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July 2020 Issue
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All photos are copyright either of the individual photographers or West Word.
FLASH FLOOD DAMAGES PROPERTY AND RAILWAY LINE
A localised deluge near Lochailort on 25th June brought a torrent of water and huge boulders cascading down the hill behind the home of Jan and John Bryden, washing out the track bed along an 80m stretch of the West Highland Line, and causing structural damage to the Bryden's buildings and washing away most of their garden.
The founders of the Highland Children's charity 'Kirsty's Kids' could only watch helplessly as "a lifetime of work was washed away in just five minutes" as the flood devastated the retreat they built especially for use by disabled children and their families. With the help of volunteers almost everything in their garden was specially handmade for disabled visitors, from quiet seating areas and accessible buildings to a model railway, which could be remote controlled by a child in wheelchair as they followed alongside, passing a miniature Glenfinnan viaduct and highland village. All have now been totally destroyed.
John said: "Last Thursday I was in the workshop making parts for the model railway when there was a loud crack and a bolt of lightning shot across the room from the metal stove. I ran outside and the rain was just pouring down, heavier than I have ever seen it anywhere in the world. There was also a huge rushing noise, so loud that Jan couldn't even hear me shouting to her. The wall under our flat was cracked and the ground floor door was burst in the middle - from the inside outwards. Given the force of the water it was a miracle we weren't swept away." The main house itself, which is used for visitor accommodation, flooded to a depth of about two feet.
John estimates that in just a few minutes there must have been tens of thousands gallons of water sweeping all before it, gouging out a ravine where there had been a burn, with huge boulders strewn along its banks and full grown trees obliterated. John said: "In five minutes we saw a lifetime of work washed away, but we will not be giving up. We have welcomed over 200 children and their families here and their stories are all so touching. Unknown to me one of the volunteers put an appeal on social media which raised almost £6000 in two days, with many kind messages. Jan and I were really overwhelmed by this. We are a no-overheads charity and 100% of what we raise goes directly those who need it. We are not getting any younger and at this moment I don't know how all this is going to be fixed, but we will continue to give our all to help people, just as our daughter Kirsty would have".
With rail services between Fort William and Mallaig currently unable to run, Network Rail engineers have been working round the clock to rebuild the damaged track-bed and supporting embankments and plan to reopen the line on Monday 13th July.
Story by Iain Ferguson, The Write Image
LETTER FROM THE EDITOR
Have you got your facemasks, buffs or bandanas at the ready for your next trip to the shops? Send us some pics of your Road to the Isles style!
We've got two new columnists this month: hello to Grant (from Knoydart) and Bruce (from Muck) - thanks for your contributions and we look forward to reading your news.
I hope everyone is enjoying a bit of post-lockdown freedom … don't forget to take a copy of the paper with you when you're out and about and send us some snaps for 'World Wide West Word' (even if you're still close to home)!
It's quiet in the office again just now with no trains passing due to the track damage - but in just five days The Jacobite will be puffing by again. It won't be stopping in Glenfinnan or Arisaig, and it sounds like West Coast Railways are doing their best to run the service 'The Safe Way' as they say, with passenger numbers reduced to a third of the usual. Let's hope it all goes well!
For the seventh year in a row, several local charities, including West Word, have received a donation cheque from an anonymous benefactor. We hope the donor is reading this, as we'd like to express our thanks - your generosity is very much appreciated, especially in the current conditions. Thank you!
Sometimes I feel guilty that I am not suffering enough during this pandemic. Apart from the distress of not being able to visit my elderly parents, the rest of my life is much improved; I don't have to go to the shops, there are no tourists to attend to, I have plenty of outside work to do and inside work when it's wet, my neighbours are busy growing food and I have chickens again!
I wonder how those of us in the same lucky position will be able to help and thank those who have been bearing the brunt, those stuck in flats with no garden, NHS staff, key workers and others run ragged in positions of responsibility (even politicians). They will all need a good holiday as soon as possible, but when is it safe to encourage them to travel? When can we comfortably welcome them back? Wouldn't it be great to offer affordable holidays to those who need them most?
And what about the recovery? This is a monumentous (sic) moment for our planet, we humans must admit we have over exploited it. The human race (are we racing towards or against something?) is currently, perhaps for the first time in the history of our species, sharing the same experience on a global scale.
As I see it we are now faced with an existential choice, either wake up and use this as an opportunity to change our behaviour and invest in a circular economy based on natural processes or we go the other way, which I can only describe as disappearing up our own *********.
In other words, the recovery needs to be based on investment in stuff like responsible agriculture, cycling, local holidays, tree planting, renewable energy, composting, insulation, climate positive technology and healthy lifestyles.
We all now have an opportunity to make this the turning point, we need to urge the governments to commit to a green recovery and to use our spending power to reward responsible business, or we face a grey future (if we are lucky).
Special thanks to The Western Isles team and all the shops and others who have gone out of their way to keep Knoydart ticking over for the last three months.
ISLE OF MUCK
Hi all, just seeing if anyone is out there as it seems like an eon since there was any news of a positive nature - it has felt like an episode from the 'Living Dead', and at any moment we will be reaching for our Zombie kits and heading for…..well, our hill!!
