WEST WORD
COMMUNITY NEWSPAPER OF THE YEAR 2005 & 2008 & 2017
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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January 2022 Issue

Contents of the online version:

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

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ARSON ATTACK ON WEST HIGHLAND HOTEL
A man has appeared in court charged with wilfully setting fire to the interior of the West Highland Hotel on the night of 3rd January. The 24 year old man, from Fort William, is also accused of breaking into the hotel, stealing a number of items, and behaving in a threatening or abusive manner. Fire crews were called to the hotel just after 9.30pm and spent ten hours battling the blaze which has left a part of the hotel badly damaged. Fortunately no-one was in the building at the time. Local residents restrained the suspect at the scene with gaffer tape and rope whilst waiting for an hour for the Police to arrive from Fort William.
Hotel owners Sine and Gavin Davis said, 'We wanted again to say thank you to everyone who helped on the evening of the fire. The community support was so comforting, we were quite overwhelmed. Since then the kindness continued with messages, cards, gifts and even some lovely meals. This has carried us through the past week, and will continue to give us strength to deal with the challenge ahead.
'It has been encouraging to know the hotel means so much to so many people: Where they met, where they got married, their honeymoon, all our lovely regular visitors or just that special holiday. It will be all of that again.
'Now we have had time to see the extent of the damage in more detail, we are confident we will open the majority of the hotel fairly quickly. Unfortunately, what was the owners flat and the floor above will need to be gutted and rebuilt. While this may take some time, it should not affect the rest of the hotel operating, and opening dates, menus and offers will all be going live very soon.
'We look forward more than ever to opening the doors of the hotel in 2022.'

Hamish 'First-Foots' Arisaig Croft
Amidst coronavirus concerns and the recent wilful fire raising of the West Highland Hotel it's nice to have a good news story adorning the front page of West Word as we commence the New Year.
Hamish, a 10-year-old Yorkshire terrier belonging to Adam and Bridget Noble, Nethy Bridge, disappeared on a family walk up Glen Beasdale and Sithean Mor on the 28th December, running away to chase deer near the summit. Thinking he would meet them on the way down or at the car, they plodded down - but no Hamish appeared.
The Nobles spent the rest of the week searching the area for him with the help of many kind volunteers, during which they received a couple of phone calls - one being from a scammer seeking money for his safe return - but no trace of Hamish could be found, and they had to head back home to Nethy Bridge on the 31st without him. Adam said, 'As one last effort, I decided to camp on the 4th January near to where we lost him and cook some smoky bacon to try and entice him out of any hole he may have been hiding in. Still without any sign of him, as I was packing up my camp on the Wednesday morning, I received a call from Anne MacDonald to say that Hamish had turned up at their croft near Arisaig that morning - five miles away!'

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Despite having been out for eight nights and having covered who knows how many miles of rough terrain, he appeared to be fine - just very tired. Adam commented, 'We were and still are quite astonished by how long he was able to keep going. He lost a fair bit of weight and was exhausted from his exploits for a few days but after only a week or so is not far off his normal self again. We are delighted to have Hamish back safe and well!
'We would like to say how grateful we are for the many people who helped us by heading out on the hill (some on numerous days), offering moral encouragement and getting the word out on social media - for fear of missing anyone out, I won't name specific individuals. We have been quite taken aback by the level of support by so many kind people so THANK YOU! You can be rest assured that Hamish will be staying firmly on the lead from now on - for anyone who has read their children or grandchildren the Julia Donaldson classic 'The Highway Rat', my wife, Bridget, came up with an alternative ending for Hamish:
'A thinner and greyer and meeker dog, he chases the deer no more, he landed himself a new lead, a lead, a lead, and he'll be on the lead forevermore!''

