Community paper for Mallaig, Morar, Arisaig, Lochailort, Glenfinnan
Glenuig, Knoydart and the Small Isles

Visit West Word on Facebook

List of Issues online

April 2014 Issue

Contents of the online version:

Top stories
Monthly news from Knoydart, Muck, Rum, Canna, Eigg
Railway and harbour news
Local History & Genealogy

Letters, e-mails and comments are welcome.
Contact Details & How to Subscribe to the Paper
Sign our Guestbook

All photos are copyright either of the individual photographers or West Word.
Not to be reproduced without permission.

A lorry blaze in the centre of Morar on Monday March 17th raised fears among residents that lives could be at risk in future incidents when firefighters took over an hour to respond to the 999 call
The unit at Mallaig could not be dispatched as too few retained firefighters were available, resulting in two tenders being tasked from Fort William, 43 miles away.
A tipper lorry burst into flames around 2.30pm, during improvement works being undertaken at Morar level crossing. It was carrying a gas burner, bitumen, tar and other equipment.
With the possibility of an explosion, local residents rallied round to put out the fire when it became clear that fire tenders would not arrive quickly. As the flames died down a little, the driver took the lorry to Morar Motors where equipment was available to put out the blaze.

Photo right: West Word's office can be seen through the smoke as the lorry blazes feet away from the level crossing. Photo from the Editor who evacuated to the questionably safer house across the road!


A local eye witness said 'It's just as well it was not a house fire or someone trapped in a car with the length of time it took for the fire engines to arrive.'
Another said 'It was frightening, we could see the lorry melting and thought there could be an explosion at any moment.'
Mallaig Fire Station has eight retained firefighters in Mallaig but they have responsibilities to their main employment. The Fire Service is having difficulty in attracting applications for more in spite of an ongoing recruitment drive. If you are interested, look for the posters on display in Mallaig for more detail or check out www.firescotland.gov.uk.
Meanwhile, the installation of the level crossing barrier has been delayed.

The Arisaig community turned out in force to show their heartfelt appreciation to the MacEachen family, who have been devoted to running the Arisaig village Post Office for many years. The tiny Post Office building closed its doors for the last time on Monday 24th March; Post Office Ltd have opened a new Post Office Local in the Arisaig Spar shop.

More than 200 people enjoyed afternoon tea in the Astley Hall on Sunday. March 23rd, followed by presentations and toasts to Tommy and Rosie MacEachen, their daughter, Joanna, who has been Postmistress for the last ten years, and Tommy's sister, Morag MacKenzie, who has assisted the family with the newsagent side of their business. Many people contributed to making the afternoon a truly memorable community event; as always, the bakers excelled themselves and a delicious tea was served; local young musicians provided a lively musical accompaniment to proceedings. Lilian MacDonald, Gep MacMillan and Hugh Cameron presented gifts on behalf of the community and the many visitors for whom the Arisaig Post Office has been a familiar and much-loved part of their holidays. photo
The cake

The long history of the Arisaig postal service (which can be traced back to 1802), has been researched, and a fascinating exhibition and booklet put together - both were on display during the afternoon. The exhibition has now moved to the Arisaig Land, Sea & Islands Centre, where it will be on display for the next few weeks. The PO history booklet, which contains many photographs and newspaper cuttings, will shortly be available for sale there.

Work has been underway over the last few months to look into the history of the Post Office in Arisaig. When we started it seemed that there was little on record but as the project got going details have come flooding in and allowed a fascinating story to be built up.
Arisaig Post Office is over 200 years old. The date of establishment in 1802 was provided by the British Postal Museum and Archive, and a petition presented by local people argues the case based on the need to muster volunteers in the case of Napoleonic invasion and to develop the fishing industry. The document also details the estimated costs at £10 each per year for two runners and £5 for the Postmaster! Notably it is signed by several people from Eigg as well as Arisaig, Morar and Glenaladale. There was clearly a move on to open up the area as shown by the start made on the Loch na Gaul road from Fort William in 1796. A copy of a very early letter posted at Arisaig in 1804 shows the extent of travel even in those early times. It was written by John Gillespie, from a sheep farming family in the Borders who was visiting Scottas in Knoydart and writing to a Mr Hutton in Essex about some lands that he had advertised in Kingairloch, by Ardgour. It would be fascinating to know more about the initiative behind these developments in the early 19th century.
The story of the mail can be divided in two - how the mail reached the Arisaig area - and how it was delivered locally. Letters would be delivered mainly by private persons from the earliest days and a reference has been found to a letter in 1786 from Morar to Fassifern 'via the Arisack post'. The main overland route from Fort William was the mail coach. We know that at one time the contract was let to a firm called MacGregor and Cameron who advertised a service that took seven hours there and 11 hours back.


The Bowman family rented Garramore in the 19th and early 20th century and their daughter left a record of holidays including in 1896 a note to say 'reached fort William at midday and were met by McGregor with the post cart and an extra luggage cart'. Prior to the railway the road was supplemented by steamers that plied from Glasgow via the Crinan Canal to Oban, Fort William and up the west coast to Gairloch and Stornoway. An accident in Arisaig bay is recorded from 1887 when a group of four Arisaig men were drowned within sight of Keppoch after trying to reach the steamer Clydesdale. Events like this must have reinforced the need for the pier at Rhu which was established in 1885. The arrival of the railway in 1901 brought a sudden and dramatic change to mail services, and a notice has been found for sale of the horses and 'Posting plant' in April of that same year at the Fort William auction mart.
Records of postmen in the local area have been compiled partly from the records of the Post office Establishment Books, partly from census returns and partly from local memory. A total of 14 names are now known, dating from 1841, but a full picture of the postmen is still to be completed, including others working part time on the outlying delivery runs. Within living memory Donald MacDonald, Angus MacEachen, Dougald MacPherson and Pat McCarthy are well remembered. Two generations of postmen can be seen in this picture, thought to relate to long service medals awarded to Donald MacDonald and Angus MacEachen

Front row left to right: Lachlan Gillies, Angus MacEachen, Donald MacDonald, Dougald MacPherson

