A brief history of Roshven and Moidart, written by the Moidart Local History Group.
The group promotes the history, heritage & culture of this remote coastal area of the Scottish Highlands, west of Fort William.
Roshven lies on the southern shore of Loch Ailort, in the district of Moidart. Nowadays it is part of Lochaber.
Shell middens and worked flint found near both Alisary and Acharacle indicate the presence of Mesolithic hunter-gatherers and Neolithic farmers/hunter gatherers in the area. Burial cairns on the north shore of Loch Shiel and at Arisaig, and the hill-top forts at An Dun on the north shore of Loch Moidart and Goat Island in Loch Ailort are evidence of Bronze and Iron age occupation.
In historical times, the Vikings were the first invaders: the whole length of the western seaboard, and all the islands, were ruled by Norway until in 864 the King of the Scots, Kenneth MacAlpine, succeeded to the throne of the Picts and Gaelic culture then came to dominate the whole kingdom of Alba, as Scotland was then called. Land was held in common and was considered to belong to the whole tribe.
The Lord of the Isles, the Clanranald MacDonalds, were descended from Somerled: from about 1550 onwards they controlled the Hebridean Isles and the western mainland.
This part of Scotland was Catholic for long periods and local folk took part in the Jacobite rebellions of 1689, 1715 and, notably, 1745. On July 25th., 1745, Prince Charles Edward Stuart (Bonnie Prince Charlie) landed from the French frigate Du Teillay on Loch nan Uamh, off the modern A830 Arisaig road. In the next few days, he crossed by boat to Forsay, between Roshven and Glenuig, then via Dalilea House and Loch Sheil to Glenfinnan, where he raised his standard and the first part of his army, including about a thousand Clanranald MacDonalds, in what was to be a doomed venture, ending in defeat at Culloden. After the war, Forsay was levelled to the ground by the Duke of Cumberland.
Hard times followed for the Gaelic-speaking people of Moidart as the clan system broke down and land ownership and the culture changed. The people were cleared from the land to make way for sheep, although the situation here was not as bad as the Sutherland clearances. Many folk emigrated to Canada and Australia. Moidart still has Gaelic-speaking residents and you may hear it spoken locally, particularly in the Acharacle area.
In 1853, Jemima Blackburn, the distinguished watercolourist, and her husband Hugh, bought Roshven House because it was the most beautiful place in Scotland. It still is. The Blackburns built the buildings of The Square, as well as Roshven Farm. There are still members of the Blackburn family living locally.
The railway came in 1901 with direct trains from Glasgow: it is the only main line in Britain operating scheduled steam services. The company which built it had a famous name Kenneth MacAlpine.
During the second world war, the whole area, and the Ardnish peninsula, were cleared of inhabitants and became a secret base for Special Forces training starting in Inverailort House, where the first Commandos were trained, it was followed by the formation of the SAS, the SBS and the US Special Operations Executive, nowadays the CIA. Troops from Norway, Poland, the USA, Canada, Australia and Czechoslovakia were trained alongside British soldiers in Big Houses around the area. Training was with live ammunition and munitions are still found around the area so beware of strange objects !
Until 1966, there was no road between Lochailort and Kinlochmoidart a stony path was the only way to move on land and so a ferry ran from Glenuig to Lochailort, operated by Ronald the Whaler. The road opened Moidart up until then it was virtually an island. Mains electricity didnt arrive until 1988 until then the area throbbed with diesel generators.
Today it is one the least-populated areas of Britain and one of the best.