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March 2021 Issue
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All photos are copyright either of the individual photographers or West Word.
Knoydart residents seek community buyout of The Old Forge
After decades of private ownership, residents of the Knoydart peninsula are undertaking a bold plan to bring their local pub under community ownership. The Old Forge pub, situated in the village of Inverie, is known to many as the Guinness World Records 'Remotest Pub in Mainland Britain'.
Residents were informed mid-January of the current owner's intention to place the pub on the market and a community consultation was held to gauge local opinion on seeking a community buyout - the response being overwhelmingly supportive.
Jacqui Wallace, co-chair of the steering group, says "The Old Forge plays a vital role in our continued sustainability and we have a great opportunity here to secure its future and bring added benefit to the community that wouldn't be possible under private ownership.
"Under a community ownership model, profits would be reinvested back into the community which will improve our circular economy and enable us to work on projects that benefit locals and visitors alike.
"Pubs are at the heart of every community and it is no different in Knoydart. As well as the obvious economic benefits, more than anything we are focussing on the positive social and environmental impacts we could make if the buyout is successful. Our goal is for the pub to be a welcoming and inclusive social hub for residents and the thousands of visitors we receive each year."
The Old Forge Community Benefit Society, Knoydart
At the end of January, Knoydart residents were made aware of Mr Robinet's intention to put The Old Forge pub on the market. After a very successful community consultation, and over 30 volunteers offering their time and skills, a steering group formed to take a community ownership bid forward.
The pub officially went on the market on Tuesday 23rd February at offers over £425,000. On the same day the group - The Old Forge Community Benefit Society - launched our campaign. The feedback on social media has been overwhelming, with messages of support and offers of help coming in from around the world. We have also received substantial coverage in national newspapers, blogs, magazine articles and even an interview spot on BBC Radio Scotland.
Given that we only had a few weeks' notice to start from the ground up, there has been a huge amount of work happening behind the scenes and we are very thankful to all the volunteers who have worked tirelessly to help us set everything in place.
We are working with Co-operative Development Scotland and Community Shares Scotland to formally constitute the group as a community benefit society. The society offers a legal structure well suited to community-led initiatives such as ours as it exists to serve the broader interests of the community. The society has members who hold shares and are accorded democratic rights on the basis of one-member-one-vote. Profits from the business are reinvested back into the community that it is set up to serve. The model has been around for some time and has been tried and tested successfully in community-owned pubs and shops across the UK.
Once formally established, we plan to launch a share offer as part of the fundraising efforts as well as looking at public funding options and local fundraising events.
We are also delighted to tell you that we have received grant support from the Scottish Land Fund! This will enable us to conduct early-stage feasibility works, instruct a solicitor and also begin working with a business plan consultant to create a 5-year plan which will support our bid. This is a great milestone for us to reach so early on in the project and we are very excited to be able to continue moving forward.
Our media gurus have been working tirelessly to build up our online presence and you can find us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter using @theoldforgecbs. There is lots of info going up daily and you can find out more about the benefits and opportunities that would come with community ownership if we are successful in our bid. The website www.theoldforgecbs.org provides more information, and a newsletter signup if you want to keep up to date with our progress.
Finally, we'd like to say a huge thank you for the massive support shown within our local area - we really appreciate it.
The Old Forge CBS Steering Group
LETTER FROM THE EDITOR
As I write this, there's fresh snow on the hills, the kids are back at school again (albeit part time) and there's a slight easing of lockdown restrictions. It's nearly a year since the beginning of the first lockdown. Last March I was writing about Dr Iain leaving the Medical Practice; this month you might see a little piece on page 22 about the NHS advertising for GPs (again).
After writing the Isle of Eigg's contribution to 'Round & About' for nearly 25 years, columnist Camille Dressler is passing on the baton: welcome to Nan Fee, our new columnist! Thank you, Camille, for your amazing dedication to West Word; we appreciate it so much.
Once again my thanks go to Morag and Ewen for helping out with the printing, and Anne and Jane for looking after the subscription envelopes.
And just like that, March has arrived. The sun is splitting the sky and the first flowers are popping up. Little snowdrops, crocuses and bright cheery daffodils. Spring is almost certainly here and what a relief that is. Mark's bees have survived the winter and are also appreciating the glorious sunshine. As I'm sure a lot of folk will already have heard, there was some exciting news here on Knoydart when The Old Forge recently went back on the market nine years after it was sold. A community group has been formed with the intention of attempting a community buy out which would be a fantastic opportunity to take back the pub and move on. Having community ownership would offer endless benefits for Knoydart, and we look forward to sharing this exciting journey with everyone. If you want to follow the progress, you can do so via the facebook page "The Old Forge CBS" which isn't hard to find, as it has already been shared far and wide!
Forester Ian Dow who has been here for the last eight years has a new job as Woodland co-ordinator for ACT (Argyll Coast and Countryside Trust). He will be involved in planning planting and habitat linkage of native woodland across Argyll and Bute. All the best Ian!
