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

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February 2001 Issue

Contents of the online version:

New Mallaig Lifeboat
Monthly reports from Eigg, Muck, Rum, Arisaig
Moidart Local History Group
A Backward Glance

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After what seemed months of waiting and keen anticipation, Mallaig's new £1.8 million lifeboat, Henry Alston Hewat, arrived at the port on Tuesday 23rd January.

The new lifeboat was escorted into harbour by the Davina and Charles Matthews Hunter - the Arun class lifeboat which has served the Minch waters well for the past 18 years - and with the skirl of Lachie Robertson's bagpipes in the air docked safely at noon.

A large crowd of wellwishers and interested members of the public was gathered on the fish quay to greet the new vessel and it was good to see a 'show of solidarity' by the other Rescue and Emergency Services - the Coastguard Landrover, the Ambulance and the Fire Brigade tender were all lined up on the pier, lights flickering and flashing to welcome the Severn. A nice touch and one greatly appreciated by the RNLI.

When Lifeboat Coxswain Michael Currie stepped ashore, he was met by Highland Councillor Charlie King, who presented him with a bottle of whisky on behalf of the Mallaig Harbour Authority, and Sir Cameron Mackintosh was on hand to add his congratulations to the coxswain and crew.

The Vice Chair of Mallaig Harbour Authority
presenting the Chairman with a bottle of Mallaig Harbour Water.

The new lifeboat had left Poole on 20th. January, with Coxswain Currie, Mechanic Jeff Lawrie and crew members Kevin McDonell, Arthur MacDonald and Helena MacMillan tasked with delivering the new vessel to its homeport via lifeboat stations at Newquay (Cornwall), Howth (Eire) and Tobermory. On the run from Howth to Tobermory a Force 9 SE gale was encountered and Coxswain Currie said that the way the boat handled the beam sea was 'impressive'.

'I'm very impressed by the sea-keeping ability of the boat,' said Mr. Currie, 'and although I would never knock the Arun, there's no doubt that the Severn Class vessel is streets ahead.'

As well as being equipped with all the latest navigation and communication equipment and electronic throttle management, the speed capability of the new boat is worthy of note. The Henry Alston Hewat is 17m (55ft 9in) long and capable of 25 knots with a range of 250 nautical miles. RNLI Lifeboats are able to reach virtually any point 50 miles off the coast within 2½ hours - a 33% improvement on the previously declared facility.

This was illustrated by Michael Currie: 'A passage to Rum Harbour would be just over 30 minutes compared to the 50 minutes it took previously,' he said, 'and once the quayside berth is in situ at the harbour it will improve response times further.'

Six months of intensive crew training will now occur, to get all crew members totally familiar with the boat and its capabilities.

The Henry Alston Hewat took up official duties on Tuesday 30th. January and the following morning at 5 am the Davina and Charles Matthews Hunter under the command of Second Coxswain Bruce Watt slipped out of Mallaig for the final time en route for Kirkwall.


The Hogmanay party was a great success despite none of us being sure until mid-afternoon on December 31st (when at last the snow and ice began to thaw) whether we would be able to get to the tearoom to celebrate or not, but we managed to get it together and hold a brilliant party with plenty of food, music and liquid refreshment. It was good to see the large group staying in the Barn, and other visitors helping us to welcome in the New Year. All our usual resident performers did their bit and one member of the Barn party borrowed a guitar, and entertained us with songs and music not usually heard on Eigg, but which made a pleasant change, and Ben and Joe followed with more very unusual (to some of us!) entertainment! One great friend of Eigg, who forswore alcohol several weeks ago, must be congratulated for surviving the festivities without a drop passing her lips. Brilliant!!

Looking back on the events and activities of the year 2000, it becomes apparent that much has happened on the island during the past twelve months. We remember some delightful occasions such as the double wedding and several other weddings, which took place in the summer, and with much sadness, the deaths of two of our important islanders at the middle and end of the year. We said "Good-bye" to Robert and Heather and to our Project Officer, Jacqueline and "Hello" to her successor, Andrew, and his wife Sheryl from New Zealand. We also welcomed Pascal and Catherine. A great many improvements have been achieved during the year, all of which will benefit Eigg in one way or another. Among them, the total refurbishment of Miller's Cottage and the partial completion of Hill Cottage which, it is hoped will be finished by Easter. One important building, rescued from deterioration during the year was the Old Mill. This has been transformed from a complete wreck, to a very comfortable wee Bothy without destroying the ancient machinery, and which will eventually include the reclamation and use of the old water wheel. Duncan & Eileen have worked long and hard on Craigard to provide a more comfortable home.

