Village of Confusion

Breakish Map onlyB

Breakish as realised by Ian MacRae, Mrs L365’s father, in 1977. This was created in aid of the campaign for an improved road through Breakish. The council wanted the big one within the dotted lines and the village didn’t. The village won. Let that be a lesson to anyone taking Breakish on. We live at the far end of the middle road where it joins with the left or top road.

It’s still two weeks till Easter, but we had our first one a couple of weeks ago. The bell rang, the Assistants leapt to their feet (shouldn’t that be paws?) barking furiously. In an effort to stop our children from answering the door and letting the Assistants out to happily assault whoever was standing at our front door I yelled “I’ll get it!” and barged my way to the front of the stampede. I opened the door to a middle aged man who was smiling sheepishly. Behind him in a car were three more nervous and expectant people. The looks on their faces lead me to believe that a lot was riding on the outcome of the question the man was about to ask.

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In halting and fractured English he asked directions to a bed and breakfast in our village. He told me the number of the B & B. I had no idea where it was. He then had a spirited attempt at saying its name, which was in Gaelic. I recognised the name and broke into a large reassuring smile. “Ah, yes! I know where that is. It’s at the far end.” I said, pointing to the other end of the village. The man looked relieved, he had probably been driving up and down the main road looking for the house with increasing despair. I gave directions in as few words as possible and placed a little dot on his road atlas to mark the B & B. He turned to the car with a large grin and the faces within broke into grins too. They drove off happy in the knowledge that they won’t be sleeping in the hire car after all.

Once Easter and the holiday season comes around we can expect many more of these occurrences. Due to the situation of our house, by the main road onto the island, we are ideally placed for lost tourists to pull in, look at their maps or sat-navs and conclude they are hopelessly lost. Then they ring our bell.

Actually that reminds me. When you are in Skye switch off your sat-nav, it’s a menace. Use Google maps or even better get a road map or OS map out and do your navigation old school. The problem with a sat-nav is post codes. Many people key the destination in by it’s post code. Our entire village has one postcode. Vast areas of the Highlands can share a postcode. Our village consists of three parallel roads as you can see from the painting. The sat nav wants you to go to the lowest road by the shore when you input the postcode and will tell you there are many bisecting roads down to it. It will assure you there is a road every fifty yards off the middle road and send you down what is actually a croft entry which is a muddy track between fields only used by dog walkers and sheep. Except when satellite navigation dependant drivers don’t question what they are being told. The lorry driver that religiously followed his on screen instructions was most put out when the track he was on became narrower and narrower and bouncier and bouncier until it wedged him between two fences and he could go no further. He found out it was very boggy too as his 10 tonne lorry began to sink. His windscreen will have informed him that where he was being told to drive down was a gap between fields with knee high vegetation and a one person wide path meandering through it. His sat-nav screen said it was a road…who did he follow?

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Somebody actually believed their sat-nav when it told them to take their 10 tonne lorry down here

To be honest any form of navigation is a fraught undertaking in our village. We live in Lower Breakish but some people below us are in Upper Breakish. On the other side of the main road there is number one Upper Breakish, next door to them on the far side from us is 40 Lower Breakish and next to that the houses are Scullamus numbers, except for the other Lower Breakish houses hidden amongst the Scullamus houses. On the other side of number one Upper Breakish is, ehhm, number one Upper Breakish. A nice exemplar of the lunacy of the Croft numbering is the the numbering of Lower Breakish cofts get higher as they head towards Broadford while Upper Breakish get lower. Wave goodbye to logic, it’s as lost as the tourists.

IMG_6515A                                                          The Committee Road in all its glory

The reason for this apparently random numbering is that the numbers belong to the crofts the houses reside on. The crofts were here long before there were any roads. Indeed all the fictitious roads the sat-navs are determined to send you down are old entries to crofts.

