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April 2022 Issue
Contents of the online version:
All photos are copyright either of the individual photographers or West Word.
SLÀINTE MHATH! KNOYDART COMMUNITY TAKE OWNERSHIP OF THE OLD FORGE
THEY DID IT! After decades of private ownership, residents of the Knoydart peninsula have bought their local pub, The Old Forge, in a landmark community-buyout bid. Over the last 14 months local residents have been fundraising in an effort to buy their only local pub and join the growing list of community-owned and managed pubs in Scotland. Locals raised over £320,000 through a community share offer and Crowdfunder, and received funding support from Scottish Land Fund and Community Ownership Fund to secure enough capital to purchase the building and undertake essential renovations.
The pub is now owned by The Old Forge Community Benefit Society (CBS) - a community company which acts on behalf of the local residents and the shareholders who invested in the project. Under the community ownership model, profits will be reinvested back into business, not shareholders, and in to projects that deliver wider community benefit.
Stephanie Harris, Secretary of the CBS says, "We are ecstatic that after so many months of hard work we have been successful in securing the pub for the community. The Old Forge plays such an important role in Knoydart's social culture and economic sustainability, and with the business now in the community's hands we can steer it forward in a way that will work for the needs of the locals and the thousands of visitors who come every year."
Volunteers Day at the Old Forge. Spot the West Word!
The Knoydart community has a track record of successful community ownership, having secured 17,500 acres of the Knoydart Estate in 1999 as one of the first community buyouts in Scotland.
Since taking ownership of the pub on 28th March the community have been hard at work clearing out and cleaning, scrubbing and painting, and even sanding the floors in the bar. The pub will be open on a drinks-only basis for the first few months as the kitchen needs to be completely renovated before it can be used. All going well, the bar will be open for Easter weekend! Congratulations, everyone!
LETTER FROM THE EDITOR
It's great to be able to fill the front cover with the fantastic news that the Knoydart Community's bid to purchase the pub has been successful. Brilliant! We're so pleased for you - can't wait to come and have a pint!
Lovely to have the steam train chuffing past the office again as I work (although I've discovered the puppy is terrified when it puffs ...!)
This issue is a bumper one, after so many quiet months! Thanks to everyone for their contributions. All sorts of different things to read about this month. Hope you enjoy it! Plus there's gigs and events coming up to look forward to again - hooray!
Once again, thanks to Morag and Ewen for their help with the printing, and to Anne and Jane for labelling the envelopes.
Well I think it's safe to say, by far the most exciting news of the month is that FINALLY, after a more than a year's hard work and dedication by the CBS group, the Old Forge BELONGS TO THE COMMUNITY!! What a moment for Knoydart's history. The keys were officially handed over on Monday 28th March, and after an initial celebration night, the hard work continues as we prepare for the pub to be open on Easter weekend. It's going to be on a drinks only basis to begin with, as the kitchen needs renovation before it'll be functional again. There was a volunteer day held on Saturday 2nd April and the level of enthusiasm was so heart-warming. An incredible amount of cleaning, scrubbing, chucking out of rubbish, painting and fixing went on and I can't wait til that first official opening. It's going to be a whole new chapter.
We've also been blessed with some lovely weather this March, warmer than usual and very much welcome.
The Lookout reopened on the 11th, ready for the season ahead, and more and more visitors continue to appear. The Ranger service did another workshop type experience in the community garden, all about learning techniques for giving seeds the best possible start when growing produce. They also prepped the ground ready for some new gooseberry bushes.
The Poozies also came and played a great gig on March 12th, the first gig in a while. The music calendar for the hall is looking good for the rest of the year though, next up being the Easter Ceilidh with Fras.
Beannachdan bho Gleann Fhionnain!
Spring has sprung! Hotels are opening, Glenfinnan Dining Car awaits you and we are excited to see new permanent residents moving into the Glen!
The community car park has the addition of two 'ambassadors' clad in sparkling new Hi-Vis Jackets. These gents will be at the front line of the parking challenges so feel free to give them a wee wave as you drive past, they really do an amazing job to keep the cars off the verges, pavements and on occasions, out of the ditch.
The Community received some very disappointing news recently that the Callop Foot Bridge and Walkway are not to be opened this summer or in fact for many months after. This is not just a wee bridge for the visitors but is also a route for the locals to take a quiet walk along the forestry road and is a slice of tranquillity away from the thousands of daily, welcomed visitors that we have. Many Lochaber people use this fantastic walk too, so the community are in talks with the powers that be to ask that the essential work is undertaken to ensure we don't have visitors taking a stroll along the main A830 road, as we are seeing already. Forestry Land Scotland are to update us again in the future, hopefully with a date for work to be completed…. As we brace ourselves for a busy Easter, I would like to remind our fabulous road users that we do have a 40mph speed limit through the Glen.
