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August 2020 Issue
Contents of the online version:
All photos are copyright either of the individual photographers or West Word.
SHOCKING DAMAGE WROUGHT ON LOCAL BEACHES
LOCAL TEAMS STEP UP TO TACKLE PROBLEMS
The scourge of uncontrolled camping on local beaches combined with illegal car and camper van parking has been rising steadily every year. Last season it was the worst it has ever been, but this year, we've reached a tipping point. Everyone is aware of the shanty town of tents on the Silver Sands of Morar and has had to witness the wholesale desecration of an internationally important habitat and a world class tourist hotspot.
Bins are overflowing, roads are blocked, tents are crammed in cheek by jowl on the beach, people are dumping rubbish in every nook and cranny, there are fire pits everywhere and worst of all - there is human excrement everywhere. Irresponsible campers are leaving behind whole campsites - tents, sleeping bags, rubbish. Some campervans are tipping out chemical toilets in burns, beaches and fields. On the first weekend after lockdown was relaxed, there were over 42 tents on the Silver Sands.
In response to increasing outrage, a team of volunteers, headed up by Anne Widdop (Arisaig), formed a group to pressurise local and national government. Working in conjunction with the Community Councils and the Road to the Isles Marketing group, they started planning a course of action. It quickly became clear that this was a national issue. The newly formed group decided to widen the campaign and bring together blighted communities across Scotland to speak with one voice. And so, STAG (Scottish Tourism Action Group) and the 'Stop Trashing Scotland' Facebook Groups were born.
Anne said 'People from as far and wide as Bettyhill, Inverness, Kinlockbervie, Caithness, Assynt, Orkney, Skye, Perth, Selkirk, Edinburgh - to name a few, and of course Arisaig, Mallaig and Morar - have all offered support. Everyone is 100% committed to finding solutions and fighting to ensure that rural communities are given the support they need. It feels like an old story - Highlanders being used and given nothing in return. We want to challenge the financial benefits that many people claim that Tourism brings to local economies'.
She went on to say 'The people trashing the beaches bring very little to the local economy and during a terrifying time, with a deadly disease close by, there is a strong possibility that the contamination of the local area will directly lead to Covid-19 breaking out locally. We are in the middle of the biggest health crisis in any of our lifetimes. Something needs to be done, and quickly'.
Dave Newnham, Chair of Morar Community Council, who along with colleagues from the neighbouring Community Councils and the Road to the Isles Marketing Group has been working tirelessly on the local problems, said 'On 14th July, Fergus Ewing (Scottish Government Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy and Tourism) hosted a conference call involving officials from the Scottish Government, senior managers and Councillors from Highland Council and the three community councils alongside the Road to the Isles Marketing Group. One idea explored was an overnight parking ban on the B8008.
'Following this Kate Forbes MSP also consulted with us (the CCs and RTIMG) about potential solutions. Everyone favoured an overnight parking ban, effective until the end of August, after which it could be evaluated.'
He continued 'The Scottish Government wrote to Highland Council asking that they make this happen. On Friday 17th July, we were told that there was no response from Highland Council, even though Police Scotland had committed additional resources to enforce the ban and Transport Scotland had implemented an overnight ban on the A830 to prevent people simply moving their cars off the old road onto the new road. The Scottish Government has no jurisdiction over 'B' roads, so when Highland Council refused to implement a ban, there was nothing further they could do other than to make their displeasure apparent'.
Since then Kate Forbes met with Community Councils at Morar beach to see the problems first-hand. In the latest move, Highland Council has asked the Scottish Government for additional resources to fund Wardens (something which has been fought for locally, for years) and to provide more infrastructure, e.g. Portaloos. The big issue with portaloos? They would potentially be making matters worse by encouraging more people to camp on the local beaches. The only visible step Highland Council has taken is to provide more bins. Both Anne and Dave feel that this just isn't good enough.
STAG are calling for action NOW to address issues related to Covid-19 and for a programme of work to address the systemic issues related to over-tourism. Anne said 'We need a properly funded National Tourism Infrastructure programme, backed up with enforcement to prevent damage and illegal camping and a programme of education. I remain optimistic that, with the right community support across Scotland, together, we can make this happen'.
If anyone wants to support the national campaign, please support @StopTrashingScotland on Facebook and you can volunteer to help by contacting Anne on firstname.lastname@example.org
LETTER FROM THE EDITOR
A good spell of weather, the kids have gone back to school, the Jacobite is chuffing by . . . it almost feels like a normal summer. But it's gutting to see the way the beaches are being abused right now - the photo on the front cover says it all (thank you to Nicky for sending it to me). To quote Barbara Ward, I wish these visitors knew "how to be good guests, how to walk lightly on the earth as its other creatures do" . . .
