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August 2023 Issue
Contents of the online version:
All photos are copyright either of the individual photographers or West Word.
MACKINTOSH CENTRE TO CLOSE - TEMPORARILY
NHS Highland announced on 26th July that the Mackintosh Centre in Mallaig would be closing on a temporary basis, saying 'We are unable to safely staff the care home at this time due to recruitment and retention challenges we face across the sector in Highland'. They stated that 'The residents will temporarily move into the nearest available care homes and all permanent staff will be offered a temporary relocation to other NHS Highland care facilities in the area.'
There was widespread dismay in the local community at the news of the closure and the impact it would have on residents, their families, care staff and the wider community. Residents are frail and the destabilising impact of removal from their local area cannot be underestimated. With the next nearest care homes in Fort William and Fort Augustus, lengthy round trips for families to visit are inevitable - as they are for any local care staff who are assigned to other homes.
MSP Kate Forbes expressed her concerns and said, 'I will keep the local community informed as we work together to get the centre reopened as soon as possible.' Lib Dem Highland Councillor Angus MacDonald described the announcement as 'awful news' which demonstrated the current decline in essential rural services. Local Community Council members expressed their dismay that this news had come out of the blue without any prior attempt to enlist the support of the community in seeking a resolution to the problems that had led to it.
Local Community Councils, the Friends of the Mackintosh, and residents' family members met with NHS representatives on 11th August to discuss the situation. Attending from the NHS were Karen-Anne Wilson, District Manager of Lochaber region, Helen McLean, Manager of Invernevis House (and acting manager of the Mackintosh Centre), and Mhairi McKinnon, Integrated Team Manager.
Karen-Anne talked through the reasoning behind the temporary closure, the main points including the safety of residents caused primarily by staff shortages. She said that the problems had become so acute that there have been times when a decision to force an emergency closure of the centre has only been narrowly avoided. They had made every effort to fill gaps in rotas using regular staff, bank staff and agency, but the situation has become critical as more staff have left and the registered manager has gone on maternity leave.
In addition, the meeting was told that whilst the care provided to the residents is of a high standard, a recent inspection had identified problems with record keeping and compliance with mandatory training, and a temporary closure would also provide an opportunity to address these issues.
When asked about reopening, the NHS representatives assured the meeting that there were no plans to permanently close the Centre and that it would reopen immediately staff vacancies were filled and the training needs had been addressed. In fact, a formal plan to reopen the centre is being developed and once completed would be shared. Moreover, interviews have taken place to appoint a temporary manager to cover the maternity leave of the substantive post holder and someone has been offered the post.
NHS Highland's recruitment is centralised but ironically there are staff shortages in that department which introduce further delays into what is already quite a cumbersome process, and applications are made online which can be challenging for people who are not computer literate. It was acknowledged that finding the post you want to apply for online can be challenging in itself, before you even come to try and submit an application, and the delay between someone completing their application, being interviewed, processing references, undergoing induction training and actually starting work, is currently four months! The Centre employs 22 whole time equivalent staff but is currently carrying seven vacancies. Members of the local community offered help in recruiting and want to work closely with the NHS team, perhaps posting adverts on local social media sites and encouraging local people to apply for these very fulfilling jobs.
The reps said that the Centre will reopen once people are recruited to the posts but there is also an intention to recruit more bank staff to provide more cover for sickness and turnover of staff. All staff, whether bank or permanent, are trained to the same high standards and can therefore be transferred to a permanent carer role much quicker than starting a new recruit (within about one month).
The temporary closure is expected to be completed in the next two weeks. Six of the seven residents have been offered placements in other homes and staff are hoping to complete the assignment to new homes by the end of the month. It's important not to have just one or two residents left in the home during the closure process.
Some staff from the Mackintosh Centre will be assigned to other care homes where residents are being transferred, helping residents to settle in. Others will be redeployed to the Care At Home service and no staff will be made redundant. During the closure the Mack building will remain open and other staff will help with refurbishment and a deep clean. All staff, whether at the Mack or other care homes, will have the time to get up to date with professional training. After reopening, all residents needing standard residential care will have the choice to move back to the Mack. It is also hoped that day care will resume soon after reopening.
Locals in attendance at the meeting said that, 'At the end of the meeting it was stressed again that we, as Community Councils and Friends, would do all that we could to assist with recruitment and would work closely with the NHS to facilitate the reopening of the Mackintosh Centre as soon as possible.'
LETTER FROM THE EDITOR
Hope you enjoy this issue of West Word - the August one always seems to be pretty packed!
Great to see The Jacobite morning service running again. At the time of going to press, West Coast Railways are still saying that the afternoon service will restart on 17th August. They are also advertising for seasonal Stewards onboard the train - if you are interested, read more on their website https://westcoastrailways.co.uk/
The Games field at Glenfinnan is looking perfect for this weekend's Highland Gathering - fingers crossed the weather is good too.
Thanks as ever to Morag and Ewen for helping with the printing, to Jane and Anne for labelling subscription envelopes.
July has been a relatively dry month with some lovely days, but as usual the heatwaves seem to stop as soon as the kids broke up for the holidays. We did however have an almost midgie-free period at least for the first couple of weeks. It was a nice wee respite, where you could actually sit outside in the evening once again, but they've returned now. There was an abundance of blackcurrants, redcurrants and some lovely gooseberries in the community garden, with the branches of each bush positively dripping with fruit. Some of it was picked for personal consumption but lots also went towards this year's community blackcurrant wine. The parents did another couple of tea/coffee/cakes and hot food days in the hall, raising a really amazing amount of money to put into school funds. The turnout of visitors and locals alike was wonderful, as was the generosity. It was good for people to have somewhere to go on a weekend, just to mingle and have a blether over a cuppa when the rain was lashing down, particularly when everything else was shut. The lookout reopened on the 17th after a couple weeks' holiday and there was a couple of music events on at the hall. The first was the Beth Malcolm Duo, followed by the Lochaber Ceilidh trail youngsters a week later.
