List of Issues online
COMMUNITY NEWSPAPER OF THE YEAR 2005 & 2008 & 2017
Lochaber Small Business of the Year 2015
Community paper for Mallaig, Morar, Arisaig, Lochailort, Glenfinnan
Glenuig, Knoydart and the Small Isles
Visit West Word on Facebook
List of Issues online
March 2019 Issue
Contents of the online version:
All photos are copyright either of the individual photographers or West Word.
Knoydart Community Hall launches Super Silent Auction tanked with money-can't-buy experiences!
Having secured £30k plus in their Crowdfunder appeal last year and received match funding from HIE and LEADER, three quarters of the funding to renovate Knoydart's Hall is secure and building work will start in May this year. The final push involves a Super Silent Auction which will help fund part of the remaining build and refurbishment costs and with your help the refurbishment will be completed!
There are over 20 amazing money-can't-buy experiences up for grabs, including grandstand tickets for the Grand Prix at Silverstone with dinner and refreshments at the exclusive British Racing Drivers Club (BRDC), an exclusive guided tour of the Tunnocks factory and other wicked packages. There are also a number of Knoydart Experiences such as your very own wood-fired Pizza Party for 15-25 on Knoydart, stargazing, a personalized music composition, deer stalking, and luxury accommodation stays.
The 'new' hall will look very similar from the shore and will retain that 'old-style' feel but be a brand new space fit for purpose. After the works, the Hall will have higher occupation levels, a larger stage, dedicated meeting rooms which will double as social areas and lots of storage. New loos, wheelchair access, outdoor spaces and a modern kitchen, which will double as the bar for events and functions, mean the community will finally have the facilities it deserves. It will create opportunity and employment while ensuring that the existing activities can continue and expand: events, celebrations, functions and workshops will all be bigger and better.
Bidding commences Friday 8th March at 19:00, and full details are on the website: www.knoydarthall.com/auction Simply pick what you'd like to bid on, decide on your maximum bid then submit it via the online form available. Auction closes at 19:00pm Friday 22nd March. Bid the most and you win the prize - if more than one person bids the same amount, it will be the first bid in that wins.
LETTER FROM THE EDITOR
This month's paper includes an article about Alexander John MacDonald's career on the railways - he is, of course, brother of West Word's stalwart printing assistant, Ewen. Enjoy your retirement, Alex Iain! You can read all about his adventures on page 15!
My children will be participating in the School Strike for Climate Action outside Lochaber High School on 15th March. Beep your horn and show your support if you're driving by! It's anticipated that hundreds of thousands of children worldwide will be taking part in strikes on this day. They may be the best hope we have for getting governments to sit up and take action before it's too late.
Once again my thanks go to helpers Anne and Miya for sticking address and postage labels on to the subscription envelopes and to Morag and Ewen for assisting with the printing this month.
Do I dare say I smell spring in the air? It would certainly have us feeling hopeful with the sudden increase in temperature, the lightening nights and the blooming of daffodils, crocuses and snowdrops everywhere… It's a welcome relief after what has felt like a long winter period. Unfortunately I'm not totally convinced and I'm sure there will be another cold snap on its way. There always is! Still, on the plus side, it might mean less midgies again come the summer. We can hope!
There were some high winds before the improvement in the weather though and unfortunately one of the polytunnels in the community garden was damaged beyond repair. Plans for a new one are under way though…
In Foundation News Angela has fully handed over her operational duties to Craig now. She has been at the helm of the foundation since soon after it was established almost 20 years ago and was a large part of the foundation's success and progress over those years. Huge thanks to Angela for all her hard work. Now things are changing as Craig takes over so watch this space for new developments.
Harvesting is going very well at the shelter belt and the timber has been hauled to the stacking area awaiting the arrival of the timber boat which will collect it. Currently work is still on schedule to be finished by Easter.
Inverie Primary are in process of investing the £2,500 from the Calor Community fund we were awarded last year. After discussions with pupils and parents the money is being put towards things such as a mud kitchen, a sandpit and various other play equipment as well as trying to brighten the playground up with painting etc. Hopefully this should be all completed by the end of this term!
Renovations on the hall are set to commence in May which is very exciting indeed and we have been waiting eagerly for this. It will be such an improvement to our wee community when it is finished!
Stalking season is officially over now (Yay for me and the other stalking widows who lose our men to the larder - sorry, hill - for half the year - not sure the men are quite so glad mind you). The annual deer count is under way now in the good weather to help them make plans for next season and then they will be free and men of leisure… well, comparatively speaking…
Happy Birthday to Kitty who turned 10 on the 22nd and Koa who turned 40 believe it or not. Wee Bruce will also celebrate his 4th birthday on the 28th so many happy returns to them all.
That's it for now folks,
ISLE OF MUCK
February on Muck is a month of reflection and planning, a time to recharge the batteries and prepare for another visitor season. The gardeners paw over seed catalogues in anticipation of the coming growing season, those in the accommodation business spring clean and restock while the on the farm a steady stream of silage bales are required to fill the feeders at various points around the island. It's a time to socialise, strengthen the bonds that hold this community together, plan any major projects for the coming year and assess the successes, as well as anything that could be improved upon, in the year just past. Muck is never "dormant", but it does need a quiet period so everything, and everyone, is reenergised to meet the needs of the months to come.
