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

List of Issues online

June 2011 Issue

Contents of the online version:

Top stories
Monthly news from Knoydart, Muck, Rum, Eigg
Harbour News - Railway News - Nature News
Local History

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Contact Details & How to Subscribe to the Paper
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All photos are copyright either of the individual photographers or West Word.
Not to be reproduced without permission.

They said it wouldn't last, that we'd never find enough to fill the pages every month - but seventeen years later West Word is still here and thriving.
It started in November 1994 with 32 pages very poorly reproduced on a Riso machine. Remember those issues, with indecipherable photos and faint print? Each double page was printed separately so layout was a nightmare. We had an army of 'folders' who each received a 100 sets to collate and fold for distribution.
Our first digital printer came in February 2004, 'forcing' our folders into retirement, and in 2010 we fundraised successfully for a colour printer.
Technology has changed a great deal since 1994. Hardly anything came in by email and most submissions had to be re-typed. Our first digital camera was one of the few in the area and we had to raise money to buy it. We had to wait for folk to finish a spool and get it processed before we could have photos. Since June 2000 our features and some photos have been available online.
Seventeen years on, we've grown to a norm of 40 - 44 pages, sometimes 48. We still have most of our original advertisers, contributors and subscribers, and their numbers have increased. We've twice won Community Newspaper of the Year in the Highlands and Islands, in 2005 and 2009.
It's thanks to all of you that we are still here after seventeen years.

A car when you need one, not when you don't.
Car Club now open for membership
The WestWheels Car club had a blustery launch on the Mallaig pier on May 23rd where a ribbon was cut by Cllr Allan Henderson with support from James MacLean from the Harbour Authority and Colin MacDonald of Morar Motors and representatives from Knoydart, Rum, Canna and Muck. Both cars are now in place in parking bays on the pier a Ford Focus C-Max Diesel and a Ford Fusion 1.4 Diesel. Charges are 24 per day or 2.95 per hour for the Focus and 21 per day or 2.50 per hour for the Fusion. There is also a mileage charge which includes any fuel purchased and covers wear and tear.
Our first hire on the weekend of May 28th/29th was from Knoydart. Lorna Schofield drove Davie Newton to Dundee where he will begin a sponsored walk back to Knoydart. The aim is to raise money for Cancer Research UK. Donations can be made on
http://www.justgiving.com/david-newton0 (yes, that is correct with the numeral 0 at the end). Lorna said "The car club car was great and plenty of room for shopping!"
The membership fee is normally 60 per year but there is a special offer of 10 for the period of the trial. The deposit, normally 100 has been discounted to 50.
The administration of bookings is being run for us by Moorcar. You can now join WestWheels by filling in the on- line registration form at the Moorcar website at www.moorcar.co.uk. WestWheels representatives will then check your licence locally and accept your membership and deposit payments.
Susan Carstairs and Duncan Spence are the part time development workers for the project.
Duncan Spence 07789245291
Susan Carstairs 01687 450327
Other contacts are:
Gwen Barrell - Knoydart 01687 462242
Lucy Conway - Eigg 01687 482414

We hope the car club project will provide residents with a reliable, legal, fuel efficient alternative to car ownership at a realistic price.

Hello all
By the time this edition of West Word comes out I'll be well into my long walk in aid of Cancer Research UK and in memory of my nephew Mark Alexander. I'm writing this a bit before the submission date (to make sure I get it in on time) and am hoping that this ridiculously cold weather has turned with the month. I don't know if anyone can remember a May like it. It doesn't seem long since Isla submitted last month's piece but there has still been the odd bits and bobs happening in the busiest wilderness on the west coast.
On the social side the main moment was Tommy's Americana themed housewarming over at the new house at Airor. Many mad moments captured for Facebook but Stephen Nelson's fake eyebrows and dancing to Bombskare with Annie were my highlights. And as someone who has lived and worked over at Airor it was great to see a few folk there. Also great to see the work that Jim and Kristy are getting ready to do now that they are officially crofters. It feels like the place is moving on.
It seems no month can go by without a wedding these days and May's lucky couple were Brenna and Pete who go married down at Glaschoille. The weather was not kind to them and to top it all their honeymoon to Morocco was delayed by the ash cloud. Our best wishes go to them. The new forestry block on Iain Wilson's ground round on the way to Guserein seems finished, mounded and I think planted. There is a new space-van for Doune where Luke has returned. An air to air heating system was demonstrated in the hall and impressed all as did a demonstration electric vehicle. The kids are all going to a new eco-club set up in time for the school holidays. Frances and Stephen's terrier Eiliean has been diagnosed as narcoleptic.
And the remotest cinema goes from strength to strength with well attended screenings of Scottish classics and new releases. Avanti Broadband has been none too good, with many mutterings, and the Foundation is drawing breath after the epic start to the year. Elaine and Paul eventually got all their stuff moved, including a lovely piano, courtesy of Ian Wright and a few other willing hands. I've been told that that makes 14 pianos on the peninsula but can't say if it's true or not.
An update on the Festival, which passed off with so many plaudits, is that the deficit, starting off at about 3000, is slowly being whittled down. This is due in the main to the diligent efforts of Jacqui and some donations from the supportive local businesses which had benefited from the influx of folk.
Some things haven't happened though and the bad weather has meant that the ice-cream machine at the tea room has not been turned on for weeks. The poor bairns with their downcast faces (and me as well). And the Hydro was still down at the time of writing, although that should be changed by the time you read this. Not only has Amy Connoly, working with her cousins the Millers at the tea room not had an ice-cream for a month she's never, in her two months here, had overnight electricity. Lots of thanks have to go to all who have helped with the genny, but especially to Willie who has managed to fuel her up at least twice a day throughout. Anyway onwards and upwards - these feet were made for walking and all that. The next time I see the lovely shores of Knoydart I will be knackered. A big thank you in advance for all who have supported the walk - more details can be found round and about Mallaig or at http://www.justgiving.com/david-newton0 cheers for now - Davie Newton
ps. Fay is back.
Ed-yes the numeral 0 on the justgiving address is correct - or you may end up donating to the wrong David Newton!

