Lochaber Small Business of the Year 2015
Community paper for Mallaig, Morar, Arisaig, Lochailort, Glenfinnan
Glenuig, Knoydart and the Small Isles

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February 2020 Issue

Contents of the online version:

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

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Great news for Mallaig - the village has a Post Office once again after the branch shut in early January with the closure of the Spar shop. New postmistress Rachel MacDonald (pictured left) opened the doors to the branch on 6th February. The Post Office is back in its former location - the old Post Office counter within the former Spar shop. Opening hours are as follows:

Monday 9am - 1pm and 2pm - 5pm
Tuesday 9am - 1pm
Wednesday 9am - 1pm and 2pm - 5pm
Thursday 9am - 1pm
Friday 9am - 1pm and 2pm - 5pm
Saturday and Sunday Closed.

Post Office say this is a temporary set-up so we hope they will endeavour to find a permanent arrangement for the branch soon. Highland councillor Allan Henderson said: 'I am delighted to be informed that Mallaig will once again have a Post Office, albeit under a temporary operator. A village the size of Mallaig serving so many remote and rural areas should never be in a position such as this. Post Office need to use this breathing space to get a permanent solution for Mallaig.
'They also need to deliver a good consistent service suitable to the needs of today's customer. This also includes commercial businesses as banks withdraw their branches.'

As part of a three year pilot, there will be additional CalMac sailings running between Mallaig and Armadale from 2nd March. The winter service generally consists of two crossings a day but this will be increased to six or on some dates seven by the addition of MV Loch Bhrusda. The summer timetable commences on 27th March with MV Loch Fyne and MV Lord of the Isles covering the route once again.
Rob Ware from the Sleat Transport Forum said, 'The forum welcomes the long-held aspiration for additional low season services on the Mallaig - Armadale route being introduced this year ahead of the summer timetable.
'Going forward in the long term, the forum continues to petition the Scottish Government for significantly greater investment in vessels and port infrastructure and in particular the provision of a dedicated vessel for the Mallaig - Armadale service, capable of operating year-round with sufficient capacity to meet future demand on what is CalMac's sixth most popular route.'
Foot passengers can now purchase tickets in advance on the Mallaig - Armadale and Mallaig - Lochboisdale routes - but not for journeys to the Small Isles!

Great to hear the news of the Mallaig Post Office reopening - all the best to Rachel! Let's hope the Spar's old premises can be put to other good uses - a community shop is a great idea.
The Road to the Isles Facilities Group needs your help - no obligation, they just need to show they have the support of the local community for their projects. See page seven for more.
Elsewhere in the paper amongst other things there's news of the opening night at this year's Book Festival, updates from Arisaig Community Trust and the Eco Project, and I'm happy to say that railway columnist Sonia is back.
As always, my thanks to Morag and Ewen for helping with the printing and Anne and Jane for looking after the subscription envelopes this month.
Kirsty Bloom

January in Knoydart has seemed to have just flown by, maybe the gales have blown it past quicker than usual! The catkins and daffodils and snowdrops are all appearing too and nights are getting that bit lighter.
Knoydart Lodge has been the place to be this month with both our New Year celebrations and Burns Supper taking place there - a huge thanks to Bob and Morag for opening their doors and welcoming so many folk in. A lovely Hogmanay Supper was put on in aid of hall funds. Bob's game pie was on everyone's lips! A few folk went off to their homes for the bells but then returned to ceilidh the dark away.
The Burns Supper on the 25th was a fantastic night. The food was wonderful with local venison from Kilchoan and of course haggis, neeps and the "Humble Tattie". After the speeches were had and the tables cleared we had a good old fashioned evening of tunes and singing. Was great to hear so many folk joining in, such a lovely atmosphere and the craic flowed until the wee small hours.
The next day we had a great time in the sunshine and hail at the Community Garden getting the new polytunnel prepped and ready for putting the skin on. The previous polytunnel blew down on the night of the Burns Supper last year and we have resurrected it with second hand pipes and wooden batons. We also had a good tidy up around the place of cut brambles and trees and took a big trailer load away to the fire at long beach.
Knoydart Forest Trust held its Food Forest Volunteer Day on the 19th January. Everyone there got stuck in with everything from secateurs to chainsaws and cleared a huge area, using the cut branches to create the start of Hugel beds to use next year. New fruit trees were also planted by Amie and yummy pasties for lunch supplied by Lorna. Now it's a lot easier to assess the land and plan for the next stages of the Food Forest. Ian Dow and Fiona Lennie have been spearheading the idea since the community voted to use prize money awarded to the KFT. Thanks to everyone involved for putting in so much work - I think everyone is really looking forward to the next volunteer day.
The storms in the middle of January were pretty wild with lots of debris, rocks and seaweed thrown up onto the roads at Millburn and the road at Glaschoille was partly washed away. Dismaying to see just how much plastic was thrown up and scattered everywhere. The gusts also blew both the horsebox and trailer at Inverguserain 100 yards across the field - thankfully not quite into the sea.
News for next month is that the Village Hall Re-Opening party has been shifted to the 4th April to give us a little more time to complete the works. It's looking amazing so far and it will be very exciting to see it all finished. Shooglenifty and A.M.K are playing and the tickets will be available soon so keep an eye on the website for more updates at www.knoydarthall.com.

