"Sutherland is one of the most ruggedly beautiful and sparsely populated parts of Scotland. In the nineteenth century, the Duke of Sutherland set about improving his landholdings to make them more productive, first by undertaking agricultural improvements and then by building lodges for sporting tenants as sheep farming faced a downturn.
In the 1870s some 3,000 acres of land were reclaimed from moorland at Shinness; a lodge was built and some 25,000 acres of land allocated for grouse and grazing, together with fishings on Loch Shin and its rivers.
One of the first keepers at the estate was John Fraser. In the 1970s his daughter Iby wrote down some recollections of her childhood in which she provides a fascinating picture of life in and around the lodge during the early part of the twentieth century. In addition to her descriptions of everyday life - from cooking and gamekeeping to medicine, schooling and games - she also writes of events which had a profound effect on communities everywhere, including the coming of the motor car and the First World War ..."
In Crappit Heids for Tea: Recollections of Highland Childhood, Iby's account of life in rural Sutherland will at last reach a wide readership. Although I've only just received a finished copy, this is a book which I feel I know very well indeed as I was one of those who edited Iby's manuscript for publication, and in the hours I spent poring over her text I came to love her very natural voice on the page and the easy way in which she reminisces about her early years.
Compiled by Chris Fletcher, and with an introduction by Dr. Anne-Marie Tindlay of Glasgow Caledonian University which sets it in context, the book combines Iby's memoir with an essay by Iby's contemporary Ann Gray on life at Colaboll Farm on the Shinness Estate. I found the whole thing engrossing to work on and I learned a great deal in the process, and I'm thrilled to see it now in proper book form. I shall be dipping into it and posting a few extracts to give you a flavour of Iby's style, but for now, a word on the lady herself:
Iby (short for Isobel) was born at Shinness Lodge in 1904. She went to school in nearby Lairg and then took an MA (Hons) degree in English at Edinburgh University, following that with a teaching qualification - quite an achievement for a young girl in those days. She spent most of her working life as Infant Mistress at Lairg school where "generations of children benefited from her good humour and her infectious love of learning". Iby passed away on 30th. December 1994, shortly after her 90th. birthday, but her lifelong love of the wildlife and landscape of Scotland can be seen clearly in this book "where she records through a child's eyes and with great affection the day-to-day duties and activities of her family and acquaintances 100 years ago".
(Books of the day - no.1 is here).