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February 2023 Issue
Contents of the online version:
All photos are copyright either of the individual photographers or West Word.
Red Squirrels are coming to Arisaig!
Arisaig residents may soon be seeing Red Squirrels around the village as a result of a planned re-introduction by rewilding charity Trees for Life.
About 20 will be released by Trees for Life in the Arisaig Estate/Arisaig House area over a couple of months, starting in March. Hopefully they will multiply and spread throughout the area, and with luck we may see some in our gardens in years to come.
The Caledonian Forest is the main home of the Red Squirrel, which has disappeared from most of southern Britain. Their main areas of habitation are in central and eastern Scotland, and they are absent from large areas of the north west. The main threat to their existence is the non-native Grey Squirrel and squirrel pox, which Grey Squirrels can carry and pass on but do not suffer from. Grey Squirrels eat the same food as the Red but access it earlier, so when the Red are ready to do so, most of it has already gone.
Trees for Life are part of Rewilding Scotland and are undertaking a ground-breaking Red Squirrels Reintroduction Project with the aim of returning Red Squirrels to at least ten forests where they were once present, away from Grey Squirrel populations and squirrel pox. They humanely trap Red Squirrels in regions where they are plentiful, only taking a few from each area; they are given a health check and whether they are male or female is determined. Then they are put into large nesting boxes lined with hay, with food and water, and brought to the designated new area and left to explore their new territory. Red Squirrels have a varied diet and can live in a range of different woodlands, both deciduous and coniferous. A wide variety of trees is ideal; they love pinecones, acorns and beech mast particularly.
Research has found that an increase in Pine Martens in a region has led to the Grey Squirrel population being pushed back and then the area being recolonised by the Red. This is possibly because the bigger, heavier Grey Squirrel spend more time on the forest floor and are more easily caught. Although Pine Martens do predate the Red, it isn't a big problem. You can help the project by reporting any sightings you see at www.scottishsquirrels.org.uk/squirrel-sightings
Successful funding bid for Knoydart Bunkhouse
Knoydart Bunkhouse are to receive £560,000 from the latest round of funding from the Regeneration Capital Grant Fund (RCGF). Their project consists of building six individual pod like units, complete with separate entry ways, bathroom and kitchen facilities, to accommodate staff, volunteers or contractors on a short-term basis. The workers' bunkhouse is to be built on the vacant site of the former net shed, a mixed area which is home to the community gardens, Knoydart Bunkhouse, Garage, industrial units and residential properties. Building on this former industrial area will contribute greatly to the regeneration of this part of Knoydart and promote wellbeing and a sense of place through improved surroundings. Sara Donald, Accommodation Project Manager at the Knoydart Foundation said, 'We are delighted to have been selected for the Regeneration Capital Grant Fund for our Knoydart Bunkhouse Project. This building will be game changer for the Community, benefiting the many enterprises, individuals and projects on Knoydart, many of which have struggled to get off the ground or been subjected to significant delays due to a lack of available accommodation for the necessary work force. 'The RCGF funding will allow us to make this much needed building a reality and we are incredibly thankful our project has been chosen. The design of this project (which you can see here) was agreed by the community and created with Knoydart Construction company and Fair Planning & Design. We are excited to see it come to life when work begins later this year!'
LETTER FROM THE EDITOR
Welcome to the February issue - I hope it brings you some cheer in this dismal weather!
It's great to hear that the Astley Hall's Craft and Produce shows will be restarting this year - the first since pre-covid. If you would like to have a table, or raise some funds for your group by producing a soup and sandwich lunch, then do contact Ann (see page 9).
Congratulations to our sister paper, the Black Isle Chatterbox, this year's winner of the Community Newspaper of the Year award. We were very pleased to be picked as finalists (and had a fun night out at the Press Ball and awards ceremony earlier this month!)
My thanks as ever to Morag and Ewen for helping with the printing, to Jane and Anne for looking after the envelopes.
Happy New Year to you all, hope it's a year full of joy, health and happiness.
