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

Visit West Word on Facebook

List of Issues online

January 2016 Issue

Contents of the online version:

Top stories
Monthly news from Knoydart, Muck, Canna, Rum, Eigg
Railway, harbour and crofting news
Local Genealogy

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

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



The twelfth year of Glenfinnan's New Year Dip witnessed fifty-six hardy folk from around the area dive headfirst into 2016! Starting back in 2003 with only four brave people partaking in the action, the New Year Dip has gone from strength to strength with the highest number of dippers and a new record being set this year. A chilly air and water temperature of 6°C didn't stop the intrepid dippers, ranging from young children up to an eighty year old, from plunging into Loch Shiel and starting 2016 with a splash. Some very brave dippers swam right out to the island, whilst others chose to venture in for a few yards before heading back.
After the dip there was food, hot drinks, champagne and a roaring fire to be enjoyed at Glenfinnan House Hotel, which were all gratefully received.
Morag Hughes, who started the New Year Dip in 2003 with Duncan Gibson of Glenfinnan House, is the only person to have made the dip every year. Morag, an ardent swimmer, not only swam the English Channel in 2010, but was also the first person to swim the twelve mile length of Loch Morar when she did so for charity in 2014!
Photographs courtesy of Iain Ferguson of The Write Image.


Happy New Year folks! And I hope everyone had a lovely Christmas too.
It's safe to say 2016 certainly started with a bang here, with one of the best Hogmanays I've seen yet. The amazing John Langan band played us through til the bells and the hall was so jam packed you could barely move. It's been a while since we've had a night of that scale. It was utterly fantastic! It was lovely to see so many former Knoydart residents back to bring in the New Year as well. It was a bit of a reunion really! I was going to name everybody but as I thought about it, the list kept on getting longer and I thought then it might just be a column full of names…
I think a lot of people had a bit of nightmare getting here though, with all the bad weather and flooding further down so it was quite amazing that we got such a massive turnout. Good effort!
I'm struggling a bit here now to remember what happened BEFORE it was Christmas and New Year! Does anyone else get to that point? Where you've been off work and being merry for what seems like endless days? And it could be Tuesday but it might be Saturday, and you just don't know anymore? All you know is you have gained ten pounds and are well on your way to becoming a raging alcoholic. Well, that's how I feel.
Now, joking aside, before the festivities took over, there was the school's nativity play, which was fantastic as always. The kids all did us proud and had worked really hard, and everything went smoothly! Well done Aaran, all the hard work paid off! And while it was the first of many for Maja, Victor and Innes, it was the last primary school play for Chloe who will be away to high school next Christmas! The most recent volunteer day in December was the building of a boardwalk round the harvest maze. This has always been a particularly muddy route year round so this has made a huge difference and it looks cracking. Mark has made a great video of it being constructed, which you can find on the Visit Knoydart Facebook page. The next volunteer day will be later this month, down at the community garden, building a path and putting in a new gate as well as clearing out some weeds and invasive species for a new wild flower area. Sadly, this year's ladies Christmas lunch in the tearoom didn't go ahead as it seems the whole peninsula had one kind of lurgy or another but the Tearoom continues to be open as normal during the week. Lucky Alice is escaping to Mexico though this week for some much needed sun!
Think that's all for now folks, here's to a happy and healthy 2016.
Heather Gilmour

Once again the weather dominated the month of December on Muck. Temperature records were broken: 12.5 degrees, the highest I've ever recorded, was reached at 6am on the 19th and needless to say many of the fields are a brilliant green. The month was windy for the third December in a row, as indicated by the number of missed calls by the Lochnevis. 2013 I recorded 9 missed calls, 2014 twelve and this December it was 10, out of a possible 17 calls - a remarkable three year average, which says a lot about global warming and the type of weather it is producing. Missed calls cause chaos to many islanders travel plans, and once again Ronnie Dyer on Sheerwater sailed to the rescue, courtesy of Isle of Muck Shooting Estate, who paid for most of the charters.
Christmas was quiet with many away, but we managed a lot of carol singing, joining the cows in the byre on Christmas Eve and in the Hall on Christmas Day.
At Hogmanay we saw in the New Year in the Hall, and next day on the beach where the tide receded just in time to allow the annual hockey match. The sand was hardly visible, due to the numerous players battling it out, though no one was injured.
This was also the month of departures. Seamas the stallion has gone, aged 27 years, bred by Cameron Ormiston at Newtonmore. He was purchased by the late Tex Geddes when he formed the Soay stud of highland ponies. When Tex died, his son, Duncan, gave all the ponies to Jenny and they were transported to Muck on "Wave". Seamas left many prize-winning progeny but he will not be replaced.
The last Blackface ewe has also gone, a descendent of a number of hogs which came to Muck from Perthshire in 1926. In the days when Muck bred tups, Blackfaces had a place, but time has moved on and today North Country Cheviots and Lleyns produce more and more valuable lambs.
And Amy the little Lakeland cross Patterdale terrier, who has given pleasure to countless visitors, is on her way out. Amy was bred by Sandy Thompson, who maintained a presence for CCG the slipway builders on Muck in 2002 while they attempted to obtain further funding from Highland Council, so she is rising 14 years, a good age for any dog.
That will be all this month.
Lawrence MacEwen