Is fheàrr sìor-ruith na dian-ruith
(Better steady running than full speed)
ISLE OF MUCK
Hello, Muck Calling . . . Well here we go once more, a new month and a new . . . I'd like to say improved, summer timetable for our confused visitors and residents to decipher! Tidal issues, early sailings, which direction will it go? Which vessel will it be? And what's the freight rules at the moment? ??
And right on cue once the mini summer runs out its time for the first hikers to step off into driving rain and the wee lambs to start dropping . . . what a welcome for both. We did have our first visit from the Hebridean Princess last week and their passengers were great fun, very appreciative and inquisitive, especially as it's not a strenuous amble along the road to Gallanach and back for some refreshments at the newly decorated Tearoom . . . but sadly too early for the Chocoholics amongst them . . . we look forward to seeing the boat back soon.
We also had a Mothers' Day afternoon tea to celebrate and pamper the Mommies with nice treats, balloons and most importantly Prosecco. Even the Farm didn't miss out - they had theirs on their boat whilst on route to collect a new puppy Sheepdog. It was a terrific day all round. The last week of School was spent in the bright lights of Mallaig, swimming and doing other projects in Fort William, and I'm sure being on their best behaviour ?? . . . and now some down time before the Easter Bunny Hop Hop Hops across the Isle.
Last minute preparations are happening all over; even Quiet Waters was hidden by a wall of creels being readied for shooting; here's hoping for a successful bountiful season. Pens and bird feeders are being mended and cleaned at the Lodge in anticipation of receiving new chicks . . . all manner of bird activity is happening this time of year: the breeding Herons are very vocal chasing anything within range and all the finches, Wrens and Thrushes are scrapping over whatever is left of the Pampas Grass. We also welcomed a new full time resident to Muck, Murn Campbell, who is John's fiancée, and will be I'm sure busy all over . . . I for one am keen to get the hang of 'TikTok-ing . . .??
Well I think that's it now. Tune in next month!
ISLE OF CANNA
Good luck to Aileen Colquhoun who has joined us here on Canna as the new proprietor of Tighard Guest House. Aileen worked for CafeCanna and Tighard last summer so already knows the island well. Well done to Milligan Transport and MacLean Deliveries who overcame a few logistical problems moving all Aileen's furniture etc up to Tighard.
We are also very happy that the previous operator of Tighard, Fiona Hutton, has decided to stay on in Canna and take up other roles within the community.
The farm is busy with calving underway and the new Shorthorn bull, 'Fearn Morlich' has been leaving some nice active calves. Some lovely wee Belted Galloway calves running about enjoying the weather.
Grass is growing well which is great as only three tonnes of fertiliser has been spread instead of our usual 10; this is due to the huge increase in fertiliser costs, exceeding £600 per tonne.
Interviews are ongoing for a new NTS seasonal Ranger and hopefully by next issue we will have someone in place to help out with what we expect to be a really busy visitor season.
ISLE OF RUM
The Scottish Islands team visited on the 7th to hold a couple of workshops about the proposed Scottish Islands Bond scheme. It was really interesting to learn about this and discuss possible options applicable to Rum. You can see how with 100 bonds of up to £50k (on offer to young people and families to stay in or to move to islands currently threatened by depopulation) over all the Scottish islands that the plan could be oversubscribed somewhat, but the workshops were a useful exercise for the team to hone the scheme into a more usable model. Unfortunately, their quick overnight visit turned into an extended stay as the ferry was cancelled not only the next day on the Tuesday, but also the Thursday, which gave them proper time to explore the island a bit. We always feel that adding a day or two to your visit helps get you more acquainted with the island: it really is bigger than you think.
The stargazing event held by Cosmos planetarium was also a success. The skies were clear and dark and there was lots to see... but not by me, as I was next door on Eigg participating in the Health and Well Being Weekend, which was a marvel and really, everyone should do this, regularly.
Most years at the start of the season, Rum holds a familiarisation visit, usually for local accommodation and tourism providers from the local area to see what Rum has to offer (lots) and get a lovely venison lunch thrown in. We usually have a tour of Kinloch Castle but as that was off the table, we took the guests on a 'Landrover' safari across to Harris to see the rest of the island. Like I said above, Rum really is pretty big and it's hard to get the grasp of it from just being in the village, so these lucky peoples got a brief glimpse of the bigger picture. Along for the ride this year were representatives from Visit Scotland, Lochaber Chamber of Commerce and the Press & Journal for a bit of press coverage; the journalist in question being John Ross, who last I spoke to him, worked for The Scotsman and covered our journey to community land ownership. We find these visits work well to let local mainland tourist operators know what wonders Rum has to offer.
The Chamber of Commerce guy also turned out to run a fell running guide and chatted with us about possible holding an event next year, which sounds exciting. The Rum running squad can regularly be seen on a Wednesday evening about the village or slogging up some ungodly hill in the rain. Happy days!
ISLE OF EIGG
The big news from Eigg this month, is the huge success of our Small Isles, Big Hearts Health and Well-being Retreat, which was organised and executed without a fault by own our dear Katrin. She even made a deal with the weather gods to send glorious sunshine our way! Throughout the weekend, we were absolutely spoiled by Saira's incredible cooking. Out of this world!
