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DOWN MEMORY LANE: Bill McAllister reminds us that winters of yesteryear in Inverness and the surrounding countryside could make the current chill seem like a balmy spring day

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Snow scenes on the hills above Inverness. Picture: Philip Murray
Snow scenes on the hills above Inverness. Picture: Philip Murray

January nights could be even chillier in the 19th century, as a glimpse at news items of that era reveals.

When 1826 was ushered in, the Courier noted that the Chisholms “and other natives of Strathglass had their usual match at shinty”. The duel was between teams from the Braes and the Strath, with the Braes men carrying the day with “superior activity and expertness”.

Severe frost, however, saw the lack of other winter pastimes highlighted. “In Inverness, we have neither professor or amateur in the exhilarating sports of skating and curling.” This absence would be righted, as we shall see.

As 1837 opened, influenza was raging from Aberdeen north and was said to be “very severe” in Inverness.

The Courier that January also reported that “the increased communication between Inverness and the other Northern Counties is strikingly illustrated by the fact that the Ferry at Kessock, near this town, which about 25 years ago used to be let for £150 per annum, now draws in a rent of £800 a year.”

The next month saw the burgh shaken by “a violent gale” and the newspaper reported that in the County Buildings, in Ardross Street, “no less than 21 panes of glass were blown in, while it was dangerous to walk the streets in consequence of the fall of slates, chimney tops, etc, from the roofs of houses. In the county, many thatched cottages were completely unroofed and fences, haystacks and outbuildings thrown down.”

In its issue of January 24, 1838, the Courier rather floridly revealed that curling had arrived. “The curling stones, brooms and other accompaniments were brought forward, and Loch na Sanais, on the road to Dochfour, with the picturesque hills of Tomnahurich and Torvain, echoed for the first time to the shouts and noise of the ‘roaring play’.”

Several hundred spectators watched the game’s Inverness debut with Mr Wilson, of the Caledonian Hotel, credited for its introduction, the provision of curling stones and the coach and horses used to transport players.

It was, though, to become bitterly cold and our paper disclosed that John Westwood, gardener at Belladrum, recorded temperatures as low as minus 32 degrees.

The north mail coaches were blocked and the mail guard from Aberdeen was forced to continue on horseback from Huntly only to disappear in a snowdrift at Keith. “He at length arrived at Inverness”, it was reported, “having taken 30 hours and 20 minutes to accomplish the journey which usually occupies 12 hours”.

The freeze saw the price of butcher meat rise steeply in Inverness, where oatmeal prices rocketed “owing to the stoppage of the water mills”.

The poor of the burgh and local countryside suffered severely in the conditions and the Courier revealed: “From the want of means of communication, many of our shops are running short of supplies and if this storm does not abate, we shall be placed in a state of complete blockade.”

Even that April, the paper was announcing: “The snowstorm has been renewed – a perfect tempest.”

The weather eventually relented and the Courier of May 9 stated: “The weather is now warm and sunny. The sheep farmers must be in great measure relieved of their fears.”

Even then, however, a local wheat field of eight acres had to be ploughed up as the crop had been completely destroyed by

the frost four months earlier.

Fast forward to January, 1854, when a snowstorm was followed by deep frost and in Inverness the mercury fell to minus 22, making the frost of recent nights seem positively balmy!

They had to be hardy in winter back in the day.

• Sponsored by Ness Castle Lodges.

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