With seven missed calls by the Loch Nevis in nine days once again the weather takes top place in the Muck news this month, Never before have we missed so many calls in summer and for around two weeks no visitors came to stay on the island which is bad news for those involved in the hospitality industry. And in the middle of the bad spell came the storm which reached force 10 and in it the salt spray blackened most of the broad leafed trees and withered even the bracken though we are not complaining about that. Gales at this time of year are not that unusual - there have been several in recent years. The trees recover!
Liz Boden our head teacher of recent years is leaving - returning to Eigg where she is taking over the Eigg school. Also going to Eigg is a portion of the ever increasing paper work which the education authorities believe is the way to raise standards in our schools. For Liz's replacement will not be a head teacher who are in very short supply, but an experienced ordinary teacher and there are far more of them. This is shown by the fact that there were 27 applicants for the post. So we are full of hope that we get a suitable person and we might even get a few more children for the school!
Lawrence MacEwen

Outstanding feature of this month has been the weather, mostly the rain, but the wind too; May is generally our busiest month on Rum but there have been quite a few weather related cancellations and not as many day trippers as we would have liked. Remarkably, despite the downpours, the campsite has been busy, a few stalwarts sticking it out throughout this week.
Next big thing are the midges, which haven't (in my opinion) been particularly bad for the past 2 or 3 years, but this year are back with a ferocious revenge and early too.
Rum coastguard were in action again this month, assisted by both Broadford and Glen Brittle mountain rescue teams and the coastguard helicopter; on a particularly miserable day with practically no visibility, the casualties were successfully rescued and transferred to hospital. Well done to everyone involved.
On the wildlife front, its calving time for the red deer and the Kilmory study area is busy - Martyn, Ali, Josephine and the annual squad of volunteers are up till late at night watching, catching and tagging the new calves - all part of the ongoing research programme. The nest box camera at the school has been watching a family of bluetits; the girls watched in anguish last Wednesday as the mother struggled to remove one of her chicks, who had died, from the nest.
Under discussion this month is a proposed salmon farm near to Caves Bay - quite a contentious issue with strong feedback both for and against, basically folk feel they need more information before they can make a decision whether or not they want to support the scheme in principle - there's a split between folk who think it will be a socioeconomic plus for the island and those who think it's an environmental nightmare... actually that pretty much sums up most issues round here!
Another current focus is the possibility of starting a pilot fast broadband connection akin to the one operating on Eigg, which is running successfully. Current subscribers of Avanti are concerned that if the pilot were to fail we might get left with no internet connection - this concern has been laid to rest and with potential support from the HC discretionary fund, it's an opportunity the community will have to seriously consider if they want to get reasonable broadband connection, vital for businesses wanting to operate from here. More seasonal staff have arrived for Kinloch Castle and a temporary chef has been hired to help Rachel since Linda, the manager, has left and moved back to the mainland.
IRCT had its AGM at the beginning of the month; new elected directors are Sarry Brown and Hywel Lewis - adding to existing elected directors Sean Morris, Derek Thomson, Jinty Crocket and myself.
Fliss Fraser

Having enjoyed a warm and sunny April, we were in for a bit of a shock with an unusually stormy and extremely wet May with the bad weather dragging on for most of the month. Some returning visitors from last year have been heard asking why we suggested that they come back in May, "when the weather is always lovely"!
There have been a lot of visitors around though, with only a few bookings lost to boat cancellations, including a group of three hundred visitors who were on a National Trust Cruise and planned to stop off on Eigg, shame as the Tearoom had been baking all day in preparation. We shouldn't complain though as Muck seems to have gone without a boat for weeks! Here's hoping the long-range forecast is correct and we get a sunny and warm June.
There are a few new faces around with Yasmin over to work in the tearoom for the summer and Katrin back from Germany, having cycled all the way to Scotland! We have also said goodbye to Fanny, who was here volunteering for Sue and Neil, she has gone off to Northern Spain to do some Woofing, where John will be joining her in June.
Music wise, we had a welcome change at the end of the month when the Budapest Caf orchestra came over and played some amazingly skilful Hungarian tunes. It was a bit of a surprise to find that rather than coming from Budapest they actually hailed from South East England, with the double bass player from Sue's neck of the woods, Hemel Hempstead. We are looking forward to more music over the summer, with the anniversary ceilidh on the 11th of June this year and featuring the regulars, JaMa Tha ceilidh Band and DJ Dolphin Boy, alongside some new sounds with Rura and Sketch, it should be a good one! Tickets are 20 and are available from www.thebooth.co.uk.
There has been a lot of progress on Hilda's new house in the past month and it is starting to look like it has always been there, with most of the block work and roof tiles completed, she should be in there in no time!
Happy birthday to Dean, Mairi and Lachlan and congratulations to Saira Renny who passed her driving test, on the first attempt, very impressive; it must be all the driving lessons from George!
Eilidh Kirk

Scottish Year of the Islands 2011 on Eigg and Canna by Camille Dressler
This Scottish Year of the Islands has now featured two events in Eigg and Canna in the past month. (More are featured as part of the Blas island ceilidhs so look out for these!) Both were a great success, and were brought a new audience to the islands, as not only local people to North West Lochaber attended but also folks from Skye, Harris and Lewis and Uist.
Yet the weather could not have been more different, with gloriously warm May weather for the Islands Book Trust event on Eigg on 29th April, and the kind of windy, showery sky you'd expect in April for the Bard and the Birlinn's event on Canna on 28th May! What's happening to the seasons? However, as always on the islands, great hospitality and congenial company made up for anything that might have been lacking in the weather department.
Eigg's visit by the Islands Book Trust was a first and was organised with Comunn Eachdraidh Eige, on an initiative by Comunn member Gavin Scott Moncrieff. John Randall, chairman of the IBT talked about St Kilda, Marjorie Harper from UHI's Centre for History about emigration from the islands and Bishop MacDonald author John Watts reminded us of the religious landscape in the islands and surrounding areas in the 18th century, that crucial period Highland history, whilst Tearlach MacFarlane entertained us with his stories of the Clanranalds in oral tradition, with a particularly lively rendition of the story of the 17th century chief, MacDonald of the Cuckoo and his 'magan'. The Eigg event also featured a presentation about Storas Uibhist, its achievements and challenges, followed by an interesting debate on the similarities with the journey made by the Eigg Heritage Trust in its early days. Guided visits by myself as the Eigg historian to Uamh Fhraing, Uamh a' Chrabhaidh and the Kildonnan Graveyard, enabled our visitors to see some of the historical sites of Eigg but not all, and they vowed to come back to explore some more. Our Lewis guests were able to add their own take on the story of St Donnan, as they added to our local knowledge the suggestion by IBT author Ian Stewart-Hargreaves that the bodies of Donnan and his 52 companions were actually taken to Boreray for burial at a place called 'Cladh nam Manach' (Burial-ground of Monks.) which Martin Martin describes as: 'The Burial place near the Houses is called the Monks-Field, for all the monks that dyed in the Islands that lye Northward from Egg, were buried in this little plot, each Grave hath a Stone at both ends'. There is nothing of course about this in the Eigg tradition which maintains that the ashes of Donnan and his 52 companions were placed in a stone urn covered by a thin sandstone slab, which is believed to be now buried at the place marked by St Donnan's pillow stone north of the roofless medieval chapel. Islanders used to pray to Donnan to obtain a good sailing wind, and the story of the Clanranald bard, MacMhuirich of Stiligarry in Uist, tells how, provoked by his son, he invoked Donnan for more wind than his son had bargained for:

Bho arda nam beann, gu tarra nan glean,
Bheir gaosid each,
Agus fianach fonn,
Bheir fraoch fireach,
Agus seileach friamh,
Bheir birneach bho sgeir,
Agus iolair bho ian,
A Dhonnain dhuinn, 'nar deoghaidh I,
Na donnalaich's 'na conabhaich 's na sradan teine teinntidh!

From the height of the bens
To the depths of the glens,
A wind which will take hair from a horse,
And moor grass from the ground
A wind which will take heather from the hill
And willow from the root,
A wind which will take the limpet from the rock,
And the eagle from his eaglet,
Brown Donnan, send it after us
Howling and raging
In blazings sparks of fire!

The Boreray suggestion is an interesting one, and perhaps more light on the subject may come from the archaeology project that Comunn Eachdraidh Eige who is hoping to do next year with John Hunter from Sheffield University. The project will aim to investigate further the whereabouts of Donnan's monastery on Eigg since his previous geophysic exploration was not conclusive.
Meanwhile on Canna, it was a great pleasure to welcome back to Canna Uilleam Gillies from Edinburgh University to Ealan nan Eilean/Island Arts' third conference on Alasdair Mac Mhaighstir Alaisdair. Prof. Gillies had been a great friend of the Campbells and was delighted to be back to chair his second Alaisdair event, which he did unassumingly. However, his tremendous knowledge of Gaelic classic literature shone through (he is now Professor Emeritus) underpinned by his depth of feeling for the subject. I think he himself and those of us that have known the Campbells, suddenly realised something was happening when Meg Bateman commented with mellifluous clarity the deeper meaning of the Birlinn epic as the work of a mature poet in full command of his language and his craft, having surmounted the bitterness of the battle lost, but never despairing of winning the war for the survival of his culture. What we realised was that for this event Canna was once again the meeting place for cultural and literary debate it had been when the Campbells were at the centre of cultural exchange network that spanned continents. Certainly a vision for the future that would enable the island to capitalise on the treasures contained in Canna house and admirably cared for by Magda Sagarzazu, the NTS archivist on Canna, who put together an extremely comprehensive exhibition about John Lorne Cambpell and Alasdair Mac Maighstir Alasdair compiled from the treasures contained in Canna House.
A special mention must also be made of Winnie MacKinnon whose ranger tour was thoroughly enjoyable, and of young Johnny Soe Paing, who helped making the Birlinn display in the Old Dairy exhibition, much appreciated by the children who came over as well as by the adults. And like everyone with an interest in boats, Johnny found Gavin Parsons' talk about the Birlinn or West Highland Galley fascinating.
As in the Eigg event, participants included a good number of islanders, with a contingent from Sabhal Mr Ostaig in Skye and another from Uist and Celas. All the participants certainly enjoyed the Gille Brighde restaurant's hospitality where the Taste of Canna buffet advertised in the programme which Amanda and Aart put on totally delivered its promise. (The sublime rabbit and cranberry pate and the melt-in-the mouth chocolate brownies did it for me!)
But if you weren't on Canna, you will still be able to read Meg and Gavin's papers in the forthcoming book about Alasdair to be published by the Islands Book Trust.
You can also look out for the CD of Alasdair's songs that Griogair Labhruidh is hoping to produce at some point in the future. Griogair learnt his Alasdair's songs from a fine Uist singer, DJ Mackinnon, the skipper of the old Loch Mr, who became a firm friend of John Lorne Campbell and was recorded by him. His performance on Canna was tremendously atmospheric, particularly enhanced by the acoustics of St Columba's chapel. It was also particularly moving for DJ Mackinnon's daughter who had come especially from Uist for the event. There is of course a great connection between Alasdair and Uist, and it is very likely that there might yet be another Alasdair day there in 2012 or 2013! In the meantime, it would be good to see Elizabeth MacDonald produce again her excellent booklet about Alasdair in Arisaig which was serialised in West Word last year!

photo photo


Over 60 Model T Fords participated in the Ben Nevis Centenary Challenge Tour (16th - 21st May) when Henry Alexander's feat of driving a Model T to the summit of Ben Nevis 100 years ago was re-created. Some of the Model T's made the journey to Mallaig and they proved quite a hit with visitors and locals alike.
Travelling to the Nevis Radio studio one Sunday afternoon last month, I had to slow down just past Lochailort due to an overturned fish lorry. I was waved past the obstruction by a yellow bedecked Ernie Yule and there was no delay to my journey time thankfully.