At the end of February there, the primary children finally were able to return to school, and so a sense of normality returns to some extent. It wasn't just the children who returned - Mrs Watson is back after her maternity leave. There were a few February birthdays too - Kai and Kodi turned one (Fastest year ever despite all the lockdowns!), Bruce celebrated turning six, Ruben nine, and Kitty turned 12. Where does the time go?!
The wee houses for Millburn are taking shape: some of you may have noticed them getting built in Mallaig. Hopefully they will be ready to go in April, when we might start to see some visitors coming back to the area. Hope everyone is enjoying the spring weather as much as me.
Beannachdan bho Gleann Fhionnain!
Glenfinnan is very lucky to have a dedicated group of residents who make up our fabulous Community Council. We would like to say a very big thank you to a couple of members who have stepped down recently. Simon Matthews, Vice Chair, has been chairing the meetings while we await the appointment of a new chairperson; thank you Simon for all your hard work during your time on the council. We also must say farewell to Sandy Hughes who has been our treasurer. Thank you, Sandy, for all your number crunching and making sure the bills get paid! We wish you both all the very best with your future projects and we will miss you!
New co-opted members and a reshuffle will be on the next agenda: if any ladies, or indeed gentlemen, in the Glen would like to come and join us (we are currently resembling a 'Girl Band through the ages') then please contact Pat Grieve at Glenfinnancommunitycouncil@gmail.com
Some bays of the new car park have been opened at weekends to test the facility and give locals a place to park when they come for a wee walk. We know this will be a great asset to the village when we can accept visitors again.
There is a slight buzz of anticipation that soon we will be back to a new normal and we can socialise again. I don't know about you but I cannot wait for family lunches, drinks with friends and hanging up my homeschooling apron!
ISLE OF MUCK
Well isn't this week's weather a turn of events . . . almost Barbie weather until the mankini hits the water, then reality hits - 'it's not quite summer'!! A lot of new faces about the Island at the moment with calving well and truly under way . . . the wee darlings although Colin and Ruth may have differing opinions . . . But preparations are ongoing with drainage ditches appearing across the land, walls and fences being mended and built . . . I myself took my turn along with Sandy to dig for Britain and wrestle not only with stubborn rocks but a very enthusiastic and excited Spaniel ?? (in need of a mate). . . FYI don't go down a hole without being able to protect yourself.
No doubt we all waited to see what news Nicola had for us and when she did speak we still have no firm idea of when we can go about business apart from it could be . . . or is it on this date . . . what are the travel rules . . . so all we can do is be ready, and we will be ready you betcha, but in the meantime it's painting, clipping and remodelling in anticipation. On the plus side the School is back and not before time Mums all say, and please let this be the last home schooling. Birds are all jostling for position and nest making materials and it's great to see them back although the Seagrass looks worse for wear. Well that's about all from Muck. We hope better times are ahead. Stay safe.
ISLE OF CANNA
Good to see the days getting longer and spring approaching. February had some really cold spells and not often we have to break ice on water troughs for animals to drink.
We did manage to get together one Saturday to collect three big trailer loads of seaweed and take it to Canna House Garden to spread on the veg and fruit beds. A bit of a smelly job but it will be worth it when we are enjoying the produce later in the year.
Unfortunately we have decided to cancel our 10K in May but island runners and walkers will be taking part and we would like to encourage anyone to get out there and run the event and let us hear your story. Hopefully next year we can welcome everyone back to Canna to take part in this great wee event.
Chloe Nicholson has been successful in getting the role as National Trust for Scotland Engagement Ranger on Canna and we are looking forward to welcoming her to joining the Community here on Canna. Due to Covid her arrival has been delayed but hopefully she will be able to join us within the next month.
There have been a few new faces appearing on the island that have made us laugh. . . not sure who the artist is though. . . not Banksy but possibly Magsy . . .
Lots of painting and prepping being done with the hope that we will have some kind of season ahead, here's hoping.
Criomagan (Crumbs) from Canna House
Spring is hopefully springing, all around, and we are optimistically hoping for a somewhat busier Summer on Canna than we had during 2020. February kept us busy with the continuation of packaging of collections in Canna House in preparation for the renovation programme beginning this summer.
Sometimes, the packing process in the House uncovers little gems of new information or glimpses of lives gone past. A decorator's signature under wallpaper or perhaps a jumper that appears in many of Margaret's images.
This spectacular hand knit jumper of John Lorne Campbell's turned up during the work and I've been able to pair it up with some of Margaret's images of John wearing it. This image was taken on Barra in 1935/6 and it is likely that John purchased the jumper whilst on honeymoon in the Lofoten Islands in 1935. A friend of mine whose wife knits Icelandic area patterns was able to verify that this pattern belongs to that area. The jumper is in as good condition today as it was in 1935 and we could surely have done with it as an extra layer in the recent cold spell!
I have also recently been given several letters by a niece of Margaret's in the USA, which Margaret wrote during her years in South Uist. One particular interesting one tells of how life was in 1930 in South Lochboisdale and I have entitled this story "Hebridean fleas, false teeth and fine dirigibles". You will have to read it to find out why!