Seriously my name is Bruce Boyd (Choc-Ness), and I have taken over not only the Tearoom on Muck but also the job as in depth, hard hitting, getting down to the heart of the matter, roving, deadline-missing reporter for West Word, which in reality means while folk are out and about I ask the hard question…..'Suup?
After landing on the Island in March we decided (Pam and I) to open as soon as, only to be told a week later to close; marvellous timing but undaunted carried on and adapted which I believe is the Small Isles way. As a community we have kept each other's spirits up, kept our sense of humour and our resolve for better days ahead. Lambing came and went on both Farm and Croft without issues but the sheep seem to have claimed the right of way with no visitors to intimidate them, so we have regulars at the Tearoom #41 and #42 (sprayed numbers on fleece) who both with Mother make themselves right at home under the benches. NOW... shearing was another matter, another Tennents-fuelled matter in which I was an integral cog in this well-oiled operation under the ever watchful eye of Barnaby and Judy (sorry to British Wool at the unpacking stage) and a big shout out to all the young guns especially Willow who kept the pens moving, which is more can be said for some of the dodgy cuts now being sported … but the sheep look fine Ha Ha.
Wildlife is thriving with reduced visitors on Muck with a presence of long eared Owls frequenting back gardens, and the Eagles frequenting poor Jenny's chickens, but the arrival of Gallanach Lodge's Pheasants will provide a much welcome distraction for them (sorry Toby). Mowi have been busy readying the Fish Farm for the incoming stock and we thank Neil and his teams for their consideration in respect to social distancing and non-interacting with the local population during this time. And with the actual school holidays upon us I can hear a collective cheer to the end of home schooling and a renewed admiration for teachers everywhere as we move into the next phase.
I think for my first message from Muck I am going to sign off and hope you are all safe and remain so with visitors poised across the water once more.
ISLE OF CANNA
Copy deadline date again. What to write about this month..?
The fourth issue of West Word in succession - and Covid-19 remains the main topic of conversation it seems.
Not that we have allowed the pandemic to dominate our lives, however. Since the end of March, once we had come to terms with the initial food shortages and the 'lifeline' CalMac ferry timetable, we have taken each day as it comes, carried out everyday tasks, found ways to have some fun, and supported each other as best we can within our 'island bubble'. We have grown accustomed and look forward to the 'new normality' of Gareth's fortnightly take-aways from Café Canna. (This Saturday was pie night - venison and dark ale or chicken and tarragon..)
Information and communication is key. It is quite a sobering thought - the role the internet now plays in so many things we do, particularly at this time - contacting family and friends ... engaging with neighbouring islands ... bringing in essential supplies ... (even submitting this article, complete with photos..!)
We feel we have risen to the challenge of government guidelines during lockdown in isolation. As predicted, however, as we enter Phase 2 of the Covid-19 route map - and possibly Phase 3 by the time of publication of this edition of West Word - new challenges will present themselves. The Scottish islands have so far received support from Holyrood and the First Minister to remain in relative isolation in a bid to help curtail the spread of Covid. This will inevitably change, and visitors will wish to come once more. Forgive us if we are a little wary, and show some initial reluctance to open up again - we think we are not alone, and that some on the other Small Isles and elsewhere share that view. On Canna, we are a small, potentially fragile community, with few facilities, remote from medical support, and with some vulnerable residents. Who could deny, however, island businesses anywhere the opportunity to realise some income from what remains of the holiday season, should they wish? We will be updating our local advice to the public on our website and social media as the government's route map out of lockdown progresses.
Our first 'visitors' will in fact arrive on Canna in the first week of July. On the farm, sheep require to be sheared, and the small contract team of shearers will come over to carry out this essential task, albeit in isolation from the community.
With an eye on the rest of the world... here are a few of us on Canna Pier taking a socially distanced knee in support of Black Lives Matter.
The community vegetable garden and polytunnel are beginning to bear fruit (and vegetables, naturally...) - early radishes and a bumper crop of strawberries, enough for everyone, have already been gathered.
There has also been time to make the best of the warm, calm weather in early June to kayak round to the puffin stack on the south side of Sanday and see the air full of birds, kittiwake and guillemot nests on the cliffs, explore sea caves, and a close encounter with porpoise. Happy days..
Criomagan (Crumbs) from Canna House
We are very sad to report the passing of retired Canna House archivist Magda Sagarzazu at the beginning of June. Magda had borne several years of illness with her customary fortitude and good humour and she is very sadly missed by us all. Here is a personal tribute I wrote for Magda as my own way of saying thank you for her friendship, knowledge and inspiration.
"My idea of an island as a child was a piece of land with palm trees! But I arrived to a beautiful real island. Canna House, the garden, the cats, the Steinway grand piano, books in every room on all topics - it had a great charm for me immediately".
So writes Magdalena (Magda) Sagarzazu, 'adoptive' Scot, of her first visit to the Isle of Canna in April 1962. Even Magda herself was never quite sure when she first came to the island with her father, close friend of folklorist John Lorne Campbell, Saturnino Sagarzazu, and her sister Maria Carmen, but Canna House diaries and visitor books give us the exact date of their arrival - Sunday April 29, 1962. That fateful trip on Bruce Watt's boat, The Western Isles, was the beginning of a long and fruitful love affair with Canna.
