Community paper for Glenfinnan, Lochailort, Glenuig, Arisaig, Morar,
Mallaig, Knoydart and the Small Isles
List of Issues online
October 2002 Issue
Contents of the online version:
MAIDEN OCEAN VOYAGE FOR BIRLINN
The Orcuan sailed out of Mallaig on Friday 27th September taking the crew as guest to a Pan-Celtic wedding on the Isle of Eigg. Birlinns, or Highland Galleys, were the main form of sea transport for hundreds of years, up until the early 16th century.
The Orcuan has been built as part of the training programme of GalGael which provides ‘courses for life’ and is funded by Greater Govan Social Inclusion Partnership, and also Scotland against Drugs, Lloyds TSB, Glasgow City Council, Scottish Enterprise Glasgow, and Greater Glasgow Health Board.
It took the best part of 2 years to build and differs from a traditional birlinn by having rowlocks instead of oarports. Launched in July on the Clyde, this was its maiden ocean voyage.
Made of over 30 different kinds of wood, "to bring a bit of magic to the boat", the 8-oared vessel was built to celebrate Scotland’s natural heritage as well as its cultural one. The wood used in their projects is windfall.
The crew were heading over to Eigg for the wedding of Alistair McIntosh and Verene Nicolas, a ceremony which was held at Tobar nam Ban Naomh, the Well of the Holy Woman, at Grulin below the Sgurr.
CHERNOBYL KIDS ENJOY THEIR VISIT
Children from stricken Chernobyl visited Lochaber recently, their visit hosted by the Lochaber Link of Chernoble Children Lifeline. Six girls and four boys from Belarus spent four enjoyable weeks respite care.
Simon MacDonald, James McLean and Iain MacDonald
present the Chernobyl children with a cheque for the money raised for their air fares.
The Lochaber Link would like to thank the great number of people in the area who rallied to support the cause.
Local men Simon MacDonald, James McLean and Iain MacDonald did a two day sponsored walk over the mountains between Loch Quoich and Inverie and raised £1956 from sponsors in the Mallaig and Knoydart area. This money paid the return fare for the children between Minsk and Glasgow.
Thanks also go to Bruce Watt, who gave the children a wonderful tour of Loch Nevis in Western Isles, and the Fish Market and Cornerstone for the marvellous fish suppers, and to Ian and Jackie Robertson and staff of the Old Forge, Knoydart for their shelter when the rain fell. Also to Jim Michie for the cruise of Loch Shiel in MV Sileas.
Many others in the wider Lochaber area also helped in all sorts of ways.
Vernon Wilkes (former editor of De Tha Dol?) who was involved in much of the organisation of the visit said: ‘In the past two years Lochaber has hosted 36 needy children from the area of Belarus most affected by the 1986 explosion at Chernobyl. This respite care really does improve these children’s impaired immune system. They return home free of radioactive Caesium 137.’
The Lochaber Link contact is Helena Cairns, 32 Lundavra Road, Fort William.
Feis Na Mara 2002
After months of preparation the weekend finally arrived. Friday started off with the children's concert. It was great to see it was well audienced and that our 'young talent' appreciated. The evening continued with four excellent bands, Meantime, Harem Scarem (with the tune about the little gnome!), Hoogie and finally, as some people described them...Scotland's answer to Jamaroqui....Croft No 5, who ended the evening for the 'young and lively!'.
Saturday afternoon saw the music and Gaelic fun days in the High School and our thanks go to Feis Nan Garbh Chriochan for the organisation of these. Many children enjoyed the Art workshops in the Mallaig & Morar Community Centre and our thanks go to Linda McCann and Jo McNamara for sharing their talents with them. The afternoon also saw a BBQ run by the Coastguard accompanied by the soft sounds of the Skye Steel Band who played on the platform giving the village a 'carnival' atmosphere.
From 8.00pm we tapped our toes to sets from Malcolm Jones & Donald Black followed by Iain MacFarlane, Ian MacDonald and friends. The evening then continued to sizzle with our local band, Turn Up the Heat and then burst into the finale with Daimh. Many said that Saturday night was 'buzzing'!
Art workshops continued on Sunday afternoon with many children of all ages attending. Meanwhile, over at the marquee a technical problem ensued........ but fortunately was resolved in time for Sunday evenings performances to go ahead. The Scottish Step Dance Company showed us how they are bringing the step dance back into the Scottish/Gaelic culture and were followed by the infamous pair, Aly Bain and Phil Cunningham. They played as brilliantly as ever and jollied us along with their banter in between. After the rapturous applause and an encore Phil drew the raffle (prize winners listed below). Malinky continued with their set perfectly leading us to the final Feis 'Ceilidh' with Angus Grant and Ian Joseph, which warmed us up a bit. (The marquee on Sunday was rather cold, but did not deter the revellers!)