We presented a book to Mary and Toby, Gallanach Lodge. The book told the story of our Nethybridge Adventure. We wanted to say thank you in a special way because we had such a fantastic time! We couldn't have gone on this trip without the support of their guests.
We raised £24.40 for Mary's Meals and the Government has doubled the amount, so we can help feed and school four children. Thank you to everyone who contributed.
We celebrated two birthdays, David's and Kitty's. We sang Happy Birthday in Spanish, Italian and English. We had two parties to go to, they were really fun! They were fancy because there was lots of good food and drinks!
We also tested our recycled briquettes and we made a few more, and lots more mixture as well.
We are working on our Nativity play. We now know our parts and are learning our lines. We tried on costumes and they look good.
We have been singing and performing as well as creating our backdrop. We have also been making crowns. They will be well dressed three wise men.
We are really looking forward to putting on the performance.
We would like to wish everyone a very happy Christmas and best wishes for 2016.
Muck Primary School

Christmas on Canna was really quiet with only seven of us on the island, but more folks came home for New Year and lots of first-footing was done.
Our pre-Christmas highlight was the Darts match at Doirlin curtesy of Magda and Joachin. Hope there are not too many dart holes in your door! Some practice is definitely needed for the next match.
A big thankyou must be given to the Captains and Crews of the Loch Nevis who went out of their way to try and keep as normal a ferry service as possible in horrendous weather conditions. Well done. Also to Greig Milligan and Spanish John who saw a weather window on the 27th and delivered some much needed fuel to the island.
Canna Farm has started a Blog and you can follow what's going on at Isle of Canna Farm on Facebook, its proving to be very popular.
Geraldine MacKinnon

Whilst we still have New Year bells ringing in our ears, take a look at some old west coast Hogmanay traditions:

Oidhche Challain- Hogmanay Tradition
(a tradition collected by Margaret Fay Shaw Campbell of Canna)
"On Hogmanay, the boys of the South Side (of Uist) would gather at the house of Alasdair MacDhubhghaill and try to lift a weight. Those with strength enough were regarded as fit to join the older lads in their journey from house to house. One carried a sack and another a stick on which was tied a sheepskin and rags dipped in tallow and set alight. At the door of each house they recited "The Duan" with the saying "Fosgail an dorus is lig astigh mi" (open the door and let me in). The wife opened the door and the boys trooped in. The one with the torch swung it round her head three times. It was the prophecy of death if it should go out during this action. The wife took from the meal chest three bannocks and presented them to the boys with the sack. After putting them in the sack he then returned one. Any presents of food were then welcomed and put away in the bag. They then left and any lad in the house was welcome to accompany them. Out again in the dark they shouted their blessing on the house of hospitality. "Beannachdan Dhia's na Callaig libh- the Blessing of God and of Hogmanay be with you".
Fiona J Mackenzie