Much Forestry work has been done and a large barn is about to be erected at Sandavore, for the storage of forestry machinery. Good strong fencing has replaced miles of rotten posts and tangled wire. The Lodge Hydro has been reinstated and a new shed built in a less exposed position for the An Laimhrig generator, this hopefully, will prolong its life. Several private Hydro systems have been installed or are still at the planning stage, by those residents with suitable water supplies. Planning permission has been applied for to build a staircase outside the pier building, This will provide access to the roof space above the Craft Shop, where an office is to be constructed for Trust's use and which will make life much easier for a number of people, not least, our Project Officer.

As everyone will know by now Caledonian MacBrayne has recently provided the Small Isles, with the doubtful pleasure of the Lochnevis and also, for Eigg's exclusive use, a new flit boat, the Laig Bay. Another wee improvement, the old Coastguard Shed has been replaced with a brand new one. The playground area surrounding the School is now fenced, the schoolroom modernised and the schoolhouse and schoolroom given new windows, much to Morag's glee, although it was a big hassle for her at the time - school was moved to the day centre for several weeks and she nearly got blown out of bed before the new windows were properly fitted!

We now have an all singing, all dancing computer in the tearoom for Island and public use, and an Eigg web site has been created. Last, but by no means least important, Sue has been able to bring the shop freezer into use again!

Well those are the plus's but there are always minus's!!!

On 12th January a party of Highland Council and Cal Mac employees, came to Eigg for a meeting with the residents to try to thrash out the ongoing problem the proposed new pier. They must have left the island with no doubt whatever in their minds about our feelings on the subject ! Immediately afterwards our pier Steering Committee put out a press release to various newspapers, some of which you may have seen.

However Cal Mac have agreed to try to prove, to our satisfaction that their Skippers can safely and successfully get the Loch Nevis inside the Perches in a variety of seas. If this is found to be feasible we are in danger of not having much of a leg to stand on, but there are still many who do not believe that it will be possible or to provide a reasonable service.

One Council member has promised to do his best to set up a meeting with the Scottish Executive so that we may try to persuade them not to spend the £5/6 million of public money on a causeway and a new pier on Sgeir nam Bagh, but to use a lesser amount on two small boats, one passenger and one freight, and to refurbished our present pier to suit these crafts. There is a fear on the island that if we were to achieve this, Cal Mac may wash their hands of us and many Eigg residents do not wish for that to happen. My personal feeling is that if Cal Mac will not or cannot accede to our requirements we must find someone else who will ! As was pointed out at the meeting, the Lochnevis will only last for 20 or 25 years but the pier and causeway will be there for hundreds, can we really countenance this or would it not be better if we found the courage to face life without Caledonian MacBrayne?

Furthermore, it is not only Eigg residents who object so strongly to this potential eyesore, a significant number of the kind and generous people who donated their hard earned cash to the purchase of Eigg, aren't too happy about it either. Their intention was that we should preserve the Island’s beauty and it's wildlife habitats and not deface a lovely bay with huge concrete edifices.

If Cal Mac could be persuaded to site the new pier in the deep water of the South Bay, there would be no further argument, plans and building could then go ahead and the Lochnevis would be acceptable to Eigg. When this was suggested some time ago Cal Mac's main objection was that the prevailing S.W. wind blows straight into the bay but now admit that they are using wind charts compiled for the TWENTY YEARS PRE 1995. The strong conviction on Eigg is that the prevailing wind has moved away from the South West in the past FIVE YEARS! At the very least we think there should be another and, this time, a really serious look at this option and do whatever investigations are necessary to prove the South Bay's present viability one way or the other, before it is too late.

There was much activity on Eigg Pier last Saturday when the Gallus Grafter brought tons of freight of various kinds but most important of all, tanks full of diesel. This was pumped into dozens of barrels, gleaned from all over the island, because Cal Mac can no longer bring fuel on the Lochnevis, and individuals cannot as hitherto simply order one or two barrels when required, but must depend on the Gallus Grafter to bring bulk supplies, possibly at infrequent intervals. Hopefully this is only a temporary situation until a couple of large storage tanks are made available to us but meanwhile it is highly inconvenient for all users of these fuels..


Joy Williams


Highlight of the month has been the visit of Lamont Howie of Radio Scotland. Lamont had come to help us in our search for a family to replace the Haighs and the Smiths whose departure will reduce the school role to two.

As the danger of the school closing was the main theme in the recent TV series ‘2000 Acres of Sky’ Lamont lost no time in coming to the island and conducting hours of interviews. The result should be on Radio Scotland at 8 am on Saturday 3rd. of February.

On the 8th January came Stephan from Vergnet to service the wind turbines which are now turning much more freely at low wind speeds.

Coming soon are a team from Scottish Power. They will be servicing the control equipment and they have a lot to do to create a robust system. Even Barnaby with his ability with computers has been struggling to keep the system going in recent weeks.

