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June 2022 Issue
Contents of the online version:
All photos are copyright either of the individual photographers or West Word.
Congratulations to Arisaig's Anne Cameron who passed out as a West Highland line driver on the 19th May! Anne is only the third female driver on the line.
25 Years of Community Ownership
The community of the Isle of Eigg celebrated their 25th anniversary of ownership on the weekend of the 12th June 2022. Maggie Fyffe (Secretary to the Isle of Eigg Heritage Trust) said, 'In the 1990's the whole community suffered from the poor management and bad decisions of several private landlords. People were being threatened with eviction, there was no investment in any of the island buildings or infrastructure and we were all very worried about what might eventually happen. Managing to raise the funds to buy the island in 1997 was absolutely fantastic. Since then, it has been a huge amount of hard work and effort to do all that we have done - but it's wonderful to see our children returning to the island to live and work and the global interest in all that our community has achieved.'
Since then, Eigg has become the first place in the world to provide electricity 24/7 from renewable wind, sun and hydro power. The community built a new shop and café to cater for residents and visitors, which have just been completely redeveloped: An Laimhrig's new spaces will provide a bigger café and shop, a craft shop, a cycle and kayak hire business, new visitor facilities including Taigh Nighe, office space for the Trust and hot desks and space for island businesses to grow. The population of Eigg has almost doubled in the 25 years to 110 now, many of whom are below the age of 40 and have young children.
The community is also working on new housing, refurbishing its existing housing stock to meet environmental standards, and plans to reach Net Zero by 2030. Eigg's amazing biodiversity and wildlife will all benefit from this. The Tree Nursery, which only began in 2018 aims to produce up to 20,000 plants each year - native Scottish stock which will be sold on the mainland and other islands looking to plant new native woodlands. 17,500 seedlings were used to create new native woodland at Sandamhor on Eigg. The original non-native woodland was part felled in an award-winning project in 2019 managed by the community. Timber from that felling is being used in island projects, such as the An Laimhrig redevelopment and to heat the island school. Even after all this activity, the community won't be resting on its laurels. Plans are afoot for new projects to address the causes of and to reduce fuel poverty for residents and to improve insulation and energy efficiency on the island, as part of the move to New Zero. Phase two of the felling programme, improving the visitor moorings and an island wide heritage project are also underway.
LETTER FROM THE EDITOR
Well I think Lily did a pretty good job of the Editor's letter last month - I should ask her to write it more often!
Now that talks between ASLEF and ScotRail have reached a positive conclusion it's likely that our rail service will return to normal in the near future. Hooray!
Meanwhile on the A830, there's currently four sets of traffic lights, and overnight road closures at Glenfinnan until the 17th (with timed access). But hey, that really rubbish bend has finally been resurfaced . . .
All of us at West Word would like to send our sympathies to Lawrence MacEwen's family and the residents of Muck as a whole. He was a big part of West Word over the years and will be very much missed.
As always, thanks to Morag and Ewen for their help with the printing, and to Anne and Jane for labelling the envelopes.
As we approach June, Inverie continues to be busy with tourists. The weather might not have been much cop lately, with it being distinctly cooler and wetter than it has been the last couple of years but it hasn't been putting anyone off. The midgies, dare I say, have only just started making an appearance too. The Pub continues to be busy, of course, and now has a regular Sunday music sesh in place, as well as branching out into selling cold filled rolls over the weekend in collaboration with the Tearoom. The phone is also now up and running, on (01687) 462358.
Knoydart Foundation are looking for a Project Officer, which will be an exciting new job, managing a small number of projects key to the further development of the Foundation and our community. These will include an initial three projects - affordable housing, worker accommodation and redevelopment of the bunkhouse.
Wood Knoydart had its first stool making workshop, post-covid, with groups from George Watson College.
The Knoydart Climate Conversations Working Group have some exciting things going on. Things are progressing well for the Community Carbon Audit research project, which is supported by the British Science Association and soon will be starting to collect data. The research partners DR Gary White and Dawson Markle returned at the start of the month to help train the climate team.
They are also working on a marine survey and habitat monitoring project to map the current condition and extent of the sea grass meadows in Inverie Bay. (Which, I personally find pretty interesting as I didn't even know we HAD a sea grass meadow out there!)
Wilder Ways have been here for the last month as well, the first post covid return, and it's been a pleasure to see the horses around again although they have been based out at Sandaig this year.
Flook, I hear, played a great gig on 21st May, tho I wasn't actually there as myself and Anna were living it up at Knockengorroch! Oh it's so good to be doing all these things again, now that life has returned to normal.
Coming up on 4th June, Knoydart's newest local band The Blackhills Ceilidh Band will perform at the hall.
Cheers for now folks,
Beannachdan bho Gleann Fhionnain!
Glenfinnan recently welcomed the Cape Wrath Ultra competitors to the village. The Ultra is a 400km, eight-day running expedition through some of the most inspirational landscapes including Knoydart, Kintail, Assynt and Sutherland. Day two of the race begins at Glenfinnan and takes the runners into remote territory to the day's conclusion at Loch Hourn.
Our wee village was, for 24 hours, base camp for all the competitors and organisers and what a sight to behold! It was a mobile village and when they departed, you would never have even known they were there as all they left were memories.
The Community Car Park has taken delivery of some fabulous picnic benches. These are situated in a quiet corner overlooking a field of bluebells with the gentle sound of the River Finnan babbling nearby. A huge well done to all involved for making this happen. What a great asset.
There has been some significant works being undertaken within the village with the laying of underground electricity cables. One would be excused for thinking that we have been invaded by giant moles, but rest assured it is just our local electricity supplier and it won't be long before the works will be completed, and our village will be put back together again.
The Community Council are excited to be holding our June meeting, and AGM, in the comfort of the new 'SCIO hut'. The members of the SCIO have outdone themselves in the restoration of the old Mowi building into what is now a cheery and welcoming space.
The Community Council will also be taking a well-earned break in July and resuming meetings again in August.
Word on the single track road is . . . keep your ears to the ground for the possibility of the return of a ceilidh or two in the Glen.
