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June 2020 Issue
Contents of the online version:
All photos are copyright either of the individual photographers or West Word.
LETTER FROM THE EDITOR
So . . . lockdown restrictions are easing and we have a provisional date of 15th July for tourism businesses to reopen. Schools are set to reopen from 11th August. I'm sure we're all wondering how this return to 'normality' will pan out. I'm sitting in the office this evening getting ready to print with the door wide open and the sun streaming in; it's still very quiet here, except for the birds, who have plenty to say!
So the great weather continues … perhaps the lovely photos on the cover will inspire you to take part in Arisaig Eco Project's photo competition - see page 16 for details!
Don't forget that we're always looking for contributions to West Word - pictures, stories, articles, memorabilia, opinions - please do send them in!
Local Gaelic supergroup Dàimh have hit the news with their hilarious advertising campaign for their new EP, Stopped in our Tracks. The 'Daimh Digital BandcampDana', was created to mark the early release of the EP, with the band selling a bandana with every digital copy of the new music.
The EP marks the start of an ambitious project entitled Single Tracks to record a new piece of music and film an accompanying video on location for every stop on their tour. Sadly, the coronavirus outbreak curtailed the band's plans, but they managed to record three tracks before they were 'stopped in their tracks'.
Ross Martin said: "We wanted to do something fun around our EP release that injected a bit of humour into what is such a strange time for so many people. The idea was we could help people social distance in style thanks to the Daimh Digital BandcampDana! The yellow and black quarantine colours come from the International Code of Signals and just happened to match up with our own band colours.
"Since launching the campaign, we've come up with lots of fun and silly uses for the bandana including wearing it 'cowboy style' over your nose and mouth to keep out nasty germs, using it as a dapper cravat or putting it over your head like a pirate off to plunder some toilet roll. And the best thing about it - it comes with three new digital tracks from our Stopped in our Tracks EP."
The bandana is available from https://daimh.bandcamp.com/merch/digital-bandana. Have a look at their facebook page for more pics!
It seems to have been a very productive couple of months here in Knoydart. So productive that I missed last months column deadline - my apologies!
Everyone has interesting projects on the go and are spending lots of time outside in the glorious weather. Apart from a wee storm for a night which rolled up a heap of fresh seaweed along the shore which has been a great boost for the gardens around Knoydart.
Lots of work has happened down at the community garden and everything is bursting into life and growing well. More plots have been dug (or no-dig) and nettle, comfrey and seaweed barrels filled for making plant tea. New compost bays and plant swap set up and more members have joined. It's a lovely social thing to do, being down at the plots and great for our mental health.
Stephanie Harris has set up a new business called "By the Sea" with crafts made from the treasures she finds along Knoydart's shoreline. You can find her on Facebook until her website is up and running - good luck Steph!
Like everyone else we are all waiting to see what's happening with Covid. It's very strange to have no people visiting Knoydart during the spring and summer months when the village would usually be alive with lots of hustle and bustle.
ISLE OF MUCK
Unfortunately for the island the end of April saw the departure of Dave, Julie, Ben and Katie, leaving the island to take up new challenges on the mainland. On a personal note I am very sad to see them go, and I will miss them very much. Dave and Julie have both contributed a lot to island life in the time they were on Muck and leave very big shoes to fill. I am sure everyone on the island would join me in wishing them the best for the future. One direct consequence of Dave's departure is that I have landed the role in the short term of trying to write something that someone might actually want to read in West Word.
On Muck May has eventually seen the end of lambing which if not a record must be close to it in terms of lambs born. Ruth and Phoebe have been looking after about 50 pet lambs as a result of the number of triplets born. Harbro are doing very well on the back of the huge quantities of milk powder we are going through. Due to an unusually late tail end we actually had the hoggs and tups shorn before the last ewe had lambed. The amazing spell of dry weather during April and May have helped us get quite a bit of drainage work done, and a couple of fields re-seeded. We are in the unusual position of needing rain for the seed to germinate. This is unlikely to be a problem for long.
Although farm work has largely continued as normal, that is pretty much all that has continued unaffected in one way or another due to Covid. Most households on Muck are involved in or reliant on tourism on some level and the total absence of visitors is very strange. Hopefully we will soon reach a position where we can welcome people back to the island, but at the moment that seems some way off. The most important thing is that at the time of writing this I think everyone is reasonably happy and healthy, and our thoughts go out to everyone who is not so fortunate.
ISLE OF CANNA
Saturday May 23rd 2020 . . . The scheduled date for the second annual Isle of Canna 10k run. We had, of course, already taken the decision to cancel this year's event in the wake of the unprecedented Covid-19 pandemic. Not to be totally outdone, we decided amongst ourselves to organise our own 'Community 10k' for the island. With a staggered start, and acres of space along the slightly adjusted course allowing for social distancing, we set off from the Rhu Church, finishing up sometime later outside Café Canna. And to top things off - a pint of locally brewed Jack ale, and one of Gareth's pies made from home reared Belted Galloway beef (thanks Gerry!) Nearly everyone on island took part - some running (best time 51 minutes!) and others just walking - with each participant completing the course - for which they received a T-shirt, buff and a medal (we had a boxful, of course, having already had them made up for the planned event.) Not a bad achievement, considering the piercing westerly gale on the day and the stinging showers of hail along the route. It left us contemplating how the actual event might have fared, had it gone ahead with 120 participants in such conditions. Would people have even managed to get here? Would the ferry have run with the weather as it was?
