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August 2022 Issue
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All photos are copyright either of the individual photographers or West Word.
PAWEL SMASHES WEST HIGHLAND WAY RUNNING RECORD
Congratulations to Mallaig's Pawel Cymbalista who set a new unsupported West Highland Way record of 17 hours 53 minutes and 35 seconds on July 16th. The previous fastest time he had to beat was 23 hours 21 minutes and 36 seconds, set by Matt Girvan on April 24th, 2021.
The 95 mile long West Highland Way starts in Milngavie, north of Glasgow, and finishes in Fort William, and has a total ascent is 3,660m.
Pawel was running to raise money for the proposed new Community Hub in Mallaig, which will be in the former Spar shop. His aim was to supply a refrigerated unit for the new shop. Pawel has a gofundme page, https://gofund.me/4733c0e7, and to date (8th August) the grand sum of £1420 has been raised. His employers, MOWI, donated £500 to his fundraiser and have also kindly donated a chill unit to the shop.
LETTER FROM THE EDITOR
All the best to everyone who is receiving their SQA results today - I hope you've got the grades you wanted. Confused about short term let legislation? I recommend reading Council Corner this month! I'm having to take some time off after this issue for family reasons which may affect the production of the September edition - my apologies.
As ever, thanks to Morag and Ewen for their help with the printing, and to Anne and Jane for labelling the envelopes.
Another month gone by already. There were a few nice days breaking up the wet, grey monotony every now and again and they were very much appreciated. Despite the lack of summery weather it's been a great year for the community garden's soft fruit, with an abundance of blackcurrants, redcurrants and gooseberries. It also looks like the grapes are doing nicely, although they won't be ready for another few weeks. For a lot of people things were quite slow in getting started, or taking a while to grow, although for myself it was nothing short of disastrous, with pretty much everything planted being demolished. It seems to have been a bit of a bumper year for snails too, so perhaps the dampness has served them well. Stalking season has begun again, but in addition to the normal stag cull, another 24 stags are to be taken out by the end of August. This is in conjunction with the Black Hills Regeneration project, which has been given the go ahead and the application to NatureScot's "Nature Restoration Fund" has been approved. The grant of £225k will cover most of the project's management, the deer management, and any new fencing which will have to go up in order to implement the plan. The project will see planned habitat restoration, and also allow for widespread native woodland establishment. It will also focus on restoring peatland: peatland studies have been carried out and the aim is to begin peatland action funded restoration at the start of next year.
The Butchery team are very busy now that the stalking has begun again, which is great since the freezers were becoming rather empty. The venison is selling really well but with the increase in deer being shot this year and next, there will be too many to process all of them here, as there isn't enough storage space or staff to do so; however in the future that is the ideal aim. The Harbour Shop in Mallaig is also stocking Knoydart Wild Venison.
There's a new kayak hire business been launched this month - "Love Knoydart Kayak Hire", where you can rent sit-on-top kayaks. This is a fantastic way to explore our coastlines, and kayaks can be rented for two hours, half days or full days.
The 30th July saw a great night of music take place from the Lochaber Ceilidh Trail, featuring Inverie's own Felix Humphrey along with the other talented young people. Pub Sunday music sessions continue to be popular, and there's a wide range of instruments ready for use at any time. Coming up next is the Games, an exciting prospect after a couple of years without it!
Beannachdan bho Gleann Fhionnain!
I think we can all agree we are super excited that our village will see the return of the Glenfinnan Gathering on 20th August and it is bigger than ever! So much planning goes into the organising of all local Games, and it is great to always see so many familiar and happy faces.
This year also welcomes the 'Games Dances'! Ours will be held in a marquee in the games field and will feature not one but two fabulous bands - Glenfinnan Ceilidh Band and Valtos. Tickets are available online from The Stage Group and all information can be found on Facebook on the Glenfinnan Highland Gathering page. Please book your tickets early to avoid disappointment as this will be a sell-out. We can be sure of one thing, after such a long hiatus from ceilidh dancing, our calves will get a phenomenal workout.
You will have noticed that there are many extra cones, purchased by the Glenfinnan Community Council and distributed by the local Police, dotted along the village. These are sadly because of continued anti-social parking. Unfortunately, we still have issues daily and short of putting out another 100 cones I am afraid we just must keep trying to ask the visitors to be considerate. Bear with us . . . It is a thankless task for all concerned.
Am Fear a bhios gun mhodh, saoilidh e gur modh am mi-mhodh
(He that is rude thinks his rudeness good manners)
ISLE OF MUCK
Hello, Muck calling . . . Well finally after a slow burn to the season we appear to have lift off with a few more visitors arriving by ferry or under their own juice and enjoying the odd summer's day . . . not enough in a row though for the Farm to get a clear run at the silage so it seemed like poor Colin was at it for an eternity, whilst dealing with the stresses of trying to finish shearing and then planning the logistics of getting the lambs off to market on the Ferry but alas . . . no weather and puzzled decisions took that away!! . . . enter the Spanish John which was deemed a safer option. . . and after a couple of days of the local populace out waving and hollering to direct the sheep half way across the island to the awaiting pens at the Port they were on to the awaiting transport. Roll on and good luck for the Dingwall sales. We also had a fun sports event for children and adults alike with football, curling and boccia held with mixed age teams . . . it was still extremely competitive as you can imagine.