However, the incident did bring to mind times past. Times when up to 70 lorries a day left Mallaig laden with silver darlings from Europe's Premier Herring Port. Times when both the drivers and their vehicles faced the double challenge of Braes Davie and Annie just to get out of Mallaig. the herring bree pouring out the back of the lorries as they struggled up the hills. Once over Annie's Brae, other challenges lay ahead, like the sharp bend and climb (and descent) of Kinsadel and the switchback at Cross. There's no doubt the road was a challenge for the HGV drivers who had to afford the A830 maximum concentration. Sometimes however that concentration faltered and on such occasions the inevitable happened. Here's a picture, courtesy of Tommy Ralston and the Mallaig Heritage Centre, of a Sans Unkle's lorry in trouble at Kinsadel, causing disruption and traffic delays. Isn't it funny how now, barely two years after the Arisaig road opening, we already take the new road for granted - how quickly we forget!!!
Recovering a lorry at Kinsadel

Arisaig Highland Games has announced three significant new events for their games to be held at Traigh Farm on July 27th 2011.
The first is a continuation of the partnership and sponsorship deal with The Glenlivet, which this year is 1750. Chas MacDonald, Promotions Manager with Arisaig Games was delighted with the confirmation of the deal saying 'this is fantastic news as it helps us to maintain the strength of piping at the Games. Last year's competition was much invigorated with new competitors due to the help we received from The Glenlivet, and it will be great to see that continue. We are really grateful to The Glenlivet, as keeping a games like this afloat is not always the easiest of jobs, and their generosity will help significantly.'
The second announcement was about a new art competition with the Games' partner, the London 'Boisdale' Group of restaurants, which has been brought into being by Ranald Macdonald, Younger of Clanranald, eldest son of the current chief and Managing Director of the group. The Boisdale Prize is a competition for young people and adults in four distinct age categories: 0-10, 11-13, 14-17; 18+ and has a total prize fund of 435 spread across the age ranges.
The themes for entries for 2011 are, for the young people's sections: 'Lochaber: The Past in the Present', and for adults: 'Arisaig Highland Games: An Impression'.
Welcoming the new initiative, Arisaig Games Secretary, Allan MacDonald, was very upbeat bout the significance of the new competition. 'This represents a real move forward for us in strengthening our Games and its place in the community. It also adds to our growing cultural element which is significant as it helps us maintain the core parts of piping, dancing, and heavy and field events.' More information on the event and entry can be found on the Arisaig Highland Games website, and Facebook page.
The third event is something of a local coup for Arisaig Games. The cultural events are being strengthened into an overall strand called Pas de Bas, or Sidestep. Many things will operate under this banner including the An Tilleadh event announced last year. This year's An Tilleadh will see the launch of a new book by local historian Elizabeth MacDonald on the history of the Church of Scotland in Arisaig in its bicentenary year. Mrs MacDonald will talk about the history of the church, and sign copies of the book which will be available to buy. There will also be a feature on Glenuig piper Allan MacDonald's second collection of pipe tunes, "The Moidart Collection II: An Dara Ceud". This collection features a Schottische written by Allan for none other than Arisaig Games husband and wife team, the aforementioned Allan and Elizabeth MacDonald. No confirmation has been received as yet as to whether Allan and Elizabeth have consented to perform the dance to their own tune which was commissioned for their ruby wedding anniversary!
After a pretty successful games last year, both were keen to point out that everybody is welcome at Traigh to enjoy a good day out, and even to get involved in some of the events if they wish.

News in Brief

Harbour News

  • Storage Building
    With the preparatory groundwork and foundations completed Irish contractors Noel Regan & Sons took delivery of the steel framework for the fish feed store on Wednesday 25th May and started work immediately on erecting it. Despite the poor weather conditions that prevailed good progress was made and the contractors were ready for the next stage by the end of the month.
    The sheeting/cladding for the building arrived on site on Wednesday 1st June and the contractors are confident that two weeks should see them complete that phase of the development. The potentially tricky operation of establishing the concrete floor inside the building and of course the external area immediately outwith the building will then follow on and the "Works" should be complete by early July.

Robert MacMillan, Port Manager, 01687 462154

It's hard to believe the longest day of the year is nearly upon us, and with all the day light and bright nights this time of year brings it is not the best time for turning eyes skyward. However, as it happens June is a quiet month with very little happening - a weak meteor shower, Venus rising just before vanishing into early-morning Sunlight and Mars being very faint as it's on the far side of its orbit.
Instead, have a look much closer to home. This time of year heralds another site: during midsummer, it is possible to see Noctilucent Clouds, clouds at heights of around 80km, shining brightly with a blue-white glow in the middle of the night. This is because, at that height, they are still in the light from the Sun, and instead of being water-droplet based they are made of tiny ice particles. They often take on a sharply defined ripple pattern, like the marks the sea leaves on a beach. They only appear around the middle of summer, usually low in the Northern sky. Have a look after midnight for these beautiful clouds. While things are quiet in our neighbourhood, beyond what we can see is a different story. Last month, NASA confirmed that their Swift space observatory has detected the most distant and oldest event yet seen in our history - a massive Gamma Ray Burst that occurred 13.14 billion years ago, a mere 520 million years after the big bang. That places it pretty much on the very edge of the observable Universe. Swift is named after its purpose to swiftly react to short-lived Gamma Ray Bursts, and this sighting has the potential to unlock riddles regarding our early Universe. In astronomical terms, 520 million years is the blink of an eye.
Next month also sees the retirement of the Space Shuttle program with the last Shuttle, Atlantis, taking off for the last time. After July, the only trips the Shuttle will be taking will be to a museum. So what will fill the void? An email I received a few days ago may go some way to answering:
The Rocket City Space Pioneers (RCSP), through partner Spaceflight Services, are providing low-cost access to space for fixed and deployable cargo and spacecraft. Through standard flight interfaces and a streamlined integration process, we can take your payload to the moon at 50 percent off the cost of traditional services!
Space is the next big commercial landscape it seems, with companies jostling to provide 'cheap' space flights. So while one chapter closes on a passage of History, another is about to be burst wide open.
One day, I may be saying Bon Voyage, but this month I will just stick to Happy Viewing!


Jim and Catherine Hepburn packed their copy of West Word to take to the Caribbean where they celebrated their 40th Wedding Anniversary cruising. This picture was taken on their ship Discovery looking over to Paradise Island in Nassau, Bahamas. The Hepburn family have spent 60 years holidaying at Silver Sands and Arisaig which is a very special place to all the family which is now into the fourth generation.



Murray Mackinnon has lived and worked in New York for six years and was on business in Las Vegas in April with the West Word for light reading. Skye is the ancestral home of his father's family. His mother Hazel writes: 'As children we ourselves we were first introduced by our parents to Arisaig and we brought our own children each year for holidays in 'Paradise' ie Traigh golf course and Camusdarach beach, sailing in the Shearwater looking for whales etc.'