Gep MacMillan was Postman from the early 1980s, and after 25 years' service, was succeeded by Jan Bryden, followed by Andy Gosling, with back up from Ross Carr and Gordon Stewart. The story of the postmen has seen them moving from foot and horse to bicycle, and finally to vans.
As far as the Post Office itself is concerned, one of the main mysteries is that we do not know where it was in the village. We know a little more about the postmasters and post mistresses; the earliest name we have is that of John Fraser who is mentioned as Postmaster in an advertisement for rent of land at North Morar in 1824. From the 1841 census we know that the Inn was then held by an Elizabeth Fraser, then 35 years old. If they were related then it might be that the PO was initially run from the Inn which was the staging post for the mail coach. From 1867 to 1891 the post was held by a Janet MacDonald, widowed when her husband was in his 30s. Janet ran a tailoring business as well as a shop and PO; she may have used the former PO building, but this has not yet been verified. Janet was succeeded in 1891 by her niece, Grace Campbell, who was succeeded in 1898 by Alexander MacDonald (Sandy Phadraig). Sandy held the post until the end of the Second World War. Before the war he was joined by Thomas MacPherson as assistant postmaster, and supported by Bella MacDougall during the war years when Thomas was away. Thomas took up the post fully after the war and was succeeded by his wife Marie MacPherson, followed by Tommy MacEachen and Joanna.
The story of the postal services provides a fascinating insight into life in Arisaig over the years, the shape of the village, how people travelled, how they related to each other. An exhibition detailing the story, which has already provoked a great deal of local interest and enthusiasm, is on view at the Land Sea and Islands Centre until mid-summer , and it is hoped that others with memories and knowledge will be able to contribute to allow a more complete picture to be compiled and published. If you have any contributions, corrections, documents or photos we would be very happy to hear from you.
Susan Carstairs
Alison Stewart
Judy Budge

Yay! Finally it feels like spring! We've been having a few nice days and the temperatures are slowly rising enough that it's actually bearable to leave the house without hat, gloves and 7 layers. Nice to be able to forgo the waterproofs as well, after many months of being constantly in them it still feels quite liberating to go without! The Hebridean Princess has also returned, a sure sign summer is on the way. Won't be long before Lord of the Glens is back too I'm sure! Wee (I say 'wee'…she's actually bigger than me now!) Anna is poised and ready with her fiddle, all set to earn her pocket money busking. Good on you!
March was a busy month, with lots going on, starting with International Women's day, which was a fantastic wee day in the hall, where there was hair dressing, a nail bar, a swishing section (for anyone that's never done a swish before, its basically where you take those old but nice clothes you can't quite bear to throw out that you never wear anymore and swap them for someone else's. A bit like you do with your friends as a teenager really so you end up with something new (to you) and it's nice to see your old things getting a new lease of life). While the mums were enjoying getting their hair/nails done and eating cake, the kids were safely out the way in the on-site crèche provided which was great fun I must admit. That night, the Bevvy Sisters came to perform, and what a lovely night it was all round. A great end to International Women's day and a chance for the girls to show off their beautiful nails and 'dos ! The money which was raised during the day (over £500!) was given to the charity 'Babies in Prisons' which is a small UK charity which works to help babies who are born in prisons, to improve their lives in the first few years while they remain with their mothers. For more information go onto their website www.babiesinprison.co.uk and have a look, as it is very valuable, what they do. It really makes you think, especially when you look at our wee ones here so it's good that there is a charity aiming to help little ones that might not get a good start otherwise. Another charity event which happened was the School's Marie Curie coffee afternoon, where we raised a total of £230 pounds for Marie Curie. There was a great turnout to the school to support this and the kids were really cute in their daffodil costumes! Speaking of kids, it was Robbie and Archie's birthday this month, can't believe that's them 8 already, where do the years go?! Knoydart Hide opened for guests at the start of the month, offering short romantic breaks for people and I have to say, I wish I had a bathroom like that!
Now, I meant to mention this last month but I forgot... but anyone visiting us must keep an eye out for the panda roaming the shore...
And to end on a very happy note, a big congratulations to Joanne, who just gave birth to another boy, Ethan. Can't wait to meet the wee fella when they get home and it won't be long before Mel is also bringing her little one back!
P.S if anyone is interested in keeping up with what's going on in Knoydart, the Facebook page Visit Knoydart is great, and you'll see loads of great pictures and what not of things as they happen.
Heather Gilmour
Anne Trussell

At last! after nearly five months without two days dry together it seems amazing when we get days of warm sunshine and the mud turns to dust. Long may it last!
However the arrival of two young Golden Eagles with wood and heather in their talons must be evoking more mixed feelings on the island. Raptors have always had a hard time on Muck. No rabbits and nothing on land bigger than rats- far easier to depart for Canna. But the arrival of large quantities of grain together with the game birds has changed the whole eco system on the island. So the young eagles could be nesting in 2015 and their offspring enjoying lots of pheasant dinners.
Last month I told you that I would outline the Camas programme for summer 2014. However it is far from settled and I will only mention the Open day on 8th June, Donald Black on 15th June, Ceilidh Trail 17th July. Small Isles Sports is booked for 2nd August with two bands and a Bar-b-que. Dog House Roses TBA in August and Mull Theatre in September.
Two non Camas events should also take place: The Fish Farm opening in August and the launch of 'A Drop in The Ocean' by Polly Pullar - the story of Muck over the last 50 years in September. That is all I have time for this month - blame the fine weather.
Lawrence MacEwen

