Isle Martin & Tanera Mor

Local archaeologist Cathy Dagg reflects on the shared histories of Isle Martin and Tanera Mor using photographs from the museum’s collection.

Isle Martin and Tanera Mor: two islands with a shared history but very different presents. Together with Scoraig Peninsula they are among the remotest inhabited parts of Lochbroom Parish although that is only how they are perceived by a car-driving land-based society. In the past they lay on the sea routes up and down the Minch which linked all the major ports on the west side of Britain with the Baltic and they were the beginning of a long journey for cured herring down to Ireland, Greenock or Liverpool and then on to the West Indies.

Depopulation: not the rapid, traumatic Clearances of history but the slow inevitable attrition of a drowned son, a lost boat, greater job opportunities elsewhere and then the door closing on the family home for the last time.

See the smart houses and the proud stance of William Mathieson on Tanera and the Stewarts and Mrs Macrae on Isle Martin , the shining white harl on the Tanera house and the modern features of ‘Seaview’, paid for by John Stewart and his brother crewing on the racing yachts of the rich. (Seaview was the first house on Isle Martin to have running water) Mrs Macrae’s house was completely rebuilt in the 1870s to incorporate fireplaces and chimneys at both ends, though she kept the old thatch roof covering when her neighbours were turning to corrugated iron and slates.

But by the end of the 1920s the Mathiesons had moved to Dingwall, the Stewarts to New Zealand and old Mrs Macrae, all the menfolk of her family dead, at last moved to the comfort of the mainland. Isle Martin was empty and Tanera had only one family living on the island

Eventually, to both islands came a new owner and a new lease of life. Isle Martin was bought by Commander Clare Vyner in 1937. He poured money into the island, establishing a flour mill where there was no grain, no power source and no workforce. Workers were shipped over daily , the grain arrived by and flour was taken away by boat Even the school there reopened for a few years. But of course the project didn’t last long and after the flour mill, the old red herring curing building, had been demolished and the machinery sent for scrap, Isle Martin sank back into relative obscurity.

Today, Isle Martin is owned by the community and the Isle Martin Trust aims to develop the local natural and cultural heritage of the island. Meanwhile the owners of Tanera seek to invest in upmarket tourism to turn around the island’s fortunes.