As a community we managed a couple of get togethers including a very nice beach BBQ where it was a perfect day to see off Jamie McEwen as he joins the workforce; the kids had a fantastic time in the water with paddle boards and kayaks and a sausage sizzle until sunset. I'm afraid it has been a relatively slow news month on Muck this time round . . . the School has had a facelift with a paint job and running repairs before Emily returns from her travels.
Well that's us folks,
ISLE OF CANNA
Things have been relatively quiet on Canna this past month. The weather hasn't been playing ball and at various points throughout June, I couldn't even see Sanday, let alone Rum, because of the low mist! Reassuringly, they both do eventually reappear!
We're spending this week gearing up for the occasion of the century . . . THE Canna Wedding . . . you'll get a full report next edition! I'm pretty certain the whole island is going to sink a couple of feet into the sea with all the extra people having a decent island stomp.
Our beloved Starsie and the twins (the pet lambs) are going from strength to strength, thanks to the loving attention of Eliza and Isebail. There is something truly magnificent about a lamb/now small sheep running, bleating, and pretty much cheering its way towards you over a field ready to receive its milk and head pats a-plenty. Starsie has come a long way and the twins have a little catching up to do but we are hopeful they will progress well.
Granny Norah celebrated her 90th birthday in style with a cake, flowers and her usual dose of withering wit! Norah MacKinnon, nee Boyle, came to Canna from Loughanure, Co. Donegal in 1952 to work at Canna House. She met and married local man Iain MacKinnon and went on to have six children.
The Canna Community, in partnership with NTS, is launching a Harbour Development Group which will be made up of all our wonderful harbour users. If you would like to be part of the Harbour Development Group, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org to register your interest in taking part in our meetings or simply to keep up to date with all things Canna Harbour. You might be an individual or part of a group, either way, we would love to hear from you!
We are making a mailing list for our newsletter! Would you like to keep up to date with what is happening on the Isle of Canna? Want to hear about upcoming events such as the Canna 10k Trail Run or want to know when the puffins are on their way? Please send an email to: email@example.com saying 'Canna Newsletter - Count me in!'
Criomagan (Crumbs) from Canna House
Whilst working on the 'decanting' of the Canna House Collections in preparation for the extensive programme of reparation works, I have come across lots of interesting little pieces of information which helps to complete the 'collage' that are the Archives, in particular. Whilst sorting through some untouched boxes of assorted Christmas cards, letters and newspaper scraps collected by John and Margaret through the years, I found a very interesting little snippet of social history from the Canna archives - the card given to parents for the issuing of a baby's gas respirator helmet in July 1941. Euphemia Mackinnon was the baby. John Lorne Campbell was the signee for the issuing of the respirator: Here is what a gas respirator for a baby would have looked like: pretty scary for any small child! Her date of birth was given as 13th March 1941 and she was issued the respirator when she was six days old.
I was able to locate her school promotion record when she was aged 12, and with this information I was able to more positively identify the succeeding image taken of Effie by Margaret Fay Shaw some years later, sitting on the wall outside the Dairy. She would have been about 12 in the picture so we can date the photo to around 1953. Euphemia is in the middle of the image, and her school 'promotion' record, age 12.
It is wonderful to be able to take these individual elements, all interesting in their right, and put them together, when they take on a whole new significance. A much more complete picture of our ancestors and their lives before us.
And if you happen to suffer a nose bleed, why not try a cure collected by Margaret Fay Shaw -
'Put the cold tongs down the back' . . .
ISLE OF RUM
The second biggest item of note this month is that meaningful progress has been made on the provision of accommodation for the newly arrived Early Years Practitioner (nursery teacher) and family: the school house has been knocked down to make way for a cabin to be sited in its place. The Highland Council timeline has the new cabin all plumbed in and connected by the beginning of term; in the meantime the new family are housed elsewhere on the island. So, welcome to Lauren Murphy and family!! Rum Primary will have four pupils with four in the nursery next term; along with little Edwin, and four at high school, that's a total of 13 children. There hasn't been that many children since the year 2000.
Happenings this month were an art workshop held by Kath Pender and our pre-application for our Dark Sky Status being approved. Being on Canna last weekend for the big wedding (congratulations again btw) I saw that Canna have also applied for this, so roll on when the whole of the Small Isles is a dark skies reserve.
I asked Sean for a wildlife update and he sent me this . . .
