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

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August 2008 Issue

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Plaques commemorating an accident which happened to a horse 109 years ago have been erected at the Loch nan Uamh Viaduct and Glenfinnan Station. Around 1898/9, whilst 'Concrete Bob' McAlpine was constructing the West Highland Line and the viaducts which carry it, one of his horses tumbled down a viaduct pier, dragging its cart with it. Local legend always held that the accident happened at Glenfinnan, but in 1987 Professor Roland Paxton MBE, having defined only two piers as being large enough, ascertained by use of a fish-eye lens camera inserted through specially bored holes, that there was no evidence of a horse or cart.
Then Professor Paxton heard that local landowner Mr E.D. MacMillan remembered from local hearsay in his father's time that the accident had in fact occurred at the Loch nan Uamh Viaduct.
An inspection hole made in 1997 revealed the pier was full of rubble and the story may have ended there. But science moves on and in 2001 a joint state of the art scanning exercise was carried out, sponsored by Sir Robert McAlpine. Many hours work was involved., transmitting radio waves through walls up to 9 feet thick, and monitoring and interpreting the results. Incredibly, clearly seen was the remains of a horse, standing vertically against the east wall above the wreck of a cart. This would imply that the loaded cart fell into the cavity, dragging the horse with it. Thanks to the dedication and determination of Professor Paxton, the legend has proved true and the event marked in proper style.

photo photo

Sir William McAlpine unveils the plaque at Loch nan Uamh

Games morning started with a marquee disaster. The wind overnight picked up the pub's new marquee and deposited it not that gently on the genny shed. We all spent some time clearing it away then got on with the rest of the stuff to be done. After a slow start and the early rain, the Games seemed to go well with the usual array of old favourites and new tests for folk to pit themselves against. The ceilidh in the hall at night was great. The Bo Jingham Ceilidh Experience played out of their socks for one of the best dances in years. As dawn broke there seems to have been a mysterious incident involving flags and some flagpole dancing, the results of which had been rectified by mid-morning. The perpetrators are not being looked for.
The month previous to the games weekend seems to have passed in a whirl with much going on and many tourists. On the events front we've had comedian Bruce Fummery from Crieff who went down a storm and Nuala Kennedy at her sparkling best with her new band The Atlantic Quartet (which was actually a quintet). Of course there was the kids' film getting shot which was quite an intense process for those involved. All the shooting is finished now but the premiere date has not yet been set. Dave Bailey seems to have won the cucumber competition, donating the winning specimen to the tea room after having his picture taken. Sandy came back slightly depressed from the annual pilgrimage to the banger racing because his engine had fallen out. Lots of us were privileged to the see a display of dolphin acrobatics in the bay. More seriously one of the old hill ponies, Lavender, died this month, and will be much missed by the kids who had recently been going out riding on her.
The Ranger's have been active this month with two volunteer work parties up, one from the Friends of Knoydart group and one from the JMT. Between them and with lots of support from Doune they managed to clear up huge amounts of rubbish from the shoreline between Sandaig and Doune. The next issue is how to get it off the peninsula. Who is it that fills containers with burst oil and throws them into the sea? The spotting of a rare moth (a great brocade) got Jim's blood pressure up. And the standpipe down at the campsite was set up.
There's has been much mountain rescue activity over the month which eventually had a successful conclusion. And a good few of us were involved in excellent one and four day first aid courses. These were led by the British Association of Ski Patrollers.
Work has started on the positioning of the new transformer at the east end of the village, and it should be finished soon with John and Kevin over this week. The dam for the hydro has stayed topped up after the shenanigans of the other month but any suggestion of a long dry spell is not met with the same level of enthusiasm as you might meet where there is a mains connection. Sewage problems at the bunkhouse end of the bay, leading to the arrival of a tanker from Scottish Water, reaffirmed the need for the proposed redevelopment to go ahead. The Bunkhouse as is though is working away fine. The kind donation of carpet tiles to the hostel by John Ellis was much appreciated. On the Broadband front we seem to be in line for new provision from a company called Avanti. They are government supported to bring broadband to the outlying areas, hopefully they can learn from the previous schemes.
Well that's all for the moment, the remnants of last night's party are heading for a bit of Sunday sounds down at the pub and I might just join them, cheers