But the mess is surely caused by a minority of visitors; so welcome back to all our holidaymakers who respect, love and care for this area - It's a pleasure to have you here and I hope you have a good break in these bizarre times. I hope you'll enjoy your copy of West Word too - despite the lack of events in the current circumstances, there's still plenty to read about!
Thanks to Morag and Ewen for helping out once again with the printing - it's much appreciated!
The 9th August is a significant date in the history of Knoydart. It was on this day in 1853 that 330 people from the west coast of the land boarded the ship Sillery and headed for a new life in Canada.
They had been given notices of eviction the year before, and were offered passages originally to Australia but later the destination was changed to Canada.
However, eleven families, comprising almost 60 people, refused to leave their homes and the story of their eviction became notorious as part of the infamous 'Highland Clearances'.
An article in The Courier from 27th October 1853 details the desperate plight of those who remained:
'Some twenty families remained in their old homes. Sixteen of these families were evicted on the 22nd of August and the two following days - twelve houses were levelled to the ground - none of the paupers were permitted to give shelter to homeless people, not even to the women and children; and weekly since that date, acting on peremptory orders, the sub-manager and his men have gone the round of the desolated district and overturned the poor structures erected by the sufferers to shelter themselves from the storms of a premature winter … One family, consisting of seven members, were living at the side of a turf dyke, in a sort of dog hole which had been five times overturned by the officers of the estate'; and the correspondent comments, 'I cannot find that Mrs Macdonell has a legitimate excuse for the summary course she has adopted with her small tenantry. The lands from which they were ejected cannot be turned to better purposes than annexed to one or more of the adjacent sheep farms, at rents much smaller than might easily have been obtained from the crofters. Their holdings lay in the way of no projected improvements - the burden they occasioned to the poor's fund was of the very smallest amount - and their labours might easily have been made to benefit the estate in a score of ways. All that was wanted was something like energy and method in the management - energy and method in which the late Glengarry was very deficient, though he was rich in nobleness of nature and kindness of heart.'
Nowadays Knoydart is often touted as "wild land"; does this not thoughtlessly overlook those who were dispossessed in the process and whose labours are still clearly visible in the landscape?
ISLE OF MUCK
Hi de hi neighbours, cannot believe that a month has gone by already and what news is afoot? Well, we on Muck have opened parts of its doors to visitors using the self-catering accommodation and a few yachts have begun to moor both at Port and Gallanach, but good to meet (although at a distance through a mask) folk once more and hear about their experiences. Our new Teacher Emily Bee arrived to much excitement amongst the little people who turned out, banner in hand, to cheer her on to the Island, and the sun even made a brief appearance to say hi.
On 1st August we will say goodbye to our lockdown captives Anton and Maria who arrived on Muck the same time as Pam and I for eight weeks but were then forced to change plans due to Covid; Anton has written a few lines….
"When we arrived on Muck on the 4th March its safe to say we didn't expect to be here almost five months later. Remaining initially because of lockdown, but increasingly because of our affection for the Island, we feel extremely fortunate to have been able to spend so much time here. With roots in Patagonia, it has been wonderful to experience life at the opposite latitude. We have been made to feel incredibly welcome by everyone, not least this column's author, who has kept us alive with Pheasant pies and sausage rolls through the spring. If we did not have to go back to London to get married while the Registrar is open, we might well have ended up staying even longer. Thank you to the whole of Muck, and we look forward to being stranded here again in the future.
Anton and Maria"
Nice words Anton!
The lambs have been separated from mothers now and in ever stronger horizontal rain and wind poor Ruth and Dog looked like losing the will to live whilst trying to coax them onto the sands for a short cut across the bay.
Well that is it from Muck! Cheerio,
ISLE OF CANNA
Now that we are into Phase 3 of the Scottish Government Covid-19 route map, we took the decision as a community that we should expect to see visitors return to Canna. With the continuing restrictions on ferry travel, the difficulties still facing small tourist boat operators, and the prospect of large cruise ships now non-existent, we concluded that virtually all visitors would likely be arriving by private yacht - which has proved to be the case. As a small community previously operating in a 'bubble', we are are in many ways now having to be even more careful in going about our daily lives.
We still have very limited facilities to offer people - no café, no accommodation, two toilets, and a shop with much reduced stock - but we have clear guidelines in place which are also posted on our website, so that potential visitors may know in advance what to expect. Nearly everyone has been very good at observing our polite requests for social distancing measures, mask wearing and hand sanitizing. Understandably, early chance meetings mostly consisted of a cheery 'hello', followed by a slightly embarrassed smile and reluctance to engage in lengthy conversation ... things have since begun to relax a little.