Biddy [her sister], tells me that Oscar went to the Valentine's Party and did not return - Do let me know if he does as I am anxious to hear.
I am once more deep in the peat after a good time south. I have some new books and am busy reading Gaelic literature etc. One book I got called The Bronte Sisters by Abbè Dimnet is great, also another one of his called "The Art of Thinking", which might interest the "Book Club".
There is much food for a novel on this island - I wish I could write one but I would lose all my friends as a result. Today I had tea with old Mr Ferguson of whom you have heard me speak [merchant, owner of Boisdale House], the richest man on the island and lives very well. But he is far more ignorant than the poorest crofters. We sat before the drawing room fire - and while he told me of his trip to America, he took out his false teeth and gave them a little pruning with his pen knife and returned them to his pocket.
At tea a young accountant who is employed by Mr F (the minister's brother) and myself, drew him pictures to show him the difference between a dirigible and an aeroplane. He thought that an aeroplane's wings flapped! But one would never believe these things to look at him as his tweeds and white Van Dyke [beard] give a grand air & he is really awfully nice.
They are having a church sale of work and the lady missionary asked me to touch my rich friends in Edinburgh and London for checks. That made me furious as the debt they must pay is for renovating the Manse and they could quite well git [sic] the money from Ferguson himself - I have found that for the most part these Scotch Presbyterians are as mean as the tales of Aberdonians. In small things of course for they are very kind and hospitable. But every now and then I am overcome by some little thing from my best friends at home.
I think I told you before that the school teachers and myself gave a dance in the school house to git [sic] money for a hot drink at lunch for the scholars who walk miles over the moor in terrible weather, half the time with too little breakfast and one piece of scone for lunch.
Kay had sent some money at that time and with some of my own I paid for the refreshments and the piper! They had done the same thing on the other side of the loch with the local intelligentsia and got much more money of course.
This school is really Mr Ferguson's property and most of the children belong to men who are working or have worked for him. He bought one ticket at 1/6, about 30 cents, and said he had some coaco [sic] which he hadn't been able to sell in the shop - he had had it three years - and he would give it to us. But he couldn't find it so we've been buying it until he does! Ha! When I gave my treat for these children in Glendale (for all the kids between 5 & 14), they never took the slightest interest (that is the so-called bigwigs) - also the big treat I gave at the pier for 56 kids, they (the bigwigs) never said thank you!
And from Mr Gillies (really Mrs Fergusons) shop I bought nearly $30 worth of stuff for these treats and by George he charged me four pence (.08c) for some little paper bags to put candy in.
I got a good deal of Xmas money and was able to do a lot of little things for some souls and they have been mighty kind to me. I have about six pairs of woollen socks - 6 yards of lovely tweed and a piece of delicate material that is very nice, and a wooden stool besides the songs and poems which are as much of a gift. Even hens and two dozen eggs. And all this from people who haven't any money. This isn't mentioning wild fowl (poached at that!), lobsters, crabs and what not.
Margaret's sister Caroline, 3rd from left, with cat. Margaret far right. 1929, USA
I am sitting at the table in my room clad in flannel pyjamas which are the rendezvous of fleadom - every now and again I turn my coat inside out and shake, to no effect. I caught one however. The one thought against staying on after May is earwigs which flood the place. I remember being terribly bitten in Mrs Campbells cottage last year and I am told this side [of the loch] is much worse. I really must go to bed as it is nearly two AM. Much, much love to everybody and write soon to your affectionate Maggy.
P.S Don't let anybody read this letter who might get the idea I was trying to appear as Miss Give All!.
ISLE OF RUM
Spring is almost upon us; the sunshine feels warm and comforting after weeks of bitterly cold easterly winds. One benefit of the storms has been the large deposits of seaweed deposited rather conveniently next to the seawall. I remember reporting on this last year; it always comes at the perfect time to get the garden fertilised without too much work. The downside is the plastic that has washed up, not as much as the on the western side of the island by far, but still enough to encourage a beach clean.
The children are back at school now, which is a blessing for all. The school roll is up to six with the addition of Andrew; the playground is happy and noisy as it should be. Not so much luck for the high school children who are still at home. The additional concerns of how the school residence can operate in a covid friendly way but still striving to be a happy thriving environment, will be difficult.
In addition to the Shearwater sundial near the top of the Coire Dubh Track, and at a lovely viewpoint, Nature Scot (new name for SNH) have installed a bench. Both the bench and sundial were funded by the Wilf Nelson Memorial Trust. Wilf was a ranger on Rum who sadly fell to his death from Bloodstone hill over 30 years ago. The fund was set up to provide a suitable memorial for him and it is hoped that from this bench, visitors will be able to stop for a while and take a mindful look out over the island and beyond: it is a fine view.
Nature Scot's work on the Dibidil path has started up again; everyone who has walked to Dibidil will be looking forward to this path upgrade. As possibly the boggiest, wettest path on the island (it does have stiff competition), it will be pleasant to think of walking to Dibidil without falling up to your knees into the mire.
