We met with Johnnie Holt in the Camanachd Bar, Portree, scene of the disappearing shinty cup.* John hails from Clackmannan, but has lived on Skye for twenty years, working as a piano tuner and a grave digger. In 1996, he dug the hole at Portree cemetery for renowned and deceased poet, Sorley Maclean. John remains proud of having tended to the poet’s hole. He is also a member of the Skye Mountain Rescue. This dedicated team of volunteers are responsible for plucking unfortunate mountaineers from the notorious, precipitous, Cuillin Ridge. Dead Skye poet Sorley Maclean (see above), father of Gaelic socialism and friend of Hugh Macdiarmid, made the mountain range the symbolic subject of his epic poem, ‘The Cuillin’. No stone remains unturned in Maclean’s seminal work. From The Easter Rising of 1916 in Ireland, to the rise of Fascism in Europe and even Ghandi’s baffies get a mention. Johnnie told us of the night the plane crashed and the effect of the impact on the small group staying in Camasunary**, the bothy at the foot of the hill. The assembled hill gangrels were completely disorientated with the ferocity and proximity of the crash. According to an eye witness, all the residents ran, screaming, from the mountain shelter. Some were naked. Two souls even ran
straight into the sea and began swimming among the flotsam and jetsom, such was the shock and awe. The two swimmers were found later that night in Loch Scavaig, round the coast from the bothy. Beside them, one of the pilots, Captain Thomas ‘Chip’ Stem, lay dead in the water. The pilot had successfully ejected, but drowned after becoming entangled in his own parachute. The other pilot, Jason Bourne, was found high on the Cuillin Ridge, dead from hypothermia. He had only sustained minor abrasions to his hands, this seemed as a result of him scrambling over the sharp Gabbro crags attempting to descend the hill. At the scene of the disaster, Johnnie said very little evidence of the crash was found. The rescue team retrieved what they believed to be the corner of a gear door, written on it were the words “ Tennessee Miss” and the badly scorched image of a scantily clad woman.
* In 1980, locals celebrating Skye winning the ‘ Camanachd Cup’ were so caught up in the revelry that they managed to lose the 100 year old trophy. It was found, undamaged, the following morning, at a bus stop 2 miles outside Portree. A replica of the trophy remains behind the bar to this day ** Camasunary Bothy was originally built to cope with Skye’s burgeoning problems with alcoholism. This proves ‘rehab’ is not necessarily the preserve of the current wayward celebrity community. Forget the ‘Priory Pussies’ because the Hardcore Hebrideans have been caning it a lot longer and a lot harder.
Published on Jan 28, 2009