On the farm the fine weather in the middle of the month made movement by sea easy and it was time to stock up on cattle and sheep feed from North Eastern Farmers, and some unusual animals were crossing the water as well. Six orange and black piglets left Muck on the 11th. January bound for Tobermory and Sgroil Ruadh farm. They will be fed largely on whey from the superb Isle of Mull cheese and the pork will finally be sold direct to the public on Mull.

Seamus the Muck Stud Stallion and father of Eilidh the Castaway also departed on the 4th. He was bound for Michelle Milligan’s stables at Cross Farm. Stallions are often temperamental and hard to handle but not Seamus. He just walked onto Wave and at Arisaig walked straight off. If temperament is inherited then Seamus could father some very placid riding ponies.

Lawrence MacEwen.


Well, it’s life in the freezer here at the moment, as I suppose it is everywhere in the Lochaber area! For the first time that we can remember the sea has frozen in front of the schoolhouse. The children are enchanted to find the thermometer descending into minus figures. According to the Rum weather station, the temperature has been recorded at –11 degrees C . Before Christmas we had two convivial occasions at the school. One was a social evening with the theme of recycling your books for winter reading. A total of £32 was raised for school funds and everyone had a pleasant time. The school Christmas Concert and Party went with a swing. The children sang and acted out a sketch based on the Allan Ahlberg poem "Please Mrs. Butler". A talented trio of Rum ladies, Anne, Regge and Fliss played us some up foottapping tunes, games were played, forfeits paid and Santa Claus arrived as promised. We hope he managed to get home safely! There was plenty to eat and drink for everyone – thank you to all who contributed. To brighten up the darkness of January we hope to be celebrating the Chinese New Year next week! Welcome to the year of the Serpent. We will also be having Mrs. Wendy Thomas back for a few days. We look forward to that.

New residents who have arrived recently are Alison Donald in her position as Research Assistant to the Red Deer Project at Kilmory and Mr. George Polwarth as temporary Reserve Manager. We hope they enjoy their stay.

Life on Rum has to go on despite the big freeze. There are 47 Highland cows and 16 ponies down at Harris who must be fed. The estate team battled their way there through the snow, only to find that the drifts were over the bonnet of the landrover . They were eventually pulled out by the tractor and the animals got their much needed supplies. Other animals in the village area were easier to reach! At present there are two bulls, ten calves, two ponies and three pigs. The clearing out of rhododendrons goes on apace, but not without opposition from the children who are horrified to see their dens disappearing.

Of course, with the new ferry timetable for the Small Isles, more time will have to be spent on boat duties, that is until the new pier is ready. Rev. Alan Lamb and his wife, Helen, finally managed to get over to visit. Thank you both for persevering! The Cal-Mac summer timetable makes possible more day visits than ever, so come over and see Rum for yourselves, you will be very welcome.

Chrissie MacDougall.


Arisaig Land Sea & Islands Centre

We’ve got some interesting plans for the Centre, to expand the exhibition and add some extras like a telescope, equipment to show wildlife videos, seating – better signs, brightening up the outside, etc. etc. And we have the War Records Book to look after, copy and display. We had quite a good season and with advertising and a web page in place this year we hope to do better, which is always good news for the village’s economy.

However we need some funds to achieve all we would like and one way we are trying is to ask if anyone would be willing to give of their time voluntarily this season to staff the centre and the little craft shop. If we have enough volunteers it might only mean a day a fortnight, or half a day a week. Anyone who has a hobby in craft work of any kind could bring it down and work on it at the centre. If you can help in this way you would be making a contribution equal to £5000+ to the Centre! as that is what we would save in wages. Ideally we would go back to employing staff another season. Anyone interested in helping out, please contact Liz on 450655 or Ann on 450312. Local knowledge is fairly important as we get asked lots of questions.

Coming to the Centre for a month in July and August is an exhibition entitled ‘Home and Away’. It’s part of a tour and is about past emigration and the present day search by folk for their roots.

Astley Hall

Still smoothing out a few problems – the main one being the heating in the main hall which just isn’t right. We’ve ordered the office furniture, ready to start the computer sessions with Niki’s help; we’re getting curtains for the Club Room soon, and putting up the ones for the stage. Some bookcases, and a case for displaying prize cups etc. are also on their way. By the time you’re reading this we’ll have had a committee meeting which I hope will have discussed employment of a cleaner/caretaker and Health & Safety issues. We haven’t set a date yet for our official opening but we will soon.

Ann Martin

Comann Eachdraidh Mùideart / Moidart Local History Group

The group was formed in November 1999 to collect and make available historical information about Moidart and around a dozen enthusiasts have been meeting every month since then in Glenuig Hall. We realised at the outset that this was going to be a very large task and so we set out to confine our attentions to Moidart, although we have not excluded areas peripheral to Moidart such as Ardnish and north of the Kinlochailort-Glenfinnan road towards Loch Beoraid, as these places once had strong links to Glenuig and to Moidart.