LETTER FROM THE EDITOR
Happy New Year everyone!
Horrible news about the West Highland Hotel but I am so relieved the fire wasn't worse and also that no-one was staying in the building at the time. All the best to Sine and Gavin as they rebuild.
Despite the chronic lack of What's Ons in this month's edition I'm somehow optimistic that there's going to be a lot more going on this year . . . hopefully we really have turned the corner with Covid. For a start there is the Fort William Mountain Festival to look forward to next month!
Thank you to Lucy for putting together a last minute Wordsearch to fill the last gap! And also thank you once again to Morag and Ewen for their help with the printing, and Jane and Anne for labelling the envelopes.
Kirsty Bloom
editor@westword.org.uk


KNOYDART
Happy New Year Folks, and here's to it being happy, healthy and prosperous.
It was a very quiet Hogmanay, as was the case all over really, seeing as COVID once again put a disappointing stop to celebrations. It made for a very quiet period in general, with not a lot happening in the lead up to Christmas and New year. Unfortunately over the festive period Covid also finally reached our shores here, though thankfully the couple of cases have been contained.
The Old Forge CBS group are now advertising for a Project Manager, (although the sale hasn't gone through yet). They are still waiting on a response from the seller but while they await this, they are getting other things organised so that as soon as the sale goes through things can progress quickly. The Project Manager will oversee and manage the upgrade of the pub, site and associated buildings in line with the business plan. Applications are open until the 1st of February. See https://goodmoves.com/vacancy/a4s3z00000SfEXPAA3/Project-Manager
Normally we would be looking forward to the Burns Supper, which is one of the most loved community events of the year, but as things stand, I've no idea whether that will go ahead or not. Probably not.
A huge Congratulations to Koa and Veronika on the birth of their wee boy, who arrived just after New Year, and is another grandson for Tim and Hannah, and cousin to Kai and Kodi. Lovely news!
That's about it for now folks,
Heather Robb

GLENFINNAN
Beannachdan bho Gleann Fhionnain!
Glenfinnan Community Council were busy wee bees over the festive period delivering bags of foodie goodies, this time to the families with children.
The food donations were distributed by the Caol Regeneration Group and were gratefully received by all! January is a sleepy wee month in the Glen what with the wild January weather so we are resting up for what is going to be a bumper year for community projects and hopefully Ceilidhs galore.
Cadal fada ri gaoith mhir. (High Wind and Long Sleep)
Catriona Hunter

ISLE OF MUCK
Hello, Muck Calling . . . goodbye '21, Big Hi to '22 . . . another year down and out with a festive bang with Secret Santa doing the rounds and a Children's get together to send Santa's letters and a few Carols which were much appreciated. There was even time for a wee community gathering to greet the Jolly Red Fella in person where he dished out gifts and treats to young and not so young . . . even Lawrence was surprised to be called over for a long-lost childhood prezzie ?? We even managed a small Christmas fair with some nice last-minute bits n bobs.

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Hogmanay was quite a sedate affair this time round with only smaller get-togethers due to being cautious about the new covid strain and a few of us being over on the mainland shopping . . . so better safe than sorry, but that didn't deter the competitive and physical annual Hockey on the Beach game, with still enough bodies to pick sides followed up with the mad dippers who wanted to torture themselves in the Sea. We then had a chosen few locations to 1st foot until the evening.

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Shoots still continued on the Isle through December even with the changeable weather and unpredictable sailings. We waved of Archie Fichtner-Irvine as he left to teach English in Malawi for some months - what an adventure for the young man and we wish him all the best until his return.
Well not a lot to report this month as we hunker down for January.
That's all for now folks,
Bruce Boyd

ISLE OF CANNA
This month our population dropped as low as seven due to folk being off island for shopping, holidays etc. The quiet was quite nice . . .
A huge thankyou to everyone who donated to the Aviva Crowdfrunder which raised 6000 towards our Community Housing Fund. It is very much appreciated as we know there are many similar charities also looking for your support.
Pete Holden entertained us again this year with his one-man Panto and also sung a few tunes. Great fun, thanks Pete, and also thanks to Gareth for opening up CafeCanna for a few drinks, roast tatties and chat.
Greig Milligan and Spanish John were out this month to remove Simpson Builders large plant and the last of the contractors. Also leaving Canna for the last time was the iconic "CafeCanna Van" which is off to the big garage in the sky, RIP; it has been a great workhorse and we are still wondering how it kept going.

