List of Issues online
List of Issues online
October 2023 Issue
Contents of the online version:
All photos are copyright either of the individual photographers or West Word.
STRUAN ROBERTSON FROM ISLE OF EIGG WINS TOP INDUSTRY AWARD
Struan Robertson, Dundee University student from the Isle of Eigg (pictured second from left), has been named Young Software Engineer of the Year for his solution which illustrates what unexplored areas of the moon might look like. The 34th annual Young Software Engineer of the Year Awards took place in a ceremony in Edinburgh on 28th September, hosted by Scotland's tech trade body ScotlandIS at its ScotSoft conference.
Struan Robertson took the top prize home for his project on Lunar Terrain Void Infilling. Models of the moon's surface typically show literal gaps in knowledge from where spacecrafts have not been able to see the surface. Struan's project used a machine learning model?to make incredibly accurate assumptions to fill in these gaps, solving an ongoing issue in lunar surface modelling. This innovative solution allows for more accurate maps of the moon's surface to be developed and is also applicable to earth-based challenges such as disaster management and climate change planning.
The judges recognised the challenging technical complexity of this project, and admired Struan's creative yet structured approach to the problem, and his real achievements in demonstrating a successful outcome. Struan received congratulations from many of the conference delegates including American astronaut Jessica Meir who has twice served as a flight engineer on the Soyuz Space Station.
HIGH SCHOOL CEILIDH ON HYSKEIR!
Mallaig High School Music Department have been on tour recently to Knoydart and the Small Isles with Fèis Òigridh na Mara and had a bonus impromptu session on a very remote island . . !
The Music Department said, 'After a really successful Ceilidh in the Shearing Shed, Canna, we headed as far west as we could possibly go without hitting Barra: Hyskeir (Oigh Sgeir) Lighthouse, approximately five miles southwest of Canna, and eight miles west of Rum.
'We can't be 100% sure, but we think this may be the first time that tunes have been played and recorded on the rock! Alexander played 'Crossing the Minch' amongst some other tunes on the Highland pipes, and we had a bit of craic playing 'Calum's Road' and 'Kenny Gillies' around the lighthouse too.
'An amazing, unforgettable experience - the biggest thanks possible to Donald Iain at Arisaig Marine for making it happen. We finished off this amazing day with a rip roaring Ceilidh on the Isle of Eigg. What a day!'
COMMUNITY HELP SUPPLY NEW MOBILE DEFIBRILLATOR
Mallaig Police Station have recently acquired a new mobile defibrillator for carrying in the police car from a charity called Lucky 2 B Here. Police Constable Hugo Martin said, 'Heartfelt thanks to Mallaig Second hand Bookshop, Scottish Sea Farms, Mallaig Harbour Authority, Mallaig Community Council, Arisaig Community Trust and Morar Community Trust, for their help with purchasing this vital piece of equipment.'
LETTER FROM THE EDITOR
It's been a stormy month and the wild autumn weather looks set to continue with more heavy rain forecast this weekend and probable disruption to ferries and trains.
There's a couple of events coming up that I didn't manage to squeeze in to the paper elsewhere. Artie's Singing Kettle is coming to the Glenuig Hall on Tuesday 10th October (10.30am) - this is a Halloween special, and you can dress up for the show! Tickets from www.ticketsource.co.uk
The Fishmarket Restaurant in Mallaig are holding their annual Friday night Fish Supper to raise funds for the RNLI on Friday 20th October from 5.30pm on. Set menu £25 per person with £5 from every meal going to the RNLI. There will also be a quiz and colouring pictures for sale at £1 each. A fun night for all the family!
Happy October holidays everyone! Once again my thanks go to Morag and Ewen for helping with the printing, and to Jane and Anne for labelling the envelopes.
Well September went by mostly in a very wet blur of wind and rain. Often it can be a lovely month here, but it was generally really quite soggy all round. It made it feel like winter is approaching much faster than normal. And caused no amount of building tension as the village prepared for the event of the year - Tom and Yasmine's wedding. With boats cancelled the very day before it wasn't looking ideal but incredibly, on Saturday 30th we awoke to an overcast but otherwise perfect day . . . no wind, no rain, and even a glimpse of forgotten sunshine breaking through. After the weeks leading up the wedding you couldn't have asked for more. It was a gorgeous day from start to finish; plenty of happy tears were shed and much merriment was had by all. Huge congratulations Tom and Yasmine.
There were a couple of other music events to brighten up the greyness, including the Mallaig High School students' music tour "Any Puirt in a storm" and the Ciaran Ryan Band. There was also the community garden open day, featuring Frank's Refreshment Stall, with 2021 and 2022 vintage blackcurrant wine, 2022 white grape wine from the poly tunnel grapes, blackcurrant cordial, and 2022 perry from Gwen and Ian's pears. Karin provided delicious baking and preserves and £80 was raised in funds for the garden.