Aileen Phillips, seen here with eldest son Craig and his daughter Liv Rose, took her West Word to the Arctic Circle in Swedish Lapland. Craig and his partner Christina and Liv Rose live in Lulea, Northern Sweden. Aileen and husband Joe and 5 offspring, spent a couple of months a year in their caravan at Curtaig for many years. Joe used to referee football matches at Mallaig in exchange for a big bag of prawns! Aileen says 'West Word keeps us in touch with the area we love deeply and we remember the kindness shown to us by so many people, especially Donny and Moira MacDonald and family, the Maclellan-Lewis family and the Hendrie family (Jill De Fresnes & co.). We hope to be able to visit again soon. '



John McConnachie says he is in good company as he reads a rather outdated copy of West Word at the Settlers Monument, Grahamstown, South Africa. The monument commemorates the 1820 Settlers who settled the Eastern Frontier of the Cape Colony and who included a sizeable 'Scottish Party'. John discovered West Word online.

On and Off the Rails

Jacobite News Flash
Owing to increased popular demand exceeding capacity on the Jacobite steam train service between Fort William and Mallaig (and return), operators West Coast Railways have announced that, commencing Wednesday June 1st 20011, an additional Jacobite early evening service will commence on Wednesdays, Thursday and Fridays each week until Friday July 29th 2011. this is in addition to the Saturday and Sunday daytime service that commences on June 25th and the already running Monday to Friday service.
This evening service will depart Fort William at 17.10 with booked arrival in Mallaig at 19.00 hrs. After watering and shunting at Mallaig, departure will be at 19.30 with a booked arrival at Fort William at 21.22 hrs.
The decision to run the extra service came at the same time as Network Rail were forced to admit that thy could not allow West Coast Railways pathing to run their popular Cambrian coast in Wales Summer service due to difficulties with the signalling operations. A new signalling system called ERTMS (European Rail Traffic Management System) has been installed on the Cambrian line, and the system used by all steam train operatives is the existing RETB (Radio Electronic Token Blocking), used by all other train operating companies on the West Highland Line and the Mallaig Extension. We welcome West Coast's decision to run an extra service on the line three days a week for two months, allowing even more visitors and locals a chance to travel the line during sunset photography opportunity time, but at the same time send our commiserations to those hoping to travel behind steam on the Cambrian line this year. Their loss is our gain!
By increasing the Jacobite service on Wednesdays, Thursday and Fridays, it also means that on those days (if capacity allows) there is an opportunity for travel from Mallaig on the 14.10 steam departure, arriving in Fort William at 16.00 hrs, departing Fort William at 17.00. arriving back in Mallaig at 19.00 hrs - all behind a steam locomotive! An evening meal can then be had at any of the excellent choices awaiting you in Mallaig. What more could you want?! Any local residents who would not normally be tempted to travel on the Jacobite because it has always started and ended in Fort William will now benefit, and with a chance of a quick one hour shopping spree in the Fort and a glass of wine on the way back, it sounds like a good idea to me! and the resulting early evening photography will be interesting as well!!
So, to recap, if you wish to travel from Mallaig on the 14.10 departure behind steam and return from Fort William on the 17.00 behind steam on Wednesday, Thursdays and Fridays during June and July or even if you wish to depart Mallaig at 19.30 behind steam and return from Fort William on the on the 22.10 Class 156 Sprinter service, arriving in Mallaig at 23.31 - consult Florence, the West Coast Jacobite on board train guard, any day when the Jacobite is in Mallaig between 13.45 and 14.oo, in her Guard's Van, Coach D, or consult West Coast Railway Company's website, www.westcoastrailways.co.uk, or telephone 0845 128 4681 or 0845 128 4685.

'Wrong weather' affects train service
Billy Connelly famously said that there is no such thing as 'The Wrong Weather', only 'The Wrong Clothes'!! well, try telling that to the train operating companies on Monday May 23rd and subsequent days. The swirling gales, persisting rain and heavy fleshy growth on the trees meant that fallen trees and branches on the West Highland Line and Mallaig Extension brought severe disruption and eventual closure of the line. The ScotRail and Jacobite services that lunchtime arrived into Mallaig on time, but by the time the Jacobite left Mallaig at 14.10 its whole return journey was affected by trees across the line at Morar, Arisaig, Glenfinnan and Loch Eilside. Broken branches caused wheel slippage and slow running became essential. As the safety of passengers is always paramount on services operated by West Coast Railways, the Jacobite finally arrived into Fort William at 18.00 hrs (some two hours late) by which time the whole network had been declared 'shut down'! The afternoon Class 156 ScotRail service left Mallaig at 16.30 instead of 16.05, only to return to Mallaig on Banavie signalling centre's instructions at 17.00 hrs after coming across a fallen tree at Morar. Two road coaches were then arranged for passengers wishing to travel out of Mallaig to onward stations to Glasgow. On behalf of all the passengers, we can pass on thanks to West Coast and ScotRail staff for trying their best to assist passengers. Thank you - all of you.
Following on from the disruption/closure of the line on Monday May 23rd, Tuesday 24th was relatively uneventful except for the Jacobite being held for a wee while at Mallaig until the late running northbound Class 156 Sprinter came in. The resulting 20 minute delay meant the Jacobite was held in the passing loop at Fort William until the departing Fort William/Mallaig train had cleared Fort William. On Wednesday May 25th, whilst raising steam for the Jacobite, a crack was discovered in the fire-box of John Cameron's K4 61994 The Great Marquess. Unfortunately the stand-by locomotive, Bert Hitchin's Black 5 45231 Sherwood Forester, was not in steam so the only outcome was to cancel the service for that day. A huge disappointment for some 350 passengers, and frustration for the staff on board, and much expense for the locomotive's owner! In order to alleviate future unplanned non-operation of the Jacobite when a stand-by steam engine cannot be made available for that day, West Coast Railways now have a Class 37 English Electric Vintage Diesel standing at Fort William to use in extreme circumstances. The aforementioned K4 is now undergoing firebox repairs, and it is likely that the aforementioned Black 5 will take over the Jacobite duties until further notice.

ScotRail 'Club 55'
This brilliant ticket, which allows you to go wherever the mood takes you throughout Scotland (and Berwick-upon-Tweed) for only 18 return if you're 55 or over, has been back since May 22nd and is on offer until June 30th for outward travel. And if you are 55 years or over and have a Senior or Disabled Person's Railcard, you'll be entitled to a further 2 off the fare. Return journeys to be made within one month of outward travel. Proof of age must be shown so please carry it with you when you travel. Club 55 can be bought on the day of travel at the station or book in advance for guaranteed free seat reservations in both directions. To book by phone, call 08457 550033 or go to club55.co.uk. Just do it!