There's been a few things going on with the rangers, including a new fleet of bikes to be rented out (Trek Marlin 5's 2023 version for any biking buffs out there), a couple of school group visits as part of "Living project - inspiring young hearts and minds", a mushroom growing event where you could learn about growing your own edible fungi, and a newly established junior rangers club on Sunday afternoons. This has gone down a treat with both the kids and the parents haha.
Any finally, things are shifting within the Foundation as Craig Dunn, operations manager for the last five years, handed in his resignation. He felt it was time to take a step back, but he and his family will be sticking around still.
Beannachdan bho Gleann Fhionnain!
It has been noted that Glenfinnan can host a good shindig and again the villagers were not disappointed. The one-year celebration of the hut (on July 23rd) was a great day. There was music galore, food galore, craic galore and it was so lovely to see some old familiar faces, and a few new ones too!
As I write this, I feel like it is Groundhog Day. The pedestrian crossing seems to be more like the pedestrian standing still as we have not yet had the work completed. It is fun though to guess, daily, what part of the temporary traffic lights will be dangling down; tomorrow I shall punt for the wee green man. I do hope that by the end of August, we will have the fully operational system in place or at the very least we will all be hypnotised by the swinging apparatus into believing that the roads are in fact almost completely free of cars.
August has of course the biggest summer date for your diary as the Glenfinnan Games takes place on Saturday 19th August. Come and watch the heavies on the Field, the fabulous Highland Dancers, listen to pipes on the shore and grab some food and a cheeky dram from the beer tent and come to gather together. Glenfinnan is know for its launches. CD launches, book launches, boat launches but this year, local lass Fiona Robertson is launching her new and exciting business Glenfinnan Candles! The candles are luxury soy wax candles poured on the shores of Loch Shiel with scents inspired by the rugged and beautiful landscape which will transport you to the tranquility of Glenfinnan's atmospheric surroundings. If you can't make it along on the day check out GlenfinnanCandles on Facebook and Instagram and look out for a pop up shop near you. Tickets for the Games Dance featuring The Glenfinnan Ceilidh band and guests can be purchased by going online and visiting TicketTailor.
If you are in the peninsula and are looking for an alternative means of travel to the games why not hop on board the MV Sileas in Acharacle and enjoy a sail up to the head of the loch. For booking and times please call 07498 501566. PS they do take you back after!
Am fear a bhios gun each gun eathar, 's fheudar dha coiseachd
(He who has neither horse nor boat, must go on foot)
ISLE OF MUCK
Hello Muck Calling. . . I firstly want to touch on the absolute importance of the defibrillators on our Islands and their readiness for use: we had an incident involving one of our visitors which thanks to the speed of response and calm actions from the community had an extremely good outcome. Luckily the Air Ambulance had just finished on Skye so was on us within 10 minutes and a special shout out to Ruth, Colin and Stewart. . . CPR was literally life saving . . . patient is doing very well.
On anther positive we welcomed the Ceilidh Trail to Muck and the young musicians were fantastic with a varied and well planned repertoire, with singing and dancing enjoyed by community and holiday makers. We look forward to next year's timetable. Speaking of which, with the increasing tidal issues and the lottery of which Saturday boat(s) will turn up, things are very challenging and nerve wracking for our visitors, and spare a thought for those attempting to move lambs and sheep for the annual sales in Dingwall.
Well short and sweet I'm afraid but that's our wee corner of news.
ISLE OF CANNA
After the glorious weather of June, July proved to be a bit of a wet blanket. We were thankful that the water supply returned to normal levels but there was a sense of everyone walking about with knitted faces. There was a slight lull in visitors too which made the island seem much quieter than normal for this time of year.
The farm has had two late, surprise additions to the cow herd. They thought one cow was just a bit fat but a couple of days later, a new Beltie calf appeared and when a visiting photographer went to capture the new arrival, the proud father made his distaste abundantly clear. Note: No photographers were harmed in the taking of this photo. The second surprise arrived last week without prior weight issue suspicions.
We got together for a beach bonfire during one sunny weekend, enjoying good company and toasted marshmallows. There was great debate about the best method for toasting marshmallows. With the fire embers being so hot, it was difficult to get close enough so Aileen fashioned a shield out of a cardboard box which made her look like a Viking preparing for battle; if she had shouted "Shield. Wall" the transformation would have been complete!
Jane continues on her mission to paint the entire island and last week, with help from a couple of others, she painted the rail and picnic table outside the shop. It is now a gorgeous, deep blue colour and has smartened the whole area up. Canna was visited by the Ceilidh Trail musicians who set up busking outside the Cafe and played for residents and visitors. They played a variety of tunes and sang and got everyone up dancing to do a Dashing White Sergeant along the road. Thank you for coming to visit and play for us!
Congratulations to Craig and Caroline for their first wedding anniversary this month. Here they are pictured below celebrating the day by fixing the internet. Heroes.
The IoCCDT are pleased to announce that we have appointed WT Architects to take forward our project development of Coroghan Barn.
WTA will make an initial visit to Canna and will be running a Community Workshop on Thursday 10th August 5pm - 7pm to meet the architects, learn about the design process ahead and help further shape the detailed brief for the project. The workshop will facilitate the community's thoughts on the spaces the buildings should include, what they might be like and what they can deliver for Canna and its people.