Jacqui of Knoydart Tree Nursery (and as many people as she could rope in) were busy collecting hazelnuts and acorns for the Knoydart tree nursery and it seems to have been a bumper crop this year, with oak trees positively dripping with acorns. These will then be nursed into growing into little saplings by Jacqui which will then go on in years to come to be planted back out on Knoydart. The forest trust are working with Kilchoan Estate on a new woodland out the Glen at Brocket's monument which will be significant in helping to link up the existing woodlands and will be important in terms of habitat resilience and biodiversity.
The pub started doing food at the start of the month and it's been pretty busy. They started off with a small menu that's been growing by the week and is going down a treat. The kitchen is closed on Mondays and half day on a Sunday 12-2.30.
That's about it for now. Here's hoping we'll be in for some nice autumnal October days . . .
Beannachdan bho Gleann Fhionnain!
As you know we have many people who want to visit our beautiful wee Glen, mostly to see the Harry Potter train, but we do still have folk who also come to see the lesser-advertised attractions. St Mary and St Finnan church gives us a wee glimpse into the individuals who pass under the big stone doorway, thanks to the visitor book in which people are encouraged to sign/leave a wee message. It has been reported that the church has seen a vast increase of visitors from all corners of the globe this year and all of whom have been happy to sign the wee book. It is lovely when travellers take the time to soak up the beauty of this old building and those who visit the National Trust and read up on the fascinating history of Glenfinnan.
As well as the big attractions for tourists, did you know that as locals, if you fancy an excursion, you can take boat trips along Loch Shiel; fill your home with the amazing scents of Glenfinnan Candles; fill your belly with fish and chip Friday nights courtesy of Glenfinnan Dining Car; listen to and enjoy some amazing traditional music, whether that's live or via CDs; or walk the many trails in the surrounding areas, all rounded up with a cuppa from the coffee cart. Glenfinnan has so much to offer to visitors and locals alike, so next time you are passing, now that the hustle and bustle of summer is almost over, pop in to say hello as there is always plenty going on.
Glenfinnan Community Council have produced a calendar to purchase. Filled with scenes of Glenfinnan, it can be purchased at a cost of £10 (plus postage) by contacting email@example.com
Ciod as fheárr a dh'innseas an cladh na 'n eaglais?
(What better guide to the churchyard than the church?)
ISLE OF MUCK
Hello Muck Calling . . . as one season ends, another one starts . . . with the last Sheerwater of the year for visitors it turns its attention to ferrying shoot guests all week long. We should perhaps use Arisaig Marine for freight as well, as our lifeline service can barely make it out of port these days, cancelling even before it's on the water!! I guess it's going to be a really, really long winter.
Cattle are off to market which kind of signals the start of the farming cycle . . . Tupps and Bulls getting dusted off and prettied up ready for the ladies after some very well earned and deserved R&R. We have had 'The Muck Boot Co' over for a few days filming and photographing locals and visitors as part of their 25th Anniversary: they never use professional models in their campaigns but regular folk going about their day at work and play, so there will be some interesting ads for sure.
We had the most excellent evening of music on the 14th . . . drink, dancing and we cooked some Hungarian food; why, you ask? well even I'm not quite sure about the food element as the band, the Budapest Cafe Orchestra, are from the UK! But by all accounts they were extremely entertaining and funny.
Even in this changeable weather we are still attracting adventurers from the climbing fraternity to the Island to try our routes. It must be a challenging enough climb to draw them here.
'Slim Pickings' at Camas Mor (graded E1). MICHAEL BARNARD
ISLE OF CANNA
The September weather has provided us with some glorious sunsets and as the axis of the earth turns, mother nature certainly has provided us with some intense weather. We've had a few storms with the wind whipping the water across the bay and the high tides have made navigating the coastal paths interesting. Thanks Moon!
We welcomed the Mallaig High School pupils to our Shearing Shed for a great evening of music and dancing. The pupils put on an amazing performance and a very entertaining raffle which had everyone in stitches . . . we got a few rejects from Knoydart. Knoydart's loss is Canna's gain! Many thanks to the pupils and their fantastic music teachers for coming to Canna!
The inclement weather has brought ferry woes too. Katrin from Eigg brought a group of women across to Canna to run some of our trails and they ended up being stranded here for five days extra. But not to be brought down by this, they ran some more and even did our Canna 10K route as well as enjoying a morning's forage for seaweed with Gareth from Cafe Canna.
Their "last night" on Canna saw a lively evening in the cafe with plenty of good food and singing with Pete on guitar. There was even a Strip the Willow to 'Thriller' by Michael Jackson. A sight to behold indeed! They ended up staying for one more day and there was much hugging and waving on the pier when they finally departed on the Larven. We will be welcoming them all back to Canna in May 2024 for the Canna 10K Trail Run!
We had our Canna Big Beach Clean on 30th September. Unsurprisingly, nobody came from the mainland to take part - the weather was too dodgy and the idea of being stuck on Canna for a few days may have been enough to put some people off. We disagree with this entirely, of course, and embrace being on our fantastic island whatever the weather. As with all things Canna, we just knuckled down and did the beach clean anyway. Dod, David and Rebecca managed to get across in the morning and did a tremendous job of feeding us all from the BBQ.