Royal Scotsman Luxury Land Cruise Mallaig dates
Booked to arrive at Mallaig Station on Saturday June 11th and Saturday June 25th (same day as the first Jacobite Saturday run of the 2011 season) at 11.00 hrs, departing at 11.30 hrs, this luxury train is always worth a peek at through the windows. Enjoy!
See you on the train.
Sonia Cameron

Wind, weeds, slugs, snails and slimy compost - by the Green Wizard
What a battering the gardens have had during the stormy weather! The wind and cold teach us not to be lulled by early warmth; young plants need protection, and staking is important for taller things. I am glad that my seaward hedges give such good shelter. Badly shrivelled foliage can be pruned away; it's early enough for most plants to put on new growth. Once everything is growing, everything else seems to want to eat it! The question is, do we engage in head-on conflict, or do we try to accommodate nature and ease it round to our way of thinking?
As soon as the rain comes, out creep the slugs and snails. They hide in damp dark places like stone walls and under piles of wood. They eat a lot of wilted material, and feed our birds and frogs. I have far less problem with them than I used to; is it because I have a nice little wildlife pond, or do the woodchip paths make for uncomfortable travel? I do use slug pellets around newly planted seedlings, and in the veg beds, but otherwise I leave them alone, and I don't find them a huge problem. There are various deterrents, and everyone has their own favourites; coffee grounds (make the soil very acid) slug pubs (a waste of good beer) copper tape (expensive) egg shells or grit (need replacing constantly). The important thing is to be vigilant.
So to the weeds. On the whole, annual weeds are most evident in the vegetable garden, and perennial weeds are more problematic in the flower garden. Annual weeds are easy to get out if your soil isn't compacted with too much trampling, and if conditions are not too dry. Just tweak them out before they seed, and feed them to the compost heap. A little hand fork helps to loosen the roots. Edges and paths are weed spots in the vegetable garden, which is one of the reasons I've gone over to raised beds with wooden edges and woodchip paths. Perennial weeds are more difficult because they have deep, and often spreading, roots, which must be either removed or killed. I prefer to dig them out, but when they have invaded the roots of another plant, I do resort to weedkiller. Unpoisoned roots can be composted, but poisoned plant material is better burnt. Please don't dump weeds over the road or on the shore; there are lots of patches of rampant weeds around the village as evidence that this has been done in the past. I know some people put them in the bin, but my conscience won't allow me to send my weeds forty miles to a landfill site. Console yourself with the thought that a good crop of weeds shows that the soil is fertile!
And now to the slimy compost! Like life, what you get out of it depends entirely on what you put into it! Compost is not rotting by physical means, it is the digestion by microbes which breaks down the plant material. Microbes need air, so the pile of material should have a loose consistency, with plenty of course stuff to create air pockets. Slugs, snails and other creatures help in the initial stages of breakdown. In the summer, there is much more green material like grass clippings, so care must be taken not to stifle the heap. That's when it gets slimy! Try to add more carbon based material; chopped woody stems, ripped up cardboard and eggboxes, and crumpled or shredded paper. Seaweed is a good thing to add, as are nettles and comfrey; all these accelerate the process. I have never had slimy compost, and I wouldn't have the garden I've got without the valuable produce of my compost heap to improve the very compacted peat soil. I have three daleks and three big pallet sized bins, and this year I have riddled about twenty bags of compost to add to the garden. I have a wonderful riddle made by a friend of mine which sits on a fishbox or on the barrow, with 6" wooden sides and a 1" weldmesh base. Every garden should have one!
So this month's message is; weeds feed the compost, compost feeds the garden, and slugs and snails are part of the natural cycle. Go with the flow.

Birdwatch - May report by Stephen MacDonald
May was a much wetter and windier month than usual which must have had a detrimental effect on some of our breeding birds that were still on eggs or had small chicks.
The strong winds from the South and West brought many seabirds much closer inshore than normal. However, the star bird this month was not a sea bird, but a Black-headed Bunting which made an appearance on the last day, spotted feeding in a garden at Fank Brae, Mallaig. The bird, an adult male, was well off course, the nearest breeding grounds being in South East Europe around the Eastern Adriatic, Greece, Bulgaria and east to Iran. It is a migrating species which heads South-east to winter in India.
One or two turn up in Britain in most years, this bird causing enough interest to encourage some people to travel from the North of England to see it. It was visiting a couple of gardens in the Fank Brae area and was last seen on the evening of the 2nd June. Interestingly, an adult male was reported from South Uist on Saturday 4th June.
Another bird that was well off-course was a Bee-eater which was present just across the water, at Ord in Skye, from the 25th - 30th May.
Whinchats were seen at Bracorina during the third week of May.
Back to the seabirds: numerous Gannets and Shearwaters were close inshore at Mallaig and Arisaig, with Gannets seen fishing in Loch nan Ceall, near Arisaig Marine, and also right in Mallaig Harbour at East Bay. On the 29th, a Gannet was found killed on the road, well inland, about half a miles east of Glenfinnan, and a grounded Gannet was found on the decking area in front of the Harbour Shop, Mallaig, on the 30th. After overnight rest and a good feed of mackerel and squid, the Mallaig bird was successfully released the next day at Traigh.
Another inland Gannet was one spotted resting on Loch Arkaig along with an Arctic Skua. An Arctic Skua was discovered resting in a Mallaigvaig garden on the morning of the 25th. Several Pomerine Skuas were also seen, the first reported 2 miles off Arisaig from the MV Sheerwater between Arisaig and Eigg, and 10 were seen just off Mallaig on the 14th from the Skye ferry. Both Arctic and Great Skuas were seen on numerous occasions close inshore at Mallaig and Arisaig, and the first reported Storm Petrel was one just off Mallaig lighthouse on the evening of the 24th.
There a a steady passage of waders at Traigh during the month, with at least 70 Dunlin present on the 23rd, 11 Turnstones on the 26th, 10 Sanderling on the 24th, and 7 Whimbrel on the 18th being some of the peak counts. There were still migrant Golden Plovers at Back of Keppoch and Traigh until mid-month, while the first Lapwing chicks were seen there on the 8th, and Ringed Plover chicks were seen at Traigh on the 17th. An Eider Duck with 6 young at Traigh on the 19th was the first report from the area. Arctic Terns were back around the breeding islands at Traigh from the 7th. Summer plumaged Great Northern Divers were present throughout the month at Traigh and Arisaig.
A pair of Canada Geese were seen on several occasions at Loch nan Eala, Arisaig. Long-eared Owls were confirmed breeding at a site in Arisaig early in May when the owners of the property, who had gone to investigate the strange calls heard coming from the wooded area in their garden, discovered at least 3 fledged owls in tree branches. On the 22nd an adult Brown Owl was found killed on the road outside Mallaig, close to their breeding site. A Barn Owl was seen at Bracorina, Morar, on the 19th.
A late report for April was of two Lapland Buntings seen and filmed feeding on the beach at Traigh on the 23rd.