Tumultuous would be one word.
The bunkhouse now has walls and a roof, shockingly speedy. Good work James MacQueen, we are very impressed.
The new community trust development officer is Steve Robertson, the post is now not entirely based on Rum (housing shortage and all that), he'll be based here a few days a month and the post will have more of a project management kind of feel to it (housing, unsurprisingly, top of the list).
Other news is that the rain stopped for a while, long enough for most people to manage a smile, paint the windows and do as much gardening as they could squeeze in, and then it started again, oh well.
After a monumental year of fundraising, the village hall was treated for woodworm and the hole in the ceiling was repaired. A community clear up finished the job and the hall is looking rather spanky. However, with still no dedicated café premises, we are still operating a teashop out of the village hall and it's kitchen facilities; this year Claire has decided not to carry on running the teashop but two others have stepped in to fill the breach for two or three days a week. This still leaves a few days to fill though, anyone interested?
Dave has been repairing the roads with hired in plant and a limited amount of quarried stone, he could have done with twice as much, he has filled in all the potholes and cleared the ditches. Job done, he has moved onto clearing the site for the new playground by the village hall. Dave being Dave cleared more ground than entirely necessary and we now have another great area by the sea to sit on and catch the breeze (literally catch the breeze to keep the midges at bay). Meanwhile over at Harris, a marine marker washed up on the shore needing dealt with by the EOD (army bomb squad types I think) and one of the cows broke her leg and also needed dealt with, though thankfully not at the same time - that would have been a bit Monty Python.
With the news that Mike Werndly is leaving, sadly, the ranger post will soon be advertised. Mike has been the ranger from the creation of the post and has been an amazing ambassador for the island and its nature, his walks and talks have been extremely popular and his artwork is legendary. Good luck and best wishes to Mike (and Casey too).
A phone conference today about the new West Lochaber Medical Practice finally provided some clarity and an update with some timescales for when the whole set up goes live, it's been fraught with problems thus far but we are hoping that its implementation goes smoothly and will mean the end of all these locums.
And happy birthday to two of Rum's longest residents; Sorcha, who was 17 and Derek, who's age is none of our business, both on 3rd April.
Fliss Fraser

This month we were sad to say goodbye to Ed Cook and the guys from Evergreen Rabbit Control who have been on the island for the last three months.

The Evergreen Team and Geraldine!

They are a fantastic bunch of hard working dedicated guys who despite the terrible weather conditions reduced the rabbit population to what should be a manageable level. One member of the team is going to continue controlling the remaining population and monitoring rabbit numbers. Congratulations to Charlie and Anne MacKinnon who will be celebrating their Golden Wedding on the 5th April with friends and family on the Isle of Mull. Sorry we couldn't make it too help you celebrate!
Calving is underway on the farm but very slowly, only 7 calves born so far. All the fertilizer is out and it's good to see the grass growing, we have more grass now than we had in June last year! Everyone is busy getting ready for the new season and we should have lots more news next month.
Geraldine MacKinnon

Dave Thompson, SNP MSP for Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch, opened the new Community Shop on the Isle of Canna on Tuesday 8th April 2014.
Commenting on this, Mr Thompson said:
'I was delighted to be asked to come to Canna and open the new Community Shop and meet with members of the local community. The Isle of Canna Community Development Trust has worked very hard to get the shop open and I hope that the Community can take ownership from the National Trust.
'I am happy that the Development Trust are looking to the future regeneration of the Island community. I understand that they have a 5 year development plan in place and with membership of the Development Trust Association Scotland they are moving forward as a community and have high hopes for the future of the Island.
'It is also a real pleasure to welcome Gordon and Denise Guthrie and their 4 children to the Island. This now takes the Island's population up to 19. I wish them all the best for their future on Canna.'

Photo right: Dave Thompson MSP, far right, next to Councillor Allan Henderson with members of the Canna community outside the new shop


March weather was on its best behaviour at first for Gabe's family coming over from California, with blue sky and sunshine that made them feel at home, but just in case they might think it was always like this in the spring, it reverted back to its usual dependable wet and windy self.
However, it was not bad at all for the big day on Friday 14th March which saw Tasha and Gabe tying the knot in an intimate and moving humanist ceremony with family and friends from far and wide in the marquee on the lodge's lawn. Tasha just looked absolutely lovely on her big day and the bridesmaids, Mia and Eda were beautiful in their red and black dresses, with Tamsin and Megan looking great too in red and blue. There was a mighty fine collection of kilts around, including the groom and his son, Tasha's brother Tim and his lads. As one of the guests remarked, it was so much fun to get dressed up, and not since the days of Lodge games would that lawn have seen such an assembly of fine frippery! At the hall, beautifully decorated in red and blue also by Tasha and her team of helpers, Ross Martin's speech as best man was deemed to be the funniest ever, and a magnificent spread and knees up followed with the great line up of musicians one would expect from Gabe's and Tasha's long association with the traditional music scene.. Andy, aka Dolphin boy, saw the guests off into the small hours, along with a bride who could not stop dancing! Gabe and Tasha's happiness seem to communicate to everyone, bubbling to our head with the fizz of the festive drinks, such a welcome feeling after the dark days of the beginning of the year... We wish them the very best for the future!
Trevor Leat who had come over for the wedding stayed on for a willow art residency at Sweeney's Bothy and it was with great enthusiasm that we all came along to make baskets, willow hearts and trays on Wednesday 19th March as a part of our HC's sponsored High Life workshops this spring. Trevor, who is now nationally renowned for his willow sculptures, produced an amazing almost life size bird headed willow figure of Sweeney, the mad king which the Irish myth says came to Eigg in the 7th century in his flight from St Ronan. It can now be seen crouching on a rock below the Cleadale cliffs as if poised for flight! Other High Life workshops included a well attended needle felt afternoon with Libby and a busy initiation to photoshop with Ben Cormack. We'd like more of these, please, they were great!

Trevor Leat working on his figure of Sweeney, mad king of Irish myth. To see more of Trevor's amazing sculptures, visit www.trevorleat.co.uk
Photo courtesy of Ben Cormack

More art featured this month on the island with the presence of an dance group led by Findhorn based BodySurf, coming to explore their relationship to the environment, which included some brave camping at Grulin, and a courageous dip in the sea, as well as daily yoga and a taster Qi gong session. We hope BodySurf will come back next year and get us to share some of their nifty moves.
With the island kids finishing their projects on Eigg of the two world wars this month, it was particularly apt that at the end of the month, the news filtered through that the round metal object right in front of our postie's house on the beach was not a mere metal buoy, but a WW2 sea mine! This caused no end of excitement on the island, when the Navy Bomb disposal unit came over to deal with it. But more of it in this paper from our explosion specialist, Ben Cormack!
Finally, and on a sadder note, Iain Mathie's family would like to thank all the Eigg people for their messages and cards following Iain's death in the Greenock Hospice at the beginning of the month, a couple of weeks after his 55th birthday which he spent surrounded by family and friends. They feel heartened by the fact that the many Scottish books he gifted to the Eigg History Society are now forming the Iain Mathie Memorial Library in the Community Learning room. A good way to honour someone who totally loved the Scottish islands and Eigg in particular.
Camille Dressler