We managed to get a tractor trailer full of marine litter by the end of the afternoon. It really is extraordinary how much marine litter gets washed up on our shores. Some more unusual finds were a Coastguard toy boat, a plastic toy pig, numerous toothbrushes, deodorant cases and a lot of rope. Many thanks to Vicki for organising the event and we are all thankful that Canna's shores are a bit cleaner than they were a week ago.
The two bulls have been reunited after their strenuous efforts with the herd. Gerry was much displeased at their apparent inability to reconcile after some time apart. A section of fence is down but they are now behaving like love's young dream in her run park and there's no more fisticuffs in sight. A question may have been raised as to whether any of the heifers will calve next year given their obvious affection for one another. Speaking of calves, we had another late arrival . . . everyone is out of sync.
Cafe Canna has now closed for the season and to mark the ending of the season we got together on Sunday to have a community roast dinner lunch cooked by Gareth. It was a great occasion for us all to come together and say bloody well done everyone. John Angus played the pipes to finish off the meal and more than a few households may have rolled home instead of walking. A fine feast shared together and well done Team Canna!
ISLE OF RUM
Minishal, one of the Rum ponies, had a foal. A gorgeous wee leggy thing that doesn't have a name just yet: the NNR team are still trying to agree on one. She struggled for a bit with one of her forelegs and needed a splint but has recovered well and can now be seen frolicking around the front castle field avoiding helicopters landing . . . of which there have been a few; it's stalking season and some of the paying guests flew themselves in, in what became known as the 'cowcopter' - a helicopter cunningly painted so it could more than adequately remain hidden in a field of Friesian cows - laugh? We did - the kids loved it. Turns out the same camouflage works in an urban environment too, who knew?
The red deer rut is also well under way. Data from the long running Kilmory deer study has shown that changes in temperature have brought the rut, and also the calving season, earlier by a number of weeks; another consequence of global warming. Regular visitor Prof. Josephine Pemberton is back for the duration. If any of you caught the new BBC Scotland show 'Scotland: The New Wild' you'd have seen some dramatic deer rut action and Ali, one of Rum's deer researchers, talking about the project and the deer on Rum. If you're visiting next week on Saturday 7th you can take part in a red deer rut walk and there will be a talk given by Prof. Pemberton in the hall late afternoon.
Sean, the other deer researcher, who is also an expert ornithologist, spotted an unusual bird this month. An Oven bird, apparently from America and not seen in the UK for years: well done Sean. We haven't had this kind of excitement since a Mourning Dove was sighted, also by Sean, and it brought a wave of twitchers to the island.
Cosmos planetarium came back for a few days, remarkably when the aurora was sighted. They had their planetarium tent up in the village hall, got lots of amazing aurora pictures and got up super early to see comet Nishimura, which they did through a telescope. At the same time we had a group of carers from Edinburgh brought to Rum by 'Caring for Carers' for some respite. They joined in the dark sky watching and had some nature-based events with Micky the Ranger and some wild swimming with me. The week went really well and they plan to return next year; Rum is an amazing place to connect with nature.
It's been a difficult month for the ferries; with the Loch Nevis away for its annual service, the replacement boats have had some challenges with the weather and scheduling services which meet the timetabled needs of the island communities. It's not easy; moving forward we would like to be able to achieve something closer to normal, though we appreciate that with smaller boats and unpredictable weather, this may be difficult. Anyone who has watched the CalMac ferries programme on the BBC will see that there are a lot of issues facing staff and communities.
On a lighter note, the first of our winter evening activities took place this week with a quiz in the hall run by Jenny the new shopkeeper. Love a good quiz. More quizzes, meals and talks to follow.
ISLE OF EIGG
Although temperatures have been worryingly higher than usual for the time of year, the Eigg community enjoyed this unexpected Indian summer before the equinoctial gales came in. A well attended apple picking day took place in our community orchard which was even more laden with fruits than usual, and juicy brambles are filling island larders. Hay and sileage have been cut well in advance and lambs have been sent away.
But disruption brought in by the equinox has brought utter confusion to the island, its visitors and the mainland businesses serving us through the combination of weather, the new ticketing system introduced by CalMac and the very apparent difficulties this year of coordinating the vessels replacing MV Loch Nevis during the refit. It's not been great to say the least and has had a really high cost to our community, our businesses and visitors. This also means delays for the accommodation holders to get their certificates, which is highly frustrating. Work on the green shed, also much delayed by ferry disruption, is reaching completion soon, a wonderful achievement by all involved. It was therefore no wonder that transport issues loomed high in the feedback on the National Island Plan five-year review when two members of the Scottish Government team came to Eigg to consult the community, participation being much higher than anticipated, perhaps in fact because of that issue.