There have not been any unusual bird sightings over the last few months but May, June and July are all about the breeding birds. On Rum this year we have a few notable breeding records to report. For the first time ever two pairs of Hen Harriers have been confirmed breeding and both were successful fledging two young each. A pair of Golden Eagles have also fledged a single chick. White-tailed Eagles looked set to have an amazing year: three breeding pairs each had two young each. Unfortunately, two large chicks were discovered dead on one of the nests in early July. However, two successful pairs have fledged a total of four young, which is still a good outcome.
The White-tailed Eagle chicks almost certainly died as a result of Avian Influenza. This disease has been devastating for many seabird colonies in the UK. It looked like west coast colonies were going to escape the worst with most reports of dead and dying birds coming from the Northern Isles and east coast. However, later in the season the disease has affected west coast colonies including a Manx Shearwater from the colony on Rum testing positive for the disease. In mid July we spent a week on the Isle of Skye. On west coast beaches and coves on the island we found at least 154 dead seabirds. Guillemots accounted for 103 of these birds with 70 birds carrying rings. All 70 of these ringed guillemots were breeding age adults from the colony on Canna. A dead Kittiwake had also been ringed on Canna. On returning to Rum later in July it was sad to find dead Common Terns at Kilmory where there is a mixed colony of breeding Arctic and Common Terns. These will be tested for Avian Influenza but it is almost certainly what they died of. So, all in all a fairly devastating season for breeding seabirds including some species on the Small Isles and a worry as to what the future holds for next year's breeding season.
And, onto the castle. Has anything changed since last month? Well we met the new prospective owner plus representatives (not me personally, I was off island) and had a cordial meeting; there was no meaningful dialogue, but we did learn more of what assets were to go with the castle in the proposed sale. Then there was a meeting with NatureScot, where we possibly got taken a little more seriously but probably not seriously enough. Dependent on your viewpoint, this proposed sale is either a long-awaited rescue package for a building, long neglected, rich in heritage and nationally important; or a complete mockery of what Scottish Government and land reform stands for.
What does saving the castle actually mean? Does it mean there is meaningful access to the public as a heritage building? Well, it's been closed as an accommodation provider for about eight years, as a response, the community have built a bunkhouse and there are other accommodation options. Is there enough accommodation? No. Does it have to be in the castle? Also no. Will the new prospective buyer be providing accommodation to visitors to Rum? No one knows. And, the castle has also been closed for daily tours since the end of 2019; this is a disappointment to some visitors but hasn't, as far as I'm aware, kept any from actually coming to Rum. So not much meaningful access there.
Does it mean contributing to the local economy in a meaningful way? See above and also employment at Kinloch Castle is down to one part time job and has been for eight years, so does our current economy need the castle? Answer, no. Would it contribute in the future under private ownership? There would, we are told, be employment and spin off opportunities, but as part of the Castle estate. The community also has plans for a new hub, visitors centre and expansion at the bunkhouse; more employment and opportunities there too, community based. It would definitely provide some input, but will saving the castle be a beacon for our community survival? Definitely not.
Does saving the castle mean saving it for its intrinsic value to the nation? Not sure I need to actually say what I think there, but others may have a different view. The castle has a draw, sure, but for me it's the fact that it's a kind of Mary Celeste on a wild Hebridean island with a bonkers story attached. Is that enough and would it be retained under new private ownership? Unlikely but with no idea what any new private owner would do with the place, private house, upmarket hotel etc., your guess is as good as mine. The contents are tired and worn but as a snapshot of what life was like to the landed class over a hundred years ago, it's great, but is this mystique salvageable and what does this represent to a post land reform Scotland where there are so many other castles like that already? Take the contents away and put them in a museum and you'd probably walk past them. Without the contents and its story, does the building have much meaning other than sentiment?
As I said last month, the desire to remove the castle from the public purse is strong, but our voice will not be swept under the carpet - or even the under the moth-eaten rug made from a lion that adorns the floor of the great hall.
ISLE OF EIGG
July saw the return of Fèis Eige, where children and adults alike had the opportunity to try various instruments as well as art, singing and dancing. The kids put on a fantastic concert in the community hall and got to try out some of the dances they had learned at the cèilidh.
It was also a busy month for wildlife on the island, with various birds fledging. The Sea Eagle and Golden Eagles had one chick each, and the Hen Harriers fledged three young. However it's not all been good news - a small amount of dead birds have been found around our shores, potentially victims of avian flu which has been devastating bird populations around the country. Thankfully we have seen very little compared to other areas.
Camille Dressler writes: Bishop of Argyll and the Isles, Brian MacGee, was on Eigg for his annual visit on Monday 25th July. Having said Mass at St Donnan's chapel, he took the opportunity to bless a small statue of the Madonna and child Jesus recently positioned into place in the chapel with a new dedication plaque. The lovely sculpture of the Madonna was given to Gavin Scott Moncrieff's father in memory of his wife, by his friend, the renowned Scottish sculptor Hew Lorimer, who was also godfather to Gavin's older brother. It is a small version of his 'Ecce Mater Tua' statue of the Madonna and Child in All Saints Episcopal church, St Andrews. Hew Lorimer OBE (1907- 1993), the second son of architect Robert Lorimer, is best known for his monumental statue of Our Lady of the Isles in Uist, but his work is also found throughout Scotland. The dedication plaque was written by Gavin's daughter and made by his son.