To finish - a wee poem inspired by a local lassie:

Wee, unsuspecting, tim'rous beastie,
O, what a panic's in thy breastie!
Did you think it would be a hoot
To joyride in a furry boot?
So off to work our Jacqui goes,
thinking it was laces tickling her toes.

The little moose made no a peep
as Jacqui jumped into the jeep.
Past the tearoom, past the hall,
these boots are feeling awfie sma'!
Past Donald's corner and by Kilchoan,
to the office they were goin'.

Now Jacqui is a creature of habit,
(and never one to get too crabbit).
She bends down to do her lace
and with the moose comes face to face.
The moosie cannae tak nae mair,
and makes a break for fresher air!

Anna Wilson

While talking to a guest who is coming to stay on Muck next summer they commented "It must be pretty quiet with you at this time of year". Well, no, not really. The month started with the traditional hockey match on the beach on New Year's Day. For once the tide played ball, so to speak. There can't be too many hockey pitches that are boundaried by rock, covered in seaweed and have a stream flowing down one side! Skidding about on wet sand certainly didn't dent the enthusiasm. In fact the younger members of the community threw themselves into the fray with such enthusiasm that, at times, it was prudent to make way or be flattened. With a very mixed age range, ability level and a somewhat random number of players on each team, the score line was irrelevant. As if that wasn't enough to blow away any cobwebs left over from first footing in the small wee hours, quite a gaggle then went for a quick dip! Rather them than me is all I can say.
On the farm calving is in full swing. Colin MacEwen told me they had five calves born in a single day the other week which is extraordinary. Wonder what he's been feeding the bulls! The weather has remained predominantly mild and the odd cold interlude hasn't stop the grass growing. Lawrence MacEwen recorded a temperature of 15c in the yard this month. But it's come at a price. Wet and windy. The rain has made the grassland very soggy indeed and the worse gale (Brendan, I think), combined with a spring tide, left seaweed piled high all round the waiting room and badly damaged one of the fenders on the pier. North West Marine came out to inspect the damage and we have just heard that it will take five calm days to complete the repair. Not going to be finished any time soon then! The fender issue meant that the Loch Nevis was unable to dock on a couple of occasions. For a while it looked as if the school wouldn't open as our supply teacher, Mr Eugene Norman, couldn't get here. Colin MacEwen and MV Lochan to the rescue. Two guests, somebody needing to get off for work and a schoolgirl were ferried to Eigg in time to meet the Loch Nevis, then Eugene and the Rev Stuart Goudie and his wife were conveyed to Muck. Stuart disembarked remarking that it had been a bit of a fairground ride. Well I did say last month that it's no the easiest parish to preside over!
The search for someone to take over the Craft Shop has been concluded. Bruce Boyd and his wife Pamela should be moving to Muck towards the end of February and we all wish him well in his new endeavour. A talented chef, he also has an online confectionery business. His artistic creations look, and taste, amazing. So much so that we seem to continually refer to him as "the chocolate man". Sorry Bruce! I'm sure the label will be dropped once you move here. It's a shame the search for a new teacher hasn't concluded with equal haste. With no successful applicants in November, it's taken until the third week in January to re-advertise the post. I know the Christmas period probably delayed things, but really?
The other big event of the month was Burns Night. The nursery and primary children of the island entertained us with poems and music. Throw in haggis, neeps and tatties, oh and the odd dram or two, and a great night was had by all.
Perhaps February will be a quiet month!
David Barnden

It seems as if there hasn't been a single day this month that the wind hasn't reached something between fresh and gale force, often with driving rain hammering at the windows. Storm Brendan made for a memorably uncomfortable night, coinciding with a particularly high tide, throwing up mountains of seaweed, stones and plastic debris onto the road and the pier. No real significant damage, thankfully - and great community spirit as everyone turned out the following morning to help with the clean-up. Chief Womble Liz will likely be faced with mountains of plastic from her shore cleaning over the rest of the winter.

