List of Issues online
List of Issues online
November 2023 Issue
Contents of the online version:
All photos are copyright either of the individual photographers or West Word.
A Write Highland Hoolie
Mallaig Book Festival
It's all happening at the West Highland Hotel as West Word goes to print! The festival opened in terrific style with 'Beyond the Swelkie - a Celebration of the Life and Work of George Mackay Brown'; an amazing mix of music, poetry and prose from Duncan Chisholm, Hamish Napier and poet Jim Mackintosh.
We've been putting our very full programme on Facebook and Twitter - sorry, X- so you might be aware of all the activities in the schools as well as in the main Festival. We ran the usual Art and Creative Writing competitions in the schools and over the next couple of months we'll be printing as many of the winning entries as we can. We had an amazing selection on the theme of Wild History - everything from Vikings (lots!), climate change, dinosaurs and history, with writing including fantasy and legend with some poetry too.
Sadly the wonderful Alan Windram couldn't come at the last minute to preside over the prizegiving but we were lucky to have the talented Alastair Chisholm step in to entertain us at the Prizegiving Tea.
LETTER FROM THE EDITOR
We've been working on a new masthead for West Word this year with designer Anna Rothach and we've very pleased to be able to unveil it this month! Please let us know what you think - do you like the new design?
Grateful thanks to Catriona Hunter who is stepping back from writing the Glenfinnan column in 'Round & About' - we've loved having your contributions. If you live in the Glen and would like to write news for us - please do get in touch!
Don't forget to send West Word your Christmas Messages for inclusion in next month's edition. Please email them to us on firstname.lastname@example.org or send a message on facebook.
As always, thanks to our volunteers for their help with printing and distributing papers and labelling envelopes.
It is with sadness I begin this months column, as Knoydart unexpectedly lost long term resident Sam Gardener last week when he passed away suddenly at home. Iain Wilson's tribute on Facebook summed Sam up well and I include it here. "Sam was a kind hearted, compassionate and knowledgeable man who will be sadly missed. His humour, often in the face of adversity, was truly remarkable. He never let his disabilities define who he was or what he did".
It is inevitable that death will come to us all one day but there is something particularly poignant, I feel, when you lose someone who is part of such a small community and so suddenly.
The rest of the month has seen things slowing down as autumn well and truly settled in, with glorious reds and golds, shining conkers, and the bracken losing the last of its summer green. We took part in community land week and celebrated with a community meal in the hall which also acted as a showcase for our own local venison. Some of the new delights on offer from the Knoydart wild venison team included Bresaola, pastrami, chorizo and even some smoked sirloin. All extremely delicious!
The Forest Trust have started helicoptering fencing material out to the Black Hills and Guiseran bridge fences to replace some of the older stretches of fence, and the first area within the black hills fence will be planted 60,000 native broadleafs after Christmas.
The pub played host to the ever popular Halloween party, which is a craicin night for all ages and there's never a shortage of inventive costumes!
And to end on a happy note Stuart Miller is celebrating 20 years since his liver transplant!
ISLE OF MUCK
Hello, Muck Calling . . . Well we have had a pretty busy month in one way or another, culminating in the non-health-and-safety really scary walk from Port to Farm seeing how many times we can scare the living bejeezus out of the little darlings in their pointy hats, Dracula fangs and ghoulish masks! The kids looked great too with their wee buckets.
Talking of little darlings, Muck's population took a massive 6lb 6oz leap on the 27th with the arrival of baby boy Hunter Connor Fruish. A massive congratulations to proud parents Sarah and Connor, and big sister Heather.
I for one was glad to see the back of our Saturday summer timetable. I stop short of calling them sailings as either they did not, or the ferry was substituted for a work boat and a charter for the lucky passengers who had a Mensa membership and could decipher the actual published schedule to get here - yay, your prize is we're not coming back today!! I can only sympathise with which of the Small Isles gets that ugly end of the CalMac stick next season.
Other than that, life is going on as normal; half term was taken advantage of with two thirds of the Isle going off to the mainland but being bolstered by incoming regular shoot guests braving the wintery Arisaig - Muck crossing.
Well folks that's all this time round . . .thanks and chat next month,
ISLE OF CANNA
October saw the second of our community workshops take place with WT Architects on the next stage of our project development of Coroghan Barn. Wil and Tamsin brought with them a proposal of how the building will look in the landscape and the layout as well as possible materials to be used in construction. There were notable oooh's and aaaah's!