Not that quiet describes all the month's activities. The children's glee at the arrival of snow was anything but! Sledges where dug from the corners of various sheds or feed sacks pressed into service and snowmen started to emerge from the lightest covering. These days we seem to see very little of the white stuff compared to my youth and the youth of today wasted no time enjoying it while it lasted.
Neither the brief cold snap nor Storm Eric could put the brakes on the signs of spring's approach. The winter calving cows have produced their offspring in near record time with only five still to calve. Daffodils flowered in sheltered spots, ducks and geese started to pair up and the first migrant birds started to reappear. Fulmar, Guillemots and Razorbills started to show on their nesting ledges while Lapwings and Curlew were a regular sight on the in bye land. It's especially pleasing to see the latter in reasonable numbers as the species globally has suffered a catastrophic population collapse in the last 30 years.
I read with some dismay the proposal to implement parking charges in certain areas around Mallaig. I suspect it will soon be rolled out over all the parking in the town. As a resident of the Small Isles I would happily pay for an annual parking pass. However, if I off load my shopping only to find I can't find a space I will be more than a little ticked off! Does it mean the annual fee will come with a designated space? I somehow doubt it. And as our visitors are occasionally delayed by the weather, will they return at the end of their stay to find a parking ticket?!
ISLE OF CANNA
Marine Harvest, or Mowi as they are now known, came over to Canna this month for a presentation and discussion about a possible 'organic fish farm' for Canna. Mowi brought a selection of products for us to sample and the salmon jerky was a real hit.
Richard Luxmoore, Head of Conservation for The National Trust for Scotland, also did a presentation on the Marine Protected Area. Thank you to Winnie MacKinnon for providing all the refreshments.
We are looking forward to a possible follow up visit to either the Muck or Rum farm in the near future.
Colin Prior and the team from the Adventure Show were over for a few days filming and the programme should be airing around Easter time. Martin Tessler and the Italian Film crew who have been here for a month are finished filming and this has been an intense, weird and sometimes hilarious project to be part of.
Livestock have been wintering well and the last load of Harbro feed has arrived. The old Garvie Threshing Mill which hasn't been used for the last 35 years has now gone off to Dingwall Mart for sale on the 30th March. The vacated space will be used to house gimmers (first time lambing sheep) at lambing time.
Like all other Small Islanders we are concerned about the freight issues and the Mallaig parking and how it will impact on our visitors and locals. Hopefully through discussion we can overcome these problems.
Criomagan (Crumbs) from Canna House
Fiona has been busy continuing to work on the production of the 'Solas' film this month, focussing on the filmwork of Margaret Fay Shaw over the years. This month's work has included producing a voiceover track recorded by Nerea Bello, niece of previous Canna Archivist Magda Sagarzazu. Nerea herself spent many holidays here on Canna and so has strong ties to the Collections.
Well known Scottish landscape photographer Colin Prior paid a visit to Canna House, to film a segment for his new TV series on landscape imagery. He spent time looking at Margaret Fay Shaw's cameras and hearing stories from Fiona about Margaret's adventures when she was taking her images in the Hebrides in the 1930's.
February wisdom from Folksongs and Folklore of South Uist -
Latha Muire/Lady Day (St Bride's day, Feb 1st)
"Cuiridh Brid' a cas ann. Cuiridh Muir' a bas ann. Cuiridh Padraig a spòg mhòr ann, bidh e blàth gu leòr an uair sin. St Bride will place her foot in it (i.e. the sea), Mary will put her palm in it. St Patrick will put his big hand in it, it will be warm enough then."
The sea water is said to become warm on St Bride's feast day. In the old style, this was eleven days later than at present. Actually the sea is coldest in the spring and warmest in the autumn. In Fr Allan McDonald's papers, there is a version of this saying in which the last line is - "S thug Padraig a'chlach fhuar as" - "St Patrick has taken the cold stone out of it".
ISLE OF RUM
There have been a lot of meetings this month; With Calmac's new freight arrangements being a hot topic, some of the changes require tweaking to make them work best for everyone. There are a lot of variables - what suppliers need to do, the requirements of law, what the ferry can actually accommodate, the needs of the people on the Small Isles; you can see it's going to be difficult but so far we have ironed out a few of the bigger issues and with regular communication think we can come up with a working solution for everyone.
The Isle of Rum Community Trust had its AGM in the bunkhouse this week, great to see Jacqueline McDonell from HIE, Stewart Sandison from SNH and Gregor Cushnie from Mowi come along. It all ran smoothly and we welcomed three new community elected directors and co-opted a representative from Mowi (formerly Marine Harvest) as they are now a stakeholder in the village. The board now comprises of Denis Rixson (chair), Jed Cossar, Deb Ingram, Kim Taylor, Dave Beaton, Derek Thomson, Colin Kerr, Kate Bolas, Ewan MacDonald (KCFA) and Gregor Cushnie (Mowi). Steve Robertson, our development officer, provided an update on the housing which is now due to start in May and should be finished by Feb 2020 and we talked about new facilities we badly need like a café (on-going for such a long time) and new toilet and shower facilities for the campsite and visiting yachts, as we expect to get a lot more once the moorings are in. There are a few sites to consider and where the best place for visitors and potential revenue generation. With a steering group set up to help collect local input, we should be able to start moving this forward quite soon.
Mowi have installed their pontoon, which lies adjacent to the new pier in front of their shore base. It's impressive, being a lot sturdier than I had anticipated but looks great and has already been used by a number of visiting boats.
We are holding another Familiarisation day this year for local tourism and hospitality operators on Wednesday 3rd April. Transport to and from Rum and lunch is provided, so if you would like to come along or know someone who does, please contact Abigail.email@example.com
Rum bunkhouse is gearing up for the summer and is looking for a seasonal assistant to help out from mid April to September, basic accommodation is provided. Know anyone who might be interested? Contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Time flies. It has been ten whole years since IRCT took ownership of land on Rum; we have achieved lots and lots and to celebrate there will be a ceilidh and BBQ on Saturday 11th May with Fras playing. See you there.
ISLE OF EIGG
This year, it was truly appropriate for Eigg's green grid 11th birthday that our island and the rest of Scotland's off-grid islands - Muck, Rum, Canna, plus Foula and Fair Isle together with the Orkneys - were selected for targeted support alongside another 20 European islands by the Clean Energy EU Islands secretariat to devise a fossil fuel transition plan by 2020. Fantastic recognition of the work done in Scotland on community energy and hydrogen fuel. Great signal also from the EU that Scottish islands are part of the European family and there is no wish to penalise them for the short-term view of the UK government ... And of course good potential to attract Horizon 2020 funding for innovative addition to these grids after 2020.
This was sweet music to my ears since I have been plugging the Scottish achievements in terms of renewable energy targets ever since I have been involved with island energy issues. Sitting now on the Clean Energy EU Islands advisory board I do my best to showcase my adopted country of residence, and it is heartening to see some recognition of the hard work put in by the applicants!
However, attending the meeting of Scotland Europa in Dundee at the end of this month dispelled much of this feeling of optimism. Despite a concerted effort to ensure that Scotland remains aligned with EU regulations and thematic programming so as to maximise future opportunities for collaboration past 2023, there was a stern warning from HIE that businesses need to prepare themselves to the best of their ability and to that end, we were all urged to use the advice list on www.prepareforbrexit.com . Even more worrying was the off-the-cuff comment by the SNH delegate - whose speech on Natural Capital, and the need to quantify it as a benefit in any planning, was really interesting- "well yes, if farmers can't afford to farm anymore, we'll just plant trees and surely reforesting the Highlands and Islands will be a good thing?" Sure, this might offset a tiny proportion of the UK fossil fuel consumption, but what about people and communities living and working of the land? Feels very much like the coming of new Clearances ....
Because, the bad news is - as I reported already from the Scottish Rural parliament - that it was confirmed at the meeting that the so called UK Prosperity Fund is going to be all about propping up industrial areas, and of the rest extremely little is known. As to the UK civil servants who trekked all the way to Inverness to collect the Highlands and Islands views, 'they did not seem inclined to take any of it on board', remarked Angus MacLeod from HIEP - probably because it was just a tokenistic exercise. The UK after all does not have such a thing as a regional policy. If you want to know more about this, check the report on the S.I.F. Brexit survey on www.scottish-islands-federation.co.uk . I am pleased to report that there were some very good responses from Eigg and Muck!
So that's my Brexit rant of the month over, and I am now going to go on to another favourite Eigg topic: freight issues. As I am writing, we have been stung with the new health and hygiene directives regarding food freight, and we are now realising what a poisoned gift the good news of funding for the Small Isles freight actually represents. In their wisdom, the Scottish Government's Ferry division have approved funding for three refrigerated and frozen transport lorries which will transport food to the Small Isles in conditions which will ensure the company cannot be sued for any dodgy stomach complaint but which will require the lorries to run on idle for the whole time of the ferry ride, which means - fumes, more fuel consumption - where is your green ethos, CalMac? - no dangerous goods such as a jerrycan of petrol or a tin of paint on the same trip, and further reduction in deck space. The outcome of it all is that through some Kafkaesque process, our lives which were meant to be made easier are now going to be made more difficult. What happens to consultation? Why were we, or - more to the point - the ferry crew not consulted? The various islands associations have reacted strongly and a meeting is scheduled to look into this as a matter of urgency.
February will be the month of the long rant, as I am now going to tackle the issue of plastic recycling: Norah and I from the Eigg Environmental Action Group (the new name for the Green team) have been working hard to input a position statement on Marine and other plastic waste to be sent along to the International Scottish Marine conference which took place earlier this month in Glasgow. Now that the new SEPA directive prevents burning of agricultural plastic, we feel that there is a real opportunity for recycling these alongside all the marine waste that we collect. But how? A quick chat with Robert at the Mallaig Authority established that there isn't as yet any plastic waste collection facility in the harbour even though many Mallaig fishing boats are engaging with the KIMO fishing for litter on a voluntary basis (well done Mallaig fishermen!). So there would seem to be an opportunity here to provide storage so that recycling companies can come and collect all the types of plastic that could and should be recycled since Scotland is such a pioneer of circular economy good practice. Watch this space, as potentially exciting things may be happening in our part of the world on plastic waste uplifting and recycling, if our very own Eigg Ocean defender Katie Miller has her way! Well done Katie for your interview on Irish radio about the purple Arctic fisheries plastic straps being washed up on our beaches: high time to find an alternative to these....