Take up of a Development Trust Assoc Scotland business start up course for women has been high in the Small Isles. Several women from Rum have joined in and have great ideas for starting up new enterprises, which embrace some of the new skills brought to the island. Plans are being hatched for a new Rum venison business (always a winner), exciting craft and photography enterprises and possibly a business to provide a space for people to come to Rum to calm their troubled minds. Exciting times.
Finally, yesterday I heard the Eiders 'oohing' for the first time, one of the most pleasing sounds of spring and something uplifting to take us forward into whatever this year will bring.
ISLE OF EIGG
It is my pleasure to write to you from Eigg where we have had a lovely month with lots of outside community gatherings to keep our connection and our spirits up over lockdown.
There was lots of excitement here on Eigg with the big freeze at the beginning of the month. Many of us made socially distanced expeditions up to the lochs which were frozen solid with 7cm of ice. Katrin, Saira, Babette and wee Maggie managed to walk across from one side to the other of Loch Nam Ban Mora with no worries at all of falling through the thick ice! And there were spectacular shots of skaters, or should it be sliders, on Loch Beinn Tighe too! The last time a picture was taken of frozen Loch Beinn Tighe was in 1947 with Father MacKellaig properly skating on it. And as to Marie Carr, the last time she can remember being able to venture on the Giant's Footstep lochan, was with George in his pram some 40 years ago!
Father MacKellaig © Comunn Eachdraidh Photographic Archive
The big freeze brought lots of other novel scenes, including Wes' fountains which froze mid-stream creating fantastical ice sculptures and frozen waterfalls. Thankfully, the freeze didn't last for too long, as there were a few water supplies that had frozen solid too!
Wee Oran celebrated his fourth birthday with a socially distanced gathering on the beach. Can you imagine how exciting it was for the kids when it began to snow, quite heavily too! A snowy birthday on the beach!
There was another fantastic beach birthday gathering for Dylan's seventeenth down at Singing Sands where we had a beautiful sunny, winter day and a glorious sunset by the fire.
The community got together on the 21st of the month for an orchard day. Neil was on hand to help give pruning masterclasses and Tamsin was like the grim reaper with the scythe! The bracken didn't stand a chance! It was a fine gathering of folk and we managed to get lots of brambles cleared and all of the apples trees pruned. A big thank you to all who came along and to Sue and Neil for organising the day. We finished off with a fire and some of George's award-winning chocolate truffles, his finest yet!
The children are delighted to be back to school this week and we wish the entire school community all the best as they get back into the school routine.
It was also lovely to meet Fliss from Rum and Ishy from Canna on the road as they were walking or cycling round Cleadale during their bothy residency week: we should have more of these Small Isles exchanges!
This year more than most, we are happy to feel the temperatures rising, to observe the spring birds arriving back to the island and to notice the days growing longer as Spring springs on Eigg. The snowdrops on Wes' path and around the Forester's hedgerow bring a smile to all who pass them by!
Traigh Golf Club March Round Up
With Spring starting to emerge from the wind and rain of February, we are starting to look forward to the start of the New Season at Traigh Golf Club. Whilst it looks certain that Covid related restrictions will still be in place for the early part of the season at least, we are none the less excited about the resumption of competitions and the chance to get together as a group once again (all be it on a socially distanced basis. . .)
The season will officially begin on Saturday 3rd April with the now annual 'Magnum of Champagne' competition, where a big bottle of the good stuff is available to the winner. Defending champion Shaun MacDonald will be no doubt be the man to beat. A full fixture list will shortly be distributed to all members, but this year will feature many of the usual competitions including the Captain's Prize, the 3 Club Challenge, The Dr Clark and Arisaig Partnership trophies, medal competitions, and many more. We are also hoping to introduce several new competitions including an U35's cup and a Ryder Cup style event (possibly between locals and incomers to add a bit of spice . . .) There will also be our usual Spring and Autumn Outings, and we have fixtures scheduled against Spean Bridge Golf club amongst others, so lots to look forward to and get involved with.
It's also the time of year when we have to ask our current and potential new members to stump up their annual membership fees, which are due on the 1st April. This year the course owners have very kindly decided to freeze the full membership for Gents and Ladies at £200, which continues to represent exceptional value for money for unlimited golf throughout the year. We had fantastic success in recruiting new members last year, and we sincerely hope that many of you will renew your memberships and continue to enjoy some of the cheapest and best golf in Scotland.
For those of you that are considering joining the club for the first time, we will again be running a special discounted rate of £125 for first time members for their first year of membership, again for unlimited access to the course.
Country membership has risen slightly to £125, but a Young Persons (16-21) and Junior membership (Under 16) have both been frozen at £100 and £20 respectively.
If you would like to join, or indeed would like to make a gift of membership to someone you know, then please get in touch with Chris on email@example.com or 07833 451 764. Membership forms are also available in the Mallaig Visitor Information Centre, and in the clubhouse once it reopens.