End of an Era at Glenfinnan House Hotel
At the end of this season, after 20 years, Glenfinnan House Hotel is saying farewell to Duncan and Manja Gibson. They have dedicated themselves to creating the ideal country house hotel, and perfected this spectacularly, winning multiple awards for cuisine and service over the years. Even in the difficult times of the pandemic, Duncan and Manja came up with creative ways of supporting the community, providing boxed groceries and takeaways.
The good news is that Duncan and Manja are not moving far away and we are sure you will hear about them opening up another successful business - so watch this space.
What is happening to Glenfinnan House Hotel? My family, which has run the hotel for over 50 years, will take its time to determine in what form to continue the business, and it could be that the hotel will have a later start to the 2023 season.
Duncan and Manja will be sorely missed by us, the many loyal, long-standing guests, and the whole village community. We wish them the best of luck in their new endeavour.
Angus on Tour!
Local author Angus MacDonald has been on a campervan tour in the USA recently to promote his Ardnish novels! He writes, 'I did talks at Glenaladale House in Prince Edward Island, an event to recognise the 250th anniversary of the migration of the Glenfinnan and Genaladale people; in Antigonish and Arisaig, where many of the people from Moidart settled; and Mabou in Cape Breton, at the Gaelic College, where many of the people from the Braes of Lochaber went including Alistair Mor Macdonald, the brother of my ancestor Long John who founded Ben Nevis distillery; and then to Halifax.
'I then went down to Grandfather Mountain Highland Games in North Carolina, another area well known for Highland emigration. It is a phenomena: 20,000 people, eight pipe bands, 50 tents, for each of the clans, beautifully organised and of the highest standard. I was guest of the National Trust for Scotland and sold 400 books there. It was the most fantastic fun. The last day, a Sunday, it rained more heavily than the Glenfinnan Games has ever experienced!
'The Scottish diaspora love visitors from the 'old country' and are ever ready to quiz you on their heritage. I was given the most fantastic welcome wherever I went and can recommend a visit to the Nova Scotia, PEI or indeed any of the Highland Games out there.'
Arisaig Highland Games and Clanranald Gathering 2022
After a two year absence, we enjoyed a very successful return for the Arisaig Highland Games at Traigh Farm on 27th July. In the wake of Covid-19 and lockdown restrictions, we were unsure what to expect in terms of attendance on Games day, especially with the return of foreign travel as a holiday option. However, by mid-afternoon it was becoming clear that we were approaching an attendance close to our previous record in 2019 with a full car park and a busy arena.
After an opening parade led by Lochaber Pipe Band, the 84th Arisaig Games were opened by Andrew Macdonald of Boisdale, with a speech which included a section dedicated to Elizabeth MacDonald, who sadly passed away earlier this year. Elizabeth had been a core member of the Games Committee for over 15 years and was instrumental in the Clan and Heritage aspects of the Games.
The piping competition attracted a high-quality entry and Brian Lamond emerged as Piobaireachd winner with Angus McColl the overall winner for Light Music in a field of 11 senior pipers.
The dancing competitions were won by Hamish McInnes from Australia in the adult section, with junior trophies won by Lily Kelman and Eilidh Smith.
A highlight of the day was the appearance of Vlad Tulacek in the heavy events. The winner of our competition back in 2019, Vlad has been racking up wins at Highland Games across Scotland all summer. The culmination of his dominant performance would see Vlad breaking his own Arisaig record for the 56lb weight over the bar at a new mark of 16'6".
The track & field competitions saw Job Van Keulen from the Netherlands emerge as the outstanding athlete of the day with wins in the sprints, the long jump and the high jump. Matt Waterston from Lochailort was the most successful local athlete winning the Norman Milne memorial trophy. The trophy had been donated to the Games by the Milne family in memory of Norman, a long-term volunteer and a big part of Arisaig Games.
Our sponsors, Ardnamurchan Distillery, had a very busy day in their tent talking to visitors about the Distillery and offering samples of their newly-bottled products. David John Cameron from the distillery also presented the prizes they had kindly donated to the winner of the programme raffle, and to Matt Waterston and Pablo Luna, winners of the incredibly popular Barrel race.
The Games dance later that evening was also a success with a close to capacity crowd in the Astley Hall for the annual ceilidh with music from the Grouse Ceilidh Band.
We must say thank you to the huge list of people who make Arisaig Games possible.
The Shaw-Stewart family for the use of their land and Eilidh and Gavin for their help in getting the field ready. Our headline sponsors at Ardnamurchan Distillery for their ongoing support and sponsorship of our event. Our other event sponsors Highland Confectionery and the Old Library Lodge and Restaurant, along with all the local businesses that advertise in our Games programme.
The Women's Guild for running the tea tent which sold out again with their takings going to various charities.