This is the month when I often report record visitor numbers on the island. However Muck is more than most destinations, very weather dependent and July's has been very mixed even if there has been an absence of heavy rain. Whale watching boats have disappeared despite the island being surrounded by basking sharks for weeks.
Sheerwater has been very variable but on the 24th July she was almost full on arrival. This was the day of our first island market that was a great success though Dave and Libby Barnden have been so successful exporting vegetables, they were struggling to fill the stall.
Muck lamb is now back from the slaughterhouse on Mull, and there are plenty of lamb burgers. Those wishing to order by phone - whole of half lambs are available butchers, vacuum packed and frozen. On the telecommunications front things are looking up. In a sudden and little publicised move BT engineers arrived to replace our exchange equipment.
A new company Avanti Communications, with a pocket full of Scottish Government money have taken over broadband. They are giving Gallanach its own satellite dish, which is great news as our repeater station rarely worked. Here I must declare an interest - I have just been given a computer for my birthday!
Lawrence MacEwen

The Canna tourist season is in full swing. The island's Route 66 is a busy highway as our fleet of quads and four wheel drives rush to meet every boat to collect the groaning chinking bags and rucksacks of visitors. The multi starred guest house high on the hill receives accolades from far and wide (Laura Ashley is a regular). The visitor books in the holiday cottages pile praise on islanders' hospitality, scones and tearoom. Another sign of the busy season is the 'Green' wine bottle section of the bottle bank being full to bursting. Very surprisingly, the clear section seems still to have room for a few empty whisky and gins.
The annual visit from the 'Ringers' (nothing to do with campanology) is always a noteworthy event. As with other areas of the country, the Ringers report worryingly low numbers in some of the seabird populations around the island. More cheerfully, next month will see a Ceilidh to celebrate the 40 years of seabird monitoring on Canna. Accommodation will be at a premium for this once in a lifetime event- 'T in the Park' eat your heart out.
Another annual event completed successfully has been the shearing. Everyone on the island is always impressed by the way that every sheep is sheared individually by the farm manager. Now that is what you call personal service, we hope the sheep appreciate it. The shearing was filmed by Welsh language TV, we are certain that Gerry will soon be a Young Farmers Club pin up the length and breadth of Wales
The exceptional dry spell of the spring and early summer is now a distant memory. We are now green and lush following the brown of early June. A new arrival at Canna house has been a rain gauge which is probably why it rained a fair bit in July. Another new delivery has been 10 hens, 5 for Sanday and the rest for Canna House. Could this be a source of inter island rivalry? A more likely source of rivalry amongst islanders could be the burst of gardening activity. Magda's garden has been revived following some TLC from volunteer Fiona. Tighard are filling fish boxes with soil, Wendy has a new greenhouse, Geoff has started cultivating his patch on Sanday and the Change House garden is always an island highlight. Could 2009 see a Canna garden show challenge cup? A more immediate issue for the gardener at Canna House is how to distribute his single row of fresh peas amongst the 24 islanders. A trick with loaves and fishes would seem to be the only precedent here. It is also not true the new security and monitoring system installed in Canna House has been redirected to give 24 hour security to the pea crop. The security remains firmly centred on valuables in the house, probably because the gardener is a better grower of veg than an IT or camera expert.
Neil Baker

What ever worry we had about our hydro scheme has certainly been dispelled by the recent downpours: plenty of water in there! Luckily the weather was kinder for our annual feis which saw a record attendance this year with 35 children, including two teenagers from Germany very keen to practise their chanter: apparently back home, they have to drive 70 km from their home town to get a chanter lesson! Congratulations all around to the feis team and to Grace Fergusson especially, our new Feis coordinator, for a great event!
Unfortunately, we did not get a chance to have a twirl with Martin Clunes at the Feis Eige ceilidh, since he had gone home after a few days of filming on Eigg for a new ITV series on islands. He struck a friendship with Scruff who chummed him to all the island beauty spots, and enjoyed so much the island social life that he promised to come back on holiday with his family. Gossip from the film team confirms that far from behaving badly, he is the least stuck-up of presenters!
The "Sorries" concert went down very well also: the islands kids loved their children's workshop! Meanwhile on the nature front, dragonfly enthusiasts converged on Eigg this month for Jonathan Willett's annual outing of the Dragonfly Society: islanders, volunteers and visitors enjoyed discovering these fascinating insects despite the wet weather which prevented a good show of insects on the wing. This was made up by the incredible variety of dragonfly and damselfly larvae in Loch an Fhiantaiche and Wes's pond. We are looking forward to seeing the guide to the Small Isles Dragonflies which Jonathan is hoping to produce for next year!
Other visitors were the SpeyGrian Network for their now annual outing at the glebe barn, with member Alastair Hamilton giving a well illustrated presentation on interpretation which has given us all food for thought. The Speygrian folks were privileged to take part in a ceremony that Sandra, Ben Cormack's Peruvian girlfriend, celebrated to honour Mother Earth, or Pacha Mama as she is called over there, as is done in Peru on August 1, when offerings of flowers are made to thank her for her bounty.
Birthdays galore on the island this month, from Erin who shared her beach birthday with pals Megan and Kitty, Saira who provided us all with a fabulous middle eastern spread at Laig, Sandra, Amy who celebrated hers on the beach in Iona with her brothers and cousins (the music was as fantastic as the views), David and George whose laser show provided a new dimension to Drum and Bass! T in the Park, eat your heart out
Camille Dressler.