This month we have also welcomed our new head-teacher, Kieran MacInnes, and his partner Jenna MacDonald, also a teacher. As they are both Gaelic speakers, those of us that are Gaelic learners are looking forward to polishing our language skills with a bit of Gaelic conversation! There was also a warm welcome for Brendan who is moving back to the island with partner Eilidh. Adele, a French Anthropology student who is here until end of November, has also swelled the ranks of younger people on the island, lending a hand to many as part of her endeavours to understand how we work! We also had the pleasure of meeting American traveller Chris who is researching climate transition in the UK for his blog on climate change and communities. And we have a bunch of artists at Sweeney's bothy who are very keen on interacting with the community, courtesy of a new programme by the Bothy Project.
Our Eigg students have now gone away: Dylan, Marina and Logan back to Edinburgh, and Clyde to St Andrews, and we wish them all a fruitful year. In the meantime, heartfelt congratulations to Struan who won Dundee University Young Software engineer of the Year Award! You made your parents and the whole island proud, Struan! Good luck wishes also to Celia who sailed away for a return trip to the far north on Selkie. She is aiming to do her solo crossing to Norway from Shetland this October and meet up with a scientific team to research marine mammals in the most northerly fjords, using a hydro phone lent by St Andrews Uni. Finally congrats to the Eigg September birthday girls, Maggie Carr and Frances Nelson!
PLANNED WORKS AT MALLAIG FUEL STATION
Regrettably, Mallaig fuel station will remain out of service until late 2023. However, significant progress is being made to bring it back into operation. We are mindful of the continued impact of the temporary closure of Mallaig fuel station on residents and visitors alike, particularly with winter approaching, and we are sorry for this.
While the time needed to carry out essential work to bring the fuel station back into service is longer than any of us wanted, significant progress is being made. Fabrication of above-ground tanks is underway.
We have also explored temporary fuel supply solutions. However, we have been advised that the installation of a viable temporary alternative will take the same length of time as the fabrication of the above-ground tanks. To minimise disruption to the local community, we believe it is best to continue with this permanent solution. We will continue to keep you informed of our progress.
Denholm Fishselling Limited
15th September 2023
A Write Highland Hoolie - Mallaig Book Festival
Friday 10th to Sunday 12th November 2023
The Hoolie Hoolets is the local school pupils' own junior Festival, which runs from Thursday 9th to Monday 13th November. On Thursday it's the Hoolie School of Music sessions, when the talented and popular Duncan Chisholm and Hamish Napier will assist High School music pupils in producing an original piece of music. They had such a great time when they were here in 2021 we were delighted they wanted to come back - and they are also opening the adult Festival with Beyond the Swelkie. Their collaborator in Beyond the Swelkie, poet Jim MacIntosh, will give a workshop on George Mackay Brown to S2 pupils that afternoon. Also that afternoon, fashion designer Breege Smyth will talk to pupils.
On Friday in the High School, literary agent Jenny Brown, a Hoolie regular, will talk to senior pupils about Book Tok, the new phenomenon. Hugh McMillan who will be presenting The Deirdre Roberts Competition prize on Saturday, will talk to selected S3 pupils on writing poetry.
Mallaig Primary hosts talks which all of our local primaries can attend via Teams on the internet. On Friday morning there is interactive story reading from Molly Arbuthnott and on Friday afternoon there is Jenny Colgan, who has an event in the main Festival too.
On Sunday, of course, we have our fun-filled Prize Giving and Family Tea in the West Highland Hotel, with the inimitable Alan Windram to entertain us with his fabulous new book, One Button Benny and the Dinosaur Dilemma. The entries are in and as usual they are of a very high standard. The art - or as much of it as we can manage - will be displayed in the West Highland Hotel during the weekend.
That's not quite all for the Hoolets though - on Monday Keggie Carew will meet S1-S3 pupils in the High School. Keggie also has an event in the adult Festival, on Saturday, Beastly: A New History of Animals and Us.
Together with the adult Festival, that all makes for a jam packed five days - hope to see you there! Tickets are selling well so make sure you have yours!
The Hoolie team - Polly, Ann, Sine, Iomhair
Mallaig Lifeboat Log
6th September 2023
Launched by Stornoway Coastguard at 16:40 to the assistance of broken down yacht off Arisaig. Owing to there being no wind for the casualty to sail towards Mallaig, the Coastguard requested the Lifeboat's assistance. On-scene at 17:00, the yacht was taken alongside and towed to the Marina at Mallaig. The casualty was safely berthed at the Marina at 17:55 and the Lifeboat back in her berth for 18:10.
8th September 2023
Requested to convey local Coastguard team to the west side of Rum at 16:16. Rescue 948 also tasked to incident. A report to the Coastguard from persons on-scene that a member of their party was cragfast on a cliff ledge to the NW of Harris Bay. After the coastguard team had mustered the Lifeboat departed Mallaig at 16:55. At 17:42 the Lifeboat was stood down and requested to return to base. The Helicopter had successfully located and recovered the casualty from the cliff and reunited him with the rest of the party at Kinloch, the main settlement in Rum. Lifeboat back at station at 18:40.