We are very excited at reaching this milestone in the development of Coroghan Barn and look forward to working with WTA in bringing this much loved building into the 21st Century.
Here on Canna we are taking part in the Highland Climate Festival which runs across the region from 1st to 30th September 2023. The theme for this year's festival is "Think Local, Be Local". Celebrating local means celebrating sustainability, low carbon choices and the very fabric of our vibrant local communities who are carrying out community led climate action. Organiser Vicki has planned a "Big Local Picnic - with a twist!" on Saturday 30th September. There will be a beach clean around the bay area followed by a BBQ, using local ingredients as far as possible, at the Shearing Shed. Vicki said "This is a good opportunity to set the intentions for Canna Tourism in terms of being eco-friendly and sustainable!" All are welcome to come along so if you are planning to come to Canna for the day or are already here visiting come and join the community for this great event!
We love Canna but don't just take our word for it - one young visitor, Mary, made use of our Bio Security packs and wrote a short story about Canna while she was here. Mary's use of descriptive language is excellent and it is encouraging to see how inspirational Canna is for young, creative minds. (See below)
The Isle of Canna
When the sun flows down and the moon floats up, the day is finished and the night is up. The starry night is here at last. I see the waves rippling down with boats on the shore swishing in the wind like a feather on a bird. Then the Isle of Canna stands proud on the windy night. Hills from near and far seem to be standing still but if you look closer they are singing a merry tune. The sheep graze far and wide sleeping like they're under a magical curse. The starry night is like a blanket made of stars over my body and the sea is like a pillow made of icy velvet. I stand to hear the wind sing a sweet song then I fall down, down, down and down til I wake up and I feel like it never happened and it was just a dream, but really it is much more.
Mary Smith, aged 8
ISLE OF RUM
Hello, sorry for missing last month, we are just a bit busy, seems to be a full on season for overnight visitors and yachts though not so many day trippers which is a shame as it impacts on our shop and craft enterprises.
We are hosting the Small Isles Games this year, to be held on the 12th August with all the usual silly events, jumping in bulk bags, throwing wellies, running around with tatties and spoons as well as the serious business of the hill race and tug of war. We're rounding this off with food in the hall and a very welcome ceilidh with the fabulously named 'Damien Helliwell and the Well Flung Wellies' . Looking forward to some amazing tunes and the usual quality banter from Ross Martin who doubles his guitar playing with being compere for the evening.
We're expecting a good squad from the other islands and welcome the inter island rivalry and usual insult throwing. CalMac have amended the timetable for the day to make sure everyone can get here and the Sheerwater is also coming out, so we're expecting a crowd.
As you may have seen, Jinty sold the shop to the community and we have been running it for five months with a small crew of dedicated staff; its been fun but also quite a drain on our time, so after advertising for a new owner, we have got one, or two actually! Welcome to Stuart and Jennifer, our newest residents and shop keepers. (Pictured below.) They have hit the ground running with boundless enthusiasm and long hours at the shop: if you're up early, that's the place for fresh coffee and a croissant!!
Alex got the Dark Sky Island application finalised and submitted, so now we just wait to find out the outcome; fingers crossed please everyone.
In wildlife (ish) news, Ross's ducks had ducklings, which was very exciting, the stags are still bathing in the sea every evening and the occasional seal pops up. Can't remember if I mentioned there was a Basking Shark in the bay in May but that was pretty cool to see. When the games aren't in the field, two of the Rum ponies are there and there's another in foal so watch this space for tiny pony pictures soon.
We are saying goodbye to our school teacher Liz who is moving on, and welcome a new one for this term. In other school news Andrew is starting high school, joining the other four teenagers from Rum at Mallaig High and there's a new school boat for the bolstered numbers from the Small Isles.
Oh yes, nearly forgot, we had a monumental power outage in June, which lasted for six days and caused lots of damage: some houses had no hot water due to boiler damage for six weeks. The cause is unknown but possibly a lightning strike. It was an interesting six days where we all banded together to keep freezers cold and internet on. All the antique generators came out of the shed and petrol became more valuable than gold, given that there is nowhere to get any from at the moment . . . didn't stop the visitors coming either; they embraced cold showers and no lighting with a fighting spirit.
See you all at the Games, where we expect to win unless we are outnumbered by Eigg!
ISLE OF EIGG
A busy month this July which started with Feis Eige in the first week - a great success with our fantastic tutors and enthusiastic participants. It ended with the first Eigg wellness week which brought massage and sound therapy to the island, chair yoga and silk-reeling qigong, as well as a dazzling array of healthy dishes and a great night of dancing combining the young and talented 2023 Lochaber Ceilidh Trail musicians with funky DJ duo Rachael and Nikki. In between, there has been quite a lot of sitting on Eigg's Carr's Corner for a cool beer or an ice cream on the many sunny afternoons that we have been lucky to enjoy. Sheltered on both sides, this is the perfect spot for congregating! Work on the last phase of the Pier re-development is resuming for its final phase; visitors have really commented on how nice the whole place looks! Meanwhile, the Eigg Tree Nursery was also very busy hosting guided tours, including a knowledge exchange on 17 July with woodland and forestry groups from Skye, Arkaig, and Knoydart. The exchange concluded with an interesting discussion featuring the Scottish naturalist Alan Watson Featherstone from the film "The Bough Breaks", which was shown first.
Solas Eige SCIO had its first AGM and it was encouraging to hear from Eigg's newest charitable body that work on the feasibility study for a community use of St Columba Church on Eigg is progressing nicely. Meanwhile, the Trust has successfully recruited two new staff members.