We have constituted ourselves as a non-profit making voluntary group and Iomairt aig an Oir / Initiative at the Edge gave us a grant to help us start up with copying facilities, training in archive research and some initial running costs. We have invited a number of speakers to show us the way, such as Donald Black (Comann Eachdraidh Liosmor), Bob Steward (Highland Council Archives), George Fox (Sunart Archives) and Jim Kirby (Sunart Oak Wood Project).

In summer we have had field visits to sites of interest in Moidart. Our view of history encompasses the whole period from prehistory to what happened last year or last month and extends from archaeology, to old photographs, Gaelic song and poetry, anecdotes and social and economic history of Moidart. We were recently given a grant by Mod Lochabair to collect together information about Gaelic songs, tales and bàrdachd from Moidart or about Moidart.

Current projects are to collect old photographs, collect Gaelic material, interview inhabitants or former inhabitants of Moidart, map sites of former habitation and collect archive information about schools, families and occupations. We have also prepared four short leaflets of history walks in Moidart which will shortly go on sale to finance further research by the group and further leaflets are in preparation.

We are also establishing a computer web site so that we can assemble our information and have it available to a wider audience. Material can be contributed initially to a space which is only open to members and then after polishing up can be put on to an open space for the whole world to read if interested. If any reader has information or old photographs of Moidart which they could contribute to our archive then we would be glad to hear from you. Material and photographs can be copied and the originals returned.

We meet on the second Monday of every month at 8pm in Glenuig Hall. Our next meeting is on Monday 12th February when Ken Bowker will be giving a demonstration of the web site which he is forming for our archives. Every one with an interest in the history of Moidart is welcome to come to our meetings which are free except for a contribution towards the tea, coffee and biscuits or you can contribute to our work by becoming a member for £5 per year.

Contact Gordon Barr (Chairman) 01687 470254 or Ken Bowker (Secretary) 01687 470268.
Web site.

A Backward Glance

Readers of West Word might like to know that a gentleman now living near Doncaster in South Yorkshire, has memories that go back top Tougal in the 1920s. Ralph MacDougall was born in 1916, and went to live at Tougal at the age of four, finally leaving to join the army in 1934. He can remember when there were only five houses, lived in by the names MacDougall, MacKinnon, MacDonald and MacEachen. Tougal in the 1920s was a sort of transit hamlet, people taking as empty cottage there while their new house was being built.

Ralph's first job, on leaving the Lady Lovat School at the age of fourteen, was with Mr. MacKellaig of Beoraid, where he worked as a farm labourer for a short time before going to Mr. MacVarish at the head of Loch Morar. This was a remote and lonely spot for a young man, and Ralph left there to work at Camusdarach for Mr. Cameron.

One of Ralph's jobs was to care for the farm horses Nell, Bell and Jean. When any of them needed to be shod, Ralph would ride it to the smiddy at Arisaig, going to visit his relatives across the road to wait until the job was done. The Camerons left to live at Oban, and after a while Ralph joined them for two years until he got itchy feet and a longing to see the world, at which point he joined the army. That was in 1934.

Visitors to Morar will remember the derelict boat that until quite recently lay stranded for years, always a landmark; it has now disintegrated entirely, but as a child Ralph and his Kinsadel friends played on it. In its heyday it had brought the coal round by sea to power the steam machinery used to build the railway line in the late 1800s, but when the line was finished, the boat was abandoned. (The railway was a real lifeline as the Road to the Isles was little more than a rough track at the time.)

Ralph's father worked on the railway line, and was injured when a landslide blocked the track between Kinsadel and the Morar river bridge. This was in the late 1920s.

For general stores the nearest shops were at Mallaig, and Matheson's in Arisaig which was later to become the Co-Op and finally the Spar; it stocked everything that anyone could want, from firewood to new boots as well as provisions. If a doctor was needed at Tougal, someone (and it was usually Ralph as a fit young lad) had to cycle to Arisaig to fetch Doctor de Sylva, who was, unusually for the time, from India, and a very good doctor.

old photos
Ralph MacDougall and his sister Flora

In summer, the 'summer invasion' took place when 'the gentry' came by car to stay for holidays, and among these was Maria Holden-Bird the water colour artist whose beautiful paintings of the sea and islands were well-known at the time. There were also the Prentices of Rhubana, for whom Ralph's mother did the washing.

Ralph wonders if anyone else still remembers the two yachts, both locally owned, that were wrecked. One broke its moorings and came to grief near Traigh, the other ended its days at the outer islands.

Interviewing Ralph was Hilary Shields, a regular visitor to the area.

Watch this space for extracts from next month's issue!
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