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Greig and crew are experts on how to load a boat, not an inch to spare, years of practice serving the Small Isles and Knoydart. She is a great wee ship.
There have been lots of sightings of Peregrines, Eagles, and a very aggressive Sparrowhawk that has been picking off small birds around bird feeders, hedgerows and in the farm buildings.
Our solitary Magpie, which has been here for nearly a year, has been its latest victim. That's nature I guess . . .
The Canna Community would like to wish you all a safe and happy New Year and hopefully some of you will be able to come and visit this year.
Bliadhna Mhath Ur.
Geraldine MacKinnon

Criomagan (Crumbs) from Canna House
100 years ago, in 1920, an awkward 17 year old from Pittsburgh was sent by her family to attend school in Helensburgh, to see if Scotland, the country of her forefathers, could 'sort her out'. Her name was Margaret Fay Shaw, known to all who know anything about Canna, and she went on to become one of the world's most important collectors of Scottish Gaelic songs and story as well as be one of the world's first female photographers of the 20th century.
She came to live permanently in Scotland in 1929 and lived here until her death in 2004 at the age of 101. She bought the Island of Canna with her husband, John Lorne Campbell in 1938 and they lived there until their deaths. As a follow on to the winter diary discussed in December's West Word, here is the first section of her Spring part of that diary, January and February - we must believe that Spring is coming! This was written when she was at St Brides School in Helensburgh. During her time there, she lived in a house called Birkhall, which still exists in Helensburgh today. The excerpts included tell us of her life as an early 20th century school pupil and perhaps, in these days of lockdown and extended school holidays, it will be interesting for school pupils of today to see how their scholastic lives are similar, or perhaps not so! The doodles are all Margaret's own work as is the spelling, uncorrected! The original photos are examples of her early work as a photographer.

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St Brides School, Helensburgh

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School photo, 1920

Margaret's Spring
January- Mon 10 - We said farewell to Aunt Annie and Uncle Hugh this morning and so departed from London and its charms. We felt very low in our minds and so with Jesse Robertson and Isabel McMason and Miss King for a 'chap', [chaperone] to Glasgow, we sped mid sleet and rain. Everyone slept but my mind was in Sewickley wandering from house to house. We arrived rather late and missed our connection so had hot Bovril and biscuits in the bar at the station
Jan 12 - Back at the same old work- some Virgil and French to do that I didn't finish and a hugh (sp.) hole in my sheet where I put my foot through it!!
Jan 13 - Miss Armstrong has a new costume and hat, lovely purple and the hat has willy plumes.

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Jan 14 - A glorious day that ended with a sublime concert. A singer with a divine baritone voice - good looking - but his name is Topliss Green. [www.youtube.com/watch?v=yO7TY9JD1Gg]. But he was most charming - and sang slushy love songs with one hand on his heart and the other bracing himself against the piano. Mr Edgar Barrett play the accompaniment and looked most important in a dress suit 3 times too large. He was muchly annoyed for we all snorted and giggled in the front rows. Miss W MacBride [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Winifred_MacBride] played also, great technique but no soul
Jan 24 - A lovely day- because we had some real snow and I also had a lovely music lesson. I'm busy working so hard at my Chopin's Etude in G ? and also the 1st Prelude. We walked home to Birkhall though the one inch snow and threw snow balls - especially when the snow stuck to our shoes and melted in a large puddle on the cupboard floor.
Feb 6 - We went out to tea to High Mayfield (ed. 23 Montrose St) and had the yummiest tea - I 'spose yummiest should have two m's. But nobody got homesick and I had had such a grand time that I couldn't think"
Feb 7 - The worse music lesson I've had on the side on the water - Mr Barratt was too sarcastic and mean to suit me and I never got so blithering mad! He kept slamming USA etc. - just wait till next lesson and I tell him were to "head in"! And don't forget that February 1st is St Bride's Day. Margaret wrote this about that day:
"Cuiridh Brid' a cas ann. Cuiridh Muir a Bas ann. Cuiridh Pdraig a spg mhr ann. Bidh e blth gu ler an uair sin. Bride will place her foot in it; Mary will put her palm in it. Patrick will put his big hand in it, It will be warm enough then." The sea water is said to become warm on St Bride's feast day. In the old style this was eleven days later than at present. Actually the sea is coldest in Spring and warmest in the Autumn. In Fr Allan MacDonald's papers, there is a version of this saying in which the last line is: 'S thug Padraig a'chlach fhuar as. St Patrick has taken the cold stone out of it", which makes better sense."
Fiona MacKenzie