Chan eil cluas-chìuil aig triubhair
(A scoundrel has no ear for music)
Proverbs from Campbell's Collection.
ISLE OF MUCK
Hello, Muck Sadly Calling . . .
As I'm sure most of you will be aware, Muck lost its very own Prince last month with the passing of Lawrence McEwen, peacefully and at home on his island with his family by his side. In true Muck tradition all men on the Isle dug his grave at the Port grave site, which was his wish, to allow his beloved cattle to be able to graze over him. The funeral was, as expected, a well-attended affair with the service at the Hall and then a procession to the committal where his beautiful coffin, hand made by his son Colin, was driven on his iconic red tractor. A lone young Piper played until a few words were said over him, then through absolute driving rain - which no one seemed to notice - all took a rotation to cover Lawrence . . . then back to the Hall for refreshments as only Muck seem to do. . . a very fitting send-off for a true Gentleman and a massive part of recent history. All our thoughts and hugs are for our most brilliant Jenny, Colin and Mary, who have taken all of this with absolute class and dignity. Xxx
All our other news and happenings seem trivial in comparison but we have as usual been having our CalMac issues with tides which inevitably means another day without trippers and deliveries when in these uncertain times is a visitor too few. Those that have been able to make it seem to be blessed with some excellent weather already and hope it holds over the Jubilee weekend with a street party organised . . . the School have been busy with bunting making, and are looking forward from a class visit from Eigg - a great opportunity to interact and swap tales. A wee start to shearing has begun as a few were looking like poor relatives with torn and ripped coats . . . ?? . . . can't wait for the main Call to Arms, it's always a great night - oops sorry a good day out I mean, very professional and orderly . . . but all in good time, there is a lot of under the radar work going on at the farm. Although the arrival of a loose load of Lime at the harbour on a windy day became a spectator sport, especially as it tipped . . . but no great cloud, much to the disappointment of the goggled watching kids!
Well that's it for us this month and we will see you at the other end.
ISLE OF CANNA
"But she was right about the elusiveness of the crake. I never saw one again. But their stridulations from light dusk to brief dark in the summer evenings of boyhood were to become as implanted in the memory as the sound of the sea itself. I'm told that the occasional one can still be heard from time to time, but it's many years since they were loud enough to make the preacher raise his voice at evening service." (p.27, Macdonald, F.J., The Corncrake and the Lysander Macdonald & Co, London, 1985)
Not so on Canna! We have a veritable bowl of four male Corncrakes this year and Bob Swann has made Beyonce proud and put rings on two of them; one on Sanday and one by the burial ground at A'Chill. If ever there was a man following his destiny, it's Bob Swann. We also have long eared owls in A'Chill woods and they have successfully fledged four chicks.
Lambing is finished for the year and we have a total of three pet lambs; the most revered of these is "Staresy", who is destined for greatness. Current greatness demonstrated by the giving of kisses, acceptance of multiple head pats and a stare that could wither even the most ferocious of tups!
Congratulations to Caroline Mackinnon who has successfully passed her Digger/Excavator course. She'll be demanding a bigger digger from Gerry in no time! I am personally looking forward to Caroline's digger slip 'n' slide carousel on the Canna House croquet lawn.
We had a group from the Scottish Christian Hillwalking Club visit Canna last week and St Columba's Chapel was full of song and Granny Norah gave the Corncrakes a run for their money drowning out the dulcet tones of the preacher. I believe she thought it was well past the time for a cup of tea.
The community of Canna would like to send their condolences to the MacEwen family and the people of Muck for the loss of Lawrence MacEwen. He was one of a kind! Margaret Willington
Criomagan (Crumbs) from Canna House
On June 6th, 1938, John and Margaret Campbell left their little tin roofed house at Northbay on Barra, to start their new life on Canna. Not all their furniture and effects made their way to Canna immediately - larger pieces such as the Steinway Grand piano had to take a later fishing boat before eventually reaching Canna on June 27th. Here is the piano in the Northbay house in 1935. Many of the objects you see in the image are still in Canna House today.
"Very wet indeed. Piano landed & installed in drawing room"
June will see a creative residency taking place in and around Canna House, to celebrate the culmination of the 'Solas' project - the programme designed to develop and promote interest and awareness of the Canna media archives. 2021 saw the installation of the "Rubha Sholais Listening Point" on the shore below the Rhu Church - a place of contemplation to enjoy the same scenery which inspired Margaret Campbell to take her hundreds of photos of the Bay, over the years.
In this year of Scotland's Stories, between June 19th - 28th, we will welcome back the two artists - Yvonne Lyon and Raine Clarke - who constructed the Rubha Sholais, to contribute to a week of events, entitled "Solas Story/Stòraidh Sholais" focussing on the use of the media archives to 'create the New from the Old". They will both take inspiration from watching Margaret's films and respond creatively to those films, whether that be in musical, sculptural or fine art form. The resulting pieces will eventually be displayed in properties on island. The residency is only one of the events taking place that week and we would love to see as many visitors as possible on the island! During the ferry stopover on Wednesday 22nd June, 1.45-2.15pm, there will be a song, tune and story or two at the Rubha Sholais for anyone who wants a seat with a lovely view! No booking required. On Saturday 25th, from 11am - midday, we have a "Solas Day/Latha Sholais" event. There will be a "Solas Shore/ Cuairt Cladaich" with our Ranger Catriona Patience, if you fancy a guided walk on the shoreline of the island. Then at 1-2.30pm, Raine will be delivering a felt making workshop for all in the Old Dairy, using the natural colours and textures of the island. At 2.30pm there will be a showing of the film "Solas", the story of Margaret's life in her own words, in the St Columba Chapel. You can book a ticket or find out more about the Day Event at Eventbrite here - https://bit.ly/3x3iMfE. Donations to Canna House welcome.