After some welcome rain, our water supply 'crisis' appears to have passed for the time being. We can't be complacent, however, as currently experiencing another dry spell, the situation could quickly change once again. The community vegetable plot in Canna House garden and the polytunnel are now fully planted up and looking well-tended. This involved quite a bit of fetching and carrying (and collecting) of water during the drought whilst seeds and seedlings were being carefully planted out. We are hoping for a rich harvest later in the year.
As I write (beyond the copy deadline!) we are hearing the fresh guidelines issued to the nation by the Scottish Government as we enter Phase 1 of the Covid-19 Route Map. As a result we will be updating our own advice on the Isle of Canna website, which will include some details of our Harbour Emergency Plan, agreed between the community and Donald, our NTS Harbourmaster. It reflects also the continued lifeline service being operated by CalMac which means, like the rest of the Small Isles we imagine, we are not yet in a position to welcome visitors back to Canna. Whilst being reassured by the First Minister's request for people not to visit the Scottish Islands at this time, we are also reminded how fortunate we are in some ways in our island community, by being in relative isolation during lockdown, despite some local difficulties and the effects on our resident businesses. We hear stories from friends and relatives elsewhere, and can perhaps only imagine how life currently is for others living on the mainland or in towns and cities. We look forward to a time when travel restrictions will ease, but ask "how safe will 'safe' be?" and "what will be the new 'normal'?" Life is never without some risk.
Some happier news - our resident Long-Eared Owls have successfully hatched two chicks this year, as reported by our Rangers, Gillian and Mike.
Criomagan (Crumbs) from Canna House
Normally, May would have been filled with cruise ships arriving and talks and presentations to be done from Canna House but of course that hasn't happened this year. Instead, archivist Fiona has been busy working on plans for rescheduling events for 2021, creating new projects and resources, photographic data work and writing articles for the NTS website. Fiona also celebrated her 5th anniversary on Canna and wrote an article on her time on the island entitled "From Quiet Homes & First Beginnings", a quote taken from an entry in the Canna House Visitors Book. Read about her journey here too and watch out for online versions of Canna House talks going up online this month. If you can't visit Canna in person just yet, take a look at Canna in the past, online!
From Quiet Homes and First Beginnings
My First Five Years on Canna
A quote taken from the Visitor's Book for Canna House, 1958, perfectly sums up my own thoughts and feelings on the fifth anniversary of me taking up post of Archivist and Manager for Canna House in 2015. The complete quote, by writer and historian Hilaire Belloc, was written in the book by Justice Lauchlin Daniel Currie, of Halifax, Nova Scotia, appropriately enough on May 19th 1958. It goes on to say:
"From quiet homes and first beginnings, Out to the undiscovered ends. There's nothing worth the wear of living but laughter and the love of friends".
And that is basically the story of my first five years here, looking after Canna House, its material Collections, its incredible Library (I am a qualified Librarian) and its priceless archive of Gaelic folklore and song. Entering a 'quiet home' with a new 'beginning' in a place which I had yet to discover. Working in a House filled with echoes of laughter and music, voices of friends past and present, the love of Story.
My love affair with Canna House began 25 years ago when, as a Gaelic singer, I began studying the songs contained within the Canna Collections after singing them for the first time in South Uist at the Ceolas Summer School. Margaret Fay Shaw's seminal volume of Gaelic song Folksongs and Folklore of South Uist immediately became my Gaelic song 'bible', with its vivid descriptions of a lifestyle which no longer exists, the haunting songs of the Uist people and the images of a People who still live there today. I studied her work in tandem with the precious volumes of Hebridean Folksongs published by her husband John Lorne Campbell, frantically trying to buy up copies of the out of print books from all over the world! They became my 'Holy Grail' of Gaelic Song. Had you said to me in 1995 that in 2020, I would be working in Canna House and in charge of the day to day care and research of the original manuscripts for Hebridean Folksongs and Folksongs and Folklore, I would have laughed and said "Ach, dinna be daft! That would be a dream!"
The songs of the Campbell Collections continued to form the basis of my professional Gaelic singing repertoire and then my break came in 2011 when I was given the post of Gaelic Associate Artist for the National Theatre of Scotland. As part of this I was asked if I would like to create a 'show' on a topic of my choosing. I said yes, of course - a show based on the life of Margaret Fay Shaw. The creation of this show involved me spending extended time researching in Canna House, alongside the Canna archivist Magda Sagarzazu, who became a firm friend and ally and still is today. The show, A Little Bird Blown Off Course, ended up touring Scotland, including a performance on Canna itself.
My husband Donald remembers when I came home after visiting Canna for the first time and saying "You have to come visit Canna - it's incredible". . . Little were we to know …
And so, in 2015, when Magda retired, I applied for and much to my surprise and delight, was given the job of Archivist and House Manager. Coming to Canna in May 2015 was not just 'starting a new job' but starting a whole new life. We had to move lock stock and barrel to Canna, collies included. On my first full day on island, I was handed a large, heavy key by Magda and told to 'get on with it'.