ISLE OF RUM
Another quiet December here. We managed to have a fun Christmas party in the village hall for the children with a visit from Santa and not just any Santa; this Santa (she/her) was a dab hand with Rudolph and Co. being rather an expert with red deer herself . . .
We also had another secret Santa for the adults, which resulted in a whole raft of interesting hand made items and a very shiny teapot.
Hogmanay was quiet, though we got a return visit from Jed who left Rum in November very quietly, without letting anyone know; so it was nice to see how he had been getting on.
The tourist season was still going in December; the last visitors were a journalist and photographer from the New York Times who were here to write a feature about the island and the new residents. It has just been published, you may have read it; it's not bad as it happens, and has brought on a flurry of activity on our social media and will undoubtedly mean a lot of emails from people wanting to live here, and who wouldn't want to . . .
On-going issues are still where to house a school teacher, a nursery teacher and supply teacher - the HC promise of a static caravan for the nursery teacher has been reneged on and the parents of the nursery children in question have to fend for themselves until a solution is reached . . . Seriously? Yes, 'fraid so.
CalMac - with a fender damaged at the pier, Loch Nevis won't come in, so we've been left with the Spanish John and the Sheerwater to fill in until . . . when? Don't know. We haven't heard from HC who own the pier or CalMac who operate the ferry on when it is likely to be fixed.
On the bright side, the Bunkhouse is looking spanky after its renovation, there are still a few finishing touches to go but it looks bright and shiny and clean. Alex has also organised for Kala Wela Pizza and Beer to come over from Skye for Burns night - haggis pizza anyone? Makes a change!
Fliss Fraser

ISLE OF EIGG
Bliadhna Mhath r dhuibh uile bhon Eigich gu lir!
After a truly lovely beginning to the Christmas holiday season with our wonderful Christmas Fair and the Christmas Singalong that followed, unfortunately the dreaded 'vid put a sudden stop to our seasonal socialising. Nevertheless, a few weeks of isolating meant that the community could enjoy Eigg's annual Christmas community meal. Thanks to all who contributed with their lovely home-cooked dishes. I hear Marie's turkey was one of the best ever!
Great news on the brewery front! After many months of hard work, the first brew has been brewed and tasted and I can confirm it was definitely worth the wait! We are all so happy for the brewery team and wish them every success with their venture! Hogmanay was a quieter than normal affair but we Eigich gave it a good go! Thanks so much to our amazing musician pals who helped us dance our way into 2022.
Many thanks to John Chester who produced his annual Isle of Eigg Bird Report for 2021. Below is a wee snippet from his report: A total of 129 species were recorded on the island during the course of the year with 74 species recorded as breeding or having made a serious attempt at breeding. Remarkably these figures mirror exactly the number of species/ breeders recorded in 2020. Unfortunately, neither species of eagle bred and the future of Golden Eagle on Eigg must now be in considerable doubt. On the plus side though, Hen Harriers again bred successfully as did Sparrowhawks and Long Eared Owls, while a pair of Little Grebe reared two broods at Laig. Golden Plover bred for the first time in 17 years and Redshank were confirmed as breeding for the first time on the island.
Despite the constant cold northerly winds of spring delaying the arrival of many summer migrants, most species did have productive seasons when they finally got here, and many resident passerine species also had successful seasons. Onwards into 2022. May it bring health and happiness to us all!
Nan Fee


Arisaig Community Trust News

Community Housing Project
A milestone moment was reached in December, after almost 3 years of negotiations, to finally conclude the purchase of the land at Station Road for ACT's housing project. Although there were several major setbacks in 2021, these were resolved and credit definitely goes to Gary Somers, at MacPhee and Partners, for navigating us through this. Thanks are also extended to all our team working on this project: Communities Housing Trust, S&K MacDonald, the design team at Kearney Donald Architects and McColm Engineering and our legal team at MacPhee and Partners.
Our contractor for the project, S&K MacDonald Homes, are now steadily working through the planning process and we very much hope that in the Spring, we will be in a position to publish full details of the site plans along with information about how to apply for both the rental and self-build options available.