The end of the year already and weather disruptions at the beginning of the month meant our Development Officer, Steve, missed his December visit along with the contractors carrying out our community led renewable energy feasibility study. Despite running pretty efficiently on hydro with a battery back up system, we're looking at future capacity with the possibility of a hydro upgrade or a mix with some solar, wind or whatever the report comes up with. Again, none of this is a new idea for Rum, but we're hoping to get something on the ground this time.
Rum Primary had a fabulous Christmas trip to the mainland. Based in Aviemore, myself, Joss, Mrs Ingram and Claire met up with family Morris who had just come back from a week's holiday near the equator, so they were suffering with the air temperature going from 25 to 4 in the space of two days and rummaging through their (well packed?) luggage for winter clothes. We went to the Highland Wildlife Park and got a safari tour, well worth it for all the extra info and interactive bits of horn, fur and skin they had to show us. We also went on a slippery trek to feed the reindeer on Cairngorm, which was really cool and then onto the panto in Inverness (first one for Eve and Joss). We even squeezed in a bit of shopping. We had snow and a brief snapshot of all the Christmassy stuff we don't get on an island, lots of fun was had.
Managed to catch up with friends from Eigg and Canna on the ferry and at one point it looked as though we would be stranded in Mallaig harbour indefinitely as a technical hitch meant the ferry was temporarily unable to berth at the linkspan.
Meanwhile back on Rum, Christmas trees were mostly up and a seasonal exodus was taking place leaving next to no-one around for the Christmas party at the bunkhouse. Still, we polished off what Nic thought would be 'plenty' of mulled wine and hey presto Santa turned up! Weather disruptions clearly not affecting sledges nor reindeer. The children were delighted with their presents and went on to play hide and seek in the bunkhouse, something which used to happen in Kinloch Castle when Sorcha and Nell were small and was probably more fun.
IRCT held its AGM on the 22nd and welcomes Jinty Crocket, Derek Thomsom, Sylvia Beaton and Steve Canavan to the board along with existing Directors, Ali Morris and Lesley Watt. Nic Goddard resigned this year. This gives IRCT a bumper board of 6!! Jacqueline MacDonnel from HIE came along for the day and got a guided tour around the bunkhouse (which was part funded by HIE).
We were saddened to hear about the death of Chrissie MacDougall, who was the schoolteacher on Rum for many years. Chrissie was well loved here for her kind hospitality and generally being the life and soul of social events. She will be missed.
Reflecting on this year, Rum has seen several residents leave and not be replaced and the sad death of Norman Webber in April means the population has dipped to a level not seen for several years. Our housing problems continue to cause grief on many fronts though with several affordable designs available now, we can hope that this may encourage development and with SNH having completed their redevelopment of the Whitehouse into two houses, there is slightly greater capacity in the village. Jinty's new cabin business was launched this year and two new craft enterprises (with another coming in the spring) and the resurrection of the successful deer stalking enterprise led by Toby Fichtner-Irvine on Muck means that despite a low population, enterprise is thriving. After stepping down from the IRCT board, Nic Goddard is planning to throw her efforts into an events programme to help pull in more visitors through the summer and create much needed distractions for the locals and whilst the community polytunnel unfortunately blew down in storms last year, re-siting it closer into the village to create a community veg garden will be an added benefit for everyone. Happy New Year!
Fliss Fraser

Despite the mild unseasonal temperatures which have kept cattle and sheep munching on the hill grass this month, the gales and storms that have lashed the island have resulted in an almost complete lack of wildlife, says John Chester, aka Birdie. Very little was seen away from the little oasis of garden feeding stations which have continued to attract masses of small birds, mostly Chaffinches & Sparrows. The few occasional bird records of any note included the continued presence of the White Tailed Eagle pair, a couple of sightings of one or two Long Eared Owls, a long staying Dipper at Kildonnan, a flock of up to thirty Long Tailed Tits & a male Brambling with the Chaffinches of at garden feeders, recalls John. There was even the odd Otter sighting around the shoreline, although according to the Cleadale crofters, that otter or its friend may have strayed quite far inland, visiting hen sheds for a few tasty meals…
Well, John may have now officially retired as Eigg wildlife warden, but it certainly does not mean that he stops his wildlife watch as evidenced above! It was a moving moment on Friday 4th December when the community presented him with about £1,000 worth of travel vouchers for a wildlife watching destination of his choice.
That same Friday was also the occasion for another moving presentation, this time, a farewell and thank you to John Hutchison, the Isle of Eigg Heritage Trust Chair for the past 10 years. Although John who is also chair of the John Muir Trust and co-chair of the Rural Parliament felt it was the right time to move on, it was with a lot of emotion that he said his farewell to the community that he has accompanied on its journey of self-determination from the very beginning, serving for our first 8 years as the Highland Council director on the IEHT board. He was delighted with his Made on Eigg Christmas hamper presented of course in its Made on Eigg basket. John is succeeded by Amanda Bryan, of Aigas Associates, who is also very well acquainted with Eigg and the Small Isles and is looking forward to help the islanders realise their aspirations as expressed in their strategy workshop that day, which was followed by a lovely community meal in the hall.
The following weekend saw yet another presentation, this time to Hilda Ibrahim, who has now retired after steering the island school for the last ten years, bringing it to its current status as eco-school working on its 3rd green flag, with international links to primary schools in India and Africa, having secured funding for the school playground, mainland trips and other activities, and it has to be said having battled successfully with the Highland Council education bureaucracy to ensure a viable future for the primary schools on Eigg and Muck in her last four year's tenure as head teacher for both island schools. Hilda was delighted with her £300 voucher for one of her favourite shops, Ragamuffin on Skye.
As if this was not enough fun and socialising, the Eigg School children's Christmas Ceilidh took place on Wednesday 16th December, featuring stories, songs, tunes and mimed carols read and performed with gusto by Maggie Carr, Maisie Wiggins, Clyde Wallace and Dylan Bull who turned out to be a very competent MC, whilst wee Taegan McCarthy joined in very nicely with the last carols. The Eigg Ceilidh Club played for the dancers and the Eigg Singing Group was also a star turn!
Santa paid his customary visit on the 19th December and much to the pleasure of old and young, the Eigg Puppet Show was revived thanks to Karen Helliwell, whose script, suitably peppered with double-entendres elicited much mirth in the audience. Another generation of young children were totally enthralled by Sandy and Macboozle, Tessa, the witch and the dragon from Rum! Those who missed it can even catch up on YouTube, thanks to Ben Cormack.
The community gathered together again at the hall for a solstice meal where everyone contributed a seasonal dish, a really nice and very laid back occasion. Then there was a very well attended carol service at St Donnan on Christmas Eve and on Christmas Day, the nice surprise of a dry, still and even sunny day made it an even more enjoyable occasion, with many of the younger islanders managing to return home for the celebration, despite the succession of cancelled ferries. So, well done, CalMac for the service delivered despite the stormy weather!
The year finished with the Banjo Banjo band (guess who were playing) with fantastic piper Finn Moore, giving it laldy in a packed hall and getting everyone up to dance the New Year in, blue and pink haired youngsters and all! Another heartwarming moment in our island calendar. Speaking of which, Greg's still has some of his for sale! It's a must for your wall, so if anyone wants one, just Facebook him!
Camille Dressler