Anyone who knows me well knows I have a fondness for anything that goes bang. However, when the winter storms removed about a foot of the sand-depth on Laig Beach and revealed what looked like a sea mine, I was not as happy as you might think, not least because it was only a stone's throw away from my Dad's front door, and my front door wasn't that much further.
The barrel shaped metal object, that had been buried in the beach for as long as I can remember, had always been presumed to be an old wartime buoy, of which there were many on the Eigg beaches when I was a kid. Some people thought it was maybe a mine, but it had only ever protruded a few inches above the sand. We used to play on it. There have been many beach fires around it. Only when more of it was revealed this winter could the interior be seen, and what could be seen looked like a large bomb.
I couldn't be sure though, so I took a picture and emailed it to the police, and within the hour they phoned me to say that the Navy Bomb Disposal Unit were going to come and look at it. They were due to arrive the next morning by helicopter, which was exciting news for helicopter fans (George Carr had his binoculars trained on the landing site above the church in Cleadale), but then they had to cancel due to 'problems'. If your helicopter has 'problems' it's probably not a good idea to take off.
So they arrived a few days later on the CalMac ferry in their Bomb Disposal wagon. It turns out that it was a good thing they didn't come by helicopter as they needed the winch on their vehicle.
The four man team, who had driven all the way up from their barracks outside Glasgow, first needed to verify whether the mine was a threat, so they excavated it by digging around it, then winching it out of the hole for a closer inspection.
The sergeant in charge was at first very concerned as the explosive casing appeared to be intact, and would contain around 300lbs of high explosives. This would be a logistical nightmare to deal with as the blast radius for such a huge device endangered not only several nearby houses, caravans and a church, but also the livestock on the hills. The houses would need to be evacuated, animals moved, and the mine dragged as far away as possible at low tide, and buried as deep in the sand before a controlled detonation could even be attempted. An added problem was that due to the erosion of the sand banks, they couldn't get their vehicle onto the beach to tow it.

Luckily, when they started cleaning all the sand out of it, they found the casing to be full of sand, not explosives, and everyone breathed a sigh of relief. To be sure, the team performed several small controlled explosions on the mine, designed to break it apart. This proved satisfactorily that the explosive casing was indeed empty.
The mine was an British one - a mark 17, 8" marine mine - used to protect allied shipping lanes in WWII from German U-boats and warships. The mine, which is now pulled up on the bank above the beach, is a rare example as they are not usually found with the explosive casing still intact. The device still had part of its seabed tether attached, which it would have broken lose from and floated onto Laig beach at some point in the last 60 years before becoming buried in the sand.

Ben Cormack (seen above on the mine)
Photos courtesy of Ben Cormack

Great news for Arisaig - the application submitted by Arisaig Community Trust to the sportscotland Active Places - Legacy 2014 Fund has been successful, and ACT has been awarded £30,000 towards the cost of upgrading the Arisaig Playing field. This means that almost all of the necessary funds needed for the upgrade have now been found, with just one remaining funder to make their decision.
It is planned that the work will be carried out in September, giving children uninterrupted use of the field over the summer. The work will include the installation of efficient drainage, surface dressing and new turf, additional deer height fencing, adventure play equipment and a fitness trail.
ACT has already organised the restoration of the field's dry stone dyke which was in a state of very poor repair. The wall is now looking great, thanks to the skilled work of Tam 'the banjo'. From now on, it'll to be referred to as Tam's wall!
The Arisaig public toilets will shortly be receiving a facelift in time for the main 2014 visitor season. The local branch of Travis Perkins have come up trumps and is supplying most of the paint and other necessary materials free of charge, or at cost. Volunteers welcome and needed - please come and help out with this community project which is of such underlying importance to the economy of the village.
And not to be left out, the Land, Sea & Islands Centre is open and ready for the season, with an expanding team of volunteers staffing it seven days a week. New exhibits for 2014 include the Rhu Neolithic stone, which is attracting national interest, plus a fascinating exhibition on the History of the Arisaig Post, put together to mark the end of the MacEachen family's tenure of the Post Office business in Arisaig.
Watch this space next month for some very exciting news about the LSIC . . .
Lastly, don't forget the first Arisaig Produce Fair of the season, taking place this month in the Astley Hall on FRIDAY 25TH APRIL. ACT will once again be serving up delicious lunches, with all funds raised going towards local community projects. We look forward to seeing you there.
Alison Stewart, Local Development Officer


Congratulations to Marine Harvest who have just celebrated ten years working in and with the community of Mallaig. The celebrations included invited guests being escorted on a tour of the Harvest Station and Well Boat followed by a buffet lunch in the Mallaig & Morar Community Centre on Friday 4th April 2014.
It is estimated that in its' ten years of operation that 450,000 tonnes of salmon, approximately 90 million fish, have been landed/processed through the Marine Harvest Station. As their celebratory invitation card states 'Here's to our future...'

The inaugural winter-time trial linking Lochboisdale to Mallaig via the ferry Lord of The Isles ended on Tuesday 1st April with the ferry carrying out its double run. The evaluation of the 2013-14 winter trial will no doubt take some time but with barely a 50% completion rate on the run it won't be easy!

With the car ferry Coruisk currently under repair on the Clyde, its arrival in Mallaig to take up the Skye Ferry service has been delayed.
The summer service commenced on Friday 4th April and the relatively new hybrid ferry the Hallaig has been drafted in as the replacement vessel meantime on the Mallaig - Armadale service. Coruisk is expected to be repaired and back on the route by mid April, hopefully in time for Easter week-end.


Here is a photo of the replacement vessel - which has a car carrying capacity of 24 - with the obvious caption being: The Hallaig at Mallaig!

As you can imagine the sinking of the Loch Arkaig at Mallaig Harbour in March 1979, was a news worthy item 35 years ago!
Here is a synopsis of the sad event provided by the West Highland Free Press of 31st March 1979:
The Loch Arkaig - a Caledonian MacBrayne vessel well known on the west coast for more than 30 years - had come to a sad end when she sank while tied up at Mallaig pier during a Force 9 gale. The crew all escaped safely.
The fate of the Loch Arkaig reinforced calls from the Mallaig Harbour Authority for a breakwater in the harbour to protect fishing boats and other vessels sheltering there. A telegram was dispatched to the Secretary of State for Scotland asking for the matter to be given urgent attention.