Then in the evening at 7.30pm, there will be a licenced "Solas Ceilidh" in the Shearing Shed with some of Margaret's films being screened on the walls of the Shed to accompany the fine music of the "Canna Ceilidhers" - piper flautist James Duncan Mackenzie, accordionist Robert Nairn, fiddler Ewan Henderson and keyboards from Yvonne Lyon, maybe some guest contributions! Stovies and mac'n'cheese will be on sale from Gareth of Cafe Canna to sustain you through your dancing! You can book tickets for the ceilidh (£6, under 12's free) on Eventbrite at https://bit.ly/3lTANrx or email email@example.com.
Try www.cannacampiste.com, www.cannaselfcatering.co.uk or www.tighard.scot for accommodation options.
ISLE OF EIGG
Exciting times on Eigg this month as we celebrated the reopening of our beloved tearoom; Galmisdale Bay Cafe and Bar. The space is beautiful; bright, airy and with the most exquisite views. A huge congratulations to the entire team who have worked tirelessly to get us to this point. The Compass team, including our own Ewen, Dean and Shuggie, have been outstanding, going above and beyond to deliver the project.
All of the team at the Isle of Eigg Shop have been continuing to do a brilliant job, managing to operate in amongst the construction site, especially with the island getting busier as we move into the summer. The Shop is the next to move into their new beautiful space. We wish them all the best with that.
Celia and Selkie, her beloved sailing boat, is back from France and running trips again around the Hebrides. For more details check out the Selkie Explorers website.
One of the highlights of the month was having the mighty Flook come to play on the 20th May. It was an incredible night of world-class music, dancing til the wee small hours and connecting with friends old and new. Flook were incredible and it was clear that they were so happy to be back on Eigg. So good for the soul!
We have a busy few months ahead and our social calendar is filling up fast. Next up: our 25th Anniversary Buy-Out Ceilidh featuring Shooglenifty, the Ciaran Ryan Band and Jamatha Ceilidh Band and our very good pal DJ Dolphin Boy who we are very excited to see again on Eigg. I look forward to telling you all about it next month.
Norah Barnes, our SWT ranger has the following wildlife report for this month on Eigg: "We recently had a visit from Laura Bambini, RSPB, who gave us a very interesting talk about seabird restoration projects on islands which involves a rat eradication programme. This is a very ambitious plan involving the whole community, so lots to think about - Laura is going to send us a report with her initial thoughts and we will see if we want to take it further forward or not. It would certainly have many wildlife benefits for vulnerable bird and plant populations, as well as us humans!"
Other good news is that a pair of Golden Eagles have a chick for the first time in many years, which is very exciting. Finally, the entire Eigg community were saddened to hear of the passing of Lawrence MacEwen of Muck. A giant of a man in every respect. He will be missed! We offer our condolences to his family and to all who knew and loved him.
ISLE OF RUM
May is always glorious on Rum, everything blossoming, the bluebells out - there seems to be more than in previous years, maybe the deer are getting bored of them; the Eider Ducks and their chicks in long lines paddling across the loch and lovely weather, mostly, but with a fair amount of rain too. Midges, a few, but nothing to complain about yet in my opinion.
The NatureScot team have been out monitoring and counting Manx Shearwaters up on the slopes of Hallival. I saw Ross at the shop and asked what they did: he said they put their arms into a burrow and if they got bit then there was a bird in there! It immediately made me think of the scene from Flash Gordon, where our hero is challenged by Prince Baron in a test of manliness and they have to stick their arms into a tree stump until one of them gets bitten by the beast within. Luckily the Shearwaters are more benign. Beth Lamont, the Nature Scot student on placement wrote a piece about the experience.
Meanwhile over at Kilmory, Red Deer calving season is well underway. Sean, Ali and Josephine are working long days watching and waiting and tagging calves. Sean reported 31 born when I asked, but there is probably a few more by now. He's so busy with this that he didn't have much bird news to report other than they are busy nesting at the moment. He did say that a fair number of Common Dolphins have been spotted at Kilmory though.
Rum has applied for International Dark Sky Status and our application has been submitted thanks to Alex getting all the required information. It's a long process but it we are hopeful; Rum is an amazing place to view the stars in the winter. Maybe next, we can get a small observatory like Eigg has.
The season has been busy so far out here and this month we had a foraging morning with Jonathon who was here with his Bushcraft group. It was pretty cool, learnt some things I didn't know before.
No news on the castle I'm afraid, we're still waiting to hear what's going on.
Our heartfelt condolences go to the MacEwen family and the community of Muck for their loss of Lawrence; always an eccentric character and ready to speak his mind on every occasion with a wicked sense of humour. He will be missed.
Manx Shearwater Counting
If you'd bumped into our group along the Dibidil track as we made our way back into the village, you might've mistaken us as a troop returning from battle. Arms caked in mud, hands peppered with bleeding cuts and the stench of bird poo wafting off us - all tokens of a day well spent up in Rum's Manx Shearwater colony!
The Manx Shearwater are seabirds that spend their winters off the coast of South America before migrating thousands of miles to the Isle of Rum to breed. At over 100,000 pairs of birds, Rum holds around a quarter of the global breeding population.
They favour the volcanic rock and associated grassy slopes of the mountains here, burrowing deep into the hillsides to nest. The NatureScot reserve staff have spent the past couple of weeks hiking up to the peaks of Hallival and Askival with the aim of finding occupied burrows. Determining whether anyone is home in the burrow involves a great deal of wiggling around as you tentatively stretch further to reach the nest, at which point you're usually shoulder deep. If you're lucky, your fingertips stroke the soft, warm body of a brooding shearwater and you can gently feel if it is sitting on an egg. If you're unlucky, your intruding hand is met by the incredibly sharp beak of an unimpressed bird. You can usually tell the difference based on whether, arms buried into the hillside, your colleague exclaims "Oh hello little bird!" or something somewhat more expletive… The nests containing birds are marked using a GPS and will be returned to in late August, when the eggs, if successful, will have hatched into wonderfully fluffy chicks. This gives an indication of the colony's breeding productivity and will supplement the ongoing data set compiled over many years of monitoring this remarkable sea-voyaging species.
It's fair to say that come August I look forward to my hesitant hands being met by fluffy chicks as opposed to their angry parents!