As the only member of staff in the House, it was up to me to keep the House presentable and clean, its condition monitored, and alive. Closed to the public while preparations for an extensive renovation project were worked upon, I had to develop ways of taking the Archives out to visitors and researchers and raise the profile of the significance of the Collections and Archives. It's important to say that this work could not be carried out without the core of hard work and commitment undertaken by Magda over the previous 20 years. As a close friend and companion of John and Margaret Campbell, she is indeed 'The Keeper of the Flame'.
Whilst I have been working on the awareness creation programme and continuing the archive work, and answering research enquiries, physical work has been carried out in Canna House, with structural surveys, new plumbing and interpretation plans being developed. New windows and sills were installed in the west wing, solving long standing damp ingress.
A new heating boiler was installed which in turn has meant an improvement in environmental conditions. The Archives themselves are housed in a specially converted bedroom with a Hanwell 'EMS' (Environmental Monitoring System), to alert us to any change in conditions which may be detrimental, particularly to paper collections. The 'Butterfly Room' which houses John's precious 'lepidoptera' (moth and butterfly) collection is similarly controlled, due to the fragile nature of the specimens there. John began collecting butterflies when he was 14 on his father's estate in Argyll, and never lost his love for them, notating meticulously the environmental conditions around when the specimens were collected.
Extensive work has also been a carried out on the roof, routing out and repairing water ingress points plus re-slating and downpipe works. External drainage works have further reduced water ingress to the foundations of the House and allowed troublesome 'pooling' to disperse for the first time in 20 years. The beautiful Steinway piano has been brought back to life with extensive tuning work and importantly, the playing by several wonderful musicians including Yvonne Lyon of Glasgow who played for us during our mini Garden Party in 2019 where the music wafted out the windows to the 'audiences' playing croquet and eating ice cream in the Garden! It was a lovely day and people commented how wonderful it was to hear music coming out of Canna House again.
The next stages of the major Canna House renovation programme, which would see the House being reopened to the Public in 2021, have unfortunately been delayed because of COVID-19 but we will hopefully get back on track in the near future.
Living on Canna has meant that I've had to develop a whole new skillset which I never anticipated. I have become an expert in cleaning 'photo cells' of boilers … I've also had to learn fast about how to deal with errant baby bats who find their way into the House from the attic … I've had to learn how to "Power down the Procurve, reset the Cisco and renew the Nano station". . .
I am fortunate that I can combine my performing abilities with my archive promotion work and I've been able to undertake many presentations, song lectures, concerts and gallery presentations, all using the archives, visual and aural. I have presented in the US, Canada, Ireland, Lithuania and was due to present again in the US this summer until COVID halted those plans. All of these activities have been funded through externally sought funding programmes so they do not place a burden on NTS resources.
But the NTS on Canna is not just about Canna House. Engaging with our community is an important part of the work the NTS does on island and as well as working on creating partnerships with the Isle of Canna Community Development Trust, for island infrastructure projects, we have delivered several practical projects on island which the whole community have enjoyed as well as visitors.
This includes the 'Fuaim na Mara' art and sound exhibition in the Waiting Room at the Pier and the Cats Gu Leor trail, all based on the Siamese cats of Canna House! The animals of Canna are obviously an important part of island life and Canna farm is run by the Trust, with Geraldine Mackinnon as the very hard working farm manager. The Highland cattle and the Zwartble sheep gang are always popular with visitors and in normal times, the shearing at the beginning of July is a popular activity for visitors to watch.
One outcome which I personally was not expecting was that my husband Donald would change careers drastically! In late 2016, he took up the post of Canna Harbourmaster. Always happy 'messing about with boats', he was able to bring his lifetime of business and management experience to developing and implementing the first ever Canna Marine Safety Management System, which covers all aspects of harbour health and safety and ensuring the safe navigation of the harbour by the hundreds of yachts, landing craft, fishing boats, cruise ships and of course the CalMac ferries which visit our little island every year. He also works with the Canna Ranger service on the NTS Bio-Diversity project, monitoring the island for any signs of returning rodent colonies. Canna has been rat free since the NTS project in 2006 to eradicate rats from the island.
They do say that learning to live on Canna basically takes three years. The first year, newcomers fall in love with the island and its charms, and everything is new and exciting. The second year, people get 'down to it', learn to cope with the weather and ferries, and all the normal island ways of life. The third year is often the year people find most challenging. When the realities of living away from friends and family, shopping difficulties, health care challenges, dealing with travel disruption at Christmas, of what to do when your satellite dish stops working, when the water runs out, when your dog gets ill and requires a vet. It does take a special kind of person to live and work here but the opportunity to do so is one which has been an incredible gift as well as a challenge.
From a personal point of view, it feels like I have lived my whole life on Canna. It has been a steep learning curve, not just in managing a property but in living in a challenging environment, year-round. It is an honour to look after the Campbell collections and I love to write about them, sing about them and tell people about them. Producing CDs, books, DVDs and BBC documentaries about the Campbells' work was an inconceivable idea, and for me it really is the 'dream job', one for which I will ever be thankful. There is a great Gaelic proverb which I like to think of as my mantra and one which John and Margaret Campbell would approve: "Thig crìoch air an t-saoghal, ach mairidh gaol is ceòl" - The End of the world may come, but love and music will endure".
