The crofting villages which were established in the 1840s, as a result of the local parish's estate being reformed from run-rig to fixed holdings properties, were always quite small. Bualnaliub, nine miles (fifteen kilometres) to the north of Poolewe, had eleven houses and fifty people at the 1841 census – twenty-three of whom were from the same (McIver) family. Mellon Charles, thence four miles (six and a half kilometres) to the west, had two hundred and sixteen people in forty-one houses – including seventeen houses headed by a McLennan. Ormiscaig, roughly half-way between them, had ten houses (four headed by McGregors) totalling forty-eight people. One hundred and forty years later, in 1981, the population was ten at Bualnaluib, twenty-four at Ormiscaig and one hundred and ten at Mellon Charles.
Loch Ewe featured in the great wars of the twentieth century as a naval port of significant strategic importance to the United Kingdom. During World War Two many submarines entered the Atlantic Ocean from here, as did ship convoys headed to West Africa and North America and those on on the colloquially-termed "Arctic Run" to Murmansk and back.
According to the published correspondance of a local resident, the Royal Navy established watchkeeping defenses around an inlet to the south-east of Loch Ewe, sourcing the area for its cod, haddock, and mackerel reserves:
Our farmhouse was used as a barracks by the anti-aircraft battery which had emplacements around the south and east sides of the Loch [Ewe]. The concrete foundations and bomb shelters [built out of favour for the locals] still remain in the Torridon Hills. The gunners lived in a large wooden hut on the bank above the house. There was an enormous balloon shed by the shore for barrage ballons. We kept the sea boats there in winter, when the gales were prodigious. On the shore was a small concrete jetty, off which lay a summer mooring for the lobster boat. The navy had very kindly put in this mooring for my parents – a buoy about three feet long, with a chain down to a large concrete block on the seabed.
In front of the house to the south was a fresh water loch – Loch nan Dalthein – which was about two miles (3 km) long and a mile wide with a waist half way up. It had lots of small rather dark trout and the occasional sea-trout, which immigrated up the river running down to the sea. When the river got to the coast, it tumbled down a steep rocky bank, into which was built a "salmon ladder" – a series of small pools stepped down like a staircase. The drop between each pool was small enough for the fish to jump up on their way from Loch Tournaig to Loch nan Dalthein.
The dam which fed the salmon ladder also provided a crude form of hydro electricity – there was a small generator hut at the bottom with a millrace along the top of the bank, to provide a head of water. It generated one hundred and ten volts for the house about half a mile away. Electricity was turned off at 10.00 pm in the evening.
The whole anchorage at Loch Ewe was fairly well sheltered for shipping and protected from the worst weather. It was much further from Norway than the Navy's main base at Scapa Floe, thus inconvenient for German bombers (who would have been at the limit of their range). In fact, there was so much bad blood between the Luftwaffe and the Kriegsmarine that I don`t think any attacks ever took place. This wilful lack of co-operation was a big factor in the sinking of Tirpitz in Norway during the war - she was left largely unprotected, and the RAF and Fleet Air Arm did what the Germans failed to do. It was said Loch Ewe was big enough to contain the whole Royal Navy. I don't know whether this is true - but it was important for the Atlantic convoy escorts. Also, I presume, the Russian convoys, but that is speculation.
One major benefit from a naval presence was the building of a road from the railway station at Achnasheen about forty miles away – the railway went from Inverness to Kyle of Lochalsh. Until the 1860s there was no road at all. During the potato famine a track was built to provide local employment. It was literally a cart track - you can still trace parts where the new road by-passed certain sections. The new road was "single track with passing places" up the west side of Loch Maree. It would take cars and small lorries to provide a land access to the naval base on Loch Ewe. It had a big impact on the local economy as fish could then be exported to the south.
The Naval Boom Defence depot at Mellon Charles marks the start of the original protective netting which guarded the entrance to the loch. Nowadays, the Mellon Charles site is rumoured to be involved in the disposal of waste nuclear material from submarines returning from their tour of duty. Another part of the base is designated a Petroleum, Oil and Lubricants (POL) depot. This provides for the maintenance of visiting warships.
"The arrival of one of these story-tellers in a village was an important event. As soon as it became known, there would be a rush to the house where he was lodged, and every available seat – on bench, table, bed, beam, or the floor – would quickly be appropriated. And then, for hours together – just like some first-rate actor on a stage – the story-teller would hold his audience spell-bound. During his recitals, the emotions of the recitor were occasionally very strongly excited, as were also those of his listeners, who at one time would be on the verge of tears, at another give way to laughter. There were many of these listeners, by the way, who believed firmly in all the extravangances narrated.
And such rustic scenes as these, as I [will show], have by no means been without their marked upon Scottish literature.