The work on the site of the new houses is coming on apace, and you can see the shape of the scheme now and where the roads will go.
A busy week in Arisaig - the fourth 'Arisaig Week' - starting with a drama workshop which was part of the HC summer activity programme. I have no feedback on how that went although I know a reasonable number of children were booked for it and as it was led by Ilona Munroe, Eden Court's outreach worker, it would have been very good. That evening was a concert from Gregg Weiss, very poorly attended; well, it was a beautiful evening and I'm sure fold were having beach BBQs or sitting outside the pubs. The fourth Arisaig Craft Fair went extremely well and was very busy all day. It seems to be firmly on the craft fair map now so let's hope it goes from strength to strength.
The 72nd Arisaig Games and 4th Clanranald Gathering saw a little rain during the afternoon and numbers down a little on the day and at the evening dance but a good day was had by all.
The first regatta held by the Road to the Isles Sailing Association rounded off the week, and included races for all ages.
The Hall's fire alarm is playing up, with an afternoon call out of the Fire Brigade (just to play safe) and then a 5am alert to me as key holder - apologies to those who were disturbed by the noise but what worries me is the number of folk who can ignore the very loud alarm which might, after all, be telling of a real emergency. At least the lights have now been fixed.
The warning road signs are up either side of the Hall and Strath View, showing children and saying 'No Footway'. It doesn't seem to have affected speed though.
I've had one message in favour of Martin-Lamont, one that said Martin Lamont sounded well, and Roamer of Lochaber News fame sent me a one word email which said 'NOT'. Took me a few hours to work out to what he was referring! However, there are now those who think I am confused as to my name, which I can assure you is not the case. It just depends who I'm talking to or what I'm writing!
There's more news on the SOE plaque but no room in this issue. But meanwhile you can check out the new website at www.czechmemorial.org and look out for an article next month.
Ann Lamont

Clanranald follows the Lochaber Schools Pipe Band and leads the march through the village.
Photo courtesy of Chas MacDonald

photo photo

Lachie Robertson pipes the parade from the Mission to the pier. The helicopter lifting one of the Lifeboat crew during an exercise off the breakwater.
Mallaig Gala Day photos courtesy of Moe Matheson.


Dear Editor,
It was 'good news' to read Father Barrett's statement, in the recent West Word, that the proceeds from the sale of the Eigg Picture, The Lamentation of Christ, or the Anointing of the Crucified Christ, that once graced St Donnan's Chapel at Cleadale, will be used to restore in whole the Chapel if not the ruined presbytery beside it.
And it appears that the Diocese will now pay for the upgrade of the Chapel building which the Trust Estate owns, not the Diocese. Or at least pay the Eigg Trust building company to do so. And then, I presume, having invested a large amount of money in the projects will then lease it back, when the current lease expires in 2010.
Or if the lease is not renewed, according to the current conditions as I believe them to be, the building returns to the Trust, to do with as it wishes, and the Diocese should be recompensed for the cost of any recent reinstatement work carried out to the fabric of the building. But I take it a 'new arrangement', in favour of the island congregation, or perhaps a new independent St Donnan's Trust group, will arise, to ensure they do not finish up in 'legal or ecclesiastical limbo' between Trust and the Diocese.
Which leads me to ask Father Barrett why the Diocese made such a fuss about removing the painting in the first place, by locking it away from view in the 'nineteen fifties' until this recent sale. With a succession of Priests and Monsignors insisting that the Painting must be sold, at any cost, rather than given back to the congregation who claimed it. Especially if they are going to give the funds to the congregation in any case. Could it be, as has been suggested, that there are 'no wounds' on this unsigned Artist's painting of the Crucified Christ, contrary to the Roman Catholic practice of the 'saving wounds of the Cross' and for that matter the 'redeeming blood' of the Protestants. Amounting to a Christian Heresy and raising the question as to how it ever got into St Donnan's in the first place.
Which in these times, when Da Vinci Codes and Holy Grails are all the rage, could mean this picture was sold for a great deal less than its real worth in today's market. But it could be I have got this wrong, in which case I would be glad if Father Barret could answer my prayers and shed some light, or transparency, on these issues. And in the 'metaphorical sense' let's have no more 'crucified people' on Eigg.
Alexander Lawson, Glenrothes.

