High Life Highland

Travellers waiting for the ferry at Kyle

This image is from a collection which includes family and business papers, correspondence, photographs, negatives, and film capturing a snapshot of life in the West Highlands and Skye and detailing everyday life in the early 20th century. The Duncan MacPherson collection is held at Skye and Lochalsh Archive Centre, which is one of four archive centres covering the Highland region in Caithness, Inverness, Lochaber and Skye and Lochalsh and managed by Highland Archive Service. The archives held at these centres are the records of official bodies, businesses, societies, and individuals and are a unique record of our Highland past.

The Duncan MacPherson collection provides an unrivalled insight into life in Kyle of Lochalsh- the ‘Gateway to Skye’, covering a period of almost fifty years and allowing researchers to weave their way between the intrigues of community life, the family’s leisure and business concerns, and the development of the creator’s photographic interests.

The image was taken by Duncan MacPherson, chemist at Kyle of Lochalsh, who established his own chemist’s shop near the ferry terminal at Kyle in 1912 and which he ran up until his death in 1966.  MacPherson was also a very enthusiastic photographer, seldom venturing out without his camera and always ready to capture the daily comings and goings of the area. His chemist shop carried all the equipment and supplies necessary for local and visiting amateur photographers, also selling a range of postcards produced from the images he captured.

In 1927, he began an annual series of ‘Pocket Guides’ to Lochalsh and Skye, with information on events, excursions, transport, accommodation, and visitor attractions.  He also wrote three books on the local area: ‘Gateway to Skye’ (1946), ‘Lure of the West’ (1950) and ‘Where I Belong’ (1964) which are also part of the existing HAS collection.

The reason for choosing this particular image is because it shows two contrasting ways of life but brings to mind themes which resonate today including the growth of tourism which has transformed the Highlands and brought both positive and negative impacts. The social dynamics of crofting, the impact of WW2,  early tourism, and travellers are just some of the subjects viewed through this collection.

In the image chosen – the row of expensive cars contrasts with the travelling people and their cart on the jetty at Kyle, although they are all bound for the same destination. The vehicles feature big 6 cylinder chassis, and coachbuilt closed or open bodywork, as well as additional petrol tanks on the running boards. These wealthy visitors to the area were obviously aware that petrol pumps were few and far between in the Highlands.

Travelling people moved from village to village, living in simple bow-tents. They worked as tinsmiths, horse dealers, hawkers or pearl fishers to earn a living. While having much in common with Romany Gypsies, the Travellers had strong ethnic and cultural links with the Highlands. Often they were Gaelic speakers, musicians and story tellers bearing traditional clan names such as Stewart, Cameron or MacDonald