An historic journey - and future plans

romhc Sunday, 7 April 2024

On Saturday 13th January, 28 folk gathered in the Ross of Mull Historical Centre for the AGM, were taken on an historic journey by Donald MacGillivray, AKA ‘Donald Drover’. His talk, ‘The Drove Road’ described the centuries-old practice of herding cattle from Iona, down the Ross, through Glen More and down to Grasspoint, and then via Kerrara to the mainland and onward to the Falkirk trysts. Drovers camped out with the cattle on the way there and risked robbers on the way back, bringing cash from the sales to hand over to crofters at the Bunessan Inn. His grandfather (also Donald) took part in one of the last of these heroic journeys, before steam ships calling at Loch na Làthaich and also the railway from Oban changed so much.

Donald is a great storyteller and ‘networker’ – in the course of the afternoon, he established that he was related, or connected, to most of those present! We are very grateful to him and Carol for making the journey from Pennygown – though not on foot through the Glen.

The AGM gave other causes for gratitude. We’re not a large organisation, but our finances are in good shape – in spite of the cost of heating and lighting an old, cold building and connecting (most of the time) to the internet. In winter, with the Centre’s doors closed, oor website and e-Newsletters are a valuable means of communication. The Trustees reported that a grant from the Waterfall Fund has enabled us to keep the Centre warm for activities such as Feis and the ongoing work of cataloguing our archives. Andrea Cameron has generously given her professional help and training in this project.

Meanwhile very different skills are being developed in the Community Garden, which is used by schoolchildren studying wild flowers and moths, locals growing vegetables and tourists comparing notes with their own ‘green’ initiatives. We’re grateful for all the opportunities our grounds open up; responsibilities, too: at the moment the wooden footbridge over the Bunessan River is being reconstructed, on grounds of safety, with wood from the Community Forest at Tiroran. Grants have already been received from MESS, the Toddler Creative Sessions and one generous individual, but more will be needed, since the cost of a structure which will stand many more years of wear (and the impact of many feet coming to the Centre) will be close to £2,000.

A surprise donation from America enabled a feasibility study of work to stabilise and possibly develop the ruined Corn Mill. Now the serious work of consulting the community on the Ross, and fund-raising begins.

Of course, the Historical Centre is more than buildings. In 2023 we hosted excellent talks by local artists and scholars Mhairi Killin and Eleanor MacDougall, and took to the Bunessan Show a display on the theme of Local Heroes, which included a feature on carpenter and piper Calum Macpherson. Many visitors to the Show shared their stories of a man much loved. As with ‘Donald Drover’ there’s no end to the connections – but that’s Mull for you!

Finally, we should mention another man with a gift for connections and communication. Professor John Stewart Cameron CBE was a leading nephrologist who founded a globally renowned kidney unit at Guy’s hospital, in recognition of which he was awarded a CBE.  A colleague described him as “the most curiously intelligent doctor I have ever known”. Staying in his cottage just outside Bunessan in his spare time, he used that intelligence and curiosity to research the rich history of the Ross. Years of scholarship, with his knowledge of this place and its people, bore fruit in A History of the Ross of Mull, first published in 2014. His death in July 2023 deprived us all of a good friend.

Last autumn the book sold out, so the RoMHC Trustees are grateful to his family for permission – indeed encouragement – to reprint it. Stewart’s love of Mull, and his enthusiasm in communicating it, were inspiring. Readers of this unique book will share that experience. The third impression of the book is now available to buy in the Centre or online.

Jan SP 17.1.24

Images below : black Highland cattle, closer to how they would have looked originally (courtesy of John Clare); Donald MacGillivray judging Highland cattle; Donald's grandfather (courtesy of the MacGillivray family).

The Ross of Mull is an extraordinary microcosm of all that draws visitors to the Hebridean Islands. The scenery, as you travel along the single-track road from the ferry at Craignure is breath-taking. You experience in the many walks in the area a true sense of wilderness; the secret bays with their beaches of silvery sand, the abundance of wildlife and the innumerable marks on the landscape of the lives of past generations and communities long gone. The Ross of Mull is a compelling place for anyone fascinated by history and the ancient way of life of the Gaelic people.

Contact Us

Ross of Mull Historical Centre
Millbrae Cottage
Isle of Mull
Argyll PA67 6DG

By Phone: 01681 700659
By Email:

Opening Times

Reopening 1st April 2024

Monday - Friday 10am - 4pm


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