Our biggest thanks must go to the loyal band of helpers who turn up each year and effectively donate three or four days of their holidays to our event. Without them, Arisaig Games would not be possible, and the committee are very grateful to you all.
See you next year, on Wednesday 26th July 2023.
Arisaig Games Committee
Mallaig Lifeboat Log
5th July 2022
Launched at 13:10 by Stornoway Coastguard to convey Paramedics to the Isle of Eigg. A female had suffered a broken wrist from a cycling accident. On-scene at 13:45, the lifeboat was met by local Coastguards. The patient was at the local centre at the head of the slipway. Once the Medics had stabilised the injury the casualty was able to walk down to the Lifeboat along with her partner and board with the assistance of the crew. Lifeboat departed Eigg at 14:00 and proceeded back to Mallaig berthing at 14:45. The patient was conveyed to Fort William's Belford Hospital for further treatment to her wrist. Lifeboat ready for service at 14 55.
14th July 2022
Launched at 20:00 by Stornoway Coastguard to the assistance of a lone yachtsman who was feeling rather unwell off Mallaig Harbour. On-scene at 20:10 the Lifeboat transferred three crewmen onboard the yacht. One crewmember attended to the casualty whilst the others brought the yacht into the Marina. Once alongside, local Coastguards assisted with berthing the yacht. Once secured alongside the yachtsman was assisted ashore into the care of Paramedics who carried out a quick assessment before transferring to the ambulance. The patient was taken to Fort William's Belford Hospital for further treatment. Before the Lifeboat returned to her berth the crew made the yacht secure until the gentleman's return. Lifeboat ready for service at 21:00.
17th July 2022
Launched at 18:45 by Stornoway Coastguard to locate and assist an injured walker on a beach on the Strathaird peninsula, Isle of Skye. Information received from the first informant was that they had come across an injured male on a beach 250 metres east of Prince Charlie's cave on Strathaird Point. Knowing the location, the lifeboat made directly to the cave and searched to the east to the adjacent beach. A crewman was landed and searched the whole beach, but no injured person was located. An update from Coastguards informed the crew that the injured party had been assisted to the jetty at Elgol by others and the Coastguard. The casualty's actual location was to the NW side of peninsula not far from Elgol slipway. Crew and Y-Boat recovered and lifeboat returned to Mallaig and made ready for service at 21:00.
21st July 2022
Launched by Stornoway Coastguard at 14:15 to the assistance of the yacht Full Moon. Whilst motoring towards Mallaig, Full Moon picked up something in her propeller. Unable to clear the obstruction, the skipper tried to sail towards Mallaig, but the wind died away and progress was minimal. Alongside the yacht 14:35 the casualty was strapped alongside the Lifeboat for the short tow into the harbour and the Marina. Local Coastguards assisted in the mooring of the casualty. Lifeboat returned to pontoon and berthed at 15:40.
25th July 2022
Tasked bye Stornoway Coastguard at 06:20 to investigate an EPIRB activation to the north of the Isle of Rum. As the crew assembled at the station the Coastguard manged to make contact with the vessel that the EPIRB was registered to. Unbeknown to the Skipper, the EPIRB had self activated or fallen from its mounting during the vessel's passage from Canna to Mallaig in fairly lively conditions with a stiff NW wind. With the Coastguard now aware that the vessel was not in danger and proceeding on its passage, the Lifeboat was stood down.
25th July 2022
Requested to launch at 09:13 by Stornoway Coastguard to the assistance of a yacht dragging its anchor in Arisaig harbour. Lifeboat departed Mallaig for Arisaig at 09:35. Once on passage to the casualty's location, the Coastguards informed that the yacht had managed to retrieve its anchor and was now motoring to safer water. Lifeboat requested to stand down by Coastguards at 09:45 and return to base. Lifeboat berthed at 10:00 at pontoon.
26th July 2022
Tasked to yacht Carolina without power, sailing solo, the person on board requesting a tow into harbour and placing alongside marina pontoon. Lifeboat paged at 15:35 and launched 15:55. Casualty located south of Sleat Pont at 16:40; one crewman boarded to help attach tow. Tow commenced at 16:50, arrived into harbour and berthed yacht alongside pontoon at 17:40. Lifeboat returned to berth and tied up at 17:50.
29th July 2022
Requested at 22:10 by Stornoway Coastguard to convey Paramedics to the Isle of Eigg. A 33 year old female was in need of medical attention. On-scene at 23:15, the Lifeboat was met by local Coastguards to convey the medics to the patient's locality. The medics administered meds and monitored patient for a while. Satisfied that the patient need not be evacuated from the island, they returned to the Lifeboat at 01:15. Lifeboat returned to Mallaig and berthed at 02:05 the following morning and made ready for service.