Motivation for action on plastic was at its highest, seeing the amount of nurdles carrying heavy pollutants washed up and hidden under seaweed on Laig beach at our last beach clean up!
Last and not least, there was a swift reaction in the island to the issue of the EE mast erected at the school as part of the requirement for island wide emergency service coverage. Applying the precautionary principle, the parent council requested that the mast would only be enabled for emergency signalling but not for 3 and 4 G, which EE took it for granted everyone on the island would want to have access to. They were quite mistaken: following an informed debate, voting on the issue sent out a clear signal: technology should not be at the expense of our children's health. Big sigh of relief for those who believe that not having a mobile signal in the northern half of the island is actually an advantage!
Bill's Shed: Opening Day
It was wonderful to see so many people from Mallaig, Morar, Arisaig and further afield all gathering to remember Bill Henderson who meant so much to the local community. The opening of Bill's Shed took place on Saturday 23rd February and we hope these photographs capture some of the atmosphere and goings on of the day.
Thanks to everyone for coming and to Helen Michie (Ceramics), Deirdre Roberts, Veronika Malyjurkova, India and Jamie from Morvern Eco Wheels, Scott and colleagues from Elecars, Stewart Goudie and all who kindly helped with baking and teas/coffees.
Another Summer of Discontent beckons for CalMac customers
Anyone who has ever faced missing a vital transport connection will know the sense of panic it can cause. That was certainly the emotion that overwhelmed me while I was stuck in a convoy of vehicles 20 years ago while on an aquaculture research visit to Norway. Unsurprising in someone used to relying on Scotland's ferries. But the panic quickly subsided when I realised the Norwegians had four vessels shuttling 18 hours a day every half an hour on a one-hour crossing. The longest I have ever waited for a ferry there was two hours.
Islanders can only look over the water with envy as 2019 shapes up to be another summer of discontent for the customers of CalMac Ferries. The disastrous 2018 season saw the ageing fleet of vessels struggle to meet demand, fuelled by fare reductions through RET (Road Equivalent Tariff), a delayed winter refit schedule, adverse weather, technical failures, vessel redeployments and a management team that didn't have a plan. This utter chaos in the ferry service is caused by underfunding, mismanagement and a Government failure to understand Island needs.
One example is the Mallaig-Armadale route which I use regularly, CalMac's fifth busiest summer service which carried more than 285,000 passengers and 70,000 cars in 2017. The abrupt removal of the MV Coruisk in 2016, without consultation, resulted in the deployment of vessels not fit for purpose and a tidal timetable now entering its fourth summer season. Recently published figures from the Sleat Transport Forum showed that 276 services were pre-cancelled in summer 2018 due to tidal restrictions for a total of 72 days out of 208 sailing days. Add to that the 381 cancelled sailings for the summer caused by vessel redeployments and adverse weather led to even Transport Scotland's officials describing the service as 'sub-optimal'. This scale of unreliability across the network has led to HIE warning "that the deficient service is slowly killing the Islands, leading to depopulation."
This is not an attack on the friendly staff at the ports and on the ferries. This long running chaos, which would be totally unacceptable to central belt commuters were it to last a few days, is the fault of the CalMac Board, CMAL and the Scottish Government.
To the layman it would be seem absurd that as publicly owned companies, CalMac operates the services and vessel procurement and ownership rests with Caledonian Maritime Assets Ltd (CMAL) which also owns 26 ports. Civil servants in 2001-2006 persuaded the Labour Transport Minister that continuing the subsidy to CalMac breached EU state aids.
My friend Charlie King from Mallaig, then chair of the H&I transport partnership, went to Brussels with the other council transport chairs in 2004 to lobby the EU about the tender being for all services, not split into the separate areas of the Western Isles, Argyll and Clyde. The response from the EU Transport Commissioner was "go away - don't bother me". The EU had no interest in tenders being required for small internal services, only ferries involving millions of passengers to the Balearic and Greek Islands.
Despite this clear mandate, the Scottish Government pressed ahead with the structural changes, wasting time and millions in tendering in 2006 and again in 2016. The CalMac Board has neither a chair nor a member who is dependent on CalMac ferries for their business or family life. Nor does the CMAL Board. The executives are based in Gourock with only a small minority of staff living and working on the Islands.
There has been a significant departure of experienced officials from the company including captains who would have become marine superintendents with the subsequent recruitment of managers from outwith the industry with little knowledge of ferry operations. The announcement that CalMac was named the "Ferry Operator of the Year" by the National Transport Awards was greeted with derision by Islanders.
