Stornoway’s Safari Park

19 11 2008

In 1931, the Stornoway Trustees were concerned about the upkeep of the Castle Grounds. The cost of maintaining the woodlands was increasing each year, with very little income being generated by the Policies.

A number of cash generating schemes were considered by the Trustees such as charging for poaching the Creed, introducing a toll gate on the various bridges crossing into the Grounds and establishing a pram tax to prevent wear and tear on the Low Road.

However, after much debate, the Trust decided to turn a substantial part of the Castle Grounds into a Wildlife Safari Park. The idea was that this would provide a steady source of income from patrons, whilst providing a range of educational opportunities for the children of the town. It was also envisioned that substantial income would be realised from ‘big game hunters’ who would be willing to pay top shilling for the chance to shoot exotic animals, without the inconvenience of having to sail half way around the world to do so.

Plans were made, cash flows were estimated and the idea began to crystallise, spurred on by the thought of all these trophy heads adorning the Trust Offices. The Trustees voted unanimously in favour of the proposals and the Stornoway Gazette ran the idea as its headline in the first week of February 1931.

The Trust Factor hired a large cargo steamer, crewed it with deep sea veterans from the isles and filled the holds with empty cages. Its mission was to sail the world collecting spare animals that wouldn’t be missed.

The cargo steamer, bedecked in bunting and wee Stornoway Trust flags, sailed from Stornoway in April 1931 with much cheering, flag waving and confetti-flinging from the gathered throng. The Captain had strict orders not to return until all the cages were bulging with exotic animals of every shape and size. The Trustees recommended the ship made sail for Africa, the Indian sub-continent and South America, where they were confident the very finest in exotic beasts could be found.

As the ship sailed past Arnish on its voyage of discovery, the Trust Gardeners were already preparing the Castle Grounds for their new inhabitants.  A network of fences and ditches were erected round the perimeter and a new visitors centre was constructed roughly where the present day Woodlands Centre is. A team of Safari Guides were employed and adverts were placed in all the best Huntin’ Shootin’ and Fishin’ magazines.

Almost exactly a year to the day, the Trust cargo steamer sailed back into Stornoway, only much lower in the water and with strange growls and roars emanating from the holds.

Almost the whole town turned out to watch the procession of beasts make their way to the new Safari Park. Elephants, tigers, lions, penguins, antelope, giraffes and hippopotami made a stately way towards the Grounds in cages on the backs of various trucks and lorries. Each truck reversed up to the Marybank Lodge gates and a squad of Gardeners prodded and pushed the animals out into the woodlands.

A penguin colony was soon established at the Sheriff Pool on the River Creed. Monkeys took over the south slope of Gallows Hill. Elephants were soon seen plodding across the Castle Green and folk living on Willowglen Road could make out the heads of giraffes bobbing above the branches.

The first visitors were allowed entrance to the Safari Park on 1st May 1932, but a planned press conference was ruined when a herd of gazelle, being chased by a lioness, knocked over the ‘top table’ of dignitaries. However, only a few of the dignitaries were trampled to death and only one was eaten.

The Trust had arranged a number of special hunting parties for high paying clients for August of that year, but these plans were thrown into disarray when it was discovered that a gang of Ballalan coves had sneaked in to the Castle Grounds at night and had poached 90% of the animals.

The Trust and peoples of Stornoway were devastated at this loss and the Safari Park dream came to an abrupt end. The remaining animals avoided capture and are rumoured to still be in the Castle Grounds to this day. Occasionally a visitor to the Grounds may come across a rogue elephant knocking down trees (the Trust always claims that ‘it was a storm that did it’… ) or a lurking hippo in the Bayhead River playing amongst the shopping trolleys and traffic cones. Ostriches have been known to leap from the tops of the fir trees just beyond Lady Mathesons Monument and peck at passing joggers. And of course, nearly everyone knows about the giraffes that can be seen behind Mac An t-Stronaich Cave, climbing up through the rhododendron bushes in order to catch the best sunlight.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: