WEST WORD

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!
Nollaig Chridheil agus Bliadhna Mhath r!
West Word wishes all its readers, contributors, advertisers and volunteers a wonderful Festive Season!

List of Issues online

December 2023 Issue

Contents of the online version:

Top stories
Letter from the Editor
Monthly news from Knoydart, Muck, Canna, Rum, Eigg
Lifeboat, harbour and railway news
Birdwatch
World Wide West Word

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

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

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KNOYDART WINS BEST COMMUNITY ENERGY PROJECT AT THE 2023 SCOTTISH GREEN ENERGY AWARDS
In 2017, the forty-year-old Knoydart electricity supply catastrophically failed when a joint in the pipeline fractured and a jet of water shot several hundred feet into the air - and Loch Bhromisaig, the source of water for Knoydart's Hydro-electric power supply, started to empty. The dam outlet was closed, and local labour was able to repair the pipe failure but an engineering survey, commissioned by Knoydart Renewables, Knoydart's sole grid electricity supplier, identified a high probability of further catastrophic failures and suggested that the initial system had a maximum of five more years of operation and probably less.
The Board of Knoydart Renewables knew that Knoydart faced an existential threat and, led by Frank Atherley, as Chair, and Kyle Smith and his company Energy Mutual Limited, started to put together an engineering solution for a new system that would require more than three million pounds of investment.
Thus was born Knoydart's Energy Security Project, which was supported by the Scottish Government through its Community and Renewable Energy Scheme, Highlands and Islands Enterprise, Local Energy Scotland, SSE, the Knoydart Foundation and Knoydart Renewables own customers.
A new buried pipeline was put in to replace the vulnerable old surface mounted pipeline, increasing its capacity by 40%, a new generator delivering more generating capability, new switch gears improving safety, a refurbished turbine, and transformers, a new spillway and a strengthened dam along with the undergrounding of vulnerable sections of the transmission network, to ensure greater grid resilience, were carried out and completed to timescale and to budget. Frank and Denise Atherley attended the Scottish Green Energy Awards on 30th November in Edinburgh, on behalf of Knoydart Renewables. There were over 1,200 delegates at the event and over 250 projects from throughout Scotland considered for awards.
Frank said, 'Winning the Best Community Energy Project award for the Knoydart Energy Security Project is an extraordinary and gratifying conclusion to this multi-year project, and a testament to the hard work and perseverance of the whole project team, project funders and wider stakeholders.'
'Particular thanks should also be given to the Kate Forbes, Member of the Scottish Parliament for Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch and Ian Blackford the Member of Parliament for Ross, Skye and Lochaber, who gave the Energy Security Project their unstinting support.
'On the completion of this project, the Knoydart electricity supply should be secure for another forty years and Knoydart Renewables moves confidently forward under the leadership of its new Chair Tom Dalziel.'

LETTER FROM THE EDITOR
Merry Christmas and a peaceful New Year everyone!
I've been enjoying the spell of cold and frosty weather we've had - no room for photographs this month though! Hope you all enjoy the last issue for 2023. There's some great stories and poems by the Hoolie prize winners to read this month - see page 16 onwards. This year's Christmas messages are on page 8.
Thank you to everyone who has contributed to, and helped out with, the paper this year. I look forward to reading all your contributions next year!
As always, thanks to our volunteers for their help with printing and distributing papers and labelling envelopes.
Kirsty Bloom
editor@westword.org.uk


KNOYDART
November began with a goodbye as we said farewell to Cathy, with a wee surprise leaving do in the pub. Cathy had been running Knoydart Lodge for the last couple of years, but decided it was time to move on to pastures new. We wish her all the best in her new ventures!
It was then bonfire night, with the usual huge bonfire on long beach and the most perfect night for it, with clear skies and no wind at all. We couldn't have asked for anything more really. We've actually been having a pretty decent November weather wise, with less rain and more cold crisp frosty days which has made a nice change!
Sam Gardiner's funeral was held on the 21st, and was a beautiful, wholesome event. On the day, Sam was brought home to Knoydart for the last time by a special chartered run by Western Isles, and once arriving at the pier his beautiful wicker coffin was loaded onto a specially crafted, decorated trailer which was attached to his iconic red electric trike for his final journey to the new burial site at the end of Long Beach field. The procession walked behind the trike, pedalled by Sam the Yurt, and Fiona Lennie conducted a lovely, fitting service as Sam was committed to the earth. The rain held off, and the wake was held in the pub afterwards, with a number of locals providing the food, using locally sourced produce as much as possible, something which Sam would have approved highly of. It was the first Knoydart funeral since Rick Walsh and again, it strikes me how much it can really bring a small community like this together. There's just something more special, and less clinical about it, when the pace is slower and it can take all day and you aren't being rushed out because there's another funeral party coming in behind you. Rest in peace Sam.
There was also Inverie's first Thanksgiving supper, held at the bunkhouse on Thursday 23rd which was a small intimate celebration, with delicious festive food, including pumpkin pie made with Terra and Lachie's home grown pumpkins. The pub hosted its first curry night which was very successful, and there are several winter things beginning to happen, such as craft night and pub quizzes. Even though it may be quieter in terms of visitors it's that time of year when locals get to do things for themselves after a busy summer and it is very much enjoyable.
This weekend will be the Christmas bazaar, with mulled wine and goodies to eat, and a whole host of locally made crafts from the many talented folk here.
Heather Robb

ISLE OF MUCK
Ho Ho Ho fellow Lochaberists and Islanders . . . Muck calling . . . Well here we are almost at year's end as we count down to the Jolly Fat Man's visit, and he's already left his post box out for business and I'm pretty sure some 'Big' kids are attempting to use it, hope they're on the Nice list . . . !!

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First sign of frost and the Island kids all clamoured for the ski jackets, salopettes and sledges. Unbelievably they managed to make a full day of it on the slopes, nothing like good clean fun.
We did our war graves proud again this year with a presence at them on Remembrance Sunday and the school children produced fantastic painted poppy stones with facts relating to the wars on the underside, so a big thank you to them.

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On another positive note the summer timetable looks very favourable for next year which bodes well as Muck is hosting the Island Games! We are hopeful of a seamless service to get as many folk as possible here, with plans about to get underway to put on the best party and gathering . . . you'll all be invited of course.
The School is in advanced stage of rehearsals for their grand festive production and if its anything like last year's then it will absolutely fab and shrouded in total secrecy, and they're all off to the Panto where they may get even more inspiration.
Well folks that's us for this year and we hope you have a brilliant Christmas . . . we will catch up in '24.
Bruce Boyd

ISLE OF CANNA
November has been a quiet month on Canna. The days are getting shorter but the sunrises and sunsets are getting more spectacular. We've also seen clearer skies and it has been drier than soggy October. The last couple of days have seen gorgeous sunshine and there is a crispness in the air that heralds that Winter has definitely arrived.
Although the natural world seems to be slowing down, Canna's various projects are gathering pace. A huge hole in the ground has been appearing at the site of our new Visitor Hub next to the Pier. Speyside builders have been hard at work doing the ground works and it is great to finally see progress being made.
Canna House works continue with work focusing on the internals now the weather has turned. It is hoped the scaffolding will soon be coming down too. The conservation team has been making progress on cleaning the ceramics too.
We had a lively night in the Cafe last weekend with John Angus from Simpsons cooking us all pizzas, pints provided by Cafe Canna and Pete played guitar to keep us all entertained. Much mirth was had with everyone spending most of the evening in hysterics. We all need a good laugh when the winter arrives and it definitely wasn't in short supply!
Vicki has taken on our Dark Skies application and she has written a bit about it below.

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Photo by Simon Hird

As every Island Community well knows, there is always something more to be done. The latest in a long line of projects on Canna takes form in our venture to become an International Dark Sky Sanctuary.
The decision to apply for Dark Sky Status was originally made in 2019 by the Community on Canna and with the support of the National Trust for Scotland. Sadly, despite the dedicated hard work of the Canna Community, the application came to a standstill and was ultimately shelved.
Like many communities, post-covid Canna has a renewed sense of purpose and drive. Determined to see things through, we have set our course for Dark Sky Status once again. Reports are being written, plans drawn and light readings taken - perhaps this time, it is written in the stars.
On a clear night and under the right conditions all manner of cosmic phenomena can be seen from the darkness; constellations, planets, meteor showers and the Milky Way. It provides safety for wildlife like the Manx Shearwaters, celestial beauty to be captured through the lens, and has piqued the curiosity and imagination of countless humans for millennia.
The community on Canna is committed to protecting our dark skies. If you would like to support our application, follow our journey through our website, Facebook or Instagram. We will be running events and releasing articles and social media posts about our progress.
Margaret Willington

ISLE OF RUM
It is December already and lots of seasonal weather, cold and frosty; we seem to have had a lot of this, better than the usual persistent heavy rain I think. November has been quiet with the exception of the volunteers busying themselves around the village doing a considerable amount of work, including some interior house painting and pimping up the inside of the phone box (which works) so it looks glamorous inside and out now. Two of the volunteers turned out to be hairdressers so a flurry of haircuts have taken place including a couple of short buzzcuts - they'll need a hat now! We had a community curry night, which was fab, lots of interesting food. For me, Kate's mung bean curry was pretty darn good, definitely one to do again. Next community meal is this Saturday and will be seasonal and Christmassy, no surprise. Other Christmas related events will be the school play - looking forward to that - and the Christmas party when we'll swap secret Santa presents and we hope the ACTUAL Santa makes an appearance . . . fingers crossed he/she/they make it.
The new shop/caf building project is finally getting under way. Called a 'hub' for want of a better word, it will include many of the facilities the village is currently lacking. We've been trying to get this done since the shop moved to the hall in 2002 to 'temporary' premises. After various sites and plans, all of which have hit insurmountable obstacles, we are finally on the way. Hoo. Rah. for that.
There have been lots of Otter sightings recently, on the beach, at the pier and unusually, in Ali's chicken shed; not sure what the chickens think of that if there's any left to tell the tale.
We were delighted to see the new school boat, Big Dipper. The high school kids and parents are delighted at the quicker journey time. It looks very fancy.
Merry Christmas to everyone from all on Rm.
Fliss Fraser

ISLE OF EIGG
November appears to have dislodged January for the number of health resolutions which happened this month: the weekly circuit training at the hall for the islands' women has been kick started into life by Eilidh who is now also offering PE classes twice a week for the island kids. I have resumed my Saturday's qigong practice and the Eigg swimmers are still going at it as strongly as ever. Katrin and Sarah have started their island run - they are training for a super hard marathon somewhere in the lake district and they got the kids into running from the school to the hall for the Christmas fair on the 25th! Clearing the old Laig track is ongoing and there is a new rowing group taking inspiration from the Glenuig initiative. The second of our autumn beach clean also occurred at the Caves, which were not too bad this year. Meanwhile, the pool table is back into action: the first tournament of the season, which was won (miraculously !!! says John the Post) - by Colin. But it was the Xmas fair which was the highlight of the month, with a wonderful array of stalls, mulled wine and cider, margarita cocktails, superb home baking and Asian tacos. About 500 was raised for Feis Eige, 100 for the new kids' playground and 263 for the school.
The last day of the month being Joanne Kirk's 40th birthday, the whole island geared up for a 1980's themed party on Saturday 2nd December! Mullets, mullets and more mullets were in evidence - confusing some of the very young kids big time - as well as a daring number of Jane Fonda's dancexercise outfits and lots of big hair, brilliant tunes from Fras and fantastic DJ-ing by Angus Binnie, as well as a super-duper buffet including a wonderful passion fruit birthday cake: it was a great night and our lovely Joanne seemed to have enjoyed herself as much as we all did! Many happy returns Joanne, from all of us!
Camille Dressler


TEA COMPANY SET TO CUT CARBON AND INCREASE PRODUCTION
The West Highland Tea Company (WHTC) has secured a 56,600 investment from Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) towards a project to reduce its carbon footprint while increasing production and creating jobs. The company has seen steady growth since it was established in 2020 as an online retailer offering speciality teas including a range hand blended in Mallaig. It now supplies shops, cafes and hotels in the Highlands and beyond.