Up to now we haven't been able to welcome visitors at all this year - effectively, in fact, since the start of the winter timetable in October 2019 if one takes into account the normal seasonality of island life, pre-pandemic. This has inevitably given rise to a certain amount of 'curtain twitching', as we become re-accustomed to the sight of different folk walking around the island. The presence of yachts in the harbour has provided some late income from the community moorings to boost the much-reduced annual income from these and the shop. Provided the situation continues to improve around the rest of the country, our local businesses have some confidence in opening up for the end of summer.
Café Canna hopes to operate a restricted opening from 7th August; Canna Campsite may be available around the end of August; Tighard B&B will look to provide some existing late season bookings (details will be found on each business website).
The Canna House Vegetable garden has been a huge success, with a pleasing variety of fresh produce available to the community, and a surplus of some things to offer for sale to yacht visitors.
Canna was the subject of a TV documentary this week. 'Eilean Chanaigh - Summer on Canna' aired on BBC Alba on 30 July. Produced by Pat Macleod and Scott Brown of Midas Media, an Aberdeen based film company, the programme was initially planned to be two separate films covering summer and winter seasons on the island, however Covid-19 and the travel ban meant that had to be re-assessed. With the addition of some last minute film footage from local 'cameramen', the producers have been able to put together an entertaining 60 minute programme. The film features elements of island life on Canna - the annual sheep shearing on the farm - and amusing scenes from the 2019 Small Isles Games. If you didn't catch it first time around, the programme is available to view on BBC i-player (BBC Alba) for 30 days (up to the end of August).
Criomagan (Crumbs) from Canna House
Things have been understandably quiet on island in recent months with no visitors but archivist Fiona has put the time to good use, writing several articles for the NTS website. Topics have included "Photo Forensics", "Women in the Photography Collections of Canna House", "Gullivers Travels, the Le Mans Connection" and the diary of Margaret Fay Shaw on her first voyage to Scotland in 1920. Margaret writes engagingly about her adventures and we can illustrate it with her photographs:
Saturday September 1920
Margaret's image of the TSS Columbia
"Set sail one o clock on TSS Columbia. Had a very queer feeling at first but it soon passed away. My roommate, Miss Agnes Niven, is a teacher, thoroughly Scotch. She is about 45 should think. We haven't had much to do except walk the deck and lounge on the steamer chairs. The weather is fine and the Atlantic like a mill pond. You would never know the boat moved except for an unappetizing little tremor.
Margaret and Miss Niven on deck
We had a beautiful night and watched the steerage dance Irish jigs with the stars for light. The man played "Beautiful Ohio" on his hurdy-gurdy. Made me feel might queer, but such is life!"
The music room on the Columbia
The complete diary article can be read on the NTS 'Stories' website www.nts.org.uk/stories
A frequent visitor to Canna House and Garden over the years has been Captain Kenneth Macdonald of the Loch Nevis. Kenny has been a great support to our community here on Canna and getting us on and off island in the most inclement of conditions! He has decided to retire and will be sadly missed, but we wish him well on all his adventures with his wife Brenda.
Cap'n Kenny and Brenda on Canna slip
He spent a recent Sunday stopover on Canna with his family, taking a last look around on his last trip on the Nevis. We hope he will be a frequent visitor to Canna now that he is able to spend more time exploring with his collies, MacAulay (!) and Mackenzie. We sent him off with a chocolate cake and gifts from the Community.
ISLE OF RUM
Another quiet month. Are we getting used to this new peace and quiet? Summer, without lots of visitors? I think we are. Not many midges either, which is a blessing. There is some stir craziness around with those who want to get back to work but the rest of us are either still at work or just enjoying the calm or both.
Lockdown is kind of over but not quite for the islands; understandably we are all cautious of keeping our fragile communities Covid free. Finding a path through the minefield of guidance towards opening up accommodation and other facilities is a slog, and then implementing it is even more time consuming with so few of us to get the work done.
Our builders are back to finish the new houses; we have struggled to accommodate them, again to meet Scottish Government guidance, and this means fewer builders on site and more time until the houses are finished. That said, we have to push on; IRCT have re-advertised the houses and the board are busy wading through applications from folk wanting to move to Rum hopefully to set up new businesses and boost the population and economy, not an easy job. We have managed well through lockdown, working with each other, the other Small Isles and CalMac to make sure we have been kept safe, well and kept the ferry providing a limited service that has worked for us all.