Norah Barnes from Eigg came to visit to help me carry out risk assessments for the Small Isles Snorkel Trail. We spent a very happy Sunday guddling about in rock pools and went for a snorkel along at Tarbert Bay. The Snorkel Trail will hopefully be launching in Spring 2024. Many thanks to Norah for coming to Canna and for sharing her knowledge with me. Work has started on our Visitor Hub with Speyside builders arriving on island to begin the ground works. It is amazing how much soil comes out of the ground. The visitor hub will have toilet and shower facilities, a laundry, a GP room as well as a base for the Ranger with an office and stores. We are looking forward to the completion of this long awaited project and will hopefully be opening the doors in time for the Summer season next year.
The farm sent off cattle and sheep this month too and Gerry reports good days at the sale in Dingwall. Thanks to Vicki for taking photos of the cattle patiently waiting to board the lorry. Personally, I think they look a bit like Ewoks.
We've been enjoying using the Small Isles Cinema Kit this month with Friday evenings being Canna Cinema nights. Islanders turn up to the Shearing Shed wearing multiple layers of clothes, wrapped in blankets and sitting on cushions. It's cold but worth it. Aileen usually brings a steady supply of tequila rose to warm us up.
Friday's aren't just for the cinema though. A few of us now get together and do a yoga class at lunchtime. There are varying degrees of capability and flexibility and this provides no end of hilarity when trying to copy the moves of the instructors. We all agree that we feel much better afterwards.
A few of us have found gainful employment starting work on doing some conservation of the Canna House Collection. We had some training provided by Siobhan Stevenson and Indi is the lead on this project. We are focusing on ceramics, glass and books for now and we did our first full session today.
We said farewell to Duncan and Kay Lewis. Duncan has been our Seasonal Ranger here and many thanks go to him and Kay for throwing themselves into the community. Duncan organised regular beach cleans, did visitor engagement, set up a good Ranger space in the waiting room on the Pier, carried out our biosecurity checks and did a great deal of path maintenance and strimming. We wish Duncan and Kay well for the future and a safe journey back to Spain.
ISLE OF RUM
Someone said to me the other day that once the autumn, dark nights and weather starts to arrive, the village wakes up a bit. By which she meant all the people who work hard seasonally suddenly have some time to fulfil meaningful pursuits: this can mean a bit of foraging and wandering in the woods; regular runs or swims, organising or attending community events; doing some DIY or just having time for a coffee and chat at the shop. The islands breath a collective sigh, sometimes of relief after a busy summer, or just the joy of moving into autumn quietly.
Autumnal storms have brought a few unusual birds, some stormbound and some just sadly washed up. The sea has delivered its usual annual supply of fertiliser, well placed by the sea wall ready for collection for anyone with a strong back and a wheel barrow.
Halloween brought a party at the hall with lots of costumes and games and the kids went around guising and telling jokes. The following week we had bonfire night with yet another stunning firework display. Jupiter was in the sky too to add to the razzle dazzle.
Most of the harvests are done now with the exception of rogue courgettes hiding in polytunnels. Chutneys have been made and berries have been steeped in gin and whisky ready for Christmas presents and winter hipflasks.
We had an influx of more ponies to add to this year's foal with the return of a Rum pony and her two youngsters from Lismore. There are now five in the castle field if you're passing by, and you still hear others clip clopping by as they go out with the ghillies; the rest of the herd are put on the hill.
Our annual volunteer programme starts next week and we begin work on the bunkhouse and the renovation of Harris Lodge. With the aid of some skilled joiners and builders, we hope to make good progress over the winter, weather permitting of course.
ISLE OF EIGG
October is always a busy month for visitors with the school holidays, but this year everyone concurs that it has been a bit quieter. On the plus side, our ferry is back from its refit, and what a difference it makes. If only the ticketing system would improve, we would all be almost ecstatic about the service we receive now that the extensive dredging works means we no longer have to suffer the dreaded tidal amendments… The message from our CalMac port manager is to keep reporting any glitches through the online feedback form, as it is only when these are reported that they can be fixed! Please tell your visitors everyone!