On Friday 8th January we bought our last meat pie, pork chop and empire biscuit from John MacMillan, aka John the Butcher, as that was the day he retired. The decision has been made reluctantly by John who has been bringing round his mobile shop for forty years through snow, rain and wind, providing a terrific service, especially to those not close to the shops. John says on his first trip to Mallaig he made £34 and wondered if it was worth it!
Happy retirement John from all your customers who will miss you very much - and we're sure you'll miss us!


We are extremely fortunate to live in an area set against such a dramatic backdrop, and for centuries artists have visited and even relocated to the area in an effort to utilise our landscape as inspiration for their art.
One such artist, Jacqueline Watt, a graduate of Edinburgh College of Art, who exhibits both nationally and internationally, has been majorly inspired by our landscape and its elemental forces.
For decades, Jacqueline and her family have visited the area and have spent a lot of time in the Back of Keppoch, Invercaimbe and Morar. Much of this time has been spent painting and her artwork is strong, expressive and colourful as a direct result.
In 2011, Jacqueline was awarded the prestigious Charles Rennie Mackintosh Residency in Collioure, France, which gave her the opportunity to explore and develop new directions and subject matter in her work. As a result of this, in 2014, Jacqueline was the invited contemporary Scottish artist to show alongside the Hayward Gallery's touring exhibition, Henry Matisse - 'Drawing with Scissors', which exhibited locally at the Lime Tree Gallery in Fort William.

Jacqueline Watt with one of her paintings of the Islands

Jacqueline is now a Trustee of The An Ealdhain Trust, a Fort William based charity which aims to excite and inspire by delivering free access to the highest quality of art in Fort William, for the benefit of the local community and visitors to the West Highlands of Scotland.
The An Ealdhain Trust's forthcoming open art exhibition, Moving Mountains - an excellent metaphor for creating a work of art, is launching an international competition to explore how artists respond to the landscape around them. Held in partnership with Fort William Mountain Festival, this annual exhibition hopes to celebrate landscape in all its moods and forms. First prize is £2000 & two runners-up will receive £500! An invitation is extended to artists to submit artwork(s) based on the theme, The Inspiration of Landscape, and selected artworks and prize-winners will be exhibited at the Lime Tree Gallery, Fort William between 19th February - 3rd April 2016.
For more information on the competition or the exhibition, please go to: www.anealdhainartstrust.co.uk or www.mountainfestival.co.uk/an-ealdhain


The winter sprat fishery concluded on Friday 18th December 2015 when buyer Sco-Fro (International Fish Canners) called a halt on landings having taken delivery of all the sprats the factory could handle prior to the year end.
The four local trawlers "Aubretia", "Caralisa", "Independence" and "Rebecca Jeneen", landed a combined total of 1,012 tonnes of sprats and 31 tonnes of herring during the 4 week fishery.
This level of landings compares favourably with the December 2014 season when a total of 912 tonnes of sprats and 36 tonnes of herring were landed at the port.

A new Safety Feature - the new fence around the Harbour Building - is now in situ although contractors, Noel Regan & Son will be returning in the New Year to finish off the job which is currently 90% complete.

As a contrast to the bleak mid-winter here's a rather tranquil harbour setting dating back to the summer of 1967 (maybe 1968)! The MV Loch Seaforth which plied the Minch six days a week between Stornoway/Kyle/Mallaig barely missing an engine beat never mind a crossing of the Minch, takes centre-stage while the stern of the Skye Ferry MV Clansman can also be seen.


As regards the fishing vessels on the left in the "Margaret Ann" with Jim Manson and John Aitchison on deck. The Lerwick registered "Adella" LK719 was an early Shetland Purser and on the right is the local lobster boat "Claytonia" with crew member John MacLellan on deck. My thanks to Moe Mathieson for the photograph.