January, for once, has sped by relatively fast! 2023 was brought in with true Knoydart gusto, with amazing music and craic. The lineup included Fras, and the Craig Baxter Highland Hogmanay band, followed of course, by Angus Binnie on the decks until the very last revellers gave up. The big session on the 1st at the hall really showcased just how many talented musicians we know . . . Young, old, professional or not, self taught, just learning - they are an impressive bunch.
After things settled down from all the Hogmanay celebrations we were hit with some exciting January snow, and temperatures plummeted as low as -9, turning things into a gigantic ice rink for a few days. Still better than incessant rain that's for sure.
The pub as we know it held a last hurrah on Saturday the 22nd, breaking up the usual January monotony. That'll be it closed now while refurbishments go ahead for the next few months and come April, it'll be quite different! Exciting times for sure but also a little bit of sadness saying goodbye to the bar as it is. So many memories wrapped up in a space that really hasn't changed in the 15 years I've been here, but I don't doubt there will be many, many more memories to be made. The following Saturday was the Burns Supper - first time in the new hall and what a truly fantastic evening it was. The larger space meant that for once we weren't completely elbow to elbow, and one could actually walk around the hall, without crawling under tables and such. With a few new (unsuspecting) faces having joined the community over the last year or two, Iain Wilson had it easy this year cajoling/tricking/bribing people into doing speeches and they did a grand job, especially considering most of them has never actually been to a Burns Supper before!
The kitchen team provided a delicious hearty meal, and there were even leftovers the next day!
The end of the month has come already, amidst more rain and gales, but the daffodils are (perhaps foolishly) starting to bloom, and the snow drops and other spring signs are beginning to appear, so here's hoping for a nice spring to come.
Beannachdan bho Gleann Fhionnain!
The closest Saturday to the 12th of January can only mean one thing in Glenfinnan . . . a shinty match in the rain (below) followed by an afternoon of song and dance to celebrate Auld Scots New Year. This year we had a slight change in venues and the afternoon's shenanigans were hosted from the Community Jetty Hut. The music, which was brought to us by The Glenfinnan Ceilidh Band (and Dougie), created a ceilidh of epic proportion! The young trio of Glenfinnan lads even gave us a tune on the box, the bagpipes and the piano. What a wealth of talent we have here so move over GFCB, the young bucks are in town. The locals brought food, cheer and community spirit and together we sang, we danced and we laughed . . . a lot!
Exciting news regarding the Glenfinnan Dining Car. Duncan and Manja Gibson have announced that they are taking over the running of the dining car as part of their new catering business and hope to open the doors to the public in late March. We wish them every success in their new venture and if you are passing the Glen, be sure to pop in.
As Valentine's Day approaches and love is in the air, our resident librarian/custodian of literature, Joanie, has hinted at making plans for a book swap with a romantic theme; after all it is not called the Glen of fun for no reason. Thank you for always making just another day far from 'just another day'.
Is math an còcair' an t-acras,
'S mairg a ni tarcuis air biadh;
Fuarag eòrn' an sail mo bhròige,
Biadh a b'fheàrr a fhuair mi riamh
Hunger is a cook right good,
Woe to him who sneers at food;
Barley crowdie in my shoe,
The sweetest food I ever knew.
Catriona Hunter (with Love)
ISLE OF MUCK
Hello, Muck Calling . . . Well, Dry January? I think not, Muck is literally looking as it sounds: the Isle is like a sponge at the moment with that much rain falling, and it's not making a challenging calving season any easier with a brief interval for a couple of days of snow. For Muck it is a real rarity to have 3-4 inches - definitely enough for quality sledging and snowballing, and absolutely enough left over for Marion's giant snowman! Well done (but I'm thinking Mum and Dad had a hand...or stick in it) and it was still towering after the snow had gone. But not all fun and frolics for the ferry service if you were needing to travel or awaiting freight as not only weather to contend with but I think that every small Isles harbour has an issue needing addressed. Big shout out to Mowi Guys and Gal for helping with our navigational marker which even has a working light now for those who haven't noticed as it's been out for so long. A long shoot season has come to an end culminating in the traditional 'Beaters Day' event which was a lot of laffs and fun . . . and unfortunately an obscene amount of dead bottles.