A busy month indeed, and by the time this issue of West Word is published, this year's Howlin' Fling will have been on, so expect more to follow next month . . .
But the big news this month is that we have a new islander: baby Edith Merrick who arrived on 8th July to proud parents Anna and Martin. Congratulations to them both! So here are Eigg's oldest and youngest residents pictured together: Edith with Peggy Kirk.
West Word AGM - Tuesday 8th August 2023
We had a good attendance, with committee members Jacqueline McDonell, Andrew Fleming (Treasurer), Camille Dressler (via Zoom from Eigg), with Ewen and Morag MacDonald, Kathy Bradshaw and Kenny MacPherson, and of course Editor Kirsty Bloom and me. Apologies were given from Claire Wortley who was away.
We are delighted to welcome Kathy and Simon Bradshaw onto our committee. They have had a home in Morar for many years and are moving up permanently next month. They have a multitude of excellent and useful skills between them, and we look forward to their input. Simon was unable to attend so we have yet to meet him.
Kenny is a well kent face as a Mallaig man and his articles in West Word in recent months have been extremely well received - even increasing our subscriptions a little! He has offered to assist West Word in any way he can and we are sure he will be a very useful addition to the team.
Once again, we discussed putting West Word out as digital copies for purchase but can't find a way that doesn't incur significant costs. If anyone has any ideas...
The phone book - I reported this is still ongoing but proving so difficult, and I think the main reason is that so many people no longer have landlines. Rather than delete them from the book, we will make it an Address and Phone book.
My thanks to the committee, to Ewen and Morag without whom the printing process would be much prolonged, and to Kirsty who is doing a sterling job as Editor.
The Old Forge in Knoydart has reopened its doors after an extensive six-month refurbishment!
The pub was bought under community ownership in March 2022 by The Old Forge Community Benefit Society. The refurb has been on the cards since the beginning, with the group raising over £1 million to purchase and then upgrade the building.
Over the last six months, a core team of four local residents including joiners Davie Newton and Mark Harris have led the refurb, supported by around 20 local and external tradespeople and labourers at different stages throughout the project. The original part of the building, built in the late 1700's, was stripped back to four walls and the public bar area redesigned to create more space for customers, and a bigger bar. Parts of the original stone walls were rebuilt and are now a feature in the design, giving a small nod to the building's history.
Photos by Mark Harris
Knoydart Forest Trust timber also features throughout, including on the new bar top which showcases the names of hundreds of crowdfunders who supported the group's fundraising efforts.
The majority of the extension at the rear of the building was demolished and rebuilt, and now houses upgraded washroom facilities, kitchen, cellar and store rooms.
Steph Harris, Business Development Manager at the pub, says on the importance of the refurb: "It was imperative for us to return the pub to being a welcoming and comfortable space for locals and visitors to enjoy. The redesigned layout is subtle but will improve operations massively, and also allow us more flexibility to provide services the community want and need. The addition of a new 'wee bar' which will open later in the year will provide a cosier space in the winter months when it's quiet; we could offer it for function hire, or community groups could use it for events."
It was down to the wire whether the team would be able to get everything ready to open in time and despite short notice, on Friday 4th August an eager crowd of thirsty customers gathered outside in the sunshine and the door reopened to cheers and a wee tune on the pipes.
The refurbishment has also allowed for expansion of services, which will include reintroducing restaurant service later this month. Local seafood and venison features throughout the new menu, along with a great selection of hearty pub-grub dishes, so there's something for everyone.
The Old Forge is open daily from midday, and the team are looking forward to welcoming in the locals again from Knoydart, Mallaig and the surrounding area.
MALLAIG FUEL STATION WORKS
Update from Johnston Bros: Mallaig fuel station may, regrettably, remain out of service until late 2023
We fully appreciate the inconvenience that the temporary closure of Mallaig fuel station is causing to those of you who rely on it, and we are sorry for this. In addition, we appreciate the impact on visitors to the local area. Regrettably, temporary closure has been necessary to enable essential works to be carried out in order for the fuel station to remain safe and compliant.
We are also mindful that to date, we have not provided a progress update to the local community regarding the closure. We have been investigating what is required to bring the fuel station back to being fully operational and the likely timetable for this so that we could provide substance to our communication.
Due to the hazardous nature of the liquids handled at the fuel station, all equipment must adhere to strict health and safety and environmental regulations. This is a responsibility we take extremely seriously. Following recent testing of the fuelling equipment, we identified the need to replace fuel tanks and pipelines, resulting in the compulsory suspension of fuel provision until the essential works have been carried out.
We are currently engaged with specialist contractors for the manufacture and installation of replacement tanks and pipelines. Unfortunately, we have been advised that the works are unlikely to be completed until late 2023. This is due to the time it takes to manufacture the specialist tanks required.
We appreciate this timeline is longer than any of us had expected. Please be assured that we are working to return the fuel station to full operation as promptly as possible so it can continue to serve the local community in Mallaig. However, I hope you appreciate that we must follow due process to ensure the safety of the community and the local environment is maintained.
Given the length of the timetable that has been advised to us, we have also explored options for a temporary fuel provision whilst works are ongoing. We have, however, been advised that any viable temporary measures will take a similar length of time. Therefore, we believe it best to proceed directly with a permanent solution, which will minimise disruption to the local community.
We will continue to keep you informed of our progress.
Denholm Fishselling Limited
9th August 2023
Arisaig Americana Music Festival 2023
It was another weekend of glorious sunny weather and fantastic music when Arisaig village came alive with the 4th Arisaig Americana Music Festival back in June!