The Chairman, Members & Staff of the Mallaig Harbour Authority wish all Harbour Users and West Word readers A Happy New Year!
Robert MacMillan
01687 462154 info@mallaigharbourauthority.com

Well, dear readers, we got to Christmas mostly unscathed, handed out Christmas wreaths (see back and front photo of the handover to Ann at the booking office in Mallaig Railway Station). They can be spotted all over the place at the moment, and I have the sore hands to prove it!! Chicken wire, sphagnum and moss and lots of organic greenery were involved. One went to Glenfinnan Station just to spread good cheer. I have two wee Finches resting in the base of the one on my own front door. Every time the door is opened it's a race to see who gets out first, the bird or myself!


Happy New Year
Good luck to West Word's incumbent Editorial Assistant, Paula Wilkinson, who will be transcribing my handwritten copy into the printed column this month and next. Good luck to Ann on her "sabbatical"! May the next year be kind to you, or see you being kind to others (or both!). I hope we can all manage that.

Middleton Press - Railway Times Timetable
Amongst my Christmas parcels was a review copy of this railway "Bible". The winter edition, which is out now, covers the whole of our National Rail Network and runs through to 14th May 2016. Eurostar departures from St Pancras are included, rail maps and even the "Jabobite" dates and timings. Now that HMSO only produce an online version, Middleton Press are to be commended for the sheer preparation and proofreading, that ensures the finished printed copy is correct and a joy to behold. It is available to purchase now from www.middletonpress.co.uk or telephone sales on - 01730 813169. The cost is £20.95. On these dark, very wet days you can sit by the fire, plan an imaginary journey and fall asleep doing it in your mind, it makes for a good dream!! And in ten years time it will be an item of rarity to see on ebay! Happy days.

Buy your West Highland Line Calendar Now!
This truly special calendar features the West Highland line in photographs of good colour by eminent railway photographers. It features spectacular locations across the seasons with diesel and steam-hauled trains. Ideal as a January birthday gift or to have on your wall. The normal price is £6.50 but if you contact me, Sonia Cameron, on 01687 462189 I can deliver locally or post one to you if you are further away for £6 inclusive of p&p.

Friends of Glenfinnan Station Newsletter
Another "goodie" in my Christmas post was the above newsletter (no.40 now!) December 2015. The Editor, Hege Hernaes and her husband, John Barnes, have certainly had another busy year.
There is the tale of the latest acquisition to the station site: a 12-ton late LNER ventilated box van with many original features still intact. It was originally left stranded in Mallaig, before finding its way to Tougal near Morar in the 1960s, where it served until recently as a useful store for lobster pots and other fishing tackle. Mallaig boat builders crane was just the start of the removal journey! It now stands in the bottom car park of Glenfinnan Station awaiting restoration and new use. This is only one of the tales in the newsletter. To find out more, become a "friend" by contacting glenfinnanstn@btconnect.com, telephoning John or Hege on 01397 722295 or looking at www.glenfinnanstationmuseum.co.uk where there is also an online sales shop.
Their AGM is on Saturday 27th February 2016 in the Glenfinnan Station Sleeping Car at 1.30pm. Soup and sandwiches will be served. A Viaduct Trail working party will follow the AGM on Sunday February 28th. Sleeping car accommodation will be available on the Saturday night at no cost for working party participants.

Groups Urged to Apply for ScotRail Grant
Highland community groups are being urged to apply for a chunk of the £80,000 Cultural and Arts Fund launched by ScotRail as part of the ScotRail in the Community scheme.
Created by Abellio when it took over the franchise, the Cultural and Arts Fund will be devoted to community initiatives and will award £40,000 by the end of January 2016, followed by £10,000 each quarter until January 2017. Applicants can receive grants of up to a maximum of £5,000 to support and develop their plans in line with the Scottish Government's cultural policy. Charities, individuals and community groups are welcome to apply.
Elaine Bell, ScotRail's head of corporate social responsibility, said: "This fund will create many opportunities for groups and individuals across the country and we want to see lots of eligible groups, big and small, applying. This could range from Brownies, Scouts and Parent/Teacher Associations to friends of groups and playgroups."
Award recipients will be expected to use the funds to promote creativity, the arts, community recreation, sports themes and other cultural activity, as well as celebrate Scotland's cultural heritage in its full diversity. Public art, children's play areas, sport outreach programmes and promotion of performing arts are among the projects which will be awarded funding. To apply for funding, go to: www.scotrail.co.uk/about-scotrail/scotrail-community/cultural-and-arts-fund.

December 2015 Competition Result
The winner of the draw for a copy of Dr John McGregor's book The New Railway: The Earliest Years of the West Highland Line published by Amberley Press and now available at £12.99 at Mallaig Heritage Centre, was Judith Heale from Salisbury. Congratulations, I hope you had time to read it over Christmas!