Unfortunately some sad news came our way during the past month when we heard of the passing away of one of our long standing members, Bob Dalglish. Bob had reached the fine age of 97 when we lost him in February, and will forever be remembered for the contributions he made to the club as both a committee member and coach to the Junior section. Bob cut a distinctive figure around the course, and continued to play regularly and attend outings well into his 90's. The valley between the 2nd tee and fairway is affectionately known as 'Dalglish's Dip' amongst the members, a term we decided to make official during a memorial gathering for Bob at the end of February where flowers from his funeral were placed at the Traigh Golf Club sign. Bob will long be remembered with great affection by those of us who were fortunate enough to know and play with him, and our condolences go out to his friends and family.
Traigh Golf Club continues to be gradually dragged into the modern world, and I'm happy to report that we now have an Instagram account which will no doubt reflect the singular beauty of the course we call home. A big thank you must go to Matthew Waterston for his efforts on this front, and I would encourage you all to continue to send in pictures that we can post both here and on Facebook.
This season we are also looking to extend the number of Sponsorship opportunities that we offer. We are hoping to secure a principal sponsor for the club, along with individual sponsors for specific competitions, our annual Open, the all new U35 trophy and several other events. If you or your company would be interested in any of these opportunities then please get in touch with Chris or anyone else from the club.
Next month's report should feature our first results of the season, but until then we look forward to welcoming as many of you to the course as possible. CL
Road to the Isles Facilities Group News
Hi everyone, I hope you are all well. I've been asked to do a quick update on the Facilities Groups activities over the past few months. Lockdown and dark nights have at least given us the time to answer the large amount of technical questions, complete grant applications, correspondence and general administration.
I'll start with the biggest project. It's hard not to miss the new toilet block which was delivered at the end of January. The contractors (Healthmatic and Modular Wise) spent a couple of weeks on the internals and finishing off the cladding. They are due to come back in the middle of March to finish a few things inside, the Elsan point, the roof and a canopy. In the meantime, Fion Construction have returned to do some work on the paths. We are very pleased with the quality of the work inside; they are certainly nicer than most public toilets I've used. Our ambition is to have them open before Easter and we will shortly be advertising for cleaning staff.
Mallaig Play park
Catherine and Vivienne have been very busy in the past couple of months. They focussed on applying for small pockets of money to provide individual pieces of equipment, rather than one big grant, and this has been hugely successful. They also had a local fundraising campaign and received some very generous donations, with Milligan Transport worthy of a mention: thanks Grieg. Knoydart Construction have installed new seating and repaired paths and there are some fun buildings which the children seem to love. The team have also managed to give the older equipment a lick of paint. I want to give my thanks to all who helped. It's a project which gives back to the Community and works well with the ethos of our Charity. It goes without saying that we are very grateful for all the hard work by Catherine and Vivienne; they never gave up even when it looked as though all hope of funding had gone.
We've been able to keep one toilet at Traigh open all winter, thanks to Claire Wortley, our very cheery cleaner. I hope the local dog walkers have appreciated the toilet and thanks to those who put a contribution into the donation post. We lose money over the winter, so I want to acknowledge the Arisaig Fund and another local Trust for their support.
We were lucky enough to receive a grant from NatureScot's Better Places Fund to pay for survey and design services to extend the car park and construct a path at Tougal. We are in talks with the landowner to lease the land adjacent to the existing car park and should submit a planning application in the next few weeks. We have also applied for a Community Asset Transfer for the existing car park and toilet. Unfortunately this is a lengthy process, so in the meantime we have agreed an access agreement so that we can use the existing car park to access the extension. I must thank Councillor Henderson for his help with this (and many other things!) We are planning on completing this project by the middle of the summer, but this will need a fair wind!
We've received some concerns that this project will increase capacity at Tougal and encourage more campers. The focus is to provide increased parking facilities but make sure we have a commitment from Highland Council to install double yellow lines the whole distance at Silversands. The capacity will therefore not increase: we will instead move cars from where we don't want them, to where we do want them. We will also restrict overnight parking in the extension and of course there will be parking charges. (Residents will be able to apply for a permit for a small admin fee.)
Finally I want to highlight that the Facilities Group isn't a campaigning group; this is one of the roles of the Community Councils. Our objective is to identify areas where there are gaps in facilities, be them Community or Visitor, and see if we can fill them.
Further details can be found at our facebook page.
Road to the Isles Facilities Group (SCIO SC048758)
Mallaig & Morar Community Centre, West Bay, Mallaig, PH41 4PX
MORAR COMMUNITY TRUST NEWSLETTER FEBRUARY 2021
We hope you are well and coping with these difficult times.
Our last meeting was held a year ago, at the end of February, as our activities had to cease due to the difficulties posed by the arrival of Covid-19. This may be a good time to mention that the directors of Morar Community Trust are in the "ageing" category, and had to shield, so we'd like to ask some of our younger community members if they'd consider coming aboard. We know from speaking to some of you in the past that you would but are already heavily committed and we know that in places with such small populations, as we have, this is the case. Still, some youthful creativity would be a welcome boost and maybe some of us can get to retire!
So, what do we do? In a nutshell, we are a charitable company limited by guarantee and, as a result, are able to fundraise for large sums of money and hold or own leases and land. We are responsible for providing robust accounting systems and report annually to Companies House and OSCR (Scottish Charities Regulator). This is the core but, from this base, there is ample opportunity to achieve much for our communities. A considerable amount of work goes in to creating a Community Trust in the first place so, having one already up and running, is an asset in a community.