Over a decade of underfunding by the Scottish Government leaves half the ferries over 20 years old, with maintenance costs rising by over 150% in the past decade to £20 million annually. This ageing fleet has required 125 significant repairs in the last two years.
Revenues would be improved if the RET is removed from camper vans, which have reached plague proportions in the H&I with minimal economic benefit. Priority booking is needed for locals. Capital funding has been half of the £50 million minimum required annually. Despite that, the proposed capital funding is to be cut from £59m in 18/19 to £14m in 19/20. CalMac said that "they were comfortable with that budget".
Part of the problem lies with the design changes and escalating costs for the two dual fuel vessels, now long delayed, being built at Ferguson Marine. If £1.35 billion can be found for a new Forth Road Bridge, capital must be made available for a long-term strategy, with six new larger vessels, four smaller vessels and dedicated freight vessels, allowing maximum flexibility across the network.
Most importantly, Scotland needs to start taking transport to our Islands seriously, as they do in Norway. The Cabinet Secretary, Transport Minister, Civil Service, CalMac and CMAL Boards should all be sent to Norway to learn how to keep a population living in the more remote islands by providing a modern ferry service for the residents, as well as the increasing number of young people who want to live in the Islands. It's time for action not words.
Mallaig Lifeboat Log
4th January 2019 Assisting Paramedics on Isle of Rum
Launched by Stornoway Coastguard to the Isle of Rum to assist Paramedics in the recovery of an injured female at 23:10. On scene at 23:40. The patient was brought to the slipway by her parents and assisted aboard by the Lifeboat crew. Once the patient was made comfortable aboard, the Lifeboat then returned to Mallaig berthing at 00:40. The Paramedics then continued on to Fort William's Belford Hospital where the young woman underwent further treatment to reset her dislocated shoulder. Lifeboat ready for service at 00:45.
3rd February 2019 Assisting Capsized Fishing Vessel and Recovering Casualties
Launched by Stornoway Coastguard to go to the assistance of a reported capsized vessel in the Ardtoe area of Ardnamurchan at 15:45. During passage to the location a further report confirmed that the vessel had sunk and that two casualties were in the water. Arrived on scene at 16:30 to find debris and an oil slick indicating the vessel's position. The Lifeboat was guided in towards the shore by Coastguards who had the casualties' visual clinging onto buoys just offshore. The Lifeboat recovered the two casualties and immediately began to strip them of their wet clothing within wheelhouse. Casualties were then put into teddy bear suits, blankets and wrapped in yellows for warmth. With Coastguard helicopter now on scene and ambulances waiting, the Lifeboat proceeded to Ardtoe Pier a short distance away. With the assistance of Coastguards and crew the casualties were transported to ambulances who then conveyed each a mile along the road to where the helicopter had landed on the main road. Once boarded, the helicopter airlifted the casualties to Raigmore Hospital in Inverness for further treatment. Lifeboat returned to area of vessel's sinking and recovered some flotsam before proceeding back to Mallaig and berthing at 18:20 ready for service.
12th February 2019 Assisting in Search for Activated EPIRB
Launched by Stornoway Coastguard to investigate an activated EPIRB at 18:30. The signal was coming from the area around Kyle of Lochalsh. Kyle's Atlantic 85 and Portree Lifeboat were also dispatched to search the area along with the Coastguard help from Stornoway. The vessel that was registered to the beacon was located in a yard at Broadford by Coastguard shore team. On the owner's arrival and entry gained to the vessel the beacon was found to have self-activated due to the damp conditions within the vessel. With Coastguards happy that serial numbers, etc, matched the register all the Lifeboats were stood down and requested to return to base at 18:56. Alongside fueled and ready for service at 19:35. Double Take! Mallaig's Severn Class Lifeboat the Henry Alston Hewat is pictured alongside the Severn Class Lifeboat prototype, now a private vessel named Eileen May. The Eileen May was the very first Severn Class Lifeboat built - the very first of its kind. The original from which all other Severns flowed, and it was nice to see her paying a visit to Mallaig!
Photo by Moe Mathieson
Mallaig Harbour News
This month will see the completion of the two Harbour projects that have been on-going since the turn of the year, namely the new Ice plant and the Passenger Access Pontoons.
Mallaig Harbour Ice
Site delays have occurred due to the failure of contractors to identify and locate the whereabouts of the power cable to the old Ice Factory which needs to be disconnected prior to the re-connection of the new Ice Plant to the mains power supply.
After digging in several locations contractors Fion Construction finally located the cable on Thursday 28th February and the following day, 1st March, SSE Hydro were on site to install the new cable.
Water connections to the new Ice Plant were also established on the 1st March so by the time you read this it is to be hoped that the new Mallaig Harbour Ice Plant will be operational; if not wholly, then at least partly, and able to produce ice for the local fishermen and buyers.
Passenger Access Pontoons
The final one of eight pontoons that will form the base of the new passenger access was placed in-situ on Thursday 28th February and by the following day it was estimated that 90% of the work was now complete with the passenger access becoming operational by mid-March.
At time of press lifebelts, lights, safety railings and bollards are among the items yet to be installed but they should only take a few more days to fit.