10th September 2023
Launched at 17:50 by Stornoway Coastguard to the assistance of a disabled yacht. The yacht was to the NW of Sleat point and due to the lack of wind was barely making headway. On-scene at 18:25, a tow was quickly established for Mallaig in flat calm seas. Once off the harbour the yacht was taken alongside the Lifeboat for the short trip into the marina and safely berthed at 20:00.
21st September 2023
Requested by Stornoway Coastguard at 23:40 to launch and convey Paramedics to Inverie. A male at a local guest house had fallen on a staircase and sustained an injury to his arm. On-scene at 23:55 the Medics were conveyed the short distance to the location by local Coastguard team. Once the casualty had been assessed, again local Coastguards conveyed both casualty and medics back to the Lifeboat. Lifeboat departed Inverie at 00:40 ( Friday) and returned to Mallaig berthing at the pontoon at 01:00. The casualty, accompanied by his partner, were then conveyed to Fort William's Belford Hospital for further treatment. Lifeboat ready for service at 01:10.
24th September 2023
Launched at 12:20 by Stornoway Coastguard to convey Paramedics to the Isle of Rum. On-scene at 12:55 Paramedics were conveyed to the location by a staff member from local fish farm site. Once assessment had been undertaken the patient was left in situ. Lifeboat departed Rum at 13:45 and berthed at Mallaig at 14:30.
NEWS FROM MALLAIG HARBOUR
Autumn is definitely in the air, and although we missed out on the worst of the weather associated with storm Agnes, the unsettled weather has meant that the boats have been tied up for most of the last week, and the harbour has been busy with fish farm vessels seeking shelter too. There have been a couple of unusual weather incidents this month. On Tuesday 12th into Wednesday 13th September, the Northern Lights put on quite a show above the village, so much so that our CCTV in the Marina was even able to capture them through the glare of the streetlights. On Thursday 28th, I looked up from my desk to see the most unusual sun. I know you shouldn't look at the sun directly, but it took me a minute to decide whether it was actually the sun or the moon! Apparently, it was due to the smoke from wildfires in America.
The Marina has quietened down considerably, although there are still occasional yachts calling in on their way South. We have had a busy season, and for the first two weeks in September 55 vessels used the pontoon, compared to 39 in 2022. On Wednesday 27th September, the students from the Marine Training Centre were taking advantage of the calm before the storm to get a bit of practical experience in using the RIB when we got a call at the Harbour office from a yacht making for the Marina who had engine trouble. The students got to experience a real life scenario when their tutor kindly agreed to take them out and escort the yacht into the harbour, eventually towing it as there wasn't enough wind for it to make steady progress.
We have had a fair bit of interest in the Deputy Harbour Master post. The closing date is not until 27th October, to allow for the October holidays, so there is still a bit of time for anyone with an interest to submit an application. All the information on the post, including how to apply, is on our website or in the advert elsewhere in West Word.
We had an oil spill response exercise on 20th September. Briggs Marine, who provide support services to us in the event of an oil spill, were on site to go through a scenario with us. The exercise tested all aspects of our response, from the co-ordination to the practical application of the training the staff have in how to contain and clean up an oil spill. The Loch Bhrusda was used as the 'casualty', with booms floated around her in the berth in the Outer Harbour (pictured) and a demonstration of an oil skimmer. As well as our own staff, we had representatives from the MCA, and staff from Denholms, CalMac and Scottish Seafarms who attended to provide support and learn about what to do in a real incident. We're always grateful when the other businesses who use the Harbour work with us to supplement our small team of staff!
The Loch Nevis has been away for her annual refit, and is due to return on the 30th September, while the Loch Fyne attempted to leave us for the season on 29th September but had to turn back due to the stormy weather. The intention was that from Saturday 30th September until 19th October, the Loch Bhrusda would be operating alongside the Coruisk to Skye. However, issues elsewhere in the network now mean that the Coruisk will be the only vessel on the Skye run, until she leaves on 19th October. This means that from Friday 20th to Sunday 22nd October, there will be no vehicle service to Skye - a passenger service will be operated by the Larven. The Winter timetable then starts on Monday 23rd October. It seems incredible that this is less than a month away!
Finally, huge congratulations to Mallaig FC, who have already won the West Highland Amateur Football's William Wilson League, and the Ross Cup. They were on for the treble if they had been able to beat North West Skye on 30th September in Portree - unfortunately, this wasn't to be, despite us all having our fingers crossed for them at the Harbour! They've had a great season once again, and we're proud that our sponsorship plays a small part in their success.
Jacqueline McDonell 01687 462154
On and Off the Rails
Hello, it's me again.