Magda came originally to Canna from the Basque country, aged 12, after the death of her mother in 1958. That first visit lasted almost six months and was to become an annual trip for the family. The family lived in TighArd House, up above Canna House and Magda and her sister spent summers exploring every nook and cranny of the island's beaches and moors, fishing for lobsters and swimming on the Traigh Bhàin on the neighbouring island of Sanday. She described her time on Canna as an "education itself. There was so much. It was a house of many languages - we would speak French at the table and with Margaret (Fay Shaw Campbell), until we learnt English. That is why to this day (2018) I call her Marguerite - with Juan (John) we would speak Spanish and sometimes a little Basque, with my sister and father". A multicultural, multi lingual environment which grew to include Gaelic and Gaelic song. At that time she had little idea of how this culture would become the pivotal focus for her adult working life.
Magda standing, Saturnino at the oars
The library and the sound recordings of Canna House became part of her daily life when living on Canna and came to have such meaning for her that after training in administration and commerce in Spain, she decided to retrain as a teacher to enable her to spend long summer holidays on Canna, helping John with his literary work and cataloguing of the extensive collections. When John died in 1996 in Italy, it was Magda and Maria Carmen who accompanied Margaret back to Canna to assist with the legalities of John's estate and sort out his considerable paper archives. When Margaret decided to stay on Canna, Magda took the decision to give up her teaching job and move to Canna full time to continue John's work and be companion to Margaret, now aged 93.
Her work grew into that of Archivist and she was appointed thus by the National Trust for Scotland, to whom John had gifted the island in 1981. She lived on in Canna House with Margaret until Margaret's death in 2004 and she then took up residence in the little white, iconically Hebridean cottage, "Doirlinn", with the green gate looking out onto Canna Bay.
Over the years, that house became the focus of many soirees where the Gaelic, Basque, Spanish, Italian and English tongues could be heard in equal measure accompanying songs, darts matches, dancing and of course, "pintxos", that gastronomic Basque delight. Spanish/Gaelic classes were the norm of a winter evening and Magda welcomed in any stray or stranded visitor to the island, offering hospitality, a glass of Cava and a warm smile to all. Her welcoming nature and sense of fun became her signature 'default' and there is a not a man on earth who did not crumble when confronted by her twinkly eye and her 'preciosa' grin.
Magda's professional contribution not only to the heritage contained within Canna House, but also to Scotland and on into the wider world is immeasurable and she fiercely promoted and advocated the work of the Campbells across the world, increasing awareness in every letter, lecture, broadcast and newspaper article. After John and Margaret died, Magda continued on with the archiving and cataloguing of the Campbells extensive paper archive of correspondence, manuscripts and research writings. She answered the daily research enquiries which came from right across the world, from some of the most hallowed halls of learning including Harvard, Oxford and Dublin and established close relationships with many of the most learned and revered Chairs of Academia. Her name became synonymous with Canna House. The work carried out by Magda is very likely the greatest contribution to worldwide recognition of Scottish cultural significance to be found anywhere.
Magda being presented with the George Waterston award by NTS CEO Simon Skinner 2015
Friends for years, in 2015 Magda took me under her wing as her little preciosa, her 'little bird' and guided me through the enormous, privileged task of becoming the first point of call for information on John and Margaret Campbell. Magda had wanted to retire some years before she actually did but felt she needed to find someone who might understand and love the Collections, as they deserved to be loved. Many is the time, sitting in the sitting room window of Canna House, that she would entrance me with her memories of Marguerite's pithy stories and John's sense of fun, the pranks he played and the travels she had with them across the globe. Her story of why there is a hole in the gate to Doirlinn now - to allow her little Cairn terrier, Patxu, to have lovelorn conversations with the little seal who visited the shore every day.
The National Trust for Scotland were indeed fortunate to have in Magda, an employee who so selflessly devoted her life to the Isle of Canna and who has preserved for us and for future generations the legacy of her friends, the Campbells. Magda's work was recognised in 2016 by the Saltire Society as one of Scotland's Outstanding Women of the Year, alongside First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and author J.K. Rowling. Magda also contributed to several learned publications including her paper on "Alexander Macdonald - Alasdair MacMhaighstir Alasdair - Bard of the Gaelic enlightenment "(Islands Book Trust 2013).
In my last conversation with her, my best friend, a few days ago, we talked of the Canna cuckoo returning to the trees in the Garden, the lambs in the fields, the new Beltie calves with their 'Oreo' tummies and the pink Rum sunsets returning for the summer. Her heart remains on Canna, the island which she often said was her 'healing island, wrapping its arms around her'.
In my efforts to continue her work, I will keep her enduring friendship close and sit amongst the bluebells for her, every Spring.
Magda Sagarzazu passed away in San Sebastian, Wednesday June 3rd, 2020 with her husband Joaquin and family around her. Her family in Scotland were unable to travel to be with her but hope to have a memorial in Scotland when travel restrictions ease.