As is normal at this time of year the Mallaig Harbour Authority advertise for new Members to come forward and join the Harbour Board. New faces around the Board table are required, it brings new thoughts and ideas so please consider applying and help keep MHA at the forefront of local development, vibrant, forward thinking, responsive and pro active.
A very warm west coast welcome to the Aqua Senior - pictured here - the new Fish Feed Carrier that will be based at Mallaig from 1st March. The 47.58 metre long Norwegian registered Aqua Senior - a side loading vessel - has been seen in and around the port for the past few weeks undergoing trials not only in the Harbour but also at several of the fish farm sites.
On and Off the Rails
Spring 2019 issue of Friends of the West Highland Lines magazine, West Highland News Plus
This A4, full gloss, 56 pages of good reading is now available for purchase from me. Should you require one by post the cost is £3.50 plus postage. Phone me on 01687 462189 and it shall be done! This Spring issue contains news of the line relating to past, present and future topics plus an 'On the Waterfront' section. In full colour and such a well-researched magazine.
This issue covers, amongst other topics, the forthcoming Jacobite season, and Alex Iain MacDonald's retiral as driver for WCRC at the end of last season. Alex Iain lives at Fort William, and has a brother and two sisters at Morar and a brother in Arisaig.
Dr John McCormick from Glenfinnan has a three-page article entitled 'West Highland Operation and Timetable: Planning for 2020'. It is FOWHL's response to a request for input for a review, and is thought-provoking.
The Community Rail Partnership news section includes a statement that 'The WHCRP are installing new signage and information for passengers, welcoming visitors to each community on the West Highland Line; providing easy-to-grasp and aesthetically pleasing local information and ensuring local input to each station information board. The first information boards will be mounted at Arisaig, Corrour and Rannoch stations, soon to be followed by Mallaig and Bridge of Orchy. Local artist Felicity Nightingale (www.flickofpaint.co.uk) has been commissioned to provide the artwork for each board, while Corpach-based sign-maker All Round Signs has been commissioned to fabricate the signs.'
For more information go to www.westhighlandcrp.com Perhaps the plinth by the timetable boards at Mallaig will, at long last, be brought in to use!
Launch of new TV channel includes a six-part series on Glasgow Central Station
Following the launch of BBC Scotland HD last week (Freeview 115, Sky 115, Virgin 108, FreeSat 106 and BBC iplayer) we are to be treated to the first of a fly-on-the-wall six part series entitled Inside Central Station. (First episode aired Sunday 3rd March 9pm, repeated Tuesday 5th at 11pm.) It follows the people that work all hours to keep Glasgow Central Station on track! It will, I'm sure feature Susan Holden, who is the first female boss of Scotland's busiest railway station. Susan is one of only three female station managers of the twenty Network Rail stations in Britain.
This six-parter follows everyone from the train drivers and crews to the transport police, maintenance crews and cleaners. It was filmed over several months last summer, when stifling heat, musical events and track problems kept everybody busy.
All aboard for a magical railway tour!
A modest door in Glasgow Central station is like Harry Potter's Platform 9 ¾ - beyond it lies a magical world. Slip through this portal in the company of Paul Lyons, Network Rail Historian, to delve deep into the belly of this astonishing iceberg of a building.
While the tour touches on the fabric of the place (and what fabric! It is testament still to the skill of the craftsmen whose handiwork is to tolerances we can barely achieve today) Paul makes it about far more than box-girders, cast iron and handmade rivets.
With his John Byrne-style beard and patter as magnificently droll as anything Billy Connolly or Chic Murray ever spouted, he has a raconteur's ear for a human story.
He also has a deep love and respect for the people whose blood, sweat and tears shaped Central Station and the city it serves. These public tours are a labour of love for Paul and he hopes soon to add a re-creation of a Victorian platform, complete with a genuine steam locomotive.
Generations of railway workers and passengers would be chuffed to see the flames of their stories being kept alive in such entertaining and deeply thought-provoking style.
Paul Lyons features above ground in the first episode of BBC Scotland's new TV programme, but is usually seen escorting these tours underground beneath Central Station on selected weekdays and weekends. The tour lasts approximately one hour and can only be booked in advance online (sorry about that!) It costs £13 pp; the minimum age for children is 12 and all 12-15 year olds must be accompanied by an adult. All dates and details of how to book are on the website www.glasgowcentraltours.co.uk It is well worth planning for, should you know that you are in Glasgow with time to spare.
Rail Travellers 'may' get free use of facilities at Scottish railway stations from 1st April 2019
This could be the start of an April Fool's Joke but hopefully is not! Following Network Rail's decision to scrap the 20p barriers at Glasgow Central and Edinburgh Waverley station facilities, and public pressure, ScotRail's commercial director Lesley Kane is pleased to confirm that ScotRail are looking to withdraw charges for toilets in all of their stations from as early as April 2019. Mind how you go!!
ScotRail timetable additions
As well as Sunday 31st March being Mothering Sunday and the day that British Summertime starts (clocks go forward), it is also the date that we resume Sunday train services from Mallaig and Fort William to Glasgow.