With The Jacobite steam train continuing to provide visitors with memorable days out and all the services that enhance it - on board catering and gift shop, the opportunity to have flowers, champagne, chocolates as gifts to your table for a loved one etc - and also Mallaig with an opportunity to add business profit, I thought it might just be a good idea to reprint an article that was in the Lochaber Times on Thursday 28th September this year. I know the season has had its problems with regards to altercations between West Coast Railway Ltd and the Office of Road and Rail which are not totally resolved yet and this has had an impact on businesses in Mallaig. However we got through COVID, we got through rail industry strikes, and we still have CalMac problems - problems not of our making, but imposed on us. Sometimes perhaps we should look back and see how far we keep going. 25 years ago last week the following newsworthy story broke in the press - just don't shoot the messenger when you see me!
Twenty Five Years Ago
Saturday 26th September, 1998
Jacobite steams into the future
West Coast Railway Company, the first specialist steam charter company since privatisation to win a train operator's licence, is this week celebrating an assured future for The Jacobite steam train service between Fort William and Mallaig. At the close of the summer season, West Coast development manager James Shuttleworth announced the company now awaits the rail regulator's final approval of a three year track access agreement with rail infrastructure owner Railtrack. 'When we took over the steam service on this line in 1995, it was our intention to run it for at least four years,' said Mr Shuttleworth at an event at Fort William Station to mark the occasion.
'Up until now, we have had to renew our agreement on an annual basis. But, since gaining our licence in June, we have been in a position to negotiate a longer-term contract which would help us consolidate the service as a major tourist attraction.'
Railtrack's special trains executive Simon Coulthard commented, 'We are always delighted to welcome new operators to the network which, in this particular case, will also help to encourage healthy competition in the steam charter market.' The scenic steam trip on the West Highland Line between Fort William and Mallaig is enjoyed by around 30,000 passengers every summer.
On Saturday, the two steam engines - 75014 and 48151 - used on the 1998 Jacobite train will work a special train to Bo'ness, headquarters of the Scottish Railway Preservation Society, at the start of the Highland Steam Festival. Over the next three weekends, the locos will take the train on tours covering the routes to Edinburgh, Perth, Inverness, Kyle of Lochalsh, Wick and Thurso.
Back in the present day, there's been plenty of activity on our local line in recent weeks!
Wednesday 20th September 2023
Delays, and some cancellations, were unavoidable. Emergency Speed Restrictions (ESRs) were in place due to 'bad weather'. If the normal speed restriction was over 40mph then it was reduced to 40mph, and if it was 40mph, it was reduced to 20mph. All trains departing Glasgow to Oban/Fort William and Mallaig were later cancelled. Our 16.05 train left Mallaig but was terminated at Fort William, leaving the crew to eventually return to Mallaig probably by Taxi. No alternative bus or coach travel could be arranged. Chaos ruled.
Monday 25th September
Further really nasty bouts of gales and necessary speed restrictions. The 16.05 departure from Mallaig did not arrive back into Mallaig until 1.30am in the morning. The Mallaig crew (who go as far as Crianlarich) had two hours added on to their eight hour shift. Speed restrictions again in place. The level of concentration the drivers have to maintain in 20mph speed restrictions must be stressful. Having to watch your ESR whilst looking out (ahead) for fallen tree boughs, trampolines, stags, sheep or running water through some of the tunnels in the dark, just to keep us safe.
A West Coast Railway's Class 37 with a driver up from Glasgow was commissioned by ScotRail to traverse the line between Fort William and Crianlarich from 4am each day that 'Storm Agnes' was about, to observe for track defects, fallen boughs, or trees on the line. In the Class 37 you are much higher up in the cab to observe such situations for Network Rail P-Way staff to react to - which they do!!
The same night, Locomotive Services Ltd (LSL) sent up by road haulage a fully restored 'Bubble Car', liveried in plum and custard and named 'Flora'. It took three days, with haulage stops for 'out of hours' breaks. It arrived at Tom-na-Faire goods yard to be used over the weekend on the line. It is a self-contained diesel unit (either end) with a saloon coach restored to its original - or better - condition as a club style car. With interlocking doors, windows, toilet tank, wood burning stove, cast iron radiators, sumptuous furniture and fittings … what's not to like!!
Credit where credit is due - and happily, there are plans for its regular use on the line, in the not too distant future. Congratulations to all of the coach builders who have painstakingly restored it. Five stars!
Friday 29th September
This evening saw the return to the area of the London, Midland and Scottish Black 5, 45231, Sherwood Forester, now owned and operated by LSL. The steam locomotive was previously owned by Bert Hitchin and used frequently for hire to WCR on The Jacobite until Bert passed away. The locomotive was then purchased and fully restored to its original glory by LSL - and what a wonderful job they have done on her too. The train brought guests of LSL's for an ongoing journey to Arisaig by a Class 37 locomotive, while the Sherwood Forester will stay in Tom-na-Faire goods yard in Fort William until it returns to England on the 2nd October.
A minor collision took place in Aviemore the same night, when the Belmond Royal Scotsman carriage with the balcony on the back was sitting stationary waiting for the Flying Scotsman (which is owned by the Railway Museum at York) to couple on to it in a 'low speed shunting manoeuvre'. Sadly the 'low speed' was not low enough and damage was caused to the veranda. The carriage has now been allowed to be moved by road transport to specialist coach repairers. Sad news.