News in Brief
- Temporary traffic signs warning drivers of limited parking availability, have been put up by the Highland Council on the B8008. HC say, 'People visiting the area and wishing to visit the incredible beaches and coastline should consider active travel or using public transport to reduce the volume of vehicles wishing to access the area in peak season.'
- The Scottish government Transport Minister has announced that the Knoydart ferry service is set to become part of the RET (Road Equivalent Tarriff) scheme. The subsidy is designed to reduce the cost of moving passengers and freight to island destinations and should be implemented in the near future.
Bong not Bang on Traigh Beach ...
Recently, the Mallaig Coastguards and a Naval Bomb-disposal team were tasked to investigate a suspicious object embedded in a local beach, only to find it was an old bell! The provenance of the bell and how it ended up on the beach is a mystery. If any readers of the West Word have information relating to the object, could they please contact the Editor on firstname.lastname@example.org
Good luck to Brogan at Bloom & Graze with the new addition to her business - a bespoke Horsebox Deli which has opened recently on Davies Brae, Mallaig.
The mobile deli is off to Belladrum next month and will be operating as a 'pop up' bar at some upcoming birthdays and weddings!
COULD YOU HELP SOLVE THE CAR PARKING CRISIS?
Have you got a piece of land between Mallaig and Arisaig which could be used as a pop-up car park during the school summer holidays - either near to one of the beaches, or in a spot from which a Park and Ride service could be operated to the beaches and our shops, hospitality venues and tourist attractions?
Landowners locally have been offered a substantial proportion of the pay and display revenue to give up green field land for car parking, so there could be money in it for you. Let's get talking and try and find some appropriate solutions to the problems we currently have.
All ideas will be considered at a public meeting on 12th September (venue and time to be confirmed).
As we all know, the school holidays bring a massive influx of traffic to our area and we simply don't have the infrastructure to cope. The result is blocked roads, dangerous parking and we can't get a parking space in Mallaig or Arisaig to do our normal food shopping!
Tourism here bolsters our local economy, with visitors spending money in our shops, restaurants, cafes and bars, at our tourist attractions and in our accommodation. However, day trippers, who just come to our beaches, consume our resources rather than contribute to them.
Climate change is a massive issue for all of us and the environmental impact of all our actions need to be carefully considered. Can we find better solutions to our parking issues than covering our beautiful landscape in permanent thick hard plastic cells filled with aggregate to form permanent car parks, away from our businesses, which scar our landscape for 52 weeks a year for many years, but are actually only used for six to eight weeks a year?
There is currently a planning application for an extension to the carpark at Curtaig/Camusdarach to create approximately 36 more parking spaces which would result in another 1,161m2 of hillside being covered in permanent hard plastic and 18 trees being chopped down - and for 45 weeks a year it will be empty!
There are more environment friendly and sustainable alternatives such as:
- Temporary day time car parks (where the landowner gets a proportion of the parking fee) which people can walk to the beach from, and which go back to being green fields for the rest of the year
- Temporary day time car parks which a park and ride service can be operated from (again, landowner receives a proportion of the parking fee) or cycles can be hired from. The park and ride could take people to Mallaig or Arisaig, to kayak launch locations, trekking centres, as well as to the beaches etc. - getting money into our local economy, and they go back to being green fields for the rest of the year.
It's clear to see that there are employment opportunities here, as well as further business opportunities. Maybe you could offer services (or arrange them) at the car park which generate revenue - food stands, bike hire, pop up shops, picnics for sale, ice cream van, advertising local attractions, etc. Perhaps the car parks could be manned by volunteers with a proportion of revenue going to a local charity.
The opportunities are endless, but we have to get the conversation started. Don't think about potential problems - let's try and get them worked out. Our council is open to the conversations as well as our politicians. I have absolutely no financial interest in this, but I am concerned about our local environment and the quality of life of the people who live here.
If you have some land and want to start talking about using it for potential seasonal car parking - let me know by email before the end of August and I'll try and get the conversation started for you. There's no commitment, there's no harm in talking. Jackson.email@example.com
Mallaig and District Canoe Club
Kayakers can usually depend on May to provide good weather and midge free paddling but this year however May turned out to be windier and colder than usual, so a lean month for those keen to get out on the water!
However, on Tuesday 17th May six paddlers met at Loch Linnhe Picnic Site for a tide-assisted paddle to Ballachulish. The picnic site is an excellent put-in spot and having run the shuttle to Ballachulish they paddled up Loch Linnhe to Seal Island before heading back down to the Corran Narrows with minimal effort and encountering some interesting tidal movement. Rounding Rubha Cuil-Cheanna, they stopped just past Ardrhu House at a lunch spot which featured views, swooping House Martins and beautiful wild flowers including Cowslip, Red Campion and Bluebells. Other wildlife spied on the journey was a large flock of Eider Ducks, Swans, Geese and Heron. The group had a leisurely paddle along the shores of Onich and North Ballachulish then under the bridge and through the Ballachulish Narrows with the incoming tide.
Once in Loch Leven, they paddled round the Burial Islands before landing at Ballachulish. Luckily, the shuttle was completed and they were all packed up before the torrential rain which had been threatening all day finally began!
The "Summer Cruise" round the Small Isles of Muck, Eigg, Rum and Canna was due to run from Tuesday 24th to Tuesday 31st May. However, the forecast of strong northerly winds necessitated the postponing of the start until Friday 27th. In the meantime five of those signed up for the "Cruise" took advantage of a break in the windy weather to take a quick trip on Tuesday 24th May to Inverie where they visited the "new" Old Forge!