Now we have a lull in proceedings where we begin to look towards Easter and the return of visitors and yachts. Here's hoping for a far better weather outlook than last; time to spruce up and take stock. Well that's Muck's slim news for this month . . . see you next.
ISLE OF CANNA
"The first fall of snow is not only an event, it is a magical event. You go to bed in one kind of a world, and wake up in another quite different, and if this is not enchantment then where is it to be found?" - J.B. Priestley
As a child, I had thin, pale curtains and I always knew when I opened my eyes and before I got out of bed if it had snowed. The light was different, a pale-ish blue light if it was cloudy or still snowing that was almost opaque in its uniformity. Pale pink to cold yellow if the sun was shining. The sound of the world was different. Muffled winter whispers of a world covered in a blanket of snow. The light and the sound of snow are married in the mind.
Opening the curtains in a slumbering state, the mind and body is jolted awake with the rush of excitement at a world changed, but comforted that all remains the same underneath, a temporary enchantment which affords a different perspective. We fall under a snowflake spell and recognise that childlike excitement which takes over our bodies.
C S Lewis captures that moment and feeling in The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe when Lucy first opens the wardrobe doors, pulls back the fur coats and enters Narnia blanketed in winter's grip on the other side. The first thing she notices is the sound of the snow crunching under her feet.
We had crunchy snow on Canna this January and it stayed for a few days. According to local lore, this was the first time in 20 years that snow had fallen and lain on Canna like this. The farm animals were glad to finally get their hay and straw delivered to the island after three attempts. The hoggs are eagerly learning to feed in the barn and enjoying their golden feast!
Criomagan (Crumbs) from Canna House
So February has come in like a lion and the island has been windswept and wet for weeks! We did however, for the first time in a long time, have a decent snowfall that lasted for more than a few hours! It was quite a novelty to have to scrape the car windscreen!
It must have been weather like this in January 1941 when John Lorne Campbell skied down Compass Hill!
The drive up to Canna House in the snow and snowdrops (and Collies!) in the garden.
In January I was also delighted to be asked to present an illustrated talk at the splendid Highland Cinema in Fort William. The tile of my talk was "Portrait of an Island" and comprised an introduction to Canna, both historically and as the island is today and then a presentation of a talk which Margaret Fay Shaw gave on the BBC Home Service in January 1956 entitled "Portrait of an island". I used clips of the radio broadcast with Margaret's voice, her images and film, clips from the Canna Sound Archive and my own singing voice to illustrate Margaret's story. The auditorium was almost full and there were lots of questions at the end which is always a sign that people are genuinely interested in the island and how it works. Its certainly the first time I have sung in a Cinema!
And if you're suffering from a sore throat just now, why not try this old remedy -
"Eat dry sugar and a cup of hot water with a spoonful of treacle on going to bed"
ISLE OF RUM
Usually a quiet month, Rum has been a hive of activity with the bunkhouse volunteers working at the hall, and more NatureScot volunteers as well. The hall, looking very smart after painting and floor varnishing, was ready for our Burns Night, which we held on Saturday 28th. It was one of best yet. With no one volunteering to read the whole Address to the Haggis we had a three-way effort from Kim, Sylvia and Hywel, which was brilliant and hilarious. Good effort on the food, especially the vegan haggis (there was a venison one too). A selection of brilliant poems were read out including Rhys reading his usual Ode to a Mouse. An improvised, not covid friendly, Quaich was passed around much to the delight of our international guests and whoever was in charge of the music selection chose Boney M's version of Auld Lang Syne for us to sing along to . . . and a shout out to Colin's Bramble Whisky, always a winner.
We carried out our first beach clean of the year this month; we are joining in with the Scottish Islands Federation beach litter survey. The children from Rum primary joined in as part of their outdoor education activities. In more shore-based news, the Small Isles community council are pursuing an islands snorkel trail to encourage more engagement with the sea and shoreline biodiversity. There is also interest in identifying sea grass in Loch Scresort and a possible restoration programme.