Starting on the 31st we will have Sunday trains departing Mallaig at 10.10, 16.05 and 18.15 and trains will arrive into Mallaig at 13.34, 17.43 and 23.35. Unfortunately there will be no Fort William/Mallaig catering services available, AND when travelling on to Glasgow only catering services from Crianlarich onwards again, according to the timetable, which will be re-issued on May 19th. You have been warned - take your picnics, drinks, and snacks with you.
Jacobite Steam Train 2019 season
Commences Good Friday, 19th April, including Easter Saturday, Sunday, and Monday. Running Monday to Friday mornings after that until Sat/Sun morning service starts on May 4th. Afternoon service starts 13th May - Monday to Friday - with Sat/Sun afternoons from 15th June.
I have Jacobite leaflets now available for Hotels, Guest Houses, B&B's in our area - contact me on 01687 462189 for a supply.
See you on the train,
THE LEGENDARY ALEXANDER JOHN MACDONALD
by John Hunt, with invaluable help from Barbara MacDonald!
Alexander John MacDonald retired towards the end of last year after nearly 62 years of unbroken service on the railway, latterly as a driver of the now legendary Jacobite steam train between Fort William and Mallaig. Alex (latterly just known by his colleagues as Alex Iain) from Morar started as a cleaner on steam engines in Mallaig depot on 3rd March 1957 as a boy of sixteen. After only six weeks in the job he had to come out at midnight, as the 'fire raiser' was on holiday, and light up and keep fires going in five steam engines, with only the aid of a paraffin lamp, so that they would be ready for the early morning jobs.
At that time there was of course a turntable in a very exposed location facing the Atlantic ocean at Mallaig which Alex helped to turn on many occasions but if the weather very stormy, with high winds and rocks being blown around, it sometimes just couldn't be turned! It was removed after the end of steam, but it would be very welcome today!
Alex driving a Black 5. (Barbara MacDonald)
Before too long, he had his first ever firing turn with Driver Jock Haggerty to Fort William on a Class K2 engine: "I was told to bring sandwiches and a bottle of tea to be put against the firebox back plate to keep it hot!" Living in Morar, Alex had to walk - or sometimes run! - four and a half miles to Mallaig Depot. Some shifts started at 05.00, such as the shunting pilot or early goods which left Mallaig at 06.30. At that time there were many 'fish specials' going out each day, with thirteen vehicles, when Mallaig was the busiest herring port in Europe.
As a youngster Alex was a keen footballer, playing for Morar Celtic, which he later went on to manage, and was keenly involved in the local Highland Games, especially in shot putting, hammer throwing and athletics.
Sometimes, during the summer season, he and others were sent 'on loan' to Fort William to work both shunting and passenger jobs, including the London sleeper (to Kings Cross in those days), which had eleven coaches at that time, and would be double-headed, changing over engine crews at Bridge of Orchy or Upper Tyndrum. Alex worked as a fireman on the Mallaig and West Highland Lines until the end of steam in 1963, and recalls that he was well taught by the old Mallaig drivers! Later, in the early 1970s, Alex recalls being a second man to Driver Freddie Watson on a Class 27 diesel loco on the early morning passenger train from Mallaig: "We struck a boulder on the climb up to Glenfinnan and were derailed and I had to walk to Glenfinnan, a distance of seven or eight miles, getting a lift part of the way from a P`Way squad, [crew working on the line] and the signalman at Glenfinnan had to notify Fort William, and others, that the line was blocked - no RETB or mobile phones then!".
In 1972, after spending four weeks at Eastfield Depot, Glasgow, mainly driving between Glasgow Queen Street and Edinburgh Waverley, he was passed out as a diesel driver. He transferred to Fort William Depot in 1975, but later went back on the Mallaig Line for a few years to be 'appointed' as a driver on the retirement of Driver Freddie Watson, and two other colleagues also moved for the same reason, Alistair MacEachen to the Oban Line and Bobby Duncan (who is now a Jacobite driver) to Inverness.
Alex also remembers that: "Once, around 1975, when secondman to Driver Alex Shanks when taking the timber train with sixteen vehicles from Crianlarich to the Scottish Pulp and Paper Mill at Corpach on the Mallaig Line, we became derailed between Gorton and Rannoch, blocking the line. This was in the middle of nowhere with no road access but fortunately we were picked up by a P'Way vehicle and taken to Rannoch station and then by train to Fort William".
With the reintroduction of steam on the Fort William - Mallaig line in May 1984, Alex worked on steam (initially under BR) and was passed out as a steam driver on Black 5 45305 in December 1989, as well as continuing working on diesel trains: Sprinters between Fort William and Mallaig and on the West Highland Line, and also the Caledonian Sleeper, until 1994, when British Rail was privatised and ScotRail took over.
Alex says: "I was also involved in winter snow plough duties over the years. Many a time, years ago, we`d go blindly through 20 feet high snowdrifts, in the pitch dark, in the middle of the night, with a long, heavy train over Rannoch Moor not knowing what might happen! Health and Safety was certainly not like it is today!