In a change of format, we hosted two live shows at the Astley Hall on Friday and Saturday nights with a fantastic line-up that showcased diverse styles in the Americana genre featuring The Horsenecks, Dean Owens and The Sinners, Kirsten Adamson, Rain of Animals, Claire Coupland and Good Guy Hank. Sue and Ishani from 'The Rye Sisters' provided the popular singing workshop whilst USA duo Gabrielle and Barry aka 'The Horsenecks' tutored a fiddle and guitar workshop. The finely honed skills of makers Mike Vanden, Dave Sutherland and Neil Parkin were on show with their hand crafted instruments and festival visitors made sure the weekend was filled with lively jam sessions across Arisaig, with the 'legendary' station session a train-themed highlight!
Grateful thanks go to the following who help make the festival happen through funding support, sponsorship, raffle donations and space provision: The Gower Trust, Arisaig Marina, Cue The Mustard, West Highland Hotel, Sound Bites Café, Resipole Studios, Catholic Rough Bounds, MJ Vanden Guitars, Caerini Violins, Bobcat Banjos, Mallaig Bakehouse and Crannog, Ardshealach Smokehouse, Chris Pritchard, MacDonald Orr Design, Arisaig Hotel, The Land Sea and Islands Centre, Astley Hall, The Old Library, West Highland Tea Company, Grey Dog Rum, Scotrail and Westie CRP. Plus a special thanks goes to our amazing local volunteers: Pauline, Chris, Kieran, Jess, Susie and Liah.
Next year we mark our 5th festival and it feels like this 'wee' festival is growing in stature and becoming a fixture . . . Plans are already underway, so be sure to put Friday 31st May to Sunday 2nd June 2024 in your diaries folks! Mairi, Zoe, Mungo and Aly
A Write Highland Hoolie: Mallaig Book Festival
Friday 10th to Sunday 12th November 2023
We're delighted to announce the winner of this year's Deirdre Roberts Poetry Competition!
It's . . . drum roll please! . . . Charlie Gracie!
Charlie is a poet and author living in the Trossachs. Our judge Hugh McMillan selected his entry 'The Big Store' and says: 'Wonderful piece. Taking the immediate and obvious and recorded and transposing it, walking with it through the poet's eyes. A glimpse of the human supposedly in the background of an old film but urgently part of our experience. Great vision. Great references.'
Charlie is coming to the Hoolie and will be presented with his prize by Hugh on Saturday 11th November at 1.15pm. The award is an engraved quaich, £250 in cash, £250 Highland Bookshop book tokens and a bottle of whisky.
Charlie says he is delighted to have won and is looking forward to what he describes as a 'great programme.' Hugh also chose two Highly Commended poems - both authors will receive a £50 Highland Bookshop book token. They are Stephen Watt's 'Agnes Sampson' and David Bleiman's '15 February 2003'.
We will soon be posting videos on our Facebook page of the three poets reading their entries, and they will be printed in West Word at a later date.
Tickets are selling well so don't forget to go to www.a-write-highland-hoolie.com to buy yours. You can see the full programme and details about all our authors there too.
Mallaig Lifeboat Log
6th July 2023
Launched at 18:25 at the request of Stornoway Coastguard to the entrance of Loch Ailort. A treble 9 call had been received from a member of the public reporting a kayak or a paddle board drifting offshore from the Roshven area with possibly someone in the water close by. Whilst on passage to the location the Coastguard informed the Lifeboat that the kayak had been recovered by a RIB. However the Coastguard requested the Lifeboat continue to the area and ascertain who had recovered the craft and if persons were be missing. The Lifeboat entered the bay 19:05 and commenced a search of the area. Three RIBs were located in the bay below Roshven House. Two crew proceeded ashore in the Y-boat and spoke to the residents who reported that none of the RIBS had moved during the day. The Coastguard received a further call from another party ashore, who after seeing the Lifeboat in the Bay surmised that possibly it was looking for their craft which had drifted off the beach. They had used their own RIB to recover the kayak and confirmed that nobody was missing. With the situation resolved the Lifeboat was requested to return to base at 19:50. Lifeboat alongside at Mallaig at 20:40.
7th July 2023 - two callouts
Launched by Stornoway Coastguard at 12:05 to the assistance of a canoe being blown offshore with two persons onboard at the entrance to Lochailort. The first informant reported that the canoe had been blown onto Eilean nan Gobhar and that both occupants were safely ashore. In response to the Pan Pan call, staff from a nearby fish farm were now on-scene and recovering the father and son along with their Canadian-style open canoe. The Lifeboat proceeded to rendezvous with the fish farmers to check if the casualties were in need of any medical assistance. Both were none the worse for their experience and were happy to return to the fish farm base onboard the Polar boat. Lifeboat departed the scene at 13:05 and returned to Mallaig. Fuelled and ready for service at 14:00.
Launched by Stornoway Coastguard at 18:55 to the assistance of a person stranded on a tidal reef in Glenuig Bay. The casualty was paddling out to his yacht when the tender began to deflate. Unable to control the tender, the offshore wind carried him onto a reef in the Bay. Drawing attention to himself by waving to others ashore he was soon noticed by the management of the local hotel, who raised the alarm. As the Lifeboat approached the bay the Coastguard informed the crew that the casualty was now safely ashore. Someone had swum out to the casualty from the shore and using the semi deflated dinghy as a float the pair had swum back to shore. Local Coastguards dealt with the casualty thus releasing the Lifeboat to return to base. Departed scene at 19:45 and alongside at Mallaig at 20:30.