Morar Community Trust have spent an inordinate length of time working on land and leases for the Games Field which also contained a proposal for a community indoor space. This has absorbed a considerable amount of our efforts but was always expected to happen at some point and is still on the tracks. The first hurdle we had to achieve, with the overwhelming backing of the community, was to demolish the derelict village hall so that negotiations could begin on resolving access issues to the field. This was achieved when the hall was demolished in 2015 with the land being made available as part of the overall plan. The community space/club house is an identified need in Morar and communities do need a gathering space which can also be used to reach out to the visitor.
We could not run the gala or any other event due to the pandemic but we have not been inactive and have been fundraising to provide assistance to the Covid-19 Resilience Group which is operating from the MMCC and being co-ordinated by the Morar and Mallaig Community Councils. We'd also like to thank one of our directors, Mrs Grace Henderson, for her thoughtful contribution to this project.
Mallaig Harbour News
We are still under the 'Stay at Home' restrictions as I write, so staffing remains the same as last month, with the office closed - although there is normally someone in, and less staff on the Pier than there would be normally.
Last March we were encouraging everyone to make use of the additional sailings between Mallaig and Armadale, which were to be trialled in March 2020, March 2021 and March 2022. As some of you will be aware, CalMac had been asked to look at potential reductions to the timetable throughout the Network whilst restrictions are still in place. One result of this is that the additional sailings between Mallaig and Armadale will not go ahead this year. Given that our Tourism businesses are still closed and that travel remains for essential purposes only, it would have been difficult to justify these additional sailings, which require an additional vessel to operate. Latest information is that the Winter timetables will be extended to 25th April, with a review mid-March into what the timetables should be from 26th April.
This month has consisted of a lot of background work into the various developments that we hope to undertake around the Harbour. It's felt like slow progress at times, as everything is so interlinked, but hopefully by the end of the summer you will be starting to notice some visible progress with things like the passenger shelter at the new pontoon and new road markings, especially throughout the ferry marshalling area, which are all part of the traffic management plan for the ferries. One immediate impact from this traffic management plan was CalMac relocating the freight store for the Small Isles to behind the CalMac office, which is designed to reduce the number of delivery vans and lorries having to cross the marshalling area during the busy summer months. Although it might seem strange that the works are getting done now, when the ferry has never been so quiet, it's a good opportunity to do them with minimum disruption.
The difficulties for our fishing industry associated with Brexit have been well documented, and last month I outlined the impact there has been on landings in Mallaig, mainly due to Coronavirus, but with Brexit as an added layer of complications. Whilst those in the industry were all aware that there would be an increase in paperwork associated with Brexit, the volume and complexity of this paperwork has caused significant issues over the last couple of months. For our smaller vessels, whose catch is likely to end up on a lorry with catch from several other vessels, this has been a particular problem. Whilst the paperwork is designed to provide traceability from the vessel to the final market, and is all well intentioned, the practicalities of adhering to it meant that in January exporters combining catches from several vessels into one consignment shut down their operations for a period, effectively meaning that there was no market for the catch being landed. This has now eased to an extent, but prices are still low. At the beginning of February, the Scottish Government announced additional funding which included £6.45 million for the Seafood Producers Resilience Fund to directly support fishing vessels and aquaculture businesses; £300,000 to assist the welfare and support activities of the Fishermen's Mission; and £1million to support the investment plans of ports and harbours. Mallaig Harbour Authority has successfully applied for £180,000 to install shore power for our fishing fleet, which has to be spent by the end of the financial year.
On 20th February, we welcomed the Ronja Christopher for her first visit to Mallaig. The Ronja Christopher is one of the latest additions to the Sølvtrans fleet, built in 2020, and was in Mallaig to load smolts. She is 70m long, with a beam of 18m, so is one of the largest in the fleet.
Last month's West Word included a consultation from Mallaig Community Council about parking in Mallaig. As a Harbour, we know that this is a contentious issue. Mallaig wasn't designed for the number of vehicles that are on the road now, and the village is also in the unique position of having a number of communities (Small Isles and Knoydart) who have to park in Mallaig in addition to the more local residents. Over the years, the Harbour has had a number of requests for additional parking, and we did have a request from the Community Council in December to consider creating additional parking as part of the new development that we have been discussion for the Outer Harbour. Mallaig Harbour already provides in excess of 85 parking spaces, mainly on a permit system, and we have a waiting list for these spaces, so we know that there is demand for more. These spaces are used by Harbour users, including fishermen; local businesses; and residents from the Small Isles and Knoydart. However, providing car parking is not actually an efficient use of Harbour land either in terms of the commercial demands on the limited space we have, or the income to Mallaig Harbour. As a result, we are not intending to provide any additional parking, except to service new buildings that might come about as part of the new development. We would encourage everyone with an interest to make their views known, as it all helps the Community Council strengthen any case for additional parking to Highland Council and the Scottish Government.