The month has not been without its weather challenges: we are now getting used to freak events, but after that last downpour when it rained as much in one day as normally comes down in one month, the island woke up in the morning to find the Laig Hydro out of action due to the sheer amount of stone and gravel descending from the hillside into the dam, the Laig bridge gone and the tar lifted off the potholes on the Bealach Clithe leaving even more massive ruts than before and the sides of the road eroded to the point where Cleadale dwellers not in the possession of 4x4 vehicles now worry they will be cut off from the rest of the island. However, if the Laig bridge is now repaired and tons of gravel have been excavated from the dam, it will require quite a bit of road work to make the road into Cleadale passable for ordinary vehicles. Not sure if the island Team report to Highland Council following their visit to Eigg combined by strong representation from the trust made any difference, but we now have had a visit from HC's Road engineer, so watch this space! Obviously what we experienced is not comparable to the floodings that have devastated the east coast, but we still need to have the situation addressed as that stretch of road is a real challenge for vehicles as well as cyclers, and has resulted in three nasty accidents (two with broken limbs) due to gravel from flooding making the steep descent extremely dangerous.
In spite of ferry disruption we have finally managed to get all the trust houses surveyed for their EPC, so that's great news, as we can now look at a plan to insulate and carry out roof repairs and alleviate fuel poverty on the island, a great step bringing us closer to the aims of our Eigg Transition agenda! We took advantage of these visits to have an independent valuation made of St Columba's Church of Scotland church on Eigg which is up for sale, and which we hope to purchase for community use as well as religious services, weddings etc. through the vehicle of the SOLAS EIGE SCIO which had to be set up for this purpose. More news about this when the feasibility study is finalised, but in the meantime, thanks go to Stewart Goudie who has been such a help in our negotiation with the powers that be in the C of S.
We must not forget the performance of the one woman/man show "Moira" with Alan Bisset, who performed The Moira Monologues not only once, but twice, owing to the bad weather which detained the theatre crew on the island. This was accompanied by an exhibition of Angus Og's cartoons, which went down very well indeed. Many thanks to Lucy for organising it all!
Last but not least, this month saw our beloved Peggy Kirk turn 93 years young! Damian and Gabe surprised her at the end of a very full day of family and islanders' visits with an impromptu ceilidh where her favourite tunes were played: it was a joy to see her so happy on her special day. Many happy returns and best wishes from all of us here and abroad! This was followed by Wes's birthday when Maggie Carr performed the Gaelic tunes/ mouth music that she did with her school group at Feis na Mara. Impressively wonderful! Of course Peggy takes all the credit for her great-granddaughter's talents, as they must have come down the South Uist Morrissons' line, as she is fond of telling us..!
Photo by Moe Mathieson
The Jacobite train crew showed their appreciation at the end of the season to Morar's Brian Whiley, who has become a local landmark for visitors as he greets the train in Morar each day with his 'Have a nice day' sign.
At a presentation ceremony in Mallaig (above), Brian was treated with some goodies including a photograph of himself holding his sign, taken from the train, and a complimentary trip on the steam train next season. Train Manager Florence MacLean said, 'We told him he was now part of The Jacobite family and I think he was chuffed with that!'
Painting stolen from Kinloch Castle
News surfaced in October that a valuable painting had been stolen from Kinloch Castle earlier this year. The oil on canvas painting Steam Yacht Rhouma I at the Cowes Regatta was painted by Charles Dixon in 1896 and had been on display in the dining room at the castle.
A spokesperson for NatureScot said, 'Following a break-in at Kinloch Castle on Saturday 15th July, NatureScot staff carried out a thorough inventory check and established that a painting had been taken.
'Police are continuing to investigate the matter and we urge any members of the public with information to contact them directly. Police Scotland previously reviewed the building security at Kinloch Castle and as a result additional CCTV was deployed in and around the castle. The building is securely locked at all times when not occupied.'
A spokesperson for Kinloch Castle Friends Association (KCFA) said, 'What is of great concern is that while the theft occurred on the 15th July, the first KCFA heard about it was from journalists asking for our comments on the 16th October. Between these two dates KCFA has had many interactions with NatureScot employees and never been told of the loss, and indeed been reassured that the Castle was in good order in terms of heating and dry inside.'
They continued, 'The painting of the Rhouma is irreplaceable. The yacht itself is an important part of the Bullough and Kinloch Castle story: it was this yacht which George Bullough took to South Africa to convert to a hospital ship. To lose this, strikes at the heart of what we as the KCFA have been trying to achieve.'