8th July 2023
During the Mallaig Marina Day the Lifeboat was open to the public. At 14:20 the attendant at the Marina requested the Lifeboat's assistance in freeing a yacht entangled in a local ferry's mooring in the harbour. The yacht, whilst departing from the Marina, inadvertently motored between the riser and the pick up buoy. The pick up was either fouled on the keel or the prop and the crew could not free themselves. Once the Lifeboat secured the yacht along side it was just a matter of bringing the yacht back towards the riser and securing to it. Once this was achieved the Lifeboat crew were able to grapple the slack pickup to the surface. After a few unsuccessful attempts to clear the rope it was decided best option was to cut it and take the yacht back alongside at the Marina. Yacht and its occupants safely alongside at 15:00. Lifeboat ready for service at 15:05.
20th July 2023
Launched by Stornoway Coastguard at 17:35 to assist in the recovery of an injured female from the shoreline beneath the Elgol - Camusunary (Isle of Skye) coastal path. The casualty had fallen down the steep bank onto rocks on the foreshore sustaining severe injuries. Rescue 948, two Coastguard teams from Skye, SAS helicopters and local paramedics were also in attendance. Owing to the casualty's remote location the best course for extraction was by sea and then transfer to Elgol jetty. On-Scene at 17:35, the Lifeboat deployed the Y-Boat with two crew members to the shore. First out was the helicopter winch man who had been treating the casualty on-scene and had packaged the casualty for extraction. The second run saw the casualty boarded into the Y-Boat along with a Paramedic and taken out to the Lifeboat. Carefully the casualty was taken onboard via the A-frame and placed on the aft deck where she could be monitored for the short passage to Elgol jetty. The other attendees made their way back via the coastal path. Once the Lifeboat berthed at the jetty the casualty was handed over into the care of the trauma Doctor and Ambulance crew. The Ambulance was set up as a trauma centre to stabilize the casualty before transfer to Hospital. Once stabilized the casualty was taken to Broadford Hospital and then transferred to the SAS helicopter for the flight to Glasgow's QE2 University Hospital in Glasgow. Lifeboat released at 19:35 and proceeded back to base, berthing at 20:00.
30th July 2023
Launched by Stornoway Coastguard at 17:05 to investigate a PLB (Personal Locator Beacon) activation in the Glenuig area. The PLB was linked to an instructor that was taking a group Coasteering in the area of Glenuig. Local Coastguards were also mobilised.
30 minutes into the passage the Coastguard notified that the PLB call was accidental and that all was well with the party. Lifeboat stood down at 17:35 and returned to base, berthing at 18:00.
31st July 2023
Launched by Stornoway Coastguard at 10:20 to recover a male stranded on the coastline of Loch Nevis. A treble 9 call was received from a male on the shoreline of Loch Nevis, east of Mallaig Mor, who was unable to retrace his way back to the main road. The male was recovered by the Lifeboat's Y-Boat and brought back to the Lifeboat. Although wet and miserable after spending the night on the beach he was not the worst for his ordeal. After a check up by the local Ambulance crew he was found not to be in need of any medical interventions. As he was not from the area he was invited to the Lifeboat station for a hot shower and a warm drink. Lifeboat ready for service at 11:15.
1st August 2023
Requested by Stornoway Coastguard at 21:24 to convey Paramedics to small cruise vessel in Inverie. Three persons had sustained injuries from a fall onboard the vessel. On-scene at 21:55 the Paramedics boarded the vessel to treat the injured. After assessment two casualties were to be transferred back to Mallaig. Once prepped the casualties were able to walk assisted to the Lifeboat. Lifeboat departed Inverie at 23:00 and berthed at Mallaig at 23:30. Again the casualties were able to make their way from the Lifeboat to the Ambulance assisted by medics and crew. The casualties were taken to Belford Hospital, Fort William for further treatment.
2nd August 2023
At the request of Police Scotland through Stornoway Coastguard the Lifeboat launched at 16:40 to the Isle of Rum. The Police were attending to a person causing a public nuisance on the Island. Alongside at 17:20 the two Police officers proceeded to a local bunkhouse where the individual was staying. Police escorted the individual back to the Lifeboat at 18:00. Lifeboat departed for Mallaig berthing at 18:45 and made ready for service.
6th August 2023
Launched at 04:15 in response to a Mayday call received by Stornoway Coastguard. A male onboard a Catamaran sailing off the NE of Rum had taken unwell. It was thought that he had suffered a stroke. Rescue 948 was also tasked from its base in Stornoway. On-scene at 04:50 in flat calm seas the Lifeboat was able to moor alongside the Catamaran. Two crew members boarded the vessel to assess the casualty. He was found to be responsive and able to answer questions although his right side showed definite sign of weakness akin to having a stroke. The Helicopter requested that the casualty be transferred to Rum as Rescue 948 would have difficulty maintaining a hover in the benign weather conditions. With the assistance of the Lifeboat crew the casualty was able to shuffle from one craft to the other and into the Lifeboat's wheelhouse. The lifeboat proceeded the short distance to the slipway at Rum whilst Rescue 948 landed at the grounds in front of Kinloch Castle. The Medics from the Helicopter proceeded to the slipway by foot and boarded the Lifeboat to carry out their assessments of the gentleman. In the meantime the Lifeboat crew set about finding transport to take the casualty to the landing site. After a couple of calls the number of a local fish farm site employee was acquired and who graciously arrived at the slipway with a 4x4 truck.
Once the medics had carried out their preliminary assessment the casualty was again able, with assistance, to shuffle along the deck and onto the slipway to the 4x4. Once the handover was completed the casualty was taken to Rescue 948 and once onboard was transferred to Raigmore hospital in Inverness.
Lifeboat departed Rum at 05:55 and was fuelled and ready for service at 07:15.
