The first overland services

Parent Category: Land and Sea
Category: Transport

Cart and horse

The first type of vehicle used by the crofters was a long-bodied box-like cart, on wheels, with long protruding tromaichean, shafts, between which the horse was harnessed.  They had no springs between the body of the cart and the axle, just two pieces of timber, about two feet long.  A low gate or door closed each end of this cart whose sides were raised by the addition of sgiathan, top-sides, one of which was often used to make a seat for passengers, by placing it across from side to side. The main drawback to this type of vehicle was that before it could be unloaded, of peats or corn, the horse had to be unyoked, and then re-yoked before setting off for another load. Coup carts did not make their debut till about 1910.

For a long period a hardy race of carters was engaged in carrying goods to and from town. They were on the road in all weathers and seemed impervious to cold and rain.  The pick of them was Donald Morrison (46), Daoul; a small, wiry quick-tempered man, who thus tried to hide his kindly disposition.

Red, Kenneth Maciver (38), was the first to run a public service with a gig. This faster mode of transport was especially useful to servicemen coming home on leave in the 1914-18 War.  Kenneth and his good mare, Jess, could always be depended upon to meet the mailboat, the Sheila, on Stornoway Pier.

Alexander Maciver (41) and Angus Macleod (59) also ran gigs. The first passenger bus to be owned by a local resident belonged to Hector Mackay (42), a veteran of the naval raid on the Zeebrugge submarine base in 1918.  He was followed by Evander Maciver (43) Fortaidh, in partnership with George Murray (45) Logan, an association that was later dissolved when each ran his own bus service, an example which Angus Macleod (59) soon imitated.

These buses were not noted for their comfort but they were much appreciated for all that. There were no timetables for these buses, but nobody seemed to miss them. The Pay as You Enter system was in operation in Tolsta long before it was introduced into the cities.

A passenger of the day wrote to North Tolsta Historical Society to agree that comfort wasn't necessarily a priority. Writing in 2001 the late Isabella Yonge said: "I was born in 1925 at 33 North Tolsta, the home of my uncle ‘Domhnall a’ Bhotch’.  My mother was his sister Margaret – Mairead Ruadh – who married Donald Macleod from Sheshader and they lived in Kinlochleven,
"Gosh, I can remember the early buses – Cromarty’s and Logan’s and what an experience it was going to Stornoway on one.  Passengers sat on slatted wooden benches down the side and facing each other. On the floor was a live calf in a sack tied round its neck, a crate of hens and laughter all the way.  I can’t spell the Gaelic for nostalgia but I’m saying it to myself – twice!"

These owner-driver buses have long since been replaced by buses which do have timetables, but perhaps even their days are numbered because of the number of private cars, which commute daily between Tolsta and Stornoway.