Events coming up are a species identification course with the Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust, and a visit from our sponsor from Cosmos Planetarium for some work towards our International Dark Sky Reserve application, which is progressing nicely. We have a Mental Health Swim host on Rum and there will be monthly dips for anyone, local or visiting to give wild swimming or a quick dip or paddle a go. Mental Health Swims is a peer support group.
Castle update . . . discussions continue with NatureScot and the Scottish Land Commission. We are looking at alternative futures for the castle and interesting governance ideas. Our issues haven't changed and we are further concerned about the environmental issues and on-going huge energy implications from restoring a very degraded building. Not sure how that will help Rum and the Small Isles' environmental credentials or help us reach NetZero.
This month's bird sightings are Black Throated Divers on Loch Scresort and a Glaucous Gull at Kilmory.
ISLE OF EIGG
It has been a busy start to the year for Eigg, with various events and celebrations through the month. Solas Eige held a meeting in the hall to discuss ideas for the future of one of the churches on the island. There were loads of great suggestions from people about what could be done, and many shared memories of the church and why it is important to them.
Countryfile came over to the island to make a feature about Eigg, and visited various people and businesses here. Well done Maggie, Neil, Becca, Tasha and Stu for their interviews. They gave viewers such a good insight into island life and showed some of the great things going on around Eigg. If you missed it, you can find the episode on BBC iPlayer in the episode 'The UK's Highest Village in Winter'.
Eigg Environmental Action Group (EAG) got together to do a beach clean outside Massacre Cave as part of the Scottish Islands Federation study into sources of litter found on beaches. We struck lucky with the weather - the sun even made an appearance! It was really encouraging to see the community come together to take action on such an important issue. Thanks to Norah and Tasmin for the photo!
January is a busy month for birthdays on Eigg, and there were plenty of celebrations through the month! Camille enjoyed her first day as pensioner with a prosecco lunch at Lageorna followed by merguez frites at the hall, where Dougal was holding a Bangers and Mash event. I sadly couldn't make it, but I have heard from others that the food was fantastic and it was a really lovely night.
Sarah Boden organised a cake and coffee event in the hall where we were treated to a fantastic selection of home baking. Thank you to Sarah, all the helpers, bakers and everyone who came along. It was a lovely afternoon playing games, chatting and eating!
Congratulations to Shuggie who won the pool tournament in January!
At the end of the month, Nan and Fee returned to the island to prepare for moving to Ireland. They have been an important part of the island for years, and have contributed so much to the community. They will be sorely missed. All the best on your next adventure, you two.
Erika O' Reilly
Bits and Bobs....
Congratulations to Morar's Ryan McClean who has taken up the position of Master Silversmith at a new workshop in the Borders. The Scottish Goldsmiths Trust (SGT) is establishing The Marchmont Silversmithing Workshop at Marchmont House, near Greenlaw, as a national centre where up to five silversmiths at a time can design and create stunning pieces from precious metals.
Thanks to a generous bequest it is being fully equipped with the entire collection of tools, machinery and books built up by celebrated Scottish master silversmith Graham Stewart, of Dunblane, who died in 2020.
Ryan has been working in Sheffield but seized the opportunity to return to Scotland, saying, '"I really wanted to come here because Marchmont has such a creative community. The workshop is going to be fantastic and it will be such a great environment to work in. I also hope that having a new home for silversmithing in Scotland will help raise awareness and interest in the craft.'
Ryan's work is included in the V&A permanent collection, and he also made the stunning cake-top decoration for the Queen's 2022 Platinum Jubilee celebration cake!
Mallaig Harbour News
It hasn't been a great start to the year in terms of weather, which has meant that very few of the boats have moved. The Sprat pump is still on the pier but has had no use at all this year, for the second year in a row. The stormy weather has seen some Irish fishing boats taking shelter in the Harbour while passing through on their way to or from the fishing grounds, but very limited landings for January.
Looking at overall landings for the year, we had a few visiting boats landing during the summer months, which took our total for the year almost to pre-pandemic levels. After the much lower figures for 2020 and 2021 this was a welcome boost. Last month I outlined details of the services that were due to be put in place while the ferry terminal in Uig was out of action, which included five sailings a week between Lochboisdale and Mallaig, and two return trips on a Saturday.