Community Involvement - appeal for New Directors
Our current member Directors are: Steve Westwood (Chair), David Buick (Vice-Chair), Rosemary Bridge (Treasurer), Olivia Bridge, Jess Logan and Kieran Logan. We also work closely with a team of employees and volunteers who help ensure the smooth running of not only our current assets (the Land, Sea & Islands Centre, Bill's Shed with EV Charge points, Community Toilets, Arisaig playing field and football pitch) but also our current projects (The Shorefront, Eco Project and Community Housing).
2022 is set to be a busy year in Arisaig and we are eager to welcome new Directors to play an active role in shaping the future of our community and its assets. Our projects now include education, culture, housing, recreation, employment, the environment and tourism - all of which benefit from a group of people with diverse interests and skills, working together to facilitate and help such projects reach their potential. If you enjoy working with people and would like to become more involved in improving community facilities whilst sharing your ideas and skills we would love to hear from you.
Email Zoe at info@arisaigcommunitytrust.org.uk


The Old Forge Community Benefit Society
Happy New Year to you all!
2021 was a whirlwind of a year for the CBS, having established the group in February then getting to work on a mountain of tasks to get us to the position we are in today - a plan made, funds raised and finally an offer submitted to purchase the pub. After a much-needed break over the festive period we are refreshed and back at it, so here's an update.
Offer. Negotiations continue with the seller and we are hopeful that we will be able to reach a mutually-beneficial agreement in the coming days.
Job Opportunity - Project Officer. While we wait, we still have to prepare for other aspects so that as soon as the sale goes through, we are ready to progress. With that in mind we are now advertising for a Project Manager who will oversee and manage the upgrade of the pub, site and associated buildings in line with achieving the aspirations outlined in our business plan. This is an exciting opportunity to be an integral part to enabling the residents of Knoydart and our stakeholders to establish our very own community-owned pub. Head over to our website www.theoldforgecbs.org for details on the job and how to apply. Applications close 1st February.
Crowdfund Success. At the end of December our crowdfund closed with a phenomenal 66,496 raised by 556 supporters. Thank you so much to everyone who pledged - the response was overwhelming and helped us conclude our fundraising plan with a bang!
Regular updates are posted on our social media pages @theoldforgecbs and if you ever want to get in touch please contact us via knoydartpub.media@gmail.com
Cheers!
The CBS Committee


