The Rovin’ Boy

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Some stories written about James McQueen "The Rovin’ Boy", after my uncle wrote a letter to the editor of The Scotsman asking if any other readers knew anything about his life.

Mr J Nicholson of Wick, Caithness

6 February 1985

He always stopped the night with the farmer who lived next to us. The farmer’s name was William Bremner and he and his wife were very kind to the road people and they never turned anyone away.

I remember your grandfather slept in their barn. He always had his cart with him as well. He would snuggle down amongst the newly thrashed straw.

My brothers and I nearly always helped out on thrashing day and we would fill up the barn until it was stacked to the rafters. We used to swing on the rafters and drop into the straw which was great fun for all us youngsters. They were happy days even though the times were hard.

I remember your grandfather was always sharpening a saw and a knife for my late father. Each morning your grandfather would be given a good breakfast after his warm sleep in the hay. After a few days he would set off again as contented as you could wish for and set his feet for Groats.

Thomas C Walsh of Fareham, Hampshire

5 January 1985

I was very interested to see your letter about your grandfather. I heard a number of stories about your grandfather, James McQueen from Mr Gregor Crom MacKenzie in the Rhoddorroch Estate Factor’s Office on Ullapool Pier whilst I was on holiday there on 1967. Mr MacKenzie’s description mentioned a travelling man with a barrow, who sometimes slept in the open, but who was always clean and of well kept appearance. He had equipment for sharpening knives and saws, by which he made part of his living.

At the time I was very interested in the stories I heard about your grandfather but I cannot remember all the details now. I think he was supposed to have some well off relatives who sent him money from time to time and who persistently tried to persuade him to return home.

Mr MacKenzie’s description of your grandfather partly inspired the content of my second attempt at a novel as I was then a would be writer in my teens. I also retained my interest in your grandfather for some years afterwards on subsequent visits to the north-west of Scotland. I frequently asked locals for their recollections of your grandfather, James McQueen.

One story I heard was from a fisherman at Kylesku in 1970 who remembered meeting James McQueen in an inn where he had a tobacco tin full of money from which resource he was buying people drinks or giving away notes. I also think I heard a report about him from a local man in Durness. However, I have not been back to the north west of Scotland since 1973 and my recollections are somewhat hazy. It would certainly appear, however, that your grandfather was regularly seen on the west coast road in Ross and Sutherland.