Seaweed washed up by Storm Brendan

The weather has also conspired to disrupt the ferry timetable, with a few cancellations.
Credit to CalMac for adjusting timetables, ensuring at least one ferry per week arrived, making sure supplies such as food and mail were delivered (and passengers!)
With a number of absentees off island, this has been the first January for a few years that we haven't celebrated Burns Night together. Perhaps we will have a joint delayed Burns and Valentine's Night party.. maybe the Bard himself would have approved of that.
Following a quiet period over Xmas and New Year, we have now received quite a bit of interest in our search to appoint a Development Officer to take community projects forward, and expect to hold interviews early in February.
Places for this year's 10k run sold out online within days, even after we increased the number of participants to 100. There is a waiting list in case people drop out - be warned however, that's already oversubscribed..!
On the farm, a first calf arrived, somewhat unexpected..
And a few signs of spring not too far away..? A single Whooper swan sheltering in the harbour - two shelduck sieving the mud on the receding tide - and a colourful display of snowdrops in Canna House garden.
Peter Holden

Criomagan (Crumbs) from Canna House
January (Am Faoilleach in Gaelic) may be a month of gales and sleet but in Glasgow, the streets and halls are warm with the resounding sounds of traditional and not so traditional music from all corners of the world and this year was no exception. Fiona Mackenzie, Canna Archivist, had to leave Canna a whole week early due to gale forecasts to participate, but once in the Baile Mr nan Gaidheal (Big City of the Gael, i.e. Glasgow), made the most of it. Fiona undertook a day of illustrated multimedia talks as part of the "Coastal Connections" day, celebrating Scotland's Year of Coasts and Waters. She was glad to have left Canna early, as otherwise, due to CalMac ferry weather cancellations, she would have missed her events, sponsored as they were by CalMac! Fiona's presentations featured one of Margaret Fay Shaw's broadcasts from the 1950's, Portrait of an Island, about her life on Canna at that time. The presentation, within the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall, included Margaret's films, images, John Lorne Campbell's sound archive recordings and Fiona's own live Gaelic song, to tell of the close connection between the human residents of Canna and its animal population, the sea and the shipping communities.
Fiona then went to participate in a major event, AISEIRIGH (Resurgence), celebrating the life and work of the great Jacobite Gaelic bard, Alasdair MacMhaighstir Alasdair. According to the Scottish Poetry Library's official biography, "Modern poetry in Scottish Gaelic begins with the brilliant, controversial figure of Alasdair Mac Mhaighstir Alasdair". Born in Moidart, his solo book-length collection Aiseirigh, published in 1751, was the first to be printed in any Celtic language.
An active rebel in the '45, he sought to rebuild connections between Gaelic and mainland European cultures, deploying a range of voice and style from classically-influenced formality to uniquely Gaelic ribaldry and invective. AISEIRIGH marked the 250th anniversary of the bard's death, highlighting his continued influence as both a revivalist and innovator, and Fiona worked on providing images and audio with connections to Alasdair from the Canna archives for the backdrop. These included scans of one of the last 12 remaining copies of Aiseirigh, which has its home in Canna House. The book was widely destroyed on its publication in 1751 due to what was seen as its 'inflammatory nature'. Alasdair was for a time the Baillie of Canna, and wrote much of his best bardachd (poetry) there, including his famous epic poem "The Birlinn of Clanranald", on the island which is now called Eilean a'Bhaird - the Poet's Island. He was marooned there one night during a storm and wrote the poem, while sheltering under his boat. It is the longest poem in modern Scottish Gaelic, extending to 566 lines and Fiona sang the 'Iorram' or 'rowing' section of the poem for AISEIRIGH, having learned it from the singing of Angus John Campbell of South Uist on a recording made by John Lorne Campbell in 1949. Alasdair is buried in Arisaig's Kilmory Cemetery. Father Charles Macdonald, in his book Moidart, described Alasdair's passing in 1770, in this manner:
"In his last illness he was carefully nursed by his Arisaig friends, two of whom on the night of his decease, finding the hours rather monotonous, and thinking that he was asleep, began to recite in an undertone some verses of their own composition. To their astonishment, however, the bard raised himself up, and, smiling at their inexperienced efforts, pointed out how the ideas might be improved and the verses made to run in another and smoother form, at the same time giving an illustration in a few original measures of his own. He then sank back on the pillow and immediately expired."
Fiona MacKenzie