On Friday 27th six paddlers took the ferry out to Canna with one straggler joining the party on the Saturday! Saturday was spent circumnavigating Canna in strong northerly winds which made for some confused seas at the west end of the island but the group returned safely to their campsite above a white sandy beach on the neighbouring island of Sanday. The next day the winds were forecast to increase to F5/6 so it was decided to have a quiet day on Canna before setting off on Monday for the west side of Rum. It was a day of visiting the gardens of Canna House, the ancient Celtic cross and sampling the delights of the amazing shop and café! Four of the group opted to paddle round Sanday where they encountered blue jellyfish and hundreds of Puffins nesting on Dun Mor before paddling the last few kilometres home into the teeth of the F5/6 winds! The following day it was up early and on the water by half eight. After delivering one injured paddler to the ferry (an unfortunate fall on some slippery rocks at the campsite) they set off with a following wind and sea to the most westerly point of Rum, A'Bhrideanach. The west coast of Rum offers little in the way of landing spots, so it was not until Harris that they managed to struggle ashore for lunch and a sighting of the mausoleum. After lunch it was on round the most southerly point of the island at slack water and on to assess the possibility of landing for the night at Dibidil. However the sea had calmed and the paddlers felt strong so it was decided to paddle the nine kilometres to the west coast of Eigg and surf ashore! From here after setting up camp they were treated to great views back to Rum.
The following day dawned clear and calm for the paddle round the south coast of Eigg, past Eilean Chathastail and in to Galmisdale for coffee and cake at the refurbished café. On this leg they were lucky enough to see an Eagle, a Hen Harrier and countless Kittiwakes, Guillemots, Black Guillemots and Razorbills who seemed not at all frightened of the kayaks bearing down upon them! Fortified by coffee and cake the group set off on the final sixteen kilometre crossing to Rhu where they were met by family who helped with the shuttle and unloading of boats . . . and yes the midgies put in an eleventh hour appearance!
Lots of plans for June, fingers crossed for a settled spell of weather!
Mallaig Lifeboat Log
24th April 2022
Requested to launch by Stornoway Coastguard to the aid of a local creel boat which had broken down approximately three miles west of Mallaig. The Lifeboat departed Mallaig at 09:40. On-scene at 10:00 the creel boat was taken alongside in calm conditions and towed to Mallaig Harbour where she was berthed at 11:05. Lifeboat ready for service at 11:15.
26th April 2022
Requested by Stornoway Coastguard to transfer Paramedics to the Isle of Muck at 22:28. After considering the transfer times for the Lifeboat to reach Muck, the return passage and the road time in the Ambulance it was decided that an airlift would be the best option. Ambulance control requested Heli-med Helicopter to transfer the patient directly to Hospital. Lifeboat crew stood down at 11:46.
30th April 2022
Launched by Stornoway Coastguard at 04:35 to the assistance of a 30 ft yacht aground on the Isle of Eigg. Either entering or leaving Eigg harbour the yacht ran aground on the stony bottom. Fortunately the tide was on the flood and the yacht refloated and the sole occupant managed to motor out to open water. The Lifeboat arrived on-scene at 05:10. The skipper reported that there was no ingress of water but that his engine was smoking a lot. He was prepared to sail to Mallaig but due to the uncertainty of the engines restarting it was decided there and then to tow the casualty to Mallaig. Off the Harbour at 07:10, the tow line was dropped and the casualty proceeded into the pontoon under her own power. The excessive smoke the skipper reported earlier was from the engine not pumping cooling water through, probably due to an air lock in the system. Casualty safely alongside the pontoon at 07:20 being assisted in mooring up by the local Coastguards. Lifeboat ready for service at 07:30.
2nd May 2022
Requested to launch by Stornoway Coastguard at 06:41 to the assistance of a fishing vessel broken down in Rum Sound. On-scene at 07:30 a tow was quickly established towards Mallaig. Off the harbour at 10:00, the casualty was brought alongside the lifeboat. After the ferry had departed and another berthed the casualty was brought into the harbour and moored up to await engineers to resolve the breakdown. Lifeboat made ready for service at 10:30.
7th May 2022
Launched at 17:55 to the assistance of a stranded family on the Island of Luinga Bheag of Arisaig. After enjoying a glorious day's snorkelling and exploring, the family had boarded their inflatable to return to shore. Minutes into their journey the material that forms the deck started to detach from the hull allowing water to flood into the dinghy. Unable to proceed and still in shallow water the family waded back to the island with the dinghy and alerted the Emergency Services. On-scene at 18:20 the Lifeboat launched the Y-Boat with two crew to proceed ashore. The Y-Boat brought the mother and daughter out to the Lifeboat and then returned for the father and the dinghy. Once everyone was boarded the engine and other equipment was removed and the dinghy lifted onboard the Lifeboat. Departing the scene at 19:10, the Lifeboat returned to Mallaig to be met by local Coastguards at 19:40. Once berthed all the family's equipment was put ashore and into the station for collection the following morning. Lifeboat ready for service at 20:00.
9th May 2022
Launched at 13:00 by Stornoway Coastguard to a yacht dragging her anchor at Isle Oransay. Another yacht raised the alarm after noticing a neighbouring yacht drift towards shore with its anchor out. After calling umpteen times and getting no reply the first informant suspected that there was no-one onboard and duly informed the Coastguard of his concerns. As the Lifeboat arrived on-scene at 13:20 the drifting yacht was found to be crewed by three males who were retrieving their anchor. Once it was ascertained that all were well and no further action was required the Lifeboat returned to base and berthed at 14:30.
10th May 2022
Tasked at 18:45 along with Kyle ILB and Rescue 151 to locate a walker who had fallen from a track in the area of Kinloch Hourn. Due to technical problems Kyle ILB had to return to base. On-scene at 19:40 Rescue 151 had by this time located the casualty and lowered its Medic to assess. The casualty had sustained a head injury and broken one of his legs. Two crew proceeded ashore to the casualty's location in the Y-Boat to assist the Medic in packaging the casualty for evacuation. Also now on-scene were two members of the Scottish ambulance service who also assisted. Once the casualty was packaged Rescue 151 moved in to winch the casualty safely onboard in the care of the Medic and proceeded to Raigmore Hospital, Inverness. Once the Y-Boat was recovered the Lifeboat departed the scene at 20:20 and berthed in Mallaig at 21:30 and made ready for service.