PUBLIC ASKED TO HELP SHAPE THE FUTURE AT GLENFINNAN
Conservation charity launches online survey asking local community and recent visitors about their experiences at Glenfinnan
The National Trust for Scotland is inviting anyone who has visited Glenfinnan in the past two years, or who lives in the local area, to tell it about their experience and share their thoughts on how to improve that experience.
The conservation charity, which cares for Glenfinnan Monument and Visitor Centre, wants to gather the views of as many visitors and local people as possible as it works with the local community and other partners to look after this increasingly popular Highland tourist destination.
This feedback will play a vital role in helping to inform future planning and investment in facilities at Glenfinnan, which has experienced significant growth in visitor numbers in recent years.
An online survey can be accessed at https://www.nts.org.uk/glenfinnan-survey, and allows respondents to share their opinions, rate different options and add their own ideas and comments.
Emily Bryce, the National Trust for Scotland's Operations Manager for Glenfinnan, stated: "2023 has been Glenfinnan's busiest ever year for visitors. Our visitor centre has welcomed almost half a million people since January, which is a massive 46% up on 2022 (when we were the most-visited attraction in Scotland outside the Central Belt) and 9% up on our previous busiest year in 2019. This volume of visitors of course places pressure upon our small rural community, as well as our facilities and parking infrastructure, none of which were designed to accommodate such great demand.
"Our charity is working closely with our neighbours and local partners to ensure Glenfinnan is an enjoyable and sustainable place to both visit and live in. We are here to protect, care for and share what makes this area special and, as part of this, we are embarking on a project to invest in our facilities here. Understanding more about why people visit, how they travelled here, the experience they had and how we could improve it, is an essential step towards planning for the future.
"This is a brilliant opportunity for anyone who knows and loves Glenfinnan to have their say, whether they had a great day out here, or encountered challenges which impacted on their enjoyment."
Since the 1930s, the National Trust for Scotland has cared for the iconic Glenfinnan Monument, built in 1815 to commemorate the Jacobite cause. The conservation charity also runs a visitor centre, which was designed to accommodate up to 100,000 visitors a year, but now attracts more than five times that.
The National Trust for Scotland is working closely with the local community and other partners to address traffic congestion and parking capacity challenges at Glenfinnan, which have resulted from growing visitor numbers. It is seeking to encourage more visitors to arrive without a car.
The Trust is also committed to improving its own facilities and the ways it shares Glenfinnan's stories with visitors, enabling people from around the world to gain a greater understanding of this special place, and inspiring them to respect and protect it during their visit.
LOCHAILORT MAN ON HUNGER STRIKE OVER DISPUTE WITH NETWORK RAIL
Lochailort's John Bryden is currently on hunger strike in protest at the impact of Network Rail's activities in the yard they have created next to his home.
John and Jan Bryden say that their registered charity, Kirsty's Kids, which provides free respite care for vulnerable children and their families, has been forced to close due to the disturbance caused by contractors, who are using the site as a base for renewing a section of railway line three miles away.
A online petition set up in support of the reopening of Kirsty's Kids said, 'The most recent Network Rail use of the yard commenced abruptly, with the Brydens receiving no notice. The work included massive lorries, and industrial machinery working 24/7. Consequently, a family with autistic children had to depart immediately. The whole experience caused significant trauma to the family. The Brydens have endured excruciating anguish which has had severe health repercussions.
In a desperate move, John has resorted to a hunger strike as his final attempt for resolution.' As West Word goes to print, he has now been on hunger strike for 11 days.
The petition stresses that, 'To facilitate the reopening of Kirsty's Kids, the following actions are imperative: immediate removal and cessation of the unlawfully built ramp and rail-related repair or upgrade items; stop using a recently converted ditch, which is feet away from the charity, as a railside yard; relocation of all heavy machinery to the designated sites where children's charities or private dwellings will not be impacted.'
In response to a request from West Word for a comment, a Network Rail spokesperson said: 'The charity has raised its concerns with us and we're working with them to minimise disruption where we can. The work we are carrying out on the track is vital to keeping the railway safe for colleagues and passengers.'
Network Rail say that the temporary compound was set up with the agreement of the landowner who neighbours the charity.