Unfortunately, disruption elsewhere in the network has once again meant that this has not been possible. There have also been various disruptions to the Loch Nevis sailings, in part due to weather, and in part due to infrastructure issues on the Small Isles and in Armadale. The Armadale issue meant that the Screen Machine was unable to come to Mallaig for their scheduled visit on Monday 30th and Tuesday 31st January, which was disappointing for all those who had booked tickets for the various films.
I have spent much of the month meeting with stakeholders, and gathering information to submit a funding bid to DEFRA for the Outer Harbour project. We have had to revise the scope of this project, as to proceed with the original project, which included drilling and blasting to deepen the Harbour and the construction of a splay berth, was proving to be unaffordable for the Harbour. It is still our intention to deepen the Harbour by dredging, without the drilling and blasting, and construct the splay berth, but this is obviously subject to the funding bids being successful. While taking out the drilling and blasting element will mean that the Outer Harbour won't ultimately be the -6m below chart datum that we had hoped for, it will mean that the works can be completed with much less disruption and in a shorter time period than we had initially thought. The original programme had allowed 33 weeks for the drilling and blasting, and vessels would have had to work round the drilling barge throughout this period. We are hopeful that the dredging will deepen the Harbour to -5m below Chart Datum, so there will be some benefit to the MOWI well boats, which have to work tidally at the moment. Those of you in Mallaig will have noticed that the new foundation has been completed for the Marina Cabin and we hope that construction will start on this mid-February. We are building a wooden cabin which will be slightly larger than the previous portacabin, and properly insulated etc. so a bit more pleasant for our staff.
You may have seen adverts locally for a Marine Litter event, which is being organised by the Scottish Islands Federation and funded by Marine Scotland with support from Highlands and Islands Environment Forum. The event is taking place in the West Highland Hotel in Mallaig on 28th February from 10am until 3.30pm. Marine litter, made up of household plastic items and fishing litter, is a massive problem for island and coastal communities - causing pollution, killing wildlife and being landfilled instead of being eliminated or recycled into other products. The event will bring together a wide range of stakeholders to identify sustainable solutions to the problem of marine plastics and their disposal. We have been in discussion with the Scottish Islands Forum, and particularly with our Small Isles colleagues, to look at whether we can host a pilot to collect marine litter for recycling. Everyone is welcome at the event, and you can register through Eventbrite - you will find the link on Mallaig Harbour's Facebook page.
On and Off the Rails
Hello, it's me again!
What a stinking, wet, windy, dark week: but mild-ish, so look for the positive. The snow landing, and staying, for a couple of days proved challenging for the trains, but the West Coast Railway diesel locomotive with the snowplough on the front was ready and waiting for such events in the goods yard at Fort William to keep the main line clear. On Tuesday night (31st January) we were treated to the sound of the two unit 'stone/ballast blower' - yellow in the dark - coming into Mallaig between the ScotRail trains. There has been a lot of sleeper replacement work going on apace on the branch line. Masses of creosoted sleepers, all numbered in white paint for retrieval, are now stored at Mallaig, Arisaig, and Glenfinnan. When the new sleepers are laid the stone ballaster has compressed air probes or arms that 'shoogle' the ballast, compressing the area all around the sleepers so they are held securely place. It's quite impressive. It was in the goods yard at Fort William when I went past it on the train on Wednesday 1st February. Lots of building work going on in the goods yard too. A new lease is in its final stages for what used to be 'Bill's Place', the Newsagents in Fort William station. Should be able to release the details of who has got it next month. Fingers crossed!
Derailment of locomotive on Mallaig station platform on Monday 30th January - but no panic, just sadness! In the worst of the gales my leading locomotive/steam train planter, at the end of the Mallaig island platform, burst its boiler (belly) dropping the plants onto the platform!! The wheels had been looking as if they were going to fall off - so when the boiler burst open in the storm the undercarriage just collapsed. That wooden structure had been needing attention after it was lifted into a compound on the side of the platform whilst the concrete edges of the platform were replaced. The forklift truck that moved it nearly broke its back then, and when it got moved back the same way it objected!