News from Mallaig Harbour
Thankfully the weather did hold for the Marina Fun Day, even although the Bucking Bronco unfortunately cancelled on the morning of the event because the forecast wasn't looking good. Feedback was that the day was enjoyed by everyone who attended, and I have to say a special thanks to Pimmy and Audrey who as usual were behind the scenes making sure everything went smoothly. Thanks are also due to Nevis Estates who provided refreshments for the day; to Andy and Rose, Ross and Helen who helped with the barbecue throughout the day; to Allan MacKenzie for piping and to those from the RNLI and Fishermen's Mission who manned the stalls and provided entertainment for the younger ones.
The Marina has had a busy season so far. For the first four weeks in July we had 455 berth nights occupied, which compares well to last year's total of 454 for the whole month, and even to 2019's total of 498 for the month. We are seeing a trend of larger vessels, which reduces the capacity of the marina, and regular visits from the Pellew, Eda Frandsen and Selkie mean that the hammerheads are also well used. Pellew has now left us for the season, but Eda Frandsen is with us until 11th September. We have also welcomed back the Blue Clipper this month, who along with Provident is using the Harbour as both are too heavy for the pontoons. Last month I mentioned we were a member of staff down on the Harbour. Hugh is still off, and Chris has also had to take time off from the Marina this month, so we have been juggling staffing a bit. Ross and Gena have been holding the fort in Chris' absence, joined by Ruairidh, who came home from college for a break and was landed straight in at the deep end! We are really appreciative of our staff who step up to keep things operating as normal regardless of what is thrown at them!
Fishing has also remained steady throughout the month, with reasonable catches being landed by our local and some visiting boats. This has mainly been shellfish, and very limited quantities of white fish. After the really low landings of 2020 and 2021, it's great to see them picking up a bit - although I realise that it's all relative, and that the landings being made are much lower than even 10 years ago!
We said goodbye to the Reul a'Chuain this month, as her new owner, Justin, sailed off to start the boat's next chapter after spending several months working on her in the Harbour.
We met with Kate Forbes on 17th July to talk through our plans for the Harbour and look at alternative funding options and how to progress with the project. Kate also took the opportunity to meet with some of the local fishermen to talk through their concerns about HPMA's and to listen to their thoughts on what any replacement proposals should consider.
We also had a debrief with the Scottish Islands Federation and others who were involved in the Marine Litter Pilot, which resulted in ropes and nets from the Small Isles and Skye being taken for recycling by Ocean Plastic Pots, supported by Keep Britain Tidy. We all agreed that the initiative had worked well, and can hopefully be repeated again next year. Some of you will have noticed accommodation cabins have arrived in the West Bay car park this week (the first week of August). These have been brought up by Wyre Marine Services, who have the contract to remove rock off the harbour in Eigg, which has been causing a disruption to ferry services. The work is due to take two weeks, and the cabins have been brought in for crew accommodation, as they weren't able to secure alternative accommodation locally.
Finally, the Mallaig branches of the RNLI and Fishermen's Mission fundraising groups are hosting a gala day on the Harbour on Sunday 13th August. This will be the first gala day since pre-pandemic, and will be on a slightly smaller scale than previous gala days. It's being held on Sunday as there were no suitable Saturday dates that didn't clash with other events. If you are in the area, please come along and support their two worthwhile causes!
On and Off the Rails
Hello, it's me again!
Where to start the column this month is the question? There is so much to report on, so let's start with:
Update on proposed Glenfinnan viaduct repairs
You may recall that back in November 2022 I wrote that, following a routine inspection of the viaduct by Network Rail engineers, an application for planning permission involving inspection coring works, ballast retention, installation of hand rails and scour protection works had been submitted to Highland Council.
Following on from this review concerns were raised that work was needed to be carried out on the structure, and Dundee University's Concrete Technology Unit was drafted in by Network Rail to study and prepare a report on the structure of the viaduct. The study found a defect requiring urgent attention - cracking in the Upside refuge in span 5. A refuge is a recessed area clear of the railway track where anyone on the viaduct can shelter from an oncoming train. The Unit's survey states that 'a vertical fracture runs off a horizontal fracture […] to the full length of the refuge.' The report concludes the viaduct was suffering from 'leaching of calcium' due to water pouring down through supports. It said this was leading to a 'loss of strength' relative to other parts of the structure.
Network Rail are now seeking permission to carry out repairs, including building a temporary brace on the exterior of span 5. The temporary brace will be positioned close to the viaduct arch to minimise the visual impact whilst work is carried out.
Alan Ross, director of engineering and asset management for Scotland's Railway, said: "The viaduct is an iconic landmark which attracts visitors from across the world, so we've worked hard to develop a solution which protects the structure while minimising the visual impact of our work, and that can be delivered in a way that will not disrupt passenger services on the line."
To minimise disruption to services, when the work commences it will be carried out through the night. A Network Rail spokesman said, 'We are currently finalising plans for repair works on the defect. The viaduct is regularly inspected and is safe to use. We we'll also be carrying additional refurbishment work on the structure next year to keep this iconic viaduct in good condition for years to come.'
Network Rail's safety and engineering director Martin Frobisher said companies were 'racing to catch up' as they spend more and more time and money being proactive on maintenance upgrades due to predicted climate changes. So it is a relief to know that Network Rail are soon to carry out the necessary repair work to preserve and continue to monitor and make safe what is, without doubt, an iconic, historic, structure - and now a major tourist attraction, let alone a vital lifeline for staff and passengers alike!