Mallaig Harbour News
Happy New Year everyone! For those lucky enough to have had a view of the Harbour at midnight on Hogmanay, we were treated to another amazing firework display by the Ronja Commander, which this year was supplemented by some young local residents who had clubbed together to organise a pretty spectacular display. Between the two, some being set off from the Harbour, and some from the end of East Bay, it was a real treat to see in the New Year.
There has been no Sprat fishery to date this year, although the Caralisa changed gear again and set off on 4th January in the hope of finding some. The weather has certainly turned colder, so let's hope this is a good sign!
There is a bit of Déjà vu in writing this, as I'm not sure that anyone would have predicted that we would start 2022 still with the guidance to work from home where possible. The increase in Covid cases is impacting some of the services from the Harbour, including the ferries. There is a lot of uncertainty at the moment around the CalMac timetable, which in the short term has been reduced to an Essential Services temporary timetable from 3rd to at least 23rd January. Looking ahead, the Summer timetables from Mallaig are due to be published on 17th January. This is later than elsewhere in the Network and, while it should result in a better service from Mallaig to the Small Isles, Lochboisdale and Skye, it is causing some frustration for tourism businesses as it is making future planning a challenge. If all the proposed services are implemented there will be up to 25 sailings a day from Mallaig in the height of the summer, using four different vessels, which is quite a logistical challenge for CalMac, and potentially for us on the Harbour!
Although 2021 was another disrupted year in terms of restrictions, the Harbour is fortunate to have a number of income streams, and the quieter times have allowed us to press ahead with some developments. We were lucky to receive funding from the Scottish Government towards the installation of shore power in February, funding which was made available as a result of the difficult conditions facing the fishing fleet. Although the power points were installed quickly, it took several months to get the whole system commissioned as we required an upgrade to the Harbour's capacity. However, all the points are now up and running and being well utilised by vessels. We were also able to install a passenger waiting shelter for the Knoydart ferry, with support from Transport Scotland's Ferries Accessibility fund. This has been much appreciated and is a wee splash of colour on the Harbour. We also installed our LED lighting around the harbour, the start of a range of energy efficiency measures we hope to be able to implement over the next few years. Those of you who read this column regularly will also know that we have bigger plans for the Outer Breakwater, and we have almost completed the detailed design phase for these. We had to make some last-minute changes prior to submitting the Marine Licence, in order to incorporate plans for a new berth for CalMac ferries. The bathymetric survey of the Outer Harbour was undertaken in December, and there is still a small amount of investigative works to be done, hopefully in January, before the works can go out to tender. Putting together a funding package for these works will be the priority for 2022, along with a replacement of the existing portacabin at the top of the Marina pontoon.
We had our final Board Meeting of the year on 10th December and were able to invite our previous Chair, Charlie King, and previous Board Members Jackie Wright and Michael Foxley to join us for a meal in the evening to mark their retirement. We had hoped to mark the occasion of Charlie's retiral from the Board with a larger celebration, but with ongoing restrictions this was proving impossible. Gavin Davis, as current Chair, said a few words of thanks to Charlie, Michael and Jackie, and reflected on some of the highlights of Charlie's 37 years on the Board before presenting each of them with a token of the Board's appreciation. The Scottish Government's 'Modern Ports - Guidance for Good Governance' sets a limit on the number of terms and therefore the length of time that a Board Member can serve now, and while this is good in lots of ways, and ensures there are always new ideas being generated, it does mean that no-one will have the chance to develop the same level of corporate knowledge and history that some of our previous Board Members, including Charlie, were able to. In looking through the minute books to gather some dates for Gavin's speech, I was struck by how much some things have changed (in 1985 the Harbour Board agreed to write to the Health Authorities 'regarding the indiscriminate wandering of sheep through the Harbour Area') and by how much some things have stayed the same (in October 1998 'Mr C King intimated that a parking review of the village was currently being undertaken by The Highland Council')! One thing that has definitely changed is the make-up of the Board. On 1st October 1993 Alison MacKenzie from ScotRail was welcomed as the first woman to sit on the Harbour Board, and now, including myself, the Board is two-thirds women. I'll leave others to make comment on that!
Jacqueline McDonell


On and Off the Rails

Clarifications and corrections!
All I can say as I put pen to paper with my column this month is that what I write today may not be the same tomorrow!
In these very unsure days and weeks ahead, who can commit to plans, when the ongoing impact of the pandemic continues to be an unknown entity?
There are glimmers of hope. Facts that are set in stone. Let's deal with these first.