Thanks to the booking office staff at Mallaig for assisting the station maintenance (gritter) chap who attends the station early each day, to organise the removal of it. It was unrepairable, and just taken away. So the 'Heir' and 'Spare' second locomotive is now the leading one. No, we didn't take any photos of it. It was all too sad really. Bless it.
It must have endured 12 years of good planting - and seagull nests! Children were put in it, wee dogs too. The firm that supplied them to Mallaig, Morar and Arisaig has long since gone out of business. I'll get over it!!
ScotRail 'Highland Explorer' Class 153's coming to Mallaig - maybe in March 2023
ScotRail is in advanced planning stages, with crew training already taking place on an empty class 153 logoed Highland Explorer carriage on the Fort William main line. The only carriages of their type on Britain's rail network, five single car carriages (all 153's) were converted in 2021 and two have been used on the Oban line. There have been a few teething problems resulting in the single car being left disabled at Queen Street when it should have been travelling to Oban, with a two-car existing set leaving without it. Teething problems aside, options are now being re-examined for its use to Mallaig.
ScotRail have indicated that initially the 06.03 departing two-car class 156's could run with a single 153 attached. This extra carriage will hold up to 20 individual cycle racks, and 24 seats. Bikes in the Highland Explorer carriage incur no charge. The cycle racks take up two thirds of the carriage with the seats in the remaining one third. You can leave the bikes in the Explorer carriage and sit in the other two coaches if you wish. The improved seating has maps laminated into the tables, electric bike charging, and a three pin socket to charge your camera, phone, laptop etc, in more spacious comfort.
The 18.23 service from Glasgow Queen Street will also have the Highland Explorer carriage attached to the usual set, arriving into Mallaig at 23.35. I believe that set will then form the 06.03, after being cleaned through the night at Mallaig, as happens now with our two car sets.
This could happen as early as the end of March - next month!
The Highland Explorer coaches cannot be utilised on the middle of the day services as these are usually four car sets already. Bring on the trial I say! Certainly booking free bikes online or at a booking office or vending machine is a must.
I saw a lady plug in a low heat electric blanket into the three pin plug socket on the 06.03 departing Mallaig in the snow last week! Cosy.
Book appreciation and draw to own a copy
Are We Nearly There Yet? is the whimsical, but so apt, title of a 168 page-turner of a book by author Bruce Keith. I promised you, dear reader, a new postcard draw this month and what a treat it is. This time it is not just any book, but one to treasure.
In these days of satnav, it's perhaps strangely nostalgic to reflect on how our forefathers, and probably ourselves if you are like me, or are even a technophobe, ascertained their sense of direction and distance. Milestones (for this is what the book is celebrating in Scotland) plus variants such as fingerposts provided that surety.
Made a statutory requirement under the turnpike acts of the 18th century, these artefacts have become treasured 'furniture' for children and adults alike to 'spot' on our roadside verges, and are still very much in daily use on Scotland's railways and canals.
It is long overdue that milestones, with accuracy, clarity and wonderful photographs, are celebrated in print. On the railways, on which there is a chapter in the book, every driver, signaller and track maintenance work on Scotland's Railways report their location in mileposts to indicate what section of track they are entering or departing to Radio Control, for accurate reporting of incidents (e.g. trespassers or animals on the track, level crossing gates passed, etc.) in fact I swear I am not making this up, but as I am writing this tonight on Thursday 2nd February, with emergency speed restrictions all over our railway lines due to the terrible weather, our crews are making their way back to Mallaig and the mileposts have never been needed more! A freight train, top and tail locomotives, heading south, reported the leading locomotive a failure (after two hours of trying to work out how to continue) and is currently heading back to Fort William using the rear locomotive - all reported by mileposts! In turn this blocked the line delaying the Sleeper. All our railway staff are appreciated in this still difficult and challenging terrain, and extreme weather conditions; thanks to them all. Anyway, back to the book! To be in with the luck of the draw to win a copy, please send a stamped addressed envelope or postcard (love the postcards) to Sonia Cameron, Fasgadh, No.5 Marine Place, Mallaig, Inverness-shire PH41 4RD. The closing date will be Tuesday 7th March. All you need to do is put your name, address and telephone number (and a stamp!) on the card.