Magdalena Sagarzazu. September 16th 1949 - June 3rd 2020.
ISLE OF EIGG
June is always a month of birthdays for Eigg: Brendan, Paula, Dean, Stuart, Shuggie, Tasha, Hilda, Sue, Greg! Tricky to celebrate but in the fresh air with a fire or a garden gathering, we have managed somehow - with elderflower based cocktails the new favourite tipple this year, due to exceptionally abundant flowering... As for our 12 June anniversary, a magnificent beach bonfire and a stage looking over to Rum for distance dancing on the warm sand, thanks to Finn and Niamh, the new generation of Eigg DJs, and the usual suspects for some fine tunes indeed: a lovely night celebrating all that is good about community.
On the Eigg nature side, damp weather followed by heat has made for an exceptional show of Orchids all over the island, with many spectacularly huge hybrids popping up all over the place, and an abundance of moths, some of whom are turning up on Eigg for the first time ever, such as Mother Shipton moth. There were also good sightings of Garden Tiger, whose numbers have fallen by an alarming 89% since the 1970's due to climate change as they don't like mild wet winters and warm springs. Birdie is still very concerned about the poor number of Swallows and Arctic Terns this year.
Our island bubble is set to evaporate as tourism is due to reopen, but owing to the complicated demands of covid cleaning for self-catering and restaurants, this will be a very slow re-opening on Eigg. All businesses apart from our shop, a real lifeline for us all, have decided to remain closed until August at least. Social distancing makes it impossible to have a normal tourist season with only 20 passenger places on the Loch Nevis until further notice. So we have given families and key workers priority, with self-catering to be introduced later on, but so far no hostel and no camping this year, as in any case our usual camping ground is not available due to a new agricultural scheme being introduced. The three medivac airliftings to hospital in one week this month - luckily with no severe consequences - makes us still feel too vulnerable and fragile as a community.
So huge apologies to island friends that wanted to visit: we are looking forward to warmly welcoming them all next year. Very glad to see that the Year of Coasts and Waters is being extended, as we hope to have our Bird Festival and lots of other events then. In anticipation, we are also preparing for the Scottish Island passport to be launched this winter!
Big sigh of relief to know that schools will reopen in August, including Mallaig High and Mallaig hostel, and a welcome decision to have our young folks come back home every weekend of the autumn term. A long held aspiration finally fulfilled!
Amongst the many zoom meetings that are currently held, we just had one with our MP Ian Blackford on 30 June, a day when lobbying occurred everywhere to ensure a green recovery that takes into account urgent climate adaptation. Thanks to Norah for organising this: it really was useful for islanders to have a chance to discuss issues with Ian. His assistant was very diligent in answering my question about the so-called UK Shared Prosperity Fund which was due to seamlessly replace EU funds by next spring. And guess what: there is still no news of what it will consist of for Scotland's rural areas, nor the rest of the UK for that matter, so Ian will table a question on this topic ASAP. Don't hold your breath for a speedy answer... On the plus side, it was great to see Scotland's achievement in community renewables feature as part of a climate adaptation Covenant of Mayors webinar this month which focused on the islands of Scotland and Ireland (see it again on https://www.scottish-islands-federation.co.uk/empowering-islands-to-achieve-their-energy-and-climate-targets-scotland-and-ireland-2/) At least the islands' clean energy efforts will still be able to benefit from EU support for a while longer!
Arisaig Community Trust News
Although the Scottish Government has announced dates in July for lifting many of the restrictions which are still in place in Scotland, Arisaig Community Trust has decided that the Land, Sea & Islands Centre, for which it is responsible, will remain closed for the foreseeable future. We know that this will be a disappointment both for local people and for visitors, but with only a single access point and limited space, our building doesn't lend itself easily to meet with necessary social distancing requirements.
Of course we would like to be open, offering a warm welcome to all who come through the door, but until we can be sure that the surroundings are as safe as we can possibly make them for our volunteer staff and visitors, unfortunately, the best course of action is to remain closed.
We are in the process of reviewing how our community toilets could re-open and our priority is to make sure that our services can continue to run effectively and safely whilst ensuring that our staff have the necessary support and equipment they need in order to return to their roles. We are adopting a cautious approach and will not open any doors until we have all such measures in place. In the meantime, any further updates about our toilet facilities will be posted through our Facebook page and website.
The children's playpark is managed by the Highland Council and was re-opened on 29th June. Scottish Government guidance stipulates that the space can be used by a maximum of eight people from three different households, at the same time. With regard to the Community Trust managed football pitch, we are continuously monitoring Government advice with a view to re-opening it as soon as possible. We value your support and patience in these challenging times and we hope to engage the community in the coming weeks to help us re-open the facilities we manage and that are supported and used by you and your families.
Resilient Knoydart - Update
The Resilient Knoydart group was set up in March to tackle the challenges brought on by Covid-19 - and, not surprisingly, we've been very busy!
July sees our community begin preparations to welcome visitors back to the peninsula within Government guidelines. We have been working with Western Isles to increase the ferry service, and will also be implementing an updated loading/offloading procedure on the pier to ensure social distancing is maintained now that there will be more activity. Huge thanks to Joe and his team for their patience and efforts to get everything in place.