Rum: The unfolded spring - by Mike Werndly IRCT Ranger Service
After the long dark winter it's great to see the island burst back into life. As expected, our returning Manx Shearwaters made their presence felt on the second week of April, when a few individuals crash landed around Kinloch Castle on the night of the 10th. The first of our breeding Swallows returned on the 5th April and many (15 pairs or so) are now in the process of breeding. In an attempt to entice the pair displaced by the removal of our old flit boat Rhouma, we've installed two artificial nesting platforms in the Visitor Centre. Breeding looks favourable as the pair are regularly seen flying in and out of the building.
The bulk of our returning migrants put in a first appearance during the second week of April, with Blackcap, Cuckoo, Willow Warbler and Chiffchaff being recorded around Kinloch Village. A colour ringed Twite, which was originally ringed last winter in Angus, was recorded at Harris on April 9th. Male Grasshopper Warblers seem to be 'reeling' everywhere this spring and were first recorded along the North Side Nature Trail on the 17th April (at least four individuals were also recorded along Kilmory Glen on the 3rd May). Overwintering Geese were on the move north with a flock of 70+ Barnacles on the 8th April (one sickly bird remained around the east end of Kilmory beach until the 22nd). Flocks of up to 30 Brent Geese were recorded on the 13th and 21st April.
Later arrivals include the first Sedge Warbler on April 23rd and common sandpipers and common terns on May 7th. A lone male Hen Harrier was observed on the North Side Trail on the 24th April and another or perhaps same individual was seen flying east along Loch Scresort on May 6th. On the same day, two (presumably non-breeding) Great Northern Divers were also visible in the mouth of Loch Scresort. Unlike their bulkier relatives, Red-throated Divers have been noisily displaying in Loch Scresort and are evidently intent on getting the business of breeding well under way.
Other notable bird species recorded this spring include a female Brambling on the 24th April. Settled conditions on May 3rd produced a lone Whimbrel in Loch Scresort and a singing male Wood Warbler in the Harris tree plot. The latter was obviously holding territory as it was heard again on the 9th. A late Iceland Gull put in an appearance on Kilmory beach on the 7th May, whilst the bad weather on May 11th forced a few migrants out to the west, with 2 House Martins and a single Sand Martin and Swift in Kinloch.
The usual Worts (ie milk, butter and louse) are currently out on show around the nature trails, together with Heath-spotted and Northern-marsh Orchids. An early Purple Orchid was observed at Kilmory on the 3rd May. Otters have also been observed around Loch Scresort on several occasions this spring, with a male and cubs seen several times around the shore on the south side of Loch Scresort. Highlights on the insect front include 2 Green Hairstreak Butterflies on the North Side Trail on the 21st April and one at Harris on May 14th. Several 'spring flying' moth species have also been recorded in the village and include Emperors, Brown Silver Lines, Scalloped Hazel and Small Square Spot.

It is now the 27th. May and so far I have not had the wee reminder from the Editor that my column is due! This comes as a slight relief as really, this month, I don't actually have anything to write about!! There is no point in me going on about the weather as I have no doubts that you are as "scunnered" as I am! I'm afraid that the weather Gods have just forgotten that it was May, either that or supplanted November for wickedness.
Highlights this month? Without doubt my week at the "Scottish"! Nowadays, as against when I rode! the standard of riding is exceedingly high with almost the entire field of 275 riders able to tackle the mainly very difficult sections. It was good too to see how well our "local" riders performed, with the outstanding success of Gary MacDonald from Kinlochleven finishing 5th overall. Both Duncan and Alan Macdonald (Morar!) also took awards with Duncan showing that riding in Swiss/French trials has done nothing to blunt his skills by squeezing ahead of his brother and, by the way, keeping ahead of the best lady - just! I enjoyed being part of the trial, but I have to say that leaving the hotel most mornings around 6am. to get to the sections we had been allocated did begin to weary me as the week drew to a close. Never mind, I returned home with a smile on my face and parked the bike in the shed before crashing on the sofa for the rest of Sunday! Roll on next year!
So, what about work? Honestly, it's been an unusual month, very "bitty" with the week off and the walks being exceedingly poorly attended - not that that was surprising considering the conditions! Nevertheless, I did have a few hardy annuals that braved the boredom and tightened up the hoods to sally forth. O.K. they only came in twos and threes, but at least it got me away from computer grind and out into the fresh air! I have had the usual couple of trips to Fort William for meetings and an extra one to assist with the construction and siting of a "pond dipping platform" close to the Visitor Centre in Glen Nevis. This platform is made from recycled plastic, totally impervious to rot, and is easily put together as drilling and cutting are very straightforward. The only problem with this recycled material is the price, and although, as I say, it will last, it costs around six times the price of a comparable wooden structure. Again, it is not available locally - as is timber - and due to its weight is expensive to transport. All in all, it is a difficult decision when considering what grants may be available for materials for the "Outdoor Classroom". Anyway, the platform is installed, and already several school groups have delighted in examining multiple "wee beasties" plucked from the muddy depths of the pond! so , for once, it looks like a good investment.
The middle of the month brought a pleasant surprise for me with a phone call from a Canadian cousin who had just landed in Oban after visiting her father's old house in Barra! I did know that she was in the country, but I had no idea as to where or when, so it was great to be able to meet up with her and her husband and swap stories about what we could remember! I hadn't seen her for around 55 years! The funny thing is that I have been in fairly regular e- mail touch with her sister and she is coming to visit me this weekend after only about 40 years! So we have much to talk about! I do realise that all of this is not of any great interest to you, my readers, but you have to admit that at least it helps to fill the page, and I reckon it is just as relevant as all the furore surrounding the great R.G. (foot-baller) whom I didn't know about until his name was bandied about in parliament! Just in case you didn't know, Sunday the 22nd saw the start of the "Decade of Biodiversity". There is not much point in me waffling on about it as there is no doubt that you will be assailed from all angles of the media as to what is good for the planet and what will bring an early doomsday! As far as I can see, what will bring us all to our knees is the way the cost of everything is spiralling! If something is not done soon regarding the cost of fuel and food we will all be resorting to cannibalism and peat digging! Talking of peat digging, I was appalled to see the damage caused to the Ardnish peninsula with the heather fire started by some lunatic. The blaze destroyed growth from one end of the peninsula to the other, and goodness only knows how many birds, nests and small animals were engulfed by the inferno. Will people never learn?
Finally, my congratulations to all the children (and parents!) that donned waterproofs and joined Pam, Emma and myself on the fishing expedition to Loch an Nostarie in the most foul conditions. Never a whimper nor a fish, but the kids were great!
I, or my trusty silky? voiced answer machine can be contacted on the usual number: 01687 462 983.
Stay well and I hope that I can come up with a bit more interest next time!
Should there be any interest, the next months walks are as follows:
June 9th. "Glasnacardoch Shore"
June 21st. "Carn Mor"
June 23rd. "Deep Waters & Pools of Silence"
June 27th. Check with the Ranger for Details
June 28th. "Sidhean Mor"
June 30th. "Cairns, Cockles & Clubs"
Ring the above number for further details or bookings.