The weekend was divine; we were so delighted to welcome Fliss from Rum and Phoebe from Muck who joined around fifteen of us Eiggich for heart-warming and soul-quenching workshops, conversations and circles. On Friday afternoon, Hilda led the group in weaving a beautiful wall-hanging which many of the group continued to work on throughout the weekend in the sun. Sue Hollands led a delicious yoga session that evening that was restorative and relaxing. Camille then led the first of two Qi Gong sessions. Unfortunately she had to do this over Zoom as the dreaded 'Vid had struck in Cuagach, but the benefits of her practice shone through and we felt totally Zen by the time Friday was out.
We rose bright and early on Saturday to be led on a Mindful Run by our own Fee Hags, who took us on a beautiful route; forests and streams, up magical steps, through wild garlic and into open spaces. After a wee break and a cup of coffee and cake, we enjoyed a brilliant art mark-making workshop led by Saira. We had so much fun, releasing our inner critic and just making marks on the page with pens on sticks, splashes of paints and collage - it was class. This was followed by the most magical session at Manse Woods, led again by Sue Hollands. Sue helped us to really connect with nature, through some of beautiful exercises. An unforgettable few hours, that inspired me to lead us all in a beautiful song about trees and a traditional Gaelic song from Eigg, later on in the evening at our Singing Workshop. Before that was a brilliant Mindful Communication workshop in the sunshine led by Katrin, which introduced us to the practices of Non-Violent Communication.
Sunday was the closing day of the Retreat and it began with an energised Qi Gong session followed by a Creativity and Healing workshop. We connected with our inner child, shook off all of our tensions and stresses and had a healing dance. Labhaoise's turn for leading us next, and what else, but with some Sea Swimming! We all heeled into Charlie's Taxi and set off for Laig Beach for an invigorating, life-affirming dip. Gorgeous! And then back to the Glebe for another Mindful Communication session and the most beautiful closing ceremony of gratitude. Fliss led us that evening in a crocheting workshop which was so lovely and relaxing, a perfect end to a perfect weekend. Small Isles, Big Hearts indeed.
In other news, the Isle of Eigg Brewery has had an exciting delivery of their gorgeous new labels designed by our own Ben Cormack. Cans of IPA coming soon to a retailer near you!
Eigg Tree Nursery now has its own Facebook page; be sure to give it a like and a follow. Fair play to Tasha and Wes who are working tirelessly to take care of all the wee indigenous trees to Eigg. Oli, Steph, Kat and Jon have now planted around two thousand over at Howlin, and Sue and the Eigg Primary children planted 32 indigenous trees in the Manse Woods, the first people to play out trees in the Manse Wood using trees from the Eigg Tree Nursery.
And finally, everyone here on Eigg would like to extend huge congratulations and well wishes to our good friends on Knoydart and the Old Forge CBS for successfully purchasing their community pub. We are all thrilled for you and cannot wait to join you for a dram.
There will be no election held for local Councillors on 5th May in Caol and Mallaig ward as the number of candidates nominated was equal to the number of councillors to be returned.
Therefore on the day of the election, the following candidates shall be declared to be Councillors for Ward 11:
Andrew Baldrey - Scottish Greens
John Colin Grafton - Scottish Liberal Democrats
Liz Saggers - Scottish Conservative and Unionist
News in Brief
- Scotland's salmon farmers have launched new measures to help keep beaches clean of marine litter in coastal communities. As part of a commitment to the wider marine environment, trade body Salmon Scotland is encouraging people to report waste, regardless of the source, so that salmon farmers close to the location can help remove it.
A dedicated inbox email@example.com has been created, and reports should ideally contain a 'what3words' exact location and photo.
The information will be collated centrally and reported to local teams for recovery, whether it's come from a salmon farm or has been brought in from elsewhere by prevailing winds and ocean currents. The new measures cover the entire area where farms are based - the north-west Highlands, the Western Isles, Argyll and Bute, Shetland and Orkney.
- An enormous wildfire on the 22nd March burnt across a huge swathe of land between Kinloid and Back of Keppoch, threatening buildings including Traigh and Cross Farms. The coast road was closed for a while and multiple fire engines were involved in the effort to get it under control.
Young Barn Owl rescued from the sea at Traigh
Arisaig's Bob Shirley and Cassie Gregor were enjoying a stroll on the beach when to Cassie's amazement, Bob suddenly dashed into the sea, stripping off as he ran!
He emerged holding a waterlogged little Barn Owl, which he had seen floating near the beach.
He spoke to the local SPCA liaison person who came out to see it. Sadly, it died soon after being rescued.
The initial diagnosis was that it had perhaps inhaled smoke from the huge wildfire which had raged nearby just days before and become disorientated and fallen into the sea. The liaison officer, who prefers not to be named, said the death was accidental with no sign of injuries. It is likely to have swallowed water.