Information is being updated daily so it can be hard to keep up with everything, but we are doing our best to keep everyone informed and supported as we enter this next phase of coming out of lockdown. Posters will be going up in public spaces to remind visitors about social distancing and hand hygiene, and we will be putting a hand-wash station on the pier to aid these efforts.
One of the great things that has come out of Covid-19 has been the resurgence of the community garden. Volunteers have established and maintained new growing beds to produce community food, and the fruits of their labour are starting to show. First time gardeners have taken on plots for the summer and it's great to see so much interest in food growing.
On the topic of food, we must also say a huge thank you to the continued efforts of local mainland shops in making sure we get all the supplies we need. Williamsons, Lochaber Larder, The Mallaig Co-op, Harbour Shop, Bakehouse and many others have kept us going for the past three months and we are very grateful.
A Write Highland Hoolie!
Mallaig Book Festival
We are very disappointed to announce that we have finally decided to cancel this year's Write Highland Hoolie. We won't be moving our planned events online as we feel we could not replicate our unique atmosphere in this manner. We plan to run a fabulous event over the weekend of 12-14th November 2021 and hope that you will join us then. We do, however, plan to run virtual events for the local schools this year.
Our very best wishes,
Team Write Highland Hoolie
Mallaig Harbour News
I'm a bit later in writing this month, but things are changing so quickly that it might be no bad thing! It's the 1st July, and I have just watched the Lord of the Isles arrive, and for the first time there are a few vehicles in the marshalling area waiting to sail to Lochboisdale. It's a wee bit of normality on the Harbour, which is quite nice to see!
CalMac have published their timetable from the 1st July, which includes four sailings a day on the Loch Fyne between Mallaig and Armadale, and three sailings a week between Lochboisdale and Mallaig - on Monday, Wednesday and Saturday. Capacity is reduced on all sailings, so booking is advised wherever possible, and at the moment, CalMac are only taking bookings for up to a fortnight in advance.
Western Isles Cruises are still running their lifeline service, rather than a full timetable, and during July will also be transporting visitors who have accommodation booked on Knoydart, but no day-trippers, campers or walkers.
From today, we will have more staff back on the pier - albeit part-time at the moment. Sandy came back to work at the beginning of June, and Danny and Hugh are returning for July. We've re-arranged the office slightly, and hopefully Audrey will be back in the office from week beginning 13th July, so it will be staffed again during normal office hours.
The fishing fleet has had another good month of weather, but some of the usual markets are still closed, and one vessel landed prawns throughout the month, only to have the buyer pull out. Some of them were sold locally, but unfortunately, some of them were wasted - it's unlikely that this would have happened if local businesses had been open and able to make use of them. It's been a very challenging time for our local fleet - as if the fishing industry is not difficult enough at the best of times!
We have taken the opportunity of things being a bit quieter to take down the 'white tent' at the back of the Co-op, which was damaged and becoming unsafe. It's amazing how much space this has created, and I have included a couple of photographs courtesy of George Henderson. You will also see a bit more activity around the Harbour over the next few weeks as we implement all the safety measures arising from our risk assessments for coronavirus. In general, this will mean increased signage around the Harbour, and hand sanitiser in strategic positions, especially around both the passenger access and marina pontoons. We know that hard surfaces are a risk when it comes to Coronavirus, and that it's not practical to sanitise handrails etc. after every use, so we will be putting up signage encouraging people to continue to keep their distance, to wash or sanitise their hands after touching surfaces and to be respectful of other users around the Harbour.
We're also hopeful to have contractors back on-site from 9th July to complete some of the works that were in progress when lockdown began. The first priority is to complete works on the pontoon, which we hope will be done in time to allow us to re-open to visiting yachts on Saturday 18th July, slightly later than the date that most tourism businesses locally will be re-opening. If physical distancing remains at 2m, we will only be able to use one side of each finger of the pontoon, which will limit our capacity, so we will be asking visitors to book ahead. We will also need to limit the number of people using the shore facilities at any one time, so will be asking visiting yachts to book a time if they would like to use the showers or laundry facilities. Again, we will keep posting updates on the Facebook page and the website - https://mallaig-yachting-marina.com/news/ We will also try to provide links to guidance from the surrounding communities, as we are very aware that this might vary between communities, and we want any visiting vessels to be well prepared for this. We had our first 'virtual' Board meeting this month, which was a slightly strange experience when you are used to having everyone around the table in the Harbour Office. However, it was good to be able to update Board Members on what had been happening, and Charlie's years of experience in Chairing meetings meant that everyone got the opportunity to contribute. I'm not sure we will make it a regular occurrence - although it's good to know we can do it if we need to again!
Mallaig Lifeboat Log
5th June 2020
Requested at 16:00 by Stornoway Coastguard to transfer Paramedics to Inverie to recover an injured person. Arriving at 16:40 the Lifeboat was met by casualty who had sustained an eye injury at the pier and was able to board unassisted. After the Medics carried out a quick assessment the Lifeboat departed back to Mallaig and arrived at 17:15. The casualty was transferred to Fort William's Belford Hospital for further assessment and treatment. Lifeboat fuelled and ready for service at 17:30.
