Moine

Peat in Gaelic. The jagged cliffs of its headland extended to the Atlantic, before travel as weknow today to traverse the ground of the Moine, even in the driest weather, could be exceeding wearisome; in winter it became hazardous when the snow driven by strong winds, filled its black gullies and altered its contours entirely.

 

Dr Ian Grimble writes in his book The World of Rob Donn

“The Reverend Murdo Macdonald scarcely ever failed to grumble into his diary about the discomforts of the Moine, when he was forced to cross it to attend presbytery meetings in Tongue, and there were occasions when he preferred the no less treacherous ocean.

 

One of these occurred in April 1737 when he planned to visit Thurso in order to attend the funeral of the Reverend William Innes, taking with him his wife, who was pregnant, and their children of eight and six years. The party set off from Balnakil for the little creek of Smoo about a mile from the manse. Here yawns the entrance to the cave that Sir Walter Scott was to make famous when he visited it, beyond a shingle beach on which boats could be hauled to safety. "The day was gloomy and foggy, as indeed it was to me in several respects and there was a gentle north-east breeze which made the heaving sea very unfavourable to our purpose, so that when we came to the place my wife durst not try it, but choosed to continue on horseback till she came to Rispond where she stayed the night." Here, after a day's travel, they had not yet crossed Loch Eriboll to reach the barony of West Moine.

 

"The bairnies went by sea from Smoo to Rispond and got the first handsell of seasickness. Next day being Thursday, there was a pretty brisk gale of south-easterly wind which was almost ahead of us, but the crew thinking to make it by rowing and coasting close by shore, which they expected would shelter them, they set out with us towards the White Head as they call it. But as we were advanced half-way to turn the Head, the wind increased to such a height and contrariety to us that by the unanimous voice of the crew it was best to turn back, which we accordingly did, and in the afternoon came on shore at Badilhavish in West Moine: where I intended to stay, it being one of the preaching places of my parish." They had failed to pass the Moine after two days' travel, and were forced to remain where they were for another two days.

 

"On the Thursday we were in our boat off the Head, we observed just coming after us into Loch Eriboll two ships which were directed from their easterly course by the same cross-wind. This might alleviate our part of the calamity when great vessels must yield to the weather, nay, when God with east wind breaks the strong ships of Tarshish. It came in my head that we might in that case have the convenience of a passage in them just come to our hand. When therefore they came to anchor I went in the evening against a boisterous gale to see, but found none of them was bound for the south further than Peterhead. Thus God's ways are not ours, nor his thoughts ours always." Macdonald's own thoughts are obscure enough, since these ships could easily have carried his family to Thurso on their way to Peterhead, unless they intended to sail round the Orkney islands rather than face the dangers of the Pentland Firth. What is noteworthy is that despite his wife's fear of the sea, he made no attempt to transport her over the Moine but waited instead for a boat to make the journey.”

On the A838 beyond Eriboll travelling east past Hope takes the traveller onto the Moine, a large table of peatland across some of the most barren land with distant mountains views. The Moine as it is known is the moor between Hope and the Kyle of Tongue, a bleak stretch of road on a winters’ day. This is the most northerly road in the Kingdom and a grand and wild bit of Sutherland. It is also one of the loneliest stretches of road in the country and from its edge miles and miles of reddish, undulating moor sweep up to the flanks of the two fine mountains Ben loyal and Hope.

 

Moin House was built as a shelter for travellers and is the earliest known roadside shelter for travellers in the Highlands that was not an inn. On the gable end wall there is a plaque that reads

From Tongue the Moin House is visible on the skyline and from Moin Tongue sits far in the distance under the towering mountain of Loyal. As the road twists traveling over the Moin the mountains look, as they are the moveable parts of the landscape. Ben Loyal with its turrets and castle features s seems to appear in different parts.

 

This area was considered as a sight of a Dartmoor type prison and does contain some of the most interesting geology. As the approach to the Kyle of Tongue becomes apparent the scene changes and the mountain of Ben Loyal heralds the backdrop to the village and the Kyle of Tongue. Crossing the Causeway after passing the turnoff for Melness and Talmine north and south to Kinloch the road moves through green fertile land into the village of Tongue. The main A836 road travelled is single and double tract stretches.

“My sister was born in Moine House. My brother and I were born in Melness, and my father was in the Navy during the war, and when the war was over and he came home, he was postman at, well, probably Melness, but I know then we came to Moine House and he was posting to Gobernuisgach But we left there when it was time for me to go to school at five – we were in Moine House.”

Jessie Macpherson 

“This House Erected for the refuge of the traveller Serves to commemorate the construction of the road across the deep and dangerous morass of the Moin impracticable to all but the hardy and active native to him even it was a day of toil and of labour.

 

This road was made in the year 1830 and at the sole expense of the Marquis of Stafford.

 

Those who feel not the delay nor experience the fatigue nor suffer from the risked and interruptions incident to the former state of the country can but slightly estimate the advantages of its present improved condition or what it cost to procure them.

 

To mark this change- to note these facts- to record this date this inscription is put up and dedicated by James Loch Esq. MP Auditor and commissioner upon his Lordships estates and John Horsburgh ESQ. Factor for the Reay Country, Strathnaver, Starthhallidale and Assynt under whose directions this work was executed and who alone know the difficulties that occurred in its execution and liberality and perseverance by which they were overcome

 

Peter Lawson Surveyor.”