Dr Jon Mercer, chairman of the Lochaber Biodiversity Action Group, thinks it is unlikely the death had anything to do with the fire as the owl should have been able to outfly it to escape. He said 'It was more likely starvation. A lot of young Barn Owls do not survive the whole winter.'
A Write Highland Hoolie!
Mallaig Book Festival New Poetry Prize
We are delighted to be ready to launch our new annual competition, in memory of our much missed colleague Deirdre, who passed away last August.
The Deirdre Roberts Poetry Prize is open to anyone over the age of 18, with a closing date of July 1st 2022. There is an entry fee of £10 for up to three poems of 40 lines or less. As VisitScotland designated 2022 as Scotland's Year of Stories we have suggested that entries reflect this. The rules and entry form and payment details will shortly be available on our website. Go to www.a-write-highland-hoolie.com, where you can sign up for our newsletter; awritehighlandhoolie on Facebook; and Twitter @WriteHoolie.
We are delighted to say two very generous sponsors have come forward. The magnificent prize will consist of The Mary Manson Trophy, which is a quaich engraved with the winner's name; £250 cash; and £250 in book tokens from The Highland Book Shop in Fort William, who will also be adding a bottle of whisky. The winner will be invited to attend the prize giving in the West Highland Hotel on Sunday 13th November 2022 when the judge, poet Marjorie Lotfi (pictured) will present the prize.
Marjorie Lotfi's writing has won competitions, been published widely in the UK and abroad and performed on BBC Radio 4. She is a winner of the inaugural James Berry Prize, and her first full collection will be published by Bloodaxe Books in 2023. Refuge, poems about her childhood in revolutionary Iran, is published by Tapsalteerie Press. Marjorie is the Deputy Chair of StAnza, Scotland's International Poetry Festival, and the Co-Founder and Development Director of Open Book, a charity reading and writing in community settings across Scotland. She will also be giving a talk in the High School during the Festival. When Deirdre's family were going through her effects, they found a slip of paper with the words 'Nothing matters only poetry'. This says a lot about Deirdre's love of poetry so we are trying to incorporate it.
The competition is being promoted nationwide, so we are hoping for a lot of entries. We want to read yours!
The Hoolie Team
Road to the Isles Facilities Group
As we speed towards the new tourist season, we are working to improve facilities at one of the area's visitor hot spots.
Silversands car park - after a few false starts we have finally submitted a planning application to create a new car park adjacent to the beach at Silversands. Working with the landowner we have designed a car park for 16 cars with a separate path. We had hoped for 20 plus spaces but the site is restricted. We want to be sympathetic, maintaining a rural feel, whilst creating a functional site, which helps to mitigate some of the issues experienced with inappropriate parking in the area.
There will be no overnight parking and charges will apply. A height barrier will restrict access for larger vehicles, enabling an efficient use of the restricted area available. We will create a residents permit scheme and welcome views on this.
Tenders will shortly be issued, and all going well we hope to have it completed by late May 2022.
Tougal car park and toilet - the asset transfer of these facilities, which are currently run by Highland Council, is expected to be completed in the next few months.
We plan to do some repair works to the surface and some minor improvements to the toilets. We will also remove the height barrier and hopefully re-site it at the Silversands car park. Parking charges will also apply except for those with a residents permit. We plan to improve this car park and access over the next two years, once we have sufficient funds. Running of the toilet block will be part funded by Highland Council's Comfort Scheme as well as a donation box. They will be cleaned daily, and maintained to a higher standard than they currently are. We also plan to improve these facilities over time.
These projects are funded through the Highland Council's Coastal Communities Fund, which is supported by the Crown Estate Scotland.
Morar to Silversands footpath - we are also pleased to announce a successful application to the Rural Tourism Infrastructure Fund to design a footpath joining Morar village with Silversands. This is a partnership with Highland Council. The project is at the very early stages, and is likely to be one for 2023.
Whilst the main objective for these projects is the improvement of facilities and the mitigation of visitor impacts, they should also provide a regular income, which the group can use to further improve the area and ensure the viability of our other projects.
Please contact us with your thoughts or queries. Thanks for your support.
Road to the Isles Facilities Group SCIO SC048758
Mallaig and Morar Community Centre, West Bay, Mallaig PH41 4PX
KNOYDART WILD VENISON
We have an exciting project coming to fruition on Knoydart. The community owned Knoydart Foundation are responsible for the sustainable management of deer over its 17,500 acres of land. We carry out an annual cull to maintain the health of the herd and to protect and enhance the environment. The deer carcasses have traditionally been sold to game dealers, but in recent times we have been allowed to butcher a small percentage for local consumption only.
When Covid-19 hit and the restaurant trade came to a standstill, there was no demand for venison and the deer carcass price collapsed. So, we made the decision that our long-held ambition of dealing with all of the carcasses ourselves and making full use of this amazing resource on our doorstep, needed to become a reality.