The Loch Arkaig had been built in 1941 as a minesweeper before being converted to ply the route between Mallaig, Kyle, Raasay and Portree as a Royal Mail and passenger vessel. Latterly, she had served the Small Isles.

Robert MacMillan
Port Manager/Secretary
01687 462154

Mallaig Heritage Centre celebrates 20 years!
This April the Heritage Centre will have been open for 20 years and is celebrating with FREE ADMISSION for the month of April.
Although the Heritage Centre welcomed its first paying visitor on 21st April 1994 and was officially opened by Chris Green, former chief executive of Scotrail, four days later, the work to bring it into existence had begun more than 10 years before.
By 1983 the old Railway Dormitory beside Mallaig railway station had been unused for nearly 20 years and, rather than spend money on demolishing it, Scotrail offered to sell it for a nominal price to an organisation that would renovate it and make use of it for the community. The Mallaig Heritage Trust was formed in 1984 to acquire the Dormitory and convert it into a Heritage Centre to 'reflect the history of the village and the surrounding area - and the lives and activities of all who have worked here'. Purchasing the Dormitory from Scotrail turned out to be a more complex business than expected, but the Trust finally became owners of the building in 1996 and set to work to try and raise the funds to renovate the building and fit it out for use as a Heritage Centre. As part of the conditions of sale set by Scotrail had been the removal of part of the building nearest the station, to make it easier to access the fuel depot beyond, the estimated cost was some £75,000 and after some initial success, fundraising began to stall. Discussions were held with the Health Board, in the hope that the building could be shared between a clinic and a Heritage Centre but it proved difficult to persuade the Board to decide one way or another.
Then on the morning of 8th June 1988 the Trustees woke to the news that the dormitory had been gutted by fire the previous night. They immediately set to work to commission a new building on the site, using the funds from the insurance settlement. Unfortunately, initial estimates of the cost turned out to be considerably less than the true cost and four years of protracted negotiations followed, as the Trustees attempted to persuade the Health Board or the Council to use the building as a clinic or a library, or to find more sources of funds. Finally, in 1992, financial support was obtained from Lochaber Enterprise and work began on the building in 1993. Over the past 20 years the Heritage Centre has worked hard to live up to the aims of its founders and features permanent displays about Mallaig, fishing, the lifeboat and the railway. The remainder of the exhibition changes regularly and at various times has featured the Knoydart Clearance, Rhu, Morar Village. Over the years visiting exhibitions have come from National Museums of Scotland, National Library of Scotland, the Highland Council, National Trust for Scotland and Eigg History Society, to name but a few.
This year will be a busy one for the Centre, with new displays planned about the Railway Dormitory, Sport and Games and World War 1. Why not take advantage of the the free admission during April to pop in and have a look? It's your Heritage Centre, after all!

Marine Harvest celebrated a milestone on Friday 4th April when it marked the tenth anniversary of its harvest station in Mallaig. Invited guests had a conducted tour of Mallaig Harvest Station and a look round the wellboat, followed by lunch at Mallaig Community Centre.
Opened in 2004, the plant revolutionised Marine Harvest's operations, allowing it to deliver salmon to market faster and fresher than ever before.
Salmon are collected from farms all along the west coast by wellboat and transported to Mallaig for harvesting. Over the past ten years the plant has harvested 446,530,000 kg or almost 91 million salmon, which were then transported to Marine Harvest's Blar Mhor processing plant in Fort William. From there the salmon are sent to retail customers worldwide.
Alan Sutherland, Managing Director of Marine Harvest Scotland, said: 'The changes we've seen in the decade since the harvest station opened are remarkable.
'In the last couple of years we've embarked on an £80 million expansion to meet the continuing growth in demand for farmed salmon. In 2013 we opened a new smolt hatchery at Lochailort and have opened new open sea farm sites.
'We've also worked hard over the years to develop an industry that is sustainable. We've reduced waste, created more environmentally friendly packaging and improved feed conversion ratios and we are constantly striving to keep making improvements.
'With that in mind we have embarked on obtaining Aquaculture Stewardship Council accreditation for our salmon farms and plan to have all our farms accredited by 2020. The process is already underway with three farms at Loch Ewe, Loch Greshornish and Loch Leven submitted for approval.'

Birdwatch by Stephen MacDonald
A bit more activity this month, with some birds clearing out and the first migrants arriving or passing through.
A male Wheatear at Rhue, Arisaig, on the 12th was a very early but welcome sight. The next report was not until the 25th, when at least 4 were seen on the shore by Traigh golf course in misty, murky weather.
At Back of Keppoch on the 5th and 6th there were at least 35 Golden Plover and 61 Lapwing feeding together in one field. There were also small numbers of Golden Plover at Traigh Farm, feeding alongside Curlews and Oystercatchers.
On closer inspection, the 3 White-fronted Geese reported last month turned out not to be Greenland but European White-fronts, an altogether rarer bird in these parts. They have a pink bill as opposed to the more orange bill of the Greenland birds. They were still around Traigh Farm and Back of Keppoch until the 7th at least. Several flocks of Canada Geese were seen during the month at Back of Keppoch and Traigh area, with a group of 17 by Traigh golf course, on the 6th, which were joined by 4 Hybrid Canada x Greylags. Still at least 2 Pink-footed Geese with the Greylag flocks. Several Whooper Swans on Loch nan Eala till the month end but several groups seen heading North West during the last two weeks of the month, with a group of 60 over Arisaig on the 23rd and 74 on the 26th, two of the largest flocks reported.
Shelduck numbers continued to build up with a group of 6 seen near Millburn, Rhue, and up to 5 seen on the Morar Estuary.
The Kumlien's type Gull was present at Mallaig harbour throughout the month. A strange looking Immature Gull first noticed on the 5th was presumed to be a hybrid between Glaucous and Herring Gull (sometimes called Nelson's Gull). It also lingered about Mallaig Harbour till the month end.
A Mealy Redpoll spent the 11th feeding alongside Lesser Redpolls in a Morar garden. In the same garden a male Brambling spent several days feeding up, from the 20th to the 23rd, before moving on. Presumably both birds were migrants passing through. Siskin and Lesser Redpoll numbers built up throughout the month and Bullfinches were again reported from Camusdarach and also several gardens in Morar, where they were feeding on budding fruit trees.