Our house is on croft 34 but so are two other houses so technically our address is ⅓ of 34. This means we live in the third house built on the croft. The first is number 34. it would be reasonable to expect the second to be number two or the second but no. it is half of 34. So if another house was built it would be quarter of 34. Maybe…

Mrs L365’s cousin lives at the other end of the middle road which is named the Committee Road (so called as its placement was decided by a committee of local worthies). If I was giving directions by house number I could tell someone that they were looking for ½ of 14 Upper Breakish which is the one after ½ of 12 and across from and 2 Lower Breakish (I’m presuming 13 doesn’t have a house on it yet). Luckily on the the far side of it is the unexpectedly consecutive numbered 15 Upper Breakish. However! There is another Half of 14 on the main road. This is logical since if there is one half there has to be another somewhere or arithmetic would be wrong and we can’t have that.

Yes we can.

The one on the main road is the original house so by Skye logic it is 14. They both have signs on their gates proclaiming themselves half of 14. So if someone is looking for the address half of 14 then you have to ask which one and you get a slightly blank, slightly confused look back. I would at this point ask for the householders name which is sometimes an error on my part as I am rubbish at remembering names and would be of no assistance. Lucky we are related to one of the households and most of the time I remember who they are.

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                     You can’t have a story about rural roads without a passing place sign, can you?

Crofts sometimes have names too. Usually inherited from houses on them. The problem here is that since the roads appeared after the crofts Someone who owned a house on one part of the croft often built another house elsewhere on the croft that was accessed from a different road and moved the house name from the old to the new. The old house then reverted to the croft number that had been redundant for years, possibly generations, or a new name, or even worse the two houses shared the same name causing chaos and confusion in giving directions. Add to that the intransigence of some villagers in not moving with the times and insisting in calling a renamed property by it’s previous name and it just gets worse.

A croft could have been crossed by three roads there is the opportunity to have four houses. No, hold on.. lets work it out. one house on the shore, then the lower, Lower Breakish road cuts across so the could be a house on the upper side of the shore road so that’s two. Then the croft continues up to the Committee road and there could be a house on either side of it. So, yes, that’s 4 houses on a croft.

 

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People like me, who come from arithmetic and logical, big city suburbs cannot get a grip on this haphazard illogical naming and numbering that seems second nature to those who have been immersed in it for years.

It gets worse. When I ask Mrs L365 where somewhere is she will say,

“Och, yes. That’s (insert name of someone who died or moved away 25 years ago) house”

I have no idea who she is talking about. I only moved here in 2010 and I cannot reinforce enough how rotten I am with names. Even though the house she speaks of was indeed someones it was passed on to his son 60 years ago who then gave it to his daughter who married someone and moved away selling the house to someone who sold it to someone else who gave it their son who knocked it down and built two separate houses on the plot and sold one. This croft will still be known to locals as Angus’s/Duncan’s/Callum’s/Lachlan’s croft. If someone on holiday from Belgium comes looking for one of those two houses giving the wrong person the correct address then they have utterly had it.

There is a special Highland twist to this. In the past folk were parsimonious and unimaginative with given names – the previously mentioned Angus, Duncan, Callum, Lachlan and maybe a sprinkling of Archies, Donalds or Alexanders. This is countered with a breathtakingly surreal, almost dadaist approach to nicknames. A multitude of Archie’s Places only differentiated by some obscure family nickname (I can give you an Archie Margaret an Archie Shilo or even a Lachie Hoover…)  is an unmarked navigational minefield for the likes of me (I cannot emphasise how bad I am with names)

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                                           Can you imagine this is a road? Some sat-navs do

Such chaos is beyond my computation and I will probably never manage so I am taking this opportunity to apologise in advance to all the poor lost souls from France and Spain and Canada and India and America and Germany and the Netherlands and the many other countries that send visitor to our island then turn up at my door asking where their bed for the night is. They can rest assured (probably overnight in their car) that I am as lost as they are.

 

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