The current work is running between Saturdays and Wednesdays until 13th December, with work taking place at night as it is the safest time for staff and contractors to work on the railway. They say alternative compounds were explored during the planning stage of the project, but none were considered suitable because of the large amount of space required for welfare facilities and the storage of materials.
They continued, 'We're in regular dialogue with the charity to reduce disruption where possible. In terms of mitigations, we're using a quieter, hybrid generator which has been moved to the other side of the cabins and we're going to install acoustic sound barriers which will also reduce noise. In addition, we're engaging with specialist noise consultants who can advise on any immediate steps we can take to reduce disruption. Staff have also been briefed to keep unnecessary noise to a minimum.'
Red Squirrels Released in Arisaig
Red squirrels have returned to Arisaig! Some squirrels were released in several locations in Arisaig this October and November as part of Trees for Life's efforts to reintroduce red squirrels to the north-west highlands of Scotland. This reintroduction was initially planned for last spring, but poor weather prevented the release of the squirrels. Twenty squirrels were relocated from Inverness and Moray, with 9 males and 11 females included. They were released in the early mornings to woodlands around Arisaig and Arisaig House. These will be fed by local factors for the next few months until they are familiar with their surroundings and build dreys. They will breed in early spring, and it is anticipated that the young squirrels, known as 'kittens', will be seen from May next year.
Red squirrels are endangered across the UK and Ireland, with around 75% of the remaining population found in Scotland - only around 120,000 squirrels. They are threatened by lack of habitat and competition and disease caused by invasive non-native grey squirrels, a larger squirrel introduced by the Victorians from North America that carries the highly infectious squirrel pox virus, fatal to red squirrels. The woodland cover along the west coast of Scotland has recovered, allowing the reintroduction of red squirrels. It is hoped that these red squirrels will breed and spread, joining with other western populations in Ardnamurchan and Morvern, and eventually with Trees for Life's other reintroductions to the north in Reraig and Plockton. These red squirrel populations will be further removed from the threat of grey squirrels found in the central belt of Scotland and will help long-term efforts to protect the highland red squirrels.
Please send any sightings of red squirrels to: https://scottishsquirrels.org.uk/squirrel-sightings/ or contact the Red Squirrel Project Manager at Trees for Life at: email@example.com.
Red Squirrel Project Manager, Trees for Life
MALLAIG FUEL STATION RE-OPENING ANTICIPATED MID-DECEMBER
We are pleased to report that significant progress has been made in bringing Mallaig fuel station back into operation. Our planning application ref: 23/04708/FUL has been acknowledged by The Highland Council and we are now working towards the following milestones:
* 30th October: commencement of groundworks
* 15th November: delivery of the above-ground fuel storage tanks
* Mid-December: anticipated re-opening of Mallaig Fuel Station
Whilst we are doing all we can to ensure these milestones are met, there are certain elements of the project that are out with our control and these could lead to a slippage of these dates. We understand that coming into the winter months, the temporary closure of Mallaig fuel station continues to impact residents of, and visitors to, Mallaig and the surrounding area. We are therefore continuing to press forward with the project in order to ensure the fuel station is re-opened as soon as possible, whilst ensuring we meet our health, safety and environmental responsibilities.
We will continue to keep you informed of our progress.
Denholm Fishselling Limited
24th October 2023
News from Mallaig Harbour
It's the first of November, and after some remarkably good weather compared to the rest of the country, it feels like Winter has arrived today! We are due to host the Screen Machine over this weekend, and some of you may have already seen their plea for support for their request for financial assistance from the Scottish Government to keep the Screen Machine in operation. We have written a letter from Mallaig Harbour Authority, as the host for the Screen Machine in Mallaig, in support of this request. If you enjoy their visits to Mallaig, there is still time for you to do the same.
The Harbour always feels much quieter when the winter CalMac timetable starts, and this year is no exception. The Lord of The Isles was sailing to Mallaig this week, but is then off for her annual refit, and won't be back until the end of November. We've received the Design Statement for the proposed overnight berth from our Engineers, Wallace Stone, so we have a bit of work to do over the winter to make sure it suits all the different needs, and then to persuade Transport Scotland of the benefit of funding it!