A group of folk got together to produce a business plan and take the idea forward. A massive amount of work later, we were lucky enough to be awarded a 35% grant towards our capital costs from Highland and Islands Enterprise. Fast forward to November 2021, and our new butchery unit was installed. With all boxes ticked we were able to not just butcher cuts but start processing a range of products. Most folk love the odd roast or steak but it was important to us to provide products that were affordable and can be used on a regular basis, not just a special occasion. We are now in full production including burgers, sausages, meatballs, kofta/kebabs, and can sell outside Knoydart to the wider community. On top of this, we are providing local jobs, local food and supporting our food security and resilience.
If you are in Mallaig, the Harbour Shop stocks a small amount of our products - you can purchase directly from them and if there is something not in stock, you are welcome to place an order through them. We also hope to have a stockist within the Small Isles very soon. If you are a food business interested in further information, please do get in touch - all enquiries welcome, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Venison by mail order is also under development - so for those visitors and family members further afield in the UK, it is still accessible! Look out for further updates.
Mallaig Lifeboat Log
18th March 2022
Launched by Stornoway Coastguard at 18:40 to investigate a report of possibly a missing or injured person in the area below Sabhal Mor Ostaig in Skye. The information supplied to Police earlier was that someone was heard shouting for help in an area below the accommodation block that overlooks the shore. A search of the area was initially carried out by staff and nothing found. Police Scotland requested the Coastguard to investigate further and with fading light the quickest option was to task the Lifeboat to search the shoreline below the college. On-scene at 18:40, the Y-Boat was launched with two crew members. Local Coastguards were now also on-scene and searching the woodland and the accessible shoreline. After a thorough search with the Y-Boat of the shoreline no trace of anybody was found and the Lifeboat was released from the tasking at 20:15. Skye's local Coastguards continued to make further enquires along with Police Scotland officers. Lifeboat berthed at pontoon at 20:35.
News from Mallaig Harbour
Thankfully whoever is in charge of weather must have heard my plea last month, as the weather for March has been much more settled. This has allowed us to give the Harbour and surrounding area a wee facelift before the summer season and the pier staff have been busy with the power washer and paintbrushes. We've had some positive comments about the 'bandstand' in particular, and we're always appreciative of our staff who are prepared to turn their hands to most things! Our flower tubs are blooming with Hyacinths at the moment, providing a bit of colour, and we are grateful to Jill Gosney for supplying plants for our tubs and keeping them looking beautiful year-round.
The Marina re-opened for the season on 1st April, but the settled weather has meant a few early arrivals this year. One of them, whose home port is Guernsey, was an ex-RNLI lifeboat, Mersey Class, named Arwen Myrtle. You can imagine the Australian skipper's surprise when he approached the pontoon, only to spot another ex-Mersey Class named Arwen! The chances of that must be very small indeed, but he was delighted to berth next to the Western Isles' Arwen, and it was too good a photo opportunity to pass up!
In line with many other businesses, we are seeing our costs increase, and as a result we have spent some time revising our dues and charges. These increases, including an increase to Marina charges, will take effect from 1st April, and will be published on our website. We haven't increased prices for a number of years, and whilst we know that this year is going to be challenging for everyone with other costs going up, we need amend our prices to reflect our costs. We have tried to keep increases to a minimum.
I took part in a public information webinar with CMAL and Transport Scotland on 16th March, which was the first in a series of public engagements around the replacement for the Lord of the Isles. CMAL are proposing to build the ferry to suit the infrastructure in Mallaig, and whilst this might seem like it's putting additional hurdles in the way, it's a pragmatic approach. Both our Masterplan, and the STAG that followed it were designed around the LoTI sailing to Armadale as well as Lochboisdale. Newer thinking is that the replacement vessel will service only the Mallaig/Lochboisdale route, and other ferries will service the Mallaig/Armadale route. This is positive news for the Mallaig/Lochboisdale route, but does mean that the requirements for any new infrastructure in Mallaig have changed, in particular, the overnight berthing requirements. I've mentioned previously some of the short term works we are trying to do to accommodate these changes. This means that a bit of work is needed to ensure that whatever infrastructure is built in Mallaig longer term is fit for purpose, so a bit of amendment is needed to our Masterplan, prior to detailed drawings being developed, and permissions being sought to do the work before any of it can commence. All of this takes time and money, and the replacement vessel is hoped to be in service in a shorter timescale that we will realistically be able to achieve for our infrastructure being in place. If you'd like to keep up to date with the options for a new vessel, CMAL have set up a dedicated project page on their website: https://www.cmassets.co.uk/project/mallaig-lochboisdale/
We were happy to support Mallaig FC this year after a two year hiatus caused by covid! Chris Gray and Andy Cunningham came into the office on Tuesday 8th March to be presented with their cheque. Hopefully it's a sign of things returning to normality that the football team is able to travel and to host matches here in Mallaig again!