Mallaig Lifeboat Log
No callouts again this month - but as restrictions have been relaxed a little, the crew will be able to get out on two exercises a month from now on.
Michael Ian Currie
On and Off the Rails
Seven day closure of Mallaig/Crianlarich railway line planned
From 06:00 on Saturday 13th March to 23:59 on Friday 19th March planned engineering will require the line to be closed and bustitution will be in force. The engineering work is taking place between Mallaig/Fort William and onwards to upper Tyndrum. Bustitution to and from Mallaig/Fort William/Crianlarich will operate in both directions following the temporary ScotRail timetable changes that came into force last month.
Between Mallaig/Crianlarich and return two buses will arrive and depart. One will travel directly from Fort William/Mallaig on the main road. One will travel diverting off the main road to other stations in order to pick up and put down passengers.
Please note there is no service to Rannoch or Corrour stations in either direction during this closure. Services to and from Crianlarich and Glasgow Queen Street will operate as normal.
Remember if you live alongside the line and see no work going on in your location, it is essential to give the line full closure for workers and equipment to have full possession for safety reasons to travel to and from the locations around the clock.
In this instance the major engineering work is taking place between Upper Tyndrum and Tulloch and between Fort William and Loch Eil, but requires all line closures as previously stated here.
I should add that if (after reading all of this!) it is still essential to travel by train please check before travelling at your local booking office, or use the National Rail Enquiries journey planner or the ScotRail website. Stay safe.
All that glitters could be gold
Have just broken off from writing to watch the first of a BBC Scotland series (Sunday night 9pm) on the Coronish farmland in the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park. The series is named Gold Town and features many aspects of the latest venture to safely extract the hidden (mine veins) depths under Beinn Chuirn. The shareholder company 'Scot Gold' are hoping to soon produce their 'first pouring'. Gold prices are really high at the moment and excitement is in the air. What has this got to do with 'On and Off the Rails'? Well, the Scot Gold Company have for a number of years now - and still are - operating their main office for the mine from the buildings (which they lease) on the platform of Tyndrum Upper railway station on the West Highland line. I have visited them by train in Covid-free times from Mallaig. So to see their venture on TV tonight and in the coming weeks again fills me with hope!
Staycations on and off the rails
Hope seems to be the theme of this month's column. Whether it starts by taking a train journey to your destination or whether you make the journey the first part of a touring train holiday it will be wonderful to start looking at other parts of Scotland again by rail, or welcoming visitors to our area by rail. The tour brochures are bursting with mixed holiday in Scotland ideas that involve not just rail, but may be making a rail journey one day of a sailing trip, a canal boat holiday, a cruise ship, a coach holiday - even hiring bike holidays or hiring camper vans. All of the companies are including at least one day's railway trip to Mallaig in their itineraries. Let us hope that after more than 12 months of Covid we can safely and slowly welcome visitors back to us. By the end of May we will still have time for a summer tourism boost. We hope!!
So, with that in mind, hot off the press comes a book entitled Scotland from the Rails. This 189-page Bradt travel guide - subtitled 'A Window Gazers Guide' - details the fun that can be obtained by travelling Scotland by rail.
The author, Benedict Le Vay, is a writer and subeditor for the Daily Mail. This is his fifth book for Bradt (many on the 'Eccentric Britain' theme) and he loves train travel. He ascribes his early interest in railways to the fact that his mother grew up on his grandfather's private train, as the chief inspector of Indian Railways! He has coined the phrase 'Trainscotting' to describe the people who want to travel Scotland by train, as does Joanna Lumley. In her foreword to the book she says "I think most of the world would like to be Scottish. All the Americans who come here never look for English or Welsh, only for Scottish and Irish. It's understandable. The Scots effectively created the face of the modern world: the railways, the bridges, the tunnels . . ." We have them all on our line plus so much more. Priced at £14.99 it is a steal, a keeper - and follows the need to window gaze whilst sitting on a train - an experience that you just do not get from practically any other form of travel. I love it, and I have a copy to give away.
In order to go into a draw to win a copy send your name, address and telephone number on a postcard, or inside an envelope to Sonia Cameron, Fasgadh, 5 Marine Place, Mallaig PH41 4RD by the closing date of Saturday 27th March.
If you wish to purchase a copy of the book, the ISBN is 978 1 78477 7623. Go to www.bradtguides.com or contact me on 01687 462189 for details. Good luck.
Listen to things that give you hope
As I write this on Sunday, March 7th I could not have predicted that, for me, it would be the almost pushed-to-the-back-of-my-mind sound of two throbbing vintage English Electric, type III, 1960s diesel locomotives, restored to their original livery of the highest standard, arriving into Mallaig this weekend! Not once, but twice! How hopeful that has made me.
The locomotives, with the British Rail red lion motif on the power car, were so empowering (or to me they were!) And were top and tailing the generator car, and seven carriages - one of them named Ardnamurchan, with a headboard - original oval blue The West Highlander (with the wee white Scottie dog in the middle). D6817 and D6851 No's. Be still my beating heart!