Harem Scarem (Sarah MacFadyen, Nuala Kennedy, Eilidh Shaw, Inge Thomson, Ross Martin)
and Aly Bain and Phil Cunningham
We would like to express our thanks to the police and the Harbour Authority, for their co-operation. We would also like to thank our Funders: The Highland Council, The Mackintosh Foundation, The Scottish Arts Council, Lochaber Enterprise and the European Union. Also to the three publicans who provided the bar facility and to Garramore who worked so hard on all three nights to provide food, to Colin King for 'plugging us in' and in particular the many individuals who helped with various tasks throughout the weekend, but most of all to the people of the area who came along and made the weekend the huge success it was!
PS Neilian wants to thank the person who inevitably ate the biggest beef roll on Saturday night.....but where did the sweetcorn come from?!!!!!
FRIDAY 13TH – AND THINGS COME IN THREES
Friday September 13th was certainly unlucky for some.
While the Ambulance waited on Mallaig Pier for the Lifeboat to return from Rum with an injured diver, they were summoned to a road accident at Lochailort. On the way to Fort William with a casualty, the Ambulance was passed by Fort William Fire Brigade heading out to Morar to help Mallaig Fire Brigade fight a house fire.
Luckily, no-one was seriously hurt in any of the incidents.
On 11th September in the Village Hall we were treated to an evening’s entertainment from Fiona Knowles who performed a one woman play called ‘Stick Granny on the Roof Rack’. It was cleverly written and some brilliant ‘one liners’ and funny and thoughtful throughout. I’m sure we all recognized some feelings we would all have experienced if we were put in the same situation. All in all, a good night out.
On 14th September Alison Sergeant (Ali) put on a talk and slide show for us. She had spent four months in the Arctic on her gap year with other students and talked us through some of her impressions and experiences in a totally different environment. It was a great talk and the slides were lovely and had everyone asking questions at Ali throughout, who gave us some refreshing and frank answers. All the adults and children really enjoyed it.
ISLE OF MUCK
With only one seriously wet day (6th), September has followed August as another remarkably dry month. For most of it Sheerwater has been really busy making up for the reduced numbers earlier in the summer. Almost the last patrons of the Craft Shop before it closed for the winter was a party from Mull, part of the ‘Mull and Iona Food Festival’. Unfortunately they picked the only day of the week with any wind and it does not need much of that to kick up a nasty sea at Ardnamurchan Point. However when they did reach Muck they were treated to a buffet lunch made with as many local ingredients as possible. A tour of the farm followed where I pointed out the many links between Muck and Mull.
On the farm all the sheep are now sold and eight loads have crossed the water on Wave. And remarkably every crossing has been calm or almost calm, a really easy year for ferrying. The last to go were the ewes sold on the 20th, a very large sale and the Muck ewes were the last in the catalogue and went through the year at 7pm. It did not seem to matter much as prices were far above those of the last few years. For ‘correct’ ewes: Cheviots £26, Mules £27.50, Jacob X £27.50, Blackface £22.20
While I am on the subject of sales I am minded to mention two outstanding consignments of lambs from other vendors. First a pen of Texel crosses from Canna, which despite having spent the night in the mart looked superb in the ring. Even more impressive if that were possible, was a pen of Blackface X Suffolk/Texels from Arisaig Estate. Arisaig is not like Muck or Canna’s ‘green and pleasant land’, but these lambs would have looked well anywhere in the country.
Harvest Thanksgiving approaches so now is the time to mention how the crops have fared on Muck in 2002. First silage; 785 bales – the most silage we have ever made, but it has been a great growing season. The oats, like last year, had to be baled as too much of the crop went flat to use the binder. Potatoes (the one good crop last year) were a failure mainly because the wet winter made it impossible to plough early enough to kill the grass before planting. Swedes, kale, cabbages and carrots are all excellent and some will be on sale at the Farmers Market at Torlundy on the 18th.
Lastly with all the barns, fences and grassland in reasonable fettle, Barnaby Jackson and I are tackling the farm’s last frontier – the drainage. Traditional field drains are fairly useless without backfill and that is difficult on Muck. So we are putting more emphasis on ditching, but even that is a long term task.
ISLE OF RUM Another relatively quiet month on Rum, memorable only for the BBC finally leaving the island and, of course, the arrival of the Lifeboat and Mallaig Fire Brigade very early in the morning to extinguish some toast at the Castle. Thumbs up to the efficiency of the emergency services, thumbs down to communication skills on Rum...