Financial support extended for rail services in Scotland
Emergency Measures Agreements (EMOs) which temporarily vary the terms of franchise agreements, and which were extended from September 2021 to December 2021, will now be in place until February 2022. These were set up to help rail services as the country continues to deal with the pandemic.
Because of greatly reduced passenger revenues linked to covid-19, the Scottish Government has said it will continue to provide Abellio ScotRail Ltd and Serco Caledonian Sleeper Ltd with sufficient additional funding to cover necessary operating costs. Scotland's Minister for transport Graeme Dey said, 'We have agreed to provide further additional funding for ScotRail and Caledonian Sleeper franchises to ensure the continued sustainability of Scotland's rail services for passengers. Given the challenging budgetary position, the agreements have been extended until February 2022 which will hopefully provide rail staff and suppliers with reassurance during this period. The Scottish Government will continue to work with our train operators, the rail industry and the UK Government during the coming months to understand the impact of the pandemic.'
In the meantime offered advice is to 'work from home if you can', 'only travel if your journey is essential', and check, check, check if your planned journey is able to operate as a) rail staff are as vulnerable as passengers to positive covid tests, meaning that trains may not run - some areas in Scotland are not even able to run emergency timetables for that reason; b) that winter weather conditions have forced a cancellation of service, with no Bustitution of service for the same reason! We are all desperate to start to repay the railways and staff for the sterling efforts that companies and government are making on our behalf to try and give us public transport. My heart goes out as I see trains running with no one on board and staff turning out at 6am from Mallaig and other staff returning into Mallaig at 11.35 at night, seven days a week - but honestly where can we go, and should we? It is a nightmare for the whole railway industry from which we can only hope to recover from, however it plays out. Who would be a logistics or planning operator at this moment in time, and yet plan for the recovering future they must.
David Ross, ScotRail communications director said, 'We're sorry to our customers who are being inconvenienced as a result of continuing increases in the number of our staff self-isolating due to covid. We are working flat out to run a safe and reliable railway in difficult circumstances.' He is right there! With whole household contacts having to isolate and test, Nicola Sturgeon can (and did) only say, 'Given that Omicron is now dominant our response to it has to be more general'. She is right, too!
More than 20 rail operators have reduced services. Last week Greater Anglia cancelled about 70 services a day, including between London and Norwich, Cambridge and Ipswich, and Norwich and Great Yarmouth - and that's just one company!

Transport Minister justifies 3.8% railfare increase, calling it 'Fiscal prudence'
Ahead of rail fare increases of 4% being introduced in England in March 2022, the Scottish government has announced that rail fares will increase in Scotland from Monday 24th January 2022 by 3.8% across ScotRail services on peak, off-peak and season tickets. The largest increase in nearly a decade, it comes before the government takes control of ScotRail from Dutch firm Abellio in March 2022.
Transport Minister Graeme Dey stated that, 'demands for fare freezing would lead to unmeetable costs in the Budget.' He said, 'Fiscal prudence and inflation rates, coupled with passenger numbers remaining well below pre-Covid levels make fare increases unfortunately necessary.' Mr Dey claimed a fare freeze or raising fares below the RPI inflation rate would have cost between 6.5 million and 9.1 million and 'could not be taken forward'.
All I can say is if you know anyone who uses a season ticket across Scotland - tell them to renew it before 24th January and save themselves 3.8% on a year's travel!!
Equally so the same applies if you have to travel long distance by train on ScotRail do it before 24th January! Your return ticket will be valid at the current rate for one month if you travel away before the 24th.

Delayed Glenfinnan rail bridge project hopes to commence in early 2022
It looks like the delayed work to replace the Slatach bridge carrying the A830 trunk road over the railway line at the western edge of Glenfinnan, and ancillary work to create a new stretch of trunk road, might now start in the early part of this year. Compulsory purchase orders for the land required were due to be completed by mid-March 2019! - but a Transport Scotland spokesperson said, 'There have been some hitches in progressing the transfer of ownership. Transport Scotland has engaged with Network Rail in respect of the acquisition of three pots of land in their ownership, which are required for the scheme to progress. Unfortunately, Network Rail's technical and commercial processes that would allow the transfer of ownership have taken significantly longer than anticipated and have yet to be concluded. It is hoped that these matters can be resolved, allowing work to begin on site in early 2022.'
Watch this space!! Or am I just being too cynical?

