Rennie McOwan 'a true son of Scotland'
How did you become a tour guide?
A question I have been asked more than once, and I enjoy answering it!
In my opinion, my ‘job’ is like no other. Private day tours and multi-day tours all over Scotland.
Covering large parts of the country and getting to know wonderful people from all over the world. It’s only natural for clients to ask my story and how I became a tour guide.
The journey from stranger to friend happens quickly on a private tour!
Trying to paint the same picture of Scotland that my Father painted for me has always been my aim on any tour and hoping some of the memories, stories and folklore live on after my guests have left these shores.
Travellers who visit Scotland, have very different needs and wants.
A mixture of all of the above?
Most of all, a fun and relaxing experience. Sitting back, watching the world go by, and exploring the remote Scottish countryside with a private guide.
Remembering dates, folklore, trying to capture a Scotland, certainly not taught when I attended school, can be daunting on your first tour.
I remember mine very well indeed!
Every guide has a tale to tell of how they ended up in this incredible job — my own starts with my Father, Dr. Rennie McOwan.
Mountaineer, author, broadcaster, poet, access campaigner, and a true son of Scotland’
From my earliest memories of camping on the Scottish mountains’ with my Dad (with no tent, I might add) to the lengthy family hikes in the snow.
The car journeys heading North on family holidays or watching Dad on TV.
Hearing his typewriter from the end of our street sounding like some old printing press. Fingers a blur, meeting newspaper deadlines, or keeping the flow and passion in a new chapter of the latest book.
My father’s passion came in part at an early age from epic tales of this own Grandfather and Great grandfather—legendary Highland Stalkers ‘Old’ Donald Ross and his son Johnnie Ross.
The article below is from the book “The best of Scotland on Sunday,”
An annual publication of the best of that particular Sunday Newspapers features from the year past.
Dad wrote for many newspapers, including the Herald and Scotsman. Contributed regularly to The Scots Magazine as well as TV and radio programs.
The Best of Scotland on Sunday
Small but beautifully formed ( ‘The Best of Scotland on Sunday’ )
Sometimes hill gangrels argue about which hill is the most northerly on the mainland. The Munro-baggers have a clear-cut case: Ben Hope, above Strath More, is clearly the most Northerly Munro, followed by Ben Kilbreck (pronounced kee-bree), and both can be reached via the A836 Lairg and Tongue road in Sutherland.
I once participated in a lighthearted discussion at Cape Wrath over whether a nearby swelling constituted a hill. But, aesthetically, one of the most northerly mountains of stature, is surely Morven in Caithness. At 2313 feet, it is not big, and for those who love categories, it is not even a Corbett (2500 feet needed), but it is very big when seen from the terrain where it belongs- the flatlands of Caithness, the rolling brown moors besprinkled with lochans, the small fields, with their ‘fences’ of Caithness slab, the big skies, the little fishing villages that have known other, more prosperous times and the many ruined houses, relics of changing patterns and enforced eviction.
The expansionist Norsemen gave us the name Sutherland, their south land, and Caithness derives from old Norse, Katanes, the naze or nose of the Land of the Cat, from the Gaelic Cattey or Cattadh.
When they looked south across the flatlands, they saw a blocking wall of mountains, which forced the trade routes, as they still do, down the eastern coast.
Morven takes its name from the Gaelic for big or great mountain and it dominates this area, has magnificent views over wide moorland and wild glens, and is flanked to the west by the long cut of the Strath of Kildonan. Two lovely rivers, the Berriedale and Langwell, flank it on the north and south.
Here I have to declare an interest,. My mother was born at Langwell, and my Grandfather, Johnnie Ross, and my great-grandfather, old Donald Ross, were stalkers on the Duke of Portlands estate. Donald Ross was known all over the northern counties as a head stalker of great experience, a man who thought nothing of using his tongue on guests who would not accept his instructions and a friend as well as an employee of the Duke.
Donald Ross once threatened a guest with a gralloching knife after he had called him a fool. The guest demanded that he be sacked, but it was the guest that left that night. He also had a fight with the French chef and sat on his head and shouted, “Waterloo! Waterloo!” The Duchess wanted Donald sacked. The Chef left. Donald stayed.
Guests in Whites Club in London crowded to the window to watch him walking down the street, wearing plus-fours and carry a crook and saying “good morning” to everyone he met, in the same manner as Crocodile Dundee in New York.
His son, Johnnie, contracted tuberculosis in the days before it could be cured, and the Duke sent him to Rhodesia to start a tobacco farm in the hope that the climate would cure him, but he died there.
Granny Ross must have had a big heart to travel there by ox wagon, found a home and with the only other male her eldest son, then aged 14. My mother said she sometimes wept thinking of the chuckle of the Caithness burns, and she longed for the feel of rain on her face. But she returned to Scotland and died there after a long life.
Morven is special to Caithness people, and so are its neighbours, the long ridge of Scaraben and the sharp-pointed, lovely, small peak, the maiden pap. Morven is a landmark to sailors and a weather barometer for local people.
Caithness people of my mother’s generation, such as author Neil Gunn, took pride in local people ‘getting on’. I read in an old history that seven distinguished Edinburgh Caithness students early last century had formed themselves into a kind of self-help band which they called the Corriechoich Brotherhood, named after a bothy and part of the glen on the Braemore side of the mountain.
The modern landowners of the Wellbeck Estates now have a popular gardening centre at Langwell, and water from the hill burns is bottled, canned, and exported, surely one of the most cost-effective businesses in Scotland.
The estate prefers hillwalkers to climb Morven from the northern, Braemore side, where a minor road runs west from Dunbeath. Cars must be left beside the phone box at Braemore Lodge(checks are requested during stalking). A track leads to Corriechoich, from where the mountain can be gained over rough ground. The southern route up the beautiful Langwell Glen is also very attractive, and both glens have produced poetry and songs of praise from Caithness people.
Morven cannot be put into a mathematical category. Like Bennachie in the northeast or Dunchuach at Inveraray, it has a special character for local people, but it’s the size, stature, setting, history, and vistas that make its name truly appropriate, the Great Mountian.
Rennie McOwan 1933-2018
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