"IT'S like being transported back in a time machine two hundred years," someone whispered, as the fire at the old Ettrick Smiddy was lit for the first time in more than half a century on Saturday.
The smiddy, a short distance up the road from Ettrick Bay, is probably the oldest surviving example of Bute's rural heritage. A family line can be traced from John Thomson, who lives there now at the age of 85, back through at least four generations of country blacksmiths who plied their trade in a building which easily dates back to the 18th century.
And, courtesy of Mr Thomson, Bute Vintage Club and two very talented young farriers, the smiddy came alive on Saturday for the first time since 1949.
The farriers were David Varini and Devin Crerar, both trained at the leading farrier's company of J. & A. Ferrie of Newmilns. They demonstrated the art of horseshoe making and shoeing using the smiddy's own fire and anvil in front of a fascinated audience - recreating the bustling atmosphere of 18th century country blacksmith's shop.
On display on one of the smiddy's walls were photographs of the men who used to live and work at the smiddy, along with examples of the traditional blacksmith's craft.
Throughout the day a bustle of engrossed visitors watched the two farriers make a horseshoe from start to finish, and witnessed Kendal, Marion Sayers' large piebald horse, having its shoes removed and being re-shod in the same way horses were shod in the 1700s.
The man who did most of the organising for the event was Ian Sinclair who, in a speech of thanks, said: "This is a long held ambition for me.
"Until today, hardly anybody knew what lay behind the doors of this building, which ceased to operate as a smiddy 50 years ago.
"There's an unbroken family chain here which is as old as the smiddy itself."
John Thomson, who lives there today, is 85 years old now, and his father, Bryce Thomson, who lived to 94 and died in 1986, was the last blacksmith to work the old smiddy.
Bryce Thomson came here in 1907 to serve his apprenticeship under John Smith, before going to work in Broxburn during the First World War to make shoes for mules. On returning to Bute, Bryce went to work for Rothesay's leading farrier at the time, Andrew Baird, in the High Street, and married John Smith's daughter Catherine.
John was born in 1864; his father, Peter Smith, was born in 1828 and his father Duncan in 1795. Peter is the first known blacksmith at the Ettrick smiddy, though it's more than likely that Duncan was a smith too.
Recalling his own memories of the days when the smiddy still worked, John Thomson told us: "There used to be seven blacksmiths on the island, and this was the last one.
"It's still the last that's workable. It hasn't changed at all since it was last used in 1949.
"There were two fires in there at one time and half a dozen men working. All the farms in the area had their equipment made and repaired here, and had their Clydesdale horses shod here. They used to have to show cartwheels too.
"When my father was an apprentice here all the traffic was milk crates travelling along the roads from the farms at five in the morning.
"They would stop and throw stones on to the roof to wake my father up to put studs on their horses' shoes to stop them slipping on the icy roads in winter.
"If you were a farmer - well, you name it, if you wanted a bit of machinery made or repaired you went to the country blacksmith.
"But tractors started on the island in the early 1940s and that really did away with the country blacksmiths."
That march of technology makes it all the more remarkable that a traditional blacksmith's shop like the Ettrick smiddy should survive, virtually intact, into the 21st century.
And for one day only on Saturday, it provided a remarkable, but all too brief, window into a valuable, and often forgotten, piece of Bute's industrial heritage.
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Weather for Rothesay
Sunday 26 May 2013
Temperature: 8 C to 16 C
Wind Speed: 15 mph
Wind direction: South west
Temperature: 7 C to 11 C
Wind Speed: 17 mph
Wind direction: South