And so I like to think that Canna and its treasures will too.
ISLE OF RUM
It's still very quiet and peaceful here, the glorious weather has helped keep morale high.
Jed and Derek are using the opportunity of an empty bunkhouse to paint and decorate. The campsite looks pristine, pity there is no one to enjoy it. While Rhys is stranded in Wales, Derek has taken on his strimming and mowing responsibilities to ensure the village doesn't turn into a jungle.
The Kilmory deer project crew, down to just Ali and Sean, have been working round the clock with the deer calving. Usually there are several volunteers and Prof Josephine Pemberton here to help, but in the current circumstances they have recruited Ross and David and daughter Eve to fill in. Surprisingly, they have managed to have a bumper May with a record number of calves being born!!
The first eider ducklings were spotted recently, the poor mother still being harassed by several suitors despite having five little ones to look after and keep out of harm's way. With more time available, little things we usually miss are more noticeable - the smell of the gorse on a warm day, differentiating between all the different bird calls, how quickly everything grows after a splash of rain; everything feels a lot slower.
The gardening is still going well, with a plant swap of seedlings to make sure everyone has what they want to grow. I'm trying my hand at aubergines, which seem fairly mystical to me having only seen one in a shop but worth a shot and with no guests at the B&B, the conservatory has turned into a perfect greenhouse for this.
Thanks to Jinty for keeping the shop well stocked and providing watermelons and pineapples on request, it's our only outlet for socialising, even at a distance.
ISLE OF EIGG
It is difficult to think of a better period of weather following from a spell of cold wind and temperatures, and it created havoc with the early fruits of our gardening labour. But gardens and green houses are now bursting full of growth again, and even my lilac has flowered abundantly despite half its foliage withered by the cold wind early in the month. There are lambs frolicking everywhere and Sandamhor farm has reported an unusual amount of triplets this year. Our marvellous songbirds are becoming extremely tame: Maggie reports that her resident blackbird in Cuagach has taken to bringing her offspring to show them off! However, John the bird is concerned about a much lesser number of swallows this year.
With the island on lockdown, the 8th May's 75th anniversary passed without much notice, but for Dylan and Celia Bull it was an emotional day as they remembered Celia's grandfather - Major Hamish Taite - having only very recently discovered the important part he played in the liberation of the Netherlands. Dylan, who has been in the Army Cadets (Fort William detachment) for a couple of years now, was very proud to don his Cadet uniform and take part in the five minute silence honouring this important commemoration as well as the memory of his great-grandfather.
"As Brigade Major to the 34th Tank Brigade, Hamish Taite had landed in Normandy on June 30, 1942 on "Courseulles" beach. Fierce fighting ensued including the battle of Le Havre, ultimately leading to the liberation of Hilversum in very hard weather conditions and in the face of constant enemy shelling and patrols from January to April 1945. Major Taite also trained two Dutch companies in successful infantry attack. In the bloody assault on Arnhem in April 45, Major Taite took over command of a Squadron, and led it with skill, determination and courage until the end of the Holland campaign. In May 45, Major Taite personally organized the surrender of the German troops in Hilversum and Bussum and later, by leading a detachment of his Squadron - the Polar Bears - into Amsterdam on the evening of 7 May 45, he was largely instrumental in quelling disturbances caused by German S.S. troops who were shooting at the civilian population, and accepted the surrender of the Ost Werhmacht Commander in Amsterdam that night. For his personal courage, resourcefulness and energy, he was awarded the Bronze Lion medal by Dutch Queen Wilhelmina in 1946."
( from https://de-dam-zevenmei1945.nl/en/hamish-taite-may-7th-1945/ )
On that day, our thoughts also went to Dr Hector Maclean - the longest serving island GP - who also served in the Tank regiments and took part in the liberation of France and Holland before coming to Eigg in 1950. May their courage be never forgotten nor the debts we owe them for the peace we enjoy today.
Back to the island economy, much discussion has been going on via zoom and the Eigg forum as to whether there is going to be any tourist season at all this year, with much hinging on the way safety can be maintained for the islanders. Should we allow self-catering visitors or not? What about our families hoping to visit? The temperature check in the Road to the Isles area shows only 30% of booking interest, but what if this changes? Great to have a dialogue with CalMac about the way passenger travel will be accommodated as well as with their marketing team through the weekly DMO meetings. There has been useful representation made to the Scottish Government's Island team as part of the ongoing dialogue between the island communities and government. The island has also been successful in getting Covid-19 alleviating fund and we now need to work out how best to use it for everyone's benefit.
We know we are all in it together, and it's been great to see the way everyone has gone out of their way to make sure safety is maintained, and lockdown lifting looms closer. Our thanks are going to the team in Mallaig and the Loch Nevis staff for doing a great job of keeping us going with the essentials of life.
At the same time, it has been sad to have had to postpone joyous events like the much awaited wedding of Ailidh and Jason: they opted instead for a romantic private hand-fasting ceremony before the big day next May.
It was great to dance to DJ Dolphin Boy in our respective living rooms, as our favourite DJ has been following the current trend for virtual music events everywhere helping to raise money for performing artists, and it would be great if he could do a set for our 12th June which shall be a most intimate event this year, at least so he can continue boast! So here is our glass raised for a prompt and lasting recovery for everyone in our area and further afield! And here's a glass raised for baby Aila who arrived safe and sound on 5th May, congratulations to proud parents Jill Wood and Ben Cormack who are very pleased with this wee sister for Oran and Ellis!
Canna Rangers - May update
We have been enjoying the sunshine here on Canna this month and making the most of the good weather looking at our plants, surveying our lower level birds, finishing off paths and monitoring our butterflies and moths. The most exciting news this month was confirming our Long-eared Owls have successfully hatched two chicks. They are out exploring the woods on Canna and will soon be on all our roofs calling the adults for food. Another exciting sighting for us was finally spotting a Spotted Flycatcher in Keill/John's Wood. With this calm, warm weather we got out to do our low level breeding bird survey of Sanday. There were so many Skylarks singing it was hard to count them! We also spotted or heard the usual suspects - Lapwing, Meadow Pipit, Shelduck, Oystercatcher, Eider, Mallard, Starling, Hood Crow and Great Skua along with our seabirds. We counted approximately 500 puffins at the seabird colony at Dun Mor, with Kittiwake, Guillemot, Shag, Fulmar and Razorbill also nesting on the cliffs.
Long eared owl - Photo: Gillian Gibson
With each walk we are spotting more wildflowers in bloom which is great to see, and combined with the weather, our bees and butterflies are loving flying about. The flag iris is now out along with Red Campion, Ragged Robin, Silverweed, Comfrey, Germander Speedwell, Sea Campion, Kidney Vetch and Bird's-foot Trefoil to name a few. One plant colony we were happy to see was our Oysterplant. This rare coastal plant likes shingle, sand and gravel coastlines and is now quite scarce, limited to Scotland, so it's great to have a patch on Canna. We have been looking out for our Frog Orchid but as of yet have not spotted it and overall our orchid species this year have been slow to appear. Fingers crossed June will see more coming into bloom.
The sunshine has been great for our butterflies and we have regular sightings of Green-veined White, Peacock, Small Tortoiseshell, Red Admiral and Small Heath. There was much excitement however when we spotted an Orange Tip butterfly in Canna House Garden - it's the first time we've spotted one since moving to the island. In terms of moths we have spotted Cinnabar and Silver-Y during the day, and our night time moth trapping has produced some lovely species. This month's highlights have been a Fox moth, Lesser Swallow Prominent, Lychnis, Flame Carpet, Scalloped Hazel and a Shark moth!
Although we did not see them ourselves, Orca have been spotted between Skye and Canna which is fantastic. The calm weather days are perfect for spotting our marine animals so we'll be keeping our eyes out for Minke Whale, Dolphins, Basking Shark and hopefully Orca! We've been doing some beach cleans on the small tidal islands in the bay and hope to do some more throughout June, combining them with some shorewatches. Keep up to date with us on our twitter and instagram pages @CannaRangersNTS.
Gillian and Mike
Book Corner - Ardnish
Set in the West Coast Highlands of Scotland and in South Africa, Ardnish is a very human story of a man's personal life at home and the challenging, exciting and tragic events he experienced as a volunteer during the Boer War. MacDonald portrays, without romanticising, a now vanished way of life in the highlands through the reminiscing of Donald John Gilles. Gilles also tells how, forced by poverty, he came to serve with the Lovat Scouts in 1900 and, along with the memories of his Captain, Willie MacDonald, of the stark realities of the war in South Africa.
Ardnish can be pre-ordered from the Highland Bookshop in Fort William now - www.highlandbookshop.com
Arisaig Community Trust News
The Directors of the Trust and local volunteers have been busy making use of the sustained period of dry weather and have completed some outdoor maintenance.
A big thank you to Hugh Cameron for his successful adaptation of a lawnmower which has been used to remove the moss on the football pitch. Lawn sand, grass seed and fertilizer have been applied to help improve the ground. The shed has been painted and our thanks go to Judy Budge for painting the benches.
We have weeded and cleaned the area of paving around the Land, Sea & Islands Centre (by hand with no pesticides). Once the Centre re-opens, we will have the addition of a telescope which has been kindly donated by Aly Macluskie on behalf of the Arisaig Americana Music Festival committee. This will be such an excellent addition to the interactive things we have in the end room, and will be much enjoyed by those visiting the centre once we are able to be open it again. We also look forward to the return of banjos and all things Americana at the festival workshops in 2021!
We are delighted to have found out that our Seashore Project has been selected for the next round of Rural Tourism Infrastructure Funding. Further community consultation will follow in due course once Covid-19 restrictions are lifted.
Traigh Golf Club - May Round Up
Mallaig Lifeboat Log
Well I am happy to report that there have been no call outs since the last edition of West Word. But we are ready to go at a moment's notice, undertaking all the relevant risk assessments regarding Covid-19 protocols.