New Book Review and Competition
An 'after Christmas cracker' of a book up for competition this month: Newly published by Oxford Publishing Company, an imprint of Ian Allan Publishing and written by Chris Austin and Richard Faulkner (who were the award-winning authors of Holding the Line: How Britain's Railways Were Saved. This fascinating book, entitled Disconnected! Broken Links in Britain's Rail Policy in hardback, (ISBN: 9780860936640) priced at £25 is a 160-page eye opener.


They look in detail at the closures of the 1960s, 70s and 80s and analyse which lines should have been kept and which, had they remained open, would now be forming a very valuable part of the national network. In doing so, they have unearthed an astonishing amount of skulduggery as Politicians, Civil Servants and even BR Managers sought to keep their clandestine plans for brutal rail closures away from the public domain. It was only through whistleblowing and leaks that public attention focused on the 1972 Rail Policy Review (the Blue Paper) to reduce the network from 11,700 network miles to just 6,700!! The full astonishing details of the 'Blue Paper' leak to the Sunday Times are covered here for the first time.
As I say, it is a cracker of a book and to try and win it, send a postcard to me - Sonia Cameron, Fasgadh, Marine Place, Mallaig with the answer to this question:
What is the ISBN number of this excellent book?
The closing date is 26th January 2016. Good luck!

Caledonian Sleeper Update
Following severe disruption to the Caledonian Sleeper service due to industrial action by the RMT Union, Serco, the operating company have recently announced that because of engineering work between Fort William and Crianlarich in February 2016 over three weekends, the Sleeper that usually serves Fort William will start and terminate at Oban. This decision has sparked some concern over the continuation of the Sleeper service from Fort William to London Euston, but Serco has given assurance that although for three weekends in February, the diverted service is necessary to retain continuity of its Sleeper service in Scotland.
When Serco took over the Sleeper service on April 1st 2015 it signed a fifteen-year Franchise Agreement with Transport Scotland and the Scottish Government, a commitment that secures Sleeper services from Fort William.
During the period when the Sleeper is re-routed via Oban, passenger (or guests as Serco like to call them) numbers will be carefully analysed to see if at a future date an Oban - London service would be viable. Obviously it would have to combine with the Fort William Sleeper, possibly at Crianlarich, but at present there is a shortage of locomotives capable of running to Oban because of weight restrictions. The Sleeper from Fort William uses Class 67 locomotives, which are too heavy for the Oban line, but a rebuilt locomotive using a Class 73 is being trialled as these would be capable of traversing the Oban route.
At present, six ex Class 73s are being fitted with 1600hp MTU Diesel engines and are undergoing assessment trials between Craigentinny - Aberdeen - Edinburgh, although as I write this, locomotive no.73966 failed at Perth with an oil leak and had to return to Craigentinny for attention. For anyone interested in the newly refurbished Class 73s they will be numbered 73966 to 73971 inclusive. The introduction of rebuilt 73s is taking place as the reintroduction of Class 90s on the Sleeper section from Edinburgh to London, as the Class 92s proved to be unreliable. All change! Watch this space. Once the Class 73s are fully established on the Sleeper service and proved to be reliable, I intend to write a small article of their most chequered history.
P.S. As I mentioned at the start of my article on Sleeper upgrades, I had said that industrial action by the RMT Union had caused cancellation of this service. The action taken was due to "safety issues", these being disconnected fire alarms, faulty toilets, faulty boilers and air conditioning that could cause injury to staff and passengers. The operator, Serco, had agreed to undertake repairs, but not before industrial action had been planned following a ballot by RMT members. Until these faults can be rectified, Serco have hired in several Mark 2 Carriages which were once used by Virgin Trains and to date still remain in the Virgin livery. So, if you see Virgin carriages on the West Highland Line, this is the reason why!!

Advance Notice Model Rail Scotland 2016
Dates: Friday 26th, Saturday 27th and Sunday 28th February 2016 at SECC Glasgow
Times: Friday 11am - 6pm, Saturday 10am - 6pm and Sunday 10am - 5pm.


Advance tickets allow you entry to the show (fast track) thirty minutes ahead of time.
Find out more and book online at www.modelrail-scotland.co.uk or send a cheque made payable to AMRSS to: PO Box 9117, Shotts, ML7 9AF
Main Sponsors - Peco, Hornby, Railway Modeller, Bachman International, Continental Modeller.
More information and (hopefully) competition tickets in the February issue.
See you on the train
Sonia Cameron

CROFTING ROUNDUP by Joyce Wilkinson
Crofters Commission Area Assessor and Scottish Crofting Federation Area Representative

Crofting Census 2015
The last time a census was decreed around Christmas time was in 1BC. This one, from the Crofting Commission, is an information gathering exercise to comply with the obligations set by the Crofting Act 1993 when it was amended in 2010. Unfortunately, it appears to be nothing more than a paper exercise, the original intentions of the 2010 Act were to have these Census forms to show if crofting and crofters were active and using the land. This followed the Shucksmith Inquiry recommendations. There is nothing other than a question on residency status that would deal with the problem of absentee shareholders and unused shares on common grazings. However, it is better than nothing at all and once the information from both Census forms has been collated and studied, the Scottish Government and Crofting Commission will have fulfilled their obligations of the Act and can decide how to proceed with the future of crofting.