Michael Ian Currie
NEWS FROM MALLAIG HARBOUR AUGUST 2022
We're still not having much of a summer in terms of weather, but the fishing has remained good, and we have continued to welcome visiting fishing boats throughout June and July. The value of landings for June broke the £1million barrier for the first month since I started at the Harbour, with around 60% of this coming from the 21 visiting fishing vessels over the month, and while white fish prices remain low, shellfish prices have gone back to pre-pandemic levels. Thankfully the repairs to our ice plant have held up throughout this busier period, while we await the new parts.
The Coruisk returned to Mallaig on 16th July and was back on service on Monday 18th. However, there has continued to be some disruption on the route - on Monday 25th July the Coruisk was out of action for the day while some minor engineering works were undertaken in Armadale, and then there was disruption due to crew illness from Thursday 28th July until the afternoon of Monday 1st August. Meanwhile, issues with the MV Hebrides on the Uig to Lochmaddy/Tarbert triangle meant that the Lord of the Isles once again had to be called away from Mallaig to provide cover, and as of Thursday 4th August, the Coruisk has been recalled to Mull as the Isle of Mull has been tasked to provide cover on the Skye triangle. If you are finding it difficult to follow all that, then spare a thought for the poor CalMac staff 'on the ground', who are having to deal with multiple changes and some irate customers.
After mentioning that the other office staff had Covid last month, it was then my turn to be off for a few days with it, and then I had annual leave at the end of July so it has been a quick month for me.
We said Goodbye to Pellew for the season on 26th July, but Eda Frandsen and the Blue Clipper are both still sailing from Mallaig until the end of August. It's been so lovely to see the Marina busy again this summer after two years of uncertainty. The British Marine Association are conducting a survey into boating tourism in Scotland and are asking sail and leisure boat owners to get involved in the national survey at www.boatingsurvey.scot. The survey is open until early September.
Positive news at the end of July was that our Marine Licences were approved for the works in the Outer Harbour so now comes the task of assembling the funding package and working out the logistics of undertaking the works while still keeping the Harbour operational! We have two licences approved, one for drilling and blasting to deepen the Harbour, and one for construction of a new splay berth and a new overnight ferry berth.
We have also spent much of this month clearing the attic and archiving materials from the establishment of the Harbour until the present day. It's amazing how much times have changed - there were files of carbon copies of letters, boxes of cancelled cheques, and several written ledgers. Although we have tried to keep anything of relevance, we hired a shredding company to come and take away confidential waste - a mound of black bin bags was filled and disposed of! At the bottom of one box, Audrey found my dissertation from April 1995 - 'The Economic Implications of the Proposed Mallaig Harbour Development'! This included a brochure published by Halcrow Fox outlining the current activities in Mallaig and the proposed developments, with the purpose of determining the level of interest in using the new facilities from French fishing boat operators! As well as distances from Mallaig to Lorient/Concarneau and Boulogne, there was also a question and answer section listing the three main benefits to French fishing boats using the new facilities at Mallaig as being:
- Substantial increase in available fishing time (avoiding the need to return to Brittany to off load the catch)
- Significant savings in transportation costs
- New species of fish.
At this stage, the cost of the redevelopment was estimated at £6.6million, and the value of fish landings from 1987 and 1990 were given as £15.052 million and £13.566 million respectively. Now we are looking at an approximate cost of £20 million to undertake works within this development, for the benefit of the aquaculture rather than fishing industry, and Brexit has changed the whole landscape for fishing. I'm not sure the Harbour Authority would be thanked for producing a brochure to attract foreign vessels now!
Interestingly, I had extrapolated the CalMac carryings as far as 2005, and included these in a table in my report. Amazingly, I've been able to look at the records we hold in the Harbour Office to compare these with the actuals, and I wasn't too far wrong! Below is a table with my projections from 1995 and the actuals for 2004.
For comparison, total passenger numbers for 2019/20 (pre-pandemic) were 361,478; and cars were 87,762. Coaches and commercial vehicles are now recorded by the metre, so aren't directly comparable.
On and Off the Rails
Hello, it's me again! I've decided to start the column with positive news this month but beware, impending strike news will follow later!
Network Rail have completed - hopefully to everyone's satisfaction - a £1.8 million project on the Mallaig extension railway line and surrounding area at Lochailort. Hip, hip, hip hooray. Work commenced in February this year following the flash floods in summer 2020 that washed away 262 feet of railway. Initially the line was left hanging in mid-air, such was the speed of the flash floods that started fields away from the line and gathered such width and depth that massive boulders were tossed like marbles in its path. A temporary fix was carried out then, but the long-term aim has been to stop this happening again. It even damaged the foundations of a house and the road and field the other side of the railway line!
The initial phase of the improvements this year, by Network Rail and QTS, involved installing a new concrete drainage tunnel, or culverts, next to the existing Allt na Criche bridge which carries the burn under the railway line. Engineers removed 800 tonnes of material from the railway embankment to prepare for the new culvert, most of which was recycled for use on site.
Installation of the 63.3 tonne culvert was over a 78 hour period of continuous work. The next stage was to reinstate the embankment before 130 feet of new rail was laid on 200 tonnes of ballast! I panic when my front path floods!!