Dear Editor,
You included an article and photograph in your September 2006 issue about four generations of the Ross family who still continued to holiday in Arisaig after 48 years. The family had graced your shores like many others for years (now 50!) which held a very dear place in our hearts, not only because of the beauty of the surroundings but more importantly because of friendships formed and memories held.
It's with an overwhelming sadness that we announce the passing of Frank, our original pioneer, on 24th March this year after a short illness very bravely borne. He leaves his wife Ann, two daughters and eight grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
Arisaig will continue to hold a special place in our hearts as the family continue to visit your beautiful shores. However things will never feel quite the same without our pioneer.
Yours sincerely,
Daughters Carol-Ann (Preacher) and Pat (Coventry).

Dear West Word,
I am contacting you to see if you can help. I have a friend whose surname is McNeilage and he is doing research on his family tree. I remember staying in the Lochailort area in 1995 or 1996 and seeing an obituary for a local contractor who I think was called "Neil McNeilage". I wondered if any of your readers know anything about this.
Kenny Nelson

Dear Editor Can anyone help me?
John [ Borrodale ] Mac Donald came out from Moidart Scotland on the ship Nora in the year 1801. He had four sons Hugh, Donald, Alexander, Angus, I believe that John's wife was Catherine. Not sure where the sons were born. Angus was born in Canada in 1806.
John [Borrodale ] great,great,great grandfather,; Angus. great,great grandfather; John. great grandfather; Alexander--grand father; Angus - my father; Ron - me
Thanks for your help.
Angus Ronald Mac Donald, Antigonish, Nova Scotia.

Birdwatch by Stephen MacDonald
A typically quiet July on the bird scene with most reports being of sea-birds and of the first waders appearing on Autumn passage. The first migrant waders noted were 4 Dunlin, 3 Redshank and a single Sanderling together at Traigh on the 16th. Next was a Turnstone seen at Traigh on the 18th, with at least 7 at West Bay, Mallaig, on the 30th July.
Small numbers of Dunlin were at Traigh throughout the rest of the month, and on the 26th there were at least 20 Dunlin, 25 Golden Plover, 6 Redshank and 1 Sanderling there along with the local Ringed Plovers and Oystercatchers. On the 29th, a single Summer plumaged Knot was at Traigh and at least 13 Knot were seen on the rocks at West Bay on the evening of the 31st. A solitary Greenshank was on the Morar Estuary at Bourblach from the 27th.
The first Kittiwake chick hatched about the 8th on the Outer Breakwater, Mallaig, while at Traigh by the middle of the month some Arctic Tern chicks had already fledged. Young Common Tern seen around Mallaig Harbour about the same time may have fledged from a small colony which had nested on the other side of Loch Nevis on 'Green Island' just off Sandaig. Good numbers of Storm Petrels were seen in the Sound of Sleat, with 40-50 feeding off-shore from West Bay along with Manx Shearwaters, Kittiwakes and Terns, on the evening of the 17th.
Great and Arctic Skuas were also seen regularly throughout the month, many of the of the Arctic Skuas seen close inshore around Luinga Mhor and Loch nan Ceall, Arisaig.
On the 8th of the month, a pair of Buzzards successfully fledged a nest virtually in Mallaig. The nest had been built on a heather clad ledge on steep hillside, not in the more usual tree-site. How the nest never failed due to ground predators or disturbance is amazing, but the whole affair from nest building to fledgling had been carefully monitored by a local resident.

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