There is an outstanding quote in the book by Nelson Mandela. 'Remember to celebrate milestones as you prepare for the road ahead.' Many a true word spoken there.
The book was published in 2021. If you want to purchase a copy the ISBN is 978 0 956638755 and it is published by Dunnottar Productions Ltd., Peterborough, PE3 6LX. It costs £20 including postage and packing. Ring me if you require any more details (01687) 462189.
And finally, did you know there is a 'Milestone Society'? Well there is! The author of the book is available to give an illustrated talk on the subject of mileposts to interested historical societies, clubs, universities etc. He can be contacted for this (or for book purchases) at email@example.com He will travel - using mileposts!
Model Rail Scotland returns!
Calling all model railway enthusiasts. Supported, amongst others, by Hornby and Peko, Model Rail Scotland is due to be held in Hall 3 at the S.E.C. Glasgow during the weekend of 24-26 February. With over 40 working layouts, upwards of 35 trader and 20 society stands, this is an exhibition not to be missed.
Entry tickets are available for each day at £15 Adult, £5 Children (5-16 years), £35 Families (2+2). To save queuing book pre-printed tickets at www.modelrail-scotland.co.uk, or cash/card at the ticket stands. Advance ticket holders can enter 30 minutes prior to general admission time, 10.00am rather than 10.30am.
See you on the train,
The spring issue of Friends of the West Highland Lines magazine will be out at the beginning of March. Contact me on 01687 462189 to reserve a copy for posting out.
Next month - Full steam ahead for Glenfinnan businesses! Two Glenfinnan families take on vintage venues.
A REMARKABLE CAIRN AND ITS BUILDER
Not long ago I drove across to Lochailort to meet Jimmy MacDonald who was putting the finishing touches to a very special cairn commemorating thirteen men who died when their plane struck a nearby hill on 21 December 1967. Jimmy MacDonald, who now lives on Skye, has spent most of his working life as a shepherd, stalker, ghillie and ace dry-stone dyker at Lochailort, Achnacarry, Morar and Meoble, remembers vividly when an RAF Shackleton of 206 Squadron, RAF Kinloss, crashed on the lower slopes of Creag Bhan between Lochailort and Loch Morar, killing everyone aboard.
Jimmy MacDonald putting the finishing touches to the Lochailort cairn
The plane, which was flying on instruments coordinated by the Moray radar control centre, was taking part in an anti-submarine training exercise off Tiree. The captain, Squadron Leader Michael McCallum, and first navigator, Flight Lieutenant Bruce Mackie, had been warned of a cold weather front between 8,000 and 7,500 feet and that the stall-warning system on aboard had not been tested. In addition to a normal crew there were two passengers, Harry Harvey from RAF Kinloss and Iain MacLean. The aircraft took off from Kinloss at 12:30 and climbed to 8,000 feet. It had contact with Scottish air traffic centre at 12.59 before disappearing from the tracking system five minutes later.
The RAF Board of Inquiry concluded the most likely cause of the accident was that the route took it through a weather front where there were severe icing conditions slightly worse than those predicted in the weather briefing, with the freezing level some 2,000 feet lower than expected. The aircraft had accumulated ice on the propellers and undersides of the wings and tail planes. As the crew were flying the outward leg of the flight the aircraft would have been heavy and its power to weight ratio meant that there would not have been much power reserve available from the engines to overcome drag caused by icing. The aircraft's speed had fallen too low due to the ice build-up and it eventually stalled while still flying at around 8,000 feet. It then went into a vertical dive from which it never recovered evidenced by the scar on the hillside.
The plane was completely destroyed on impact and immediately caught fire. Two of the engines remained more or less intact while the starboard engines were wrecked. One of the reduction gears was reported to have been found nearly 300 yards to the east of the site, having been flung there by its own inertia.