Future of Crofting Conference
This was held in Inverness during early December and had some notable speakers including Professor Mark Shucksmith who introduced the discussions with a summary of the findings of the Committee of Inquiry on Crofting, the most comprehensive and participatory research into crofting since the Napier Commission of 1883 that led to the 1886 Crofters Act. Prof Shucksmith pointed out that all the evidence taken is still available online and should be revisited. He said "This evidence and recommendations were presented to the Scottish Government in 2008 by a Scottish Government instigated Committee of Inquiry, so why do stakeholders have to present almost exactly the same demands today?" The need to revisit the Shucksmith Inquiry for hard evidence is vital when crofting is facing so many challenges. Regulation that is not fit for purpose, a challenging market for hill cattle and sheep, and loss of vital support to the hardest ground through the new Basic Payment Scheme are just some of the hurdles facing crofters now and going into the future.


Beef Efficiency Scheme booklet
Cattle keepers will have received a diary from Scotgov that they can use to record weights and details of breeding cows and calves, the accompanying literature shows that this is not compulsory but it will gain you an extra £30 a year per calve, it has been thought up as a way of improving the efficiency of Scotland's beef herd, calves have to be finished for sale without creep feed when you join this scheme, this is to comply with EU obligations on climate change though methane reduction. I am sure the money would have been better spent supporting cattle on hill ground through coupled support.

Training course funding
Hopefully there is a new funding stream coming through soon so training courses can start up again. I will keep you informed. Crofter training such as the Livestock Transport Certificate and Pesticide Certificate are two that would be planned.


Originally from Mallaig, but now living in Ardersier, Alison Duncan and her gorgeous dog, Ash, were pictured looking very pleased to be reading December's edition of West Word as they spent time with family at Sealladh an Loch, Foyers.

Margaret and Iain MacEachen made sure they packed their West Word in Arisaig when they travelled to visit their daughter Lucy and her family in New Zealand. Here they are in Picton.

Captain Roy Findlay is a pilot for British Airways and became involved with Mallaig Primary School's 'Around the World' project, where the children collect postcards from all over the globe. Whilst on his travels, Roy has been sending the children postcards and emailing updates from various locations around the world and the children thought it would be fitting to get a photo of him with a copy of West Word!

Here's a great photograph of Rena Elliot from Mallaig and her two Australian grandchildren, Grace & Jack Shaw, enjoying the warm summer evening in front of the Sydney Opera House on New Year's Eve. They were snapped reading West Word whilst waiting patiently for midnight and the start of the world's best fireworks display!

BIRDWATCH by Stephen MacDonald
A fairly typical December for birds. The first Iceland Gull was seen on 12th in Mallaig harbour. There were regular sightings until the month's end, with two seen roosting on the ferry pier on 21st.
An unusual find on 7th was a tiny Storm Petrel found huddled against the roadside kerb near East Bay, Mallaig. This diminutive seabird should be far out to sea at this time of year, but was probably driven inshore by the stormy westerly winds. The bird appeared uninjured, so after being taken into care and allowed to rest for a few hours, it was released after dark that evening to avoid predators. The only Little Auk reported was less fortunate, as it fell victim to the gulls on the ferry pier, Mallaig on 21st.
A late Great Skua and two Gannets were seen on the 16th between Eigg and Rum from the MV Sheerwater.
Curlews were reported from the Morar Estuary and Cross Farm.
Two Greenshank were on the Morar Estuary on the 13th and a single was seen at Kinigarry on Christmas Day.
Two Black-tailed Godwits and thirty-five Ringed Plovers were reported from the shore at Traigh on the 27th.
Seven Whooper Swans were on Loch nan Eala throughout and a single bird was seen on the "Lily Pond" between Mallaig and Morar on the 7th and also in a flooded field at Camusdarach on the 16th. Teal and Wigeon were also present on Loch nan Eala, with Wigeon also reported from Silver Sands and Invercaimbe. Up to sixteen Canada Geese were seen on Loch nan Eala and in fields at Traigh. The first returning Shelduck were three at Millburn, Loch nan Beall on the 27th and two the following day at Silver Sands.
Yellowhammers were reported from gardens in Arisaig and Morar and two Siskins were on a garden feeder in a woodside garden on Christmas Day. Also seen regularly in a Morar garden were Treecreepers, Goldcrests and Great Spotted Woodpeckers.
A Barn Owl was seen hunting on A830, east of the golf course just before dawn on 12th and another was heard calling in Morar on 29th.
Sea Eagles were seen on several occasions around the Morar Estuary and around Mallaig.