Sunday 1st October
After the 10.10 departing Class 156 'Super Sprinter' train had passed the house I went to Mallaig Railway Station to welcome in the second visit of the 'Bubble Car' which had spent two nights at Arisaig railway sidings. It came in, timed to perfection, and connected the watering hose to fill the tank - with no seagulls in sight! I think they were sheltering from the gale! The crew were dispatched to get refreshments from the Co-op and I was invited to sit in the carriage and enjoy the wood-burning stove - which also heats the cast iron radiators in the carriage. Bliss. The tasteful interior has been so well refurbished. All too soon it was time to depart, picking up the guests at Arisaig station, and crossing with the incoming sold-out Jacobite to Mallaig. There, it departed through all stations to Rannoch, where the driver changed ends and returned the guests to Arisaig for their third night. Tomorrow they will depart for England.
Photo by FIONA MACKELLAIG
Photos by Oliver Dean
Once The Jacobite had departed Mallaig, and the 16.05 ScotRail train had departed with a fresh crew, I heard a rumble on the rails and in came a visiting Test and Evaluation train (Network Rail). Top and tailed by 'Colas Rail'! The bright yellow coaches were bristling with computerised equipment. The Colas Rail (HST set) were bright red locomotives. The driver changed ends and departed within minutes, to cross with the incoming ScotRail train at Arisaig, then went on to Fort William and beyond! Maybe to change at Crianlarich and evaluate the Oban line.
Monday 2nd October
Another busy day on the rails.
Departing early from Fort William's depot yard, one of the WCR Company's locomotives, hauling two of the first class carriages, left for Carnforth now that the afternoon Jacobite service has finished its season. The other spare coaches will remain at the depot as they may be required if the regular morning coaches go away for 'tyre turning' soon.
In between incoming freight stock and the Caledonian Sleeper - plus the regular ScotRail trains and The Jacobite - the next departure was LSL's Black 5 Sherwood Forester which came in to Fort William from England with guests on Friday 29th September, and it hauled the aforementioned 'Bubble Car' with it back to England. We look forward to Flora's return!
Then following on, in an appropriate lunchtime slot on the track - the LSL carriages, hauled by a LSL Class 37, and 28 guests departed Fort William station with full dining chef's kitchen on board for England. They too will return, so successful has been the weekend arrangements. Whilst in the area the guests were offered the opportunity of lunch at Knoydart on two days and a local piper on three occasions! Much local produce was consumed and some imbibing was enjoyed. Haste ye back - you are very welcome.
This week now commencing we'll see The Jacobite (fully booked each day) filling its morning slot commitments. It will continue seven days a week until Friday 27th October.
Our next touring train into Mallaig is on Sunday 8th October. On a welcome return visit as part of a two night trip to Fort William from England, it is the blue Pullman HST touring train. This will be the third visit to Mallaig this year. The Pullman with power cars no's 43055/43046. For further details contact Midland Pullman on 0800 038 5360. Just a glimpse of what is still to come. Next month it will be visitors a plenty travelling by train to 'A Write Highland Hoolie' - details elsewhere in West Word.
It is at this time of year, as the dark nights and unpredictable weather conditions visit us, that I am always happy to hear our ScotRail train crews return on the late night service each night. I have used public transport as my first choice all of my 79 years and I will continue to do so with pleasure. If only we could get a catering service back on our branch line it would make such a difference. I still hope that one day it will return. Food and hot drink trolley services were reinstated from Glasgow to Fort William and Oban recently, which is something. If only ScotRail would commission a service that started from Mallaig and returned there from Fort William on every train, even as a trial; with the winter coming a porridge pot would be a blessing!!
See you on the train,
Stop Press! West Coast Railways have announced on their website that booking details for the 2024 Jacobite season will be made available in mid November 2023. Good Friday is 29th March 2024 - that's all I am saying! The judicial review instigated by WCRC against the ORR will also take place in November 2023.
National Lottery funding award for Glenuig Community Association
Thanks to a grant from the National Lottery Community Fund Scotland, Glenuig Community Association are now able to offer an affordable, inclusive and participatory programme of events and activities in Glenuig Hall for the coming year. This will include singing, creative writing and art workshops, live music events as well as a series of community lunches, dinner dances and afternoon teas in a nice warm welcoming hall over the winter months.
