Donald Sage was born in the Manse, half way up the Strath of Kildonan, in 1789. When he was twelve he and his older brother Aeneas were sent to Dornoch to go to the grammar school there. (Aeneas was the Anglicised form of Angus). In middle age Donald reminisced about his life in a book with the rather off-putting title of Memorabilia Domestica. A few weeks ago I blogged about his description of Dornoch’s market day and of a funeral which turned into a fight. Over the next wee while I am going to post about more of his schoolboy experiences in the town, which really bring to life what Dornoch was like over two hundred years ago. His journey to the town, being only his second trip away from home, made quite an impression him and gives wonderful glimpses into the places between Kildonan and Dornoch. This is the first post about his journey. He recalled that
“My brother impresses himself strongly on my reminiscences of this particular period of my life. I was warmly attached to him. Our fishing expeditions together on the burn to its very source, and along the bank of the river, and on one occasion to Loch Ascaig; our excursions … for blae-berries and cloud-berries, all now recall to my remembrance my brother’s … affection. It was about the beginning of November, 1801, I think, that we went together to the school at Dornoch.”
Until then Donald and Aeneas had been educated at the parish school and by their father. They had learned the basics and had moved on to Latin. Early in 1801 social unrest in Kildonan required the Sheriff to come north and he lodged with the minister’s family. He tested the boys in their Latin and
“He was much pleased with my answers, and said that, if my father would send my brother and me to school at Dornoch, he would keep us for three months in his own house. He repeated the same thing to my father next day at parting, assuring him that the parochial teacher at Dornoch was resorted to as a teacher of ability and success. The proposal was entertained, and preparations were made for us to go thither in the beginning of November.
Kildonan Manse. Picture by kind premission of Timespan Heritage Centre and SCRAN.
“The morning of the day of our departure from under the paternal roof, to attend a public school, at last dawned upon us. My brother and I had slept but little that night. After breakfasting by candlelight, we found our modes of conveyance ready for us at the entry-door. My father mounted his good black horse Toby, a purchase he had lately made from Captain Sackville Sutherland of Uppat, while my brother and I were lifted to the backs of two garrons employed as work-horses on the farm. We set forward, and both my sisters accompanied us to the ford on the burn, close by the churchyard, whence, after a few tears shed at the prospect of our first separation, we proceeded on our journey accompanied by a man on foot. We crossed the Crask, and stopped for refreshment at an inn below Kintradwell, in the parish of Loth, called Wilk-house, which stood close by the shore. This Highland hostelry, with its host Robert Gordon and his bustling, talkative wife, were closely associated with my early years, comprehending those of my attendance at school and college. The parlour, the general rendezvous for all comers of every sort and size, had two windows, one in front and another in the gable, and the floor of the room had, according to the prevailing code of cleanliness, about half an inch of sand upon it in lieu of carpeting.
As we alighted before the door we were received by Robert Wilkhouse, or “Rob tighe na faochaig,” as he was usually called, with many bows indicative of welcome, whilst his bustling helpmeet repeated the same protestations of welcome on our crossing the threshold. We dined heartily on cold meat, eggs, new cheese, and milk. Tam, our attendant, was not forgotten; his pedestrian exercise had given him a keen appetite, and it was abundantly satisfied.”
And so the boys set out on their journey with their father and with a servant, Tam. Rather than take the road through the Strath that we would drive along today, it seems that they crossed the River Helmsdale and walked through Glen Loth. They joined the coast at the inn and, after eating their substantial meal in the sand-floored room, they continued south, following the route that the A9 takes today.
Donald Sage, Memorabilia Domestica or Parish Life in the North of Scotland [freely available online at archive.org if you want to read more]