Auntie Mary's Creepy Crawly Corner
Continuing on the theme of Christmas gifts, this month here is a wee bit of information about Myrrh for John and others:
Most of the information for this article comes from Andrew Chevallier's book, The Encyclopedia of Medicinal Plants.
Myrrh (Commiphora myrrha or Commiphora molmol) is one of the oldest known medicines and has been used in perfumes, incense and embalming for thousands of years. The Egyptian Ebers papyrus of about 1500 B.C. contains records of plants used as medicines, including myrrh and garlic.
Myrrh was one of the three precious gifts brought by the wise men to the infant Jesus and symbolises the suffering He would endure to mend the bridge between God and humans; reference Matthew chapter 2 verse 11.
Myrrh is an aromatic gum resin consisting of a gum - 30-60% acidic polysaccharides; resin - 25-40%; and volatile oil - 3-8%. Myrrh is obtained from a small (less than 5 metres tall) spiny, deciduous tree which grows naturally in thickets on sunny, well-drained soils in Somalia. Myrrh trees can be grown from seed in spring or from cuttings planted at the end of the growing season. The gum resin is collected from fissures or cuts in the tree bark or from cut branches, it dries into yellow-red hard pieces.
Like Frankincense, Myrrh has proven medicinal uses - particularly for its astringent, antiseptic and anti-microbial actions. Myrrh is not solvent in water and thus is usually taken as a powder or tincture. It can be used in gargles for moth ulcers, gum infections and sore throats. We recently bought some toothpaste which contains myrrh. It is used externally in some preparations for acne, boils, or mild skin inflammation; and it has been used to treat pressure sores caused by prosthetic limbs as Myrrh has drying and slightly anaesthetising effects.
Dr Mary Elliott
Refs: The Bible - Authorized Version
A. Chevallier 1996 The Encyclopedia of Medicinal Plants

Personal Angle
I would like to wish all West Word readers a Happy and Healthy New Year and may I extend my thanks for your company over the past twenty (or so) years. Here's to 2016!

January, the first month of the year, is named after Janus, the Roman God of Doorways, Passages and Bridges. In art he is depicted with two heads facing opposite ways.
It's January, the doorway to 2016 and after the excesses of the festive period - expanding waistlines, damaged livers etc, New Year resolutions abound, making diets and fitness programmes the order of the day, at least for some!
Surely after our 'healthy' intake of spirits and wines, a cup of coffee or a mug of tea would be the order of the day as we start to detox and repair our damaged bodies.
Here are some interesting facts concerning our favourite beverages:-



Here's a photograph, circa mid-70s, showing the converted Minesweeper, MV Loch Arkaig, departing Mallaig Harbour bound for the Small Isles. The Mallaig - Armadale ferry service was being carried out by the Bute, which had vehicle access via the raising/lowering of a ramp located towards the stern of the ship.


The old waiting room, built by The Railway can be seen mid-picture with the temporary MacBrayne's ticket office/portacabin to the left.
It probably won't be too visible, but on the facing of the pier, just to the left but below the waiting room, can be seen the opening of the subway. At the time this photograph was taken, the subway was not in use, but prior to that it was the way that cattle and sheep were offloaded from the steamers; through the subway, up onto the steamer pier and into the cattle wagons.
At the foot of the subway there was also a series of steps which took you down to an even lower level. I remember playing around the subway and also the wooden extension, which was located at the end of the steamer pier. We baited lines with giant hooks trying to catch Conger Eels, which frequented the harbour at that time and may still do. I'll need to ask Tam the Diver.

Watch this space for extracts from next month's issue!
Letters, e-mails and comments are welcome.
Feel free to Sign our Guestbook

List of Issues online

Visit West Word on Facebook

The paper version of West Word contains approximately 40 pages (A4 size) including:

  • Reports from the local communities, lifeboat log and weather
  • Columns on local sport, wildlife, politics
  • Poets corner, letters, snippets
  • Feature articles, local events, festivals and games
  • .....and lots more photos!

For 12 issues: £36 anywhere in the UK
£55 for Eire and Europe / £75 for the rest of the world.
Contact the Editor to subscribe.

West Word
Morar Station Buildings
Inverness-shire PH40 4PB
Tel/Fax: 01687 462 720
E-mail: editor@westword.org.uk

Sign our Guestbook or Read our Guestbook
(Your comments may be printed in next month's issue)

Visit the official Road to the Isles web site


Copyright © 2002-2016 West Word
Page last updated: January 2016

Site designed by
The Internet Guide to Scotland