It's the time of year when Marine Scotland publish their annual landings data for the year. The headline figures for the Mallaig District this year were that 1,385 tonnes were landed, with a value of £5,935,000. This was an increase in value of 22.8%, the second highest of any Scottish District, and a very slight decrease in tonnage of 0.4%.
It's worth noting that these figures from Marine Scotland are for the Mallaig District, and not just the port. The district covers the whole of Ardnamurchan, the Small Isles and the North Shore of Loch Linnhe to Fort William, so not all the fish included in these figures was landed into Mallaig. However, we are always asked to comment on these headline numbers, so we do a bit of our own analysis. Our records of reported landings from the vessels through Mallaig, which are by financial year rather than calendar year, actually showed an increase in the quantity of landings between the y/e March 2022 and 2023 of 40%, from 522,215kg to 733,829kg. From this, it's evident that only around half the landings into the District are actually made through Mallaig.
From our figures, average shellfish prices increased by 36.25% between 2021/22 and 2022/23, while average white fish prices decreased by 33%. The total value of landings through Mallaig increased from £2.4million in 2021/22 to £4.8million in 2022/23, an increase of 100%.
Once again, Peterhead topped the landings tables, with 154,883 tonnes landed, worth £191,060,000. I was through in Peterhead for the British Ports Association's Fishing Ports Group meeting on the 5th and 6th October, and we were given a tour of the Peterhead fish market while the market was in progress on the Friday morning. It's on a different scale altogether from Mallaig, as you will see from the photos. The whole port is on a different scale - but it's always good to go and see other Ports and to have the chance to discuss common issues. The scale of operations at various ports might vary significantly, but many of the challenges are similar.
The Marina is now closed for the season, and Gena has finished for the winter. As some of you will know, Chris Jones has been off for a period. We're looking forward to having him back in the next week or so, but we're also very grateful to Gena for holding the fort in his absence, and to Kenny Harris, Ross Carr and Ruairidh McDonell who all stepped in to help keep the Marina running smoothly at various times over the summer. Looking at the figures for the year this was our busiest season since the Marina opened, with 1,857 nights occupied by visiting boats over the season, as well as a number of regular charters operating from Mallaig.
Jacqueline McDonell 01687 462154
On and Off the Rails
Hello, it's me again!
I'm in the gloaming - but doing no roaming. It's the night of 'gunpowder, treason and plot' but as far as I can tell we are free of all that malarkey that swirls around us. The clocks have all been put back - one door-sized station clock has to have its battery taken out for 12 hours and then restarted because the 'winder' went missing years ago. I always get nervous about it not starting exactly on the time pips! This year I decided to alter my digital, hands free telephone set to digital time instead of analogue. Manual in one hand (why is it so complicated?) and 'dobbing' away at countless keys I proudly achieved it! However, with me being the Luddite that I am I didn't like it - and two days later I was back to AM and PM again. It really bugs me to look at the screen in 24 hour time. Then it was time to alter all the railway calendars - even the two-monthly ones. Haven't ordered my 2024 ones yet. Must do that next. Phew!
This weekend we have had service alterations on our railway, and the same is scheduled for next weekend. 'Bustitution' is fully in place for both weekends, so Saturdays and Sundays 4/5th and 11/12th November, buses are replacing trains from Crianlarich and Fort William/Mallaig with no service to Rannoch or Corrour stations. Network Rail are working day and night shifts on the rails to ensure our safety when travelling. Thank you to all the teams out working. I heard one team take possession of the line at 9am this morning (5th November) for the day, and the freight and Sleeper plus ScotRail services are not running on the lines tonight. Large road coaches have been operating all weekend so all is well - apart from lugging your luggage up to the station at Crianlarich in the rain, gales and gloom but hey ho, that's how it is. It means of course that all visitors to our annual 'Write Highland Hoolie' book festival next weekend won't experience the pleasure of the railway journey until Crianlarich when returning on Sunday 12th November.
Talking of being safe on the rails I witnessed a sight not seen by me before on 26th October, the last week of The Jacobite season. I was out in the glorious golden sunshine to watch the lunchtime train when a beautiful tabby and white cat came into view, balancing leg over leg on the rails, totally unaware of the timetable! Is it deaf, I mused? If so surely it would feel the vibrations through its paws. It kept coming round the curve of the rails entering Mallaig until it saw me, and 20 photographers - stopped and posed - then proceeded towards the points. At this point The Jacobite with masses of white steam hurtled into view. Did the cat care - not one jot! I heaved myself to the top of my fence and whirled my arms around like the Railway Children in the film. The driver realised why, and came to a halt for a good five minutes whilst the cat (after turning back and looking at the train) preceded all the way in on the rails to the points! Unbelievable but true. It truly nearly lost one of its nine lives that day!