January always seems a hard month to go through with that bit of a low after the festive season, dark nights just starting to shorten, but not enough yet, although birds have started to sing at dawn. In my case, it made it that much harder to shake the post 12th December blues. But a time for the usual good resolutions and here on the island, circuits have resumed in the hall, thanks to Becca and Fee, and folks are glad of this opportunity to drag themselves off the couch and the appeal of hot chocolate (or Guinness) and Netflix.
There is encouraging progress on the Pier hub upgrade with community and stakeholders invited to comment on the latest drawings: good stuff building nicely on the work by Sam Foster. And we are to recruit an interpretation specialist which makes my little heart happy too!
Work on our transition agenda has also got be done and the Eigg Environment Action group has been planning an initial engagement meeting with the Eigg residents to define what we have to do as part of our Clean Energy Island pledge...what is our vision a truly fossil fuel free Eigg? Blue sky thinking sounds just right at the moment.
Continued inter island cooperation as we leave Europe, at least offers the hope of keeping that little light on for us in Scotland . . . Scotland Europa in Brussels's splendidly refurbished Scotland's House on the Rond-point Schuman, right at the heart of the EU quarters, is certainly keeping the flame burning bright, and it was joyous to see their digital display for the Year of Coasts and Waters: the view of Eigg and Rum from the sound of Arisaig with kayakers in the foreground: made me truly proud of where I have chosen to live. Another source of pride was to share Scotland's ambitious targets and good practice for community renewables at the workshop on Local Energy Communities, the latest thematic event in the Smart Villages initiative. How ironic that as we leave, Scotland will be hailed as a model to emulate for 27 member states, whilst on our doorstep, our voice is not heard and we are not invited at the decision-making table, never mind the discussion over the so-called UK Prosperity Fund: I can see little evidence of an appetite down south to provide us with roads, bridges and ferry terminals, all branded with a Union Jack logo as has been touted latterly.
So this may have been my last official workshop attendance as a member of a UK based organisation, but it was comforting to see how much our partners want to continue working with us no matter what happens. Plus, as in the message by two UK coordinators of the European Rural Parliament - Vanessa Hallhead (Scotland) and Michael Dower (England): "As the UK leaves the European Union, we send a message to all our friends across Europe. We will feel no less European after that unhappy date. We have been proud to be citizens of both the United Kingdom and the European Union. We see the EU as a major force for good in the world, a guarantor of peace on the continent, an upholder of high standards of social justice and environmental quality, and a generator of exchange and cooperation among the nations . . . Brexit does not affect our vision of a wide harmonious Europe, stretching from the Urals to the Atlantic, in which all people - and particularly those in rural regions whom we have sought to serve - can flourish in the years ahead."
31st January was however not so much Brexit day on Eigg, but the day we gathered as a community to bury Mick Brett who passed away suddenly and peacefully after putting on a brave fight till the very end. May he now play the Big Gig in the sky, with his sequinned jacket that was sent off with him, and finally comfortably numb, as he was fond of saying, quoting Pink Floyd of course. Blaze, the Rock tribute band in which he toured the Highlands faithfully for the last 20 years, will be coming to Eigg this summer to play their tribute concert to their Eigg bassist and singer. A true English eccentric, Mick will be fondly remembered for bringing the first TV dish antenna to the island and what a size it was, setting up the Hole in the Wall and the Eigg film nights, introducing MTV to Eigg, not to mention the Whales' head, the Pink Floyd concerts and the musical score for An Eigg Dumpling, the Gaelic film short he produced for the Eigg History society! Our thoughts are Jacky and all the family.
From Mick's farewell to the Poozies' live gig at the Sci fi party at Laig and Niamh's 18th birthday party the next day, there was only one surreal leap, and we did it Eigg style, with a bevy of cyborgs, a green extra-terrestrial family, a cosmonaut, and metallic clad beauties. (I turned up in bleu blanc rouge - a French Alien, what else?) To Saira who hosted in customary style and DJ Fee whose debut it was, following on from Andy Dolphin, and aided by Finn, a great thank you for a magical moment of fun.
Camille Dressler

Knoydart Hall - nearly there!
The refurbishment project of the Knoydart Hall is nearly complete: the stage has been built, kitchen units installed, external ramps constructed and decorating is in progress. The Hall's grand relaunch event will take place on Saturday 4th April, featuring Shooglenifty and A.M.K - tickets went on sale on 5th February and sold out within an hour!!