'A sailor on a gentleman's cutter'
The recent spell of stormy weather reminded me of a log book dating from the 1850's that my father-in-law, Neil MacEachin has. This is a log that was kept by Neil's grand uncle, John MacVarish of his time as a sailor on the schooner yacht owned by the Arisaig estate owner, Mr Astley,
John, who was born in 1833 and brought up on the family's croft at back of Keppoch, crewed on the yacht for a number of years. His first voyage was in 1856, sailing from Cowes, Isle of Wight ,under "Captain Henry Wheeler with twelve hands before the Mast"and bound for Marseilles. They departed on 13 October and did not return until 15 May. Mr Astley and family travelled overland, joining the yacht in the south of France.
The yacht's arrival in the Mediterranean coincided with some foul weather and the following extract gives some idea of the perils faced by the crew.

Friday 21 November: Blowing stronger and stronger from the N. this morning. We made out Marseilles and were 15 miles to leeward of our course at 8h.a.m We were obliged to stow the standing jib. There she was under the small trysail and close reef staysail. When we went to our breakfast every dish on the table was filled with saltwater by the sea. We couldn't for 3 days get down the forecastle unless we would look out for an opportunity between the seas that was washing over the vessel. At 1h.p.m we arrived in a bay called Cassis Bay 10 miles from Marseilles and our captain went to the telegraph office to let Mr Astley know that we arrived.
Saturday 22 November: We got under weigh early in the morning bound to Marseilles with head wind and we arrived at 2h.p.m. Weather warm and dry.
Sunday 23 November: The first thing in the morning was to wash decks. Weather very warm and dry.
Monday 24 November: Strong northerly wind and very cold and after sunset the wind blew very strong. There was a large steamer outside of us broked her quarterfast then she did drift down on our vessel and broke down part of our bullwork. Some of our crew got ashore with a big hawser out of the steamer and made it fast to the quay or else she would smash our vessel to matchwood between her and the quay. All of our crew was ready to get ashore out of the vessel to save our lives but the hawser that we got out of the steamer held her on all night.
Tuesday 25 November: We were busy painting the vessel outside and a French joiner and our carpenter was mending the bullwork. (The next few days passed uneventfully preparing the yacht)
Sunday 30 November: Mr Astley came on board and stopped till afternoon. The wind then came on to blow very strong before he got ashore. Four hands went ashore with him in the cutter and they lost their sowester hats before they got backwe got the best bower chain cable made fast to the buoy and a new six inch hawser. All the crew was up all night and it was blowing very strong. We got both top masts housed.
Monday 1 December: Blowing a terrific gale. We got our working anchor out along with the best bower and the main hawser and the wind was increasing all day and all night.
Tuesday 2 December: It was blowing stronger. She broke the hawser and there was a large Brig about a hundred yards to leeward of us drove her anchor home, got alongside the wall, was smashed and sunk down to the bottom. There was a Man of War steamer on the other side of us broke her fasts, got ashore, smashed her paddlebox and broke down a great piece of the quay, the steamer that drift down on our vessel which broke our bullworks was put ashore and got her paddleboxes smashed and there was four more steamers on the other side of us breaking each other to pieces. There was about three hundred vessels tored to pieces between the two harbours. All day we were expecting to be ashore every moment in pieces. I made a bag of my oilcoat to put some of my clothes in it. Our dinghy was blowed away off the stern davits except her sternpost and her bowring which stopped on the davit blocks.The gale continued from Sunday afternoon until Tuesday about 12 o'clock at night.
Wednesday 3 December: The Family came on board. We got under weigh bound for malta, but before we got out of the harbour a strong squall came from the north. We were obliged to take in the foresail and the sea that was coming down the forecastle was running down through the pantry and into the main cabin but did not last above ten minutes. When we got outside the Islands we set the main topsail and squaresail. Weather fine and warm but Mrs. Astley and the young ladies got seasick and the nurses and lady's maid except young Mr. Astley, so that we were obliged to alter our course for a little harbour...

It seems that John was not put off by these experiences as he worked on the yacht for a number of years, undertaking further long cruises to the Mediterranean as well as bringing the yacht up to Arisaig and sailing off the west coast.
In the 1861 census, John describes himself as "a sailor on a gentleman's yacht".
During these voyages, John got to see many interesting sights - on occasion getting the opportunity to make excursions ashore. For example when the yacht was at Leghorn John was to take a train to Pisa to see the leaning tower. He also describes being ashore at Nice and seeing the Empress of Russia "carried in a chair between two men from the top of Mount Zion to the Main Street".
It is possible that, after these adventures, John found it difficult to settle back to life in Arisaig. In the 1860's he emigrated; working on railway construction projects in Canada and Argentina. He died in Rio de Janeiro.
Jeremy Benfield

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