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Business owner Rachael Robertson is keen to improve the energy efficiency and footprint of the company's newly leased premises in Mallaig, through renovation works and equipment renewal. Works will include replacing windows, upgrading insulation, and replacing ceiling tiles with plasterboard. The water heater, heating system, ventilation / extraction, hand drier, refrigeration units and two toilets will also be replaced with new more efficient appliances.
There will also be a dedicated visible packing and blending space. Visitors and customers will be able to watch through a windowed partition as the tea is blended and packaged, after which it will be available to taste and buy.
Two new seasonal jobs are expected to be created; one full time and one part time. The business is also forecasting a 1.57 tonne reduction in annual carbon and almost 70% increase in productivity. The increased production capacity will enable WHTC to explore the potential to expand its customer base to European, U.S. and Canadian markets.
Business owner Rachael Robertson said, "I am delighted to receive this funding support from HIE. As the West Highland Tea Company grows and develops it is vital that we minimise our carbon footprint, and this grant is key to us achieving that aim. This is an exciting project for us, and I look forward to being able to showcase our tea blending process to customers in the new space in Mallaig."


10th Anniversary Celebration for Father Stan
On 5th December 2023, Father Stanislaw Pamula (Fr Stan) celebrated 10 years in his vocation as a Priest since his ordination in Oban in 2013. Fr Stan is originally from Poland and trained in Rome before coming to Scotland to serve as a Deacon and Priest in churches across the Diocese of Argyll and the Isles.

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A great collaborative effort was made by parish members to serve up a special afternoon tea at the Astley Hall in Arisaig with a plentiful and delicious spread of home baking. Flowers and decorations gave the hall a sense of occasion and Fr Stan was presented with gifts from the parish by Morag MacDonald, following an informal and insightful speech by Lilian MacDonald who thanked him for his years of pastoral care and his skills in ensuring our local churches are fit for the 21st century.
Special thanks to all the volunteers and to those who travelled and attended. Congratulations Fr Stan - here's to the next 10 years!

Arisaig Community Housing Project
Coming to the end of 2023, it is absolutely wonderful to say that the houses are almost complete and will be ready for tenants in January! The site is currently being landscaped and is really looking fantastic now the road surfacing is complete and turf laid for each of the gardens. Residents of Station Road will be glad to know that the footpath link to the village will soon be open again.
Local construction company S+K MacDonald have done an excellent job and we are very pleased at the quality and workmanship of the new houses. Not only that, but the project is likely to be completed on time and on budget - no small achievement in today's building climate.

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After a very challenging allocation process, Communities Housing Trust have allocated all properties to local residents and families. There were 31 applications for the 6 homes and understandably, it is very disappointing for those who were not successful. All of the applicants were well deserving of homes, but there were just not enough to go round. ACT of course, extends to the new tenants very good wishes in their new homes.
During the winter, there will be some tree and hedge planting around the site to improve biodiversity and wildlife habitats. An invitation for hardy volunteers is extended to those who wish to plant a tree at the site! New tenants and residents are also most welcome to join us for tree planting, for future generations to enjoy.
Arisaig Community Trust


Mallaig Second Hand Bookshop
Kenneth would like to thank everyone who has donated, or bought, books. He would also like to thank his committee for their support.
Below is a list of the donations allocated for this year:

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MALLAIG FUEL STATION SCHEDULED TO REOPEN MID DECEMBER
We are pleased to report that considerable progress has been made in bringing Mallaig Fuel Station back into operation, including the completion of two key milestones. Groundworks are well underway, and the above-ground storage tanks have been delivered.
During the next two weeks, the following programme of work will take place:
- Electrical works
- Installation of fuel pumps
- Delivery of fuel
- Final testing and commissioning
The recent extreme cold weather conditions have presented some short-term obstacles and, while there is a risk that re-opening may be delayed by a couple of days, we are confident that the fuel station will re-open in mid-December.
We will continue to keep you informed of our progress.
Denholm Fishselling Limited
5th December 2023


Lifeboat Log

1st November 2023
Launched at 18:55 by Stornoway Coastguard to convey Paramedics to Inverie, Knoydart. A local resident had died unexpectedly and the Lifeboat and Coastguard personnel assisted in transporting the casualty from the peninsula to Mallaig. Lifeboat ready for service at 22:00.