18th June 2020
Immediate launch requested at 10:25 by Stornoway Coastguard to a DSC, MOB (Digital Selective Calling - Man Overboard message) alert in the vicinity of the Sound of Sleat. After 30 minutes of searching and contacting local vessel on scene the Coastguards located the vessel through its MMSI number. The vessel was located in Loch Nevis and contacted by the coastguard. On inspection by the vessel's crew it was realised that the DSC unit was faulty and so switched off. With the callout resolved, all stations were stood down at 10:50. Returned to Base at 11:05.
19th June 2020
Requested to launch and transfer a casualty from the Isle of Muck to Mallaig for Scottish Ambulance service at 11:30. On arrival at 12:10 the patient was awaiting at the slipway and was quickly boarded. Departing Muck at 12:15 the Lifeboat made best speed back to Mallaig in near flat calm conditions. Berthing at the pontoon at 13:00 the patient was handed over to the Ambulance service for transportation to Fort William's Belford Hospital. Lifeboat ready for service at 13:15.
28th June 2020
Immediate launch requested at 01:05 by Stornoway Coastguard to the Lighthouse cottages at Isle Oransay Lighthouse. A male caretaker at the cottages suffering from diabetes had become hypoglycaemic and was in danger of going into a coma. Whilst on a Skype call to a friend in Belgium, the male had started to develop the symptoms of going into a Hypo. Realising her friend's impending condition, she managed to alert the Ambulance service in the UK who in turn notified the Coastguard who launched the Lifeboat. On scene at 01:40 three crew members were quickly transferred ashore via the Y-Boat and managed to gain entry to the Cottage and located the casualty. After administrating Glucose Gel to the casualty he slowly began to respond. After more administration of Gel the casualty recovered enough to be transferred to the Lifeboat aided by the crew. Once the cottage was made secure and crew and Y-Boat recovered the Lifeboat proceeded back to Mallaig at 03:20. Berthing at the Pontoon at 03:45 the casualty now much improved was handed over to the Ambulance service who after further checks took the casualty to the Belford Hospital for further treatment in Fort William. Lifeboat ready for service at 04:00.
2nd July 2020
Launched by Stornoway Coastguard at 17:00 to the area of Loch nan Uamh and Loch Ailort to investigate a Mayday call. A local vessel in the area of Glenuig reported hearing the spoken word 'Mayday' and alerted the Coastguard. Along with the Lifeboat, local fishing boats and a passing commercial craft carried out an area search. Rescue 948 was also on-scene. On the other side of the Ardnamurchan Peninsula, Tobermory Lifeboat was also tasked to investigate Loch Sunart for any possible casualty. After a thorough search of the location all assets were stood down at 20:00 and returned to their stations. Lifeboat ready for service at 20:45.
Michael Ian Currie
On and Off the Rails
Flash flooding closes Fort William to Mallaig railway line
The above headline does not do justice to what has ensued at Lochailort, but I will prefix this piece by stating that I am mostly covering the incident from the railway perspective, as befits this column. Jan and John Bryden, whose main house gable end has been badly damaged underneath the foundations where rocks and boulders the size of wheelie bins washed through the house carried along by thousands of gallons of water - after the railway line was undermined - are battered but not broken.
Jan, of course, was one of our local "Posties" for a good while, and her husband John a "wildlife protection" Policeman based in Mallaig. My heart (as they know) goes out to them.
Their first thought after the floods swept through mid-morning on Thursday 25th June was for the safety of any trains in either direction. Jan had watched the water coming across a croft the opposite side of the railway track but was unable to comprehend the depth and speed that it would underwash the line and progress into their property and onwards. I spoke to Jan this week and her first thought was to dial 999 to "stop any trains". What presence of mind in such circumstances. I wish them well as they try to get over their shock and disbelief at what has happened.
The source of the bank bursting watercourse was a distant view to the left-hand side of an onward going train if travelling from Mallaig - after leaving Lochailort station the line curves and Jan and John's home and outbuildings are next to the line on the right-hand side. Thousands of gallons of water breached the banks at three locations, carrying rocks and rubble as the flood roared towards the railway line, over a flooding field. In total, 80 m of track was left hanging in the air with nothing underneath it. The track bed and side cuttings all carried forward into the Bryden's garden.
The nearest estimate to the line being opened again to rail passengers as I write this column - on Sunday 5th July - is for the line to reopen on Sunday 12th July at midnight.
The flash flood caused significant damage at three points along the 80 m stretch of track. The track bed has to be rebuilt, and supporting embankments reconstructed, in a very challenging location. Several construction firms are working tirelessly under Network Rail - but - the truth is there has hardly been a totally dry day since June 25th which must make containing and controlling the site of the water outage really difficult. There is a huge amount of machinery at the sites and labour to match. I wish them all well in their projected date opening, but I know that rail passenger safety - let alone their own - will be at the forefront of any line opening date.
Which leads me onto the next bit of the column - the date of The Jacobite steam train's start of season. Anything I write now may, or may not, happen due to the line closure and Covid-19.