As some of you will know, we have been renovating the old Denholms office, upstairs in the Harbour Buildings, which means we now have storage for the archive of materials that were stored in our attic, and we have started to clear the attic. It's been amazing to see some of the information stored up there, some of it pre-dating my birth never mind my time at the Harbour Authority! One of the interesting finds was a map associated with a Harbour Revision order from November 1974. This shows plans for an Outer Harbour similar to what has been built, and a breakwater beyond that, which is similar to the plans in our Masterplan. It's interesting to see that, despite all the technological advances in the last 47 years, sometimes the original ideas stand the test of time!
It's also the time of year where we advertise for new Board Members, and you will see the advert elsewhere in West Word. When Mallaig Harbour Authority was reconstituted in 2012, in line with Scottish Government guidance, the new constitution allowed for Board Members to serve two, three-year terms; and under exceptional circumstances, a third term. Board Members are not directly involved in the operations of the Harbour, but provide support and guidance on the strategic direction of the Harbour Authority, including future plans. We have two retiring Board Members this year, who are both eligible to re-apply for their second term. However, we always welcome applications to become a Board Member, and if anyone is interested, and would like more information, I'd be happy to talk through what being a Board Member involves.
On and Off the Rails
Welcome back to The Jacobite
As I write this on Monday 4th April, at the end of day one of the return of the steam-hauled daily service of The Jacobite, I reflect that no way could I have predicted how it would start or end!
The day started with the non-running of the early morning ScotRail train departing from Mallaig - so it was obvious that it would not be returning to Mallaig at lunchtime! The two car set was towed away to Fort William behind the returning mid morning set the next day.
The weather was 'driving rain with northerly gusts', so no point in me 'scrubbing up' for the day ahead! It was going to be a wellies and waterproofs day, with a thick woolly bobble hat to hold on the glasses and hearing aids, mask and gloves at the ready just in case. It had been predicted that Network Rail (quite rightly) were going to review whether even steam-hauled would be possible right up to one day before service, due to the recent, very dry spell of weather, and that the service might have had to operate with diesel haulage! But it was not to be. The rain came just in time. However after track inspections it was then necessary to impose speed restrictions for ScotRail, WCRC, and freight trains of 'no more than 40mph if a section allowed over that normally', and 'only 20mph if it was normally a 40mph section' - due to the bad weather conditions! Which meant that the steam train could run.
The mid-morning ScotRail train, crewed as ever by Fort William depot staff, came into Mallaig and departed; checks were being made between sections of the line at regular intervals by Network Rail teams, and it was soon time for The Jacobite to depart Fort William. Hauled today by Ian Riley's Black Five 45407, Lancashire Fusilier.
It crossed with the ScotRail service train at Glenfinnan - and by not taking a stop there, arrived in Mallaig only about 20 minutes after the booked time. Luckily the rain was easing off for a wee while - but not for long! By the time of departure, with no lunchtime ScotRail train arriving, the rain was persisting again! Not a spare seat to be had, with lots of takeaway fish and chips being consumed at tables, lots of waving, happy guests onboard, thumbs up and purchases of gifts being looked at; it wouldn't be wrong to say that a good time was being had by all. Back indoors to dry off and reflect that this was only day one! Be still my beating heart Ha! Ha! We'll do it all again tomorrow - and for the next 30 weeks, seven days a week.
April 1st was a full diary day
It was truly a day of transition and reflection.
Bearing in mind that 1st April is "All Fools Day" traditionally, it was a bit of light relief to spot the newspaper and media headlines. One called it 'April Cruel Day' another 'Bleak Friday'!
In the Scottish Government 'First Minister's Question Time' a debate took place as to the merits of the switch that day from Abellio holding the ScotRail franchise to an operator of last resort (see last month's column). The questioner asked that it was surely true that the switch was deemed to become a "CalMac on Wheels" (had the questioner read my March West Word column?!) The First Minister defended the decision. Abellio was awarded the franchise in 2015. The original franchise was for seven years - with a three year possible addition, she confirmed. Rather than extending the franchise, the government opted to transfer the franchise through a system called OLR to ScotRail Trains Ltd. This decision was taken in March 2021. ScotRail Trains Ltd is a subsidiary of ScotRail Holdings Ltd (SRHL) - which the government wholly owns - SRHL will 'oversee and manage on behalf of Scottish ministers the delivery of ScotRail services by the OLR operating company ScotRail Trains Ltd'. The track remains owned and operated by Network Rail. Network Rail is (and remains) owned by the UK government. However, joint funding can be arranged. I will return to this again next month. You have been warned!!
Incidentally, or even coincidentally, in 1997 - 25 years ago to the day - the UK government franchised out Scotland's railway from public ownership!
1st April was also the day in 1901 that the branch line from Mallaig to Fort William carried its first fare paying guests from Mallaig Pier - for it was there that ships carried the passengers into - to Fort William and onwards to London. Sometimes you have to pause and look back to realise how far we have not come since then!!
Fast forward to 1st April 2022 and the premiere of the new film 'The Railway Children Return' took place. It will be screened in cinemas across the UK.