11th May 2022
Launched by Stornoway Coastguard at 03:50hrs to investigate a Personal Locator Beacon activation in the Kinloch Hourn area. Whilst on passage to the search area the Coastguard updated the Lifeboat that further information had been received. The activated PLB had a texting system in its software and this was used by the first informant to give an update on the casualty. An 81 year-old female who was staying at the Skiary Bothy with relations was suspected of suffering from a heart attack. On-scene at 04:40 the Lifeboat launched the Y-boat with two crew members to assess the casualty. Moments later the distinctive sound of helicopter Rescue 151 came down the Loch, much to everyone's relief. Rescue 151 touched down momentarily at the back of the bothy to allow the Medic to disembark. Rescue 151 relocated to the firmer ground at the head of the beach in front of the bothy. Once the Medic had carried out his assessment of the casualty she was moved to a stretcher and carried the short distance by the Lifeboat crew and airmen. The Helicopter departed for (probably) Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Glasgow at best speed. Once the Y-Boat was recovered the Lifeboat departed the scene at 05:20. Once back in Mallaig the Lifeboat was refuelled and back at its berth at 07:00.
16th May 2022
Requested to launch and transfer an unwell person from Inverie at 18:30 by Stornoway Coastguard. Alongside Inverie pier at 18:50, the casualty had sustained possible broken ribs from an earlier fall. Able to walk the casualty was assisted onboard the Lifeboat by the crew. Departed Inverie at 18:58, the casualty was transferred into the care of the Scottish Ambulance service at the pontoon at 19:20 for onward travel to Fort William's Belford Hospital. Lifeboat ready for service at 19:30.
18th May 2022
Launched at 09:55 to the assistance of a grounded yacht in Rum harbour. The yacht had dragged her anchor in strong winds and grounded on the north shore of Loch Scrizort. On-scene at 10:40, the yacht was found to be well aground on the falling tide. The Y-Boat was launched with two crew members to assess the yacht's condition. Fortunately she had landed on a fairly clean bit of beach and not sustained any damage. The Lifeboat was moored alongside a fish farm workboat with an abundant source of rope. The Y-boat was recalled back to the Lifeboat and a length of rope was made fast to the work boat's mooring and the other end taken ashore to the stranded yacht. Once the tide began to float the yacht the Skipper would be able to pull the yacht off the beach using the rope. The fish farm boys offered to return and assist the yachtsman later in the evening. With the situation in hand the Lifeboat departed for Mallaig at 12:10. Berthed and ready for service at 13:00.
Mallaig Harbour News
May has not been such a good month of weather as April was, but we have still had some visiting vessels landing this month. Hopefully the weather will settle and the positive trend will continue. June has certainly started much more settled, and thankfully a bit warmer. As I am writing this our Ice Plant is out of action due to problems with the gearbox that turns the rake to allow us to dispense ice, but we are hopeful that we can resolve the problem relatively quickly - typically this is the very time we need ice!
After being back up to a full complement of ferries, the Lord of the Isles had to be taken out of service for emergency works on her deck sprinkler system, so was withdrawn on 17th May and returned to service on 31st May. There was also some disruption to Mallaig/Armadale services as the crew of the Loch Bhrusda was due to be deployed to Barra to provide an additional service while the Clansman was out of action. In the end weather prevented this so the Mallaig/Armadale sailings were reinstated. Some of you may have seen CalMac's announcement about issues with this redeployment due to Mallaig Harbour Authority requiring the vessel to be crewed at all times. This was slightly disingenuous - we don't require the vessel to be crewed at all times, but due to there not being a dedicated berth for the Loch Bhrusda, we can't allow her to be left without a crew and therefore unable to move for six days!
By the time you read this, our AGM will have passed. At this time of year, I normally include some of the highlights from our annual report. I'm not sure all of what is below could be considered 'highlights', but it's a realistic picture of the past year!
The impact of Coronavirus and Brexit was still being felt by our fishing fleet in this financial year, and although volumes have recovered from y/e March 2021, they are still lower than pre-pandemic levels. There was also no Sprat fishery in this financial year, despite several attempts by the local fleet. Fishing Landing volumes and monetary values for the current year, the three previous years plus two other random years (for comparative purposes) are listed below:
Quayside prices were slightly up on last year for both white fish and shellfish so landing values were up on 2021, which was an exceptionally poor year, but were approximately half those of 2020 (pre-pandemic and Brexit).
Year end 31st March 2022:
Whitefish £2,308 per tonne Shellfish £4,704 per tonne
Year end 31st March 2021:
Whitefish £1,990 per tonne Shellfish £3,924 per tonne
Although restrictions associated with Covid-19 were still in place for part of the year, numbers at the Marina were back up on a par with pre-pandemic rates. Interestingly, although the number of overnight stays was similar, the number of vessels in 2021 was 943, less than the 1,069 in 2019, suggesting that people were choosing to make Mallaig their base and stay longer in 2021.
In addition to the above a further 65 vessels made use of the Moorings at the Marina (22 in 2020 and 56 in 2019).
In the longer term, delivery of the Masterplan proposals remains MHA's primary objective, but the timescales and challenges associated with this are recognised.
The project to redevelop an area of the Outer Breakwater is progressing, with the Marine Licence submitted in November. As well as dredging the harbour to a depth of -6m C.D. and providing 60m of additional quay space and 4,000m2 of additional laydown space, we have also incorporated design for an additional overnight berth to accommodate ferries. Increases in construction costs and the additional works mean that the budget for this project has increased to c. £15-18million. Although a significant investment, this project is achievable in the shorter term, and would alleviate some of the existing constraints while the larger project is in development. This project will also incorporate the demolition and redevelopment of the old Ice Factory site.
Planning permission for the replacement Marina Office has been granted, and this will be progressed at the end of the yachting season in 2022.
Energy Efficiency: All of the external Harbour lighting has been converted to energy efficient LEDs with support from the Energy Savings Trust.
Denholms Office: Work is substantially complete on the conversion of the empty upstairs office in the Harbour Buildings formerly leased to Denholm Fishselling. Three smaller offices have been created along with a communal kitchen. The intention is that two of the offices will be leased on a long-term basis while the third is used for hot-desking and as a meeting space.