West Coast Railways, at the time of writing, is to bring the steam and diesel locomotives, coaches and support coaches to Fort William goods yard by Monday 13th July, with The Jacobite morning and afternoon services commencing to Mallaig on Wednesday 15th July. This will be confirmed by West Coast Railways on Thursday 9th July.
Glenfinnan Station Museum, sleeping car and catering coach plus signal box and toilets have taken the decision to not open this year as a public attraction, so at Glenfinnan The Jacobite will just stop to exchange tokens with passing trains (both morning and afternoon) which should mean that both trains will be in Mallaig longer than in previous years. The only advice I can give at the time of writing is to monitor the line opening, and The Jacobite start dates, on Network Rail and WCRC websites.
ScotRail - MND News, and Foodbanks
ScotRail Alliance proudly continue to support MND Scotland (Motor Neurone Disease) as their Charity of the Year following a staff vote. In March every year MND Scotland host a Cornflower Ball - the cornflower is their logo. This year they moved the Ball to the Glasgow Hilton (before coronavirus lockdown) which, due to the higher capacity of the venue, allowed more guests than ever before. For the third year, the headline sponsor was the ScotRail Alliance. The event raised £90,280 - the biggest total ever raised at the Ball. This huge total raised goes to the charity which from diagnosis, inevitable prognosis and termination supports people affected by MND. From the legal help, personal support, fundraising by families and strangers alike touched by the disease, it fights tooth and nail to achieve coming ever closer to finding a cure for this - as yet - terminal disease. Thank you ScotRail. NHS charities and food banks: A team from Glasgow head office have attempted to run and cycle the length of Scotland's railway and back - a distance of 5638 km (3500 miles) during lockdown, using home exercise machines and by running in the gardens. Drivers at Bathgate depot have raised more than £600 in a separate fundraising bid, which has been used to buy food and supplies for local food banks.
ScotRail adds to female drivers
ScotRail says the number of female train drivers has increased by 39% since 2017, with 78 is now working on the trains. The number of female conductors has also risen by 16% to 162. However the company says that just 21% of its staff are women, which it claims it is working hard to change. Certainly on our West Highland lines it is successful.
In partnership with the drivers union ASLEF, ScotRail is to run a "Two in Ten in Twenty" campaign where it will aim to hire two female train drivers from every 10 successful candidates throughout this year.
See you on the train - but not just yet.
ROAD VERGES IN LOCHABER
Do you enjoy seeing wild plants flowering in our road verges? Which of the two photos - of uncut and cut verges - do you prefer, and why?
Uncut verges across the Blàr
Since the mid-1990s an annual request has been made to The Highland Council, and then Transport Scotland when it took over the management of Trunk Road verges in Lochaber, asking for the verges along the A830 across the Blàr Mór not to be cut during the summer to let the wild plants, in particular the Northern Marsh Orchids, to flower and set seeds. Not cutting the verges until late summer allows the rich variety of wild flowers and other native plants, insects (such as bees) and birds which live or feed there to produce mature seeds or young, as well as providing an attractive sight which many admire. Locals and visitors have expressed their appreciation at the pretty display of flowering plants and interesting insects and birds they've seen while crossing the Blàr during summers.
Not cutting road verges during the flowering and seed-setting season supports and maintains the rich and characteristic West Highland variety of wild flowers and other native plants and small animals, including insects, which form these road-side communities. This range of species is an increasingly rare sight in Lochaber and grasslands elsewhere. For ecological reasons, some of which are listed below, the one cut should be made in late summer to sustain and promote biodiversity in these communities.
Bumble Bee feeding on vetch, less than a metre from the edge of the A830.
Acting on the data from recent ecological reports and the Blàr Mór data recorded since 1994, in April 2020 a request was made by the Lochaber Biodiversity Action Plan Group for just one cut along all Lochaber road verges, apart from places where more frequent cutting is required for safety reasons - such as at junctions. With lockdown there was a great opportunity to see what communities developed on the verges when there was no cutting in April or May .... and then, in June, cutting occurred - at just the most destructive time when most native plants were maximally extended but seeds had not yet matured!
To ask you to support a more ecologically-friendly, and it would be more economic, verge cutting regime in future years, here are some facts on the benefits of maintaining rich and varied plant and animal communities, that is biodiversity, along our roadsides. To put the topic in a wider UK context, quotes are of published scientific facts with the addition of a point with data for Lochaber.
Wildflowers including Northern Marsh Orchid, Blue Vetch, Bird's-foot Trefoil, Plantain, Rushes, Buttercups, Yorkshire Fog Grass, Red and White Clovers, Self-heal, Timothy Grass, Horsetails, and Umbels - to name a few - can all be found growing right beside the A830.
Extract from Plantlife "The Good Verge Guide" and last point with data for Lochaber
- A quote from Sir David Attenborough: "Plants capture energy from the sun and all life on land, directly or indirectly, depend on them [plants]."
- There are nearly 500,000 km of rural road verges in the UK, equating to about half the remaining flower-rich grassland and meadows.
- With over 97% of ancient wildflower meadows destroyed since the 1930s, road verges provide vital refuges and feeding places for many bees, butterflies, other invertebrates essential for healthy soils, birds, and small mammals.