Arisaig Community Trust
Community Land and Tourism Update

We held a meeting on 22nd January to update on our recent Scottish Land Fund awards and the plans we're putting together for the three areas: the shorefront, the playing field and Station Road. Members of Arisaig Community Trust, Arisaig & District Community Council, the Eco Project, local businesses, Chamber of Commerce and residents all put forward ideas and suggestions, building on the previous meeting last year.
ACT are now negotiating with the sellers to purchase these areas using the money from the Land Fund. Some outline plans for a new car park were shown; the aim is to improve and develop the carparking areas for both residents and visitors, incorporate three larger bays designated for campervans and also a disabled space. The work is estimated at £150,000, 70% of which could be funded by the Rural Tourist Infrastructure Fund. The earliest any work would begin is October 2020. Points raised included ensuring a balance was maintained between parking and green areas, looking out-with the village centre for future parking options, the management of 'residents' only' parking spaces and ensuring sufficient turning and short-stay parking for large lorries and refuse collections to prevent a 'bottle-neck' and adding to the congestion.
Any new surfacing work would include appropriate drainage and alternative surfacing materials are also being explored. Feedback from the Chamber of Commerce suggested that Sustrans are prioritising this area for a new cycle route, connecting Fort William and Mallaig and, as such, including provision for cyclists and promoting car-free holidays should also be part of any future plans.
Discussions are ongoing between the ADCC, ACT and the Highland Council to look at ways to improve the bins and waste disposal within the village centre. We are aware this has been a big issue for some time! Any new bins and enclosure unit for them would need to be supported by the Highland Council. The bins could be sited either next to or opposite the current glass recycling. The council would support the enclosure of the bins and have raised the issue that the current recycling bin is often contaminated and the contents cannot be recycled. We may need to trial various options and see what works. Proper signage is essential. In the first instance we would seek to reduce the number, relocate them and ensure a proper lidded recycling bin is in place. A wooden enclosure with a green roof would be added later in the year as it is also part of the Infrastructure Fund application. Another part of this project is to update and replace the interpretation panels in the village. We gathered some suggestions on what new boards should include - maps, wildlife info, historical info, key sites, walks and cycle paths etc. If you have ideas for these, we'd love to hear them; pop into the Land, Sea and Islands Centre where you can add them to our 'ideas board.'
We will be working with the Road to the Isles Marketing Group on promoting responsible camping. A tourism roadshow on 6th February, hosted by the Chamber of Commerce in the Astley Hall, will bring businesses together to plan and work cohesively on managing tourism.
The Road to the Isles Facilities Group hope that work can begin on the new Mallaig toilets before the summer. Some issues are still outstanding with the Traigh toilets unfortunately.
Our housing project at Station Road is out for tender at the moment and we will hopefully be selecting a contractor in February. Plans are currently for six rented houses and four self-build plots. There will be a meeting in April between the community and the chosen contractor. This will be an opportunity for residents to look at the designs and to ask any questions.
As always, get in touch if you have any questions or comments:

A Write Highland Hoolie!
Mallaig Book Festival
Friday 6th - Sunday 8th November 2020
Message in a Bottle to open this year's Highland Hoolie!

It's Scotland's Year of Coasts and Waters 2020 so how better to celebrate it than to open this year's Festival with the enchanting musical and audio composition, Message in a Bottle.
Commissioned by SNH to create the music, local musician Ingrid Henderson was inspired by the true story of a boy in Armagh who threw his message in a bottle into the sea, for it to be washed up ten years later on Canna. The composition is an hour long, musical and audio visual show with animation and visuals from Cat Bruce and Somhairle MacDonald.
With the undeniable romantic notion of casting a message into the ocean and allowing fate, the currents, wind and nature to guide its journey, this is a simple story of childhood love. This simple sentiment leads us to explore the bigger ideas of tides, emigration and sea journeys through music, song and film. Interwoven with this are ancient Gaelic melodies and songs highlighting our strong cultural connections with the seas around us.
Appearing at the Hoolie with Ingrid will be Megan Henderson, Anna Massie and Conal McDonagh. Tickets will be on sale separately from Hoolie tickets - keep an eye on our facebook and web pages for details. By clicking on 'Log in' on the website you can sign up for notification of when tickets will be on sale.