Moving on, when school starts again, Eve Morris moves on to Mallaig High to join Ashton, who will be in S2. Joss is still at Rum Primary and wee Dougal Boyd starts school - so still only two in the primary school for now; the kids have their fingers crossed that there will be more children among the people who move into the new houses, and I hope so too.
The über gardening from lockdown has shown the fruits of its toil with a lot of produce, we are awash with beans, peas and courgettes, spinach and more - worries of having to be self-sufficient in a covid ravaged world have gone so we are left with lots. To eat. Now. Still have a cupboard full of last year's chutney anyway.
Back at the start of March, IRCT employed a new Community Ranger who was unable to take up her position back then. Luckily she will be moving to Rum in September to start work preparing for next year. Another welcome addition to the community.
We are keeping the www.isleofrum.com website up to date for visitor information for when more accommodation and facilities will be opening up. We have made a post lockdown visitors charter, on the website, for those who do come, they can see what will be open and guidance on what to do.
ISLE OF EIGG
A quiet month on the island: the return of family and friends to the island has made a big difference; lovely to see Eilidh and Jamie's baby Leo, but with a self-imposed seven days quarantine for Eigg, life has not quite returned to normal. It's a bit strange to see the island so empty but in our new normal, social life now revolves round the shop on boat days, the beach and the new Cleadale street market where weather permitting, the pizza oven is fired and a taco stall is set up on Fridays for take-away or al fresco eating. Adding ice-cream to the stalls has allowed Wee Maggie to raise over £250 for the school funds - well done Maggie!
Work on the hub at the pier is resuming with visit of experts and key workers, and we are progressing with the proposed takeover and transformation of the old surgery into a two-bedroom house. The forestry shed is full of logs drying nicely for next winter's supply, and thousands of deciduous trees from the nursery have now been planted: a real success for the long term forestry plan.
Meanwhile, we are heading to a slow re-opening as school resumes next month and some of the self-catering businesses will be operational. There was a bit of a panic as three campers turned up one Friday when we all thought they would not be allowed on the ferry: they turned out to be Nicholas, our previous owner's son, who had walked all the way to Eigg from Edinburgh with two friends to raise funds for the Alzheimer Society and were getting a well-deserved rest in his sister's bothy at Grulin. Panic over.
As Tamsin and Stu have moved to the empty Glebe Barn hostel in anticipation of their house being completed within the next six months, we now have the pleasure of welcoming Babette and Andy as the newest Eigg Lochaber Housing tenants! Great to have two new islanders! Shuggie and Dean have retuned without any problems from their expedition to the Outer Isles to fetch Shuggie's new boat, and Felicia has had a great initial response to her fundraising to go and work for refugee charity FoodKIND in Greece this winter: she is setting off to walk the Cape Wrath trail in the middle of August. Paula, Eigg volunteer extraordinaire, will be accompanying her before leaving us to take up a post looking after big cats in Bolivia! Good luck to both of them, let's hope it won't rain too much!
Summer Wildlife on Eigg
Although Eigg has been quiet without our usual quantity of human visitors, we have had plenty of wildlife, which has been amazing to see. I have been lucky enough to carry on my seasonal post as wildlife ranger with Scottish Wildlife Trust this summer, doing wildlife surveys and mini-research projects.
The lovely settled weather we have been having recently, with flat calm seas, has offered us some brilliant sightings of marine wildlife - Basking Sharks and Minke Whales near the shore, Common Dolphins and Porpoises, and Grey Seals around Castle Island. Large rafts of Shearwaters are beginning to build up now, as they prepare to migrate on their long journey to South America. The warmer weather also brings more jellyfish, which isn't so good for those who like to swim in the sea! However, whilst out on his canoe, Owain managed to photograph underwater an unusual species we haven't seen before here - the Crystal Jellyfish. More commonly found on the west coast of America, it is quite rare in the UK and has a nasty sting - so watch out. It is completely transparent, though sometimes with visible white lines.
On land, the Hen Harriers and Eagles have successfully raised their young, the Eider Ducks in the bay are fully grown now, and the Swallows will soon be leaving us. Late summer is a good time to see butterflies, day flying moths and dragonflies. Moth trapping has been a highlight of the season here, and a few folk have got so interested in identifying them, we now even have a moth club! Wild flowers have put on a spectacular show for us since April, and there is now a lovely show of late summer scented flowers such as Meadowsweet, Valerian, Heather, Clovers, and many more.
Getting out for walks and enjoying nature on our doorstep is a great antidote to all the stress and uncertainty of recent times. Hopefully we will get another month of good weather to keep us going!