Rumbles on the Sleeper train service
RMT Rail Union members working on the Caledonian Sleeper are being balloted by the union to see if they want to take strike action plus actions short of strikes, such as no rest day working and an overtime ban. The Sleeper is a service operated by Scottish Rail Holdings on behalf of the Scottish Government. The ballot for train hosts and train leader grades opened on Tuesday 31st October and will close on Tuesday 21st November.
The RMT union has accused the operators of the Sleeper service of causing staff adverse stress and anxiety by allegedly refusing to crew services 'adequately'. Representatives have also accused management of failing to adhere to a dispute resolution agreement reached in 2019, putting a further strain on industrial relations.
RMT general secretary Mick Lynch said, 'Our members have expertise in what kind of staffing levels you need on the Caledonian Sleeper, both in terms of safety and comfort of passengers. A big vote and turn out for strike action will send the clearest message to management that they need to respect the workforce and not renege on agreements with the union.'
No comment has yet been given by the operators when approached.
Station Spaces/Our Station, Your Business, the Perfect Fit
So say the eye-catching posters at Mallaig and Arisaig station buildings, but the response from ScotRail to enquiries regarding leasing properties is painfully slow!
In Mallaig, the premises upstairs are available and are accessed by a separate door. In Arisaig, the ground floor of the station building is available. In each case the poster states that you contact ScotRail via the Station Spaces page, www.scotrail.co.uk/property-and-retail. But there is no information on the website about either of these properties. Four months have now passed since I reported on the lack of information and no follow up is forthcoming. Hardly a 'perfect fit' as the poster says! I understand that 'brochures have yet to be completed' and no further details are available. Not a very helpful start for a prospective client. What is going on?
Cairngorm Mountain Resort funicular railway
In August I reported on the closure of the railway in order that 'snagging works' could be carried out on the 1.2 mile long line. HIE, which owns Cairngorm Estate, estimated at the time that it would re-open in September. However, the work is still ongoing and has proved more difficult and time consuming than expected.
HIE say that, 'We are now looking forward to completing the project during November when the operators of Cairngorm Mountain will also be carrying out their annual maintenance programme. Every effort will be made to reintroduce the service in good time for the start of the 2023/24 snowsports season at Cairngorm.' I wish them luck. In the meantime Cairngorm Mountain remains open to visitors.
It could be worse. Switzerland's national rail operator has said that the world's longest rail tunnel will not be fully reopened to train traffic until September 2024. SBB, the Swiss federal railway operator, said that damage caused by a derailment on 10th August this year in the Gotthard tunnel 'is much more significant than first imagined'. The tunnel is Switzerland's main north-south rail thoroughfare and is now needing seven kilometres of work. There is always someone worse off, that's for sure.
I am already stacking up brochures from touring companies that book seats as part of their programmes for summer 2024 - tours including seats on The Jacobite.
One of them, the Railway Touring Company Ltd, who hail from Norfolk, are selling seats for June and September 2024: first class on The Jacobite as part of a week's stay in and around Inverness. They travel with a tour guide who is with them at all times.
Wanderlust summer 2023 awards
Travel website magazine Wanderlust has revealed their top nine tour operator itineraries by rail in the world - and top of the list was the West Highland Line! It is praised for capturing 'the imagination of visitors for over a century'. Linking the ports of Mallaig and Oban in the west highlands to Glasgow, it has won the accolade twice before.
The Wanderlust website says that the line 'has even gained a new generation of followers thanks to the appearance of the 19th-century Glenfinnan Viaduct in the Harry Potter films. But there's no wizardry here; just a serene, untouched wilderness. McKinlay Kidd's Slowly Along the West Highland Line trip affords the time to soak it all in as you inch the tracks between Glasgow and Oban on the Scottish west coast, before taking boat trips to the Hebridean Islands and the Knoydart peninsula - one of the UK's remotest and quietest spots. A private tour of the Isle of Skye completes the experience.'