Passenger Shelter: The passenger shelter associated with the Passenger Access Pontoon was installed in May 2021, and the ancillary equipment including a luggage rack, wheelchairs and luggage trollies purchased. This project was supported by Transport Scotland's Ferries Accessible Fund.
Shore Power: We successfully obtained £207,000 from the Scottish Government's Marine Fisheries Fund to install Shore Power points, primarily for the fishing industry in the last financial year. After some additional works, including the upgrade of the Harbour's power supply, these were fully operational this year, and have been well used by both our local fleet and visiting vessels.
For the coming year, the focus will be on the Outer Harbour improvements, including additional ferry berthing.
Elsewhere in West Word you will see a couple of job adverts for the Harbour Authority. We will be very sad to say goodbye to Grace Coull as our cleaner in the Harbour Building, and we are recruiting a replacement for 20 hours per week, year round. We are also recruiting some additional support over at the marina to cover days off. If anyone would like further details of either of these posts, then I am happy to have an informal chat about them!
Finally this month, we hosted George Cruden from Mallaig High School on a work placement week from 23rd to 26th May. It was great to have George, who willingly tackled all the tasks we threw at him! Thanks to George, and to Emma Pearce from Developing Young Workforce for organising this.
On and Off the Rails
How can I not start my column this month without mentioning the "elephant in the room"? So here goes. You all know that Martin Lewis does not know how to advise us all on the financial crisis - well I feel the same way about how to advise you on the whole rail industry crisis. Even as I write this on Tuesday 7th June the news is changing by the hour, and it seems to me that - so far - no one knows how to stop all of the metaphorical Great British Railway coming off the rails!
At this moment in time ScotRail are meeting - and hopefully still negotiating - with ASLEF, the train drivers' Union, on Thursday 9th June, to try and resolve the current temporary timetable that has been introduced all over Scotland whilst still awaiting formal notification from ASLEF and RMT on the details of the ballots of its members for industrial action - which surely has to be a last resort action notification. ScotRail is disappointed (to say the least!) to find itself at this stage with both trade unions, despite a very good offer being made which includes a 4.2% pay rise backdated, with terms and conditions that actually in real terms amount to about 9%. At this present time the temporary timetable is necessary to give some clarity as to when trains can (almost) be running. The drivers dispute is currently to not work voluntary overtime, or rest day working or travelling with new trainee drivers to gain experience of hours worked. Currently I believe this to be 160 persons. Of course they can only be "on the rails" in an operating scenario if they have a qualified driver working with, and alongside them, as driver/instructors. It makes sense, but involves overtime for the existing drivers. The situation has to be resolved somehow. Sooner the better.
Nationally, tonight, the RMT Union AND Network Rail has announced that members in England, involving an estimated 50,000 members across 13 train operating companies plus London Underground will instigate strike action over three days later this month.
The intention, says the RMT Union, is to "shut down" the country's railway network on Tuesday 21st, Thursday 23rd and Saturday 25th June. Effectively this means a full week of disruption and chaos. This announcement tonight (7th June) comes as talks over pay and redundancies (as less people are travelling by rail?) have fallen through.
Grant Shapps, the Government Transport Secretary has accused the RMT of "jumping the gun" and says, "Strikes would only put more people off using trains." Steve Montgomery of the Rail Delivery Group said tonight he was "severely disappointed", and urged the unions to "come back to the table". ASAP. The planned action is being dubbed the "biggest rail strike in modern history".
The significance of Network Rail workers striking for us is that it would bring freight, Sleeper services and cross-border rail tour trains to a complete halt; if signal workers strike too, then the entire network in Scotland will indeed "shut down".
The government, I understand, wishes to implement a new law to prevent union militants closing down the entire rail network. Such legislation was first promised in 2019 and the law - guaranteeing a "minimum service" during strikes (as we have in our Scottish dispute - not yet a strike as I write this) will not be in force for any stoppages this summer! Ministers should push through this new law - not just threaten it! That's my opinion.
As for the Union chiefs, the truth is - says Lord Ian Austin, a non-affiliated peer, former Labour MP for Dudley North - "they are desperately trying to cling on to their waning power. For technological changes - such as automated barriers and contactless payments - mean rail staff have much less to do these days." Is this a wee bit contentious?
I think I am now going to stop writing for a minute and "Hug-a-Mug" of tea! Then write about other rail happenings!
Friends of the West Highland Line AGM mini report
On 19th May - which happened to be my 78th birthday - I "scrubbed up" and "having had a decent haircut the previous day" travelled by train to Fort William to attend the very upbeat AGM at the Alexandra Hotel in Fort William. It was so good to be back amongst so many good and worthy volunteers who work away and genuinely help the railway industry in so many ways. The society business concluded in time for a lunch and fairly hastily resumed to allow time for the two invited guest speakers. Frank Roach spoke in a very upbeat manner as partnership manager of HITRANS. His presentation included a closer look at his "Fort Transit" study which highlighted a number of potential timetable rail permutations each involving different benefits to people who travel relatively short distances in and out Fort William, easing traffic congestion in the process, including the idea of introducing a new station at Torlundy for accessing Nevis Range, and another at Carrs Corner on the edge of Fort William, for instance, serving Lochaber High School. This would allow a modal shift to trains for high school students, similar to trains for schoolchildren in Oban introduced a few years ago now, which is highly successful. Other ideas will I'm sure be covered in the summer issue of FOWHL Magazine, which I will cover next month!
The second speaker was Transport Scotland's Director of Rail, Bill Reeve (the only person in the room in a tweed suit!) who highlighted several possibilities being investigated for bringing much-needed improvements and reliability to West Highland Line services, including the lengthening of platforms, and increasing line capacity by modification/reinstatement of passing loops at various locations.
All too soon it was time for a hasty farewell and a "good to be back" journey by a clean, comfortable, cosy class 156 sprinter train back to Mallaig and reality!
Seagull and eggs in the barrel train - despite nesting, this bird didn't attack us, for which we were very grateful!