It has been nearly 40 years since I saw the wonderful, original, film. It still makes me cry, along with 'Brief Encounter', when I catch them on TV.
Red Wheel Plaque for Glasgow Subway
A commemorative plaque has been unveiled in Glasgow to celebrate 125 years of the Subway system. The Red Wheel was added to the former ticket office in St Enoch Square, marking the Clockwork Orange as a "significant site of historical importance to transport heritage in the UK". This is one of only two Red Wheels, which are decided by the National Transport Trust, in Glasgow. The first was awarded to Glasgow Queen Street in recognition of the Glasgow and Edinburgh Railway.
NTT deputy chairman Jerry Swift (pictured below, centre) said: "The National Transport Trust is delighted that the Subway is the subject of Glasgow's second Red Wheel. The Subway serves as a symbol of international significance being the third-oldest underground metro in the world. Its place and significance in the public transport system in Glasgow cannot be over-estimated. It has played, and continues to play, a key role in the transport system in the city for more than a century."
Speaking at a small ceremony yesterday, SPT Chair Councillor Dr Martin Bartos said: "We're really proud of our subway, so to have it recognised alongside only a handful of other Red Wheels in Scotland is fantastic. It may not be the biggest or the grandest, but our Subway is small, perfectly formed and gets the job done. When visitors come to the city it makes them smile, and it makes us smile daily too."
The Glasgow Subway first opened on December 14 1896 and is the third oldest in the world after London and Budapest. Work is currently underway to 'strengthen and modernise' the original Victorian tunnels before testing begins for 17 new trains.
Ness Islands Railway News
The popular miniature railway in Whin Park, Inverness reopened for the 2022 season on 2nd April. The Railway is now entering its fourth year under Highland Hospice ownership. Despite pandemic restrictions, last year was its most successful yet with nearly 25,000 passengers carried in 2021 alone. This resulted in a contribution towards Hospice care in the Highlands in excess of £30,000. Recognising the huge value locals and visitors place in this beloved attraction, Highland Hospice are reinvesting in amenities on site. A new station building is currently being constructed, with completion scheduled for late spring. Meanwhile, passengers are boarding from a temporary platform on the river side of the site. In addition, a team of volunteers has spent huge amounts of time clearing overgrown bushes and weeds, and replanting with bulbs and shrubs, which should bring colour and interest throughout the season. The volunteers have also recreated the Hospice sunflower logo in painted stones, as shown in the photo.
The Railway will be open every day until 18th April, then at weekends until the end of June. Daily operating recommences for the school holidays from July to mid-August then reverts to weekends until the autumn school break, 8th - 23rd October, when the 2022 season ends.
Network Rail: Tilt meter trial
I talked earlier in my column about nationally owned Network Rail and that commitment to work alongside Scotland's Railway. News has just come through to me of 'tilt meter trials' which add extra monitoring systems - alongside the use of drones and helicopters already in use - to detect movements at sites alongside railway lines, and to reduce the risk from landslides above and below railway lines.
Alan Ross, director of Engineering and Asset Management at Network Rail said, "Tilt sensors will detect movement on slopes when there is more than a five degree tilt and send alerts via the mobile network to alert train controllers to the potential danger. Providing notifications in typically less than two minutes, the system has two banks of wireless tilt sensors, typically spaced 2.5m apart with a centrally mounted pole, logger and cameras to monitor data from the sensors. The system is powered by solar panels with battery backup available for resilience."
It is expected that by April 2024, tilt monitoring will have been installed at 100 locations across Scotland's Railway. Between 2019 and 2024 Network Rail will have invested £149 million in Scottish infrastructure to make it more resilient. I can hear the traditionalists among you shouting "What's wrong with the 'Anderson's piano wires scheme' that still works to this day on the Oban to Crianlarich railway embankment?" The answer is it is still fully functional!! More on this next month.
Finally, at midnight, just as the restricted speed late train arrives into Mallaig, it is time to dream of the many trains that I have had the pleasure of travelling on. For me, forever, I will smile (still behind the mask) as my foot steps on to a train, or meet and greet colleagues and friends from a train.
Gone are the days of the Travelling Post Office carriages. I would cycle to the station, downhill all the way, just for the pleasure of being lifted up to reach the slot and put my letter to pen pals in. I would watch the train depart - then realise I had a four mile uphill journey back home! Ah well.
See you on the train,
P.S. Let's use our public transport system again. We never want to be known as - mainly - a tourist line. Nine local ScotRail depot jobs depend on our support.
Broad Arrow Mark, Loch an Nostarie
Around four years ago Jacqueline McDonell and Morag Fothergill led older pupils in Mallaig Primary on a stomp around the Loch an Nostarie circuit. I took my P7s off track to do a wee bit of map work, and we ended up sitting on top of one of the huge boulders (I think they are called 'erratics') which are all over the place on the north side of the loch. Surprisingly, we found an arrow carved into the stone. I photographed it at the time, but my phone's GPS didn't record the location accurately. Every time I do the circuit I clamber up a couple of boulders to try to find it again, and I recently struck gold. If you follow the fence which runs north from the gate at the bottom of the water tank path, you'll find the boulder around 200m before the first gate heading out towards Mallaig Bheag. Grid ref: NM 68871 96296. The arrow is around 11 or 12cm long, the cuts are deep and clear and it's on the top of the boulder.
