At the top of the Gleann a’ Ghealbhan hill there is a triangular piece of ground, about three acres in size, unplanted by the Forestry Commission who have acquired all the surrounding ground, because it is Common land, and one of the accepted resting places of the drovers and their beasts on their way to the far off markets. One can imagine the astonishment of these men, prepared to plod the weary miles ahead, could they see the great lorries of today speeding through the countryside with their loads of animals who will arrive at the sale in so much better condition than did those of long ago. And now, when many of the small farms have been amalgamated and every farmer has his car, does he ever give a thought to his fore-runners taking their stock all those miles on foot, camping for the night on this little patch of ground, a watcher on the lookout for robbers or raiders, the rest wrapped in their plaids with heather and bog myrtle for a bed’
At the foot of the hill was once an Inn where the drovers must often have found welcome refreshment and cheer.
There was another Inn in Tayvallich, which ceased to be a licensed house in the 1890’s, the nearest one is now at Crinan.
It was from this Inn in Tayvallich that an old woman, thought to be a witch, who lived at Keills, used to buy her whisky, and she might often be seen trudging down from the village to her cottage carrying the precious liquid in a stone pig. One of our members tells us that her grandmother remembers being sent, as a child, with her sister, to help the ‘witch’ carry her burden, for no-one liked to refuse the old lady lest trouble should ensue. Becoming tired of the heavy pig, the two little girls let it drop, and it rolled into the ditch by the side of the road, whereupon they fled home, pursued by the ‘witch’ shaking her stick at them and uttering all kinds of evil words and curses. The children’s mother was terrified, and foresaw all sorts of disasters for the farm, but history does not relate that any of these came to pass.
There were many mills in the district - five within the boundaries we are considering, but they became obsolete with the increase in imported grain and the decline in population. The last, that by Taynish loch, stopped working about 1886. There was one on the Oib peninsula of which the following story is told. A daughter of the Marquis of Argyll was married to Maclean of Duart. Wishing to be rid of her, he set her on a rock in the Sound of Jura and left her to drown. Some boatmen from Tayvallich who were out fishing heard her cries and rescued her, and as a reward the lady’s father presented the community with the mill in Oib.
Another island in Caol Scotnish has an even more curious tale attached. It is said that a man living on the shores of that loch had an ill-tempered and good for nothing wife. As a punishment for her misdeeds she was put on the small island in the loch with the command that she was to keep hens and provide her husband with eggs for the rest of her life. The place is called Hen Island to this day. We are not told whether she was made to subsist on eggs and nothing else, or if someone brought her other necessities of life. One hopes so, for the island is hardly large enough to accommodate more than the woman and her hens.
For generations the land has been farmed, small farms and crofts making part of larger, though never vast estates. In the eighteenth century there was a good trade in black cattle (the true West Highland breed, black, brindled, brown and dun), a few sheep were kept, and for arable crops small black oats, bear or bigg, and flax were grown. There were no turnips and no artificial grasses.
Since those days farming has changed considerably. Though cattle are still our main concern, there are probably more sheep on the ground than our ancestors knew, though this district did not suffer from the clearances as severely as elsewhere. Fewer arable crops are now grown, though with modern methods those that are cultivated are of better quality than of old. Not many farms make butter or other dairy products, and the pretty octagonal dairy and cheeseroom at Taynish has long been turned to other uses. Most farms in the old days made cheeses and many kept pigs to use the whey. At Taynish there are the remains of a very elegant piggery in a field below the house, which must at one time have housed a lively assortment of these animals. Now it is rare to see a home made cheese in the district, though up till comparatively recently a good many farms or crofts kept a pig and the killing was a great event in the year. A few farms turned to milk production after the second world war when the demand was high, but the industry proved uncertain and has lapsed. One or two farms now make silage; some prefer the more traditional harvesting of hay.
At a not so far distant date pieces of land which would now be thought inaccessible were cultivated with the spade and perhaps on the lazybed system. The remains of one such piece can be seen on top of the Barrmor. It is now just part of the rough grazing on this estate. Many other such reminders of times past may be found in our district.
To the north of the village a good deal of land has been bought by the Forestry Commission, who made their first plantings in 1931, and many more at later dates. Sitka and Norway spruce, Japanese and European Larch, Lodgepole Pine and Douglas fir are the main species grown, but there are smaller quantities of various other conifers and a very little hardwood. Yields have fluctuated from 20,000 to 120,000 cubic feet in the last ten years. It is planned to increase the present production by 20,000 cubic feet a year for the next five years. These figures are for the whole of North Knapdale. Good roads have been made through these plantations and the Commission is probably the largest employer of labour in the district and has built some good new houses for its workers, though not actually in Tayvallich.
In many places along the shore of the Taynish peninsula may be seen small semicircular built up terraces, which were used by charcoal burners who plied a flourishing trade two hundred years ago, using the local scrub oak and birch to make the charcoal which was used in the making of gunpowder and the smelting of iron. This came to an end when charcoal was replaced by coal. Between 1850 and 1860 a new industry was started at Carsaig, aimed at distilling methyl alcohol from birchwood. The remains of the still may yet be seen at Carsaig Farm.
Less legitimate but perhaps more widespread was the illicit distilling of whisky, and many stories are told of narrow escapes from the unwelcome attentions of the exciseman. Indeed a barrel of this splendid drink is said to be buried somewhere in the neighbourhood of Carsaig, having been hidden from official eyes and hidden too well, for it was never found after the Law had left.
Fishing has been pursued for pleasure and for the pot, but except for the lobster boats, few of which come from this area, it has never been a real local industry. At one time every house had its own boat and all fished, drying some of the catch for winter use, but times have changed and now very few people own their boats, instead they can buy fish from the deep freeze in the village shop.