Scottish Wildlife Trust ranger, Isle of Eigg Photo: Minke Whale (Greg Carr)
Some of you may already know the small arts organisation Bothy Project. We are the custodians of three small bothies, one at Inshriach, Cairngorms National Park, Sweeney's Bothy on Eigg and Pig Rock Bothy, which was at the National Galleries of Scotland in Edinburgh. Each building was inspired by and designed for the landscape they sit within by architects and artists. Normally, for six months of each year we arrange week-long residencies for artists, writers, musicians and designers at Inshriach and Sweeney's. Since we started in 2011 more than 300 residences have taken place. Of course this year everything is off-kilter, but in the 'down-time' we've been developing plans for new types of residencies, and new ways for those who live in the vicinity of the bothies to get involved, as well as finding ways to share this even more widely. Very soon we hope to be able to let you know about activity this winter, and in 2021, which will directly involve you so please watch out for more information. In the meantime, thanks to West Word for this space in print to flag up future activity.
You can find information about Bothy Project at www.bothyproject.com, and on our social media channels. If you have specific questions or comments it'd be great to hear from you by email email@example.com
Programme Coordinator, Bothy Project
Canna Rangers - July update
July has flown by and we are enjoying the warmer weather that has arrived. Visitors are slowly returning to the island and hopefully they will catch a glimpse of the wildlife that is about at the moment. In the bay area we have juvenile Shelduck: five ducklings have managed to make it, along with juvenile Oystercatcher, Eider and Common Gull. The bay seems busier this season and so we wonder is it due to the reduced amount of disturbance with such a quiet season.
Our Puffins have done really well this year and are close to heading back out to the Atlantic Ocean for winter. Our highest Puffin count this summer was 484 individuals and that was only counting the ones we could see! Many more out in the water feeding or hiding in their burrows.
Down at the pier there have been lots of jellyfish including tiny baby ones. Mainly Moon and Blue species, but earlier in the year a fellow islander spotted a Comb jellyfish. Interesting to see them so close.
Earlier this year we reported the first Magpie spotted on the island, which then likely was the same one that hopped over to Rum and Eigg. However, Fiona at Tighard B&B has told us that she has a Magpie visiting her garden everyday now - is it the same one?
Sadly this will be our last column as we are moving on to pastures new. We are sad to be leaving the island and wish to thank everyone on Canna for making us feel so welcome, and to everyone in the surrounding islands and area; we are going to miss you all.
All the best,
Gillian and Mike
Mallaig Lifeboat Log
5th July 2020
Requested to launch at 08:35 by Stornoway Coastguard to investigate a 999 call from the Ardnish area. The Coastguard received two 999 calls but were unable to determine the nature of the call due to a poor mobile signal in the area. As the lifeboat crew prepared to cast off lines they were stood down. Local Coastguards had located the party of two on the foreshore on the Peninsula and although rather wet they were none the worse for their ordeal. Apparently they had become disoriented with their location and were unable to find their way back to the path. Lifeboat re-moored at 08:50 and ready for service.
20th July 2020
Launched by Stornoway Coastguard at 14:50 to investigate a Broadcast from a vessel that reported having engine trouble failure. Location of casualty was understood to be in the area of Loch Hourn. Whilst on passage to the area a local creel boat in the Loch reported that they could not see any vessel matching the description. Coastguard requested that the Lifeboat proceed South and investigate Loch Nan Uamh and Loch Ailort. After a thorough look about and contacting local vessel to ascertain if they heard the broadcast or seen any visiting vessels in the area, Coastguard requested that Lifeboat return to station at 16:20 hrs. Coastguard would continue with their own investigations. Lifeboat fuelled and ready for service at 17:15.
21st July 2020
Requested to Launch at 19:12 by Stornoway Coastguard to convey paramedics to Isle of Rum. Crew assembled to await Ambulance Service Paramedics dispatched from Fort William as local Ambulance was unavailable. Ambulance arrived at 19:45 to inform waiting crew and officials that tasking has been cancelled just as they approached the pontoon. An air ambulance helicopter was being dispatched to recover the patient to mainland. Lifeboat re-moored and made ready for service at 20:00.
Michael Ian Currie
Harbour News August 2020
It's hard to believe that it's August already! Things are starting to feel a bit more normal on the Harbour, and especially in the office. Audrey, Pimmy and I are all back to working normal hours in the office, and Grace is in every morning to cheer up our days with her singing as she cleans the building to keep us all safe!
