MAGNUS MOWAT, CHAMPION CAITHNESS CYCLIST.
Born summer of 1894 at Banniskirk; died 21.1.1980, buried in Halkirk cemetery.
Known affectionately throughout the county as “Mack”: I use this rather than the “Mac” which is often used (eg by. Donald Carmichael of Dorrery in his John O’Groat Journal obituary of 8.2.1980) as that was how he always signed his Christmas cards to me.
Until the outbreak of World War 1 in 1914 he worked on the land. During the war he served in the 5th Seaforth Highlanders in the rank of sergeant and was gassed at Arras in 1918 and suffered rheumatic fever. Two of his brothers, Lt Murdo Mowat and Company Sergeant Major James Mowat D.C.M.,M.M., also served in the Seaforths.
In 1919 he started work with William Dunnet and Co., Cycle Agents, Thurso and returned to racing, going straight to the top where he remained until retiring from competition in 1923.
His first documented race was a boys’ event at Wick Gala in 1910 when he finished second. In 1911 at Bower he got first prize for the Parish and third in open competition: at Lybster he was second in the 1 mile and 2 mile and 4th in the Wick road race. That was just the start. By the end of August 1922 he had raced in 105 events with prizes in every one, including 41 first places despite being the scratch man with large handicaps to overcome. He was Caithness Champion from 1911-1913 and 1919-1923.
In 1923 his initiative led to the formation of the Thurso Youths Athletic Club but low gate receipts caused its demise two years later.
In 1932 he set up his shop in Olrig Street, Thurso which he ran single-handed until he fell ill on 5.1.1980, just 2 weeks before his death.
Mack never lost his love for cycle racing and when Caithness Cycling Club formed in 1963 he became its enthusiastic Life President. He and his wife Ally would often drive to the Dingwall-Inverness area in his large Jaguar car to support club riders in races. To further grass track racing he bought 4 track bikes to lend free to young enthusiasts who he then coached at Millbank on Thursday evening. Ally once told me that the formation of the club had given Mack a new lease of life. In his shop- which always remained gas-lit- he carried out repairs either free of charge or for a trivial sum, all to encourage youngsters to cycle and to race.
He died peacefully in1980 after a short illness. As Donald Carmichael so eloquently put it, “And now he has quietly crossed the finishing line in the race that was set before him. He ran it well”. Indeed he did.
Compiled by Alasdair Washington current Life President of Caithness Cycling Club and privileged to be a friend of Mack.
I have abstracted freely from the following:
1. John O’ Groat Journal, 28.8.1922. “Caithness Cyclist’s Career” by “B.Goode”.
2. Cycling magazine, 11.11.1978. Article by “Ragged Staff” from information by Ian (T.I.) Marshall, founder member of CCC.
3. John o’Groat Journal, 8.2.1980. Obituary of Magnus Mowat, by Donald M. Carmichael