Originating from Carstairs, the train operating company Locomotive Services Ltd were 'crew training' on the lines of Scotland. During their time here they stayed on board two nights at Glenfinnan, travelling to Mallaig twice, to Fort William twice and now tonight are on the Oban line before overnighting there, returning to England tomorrow. It was a welcome sight. Even the seagulls - who as I write this are pairing up at Mallaig's two platforms and plant tubs - were excited!
The beautifully restored rake of coaches consisted of The Generator Car, Saphos Rail, Sleeping Car, Saphos Steam, Pegasus, Dining Car Mount Mgahinga and the aforementioned Ardnamurchan.
In Mallaig, as elsewhere, I'm sure the sight of the train was a fresh topic of conversation after each visit.
I know I am passionate about the important role the railway plays in Scotland - after all if the railway had not built the line to us, the pier, the first hotel, the infrastructure that is Mallaig as it is might not be here - what would I now be writing about!
It saddens me that our railway station does not have the wonderful canopy that extended and covered the platforms, that we no longer have a single porter, signal box, turntable et cetera, but we can make every single person who returns to us by rail welcome later this year. Long may it remain that children are taken by grandparents to see the trains come and go, that we who live along the line still wave at passengers who enthusiastically wave back, holding up a fish supper to show how much they are enjoying the journey. Customers still play card games, dominoes, read books, doze and all the time look out the window at our beautiful land. 'See you on the train soon' is coming. I can feel the hope.
The Astley Hall
It's nearly a year since we closed the Hall doors and I bet you all think we have been sitting idly by, twiddling our thumbs. I wish! When you come back, we hope you notice the difference.
Apart undertaking a lot of extra cleaning and repairing which had been on the 'to do' list for ages, making sure the regular maintenance of boiler, fire alarm etc was done, and of course developing Covid risk assessments like every other business, we took the opportunity of the long closure to undertake the much-needed renovation of all the wooden floors. This took longer than expected but we are very pleased with the results so our grateful thanks to Pod Carmichael of Glenuig and his team Billy and Colin for painstaking work (Pod and Billy were involved in the renovation of the Hall in 1999/2000). The main hall floor needed very careful treatment, at some 90 years old it had to be very carefully hand sanded with very fine grade paper. Grateful thanks to the Arisaig Fund and the Gower Trust for funding this project. which cost over £4000. And to our cleaner Susie for her cheerful commitment to the deep cleaning!
BIRDWATCH February 2021 by Stephen MacDonald
A month of two halves weatherwise; the first two weeks were mainly cold and dry, while the second fortnight was much milder with some wet spells. The cold weather at the start was no doubt responsible for increased sightings of normally secretive birds like Snipe and Woodcock. Several reports of both Common and Jack Snipe feeding out in the open during the day. Increased reports of Woodcock probably due to birds moving west to escape the severe weather further east.
On the 7th presumably the same Kingfisher that had been seen on Loch Morar in January was seen on the Morar Estuary, just below the A830 road bridge. From the beginning of the month til at least the 10th there was a flock of approximately 20 Snow Buntings in Glen Shian, Lochailort.
A few birds appearing this month, a sure sign that Spring is on its way. Golden Plover were seen in fields at Traigh with 12 there on the 14th. Curlews and Lapwings were seen in the fields around Back of Keppoch. Shelduck were seen on Loch nan Ceall from the 1st and several reports from Traigh and Back of Keppoch later in the month. The first Skylark was seen near Millburn, Rhu on the 21st, with others seen at Loch Ailort and a flock of 12 at Traigh on the 27th.
On the 19th a single Grey Plover was seen on the shore by the Traigh Boat Shed. Turnstone were seen at Traigh and West Bay, Mallaig, with 22 at the latter site on the 21st along with at least 20 Purple Sandpipers. Two Greenshank still wintering on the Morar Estuary.
On the 17th, three Pink-footed Geese were seen with the local Greylags in fields at Traigh and again at Back of Keppoch on the 20th.
A male Hen Harrier was seen on several occasions around Invercaimbe and a female Merlin was seen at Back of Keppoch on the 21st.
Nuthatches were seen on several occasions in Arisaig near the traditional nest site.
WORLDLY WISE WEST WORD
Remember Colin Speedie? The leader of the Save our Seas and WiSe on the Water projects, he and his wife Louise used to study the basking sharks in the waters around here, with lots of weekly volunteers who would end up in the Crofter's Bar on their last night. At the end of last year Colin and Louise finally moved up here. Now they can read their favourite magazine near the place where it's made! Mallaig Book Festival goers may remember he was a speaker in 2017 with his book A Sea Monster's Tale.
Usually, at this time of the year, Liz and John McLean read their West Word somewhere full of snow for a skiing holiday. Not this year, of course. The lovely Rhu road seems to be a great alternative though. And the great hat Liz is wearing comes from Bulgaria!!
What is this then? Jane Foster and her West Word breaking lockdown rules? Somewhere tropical under the palm tree? Of course not, don't let the palm tree fool you: it's growing in Arisaig - and it's dreaming of tropical countries as well!
Watch this space for extracts from next month's issue!
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