Model Rail Scotland set to return for 2022
I write this with my fingers crossed that it will happen, and that people will be allowed to return, and want to travel to it, but please check all details before making plans.
Many railway magazines are currently carrying full page adverts about Model Rail Scotland's planned return to the SEC Glasgow for three days in February 2022. On Friday 25th, Saturday 26th and Sunday 27th over 40 working layouts and 120 exhibitor stands are expected to be present. Ticket prices for admission are Adult 15, Child 6, Family (two adults, two children) 32. Full details are currently available at www.modelrail-scotland.co.uk Many rules regarding Covid will be in place - all available to see online - see 'important entry information' before you go. Subject to change based on rules nearer time of the event.

Update on Young Persons' Free Bus Travel Scheme
This scheme will become operational on 31st January 2022 and applications are now open.
There are two ways to apply:
1) Online at https://getyournec.scot This (I'm told) is the quickest way to receive your card.
2) Via your local Council - (I'm told) schools are coordinating when this arrangement is in place. This will take longer than applying online.
If you are having issues applying online or you do not have internet access, call the Highland Council switchboard and you'll be given advice. Ring for free on 0800 393811. If you already have a NEC (National Entitlement Card) or a Young Scot Card you must apply for a new card to travel by bus for free. Good luck!
Essential travel applications are being processed first I understand; given the current situation of high levels of covid 19 transmission the Scottish government's current advice for workers to work from home if they can is slightly impeding the roll-out! Full details and updates can be found at Transport Scotland Young Persons (Under 22's) Free Bus Travel web page. Maybe this should be your first port of call if you have a computer!
Remember that currently the Scottish Government's restrictions are that travel anywhere by any form should be only if it is essential that you or your child/young adult should travel, and to stay at home and self isolate if you have a positive PCR or lateral flow test. Don't forget you can pick up lateral flow tests for free from the Mallaig pharmacy.
Stay safe as you can, follow the advice - and I'm back to saying,
See you on the train - but not yet!
Sonia Cameron


BIRDWATCH December 2021 by Stephen MacDonald
Fairly typical fare bird wise for December. The usual wintering wildfowl reported. A handful of Whooper Swans still on Loch nan Eala, Goldeneyes were reported from Loch Morar, Loch nan Eala, Morar Estuary and Loch nan Ceall. Goosanders from Loch Ailort and Loch Morar. Wigeon were seen at Loch Ailort, Loch nan Ceall and the Morar Estuary. On the 30th at least 13 Slavonian Grebes were seen on Loch nan Ceall and several Little Grebes were also seen there. Great Northern Divers were seen all round the coastline from Mallaig to Loch Ailort. A small group of Eider Ducks could be seen most days feeding in Mallaig Harbour.
Still at least two wintering Greenshank and a single Bar-tailed Godwit on the Morar Estuary. A group of 20 Ringed Plover were at Camusdarroch on Christmas Day. Purple Sandpipers and Turnstones were seen regularly by West Bay, Mallaig. Several reports of Turnstones from Traigh also. Woodcock were widely reported, mostly from roadside verges after dark.
The immature Iceland Gull was present throughout the month at Mallaig Harbour.
Still small flocks of Redwings and Fieldfares seen during the month, feeding on Hawthorn berries or in fields.
Great-spotted Woodpeckers were again reported from several gardens feeding on peanuts or fatballs. Up to nine Long-tailed Tits were seen on several occasions of fatball feeders in a garden at Woodside, Morar. Single Redpolls were seen in a couple of Morar gardens from Christmas Eve and several Siskins were also seen on feeders in Morar. A Barn Owl was seen at Rhubana View on the 5th. There were several reports of Sea Eagles from Loch Ailort, Arisaig an the Morar Estuary.
Two Jays were seen at Drimmindarroch on the 18th.
A Dipper was seen in the burn at Camusdarroch on the 5th.
On the 6th November a Chaffinch which was caught by a ringer in a Morar garden was found to be wearing a ring which indicated that it had been ringed on the 8th October 2020 at the Calf of Man bird observatory, 331km to the south. It is most likely that the bird was a Scandinavian migrant which was wintering in Britain, as most of our local birds are fairly resident.


WORLD WIDE WEST WORD

photo
Niall and Juliet Blackie travelled the four corners of mainland Britain with their West Word.
This month - a photo from Lizard Point! Thanks Niall and Juliet!


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