"Over the years there have been various other scary moments, like Arnold MacBeth and I having to abandon a Fort William - Mallaig train at Beasdale due to six or seven feet of flooding, and often spotting walkers on the line in the distance and frantically sounding the horn and they`d just jump out the way at the last minute!" (Some things don't change!). Alex goes on to say that many other things happened but they are simply unprintable!!
After retiring from ScotRail in 2005 after forty-eight and a half years service first with BR and then with ScotRail, Alex worked for West Coast Railways for another thirteen years, mainly driving The Jacobite, but also the Royal Scotsman, various charters, railhead cleaning trains between Perth and Inverness, snow clearing, and sometimes the Hogwarts Express!
The old hand and the new boy! Alex with new driver Matt Earnshaw, when Matt was part of the K1 support crew on 10th July 2009 (Peter James)
Over the years Alex has worked on most, if not all, the steam locos used on today's The Jacobite and its predecessors, The West Highlander and The Lochaber. Asked if he had a favourite steam engine he replied: "I would have to say the K1, which I was used to in the past and were specially built with smaller wheels which suited the steep gradients and sharp curves of the Mallaig Line". Half a dozen of the K1's went new to the West Highland lines in 1949 to replace the ageing and run down K2s. With their outside motion, rocking grates and hopper ashpans, together with padded seats in the cab, drivers, and firemen like Alex, thought their Christmas and birthdays had come at once! But Alex added that he also liked all the Black 5s and the B1!
In a footplate career that spanned 62 years, Alex never had a day off sick or 'took a sickie' in all that time. ScotRail bosses said at his retirement presentation that he boasted an 'unblemished record' - with no accidents - and the same remarkable record over thirteen years with West Coast Railways.
There is no doubt that Alex's knowledge, particularly of the Mallaig extension, was second to none. He knew every inch of the line, in all weathers, and sometimes you could experience all four seasons in one day. He readily passed his encyclopaedic knowledge on to those with whom he worked. As a fireman I learnt a great deal from Alex to help me make the job so much easier. In this respect, you always knew that when he started to roll a cigarette, you could momentarily relax! Alex also had the knack of knowing where he could let the locomotive 'run' to recover lost time and often our arrival would be quoted as 'Alec Ian' time! He would suffer fools badly and would vent his ire if 'his' passenger train was delayed by others.
In the old footplate tradition, we would often 'swap sides' as this was the best way for aspiring drivers to learn. It wasn't long before you realised that firing a route like the Fort William - Mallaig line is a bit different from driving it. As a driver you learnt all the subtle changes of gradient and the need to alter the regulator, cut off or brake accordingly to ensure you maintained line speed and ran to time. Alex had his way of doing things and he made sure you knew!
Alexander John MacDonald will be a hard act to follow - we wish him all the best in his well-earned retirement, and thanks for those indelible memories!
This article first appeared in Steam Railway Magazine - our grateful thanks to them for allowing us to reproduce it here.
BIRDWATCH January 2019 by Stephen MacDonald
A mostly mild month until the last week, when it became a bit colder with snow at times.
On the bird scene little change from December, except that the first Iceland Gulls of the winter arrived. On the 8th a juvenile appeared at the fish farm, Loch Ailort and lingered till the month end. Another juvenile was first seen in Mallaig harbour on the 14th.
The Little Egret was seen at various locations around Loch nan Ceall and also at Invercaimbe throughout the month.
The Mandarin Duck was seen mostly on the Morar Estuary, although on the 28th after strong northerly winds it was spotted with Mallards feeling in a flooded field at Glenan Cross Farm. Slavonian Grebes were seen on Loch nan Ceall on several occasions and Little Grebes were also seen there and the Morar Estuary.
The Kingfisher was still present on the Morar River upstream of the hydro dam.
Still at least one Greenshank wintering on the Morar Estuary and Purple Sandpipers were seen regularly by West Bay, Mallaig.
Goosanders were seen on the Loch Ailort and Wigeon were seen at Morroch, Invercaimbe and the Morar Estuary, with 16 at the latter site on the 3rd. Great Northern Divers were seen at the mouth of Loch nan Ceall and offshore at Camusdarroch. Two Red-throated Divers were seen on Loch nan Uamh on the 8th.
A female Pheasant was seen near Millburn, Rhue on the 21st.
Several sightings of Nuthatches in the Arisaig area again during January. Good numbers of Siskins and Goldfinches reported from garden feeders throughout the month. Up to eight Long-tailed Tits continued to use fatball feeders in a Woodside garden.
Sea Eagles were seen at numerous locations around the coast, including the Morar Estuary, Camusdarroch, Invercaimbe, Loch nan Ceall and Loch Ailort. Displaying Golden Eagles were seen on numerous occasions around Loch Ailort.
A male Hen Harrier was reported by Traigh golf course on the 25th. Barn Owls were seen by the roadside in Morar and Arisaig and calling birds were heard in the Morar area.
Watch this space for extracts from next month's issue!
Letters, e-mails and comments are welcome.
Feel free to Sign our Guestbook
List of Issues online
Visit West Word on Facebook
Copyright © 2002-2019 West Word
Site designed by
Page last updated: March 2019
The Internet Guide to Scotland
Copyright © 2002-2019 West Word
Site designed by