Unfortunately the Station and the Shop will remain closed to members of the Public for the foreseeable future. But you can keep up to date with news and many other things that the RNLI undertake by simply going online and entering RNLI in your search engine.
Michael Ian Currie
Mallaig Harbour News
Not much has changed from last month, although this last week (up to 29th May), there has been a bit more activity. Our staffing remains the same, as there is not enough work for all staff to be on-site, and Audrey, Pimmy and I are still working from home as much as possible. We are trying to keep the office staffed on Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 9am until 1pm.
The fishing fleet has been trying to get back to sea. Again, May has been an amazing month of weather which they have missed out on. Some of the boats have a limited market for their catch, and the Caralisa in particular has been enterprising and selling the majority of their catch locally. Lots of people have been enjoying fresh prawns and monkfish! We've turned the ice machine back on, and on one day sold the entire 12 tonnes it holds, which is a positive sign! The CalMac essential lifeline timetable, which means no sailings to Skye, no calls from the Lord of the Isles, and sailings to the Small Isles only on Monday, Wednesday and Friday is operational at least until the 30th June. We did have a visit from the Lord of The Isles on 18th May, and we are expecting her back for a couple of days the first week in June. There is a new skipper aboard who is taking the opportunity to familiarise himself with the Harbour entrance. Although there are no passengers on board, it was nice to see her - a wee reminder of how things should be at this time of year! Western Isles Cruises are also operating a lifeline timetable, with one sailing to Inverie on a Tuesday, Thursday and Friday. Their music videos are a highlight to the week - have a look on their Facebook page if you haven't seen them! There's an amazing amount of freight which has to be taken over - and even we are seeing lots of deliveries at the Harbour Office - we're grateful to the Posties and Delivery Drivers who are keeping everything moving!
As of 29th May, Scotland has entered Phase 1 of the Scottish Government's Routemap for recovery. As a result of this, we have changed the guidance associated with the Marina, and are allowing LOCAL TRAFFIC to use the pontoon in line with Government advice. The Shore facilities remain CLOSED, and we are not yet ready to welcome visiting vessels back to the pontoons. We have aligned our guidance very much to the RYA guidance, and published full information on the Marina website, https://mallaig-yachting-marina.com/news/.
The key points are:
- At the moment access is for LOCAL boat owners only - we are not ready to welcome visiting yachts or other vessels. Guidance is that local means within about five miles.
- Government guidance is NOT to stay away from home overnight - or to visit other communities. You may anchor for a break, for example lunch, but must not go ashore as this will break the five mile rule and could put communities at risk.
- Be aware that handrails and water taps etc. will not be sanitised after every use so take precautions by washing your hands / using sanitiser.
- The Shore Facilities are not open.
- Allow for Social distancing on any of the pontoon walkways.
- Observe Government guidance about meeting up with other households.
- We're also asking people, in line with the RYA, to be Considerate and Conservative: be mindful of the potential impact that you could have on other water users and local communities. Do not place unnecessary extra strain on the RNLI and emergency services, and please ensure that you are able to cope with the conditions before leaving the Harbour. We're also very aware that the Small Isles and Knoydart are not ready to welcome visitors yet, so we are reminding people of that.
By the time you read this, my first anniversary of working for the Harbour Authority will have passed. It's been a quick year, and I have thoroughly enjoyed getting to grips with everything that goes on around the Harbour - I am lucky to have a great team around me, both in terms of the staff and the Board. There have been several new challenges for me throughout the year - not least those associated with Coronavirus - but I am looking forward to seeing what the next year will bring!
Also by the time you read this, we should have been celebrating the third annual Marina Day - which would have been Saturday 6th June, and last year marked the end of my first week at work! Unfortunately there will be no barbecue or bucking bronco this year, but hopefully it will be back next year. The 8th June is World Oceans Day, (www.unworldoceansday.org) and this year's theme is 'Innovation for a Sustainable Ocean'. Whilst there are no 'physical' events this year, there are a lot of resources online, including resources for children - so it's worth taking a look.
Finally, our boats have continued to rise to the challenge of supporting the #clapforcarers each Thursday evening. We've managed to video some of these, and if you haven't managed to experience them in person, you can see them on our facebook page www.facebook.com/mallaigharbour (you don't have to have a Facebook account to see them!) Once again, we are grateful to everyone working hard around the Harbour, and indeed throughout the wider community, to keep things moving.
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On and Off the Rails
Abellio fails to pay bills
Reported as an exclusive in the Scotsman on Friday June 5th, after statistics were uncovered by Scottish Labour MSP James Kelly, Gina Davidson wrote, "The operator of the ScotRail franchise has come under fire after it emerged it had failed to pay its bills on time for more than a year."
Embattled Dutch train operator Abellio only settled 25% of its bills over a six-month period in the 30-day timescale that forms part of its contractual obligations with the Scottish government. The figures also show that it has consistently failed to pay its invoices on time since reporting began, putting it in violation of its franchise agreement from July 2018. The revelation of the breach comes six months after the government said it was ending its 10 year agreement with the Abellio in 2022, three years early after years of complaints about performance. New payment practice figures lodged with the UK government show that between October last year and March the firm only settled 25% of its bills in the 30 day timescale, taking an average of 48 days to pay.