3rd November 2023
Launched at 08:20 at the request of Police Scotland through Stornoway coastguard to convey a Police officer to Inverie. Concern had been raised for a 16 year old who was in the care system in England. The boy was camping in the Inverie area with the intention of doing some climbing in the surrounding mountains. The Police and Social Services could not reach agreement on how to resolve the situation on-scene, so the Police officer released the Lifeboat to return to station, and he instead would return later on the scheduled ferry. Lifeboat back at pontoon and ready for service at 10:45.

11th November 2023
Launched by Stornoway Coastguard at 12:50 to the assistance of a small fishing vessel in Loch Nevis. The vessel had issued a Pan Pan message for assistance. No other vessels responded, so the Coastguard requested the Lifeboat to assist as the fishing boat's engine was rendered inoperable due to a broken belt. On-scene at 13:09 in perfect weather conditions, the vessel was taken alongside the Lifeboat and towed back to Mallaig Marina. Lifeboat ready for service at 14:10.

20th November 2023
Launched at 10:10 at Stornoway Coastguard's request. Two Medics were to be transferred to Inverie to assist an elderly male who had sustained a knee injury in the village of Airor on the north side of the Sandaig peninsula. Inverie's local Coastguards had already proceeded to the casualty's location. On arrival at Inverie pier, the crew and Medics were informed that the casualty was walking wounded and was able to board a vehicle and would be brought to the Pier at Inverie forthwith. Once at the Pier the casualty was given a quick assessment by the medics before he boarded the Lifeboat aided by crew. Departed for Mallaig at 10:40 and alongside the berth at 11:05. Patient was assisted to the Ambulance for transfer to Fort William's Belford Hospital for further treatment. Lifeboat ready for service at 11:15.

News from Mallaig Harbour
November has felt like a busy month, with quite a lot going on behind the scenes. More visibly, the Sprat pump was installed on 10th November and there have been regular landings of Sprats by the Caralisa throughout the month, starting on the 13th November. It always creates a wee buzz at this time of year having Sprats landed on the pier, so let's hope it continues for December.
On 7th November, David MacDonald and I attended the British Ports Association and Scottish Chamber of Shipping Parliamentary Reception at Holyrood. It was great to meet with others in the industry, and to hear some of the wider picture of what is happening at various ports. We also got a tour round the parliamentary chamber, courtesy of Kevin Stewart MSP, and even the opportunity to sit in the First Minister's Chair! Part of the event was to celebrate the launch of a new document, 'Scottish Ports - Gateways for Growth 2023', which has been produced in conjunction with Scottish Enterprise and Highlands and Islands Enterprise. For those who are interested, you can download it from the British Ports Association website, www.britishports.org.uk
We have commissioned the Economic Impact Assessment, and MKA Economics are in the process of contacting some of the key stakeholders around the Harbour. They will be in Mallaig for a couple of days from the 6th to the 8th December meeting stakeholders and gaining an understanding of the Harbour workings, and the intention is that the final report will be ready to be discussed at our Board Meeting in February, before being published more widely.
On Wednesday 16th November, we attended a public engagement event hosted by CMAL on the plans for the replacement vessel for the Lord of the Isles. The team had been in Lochboisdale and then hosted an event in the Mallaig and Morar Community Centre. The presentation is on the CMAL website, https://www.cmassets.co.uk/project/mallaig-lochboisdale/, and shows the proposals for the vessel, which would be built recognising the constraints of operating into the existing linkspan in Mallaig. It's proposed that the vessel would be a similar size to the Lord of The Isles, and would be designed to carry 300 passengers, 52 cars and 7 HGVs. Feedback closed on the 30th November, but there will be further opportunities to have your say in the New Year.
At the end of November, Karen Calder stepped down from her role with the Fishermen's Mission, ready to take up a new role at Mallaig Pool and Leisure. Karen has worked hard for the Fishermen of the area, and their families when necessary, and will be a big miss to the wider Harbour community. Our loss is the Pool's gain, and we all wish her the very best with the new challenges that lie ahead for her.
We've been working with UHI North West and Highlands this month to try and progress the project to build a new Marine Training Centre on the site of the old Marine World as you come onto the Harbour. This project has been talked about for a long time, and has evolved to hopefully include a centre for off-grid renewables excellence. UHI have been looking at various funding options to progress the project, and this month submitted an application through The Highland Council to the Vacant and Derelict Land Fund Scheme. A decision on the funding will be made in January or February next year.
Scottish Sea Farms have restocked some of the cages in Loch Nevis, and planning to operate slightly differently, leaving their main vessels at the farms, rather than in the Harbour. To do this, they have bought a new crew transfer vessel, which arrived in Mallaig for the first time on 30th November.
We were alerted to a fire on Lovat Beach on Sunday 3rd December, the result of some local children setting fire to a tyre under the wooden platform in the centre of the village. Thankfully the Lifeboat Coxswain was passing and was able to drag the tyre out from beneath the platform so that no damage was done to the structure. At the time, the Fire Brigade were off service, so when it was reported to them, they were slower in being able to respond than they would have liked. Had it not been for members of the public and of the other emergency services such as the Lifeboat acting quickly, this could have been a very serious incident. We would ask that parents please remind their children that starting fires is dangerous - regardless of how cold it is, and that they need to have respect for the public areas around the village. Children and their parents should also be aware that we have CCTV around the Harbour so we are able to look back and see what has gone on over the weekend, even when we are not in the office. We have written to the parents of those concerned and would hope that this is an isolated incident.
Mallaig Community Council once again hosted the Christmas Tree Lights switch on, on the afternoon of Friday 1st December. As usual the Harbour staff helped with installing the Christmas lights and getting the Christmas Tree in place in the run up to the switch-on. We're always grateful to the staff who are prepared to go beyond their normal roles to help with community activities such as this. It was a team effort, even if Audrey had to relinquish her normal role in the proceedings on the afternoon of Tuesday 28th November, for the very positive reason that she became a Granny again! Congratulations to Ross McKay and Helen Webb (who is also one of the Harbour's Board Members) on the birth of David John McKay, at a very healthy 9lb 9oz!
Finally, we'd like to wish all Harbour users, and the wider community, a very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year when it comes.
Jacqueline McDonell
01687 462154