Mallaig Harbour News
The weather hasn't improved any since my last news, which meant that the sprat pump didn't get any further use, and was finally removed on 24th January. On the 13th and 14th January there were big tides, which, along with the storm surge, led to both the lifeboat and the passenger access pontoon being above the height of the pier. Thankfully there was no damage done, but it made for some pretty impressive photos. Unfortunately, because they were taken in the dark, they won't reproduce well in West Word, but you can see some of them on our Facebook page.
We've been using this quieter period to catch up on some maintenance, especially around the Marina, but we are also hoping to do some work, including replacing ladders, in the Outer Breakwater - if the weather calms down enough! We have also received the report from Resource Efficient Scotland with recommendations for how we can reduce our energy consumption. As I indicated before, the most visible aspect of this will be changing the lights around the Harbour to LEDs, which has been calculated to save 35,000kWh of energy and 9 tonnes of CO2 annually.
I've been mentioning that this is the Year of Coasts and Waters 2020, and there are various events going on throughout Scotland throughout the year. We are hoping to host an event on the 27th June, in partnership with the Road to the Isles Marketing Group; RNMDSF and the RNLI. This will be a great community gala day, with various additional elements to really celebrate our Coasts and Waters. More details will be available in the run up to the day, but in the meantime, please mark the date in your diaries, and if anyone has any suggestions of what they would like to see incorporated, or would be willing to help with anything either in the run-up or on the day, then please get in touch.
We have also received information from the Highland and Moray FLAG (Fisheries Local Action Group) who are looking for participants who are involved in the fishing industry in the Highlands and Moray, and who would be interested in visiting the Jammerbugt FLAG and the Guild of Thorupstrand Coastal Fishermen in Northern Denmark. The fishing community in Thorupstrand, in northern Jutland, is one of the few examples of small-scale fishing still surviving in Denmark. The area has faced similar industry challenges to Highland and Moray in terms of lack of young fishermen coming into the industry, decommissioning impact, difficulties accessing quota, and changing markets. Through an innovative project and co-operative working, the Fishermen's Guild and the Jammerbugt FLAG have taken steps to protect the industry, including attracting young people into the industry, community owned quota, sustainable gear adaptations, boat building, and their own seafood branding initiatives. The visit would be fully funded for successful applicants, and you can find more information, and a short questionnaire to complete if you are interested at www.highlandmorayflag.co.uk
We had our first Board Meeting of the year in mid-January, and the next one is scheduled for mid-March. As with every year, there will be Board vacancies, which will be advertised immediately after the March Board meeting. We know that it is quite a tight turnaround for applications each year, so I'm happy to have an informal discussion with anyone who thinks that they might be interested in applying even before the positions are advertised.


Finally, most of you will know that our Harbour Master had a big birthday on Wednesday 29th January. We celebrated with home-made Prosecco and Strawberry cheesecake kindly made by Grace. Happy Birthday Pimmy!
Jacqueline McDonell

Mallaig Lifeboat Log
We wish a Happy New Year to all. Thank you for your continued support throughout 2019 and hope it continues in 2020. There have been no call-outs this month and therefore care and maintenance of the Lifeboat has gone on uninterrupted.
Jim Morton

On and Off the Rails

Are you fortunate to be aged 50 or over?
If so, consider purchasing a ScotRail Club 50 card. Membership costs just £15 for one year and the savings on tickets all over Scotland on ScotRail services will put you into profit from your first ticket purchased using it!
Three times a year the company offer a £17 flat fare return ticket deal exclusively to Club 50 members. The current offer is up and running now and is available to book for your outward journey until March 13th 2020 - which means that if you travelled out on that date, for example, you could use your return journey up to April 13th 2020, taking in the Easter weekend. If that isn't enough - and if you are travelling on a ScotRail service in Scotland which has a catering trolley on board - you can claim 50% discount on hot and cold drinks, by showing your Club 50 Smartcard, e.g. between Fort William/Glasgow/Edinburgh etc.
Travel as often as you like on the ScotRail network for £17 return as long as it's within the offer period.
In between periods of £17 travel you can claim 20% off your ticket cost on Advance and Off-peak tickets when you buy online, or 10% if you purchase at a ticket office or over the phone. Just make sure when you have your Smartcard that you ask for the club 50 discount when you purchase.
When you book you can of course also request Assisted Travel for boarding or exiting your train and changing platforms at staffed stations, and reserve your seat. Bikes do have to be booked always in advance, due to limited space, unless you have a wee folding bike which can go in the luggage space. Want to join? Details in full are available at www.scotrail.co.uk/tickets/club-50. All you need is an email address, bank card and a passport style photo. You can only join online, so if you don't have computer access go to your local library and the staff will assist you. Once you have your club 50 Smartcard you can purchase tickets online using it, or at any staffed railway booking office. Each year thereafter you top-up your card online again, and carry on enjoying the benefits.
If you enjoy train travel and see it as an adventure then go for it! The Borders railway line is within limits, as is Aberdeen, or the Kyle line; you can traverse the Forth Railway Bridge and look at all the stations en route to Inverness! Enjoy planning your trip.