Mealy Redpoll

A Barn Owl was seen near Faire na Scurr, Arisaig, and a Long-eared Owl was seen on the 22nd near Silversands, Traigh.
The female Hen Harrier was seen again in the Arisaig area and also on the Rhu peninsula. An Immature Golden Eagle was seen over Rhue, Arisaig, on several occasions and Sea Eagles, mostly immature birds, were reported from the Mallaig, Morar and Arisaig areas.

Donald MacDonald, Ist Battn Cameron Highlanders
Donald MacDonald was the postman in Arisaig from 1904 and is still remembered today as 'Donald the Post'. He is one of the servicemen who have their memories of their experiences printed in the Arisaig and South Morar Record of Service 1914-19 where we can read about his involvement at Passchendaele, the third battle of Ypres in 1917.
His family was the last to leave the settlement of Polinden (beyond Keppoch House) before it was abandoned. He was born in Glasgow where his father, a docker, drowned on the Clyde, so Donald grew up with an uncle living at Druimdhu. In 1907 he married Annabella MacDonald from Ardnish and they lived initially at Larachmor cottage.
On return home he lived at Pheasantry Cottage and then in Glengarry Place. His daughters Bella, Marjorie and Ina were well known in the village. Another daughter, Margaret, died in a house fire in 1929, aged 5, and their only son, Donald, died in 1942 in the Isle of Man where he was serving in the RAF during the Second World War. (Extract from Arisaig Post Office - A history published last month by the Land Sea & Islands Centre).
As in so many of the first hand accounts in Arisaig and South Morar Record of Service 1914-19, Donald writes of his experiences at the front in World War I with a laconic, modest description of horrors we can't begin to imagine. The battle of Passchendaele took place between July and November 1917, for control of ridges to the south and east of the city of Ypres in Belgium. Passchendaele lay on the last ridge east of Ypres, five miles from a railway junction at Roeselare, a vital part of the supply system for the German Fourth Army. On October 12th 1917, the first battle of Passchendaele in heavy rain and mud resulted in 13,000 Allied casualties. The second battle lasted from the 26th October to the 10th November.


Extracts from Donald's account in the Record of Service. 'It was about the middle of October in 1916 that I was warned that I was picked for a draft that was going to Salonica. I then got a few days leave before going abroad, and on my return, found I was luckily changed to the draft for France. 'On the morning of November 13th, our draft was paraded for the last time at Invergordon….' From Invergordon by stages the Battalion went to Etaples where 'the Germans very nearly got us, as they dropped two bombs on the Railway Station, but luckily missed our train.
'We left Etaples about the end of November, for 'up the line'...transferred to the 1st Battalion. We arrived at Albert...from there we went to the trenches in High Wood...we were now fairly in it, and of course had our usual share of narrow escapes from shells and snipers, but the mud was our worst enemy. We lost a lot of our draft from frostbite and sickness. After January 1917, we took over a new part of the line from the French at Assevillers, our rest place then being Fontaine-le-Cappy. We had several spells in the trenches there, and our draft had their first experience of going over the top, but Jerry was too slippery for us, as he cleared out of the trenches the night before, and was making for Peronne and Bapaume. We were chasing him for about a fortnight, but never got in close touch. Our Battalion had been very lucky so far and had only had about sixty Casualties in killed and wounded since we joined them.'

The regiment was then sent to the Belgian Coast, being now a 'Flying Column in reserve for the big affair at Messines Ridge' but were not after all required.
They were glad to see the sea after the mud, but Donald continues 'Our regiment had a very narrow escape, as we had been only two nights out of the trenches, when the unfortunate Regiment of the KRR that had relieved us, were all killed or taken prisoners by the Germans, which would have been our luck too as the place was a real death trap….It was here that I had my narrowest escape of being made prisoner, as when the Regiment was relieved, a few of us were left with the KRR with some work in the trenches, and only about 70 men out of the 1600 managed to recross the canal, as the bridges were all blown up….It was there also I got my first blood-letting, but it was a mere scratch on my thumb. I was marked 'Missing' but managed to rejoin the Battalion a few days later.'
The Battalion then went to Clippon Camp, four miles from Dunkirk, where they spent four months away from the line, with good food, fine weather, sports and some sea bathing - 'our best time abroad'., but with the purpose of training hard because of a planned landing at Gatend. Donald continues 'We broke up camp in October, as matters did not get on so well about Paschendale (sic) as had been hoped for... We went by easy stages to Ypres, and from there to Paschendale. We fought a severe engagement there, and lost about 350 in one night, however, we captured two Pill boxes and eighty prisoners, which was considered fairly good. It was then about the middle of November, and we made for the Houlthaust Forest, taking over the position from the French. It was the worst place that I had yet seen, as no trenches could be dug, and only an old smashed pill box, here and there. Things were however fairly quiet till after the New Year. It was from here that I got my first leave home. We were now well known about such places as Ypres, Poperinghe, Bossigny, etc. We were there until the Germans made their big offensive in March.' After some more manoeuvres, the regiment went in June 1918 to the Givenchy sector 'where we had another big engagement, and did excellent work. The Germans sent word before that he would blow the first Division out of Givenchy. He tried his best, but when he was tired of trying it, we were still there, and holding more than we had at the beginning of it.'
An 'easy time' followed in Noeux des Mines, Vermelles, Annequin and Verquin, as shelling and bombing was taking place behind the lines and not in them.
Then to Arras where they and the Canadians made an attack on September 18th, suffering 'a trifling' fifty casualties. Donald was lucky enough then to be picked for special leave and visited Paris, had a day in Bordeaux and went as far south as Lourdes. While he was away the Regiment moved north of Villers Bretoneux where they suffered a big attack on September 18th with many casualties, including comrades Donald had had since leaving Scotland. The soldiers were now constantly on the move as 'the Germans were now making for home', so many places that Donald couldn't remember them.
'On October 2nd, we and the French made a big attack at a place called Bohain. I got a pretty hard knock on the head, and expected I was out of it, however, five days saw me back again. Our Regiment was suffering terribly now. On the 18th we had stiff fighting all day. Our Platoon which had been 48 on September 21st was now reduced to 21, although we had about ten from a new draft. By the night of the 18th, out of the 21, only three remained. 'I was severely wounded in the shoulder, and through time, I got back to Scotland. By the time I got out of Hospital, the War was over, so that my Active Service was finished.
'I was demobilised at Kinross, March 17th, 1919.'
Donald was injured only three weeks before the end of hostilities on 11th November 1918.