Scottish Conservative shadow economy secretary, Maurice Golden, said "Organisations like ScotRail [through Abellio] are supposed to set an example when it comes to this kind of thing. Failing to pay suppliers on time is unacceptable any time, but during the current crisis like this it is even worse, especially as many of these businesses will be on shaky ground as it is."
Currently ScotRail has an emergency agreement, with additional financial support from the Scottish Government, due to the Covid-19 pandemic. A Transport Scotland spokesperson said, "We expect ScotRail to meet their responsibilities in terms of paying suppliers within the timescales set out in the franchise."
"The Scottish Government has stood by Abellio time and time again - even moving the goalposts to avoid violations in the past," says Scottish Labour MSP James Kelly who uncovered the statistics. Does the failure to pay its bills on time indicate further financial trouble for Abellio?
On a recent visit to Mallaig railway station island platform I was frustrated to see the newly laid black tarmac totally violated and covered in excrement by the 24 pairs of nesting seagulls (each with three eggs per nest) - and this is before the chicks join the adults. To defecate a public area and for apparently nothing to be done about it has to be a public health risk? Surely?
As the ScotRail Station adopter I am not allowed to resume my gardening duties at the station until June 30th (or later - when it is reviewed again). There are nests in two of the whisky casks; the barrel train has one also. Plants have been removed by the seagulls to make nesting space. The majority of the plants and shrubs are growing well. The Hostas (protected by my spreading a deep layer of coffee grounds, supplied by An Cala at the end of summer last year, thanks!) are magnificent. Lupins are coming into flower. Yes, there is weeding to be done, but I did not touch anything at present. I did wear my hardhat for my visit and phone in on the platform phone to report my presence - but came away longing for another time in the future when I can put that right.
As to the state of the island platform, and the aggression of the seagulls, surely the ScotRail and other working paid staff must have reported the poor working conditions? If they have, and nothing has been done, then the situation is even worse. I have never seen it so bad in 20 years of proudly volunteering at the station. I know we are socially distancing - try telling that to the seagulls! Is anyone going to take responsibility for the state of Mallaig railway station and its staff who are right on the front line for this wretched virus? Does no one know - or care? I came away feeling helpless and sad.
To think that five years ago I was nationally awarded "Volunteer Station of the Year" for my (and Steve's) volunteer efforts at Mallaig/Morar and Arisaig railway stations, at a "frock wearing" Ball (that was me, not Steve)! I was never prouder. I just hope that someone in authority reads this, and acts on it!! I feel better now that I have highlighted this. Sorry to go on.
Facing the uncertain future
The question of when the running of many train services, let alone privately operated ones or rail tours - whether they be diesel or steam hauled - may resume amid the easing of lockdown measures is one that still has no answer. Following the release of the Government's recovery strategy on May 11th there has been a wealth of information coming out of Holyrood and Westminster, including guidance to businesses and transport operators as to how they might be able to we start operations or increase/reduce timetables. However at the time of writing this column there is no firm date as to when services and tours may start running again or any concrete information on how such operations may look after social distancing, facial coverings and further contamination reduction measures are taken into consideration by the various operators - or can be complied with.
Some operators, e.g. GB Rail Freight have postponed charity events planned. GB Rail Freight were running a charity four day rail tour in September 2020. This is now pencilled in for four days in April 2021. Vintage Trains has made the decision to cancel its complete 2020 rail tour and charter programme, with all pre-booked passengers given the opportunity to have a full refund, or credit note valid for a year, or to donate the train fare to Vintage Trains' charitable trust. The Gloucestershire Warwickshire Railway (GWSR) has taken the bold step to cancel its entire calendar of special events for the rest of the year including the lucrative "Santa Special" season. I could cite many more examples - but you get my drift.
In case of what we consider to be 'our own' Jacobite steam train service between Fort William and Mallaig, WCRC, The Jacobite operators keep trying to be optimistic and I admire them for that, and really hope that they may be able to provide our line with a mid-season/end of season plan. But, the stark truth is that privately run services tends to only cover their costs, or make a profit, if and when they can operate fully booked services.
This also would apply to the Belmond Royal Scotsman, who do have the advantage of not requiring hotel accommodation, as guests are sleeping on the train in their own bedrooms (in luxury!) and have the highest standard of Premier Dining on board. Currently the National and Scottish governments are actively discouraging travel by train except for travelling for exceptional circumstances, or to travel to and from work if no other way is possible or if you cannot work from home.
Social travel by train - when it returns and until a vaccine for coronavirus/Covid-19 is available to all - will be totally different. Wearing of a face covering, eating on board, social distancing - even going to the toilet - will be nigh impossible to achieve, whilst allowing operators to financially afford to do it.
And in the case of The Jacobite, if the hotels and coach companies that haven't closed or gone in to administration cannot comply, or are not permitted to open, where are the passengers going to come from? Even cruise ship passengers and flight passengers who use the service will not be available.
I state that all of the above is my own personal opinion followed by the stark truth that until a vaccine for coronavirus is available, it is not going to go away; spikes will keep coming, whether we like it or not.
Of course adaptions and change will come, and we will survive, and come out of this stronger and wiser - but probably not just yet?