Network Rail commit £1.7 million investment to our West Highland extension line
Work is currently underway - in the most treacherous conditions - to protect our railway from potential landslips and rockfalls. The work will protect 14 rock cuttings over a 2.5 mile stretch of single track line located between Locheilside and Lochailort, encompassing both Glenfinnan station and viaduct.
The project will also include renewal of sections of boundary fencing at Glenfinnan to protect the visitors and locals who follow the path up the hillside to photograph, video, drone, or even paint and draw the iconic views afforded, and to stop them from putting themselves at risk by straying onto the railway. In advance of this, dangerous trees may be felled and specialist abseil teams will remove small vegetation and rockface debris. Top and bottom anchors are drilled and grouted into the hillside before metal mesh is secured. On some sections at higher risk of rockfall, this mesh is high tensile to give further protection.
The work is being delivered by QTS on behalf of Network Rail and this project on this section of line should be ongoing until April, day and night. The work is not expected to impact on any rail services, with maybe just an occasional speed restriction.
Hats off and a debt of gratitude to QTS and Network Rail for their commitment to protect train crews, passengers, drivers and the trains themselves from anticipated dangers. The QTS staff commit to the task whatever the weather, and all eat hearty meals at various eateries. They spend well and help the economy. Welcome back to all of them thanks to you all.
I will be travelling by train to Fort William and back for a Lochaber Transport Forum meeting this week. But as I am departing Mallaig at 06.03 and returning from town at 16.19 I may have the pleasure of seeing the ongoing work areas lit up by generators in the dark! How exciting is the thought. I will let you know next month!

Thank you for the day
On Wednesday January 29th - a day when most of the shops would have been thinking "the ferries are cancelled, I'll see how many people are in on the lunchtime train and close early" off of it poured 50 - yes, 50 - Friends of the London Transport Museum, who came to Mallaig for the afternoon. They were happy. They had pre-booked lunch at the Chlachain (of course - fish and chips) then spread themselves out around the open shops until the 16.05 train to Fort William. Overnighted at the Ben Nevis Hotel, with an entertaining evening talk given by Hege Hernaes representing Glenfinnan Station Museum and the West Highland Community Rail Partnership. Happy day!

Sunday train service in winter - use it or lose it
Local regular rail users on the West Highland line extension - me included - have banged the drum to have a Sunday service that runs all the year round - not just in summer. We now have it, meaning that travelling in and out in the daytime and back can be achieved, to shop or visit friends and relatives in hospital, and visitors can come to Mallaig for a Sunday afternoon to visit us, have a meal and return. Guests can now arrive in the early evening before travelling on to Skye and the Small Isles, or return back by train the next morning.
Good passenger loadings are needed to ensure we keep this service operating on a permanent basis. If the take-up is poor it is not set in stone that it will be in the next franchise. As a family maybe take the 10.10 out on a Sunday - before we get too busy with 'the season' - and visit friends, returning from Fort William on the 16.19 train. Or, encourage people to visit us, maybe to go out in Mallaig for lunch, or to go over to Knoydart, or even go for a swim and sauna! There is not any 'shouting from the rooftops' by ScotRail about the service so we need to make people aware of its existence. Any ideas?

A few dates for your diary
Friday 21st, Saturday 22nd and Sunday 23rd February Model Rail Scotland at the SECC Glasgow. Easily gettable to by train - and you are still in time to purchase discounted advance tickets with a free catalogue. Visit www.modelrail-scotland.co.uk

Saturday 14th March Friends of Glenfinnan AGM - 1.30pm in the sleeper car. Soup and sandwiches will be served. A woodland working party will follow the next day on Sunday 15th March. Sleeping car accommodation overnight on the Saturday at no cost for working party participants. You can get there and back by train on Saturday and Sunday, don't forget. In Glenfinnan the National Trust Centre is now open every Sunday of the year plus Glenfinnan Station Museum will be open on arrangement throughout the winter. For more details of any of the Glenfinnan events contact John or Hege on 01397 722295. There is an answerphone and one of them will call you back.
See you on the train,
Sonia Cameron

The Story of a Quilt
At the close of the morning service in the Church of Scotland, Arisaig, on the 12th January a hand-made quilt was handed to Helen and Alan Lamb. It had been a long time in the making, as Helen had started it some thirty-two years earlier. Once started, she realised what a huge task it was and it rarely saw the light of day, being kept securely in its wrappings. But in 2019 Helen showed it to Morag Keenan who thought immediately that the finishing of it might become a community project. And so it proved to be.

