Who was Granny Beaton?

Granny Beaton was a shepherd’s wife, always busy in the kitchen, cooking and baking. Always lots of visitors to their home and always a warm welcome. Family, friends, shepherds and travellers all dined well on Granny Beaton's hospitality.

Granny Beaton, Catherine (Katie) McNeil Mitchell, was born in 1914, one of ten children, she grew up in Muasdale, Kintyre.

She left school at 14 to go into domestic service as a kitchen maid at Glencreggan House, Glenbarr before getting a job as a cook at Minard Castle. It was here that she met her husband, Donald, who lived at nearby Inverae Farm. One of his jobs was to deliver milk to the castle.

They married in 1936 and moved into Inverae Cottage. Donald (Grandpa) was called up to serve in World War Two. Granny and her young son, Duncan, my father, moved to Tullochgorm. Her second son, Robert, was born here.

In November 1942, Grandpa was posted missing. No news about him until July 1943, when Granny was informed that he had been captured and taken prisoner of war(POW). Grandpa was moved to one of Germany’s largest prison camps, Stalag IV-B and remained a POW until the war ended. Granny looked after her boys and kept things going for Grandpa returning. During his time as a POW, Granny wrote to Grandpa, enclosing photographs of his young family:

Dad, Uncle Robert and Granny Beaton, Tullochgorm, 1940s
Photo posted to Grandpa at Stalag IVB
Uncle Robert, Granny and Dad, Tullochgorm, 1940s
Dad, his Granny Mitchell, Aunty Morag and Uncle Robert, Tullochgorm, 1940s

After the war, Grandpa worked as a shepherd on a number of tied crofts in Argyll and latterly at Butterbridge, on the Cairndow Estate(the Estate). Butterbridge, a croft on the side of the A83, at the bottom of Beinn Ime, just after the Rest and Be Thankful, was one of the most rugged sheep tendings in the area. At that time, the Estate covered around 22,000 acres, across steep, rocky terrain and employed 8 hill shepherds to look after their 3000 sheep.

Some of my fondest memories of my grandparents are from when they lived at Butterbridge.

As a child, Butterbridge had lots to keep me occupied – pottering about, playing in sheds, collecting eggs, keeping up with sheepdogs, feeding lambs and hens and tagging along with my Grandpa. I was oblivious to real job of shepherding.

Butterbridge had one of the larger sheep sheds and sheep fanks (pens) in the area, so it was used constantly throughout the year. The Estate shepherds would meet at Butterbridge and work together, on foot, gathering the hundreds of sheep from the hills, bringing them down to Butterbridge. The shepherds needed fed. The Estate provided the basic provisions, ordered from a grocers in Inveraray and delivered to Butterbridge. Granny provided the meals and was paid a small amount for her time.

Gathering at Butterbridge, 1960s - Image courtesy Country Diaries by Matt Mundell

In the summer months, the gatherings could start as early as 4am. About 4 or 5 hours later, once the shepherds got the sheep down off the hills, they went to Butterbridge for a breakfast of porridge, followed by bacon and egg. At midday there would be a bowl of soup, bread, scones and later on there would be afternoon tea. During clippings there could be as many as 20 shepherds working at Butterbridge, so meals were often served in 2 sittings. If a clipping went on into the evening, Granny would serve high tea, plain food, such as mince and potatoes, pancakes, fruit loaf and cake. There was great camaraderie amongst the shepherds and they often enjoyed a few drams together at the end of the day. No transport or shops nearby, cupboards were always stocked full of provisions, in preparation for adverse weather conditions or unexpected visitors. Granny also did Bed and Breakfast, baked for a tearoom in Inveraray and sometimes helped out in the kitchen at the Cairndow Hotel.

Angel of the Rest and Be Thankful

Granny Beaton was well known for taking in many motorists who broke down on the Rest and Be Thankful, at 245 metres above sea level, the road was notorious for being shut by bad weather. She had a first aid sign at the side of the road, offering a safe haven for walkers stuck or injured on the hills. Everyone was welcome at Butterbridge.

Teatime at Butterbridge

In the late 1970s, she was tickled pink when The Sunday Post wrote a feature about her. The headline was the ‘Angel of the Rest and Be Thankful’ after it was recognised, that over the years she had come to the aid of so many stranded people, fed them and gave them shelter. The road still makes headlines today, with landslides now a recurring problem. Butterbridge lies derelict.

She would write to me, telling me about what was going on in Argyll and enclosing her favourite recipes.

Her letters were chatty. Cooking was a huge part of her life and she hoped that it would be important to me too.

Letter extract

She told me of family gatherings, birthday parties and fishing trips and I told her of my life in Moffat.

Letter extract

Letter extract

Letter extract

Like many other Scottish grandmothers of that generation, Granny Beaton would always make a Clootie Dumpling for every birthday:

Letter extract

Letter extract

On leaving Butterbridge, Granny and Grandpa moved to Cumlodden, near Crarae Garden. Grandpa got a part time job at Minard Castle tending the cattle, back to where he first met Granny 50 years before.

Granny and Grandpa lived their whole lives within the rural communities of Argyll. They had some great photos:

Granny, Muasdale, 1920s
Granny’s mother, Margaret Mitchell, Muasdale, 1930s
Granny’s father, Robert Mitchell, far right, Kintyre, 1930s
Great Granny Mitchell, Muasdale, 1940s
Granny, Grandpa and dad, Inverae Cottage, 1940s
Dad and his Uncle Johnny, Muasdale, 1940s
Dad, with his Uncle Davy and Blossom, Muasdale, 1940s
Dad and brother Robert, Muasdale, 1940s
Granny, Grandpa and dad, Asknish Cottage, 1950s
Granny, Loch Fyne, 1960s
Mum, Granny, Norah, Aunty Morag, Grandpa, Kirsteen, Uncle Lachie, Dad, Butterbridge, 1970s
Granny and Grandpa, sheepdog trials, Cairndow, 1980s
Granny and Grandpa, Cumlodden, 1980s
Grandpa, Minard Castle, 1980s
Granny, Grandpa, Aunty Frances, Kirsteen, Furnace, 1980s
Granny, Grandpa, Dad, cousin Catherine, Kirsteen, Cumlodden, 1980s