The Marina re-opened in mid-July, with reduced capacity, and some changes to the shore facilities so that we are able to maintain physical distancing. We've had visiting yachts most nights since re-opening, although obviously it not as busy as we would normally like at this time of year. We've welcomed back Michael MacLellan to help Chris with the Marina, and Gena MacLean is in charge of the shore facilities for this season.
One of the yachts that we have welcomed in this month was the Good Dog, being sailed round the United Kingdom by Mark Ashley Miller, who is raising funds and awareness for the charity Seafarers UK by circumnavigating Great Britain meeting as many Harbour Masters as possible. We were the 81st Harbour, but only the 3rd of 2020 that Mark has visited, and he spent the morning on the Harbour, and was kindly given a tour of the MOWI salmon factory by Gillie. You can follow his story on Instagram @harbourmastersailingchallenge. Mark's original intention on leaving Mallaig was to sail round Skye to Portree, but we suggested he could meet another Harbour Master if he called in at Canna on the way!
Mark pictured with Donald and Pimmy
We have had North West Marine replacing all the pontoon chains, and Mallaig Marine replacing the yacht moorings for us, two jobs that we had hoped to have done at the start of the season, pre-lockdown! We are also expecting GSS to come week beginning 10th August to complete the works on the Loch Nevis berth and the Outer Harbour, which had to be paused for lockdown.
Mallaig Harbour Authority has now become accredited as a Living Wage Employer, which means that we pay all our employees at least the real Living Wage. In normal times, we would have had a staff photo with the plaque, but given that we can't stand next to one another, it's just me in the photo!
CalMac have been operating a limited service from 1st July, and from the 8th August aim to increase the frequency of sailings to Armadale from four to five, Monday to Saturday and from two to three on a Sunday. The Lochboisdale sailings are running six days a week - every day but Sunday, arriving at 11am and departing again at 12. The Small Isles sailings are also less frequent than the normal summer timetable would be, and not all of the islands are ready to welcome back visitors at the moment, so check before you plan your travel. Capacity is still reduced on all sailings, so booking is advised wherever possible, and CalMac have opened the bookings for all sailings up until 18th October.
Western Isles Cruises have also reinstated their full timetable from 3rd August, although with limited numbers to enable physical distancing, so again you are better to book ahead. There are also limited facilities open on Knoydart so if you are intending on going for a day trip the Knoydart Resilience Group are asking that you think carefully and plan ahead before doing so. Western Isles Cruises have also been running hour long wildlife cruises to coincide with the
I had a week off in July, which coincided with a visit to Mallaig by Kate Forbes MSP. In my absence, Charlie and Gavin took the opportunity to update Kate on the Harbour's Masterplan, the outcome of the STAG appraisal, and the next steps that we are hoping to take.
Mallaig and District Canoe Club
At last . . . something to report! The first post lockdown club paddle of 2020 went ahead at the weekend in near perfect conditions. A group of eight kayakers and canoeists set off from Bun an Loin bay on Loch Morar making for the head of the loch for an overnight camp and a walk up Glen Pean. It should be stated that as members of a canoe club affiliated to the Scottish Canoe Association we take our wild camping responsibilities very seriously. We reach our camp spots under our own steam and ensure that we dig latrines and proper fire pits and erase any sign of our presence before leaving. Would that this was so of all campers at our local beaches and beauty spots, some of whom wrongly assume that falling out of a car and pitching a tent is "wild" camping!
After passing the islands the group encountered an unexpected headwind for a few kilometres before Brinacory Island and a view of the old school house on the hill. Lunch was taken at a small stony beach just west of Swordland. After lunch the wind dropped and the paddlers made good time on the final eight kilometres to their camp spot at Oban Bothy on the south shore of the loch. Because of Coronavirus the bothy is locked and shuttered. After pitching tents the group set off up Glen Pean past a ruin and a lily pond (lochan an Oban Bhig) and on up through an impressive, deep boulder strewn valley on very wet paths. After reaching the high point and taking photographs down the other side the group returned to their tents to eat dinner enjoy the evening sunshine. But . . . you've probably guessed it - out came the inevitable clouds of midgies and scuppered their plans. So early to bed!
The next morning there was a welcome easterly breeze which not only kept the midge at bay, but would help blow the paddlers back down the south shore of the loch. After two stops for a bite to eat the group crossed to the islands and navigated some of the narrow channels that only canoes or kayaks can access and marvelled at the old Scots Pines hanging low over the loch and the silvery skeletal remains of those long dead.
A great trip for a very late start to the paddling season. Hopefully more to report in the next issue of West Word!
On and Off the Rails
Here's the 'Up to Date' news on ScotRail.