The first activity on offer will be a singing workshop by a special guest to kickstart a new Thursday night singing group for the Glenuig area. This will take place on the evening of Thursday 12th October and will be led by Seamas Carey, an inspirational choir-leader, performer and composer from Cornwall, who's in Glenuig to perform his solo show, "Help, I'm a Nationalist!" the following night. https://seamascareymusic.com
From Thursday 19th October, this new group will aim to meet weekly and will be led by Rosie Gillespie, a well-known and experienced singer and music teacher from the Sunart area. Different styles of music will be explored and the focus will be on singing for fun and well-being. Each session will start at 7.30pm and will cost only £5 to take part. For more information on this and other workshops, events and activities taking place in Glenuig Hall in the coming year, check for updates on our social media:
Facebook - glenuighallarts
Instagram - glenuighallarts
Spirit of The Highlands Tapestry
The Spirit of the Highlands and Islands Tapestry is a project which brings together groups of stitchers across the Highlands and Islands. Each group of stitchers is to complete a panel which has been pre-designed.
In October 2022 a group, Maerl Stitchers, met in Arisaig Church of Scotland Hall to start the journey of transforming a canvas of curved lines and stone shapes into a reflective piece of work. All levels of stitchers were encouraged to be involved. This was a community project. The only condition made was that everyone involved had to currently live in the Highlands with a Highland postcode. Instructions varied from: have fun; express with stitching what you might see looking down on a river bed or sea bed; through stitching show what it means to live in the Highlands and be part of the community. It was not an easy process and often we would feel frustration and wished we had been given one of the canvasses with a dynamic design. However with hindsight we gained so much as a group from having a 'semi-blank' canvas. The tapestry evolved despite our misgivings. Discussion, opinions, suggestions started each session. Eventually finished designs, embroidered on tweed with wool, were submitted with each telling why the stitcher had created their design and what it meant to them.
Maerl Stitchers 2023.
From Left to right: Lesley Newnham, June Cairns, Becky Donald, Alison Horsley, Morag Keenan, Glenda Green, Jimmy Morton, Dee Duncan, Caroline Jackson, Eileen MacEachen.
Inset photos Pat Fowler, Pat MacKenzie
The tapestry panel started to tell a story of the area. It now required 'something' to pull it all together. The artist, Andrew Crummie OBE, suggested we find a local verse or poem which would reflect our 'community spirit' and could be embroidered into the design. Easier said than done until our well known local songwriter, musician and tutor came to our rescue. Jim Hunter allowed us to use any of his lyrics that suited. We did not have to search long. The refrain and title of his song 'Sanctuary' from Turning the Tide summed up everything we had tried to capture about why the area is special to so many; why those who have drifted and settled here feel at home. Jim not only gifted us his lyrics but also stitched a couple of letters onto the canvas.
And I've got a dream that no one can see,
Where I fly like the wind and dive through the sea.
No one standing over me . . . Sanctuary.
The completed panels will go on display. As soon as we know when and where we'll post it in West Word.
Birdwatch September 2023 by Stephen MacDonald
A fairly typical September bird wise, with continued wader passage and the first reports of migrant geese and swans. The first sightings of Pink-footed Geese came on the 11th and 12th when skeins of Pinkfeet were seen over Arisaig and Morar, coinciding with widespread reports from across the northwest Highlands and Western Isles. There were further sightings almost daily until the month end.
A group of 30 Whooper Swans flying south over Rhu, Arisaig on the 22nd was the first report of the autumn.
Small numbers of waders were reported, mostly from around Traigh, the Morar estuary and West Bay, Mallaig. Bar-tailed Godwit were reported from Traigh and the Morar estuary. Up to four Greenshank were on the Morar estuary at the month end. Traigh had Curlew, Redshank, Ringed Plover, Golden Plover, Dunlin and Turnstone. At West Bay, Mallaig, Turnstone were seen regularly, with 20 plus there on the 14th along with two Knot.
Red-breasted Mergansers were recorded from Loch nan Ceall, Loch Ailort and the Morar estuary. Two Goosanders were seen on several occasions at Invercaimbe. Little Grebes were seen on Loch nan Ceall throughout the month. Still good numbers of Gannets, Kittiwakes and Manx Shearwaters reported from the Sound of Sleat. A single Arctic Skua was seen offshore from Mallaig on the 14th.
Two Jays were seen in a moral garden on the 6th and there were several other reports from Morar and Arisaig.
Some good sized flocks of Goldfinches, Greenfinches, Chaffinches and Linnets reported from around the area. Six Reed Buntings were seen at Rhubana View on the 10th.
Sparrowhawks were reported in a number of gardens in Morar and Arisaig. A female/immature Merlin was seen chasing Meadow Pipits at Traigh golf course on the 22nd and there was another possible scene near Woodside, Morar on the 25th.
There were several reports of a Hen Harrier around Invercaimbe and the Back of Keppoch area.
A Kingfisher was seen at the head of Loch Ailort on the 15th and a Pied Flycatcher was reported from Invercaimbe on the 10th.
WORLD WIDE WEST WORD
Richard and Ann Lamont had lovely weather on their holiday to Orkney a few weeks ago, but managed to pick the worst day for a photo opportunity!
They stayed just below the Cuween Chambered Cairn, and here is Richard standing beside the sign for it.
The house they stayed in is just visible over his shoulder. Sadly they didn't meet the cave inhabitant, the Hogboon.
Watch this space for extracts from next month's issue!
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