Network Rail's programme manager said, 'By protecting the railway from extreme weather events, we also mitigate the risk of the impact of this for passengers, railway crews, our trains, freight customers, special trains and line side neighbours.' He reiterated, 'I would also like to thank our contractor QTS as well as the local community for their patience and support whilst we planned and delivered this critical improvement to Scotland's railway.' Andy Steel, QTS operations director said, 'The work carried out at Lochailort over the last five months has hugely improved the resilience of Scotland's railway for years to come. Our team undertook some important work during this period, installing a structure that will help manage water flow to safeguard the integrity of the railway during heavy rainfall.'
Personally, a huge thanks to all involved in this project. I will never take for granted, when I cross over this section of the railway, the work involved in keeping us travellers safe on the trains. Gratitude to all of you.
Since completion of the project earlier last month (July) we have had a 'few and far between' really heavy 'blobby' rainfall episodes. I presume, as a precaution, it has been deemed necessary to apply ESR (Emergency Speed Restrictions) of 20mph as far up as Arisaig - actually in both directions, to all traffic on the line. This has resulted in late arrivals, and departures, sometimes with trains having to wait in Mallaig until an incoming train has arrived. I'm hoping that it is just an extra precaution in the newly laid track section, allowing for bedding in. I know that in Mallaig the famous fish 'fryers' have held their breath in anticipation as to whether trains were delayed, held in a passing loop at Arisaig, or cancelled! - Only to exhale and start frying again when up to 45 minutes later another 350 potential passengers descend on Mallaig! Happy days!
Serco - bonus payments - on, and off, the rails
Caledonian Sleeper staff, plus staff on Shetland and Orkney ferries and other Serco Group company employees - but not 'management grades' - were given good news last week, when the Serco Group Chief Executive, Rupert Soames, unveiled the 2022 'first half' year financial figures which he said were 'much better than expected', showing an operating profit rise of 6% to £123million.
Why is this good news you ask? Mr Soames went on to explain. 'Employees are due to share an additional £9million in the coming weeks in one-off payments to all our colleagues outside management grades, recognising the pressure many people, particularly the lower paid, are under at this time.' He followed on by saying, 'We are increasing pay faster than we budgeted for. Increasing pay is one of the reasons why costs are expected to be higher, and profits lower, in the second half than in the first.' Mr Soames specifically highlighted the two 'Black Swans' or 'completely unexpected' situations which have dominated world events in the past few years, namely Covid and the war in Ukraine. He said, 'These two catastrophes will shape public policy for years. Governments are struggling to square promises to invest in energy transition and to 'build back better'. In squaring these circles governments will need the innovation, efficiency, and skilled operational management the private sector can bring to the effective delivery of public services.'
Has he been talking to our local family-owned, self-employed businesses - I think so! Take our transport services here at the moment. West Coast Railways, Belmond Royal Scotsman etc versus public owned ScotRail, CMAL, Caledonian MacBrayne etc. Well done Serco - with at the moment no visible Union intervention.
It seems to me that if you lead well from the top and keep your workers happy, pay them as well as you can, provide living quarters if possible then profits will come. A win, win situation. In Scotland the word 'Plenish' (to supply, or provide a home with necessary furniture, implements/tools of trade etc) still exists, family to family, in our area. I am proud of that. Well done Serco. Well done Mallaig!
ScotRail news - good news!
ScotRail is leading from the front? There is a chunk of light - at last. From this autumn a further 135 drivers will start to be trained from a huge 'talent pool' after more than 9000 people applied. The move is to replace drivers leaving the company and reduce its dependence on overtime to run trains. A total of 74 ScotRail drivers retired or moved to other train operators last year alone. ScotRail said, 'The shortlisting process has identified 845 who remain in the talent pool and will be used for upcoming vacancies.'
Currently ScotRail has 1,180 fully qualified drivers, only 12 more than the 1,168 in December despite 70 trainees qualifying so far this year. During the rest of this year a further 35 drivers are due to qualify. They are among 125 trainees undergoing training, which takes 18 months. The training process was severely hampered by Covid because social distancing requirements meant a trainee and a trainer could not be in a train together.
An ASLEF Union pay dispute, when many drivers stopped agreeing to requests to work overtime to run a full service, especially on Sundays, or working rest days, resulted in a loss of service. ScotRail have said the new agreed pay deal includes a commitment to bring Sundays into the working week within a five-year period with full implementation by the 2027 December timetable.
The agreed 5% pay deal last month means fully qualified drivers' basic pay is increased to £55,264 a year. No small wonder how many applicants are 'in the pool'. ScotRail has more than 5000 staff across Scotland. As well as salary, overtime and pension, employees also get free rail travel on all ScotRail services.