The Arisaig and South Morar Record of Service 1914-19 contains the details of nearly 100 men and two women who served in World War I and includes over 100 pages of photographs, postcards and eyewitness accounts of the war from diaries and letters home.
From April 19th you will be able to buy a virtual copy of the Record of Service on CD for £10 from the Astley Hall Trust or Mallaig Heritage Centre.
If ordering by post, please make cheques out Astley Hall Trust and send to Ann Martin at 7 Highland, Arisaig PH39 4NP, tel 01687 450263, info@astleyhall.org.uk.
A copy of the book is available for viewing on request. If you have any queries about anyone contained in the book, please get in touch.

Wide World West Word

Subscriber Margaret Flockhart of Perth sent us this photo and tells us:
'This is a picture of our friend Ying Sonona from Burma who spent some time with us in Arisaig/Mallaig last summer. She so loved the area and can't wait to get back. She took her copy of West Word back to Burma and the picture shows her in Rangoon.'

Tasha Lancaster took a copy with her on her hen party! She and friends from Eigg, Knoydart and far afield travelled up the funicular railway in the Cairngorms. They are each carrying a bright pink bag made by Natalie to hold their sandwiches!

Judi Jackson from Mallaig went to Goa last month and remembered to pack her West Word.

Judi finds West Word on sale in Goa!

On and Off the Rails

A mystery whodunit?
I wonder if any of you reading this can come up with an answer to the following mystery - In the Spring of 2013 I discovered that Date Palm trees were planted at Arisaig Railway Station when it opened on April 1st 1901. They grew to a good size. Wanting to recreate the scene, I got approval from ScotRail, as a Station Adopter, to purchase four x three foot trees and had them delvered to Arisaig Station via The Jacobite train goods van. I planted them in the half size whisky casks that adorn the station, nurtured them, and have taken delight in their progress. Our mild, windy, wet Winter approached and I toyed with the idea of covering them with fleece but I resisted, and they continued to put on height, and growth has been good. I have photographed them on many occasions as they have flourished and have shown these photographs at mny Station Adoption and Transport meetings and they have been admired by all. So imagine how I felt as I travelled past them one early morning a month ago to find that they had been cut down to what now resemble pineapple plants!! The next day I went out and took photos and started making enquiries! Each tub has been cut back to approximately one third of its height and width! My initial thought was that Health & Safety issues had been voiced as they were spiky, but they were not in the way of the platform for persons alighting from or getting on the trains, nor were they any bother for prams, scooters, etc. I have since spoken to the ScotRail Area Manager, the Station Maintenance Crew, Network Rail and locals living close to the Station, and each person has been sad that this has been done and is outwith their knowledge. The leaves have been trimmed all the way round and the trimmings taken away. It is so sad and pointless and the only way around the problem for me is to dig them out, plant them in the far side garden to recover and re-plant again with new trees when they are in season. If anyone saw them being cut or can shed any light on the mystery, please call me on 01687 462189. I would rather have an explanation, but I fear I will never know why. As a volunteer community gardener, it hurts, but I will get over it. I am sure Columbo or Miss Marple would get to the bottom of it, but I am mystified. Sorry to go on about it!

Meanwhile, Coming to a Railway Station near you!...
Well, Mallaig, Morar and Arisaig Railway Platforms anyway. I am to take delivery of large wooden station planters in the form of a train (engine and wagons) made from old whisky barrels. Hand crafted in North East Scotland by Barrel Creations, they will bring a fun element to the planting. I have also taken delivery at Mallaig of aged oak, extra large, 'Tonne Tub' Whisky casks, which will be replacing the old casks that are really showing their age once the Spring flowering plants and bulbs are over. The tulips are just coming out now so it will probably be May before this happens. That will be when the hanging baskets go up. Happy days!!

Great Britain VII Touring Train to visit Mallaig
On Friday May 2nd, we welcome back the above train as part of its eight day luxury tour of Great Britain. It will be in Mallaig for several hours and will be steam hauled. The Railway Touring Company are the operators and West Coast Railways are the train operating company. We look forward to welcoming them to Mallaig.

Jacobite Steam Train Service returns
Monday May 12th heralds the start of the steam train service between Fort William and Mallaig. Into Mallaig at 12.25pm and departing at 2.10pm Monday to Friday initially, with the additional Saturday and Sunday service commencing on Saturday June 21st (also Mallaig Fishermen's Mission Gala Day!) and the afternoon Jacobite service commencing Monday to Friday on Monday June 2nd into Mallaig at 4.29pm and departing 6.40pm - we are in for a busy Summer on the rails.
We welcome back West Coast Railways Staff, passengers, engine owners and crews and thank them for continuing to use Mallaig as their destination.

Steam Dreams Cathedrals Express - Highlands and Islands Explorer Steam hauled luxury touring train
This nine day touring train visits Mallaig on Thursday May 15th (as well as The Jacobite). West Coast Railway Company are the train operating company, also providing the Guard and Driver, Ian Riley's Stanier Black 5 will provide the train, crew and haulage. This will be in for the afternoon for a considerable period.

ScotRail Summer Service
As I wrote this column, we are just getting used to the welcome return of four-car sets, 2.10pm arrival into Mallaig of the lunchtime train, middle doors of the train opening only at all Stations between Morar and Banavie, and soon the return of hospitality trolley services, plus daytime Sunday trains - we are spoilt for choice. Thank you ScotRail.

Following on from my article in last month's West Word, ScotRail Hospitality Services have donated to give away three 'Keep Cups', each with vouchers for six free hot drinks to be redeemed on any journey. So for the competition find your March West Word and tell me how much a Keep Cup costs to purchase! Answers on a postcard please to me, Sonia Cameron, Fasgadh, Marine Place, Mallaig, Inverness-shire PH41 4RD. Closing date Friday April 25th 2014. Good luck.

See you on the train.
Sonia Cameron
PS. STOP PRESS: Commencing Monday May 18th, the current 09.03 departure from Glasgow will revert back to 08.21 departure, all stations to Mallaig, arriving into Mallaig at 13.34pm 7 days a week.