Early starts for a week
All last week I trundled my cart to the station at 6am and worked away - with my high viz volunteers' jacket and seagull proof bump cap (no wellies allowed) - and replanted the planters on the island platform. I report in on the security phone, and hear the cameras whirl around to capture me talking on it, as to what the duties will be - and I love every minute of it! One of the barrel-train containers cannot yet be planted, as it has a seagull in it sitting on three eggs (they always lay three!) They should hatch next week. Oh joy!! I notice that the lovely tower clock on the Heritage Centre is not working. That's a shame. This year my Lupins are looking good, as are the Hostas, Hydrangeas, frothy Lobelia and scented Stocks.
On Wednesday 1st June I "greeted" future Station Adopters from Garve and Cardross who visited by train and bus. It was great fun to give a wee gardening masterclass, as they took down notes on health and safety requirements, hints and tips such as 1) I always put oak logs (split ones) in the bottom of my oak barrels to very slowly degrade and enrich my home-made compost and 2) I always spread coffee grounds, saved by local establishments for me, on the top of the newly planted containers to act as a slug barrier. It works, and enriches the compost too. Ollie in the Booking Office in Mallaig helps with the island platform watering! The side garden is looking okay as well. We managed a lunch of starter and dessert with elderflower cordial before they departed on the late afternoon Jacobite to arrive in Fort William with time for a quick snack before leaving on the bus to Inverness and the Sleeper (sitting up section) to Glasgow.
Thank you to new Station Adopter Tahira from Cardross for sending some captioned photos of the day!
Lindsey Young and Tahira Nasim - smiles for life obtained from this trip! Thank you to Diane who drove us to Camusdarach beach out of pure, generous kind heartedness. Lindsey took her first dip of summer 2022 there - the start of the many swims she loves.
Glenfinnan viaduct - our ride home was amazing, and we've not stopped talking about it since we got home.
The twice daily visits by the guests and crew on The Jacobite trains are much appreciated. Still lots of Harry Potter attired fans take the train just for the pleasure of it. Lots of guests appreciate a wave as I do my best "Railway Children" wave - sometimes I only just make it out on to the back steps. That will be 30 years now since arriving at "Fasgadh" - it truly is as the name translates, my "place of shelter" or "the leeward side of a boat". Mallaig is good for me - and I hope I repay the community with my volunteering. I try!
On 18th May the incoming afternoon Jacobite spectacularly failed and became an overnight visitor on the incoming platform. It was one of Iain Riley's LMS Black Fives. It could not be moved - so the guests were given the option of returning to Fort William on the evening ScotRail train (some did) but nearly all of the first-class carriages were returned with their occupants to Fort William at 9pm after a diesel engine came from Fort William depot to move them. Parts and labour for the immobile boiler were transported from Carnforth through the night by a Land Rover, the locomotive was finally declared fit to steam up and as I returned the next day from Fort William by train they were just preparing to leave, under light steam, at about 8pm that night. All in a day's work, you could say.
Royal Scotsman update
We have been fortunate to have some good weather on the six Saturdays when the Belmond Royal Scotsman luxury touring train has visited. As I have said previously the guests are offered the opportunity to take the coastal road from Arisaig and Morar and back, whilst the top and tailed train comes into Mallaig to take on water. What a great sight it is to see traversing the rails. It's all good publicity as many people take and send photos of it whilst in Mallaig.
That's it for this month - I could tell you more, but as it is 12:55am and I promised this for tomorrow, it's good night from me. Time to dream about previous Sleeper journeys taken from Mallaig. Those were the days!
See you on the train - whilst we can. Sonia Cameron
May 2022 BIRDWATCH by Stephen MacDonald
A mixed bag of weather this month, with more rain than usual for May.
Many newly fledged birds appeared during the month, with many reports of young Blackbirds, Song Thrushes, Robins, Blue Tits, House Sparrows, Starlings, Siskins, Goldfinches and Greenfinches, etc. Many wildfowl hatched young also, with Mallard ducklings reported from Silver Sands and Loch nan Eala from the 2nd. There were several broods of both Greylag and Canada Geese reported from Loch Ailort from the 20th. Eider Ducks with small young were seen at Loch Ailort during the last week of the month.
Photo by Stephen MacDonald
Some local breeding birds were still arriving; the first House Martin reported was a single seen at Camusdarroch on the 4th. Whitethroats were seen and heard around Morar during the first week. A Common Redstart was heard singing near Beasdale Station on the 8th. Spotted Flycatchers, traditionally one of our latest arrivals, were first seen near the Mains Farm, Arisaig on the 22nd.
For most of our local waders, the breeding season is well underway in May. However there are still many birds passing through on their journey to breeding grounds in the far north of Scandinavia, Iceland and Greenland. Small numbers of Dunlin and Ringed Plover could be seen on the shoreline around Traigh throughout the month, with some feeding on the golf course on wet days. Just a couple of Sanderling reported, seen on the 18th and 19th on the tideline in front of Traigh House.
Whimbrel continued to pass through the area, with the highest count of 28 seen together on Traigh Golf Course on the 6th. Smaller numbers were recorded at Back of Keppoch and West Bay, Mallaig. 'Northern' Golden Plovers were seen at Back of Keppoch on several occasions early in the month.
A good number of Great Northern Divers reported from the mouth of Loch nan Ceall and offshore from Back of Keppoch to Camusdarroch at the start, but by the month end, just ones and twos reported. A single Long-tailed Skua was seen on the 14th and 15th between Muck and Eigg. Most Long-tailed and Pomarine Skua passage takes place west of the Outer Hebrides in late April - May. With strong west or north west winds, birds can get pushed further inshore and some will travel up the Minch or even the Sound of Sleat.
Great-spotted Woodpeckers were reported from several gardens in the Morar area, feeding on peanuts or fat balls.
A male Blackcap was seen on several occasions during the last week, also feeding on fatballs in a Morar garden.
WORLD WIDE WEST WORD
Members of the Mallaig Canoe Club enjoyed a day paddle over to Knoydart at the end of May, and Joan, Mike and Iain stopped for a break to read theirs at the 'new' Old Forge!
Best wishes to reader Petra in Germany who couldn't join this month's trips due to an injury - see you next year.
Watch this space for extracts from next month's issue!
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