On and Off the Rails

Hello, it's me again!
With the temperature -2.6 C outside, having thawed out the bird bath for the benefit of all the birds that hunker down for the night in my evergreen trees, and repaired my external down pipe from the kitchen sink, it is time for the final column of 2023, so with my huge 'hug-a-mug' hot drink, here we go. Network Rail are today (Sunday 3rd December), as I write this, all over the lines carrying out their 'Test and Protect' shift on the railway declaring them 'clear and safe for travel' which is a good omen. The 10.06 train from Mallaig 'started and departed' and is currently approaching Glenfinnan. Otherwise at this time of year it is pertinent to give a shout out to say thank you - not only to Network Rail, but to the drivers, conductors, booking office staff, cleaners etc who frequently work late into the night, along with platform staff. They all ensure that we can travel safely on public transport. Mallaig Station platform is 'salted' seven days a week before the 06.03 is boarded. Their dedication particularly at this time of year means that we can all travel safely, knowing we will all return safely to where we bide. Thank you on behalf of the travelling public - not just me.

Mallaig Booking Office/Waiting Room
This coming week I've arranged for a 6ft lodgepole pine Christmas tree to be delivered for decorating. Last year I had a rooted one, in a fish box naturally! - and that was beautiful, however having to get it hauled to the side garden (which suits it as it continues to grow - it was 8ft, now 15ft) along with the fact that currently you would need a pickaxe and forklift truck to move it - ha ha! - a joint decision was made to have a chopped off one instead this year. The garlands will go up, and a welcome will be given to all who call in to see the waiting room lit up and festive.
Last December I reported that the rooms above the station were available for let, due to Mallaig Fishermen's Co-op and West of Scotland Fish Producers Organisation relocating to the revamped Harbour Office building. A poster went up, which is still there in the window, and we waited to see who would take the rooms, which have a separate entrance to the booking office, toilets, waiting room and Jaffy's. We are still waiting - what is going on? Details are on the poster as to whom to apply to. Maybe 2024 will see the rooms occupied again??