But what is it? At first I thought it was an Ordnance Survey bench mark, perhaps placed on the handy boulder to record a known height above sea level. However, I noticed that it's not actually a bench mark symbol as it lacks a horizontal bar above the arrow. It's almost certainly a British Army broad arrow mark, commonly used to indicate MOD property (it even features the characteristic tapering of the arrow's lines). It's tempting to conclude that there is a link to the military training activities of the 1940s, but it could equally be connected to Territorial Army activities during peacetime. There is no line of sight between the boulder and the concrete, otherwise it could have been a firing point for the range. As my daughter Muireann pointed out there is a small hole under the boulder; she concluded that it was the 'home of a wee animal' but I do wonder if it could have been used as a cache or 'dump' of some kind on training exercises. However, she is generally correct much more often than I am…
BIRDWATCH March 2022 by Stephen MacDonald
March was a drier and less windy month than of late with several days of pleasant warm sunshine, although there were still some night frosts.
The first returning summer migrants appeared this month. A male Wheatear on the golf course at Traigh on the 18th was the first reported. Two Sand Martins were seen over the colony at Rhubana on the 26th. A Chiffchaff was heard calling at Beoraid, Morar on the 27th and on the same day two Lesser Black-backed Gulls were seen at their usual nest site near Mallaig railway station.
Pied Wagtails started to appear in numbers as the month progressed and many more Skylarks and Meadow Pipits arrived. Several Twite were seen in fields near Silver Sands from the 26th and a single bird was seen in a Morar garden on the 31st.
A Great Skua was seen near Eigg on the 21st and Manx Shearwaters were seen in the Sound of Sleat from the 24th.
Two adult Whooper Swans were present on Loch nan Eala most of the month, increasing to five birds on the 30th. Three Whoopers were seen flying NW across Camusdarroch on the 28th. Wigeon were reported from Loch Ailort, Loch nan Ceall, Back of Keppoch and the Morar Estuary where 13 were present on the 7th. Nine Goldeneye were seen on Loch Morar on the 23rd. Red-breasted Mergansers were reported from Loch nan Ceall, Loch Ailort and the Morar Estuary.
Great Northern Divers were widely reported around the coast, with 28 counted offshore from Traigh on the 28th.
A single Barnacle Goose was seen at Traigh on the 5th, feeding along with Greylags. It was seen on several other occasions there and at Back of Keppoch til the month end. A single Pink-footed Goose was also seen with the local Greylags at Traigh and Back of Keppoch. Canada Geese were reported on several occasions, with 14 at Back of Keppoch on the 5th and 16 at Borrodale on the 27th. Several pairs were back at Loch Ailort, with much displaying and squabbling going on as they claimed nest sites on the islands there.
Golden Plovers were seen on several occasions at Back of Keppoch and Traigh during the month. Lapwings were back on their breeding areas at Invercaimbe and Back of Keppoch. Redshanks were also back at nest sites around Invercaimbe. Still two wintering Greenshank on the Morar Estuary. Two birds seen at Millburn, Rhue on the 26th would have been returning birds. Many more Siskins and Redpolls reported from garden feeders by the month end. Bullfinches were reported on several occasions, as usual at this time of year, feeding on the buds of fruit trees. Yellowhammers were seen in several gardens in Arisaig and a single bird was in a garden at Rhubana, Morar. Reed Buntings were also seen at Loch nan Eala and by Loch Morar.
The Kingfisher was reported on several occasions on the Morar River and a Nuthatch was seen several times near a traditional nest site in Arisaig.
An immature Iceland Gull found dead by the roadside to the south of Mallaig railway station on the 12th was presumably the bird that had wintered around Mallaig Harbour, as there have been no reports since the finding.
A Herring Gull seen at West Bay carpark, Mallaig on the 13th, had been ringed as a chick near the railway station on the 3rd July 2014, obviously staying faithful to its natal area.
A colour ringed Shag seen on an island offshore from Traigh on the 6th, had been ringed as an adult on a nest at Lunga, part of the Treshnish Isles, Mull on the 3rd July 2021.
WORLD WIDE WEST WORD
Thanks to Melanie Poduschnik for sending in this picture of West Word in Germany. Peter Morrison was visiting his grandparents and enjoying the sun.
Look what Richard and Ann Lamont found at Inveraray Pier! Inveraray happens to be the birthplace of Neil Munro, author of the Para Handy stories. Beautiful chust!
Catriona and Wattie Davies, subscribers and long-time summer visitors to Arisaig, visited Hurghada in Egypt in February. Their two youngest, Matthew and Pippa, took West Word on a camel ride!
Watch this space for extracts from next month's issue!
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