Kin Connections by Marlene (Màiri Éilidh) MacDonald Cheng (mcmcheng@shaw.ca)
Before telling you more about the MacLellans of Morar, I would like to sincerely thank Ann Martin for all her hard work in putting West Word together, a great benefit to the local communities, from Moidart and the Small Isles in the south, to Knoydart in the north. Ann is always kind and patient, in spite of time pressures, bad weather and other sorts of disruptions in her schedule. She should be called 'Saint Ann'!!
In addition, I wish to offer heart-felt thanks to Allan and Elizabeth MacDonald (Arisaig) for the helpful information they have provided on family genealogies and stories. Not only did they do valuable research over the years; they also generously shared it with anyone who was interested! Indeed, they are most welcoming, kind and helpful to strangers, like myself, who show up at their door unannounced. They should get a medal for all the people they have helped over the years, both in Scotland and from other places around the globe.
Last, but by no means least, I wish to express my deep gratitude to our resident expert, Tearlach MacFarlane, for his amazing research skills and vast knowledge regarding the family histories of West Word's domain and beyond. Over the years he has patiently guided us through the morass of early records, teaching us where to look and how to properly interpret genealogical information. We owe him a huge debt of gratitude.
Mòran taing, mo charaidean fialaidh agus gaolach!! (Many thanks, my generous and dear friends)!

In the last two columns we were discussing brothers Archibald and Angus (an Tailleir - the Tailor) MacLellan, of Buorblach, Morar. Their father was Neil MacLellan, and Neil's father was also Neil. Angus (an Tailleir)'s wife, Catherine, had a brother John (Iain Ruadh - Red John) MacLellan who had emigrated to Cape Breton before Angus and Catherine. That was the most likely reason why in 1820 Angus and Catherine pulled up stakes in Antigonish County, and went to Cape Breton, settling at Broad Cove Marsh, close to Catherine's brother, Red John, and his family. All of Red John's children would be first cousins to the children of Angus (an Tailleir) and his wife Catherine.
Angus (an Tailleir) and Catherine, as we have seen last month, had four children, all born in Scotland - Archibald (Archy), Donald, Neil, and Martha (who died at a young age). I would like to correct the ages that I quoted in my last column, having found a more accurate source: Archibald was born 8 May 1805, making him 10 years old when he arrived in Nova Scotia; Donald would have been about 8; Neil would have been about 7; and Martha would have been about 5.
We have dealt with Archy (mac an Tailleir). His brother, Donald (mac an Tailleir) MacLellan, married Margaret Gillis, daughter of Alexander Gillis of Kinlochmorar, Scotland. They had four children: John, Angus, Archibald D., and Mary. John married Catherine MacDougall, daughter of Alexander MacDougall of Rear Ponds, Inverness County,Cape Breton. Angus moved to Newfoundland; I can't find any trace of him there. Archibald D. married Margaret MacLellan, daughter of Ronald MacLellan of South West Road, Margaree, Cape Breton. Mary married an emigrant from Ireland, Michael Thompkins.
Neil (mac an Tailleir) MacLellan, brother to Archy and Donald, was married in 1830 to Catherine Gillis of Upper Margaree, Cape Breton. Catherine was the daughter of Angus Gillis, son of Malcolm. Catherine and Neil had six sons and four daughters. The sons were: John who went abroad, place unknown; Archibald who went to New Zealand; Donald who lived on the old homestead; Angus and Alexander who both died at home; and James who died young. The daughters were Mary who married Archibald Gillis of Broad Cove; Catherine who married Hugh MacPherson of Broad Cove; Marjory who married Donald MacLellan (son of Neil Ban MacLellan) of Broad Cove; and Margaret who died single at home. Neil (mac an Tailleir) died on 13 December 1867 at Broad Cove of Consumption (Tuberculosis). He was only 56 years old.
My paternal grandfather, John Hugh MacDonald (Iain Uisdean, Piobaire), had great respect for the emigrant MacLellans of Morar. His own ancestors had come from there and he grew up with many tales about how the new emigrants, MacLellans and others, managed to live a happy life in spite of sometimes insurmountable, difficulties. The people were poor; they survived by the sweat of their brows. They often didn't own a musical instrument because they couldn't afford one. But song was always part of their daily lives. As they planted potatoes and harvested their crops, as they spun wool, as they rocked the cradle, at weddings and at funerals - they sang. In summer they worked long and hard, but even then, they would get together after the evening meal and sing. Singing was part of their Gaelic culture. Singing fostered togetherness, a very important aspect in those difficult days.
The MacLellan families mentioned in the last few columns were well steeped in their culture, of which song was a huge part. They were expert at reciting stories and singing songs that had been passed down through the generations. Their homes were always open and people came to listen and participate. They respected the composers of the songs and the storytellers. This sharing helped to bind people together. Consequently neighbours were helpful to each other and there was an informality and friendliness between them that is rare any more. I was in Cape Breton before Christmas past, visiting friends. No sooner did I arrive but people were dropping in to greet me and to share news. On the day before I left, people started arriving in late afternoon. We had a meal together, we told stories and we sang songs until the wee small hours of the morning. Everyone went away happy; we said to each other as we parted, 'The old ways are best, aren't they!' More stories next month! Stay well and happy.

Watch this space for extracts from next month's issue!
Letters, e-mails and comments are welcome.
Feel free to Sign our Guestbook

List of Issues online

Visit West Word on Facebook

The paper version of West Word contains approximately 40 pages (A4 size) including:

  • Reports from the local communities, lifeboat log and weather
  • Columns on local sport, wildlife, politics
  • Poets corner, letters, snippets
  • Feature articles, local events, festivals and games
  • .....and lots more photos!

For 12 issues: £36 anywhere in the UK
£55 for Eire and Europe / £75 for the rest of the world.
Contact the Editor to subscribe.

West Word
Morar Station Buildings
Inverness-shire PH40 4PB
Tel/Fax: 01687 462 720
E-mail: editor@westword.org.uk

Sign our Guestbook or Read our Guestbook
(Your comments may be printed in next month's issue)

Visit the official Road to the Isles web site


Copyright © 2002-2014 West Word
Page last updated: April 2014

Site designed by
The Internet Guide to Scotland