ScotRail news - or lack of progress on two fronts
Still no progress on the reintroduction of any catering on our branch line. I have really tried to have dialogue, not only through my column but at meetings, to progress the idea of outsourcing the catering, starting from and returning to Mallaig. I constantly come up against the theme that 'ScotRail do not do outsourcing'!! This is clearly not true on at least two fronts, one being that the cleaning of the late train - inside and out - is carried out at night by another company, and the other that in the past month applications for extra trainee drivers for the Fort William and Mallaig depots have been touted 'nationally' by an outside agency from Fort William High Street. So that sieve has many holes in it. Come on ScotRail. Please have some dialogue as to why the catering cannot be outsourced. It truly would work and is required - starting from Mallaig. The staff and passengers agree!

West Coast Railways (WCR) and the Office for Rail and Road judicial review
Over the past two weeks much has been written in the local and national newspapers, and I'm sure on the internet, regarding the following. Carriages (Mark 1 coaches) owned by WCR and the 1950s locomotives (Black 5's) hired in by them to operate The Jacobite steam train service have once again been under scrutiny regarding the future of 'heritage' trains operating on the national network. Decisions now being made will produce an outcome, in law, by the end of February 2024. The coaches and locomotives are used on main lines all over the UK rail network. They are 'vintage' stock. Their licence to operate on the rails has required an exemption certificate to be issued regularly by the ORR since the Railway Safety Regulations 1999 Act was passed (before The Jacobite) acknowledging the fact that central door locking on vacuum braked stock could not operate because there is no pressurised air system on the 1950s locomotives.
The ORR have said, 'A regulation prohibiting relevant organisations from operating rolling stock with hinged doors for use by fare-paying passengers, without the means of centrally locking them in a closed position, came into force on January 1, 2005. The Office of Rail and Road has granted relevant organisations exemptions from this regulation on a case-by-case basis in accordance with powers afforded to it. The majority of charter heritage operators have either complied with the regulation by installing central door locking or have a plan in place to do so. Services can operate with compliant carriages.' WCR have not provided a plan.
Since 2003 the exemptions have required that stewards are in place in each of the slam door coaches with individual carriage key locks, and secondary bolt locks are in place at the top of the doors, to ensure that passengers cannot lean out of the pull down windows in the doors (once the train is moving) or attempt to unbolt doors when pulling into a stopping station, to exit the train before it comes to a halt.
In the case of The Jacobite, concern was raised several times in 2023 that the system was not 100% effective leading to the ORR suspending The Jacobite service until more staff were employed to comply with the rules of the exemption. The ORR believes that persons could be injured because the doors do not have a central locking system. So, by the end of the season they stated that an alternative locking system to all doors to give a central locking would have to be found. WCR insist that they do have a 'robust policy for safety procedures to continue'.
WCR stated that they own 63% of working heritage rolling stock in the UK on public main railway lines and that to change to an interlocking door system (some other operators have moved over to a magnetic central locking system) would cost millions of pounds and it would take 10 years to recoup the costs involved.
So to try and resolve the situation WCR challenged the decision by the ORR and a two day judicial review hearing on Tuesday 21st November 2023 at London's Royal Court of Justice was held for both sides to put their case. Following this a decision will be made 'sometime towards the end of January 2024' and one side will have to pay the costs of the judicial review.
The ORR has now issued a further certificate allowing WCR to run its services until a judgment has been handed down or until 29 February 2024, whichever comes sooner, and tickets are on sale now for the 2024 season on WCR's website https://westcoastrailways.co.uk

LSL reveals Midland Pullman running dates for 2024
Running dates for the Midland Pullman next year should feature the Locomotive Services Limited powering 37 trips throughout the season including four tours to the West Highland lines.
Formed of a high speed train set, painted in the Nanking blue and white of the Blue Pullman sets of the 1960s, it usually features two of the five HST power cars in the matching livery, which are 43046/047/049/055/059. Of these, 43049 Neville Hill has only just been painted in the livery, having previously carried Intercity colours. LSL also have 43058/083 as spare locomotives if necessary.
The first of four trips to the West Highland Line heads for Fort William on 28th May with the 'Ben Nevis and Lochaber Pullman' which originates from Morpeth. The second to Fort William is on 4th October from Lancaster. Meanwhile, Oban is visited on 18th June with a trip starting at Preston, and again on 7th August with a train from Darlington. For more information on next year's rail tour programme please visit LSL's website https://midlandpullman.com

'Fair Fares' Review
Scottish transport minister Fiona Hyslop has promised that the Fair Fares Review will be published by the end of the year. The outcome of the review is likely to inform thinking in the rest of the UK on appropriate transport pricing for the post COVID era. The Scottish Government commissioned the review in 2021 in recognition of the fact that public transport fares were increasing as the cost of private car travel declined. It also recognised that transport costs could exacerbate cost of living challenges for people in low income households, who are more likely than others to travel by bus.
The remit includes looking at the range of discounts and concessionary schemes for all modes, including ferries, and informing the development of a sustainable and integrated approach to future public transport fares.