You just cannot buy that great publicity for the place we know as 'ours'. Of all the contenders in the world, Scotland came out number one! It is, as ever, the railway itself that catches the imagination - and quite right too. If you want to you can look up Wanderlust's website and see what the competition was like: www.wanderlust.co.uk/content/tour-operator-rail-itineraries/
Trainee Train Drivers sought
ScotRail are advertising for trainee train drivers in Fort William. These are full time permanent positions with a salary starting at £32,968 per annum for trainees and £45,828 per annum for new qualified drivers. Training takes 18-24 months. Closing date: Saturday 18 November 2023. for more information and to apply see https://hijobs.net/job/285076/trainee-train-drivers
FOWH Lines Magazine, Autumn 2023 now available
Priced at £4 per copy plus postage with this issue containing four x A4 pages on the West Highland Extension entitled 'Summer Diesel Services in the 60s' written, and photographed, by Hamish Baillie. He used to work in Mallaig on the railway and this year was sometime afternoon Jacobite train manager. He is a member of FOWHL as well. Contact me on 01687 462189 if you require a copy posted out to you.
Finally, I had hoped that as we are using two car sets on the line at the moment, ScotRail would have added on the Highland Explorer coach. No joy so far, and if not, why not? It (in its absence) has just been awarded the accolade of 'Excellence in Transport Design' at the Scottish Transport Design awards. But where is it??
See you on the train,
Birdwatch October 2023 by Stephen MacDonald
A mixed bag weatherwise, but overall easterly winds dominated and it was mostly dry. On the 13th a Great White Egret (pictured) was discovered feeding on the shoreline of Loch Ailort, near Arisaig. It remained around the Loch Ailort area until the 17th at least. There was no sign on the 18th, but presumably the same bird was seen by Loch nan Ceall on the 19th. It remained until the month end, mostly seen around Camus an t-Sallain on Loch nan Ceall and also on Loch nan Eala.
Photo by S MacDonald
There was continued passage of Geese and Whooper Swans during the month. On the 5th, 12 Whoopers were seen on Loch nan Ceall and at least 38 flew over Camusdarroch in several groups early the same morning. Six Barnacle Geese were seen flying down the shoreline near Camusdarroch shortly after. There were several reports of Pink-Footed Geese flying over during the first two weeks of the month from Arisaig and Morar. On the 12th, 11 Greenland White Fronted Geese were seen heading south over Arisaig. On the 20th a single Brent Goose was in a field by Traigh golf course feeding along with the local Greylags. Also there, a lone Pink-Footed Goose and six Canada Geese.
Wigeon numbers built up, with reports from the Morar estuary, Silver Sands, Loch nan Ceall, Loch Ailort and Loch nan Eala. Four Common Scoter, the first of the winter, were seen on Loch nan Ceall on the 8th. The first Slavonian Grebe was seen there on the 29th, Although Little Grebes had been present all month. Moorhens were seen or heard on Loch nan Eala on several occasions. Great Northern Divers were seen at Traigh and Mallaig.
Wader passage decreased early in the month. Many birds reported will now probably winter in this area. At Traigh there were sightings of Ringed Plover, Turnstone, Dunlin, Curlew, Redshank and a single Bar-Tailed Godwit. On the Morar estuary there were at least four Bar-Tailed Godwits, five Greenshank and eight Redshank. Purple Sandpipers and Turnstone were seen regularly around West Bay, Mallaig.
Migrant Thrushes were seen from the first week, with some large flocks of Redwing reported. Fieldfares were reported from their second week but in much smaller numbers. Lots of Blackbirds reported across the area, presumably migrants also. Two Waxwings were seen on the 21st feeding on berries around Fank Brae, Mallaig. The next report was not until the 31st when at least fourteen were seen feeding on berries around Arisaig railway station.
On the 20th, three Bramblings in a Morar garden were the first reported this autumn. There were several other reports around Morar during the last week.
On the 30th and 31st a male and female Blackcap were seen feeding on elderberries in a woodside garden. On the 27th a late Swallow was seen over the Rhu road, Arisaig.
WORLD WIDE WEST WORD
Lucy caught up with all the Mallaig Harbour news whilst in Stavanger Harbour, Norway!
Blair Martin took his copy to Buckfast Abbey in Devon to buy a bottle of the real thing!
Watch this space for extracts from next month's issue!
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