ScotRail to act on rail travel ticket fraud
ScotRail has announced a crackdown on invalid ticket fraud which they estimate accounts for losses of around £2 million per year. They are hiring 42 revenue protection officers to be deployed across the rail network to deter passengers who travel without a ticket - perhaps not correctly stating their entry or exit points of their journeys if challenged, or travelling on an invalid ticket, or just using the train to travel one or two stops without a ticket. They will be charged the correct fare after details are taken. They will also be installing (in some instances already installed) ticket validation machines at Edinburgh Waverley, Glasgow Central, and Glasgow Queen St. The devices read both mobile and barcoded tickets at ticket gates before allowing passengers through.
Phil Campbell, ScotRail head of customer operations, said, 'Tackling ticket fraud has always been a priority for us. It's a small minority of passengers who deliberately try to avoid paying the proper fare, but it is honest fare paying passengers who bear the burden of lost investment in Scotland's railway. These new roles will really support frontline colleagues with ticket irregularity, fraud and any difficult situations. They will be deployed around the rail network, working from first trains to last.' Don't shoot the messenger!
And now for something different!
Free guided Forth Road Bridge tours will be offered as part of 'Doors Open Day', a festival that celebrates heritage and built environment. BEAR Scotland will give the tours on 23rd September, alongside a charity raffle, to visit the Queensferry crossing tower top! 1000 venues across Scotland take part each year. The mini bus tours will depart from the bridge office every 15 minutes and will last an hour. What a view of the railway bridge you would get! Last year they had 400 visitors and raised over £2000 for charity.
I only mention it in case you happen to be in the area on 23rd September. What an opportunity!
ScotRail 'On Train Hospitality Assistants - Grade 1'
The closing date for applicants (all 1,466 vacancies) has now passed. (It was online on ScotRail's vacancies site. 36 hours a week, £440 a week plus 3% commission! I only got word about it after the closing date of Friday 21st July - may have been extended?)
But here's the bad news. All of the vacancies were starting from Glasgow Queen St! Why not think 'outside the box' ScotRail, and run a catering service to cover all trains departing Mallaig - with the same service returning from Fort William (after re-stocking) four times a day in each direction - every day!! The facilities in the staffroom at Mallaig could be easily made available for restock and to fill their large hot drink canisters. Yet another opportunity missed. Think how many travellers would love the opportunity of a hot drink on the 06.03 which could refill at Fort William at 07.30, returning into Mallaig at 09.45. Go out again at 10.10, etc. etc. It's not rocket science, ScotRail! Our branch line deserves to have a hot drink service on it. Think again - please, ScotRail.
And Finally . . .
The 'Elephant in the Room' debacle between West Coast Railways and the Office of Rail and Road. As I write this on Sunday 6th August The Jacobite has not been running since 14th July, and we are in to week four of an apparent 'stand off' regarding the sharing of information on the situation with the public.
The service was halted by the ORR as, following an inspection, they had safety concerns regarding the doors in the heritage railway carriages.
I personally cannot bring the information that is hour by hour drip fed to me. All I will say is that officially WCRC have changed their date of re-starting the service each week. The latest date being 'not before August 9th'.
I would hope they can rebuild trust in Mallaig - who have supported them and who in turn have supported WCRC. I feel so sad that I will just quote Winston Churchill who famously said, 'If we open a quarrel between the past and the present, we shall find we have lost the future.'
I think I will say no more. Maybe that is for the best!! I think I say it best if I say nothing at all!
In the meantime ScotRail services have been trying to cope with the overloading of passengers. Thanks must go to all who are travelling, both staff and customers, for their patience. For three days last week, ScotRail managed to put on - at very short notice - an extra early morning train from Glasgow Queen St to Mallaig, returning in the evening. Before then the middle of the day train into Mallaig was naturally unable to cope with the overcapacity.
The Highland Explorer coach is non-existent again. Frequently we only get two car sets instead of four. The staff of both Fort William and Mallaig depots deserve praise for coping under such circumstances. Thanks for coping - all of you.
Hang on in the meantime.
See you on the train
Birdwatch July 2023 by Stephen MacDonald
A fairly typical July bird-wise with wader passage continuing as the month progressed. Black-tailed Godwits were seen at Traigh and Loch Ailort on several occasions, with eight at the latter site on the 3rd. Dunlin were seen at Traigh and Camusdarroch and five Sanderling were at Traigh on the 28th. Redshanks were seen at various locations with at least 15 at Loch Ailort on the 29th, including several juveniles.
Common Guillemots and Razorbills with chicks started to appear in the Sound of Sleat during the month. Good numbers of Storm Petrels were also seen some days. Large numbers of Manx Shearwaters were also seen feeding, sometimes close inshore in the Sound of Sleat.
A gull with odd markings, which has been seen in Arisaig on several occasions, appears to be a leucistic Herring Gull. A mostly white House Sparrow (below) which has been seen in several Morar gardens during the month, is most likely a leucistic individual.
Sparrow by Stephen MacDonald
Jays have again been seen feeding in several Morar gardens. Also reports of Great Spotted Woodpeckers accompanied by newly fledged juveniles using feeders.
Tawny Owls reported from Morar and Arisaig and the Barn Owls at the usual Cliff site in Mallaig appear to have bred successfully, with at least two large chicks seen on the 9th.
WORLD WIDE WEST WORD
Dawn, John and Àine MacPhie took West Word on a Mediterranean cruise, and took this photo when they stopped in Portofino!
Sophia Buchan, originally from Mallaig, read her copy whilst holidaying in Salou.
John and Liz McLean took a West Word to North Cape in Norway.
They say, 'The view from the cape would have been outstanding if it hadn't been for the fog.
We couldn't even see the sea from the statue!'
Richard Lamont had a quick scan of his copy before going into Scotland's largest second hand bookshop in Wigtown.
Watch this space for extracts from next month's issue!
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