Finally, and I seem to say it every year, but it is true - saving the best till last. Thank you to all who share my column each month. I really try to live up to my massive links in the 'railway connected family', and to be truthful. Thank you for caring and carrying me forward. I get so many cards and letters! Some people don't wait to be asked to help out. Some people aren't even aware how it helps. Thank you, ta!
Merry Christmas and happy Hogmanay!
Nollaig Chridheil agus Bliadhna mhath r!
Sonia Cameron


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Waxwing feasting on rosehips - photo by S MacDonald

Birdwatch November 2023 by Stephen MacDonald
Some strong winds and rain early in the month, but generally mostly dry with some frosty spells.
Several small flocks of Waxwings were seen mainly in the Arisaig area during the first half of the month, numbers dwindling as the supply of suitable berries diminished. A few Bramblings were seen about Morar early in the month. A Kingfisher was reported from the Morar River during the first week.
At least five Leach's Petrels were reported from Loch Nevis after a spell of windy weather mid-month.
Several groups of Whooper Swans were seen heading south during the first week, with ten over Loch nan Ceall and 16 over Loch nan Eala on the 5th. A single Whooper Swan was on Loch nan Eala on the 28th.
On Loch nan Ceall, numbers of wintering wildfowl increased during the month. On the 11th, at least nine Slavonian Grebes, 35 Red Breasted Mergansers and five Red-throated Divers were seen along with Great Northern Divers, Wigeon and Little Grebes. Two Shelduck first seen on the 3rd were very early returning birds. Goldeneye were seen on Loch Morar and at least five Goosanders were on Loch Eilt on the 9th.
Small numbers of wintering waders were reported from Traigh and the Morar Estuary; birds seen included Ringed Plover, Dunlin, Turnstone, Oystercatcher, Redshank, Greenshank and Bar-tailed Godwits. Purple Sandpipers and Turnstones were seen at West Bay, Mallaig. Increasing numbers of Snipe and Woodcock reported as the month progressed. Migrant thrushes such as Redwing and Fieldfare were present throughout the month and numbers of Blackbirds remained fairly high.
Two Blackcaps, a male and a female, were seen regularly in a Woodside garden, feeding on Elderberries.
A very late Swallow was seen in Arisaig village on the 15th and was still present on the 17th. Several sightings of Jays both from Morar and Arisaig. On the 5th at least eight Jays were seen in the Loch nan Eala area, including five in one flock.
On the 25th several flocks of Snow Buntings numbering between 25-30 birds were seen on the hillside above Carnach, Arisaig.


WORLD WIDE WEST WORD

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West Word has been to Guinea, West Africa! Lou Johnson says,
'I was in the tropical rainforests of the Moyen Bafing national park
(which was established recently to help protect chimpanzee habitat),
doing an environmental audit as part of my work, and remembered to take my WW with me for a pic!'

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Billy the Post took his copy when he was visiting family in Australia.
He was nicknamed 'MacKay' at school, after his mother's maiden name,
so this town sign in Queensland was the perfect place to stop for a photo!

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Pete McGowan says, 'In October we went off to Australia to visit my wee brother and others with a copy of the October West Word,
and took this picture while we were in Singapore.
'I have been visiting Knoydart and Rum now for about 45 years and never tire of the place.
Been in by ferry, walked in, and climbed all the great peaks, and had grand nights in the local pub too.
I was a member of The RAF Mountain Rescue Service for nearly 20 years,
and Team Leader of four teams, including Kinloss, covering most of The Highlands.' Thank you Pete!

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And last but most definitely not least, here's one of West Word's youngest readers: Mara Dyer from Bristol.
Getting some information before she comes up to spend Christmas in Arisaig.
She will bring her parents Billy and Lily Dyer with her.


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