As I write this on Sunday 9th August it is blue sky as far as the eye can see and for a brief moment all is tranquil and it can bring a sigh of calm! Full ScotRail train services resumed on Monday 3rd August with four car sets during the middle of the day and two car sets early morning and late evening. But, like seeing ducks looking calm on top of the water you never quite know what an average work day for ScotRail staff can consist of - you just keep paddling underneath the water!
I can only imagine what tasks lie ahead for (hopefully) the next two months, and longer hopefully as more people choose to travel to, and in, Scotland for some space, good air, wonderful food, good accommodation - even maybe good weather. Of course all public transport users - whilst wearing mandatory face coverings and respectfully socially distancing on the trains - find travelling not quite as it was. This is not the on-board train staff's fault. They have an unenviable task ahead pleasing all travellers and then returning to their own homes and families.
Then, just as we were all getting used to a full train service again, at lunchtime on Tuesday 4th August, in horrific stormy weather, a landslide near Garelochhead closed the railway line between Garelochhead and Helensburgh Upper. Response teams were quickly on site and engineers worked tirelessly through raging floods to restore service at the end of Thursday 6th August. Replacement transport was, and will continue to be difficult during these pandemic times. I repeat again - for a good while yet - this will be the new normal.
ScotRail say, quite rightly, follow the guidelines and advice, listen to the tannoy announcements, find another way, or choose another way of travel. Ask yourself is your journey really necessary? Travel safely, with caution and outside peak hours if you can. There are no booked seat reservations on any service trains at the moment. If you see an empty seat on a train and find that you cannot travel or use it, remember social distancing requires it; it is mandatory as is the wearing of face coverings. It is not the on-board train staff's fault. Even at 1 m distancing, unless you are travelling with members of your own household you are required to sit apart. Think, plan ahead, think again if your journey is going to suit you. This is the new normal for now.
I have seen upwards of 24 people exit a train, and head off too closely to each other, joining queues at local shops for a bottle of water, or ice cream, after a six-hour journey from Glasgow - and quite rightly having to observe the one in, one out rule. Understandably they are a wee bit harassed. I hope they do not take out their angst on local shop staff. They only want to go home safely at the end of their shift, just as travellers do. This pandemic is with us for a long time yet. We all still have to learn how to handle it.
There can be many good reasons if your ScotRail service is a wee bit delayed, such as a large influx of unexpected travellers, all requesting to board at Rannoch or Corrour for example with all their equipment. It takes longer to accommodate them and understandably no one wants to be left behind at a remote location. The passengers would say "but this is the only way we can travel onwards". It is tricky. If travelling in these times be patient and kind to your local railway staff. They deserve respect for trying to please everyone, and I say a huge thank you to all of them, drivers and on train staff alike.
As I write the lunchtime train arrived into Mallaig with a one and a half hour delay, with good reason I am sure. As I say, in these new 'normal' times, it happens.
Seagull News - Month Four
Since May's West Word, as you know dear reader, I have reported the plight of the seagulls on and around Mallaig Island railway station platform! We have been treated to having to watch as 26 nests were built, each producing three eggs which are now hatched and fledged. But, they are going nowhere! Consequently we currently have 130 seagulls - give or take casualties as they fight for food, beaks locked, until demise!
No one has heard (or should I say acted) on my plea for help, as a volunteer Station Adopter at Mallaig - until now! I have not been alone in raising the problem. On-board train staff have reported it, visiting Station Adopters, West Coast Management, booking office staff with no comeback as to the excrement from these 130 gulls. Until now!
Well, dear reader, on Wednesday August 5th Network Rail sent three CPMS vans from Inverness, with as many staff as they could bring whilst socially distancing. They arrived in full protective gear, with pressure washers etc and proceeded to do the best they could in four hours. They tried, but I have to say that, five days on, the island platform, casks, and barrel train planters are caked again with detritus. Why do seagulls not live at sea?
I have planted with a sensory and flowering theme this year at the station using Lavender, Myrtle, Salvias, Sage, Lemon Balm, Rosemary and Thyme alongside the regular Hostas, Lupins and Snapdragons with a couple of Calendula. It would be a brave person who picked one to smell or even taste - please don't - I'm glad I kept the Apple Mint and Borage at home in reserve!
North Sea oil rigs have the same problem with seagulls. But one ex oil rig worker has claimed to eradicate the seagulls with a solar powered scarecrow - not like Worzel Gummidge: think of an oil rig worker in orange high viz uniform, that plays bird noises when sensors are triggered and lights up and the gulls scarper. He is called Archie and I want one! A year-long trial with Archie at a windfarm saw the pooping eradicated. Wonderful!!
