Callinish Stones. My destination that evening was Garenin on the NW coast of Lewis. In the late afternoon I came across little corrugated iron shed, the door was open and inside were three other walkers talking to an elderly man who was operating a weaving loom. The man was John MacGregor and he was explaining to the three visitors the weaving process.John had retired from the Harris Tweed organisation a few years ago and now operated free lance.
The three visitors he was talking with were typical of folk I met walking the Islands, one was German, one was Canadian and one Australian. The shelves in the weaving shed had finished bales of tweed done to John's own design. Also pinned on the walls were two quotes. One, as befits a wee free Churchman, was from the bible:
Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.
which I later tracked down as from the epistle to the Hebrew. The second I still can't find despite several searches. It was from Thoreau and essentially said that if you were a quality craftsman no matter how remote you are located people will come to you to buy your wares. John certainly followed the injunction in Hebrews and as I stood in the isolated weaving shed it was obvious to was a living example of the Thoreau assertion.
John was the warden of the small Gatliff Hostel in a renovated black house in the village he was born. He and his wife Pat were brilliant wardens and spent many hours talking to hostellers and telling them about the area and its culture.
Before I left I went back to John's shed and and bought some tweed which I sent back by post. On my return I had it made up unto a suit and that is what (25 years later) is keeping me warm.
The story ends in part with John's death and his obituary that appeared in the Herald part of which is below. I subsequently had a letter from his wife who greatly appreciated all friendships that she and John made whilst looking after the hostel.
John took up Harris Tweed weaving as a profession and excelled as a designer and weaver. He won numerous prizes for his tweeds and one of his proudest moments was when he demonstrated his weaving skills to Her Majesty the Queen at a Craft Point exhibition in Beauly in 1981. Much of his own character was evident in the beautiful cloth he produced. His choice of colour and patterns were mere replicas of the colour, warmth, and pleasure he brought to other people's lives by his affectionate personality and friendly smile.
John was a founder member of the Carloway Historical Society and one of the founder-directors of Urras nan Gearrannan, a trust set up to restore a village of blackhouses. The first such blackhouse to be renovated became a Gatliff Trust Hostel and, when wardens were required for it, Pat and John MacGregor were the obvious candidates for the post. From 1991 to 1997 they played host to some 4000 visitors and the postcards, letters of appreciation, and comments in the visitors' book speak volumes about the quality of the MacGregor hospitality. Visitors came from all over the world and many returned more than once. Immensely proud of his culture and heritage, John was taken aback once when a German tourist asked him: ''What is it like to live in such a remote and inaccessible place?'' John replied that he thought Gearrannan was the centre of the universe and listed some of the various nationalities of the past week's visitors: French, German, Italian, Australian, Alaskan - and asked the bemused tourist: ''When did you last have an Alaskan on your doorstep?