The downside for ScotRail is that the RMT Union representing ScotRail conductors, station staff and cleaners balloted members for an offered 5% increase, having rejected a 2.2% increase. The result of that ballot became known on Friday 6th August. 60% of the members balloted voted for rejection of the 5% offer on the table. The abstainers (who are viewed as happy with the 5% offer) were apparently 35%. The union leadership recommended rejection. The RMT return to negotiations on Tuesday 9th August. If no further offer is received then RMT will have to ballot their members again to take industrial action. Who knows where this will end up.
In the meantime, strikes currently planned for August are as follows:
Saturday 13th August English train companies including cross-border trains. Amended timetables will be published online from 9th August but the advice is not to travel unless your journey is absolutely essential.
Thursday 18th and Saturday 20th August Network Rail nationwide, plus RMT, and TSSA. Complete industry shutdown meaning no sleeper trains, freight trains, Jacobite, touring trains. As Network Rail and TSSA control the railway lines, signal boxes etc., nothing can move anywhere. Expect disruption on Friday 19th and Sunday 21st as trains, crews and signalling centres reopen or not!
Glasgow Subway: Unite Union, having already had two 24-hour shutdowns this month on the 6th and 9th, are planning two more for the 13th and 27th - both major football match days.
London: 24-hour tube strike on August 19th.
Tuesday 23rd August: RMT Day of Action. At the moment this date is proposed by the RMT regarding future booking office 'changes, closures and conditions', but no further details yet.
Plus ScotRail: if RMT have not settled with ScotRail after Tuesday's meeting any dates may be announced on conductors, guards etc - meaning that although the ScotRail drivers have settled they cannot operate without them. In the meantime Network Rail managers have voted to accept a pay offer, their union announced on Friday 5th August.
The TSSA (Transport Salaried Staffs Association) said its management grade members accepted the 4% increase offered in a ballot. The TSSA organising director Luke Chester said, 'While falling short of our aspirations on basic pay, this agreement has the significant benefit of addressing many of our members' long-standing concerns, including staff travel facilities. It's very good news that our union was able to stand up collectively and win concessions across the board from our company which will really benefit our members. We remain committed to further dialogue with Network Rail to build on these gains and deliver a fair deal for our members going forward.' Tim Shoveller, NR's lead negotiator said, 'We believe this is a deal that is both fair for our employees and affordable for passengers and taxpayers.'
All I can add is to say, 'Don't count the days. Make the days count.' I'm off to count train passenger numbers!!
See you on the train - maybe.
BIRDWATCH July 2022 by Stephen MacDonald
Another pretty damp month, with only short lived dry spells. Fairly typical reports for this time of year, with lots of juvenile birds evident and the first returning waders appearing.
Eiders with well grown chicks were seen around Traigh, Camusdarroch and Loch Ailort. The first Common Guillemot and Razorbill chicks were seen in the Sound of Sleat from mid-month. Stormy Petrels were seen on numerous occasions and large numbers of Manx Shearwaters could be seen in the Sound of Sleat and around the Small Isles. Several reports of Arctic Skuas and regular sightings of Great Skua.
From mid-month small numbers of Dunlin, Redshank and Curlew could be seen around the shoreline from the Morar Estuary to Loch nan Ceall. On the 20th there were two Greenshank on the Morar Estuary, with at least three there on the 31st. On the 24th after some heavy rain, there were at least 36 Sanderling and 27 Dunlin on the shore by Traigh boatshed. There were six Sanderling at Camusdarroch beach the following day.
There were good sized flocks of Goldfinches and Linnets reported from around Traigh and Back of Keppoch. Reed Buntings were seen at Loch nan Eala, Camusdarroch and Rhubana. Great-spotted Woodpeckers with young were seen at garden feeders in Morar, Tougal and Arisaig.
Juvenile Willow Warblers were reported from Morar and Lochailort; Blackcaps were seen at Beasdale and Morar. Spotted Flycatchers were seen at Rhubana and also on an island on Loch Morar.
Tawny Owls were heard calling near Woodside, Morar and in Arisaig during the last week of the month.
Avian Flu, which has devastated many sea bird colonies on the East Coast, has now spread to some West Coast colonies, with reports of dead or dying birds being washed up on the shoreline or seen floating at sea. Several species seem to be affected, but Common Guillemots seem to be the most frequently encountered. Several reports of dead birds washed ashore locally with Fulmar, Puffin, Kittiwake and Gannet found along with the Guillemots.
Two of the Guillemots found were ringed on Canna. The first, found at Portnadoran on the 7th, was ringed as a chick on the 4th July 1999. The second, ringed as an adult on the 3rd July 2000, was found at the mouth of the Morar Estuary on the 31st. Many ringed Guillemots have been found on Rum and Skye; all so far have been from Canna. A Herring Gull, seen alive and well at West Bay, Mallaig on the 20th, was ringed as a chick on the Traigh islands on the 23rd June 2015.
WORLD WIDE WEST WORD
Lucy caught up with the news whilst waiting for a ballet pointe shoe fitting at Bloch's beautiful shop in London
Last month's West Word also went up Stac Pollaidh in Assynt with Liz and John McLean. Such a great view!
Watch this space for extracts from next month's issue!
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