Within weeks Morag had organised working parties, and individuals prepared to use their needles at home, so effectively that the amount of sewing placed in the church continued to grow until Morag took it home and began to assemble all this magnificent needlework. By December everything was ready, and arrangements were made for it to be presented to Helen and Alan, unbeknown to them, at the Christmas Eve service.
It was then that the project almost came to a very abrupt end. The quilt had been placed unwittingly on the only heating pipes in the church without a safety guard and when held up was seen to be smouldering! That appeared to be the end of the quilt.
Undeterred, however, Morag and her band of helpers removed and replaced the damaged parts and by the 11th January the quilt had been completely restored and was presented to Helen and Alan the very next day. Not being aware of any of this behind-the-scenes-activity since Christmas they were completely astonished and went away, the proud owners of a beautiful and magnificent quilt which they will always treasure.

The final quilt being presented to Helen and Alan at Arisaig Church, on 12th January 2020

As a result of this Morag has stated . . . this has always been more than a quilt. There was also much laughter during the making of the quilt. The result is that a few want to continue meeting to sew, to learn from each other and to cement new friendships and we are now booking the Hall at Arisaig Church for 10 consecutive Wednesdays starting on 22nd January. Not everyone in the group has a connection with the Church of Scotland. In fact what delighted me was that all three churches in Arisaig have been involved in the construction of the quilt.
Helen and Alan would like to thank Morag and her superb group of helpers sincerely for the beautiful quilt which they will always treasure. It is also very gratifying to note that so many have been involved: from the community, the churches, the Small Isles, and beyond, in its making. Helen and Alan Lamb

BIRDWATCH December 2019 by Stephen MacDonald
A much more unsettled month with strong winds and rain at times.
A typical December bird wise, with little out of the ordinary to report.
The male Mandarin Duck was back on the Morar estuary on the 1st of the month. It was seen there on several occasions during the month and also in a flooded field at Glenancross Farm on the 29th. The single Long-tailed Ducks on Loch Ailort and Loch nan Ceall were seen daily till about midmonth, but not since. The wintering Slavonian Grebes on Loch nan Ceall were reported on several occasions. Little Grebes were also reported from there, Loch Ailort and the Morar estuary. Varying numbers of Whooper Swans were reported from Loch nan Eala throughout the month.
A single Greenshank and Bar-tailed Godwit were seen on the Morar estuary and a single Black-tailed Godwit was seen on the shore near Morroch, Loch nan Ceall on the 4th. Numerous reports of Woodcock from throughout the area, mostly seen at night flying up from roadside verges.
Four winter plumaged Ptarmigan were seen near the summit of Sgurr Eireagoraidh on the 1st.
Some large numbers of Chaffinches reported from garden feeders as the month progressed. In excess of 70 birds at a time recorded from several gardens. Goldfinch numbers also increased, presumably as the supply of natural food dwindled. A flock of 50 reported from a Woodside garden on 30th.
Flocks of Redpolls were reported from Loch nan Eala area and also Morar, mostly feeding Alder or Birch. Several reports of flocks of Siskins, mostly around Loch nan Eala, but only two reports of birds at garden feeders, a single at Rhubana View from the 25th and one at Woodside on the 31st.
Bullfinches were seen near Traigh Farm and Morar Lodge.
Dippers were seen regularly by Loch Morar and also the burn at Camusdarroch car park. A more unusual sighting was of one in a small burn at East Bay, Mallaig on the 22nd, just yards from the sea.
Two Chiffchaffs reported, one in a Woodside garden on the 9th and another in a garden near Arisaig railway station on the 31st. Normally a summer visitor to this area, it is unlikely that they are "our" birds overwintering, but birds that have come here from further east in Europe or even Russia.


Isabel Morton from Mallaig Bowling Club took a West Word along when she joined ladies from the Kyleakin Bowling Club and Kintail Bowling Club to all play in the SSMBF Short Mat Competition against England.

This lucky copy of West Word got to have a few days' skiing in Sweden with Liz Mclean!

Thanks to Morar's Tilly and Hamish, who have taken their West Word on their family's big trip to Asia and the Antipodes! This photo was taken in remote northwest Cambodia, where they stayed in a village called Banteay Chhmar.
Mum Nancy says, 'The highlight of our stay here was playing boules with 100 soldiers who were on patrol on the mountainous Thai/Cambodian border, an area of recent conflict which has only just been opened up to visitors! Our guide thinks Tilly and Hamish were the first Scottish children to visit the remote border temples. One of the soldiers was pleased to pose for a photo with the children and our inspiring guide Poleng Sang - a former refugee from the Pol Pot years who was deeply passionate about the wonderful community-based tourism project in his village.' We're looking forward to more pics and stories from your trip!

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