Can you believe it - just as we get used to two trains a day, seven days a week, I believe that we are to lose the Saturday and Sunday afternoon train at the end of August. Please check the West Coast Railway's website for any changes on this. I have been very impressed with the tannoy announcements I hear being made by the guard/train manager to the guests on board morning and afternoon as the trains arrive and depart from Mallaig. They are easy to understand and I think in most cases followed to the letter. It has also been heartwarming to see how many children have complied comfortably with face coverings as well. Great to see families from Scotland travelling and more having short 'staycations' and choosing to enjoy being here rather than abroad. There is a lot of Scotland to discover, they are finding. Good for them.
On Monday 3rd August as I waited to wave in the afternoon Jacobite in a break from branch lopping in the garden, I heard a growling diesel coming in. Grabbing my camera I got the shot of the locomotive class 47407 resplendent in West Coast Railway's livery - and with the name plate of VE Day 75th Anniversary. One for the diary!
See you on the train eventually - but not yet.
Auntie Mary's Creepy Crawly Corner
Thank you Pete, for asking "Can Hoverflies sting us?"
No, hoverflies cannot sting us or anything else. There are about 250 species found in the British Isles. Many of the adults are coloured black and yellow resembling wasps or bees in what is called mimicry, an evolutionary adaptation to protect them from predators who assume the hoverflies have a sting because they look like a wasp or a bee.
Hoverflies are True Flies, belonging in the Order Diptera. They can be distinguished from wasps and bees (which are members of the Order Hymenoptera) by only having 2 flying wings (instead of 4), no narrow 'waist' between the thorax and abdomen, and not having a sting. Hoverflies' rear pair of wings have been modified into 'gyroscopes' which enable their incredibly accurate flight, such as hovering. Hoverfly larvae vary greatly in shape, connected with what they eat and where they grow up. Thanks to Kirsty for this brilliant photo of an adult hoverfly, resembling a wasp but with no waist between thorax and abdomen, and clearly with only one pair of flying wings.
Adults may be seen flying during April to November. Larvae of Syrphus species are avid predators of Aphids. The larvae of species, such as Milesia, live in rotting wood; other species feed on rotting material in leaf litter, compost heaps; some on fungi; and some on organic matter in stagnant water.
Volucella bombylans adults resemble bumble bees, enabling them to enter bee nests to lay their eggs; the larvae then feed on dead and dying bees and other debris. The Drone-fly (Eristalis tenax) adult mimics a honey bee in appearance; its larvae live in stagnant water and are easily identified by the long telescopic tail which acts like a snorkel to draw in air when it reaches the water surface. These larvae are called rat-tailed maggots - have you seen them?
Dr Mary Elliott
M. Chinery 1994 Collins Field Guide - Insects of Britain & Northern Europe. 3rd edition
M. Wright 1987 RD Britain's Wildlife, Plants and Flowers
AA 1973 Book of the British Countryside
BIRDWATCH June 2020 by Stephen MacDonald
A fairly typical June birdwise, with breeding in full swing, with many newly fledged youngsters reported from garden feeders. Plenty reports of juvenile Siskins, Redpolls, Goldfinches and Greenfinches early in the month. Also good numbers of young Great Tits and Blue Tits visiting feeders. By the month end large numbers of juvenile Chaffinches reported.
Juvenile Great-Spotted Woodpeckers were reported from several gardens in Morar and Arisaig.
Spotted Flycatchers, Goldcrests, Robins and Dunnocks with young were also reported from gardens during the month.
Many seabird chicks had hatched during the month. It was noted that in some low lying areas there were both large chicks present and nests still with eggs or very small chicks, which suggests that some birds may have re-laid after having their first clutches destroyed during the bad weather in late May. On some of the hill lochs, Red-throated Divers had chicks in town by the month-end.
An Osprey seen at Loch Eilt on the 26th was unexpected. Jays were seen at Morar Lodge on several occasions and on the 17th a single was seen near Drumindarroch, Arisaig.
Migrant wader sightings dried up, with just a few Dunlin and Ringed Plover seen at Traigh during the first week being the only reports.
On the 8th, 30 Canada Geese were seen on the sea between Muck and Eigg. On the 10th three Arctic Skuas were seen in the same area.
WORLD WIDE WEST WORD
Dennis Munro (Inverness) Joe MacLeod (Morar) Stephen Campbell (Fort William) Ally Forsyth (Inverness) and Scott Ross (Inverness) enjoying reading West Word on a work trip off Gibraltar.
Libby and Paddy Shaw took their copy when they went on a picnic to local beauty spot Avich Falls near Dalavich, Argyll.
Watch this space for extracts from next month's issue!
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