Angus Cameron, a county council roadman from Glenfinnan, was working near Arieniskill, about a mile below, when he heard two loud explosions and saw a bright flash. He rushed down to Inverailort Castle to inform Mrs Cameron-Head who, straight away alerted the police and rescue services and sent her companion, Miss Barbara Mackintosh, racing to the site. Mrs Cameron-Head, who had been stationed in the area as an ambulance driver with the commandoes during the Second World War, followed but from what the ladies saw they soon realised there was nothing they could do. In an act of public spiritedness and generosity for which she was well known, Mrs Cameron-Head, for a prolonged period, turned her home over to the RAF air accident investigation teams and crash guards. For this, she later received the Order of the British Empire.
In keeping with the late Mrs Cameron-Head's philosophy and because he felt it the right thing to do, Jimmy set about rebuilding the temporary cairn which had all but disappeared from the site in the winter frosts and high winds. No mean feat given the spot lies almost 1,000ft up a hillside - too steep for any all-terrain vehicle and reached only by a boulder strewn, bracken-covered, path which skirts along the west side of the Allt Na Criche from Arieniskill to the watershed. But, as Edgar Albert Guest, the English-born American poet wrote, ''Somebody said that it couldn't be done', but he with a chuckle replied, that maybe it couldn't, but he would be one, who wouldn't say so till he'd tried'.
The only source of suitable stone lay a mile away at the bottom of the track. Equipped with a small rucksack and a stout pair of boots, the intrepid Jimmy set about lifting as much as he could carry on his back for the journey up the hill from Arieniskill until he had almost a ton of it on site.
The dry-stone cairn incorporates stones from the previous one with small pieces of wreckage gathered around its base. It is capped with a thin layer of cement into which Jimmy has embedded a wooden cross and thirteen pieces of white pegmatite carefully chiselled from a boulder by the side the path. One for every man who died on the side of Creag Bhan: Michael McCallum, Terence Swinney, David Evans, Bruce Mackie, Ralph Fonseca, Malcolm Jones, John Verner, David Harris, Michael Bowen, Charles Matthews, Kenneth Hurry, Harry Harvey and Iain MacLean. R.I.P.
January 2023 BIRDWATCH by Stephen MacDonald
A mixed bag weatherwise, with some spells of frost and snow at times, reverting to mild, wet and windy conditions during the last week.
Nothing out of the ordinary seen, with typical winter birds reported.
At least three Whooper Swans were on Loch nan Eala or nearby lochans throughout the month. The wintering Slavonian Grebes and a handful of Common Scoter were seen regularly on Loch nan Ceall. Goldeneye were seen on Loch nan Ceall, Loch nan Eala and Loch Morar. Goosanders were also reported from Loch Morar.
Great Northern Divers were seen all around the coastline and both Red and Black-throated Divers were seen on Loch nan Ceall. A Little Auk was found on a beach near Camusdarroch on the 15th; unfortunately it died soon after being taken into care.
Purple Sandpipers were seen at their usual haunts by West Bay, Mallaig and Turnstones were also seen there and at Traigh. The lone Bar-tailed Godwit was still on the Morar Estuary and at least four Greenshank were there on the 22nd. Plenty sightings of Woodcock throughout the month.
Jays were seen or heard regularly around Loch Ailort, with other reports from Arisaig and Morar.
Long-tailed Tits reported from feeders in at least two Morar gardens during the month. Good numbers of both Gold and Greenfinches reported using garden feeders.
Siskins were reported from several gardens, with up to five seen in a Morar garden.
A Barn Owl was seen early in the evening of the 2nd near Woodside, Morar. A possible female Hen Harrier was seen on the north side of Loch Morar, near Brinacory on the 9th.
WORLD WIDE WEST WORD
Your editor took a copy to Berney Arms in Norfolk recently - one of the most remote stations in the UK, with the nearest road two miles away. Not many trains stop here, and when they do, just like at some of our stations, only one door opens as the platform is very, very short! From there we walked on to Great Yarmouth after meandering across Halvergate Marshes (an RSPB reserve) - loads of windmills, and wildlife - we were lucky to see a Bittern, Egrets, a Kingfisher and a Water Vole and much more!
Watch this space for extracts from next month's issue!
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