- Over 700 native flower species grow in our road verges, this is around 45% of the total UK flowering plants, with at least 87 species now under threat of extinction.
- One cut a year late in the growing season is important for maintaining plant diversity, otherwise rank grasses may take over [especially where there is no Yellow Rattle (Rhinanthus minor)], reducing the range of species in grasslands.
- In Lochaber road verges contain nine of the ten flowering species known to support the highest variety of invertebrates. The verges often also contain Yellow Rattle, a semi-parasitic plant which can reduce the growth of grasses by 60% thus allowing a wider range of species to grow.
Paraphrased from Buglife's: 2019 "Road Verges and their potential for Pollinators"
Reinforces points listed from the Plantlife guide, with the addition of:
- Reducing road verge cutting to once a year in late summer would benefit invertebrate eggs and larvae, and pollinating insects which are essential for some of our main food plants.
The following Table summarizes some of the contrasts between the two cutting regimes.
If you appreciate seeing wild flowers in the road verges and would like them to be allowed to grow long enough to produce seeds which will be able to grow in the next year, and sustain varied insect and bird communities, please would you support the request for "one-cut a year in late summer" by contacting a local Councillor?
The motive for asking for this is: one of the reasons The Highland Council is not keen to change the cutting regime is because they receive complaints of verges not looking "neat and tidy". Fair enough at junctions and for safe sight lines, and in villages where folk often need to walk on or across them. However, where these constraints do not apply, surely there is a case that nature does not do "neat and tidy" and why not support maintaining biodiversity wherever we can? Also, reducing to one cut would save taxpayers' money - very relevant in the current and on-going economic situation. You may remember that many medicines are derived from wild plants, and some new and existing ones still require natural plant extracts as the lab-made chemicals do not have the same efficacy as the natural version e.g. apparently Evening Primrose oil is in this category. Recalling the quote from Sir David Attenborough, we are all dependent on plants for our existence: what can we do in our wee corner to support them?
Dr M Elliott
Plantlife "The Good Verge Guide"
Beth Roberts & Ben Phillips in Buglife 2019 "Road Verges and their potential for Pollinators"
Letters in April 2020 from LBAPG to TS/BEAR & THC
BIRDWATCH May 2020 by Stephen MacDonald
A mainly settled month weather-wise, although there were a couple of wet and windy spells around the 9th/10th and again from the 22nd-24th. On the latter date, strong winds coupled with higher tides unfortunately destroyed many Gull's nests on some of the exposed and low-lying islets and rocks between Mallaig and Arisaig.
Many early breeders were busy feeding young and lots of fledgling started to appear as the month progressed. Many more broods of Greylag Geese appeared at Loch Ailort, Loch Nan Ceall and Loch Morar. At Lochailort there were several broods of Canada Geese at the river mouth. The first Eider broods were seen at Lochailort on the 27th.
At Back of Keppoch and Invercaimbe, Lapwing, Redshank and Snipe all had newly hatched young by the end of the first week. Young Tawny Owls were seen in Arisaig early in the month.
Some birds were still arriving, with the first Sedge Warblers reported on the 3rd at Back of Keppoch, Wood Warbler from Alisary on the 5th and Spotted Flycatcher on the 7th in Morar. Two Common Terns in Loch Ailort on the 6th were the first reports. A few days later Arctic Terns were seen around Loch Nan Ceall and Camusdarroch. A single Sandwich Tern flew north past Mallaig on the 22nd.
Wader passage continued well into May, only tailing off during the last week, with just a few stragglers resting or feeding before moving on. Varying numbers of Whimbrel were seen, mainly at Traigh, Back of Keppoch and Portnadoran. 21 at the latter site on the 2nd was the largest group reported. 26 Golden Plover at the golf course on the 10th was the biggest flock seen. Dunlin and Ringed Plover were the most numerous species seen. On some occasions in excess of 150 Dunlin and 50 Ringed Plover could be seen on the shoreline by Traigh golf course. Small numbers of Turnstone, Sanderling and Curlew were also seen in the same area and at Camusdarroch. On the 9th a summer plumaged Curlew Sandpiper was seen by Traigh boat shed, feeding alongside Dunlin and Ringed Plover. This Sandpiper breeds in the tundra of Siberia from the Yamal Peninsula eastwards and winters in southern Africa, India and Australasia. Small numbers are seen annually, mostly in the autumn and on the east coast of Britain. Spring records are much fewer and less than annual on the west coast of Scotland. Interestingly the breeding success of Curlew Sandpipers is linked to the Lemming population. In the years that Lemmings are scarce, predators like Arctic Fox, Skuas and Snowy Owls will prey on adults and chicks of Curlew Sandpipers and other small waders.
On the 27th a Magpie was seen in a field at Camusdarroch. There are few reports from the north-west coast normally, but a bird or birds were seen on Skye, Canna, Rum and Eigg earlier in May, so this may have been the bird seen on the Small Isles.
A pair of Shoveler seen at the head of Loch Ailort on the 30th May have been late Icelandic birds heading north.
Watch this space for extracts from next month's issue!
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