Odds and Ends . . .
With Father's Day approaching on Sunday June 21st here are couple of suggestions that you might care to follow-up. www.oneofakindchocolates.com have produced chocolate of the iconic Flying Scotsman and Mallard trains in Swiss chocolate starting from £4 a bar. Go online and "Nominate a Hero" to be in with a chance of six bars in a box for Father's Day.
Northern Board Games - Heritage Railway Line. A very entertaining family board game, quick and easy to play. Hours of fun for 1 - 6 players suitable for ages eight years to adult. You drive your train around the branch lines, using a dice, and pick up as many passengers as you can! See ivory.co.uk/shop/games/5255/heritage_line.
Friday, May 29th at 8:09pm I heard the low growl of a class 37d locomotive coming into Mallaig. It was a Colas Rail inspection train - bristling with digital, computerised equipment with a class 37 at either end and the logo "Keeping Your Railways Safe" on the side. It was in Mallaig for 10 minutes (quick change of ends for the driver) before slowly departing with several blasts on the whistle. Happy days to have spotted that. Yet another railway inspection train - calculating work to be done or faults to be repaired on rails, bridges, tunnels, or even nuts or bolts in the track!! The leading loco going out was 37219 - and yes, I did get a photo!!
See you on the train - just not yet!!
April 2020 BIRDWATCH by Stephen MacDonald
Generally a very settled and dry month, with many more of our summer visitors appearing and wintering birds clearing out.
The first Swallows reported were two seen on the 8th in Arisaig. The first House Martin reported was a single by Traigh Farm on the 22nd.
Chiffchaffs were first heard at Morar and Loch Ailort during the first week. Willow Warblers were heard on the 10th at Loch Ailort and by the 12th there must have been a huge influx, as they could be heard from any suitable patch of trees. Blackcaps were heard at Alisary, Loch Ailort on the 16th. Several were seen and heard in the Woodside area, Morar on the 19th. Grasshopper Warblers were heard in Mallaig from the 21st. Common Whitethroat were heard at Camusdarroch Beach carpark on the 27th and by the 'Circular Walk' in Mallaig on the 28th.
On the 22nd the first Common Sandpiper was seen at Borrodale Beach, Arisaig. The following day one had arrived back at Loch Ailort. A few more waders on the move, with some passage birds stopping briefly to rest or feed. 17 Golden Plovers were at Back of Keppoch on the 17th and the fist Whimbrel were seen at Portnadoran and Traigh on the 29th. Some Purple Sandpipers still lingered on the rocks by West Bay, Mallaig, with at least 11 there on the 26th. At Back of Keppoch and Invercaimbe the local Lapwing and Redshanks were on eggs by the end of the month. A few Curlews were seen at Traigh and Snipe could be heard 'drumming' at Rhubana and Back of Keppoch.
Iceland bound Whooper Swans were seen on several occasions, including 24 north over Loch nan Ceall on the 4th and 5 over Arisaig on the 23rd. Skeins of Geese heading north were mostly Pink-foots. A single Pink-foot spent several days with the local Greylags at Traigh from the 17th. Several pairs of Canada Geese were seen around Traigh, Back of Keppoch and Loch Ailort. At the latter site several Greylags and Canada Geese were on eggs early in the month, with a brood of six Greylag goslings seen on the 30th.
A good number of Skylarks, Meadow Pipits, Wheatears and White Wagtails were seen as they passed through. Many of the Meadow Pipits and White Wagtails would have been heading to Iceland, along with the numerous Redwings that were seen during the first half of the month. Several large and brighter plumaged Wheatears were also noted at Portnadoran and Traigh, presumably Greenland Wheatears.
A male Merlin was seen hunting Meadow Pipits at Invercaimbe on the 4th. Tawny Owls were heard calling around Morar and Arisaig. They tend to nest early so would probably already have chicks hatched. A pair of Jays were seen at the west end of Loch Morar on the 14th. The first report of the Cuckoo was on the 10th from the Portnadoran area. On the 15th one was heard near Arisaig and on the 18th one was calling at Loch Ailort.
A pair of Nuthatches were discovered at a new nest site in Arisaig. Albeit not far from the nest of the previous two years. They appeared to be feeding young during the last week of the month.
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Andrew and Karen Aitchison (grandchildren of George and Ina Aitchison) followed in their dad Archie's footsteps and headed off for some adventures in New Zealand earlier this year. They received a wonderful welcome and fantastic hospitality from Archie and Betty Gillies in Gisbourne. Karen is pictured with Ian Rogie Gillies and Archie Gillies, both originally from Mallaig. They also had a lovely time staying with Angus and Rosemary MacKinnon (formerly from Canna) in Nelson.
The first weekend in June would have seen the third annual Arisaig Americana Music Festival, which has been postponed until 2021 due to Covid-19. In the meantime, here's a pic of the festival committee PRE lockdown, posing with their favourite community newspaper! Although POST lockdown they may look quite different . . .
Thanks to Julie Michie for sending this one in which was taken back in May 2013! Julie's parents, Tommy and Betty Duigan, and her daughter Katie were celebrating Tommy's 70th birthday in Los Alczares, Spain.
Watch this space for extracts from next month's issue!
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