walking to and fro through the “Bealach”. People walked carrying big bags of wool to the mill at Geocrab. The wool was carded and sometimes spun into yarn at the mill and then the yarn had to be carried back home again or else taken to the weaver to be woven into tweeds, blankets or bedcovers.

In the early 1840s there were two crofts at Bayhead. One of the Liceasto Morrisons (my great, great granduncle) and his wife, Marion Macdonald, lived there for some years before moving back to Liceasto. The croft then passed to an Alexander Macleod (an Dannsair) from Strond. He and his family of eight moved to Bayhead in Finsbay in 1840. At the same time a Roderick Mackinnon occupied croft no.2 at Bayhead. That family moved to Flodabay in 1840. Both crofts then passed to Donald Macleod from Strond (mac Iain Gharnaileir) who was married to a Rachel Maclean from Skye. They had a large family of 8 or 9 but in the 1850s they moved back to 9 Strond. It was then that John Martin, who had been a shepherd on Taransay, took over the tenancy of both crofts at Bayhead and his descendants are still there. His father was an Angus Martin from Borve and he was married to Margaret Morrison from 2 Stockinish. They had a family of 6: Marion married Norman Morrison of 3 Liceasto, Angus was married in Edinburgh, Angus Ban married Kirsty Macleod from 7 Leac a li and moved to Applecross, Murdo married Kate Macleod of 7 Geocrab and moved to Northton, Alexander married Mary Morrison of 5 Geocrab and stayed at Bayhead as he inherited the croft, Ann was unmarried and also stayed at Bayhead.

Alexander Martin who inherited the croft had a family of 8: Margaret married Finlay Macleod from Scalpay, Bella married Duncan Macleod from Berneray and lived mostly in Berneray till they moved to Bayhead in 1953, John married Katie MacCuish of 4 Leac a li and lived mostly in Wick. Katie married John Ferguson from Ardvey and made their home in Seileabost. Peter, Joan, Kirsty and Ann all died while young. After her father’s death in 1937 Katie and John moved to Seileabost leaving the crofthouse empty and unoccupied for several years. A family from England with three young children rented the house for a few years before moving back to England. Peter Ross from Spinners Cottage in Geocrab rented the house for a few years. He was married to Katie Ann Morrison of 5 Geocrab (a first cousin of the Martin family). Both the English family and the Ross family rented the house from John Martin who had inherited the croft. He was unable to live in Harris at that time as his job was in Wick so he passed the tenancy of the croft to his sister Bella and her family.

Bella and Duncan had five of a family: Chirsty Mary, Chrissie, Alasdair, Ina and Ella. When Alasdair died Ella inherited the croft but she passed it on to Chirsty Mary who wanted to come home from Glasgow to live there. It has now been passed on to Chirsty Mary’s daughter, Christine Summers, who lives there with her family – Naomi, Alasdair and Finlay. Christine has planted 15000 trees on the croft and they seem to be growing well. She works as a community nurse and is a valuable member of the community.

bayhead_777614593.jpgBayhead    (Photo: Black Lab)

I mentioned earlier how Bayhead was used as a right of way to and from the West side of Harris. It was also used by the local ladies going up to the common grazing land to scrape “crotal” a lichen that was used to dye the raw wool. It gave a brown colour, sometimes tan or light brown or sometimes a dark brown according to the type of “crotal”. The ladies would go two or three at a time on a “crotal” scraping expedition, each one with a pail or bucket, an old spoon with one side sharpened to a cutting edge with which to scrape the lichen off the rocks and a sack or bag usually of hessian in which to carry their load of “crotal” back home. Sometimes they would go as far as Seileabost once the rocks nearer the Bays villages were scraped bare. Most of the women would stop at the Bayhead house for a cup of tea and a blether. Some people walked through the “Bealach” with cattle to go to the cattle sales at Northton and of course lots of crofters were always going through there looking for their sheep.

At one time Bayhead was referred to as Bayhead Liceasto and the children went to school at Manish when they were old enough to leave the side school at Pairc Liceasto. After the road bridge was constructed across the bay, Bayhead was referred to as Bayhead, Leac a li. That caused disagreement among some of the crofters at the time as the common grazing boundary between Liceasto and Leac a Lì was changed some distance to the south. The Bayhead residents of an earlier age walked to Manish Church through the pass in the hills past “Cnoc Ghiomasgarbh” past the loch there that supplies most of South Harris with piped water now. My grandmother, Marion Martin who was born at Bayhead used to walk to church that way as a young girl. Her brother, Alexander Martin, was a well-known and respected lay preacher in Harris. He was also well-known for his musical voice and composed many spiritual hymns. Their brother, Angus, who lived in Edinburgh, was also a gifted poet of the time.

Blanket washing in summer
Before piped water came to the Bays villages, conveniently situated lochs and rivers were used for the annual blanket and bedcover washing. The river that flows from the hills through the Bayhead croft was used by the Bayhead and Ardvey ladies especially in very dry summers when the water level in the wells and streams became low. A washing day was arranged; the large dye pot was filled with water from the river and set on an open air peat fire. All the blankets, bedcovers and other heavy clothes were carried to the river, a wooden tub or zinc bath, plenty of soap and Rinso (a washing powder popular about 60 years ago) were also carried there. The ladies helped each other with the clothes washing. Sometimes washing boards were used to remove stubborn stains. Sometimes the ladies soaked the blankets in warm soapy water in the tub and then pounded them with their bare feet. There was a plentiful supply of water for rinsing later.

By Ella Weir, 2014

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