So the winter is drawing in and the Rum WRI has reinvented itself for yet another charity crochet afternoon. Prizes for originality wet to Regge with her magnificent, and very practical, cover for our Royal Mail postbox. Of course, it will only get any practical use if the Royal Mail actually get round to sending a postbox out to Rum.
In August we said goodbye to Freddie, Bridget and Michael from the Castle. Freddie has taken up employment with Eden Court Theatre in Inverness as the Chef. Young Michael was the only boy in the school and will be sadly missed.
As a replacement chef over here, Jeffrey Pleunes has stepped in to cook at the Castle. Jeffrey was previously employed by the Three Chimneys in Dunvegan and is a most excellent cook.
Highlights for this week include the arrival of Derek’s pick-up, a vehicle not owned by the SNH, the first of many, or at least a few. And next week we have a fine display of synchronised swimming by the Council divers to check the integrity of our art installation (pier?), as we don’t want it falling down over the winter, again.
ISLE OF EIGG
With the best weather of the whole summer, September has gone very fast indeed, with record minke whales sightings, not a bad chanterelles harvest, and a bumper brambles crop. although strangely there was not a sloe to be found.
The weather held for the Mallaig festival, making it even more enjoyable to meet friends for an al-fresco aperitif - an unlikely treat in this part of the world! And it remained dry and calm for the arrival of the GalGaels's birlinn to the wedding of their friends, the ecologists and social activists Alastair McIntosh and Verene Nicolas, on Eigg. So calm in fact that Eric Weldon had to help out with a bit of towing! Reaching the island was an emotional moment for those who had seen their dream come to fruition after years of fundraising and the two years grafting that went into the making of the 8 oars vessel.
It heralded the start of a truly pan-Celtic wedding, with a lovely ceremony performed in front of friends from all the Celtic lands - Scotland, Brittany, Ireland and Wales- and beyond - at Tobar nam Ban Naomh, the well of the holy woman, in Grulin. As a guest from Lewis remarked, it was the kind of marriage ceremony which took you back hundreds of years, when dancing was done outside on the soft green grass to the sound of a fiddle or two and many singing voices. This was also the first time since the Clearances that there had been so many people gathered there! A great time was had by all, and once again the tea-room girls produced a splendid feast for all to enjoy.
The commissioners from the RCAHMS were also amongst the last visitors of the season, and enjoyed their visit to Eigg's archaeological sites, remarking how everyone in the Small Isles had made such a contribution to the archaeologists' work by taking an active interest. The fact is that the Small Isles in general and Eigg in particular do take their cultural heritage seriously and would like to see more done with the history of the place to benefit locals and visitors alike. It was therefore with great interest that the Eigg history society members discovered more about genealogy from Bill Lawson and his wife Chris who run "Co leis thu?" in Harris, and more about local traditions from Allan and Elisabeth MacDonald from Arisaig. Plenty in any case to keep us busy this winter!
Eigg homecoming for Canadian writer Alistair MacLeod
"Of course, you are a Scottish writer, you've only been away for 200 years! " Iain Crichton Smith once famously said to Alistair MacLeod, now dubbed the Canadian Chekhov in the wake of the success of his best selling novel No Great Mischief.
It was a homecoming indeed when Alistair and his wife Anita visited Eigg for the afternoon, whilst staying with their MacLeod relations in Morar before setting off for the 2002 Edinburgh book festival.
Both Alistair and Anita's ancestors left Eigg and Morar in 1791 and braved the Pictou winters for a decade until they finally made the 200 miles trek to Cape Breton in order to be with other Catholic Eigg and Moidart emigrants.
It was a pleasure to welcome Alistair and his wife back to the island and give them a wee tour of the New Eigg, stopping at Angus MacKinnon's grave so they could pay their respect to an old friend.
Sitting outside the pier tea-room in the sun was just the perfect setting for Eigg's first literary lunch, discussing genealogy and literature. We told Alistair how we could relate to so many of his characters. Seemingly we are not alone there for the book has been translated into 15 languages, including Japanese, Albanian and Turkish, a fact that still amazes Alistair. We reflected how loss and attachment to one's culture can obviously be such a universal theme.
Alistair's skill is in the way he can convey so much tenderness and restrained emotion in his descriptions. The man has the poet's blood flowing in his vein, a poetry rooted in the culture of his forebears. He told us for instance of a reading he made of No Great Mischief at last year's Celtic Colours with Mary Jane Lamont singing and Natalie MacMaster on the fiddle and how it had worked so well, just like a house ceilidh would have been in the old days...
No wonder we thought, and dreamt that one day, HI-Arts would fund a Clanranald heartland tour of all those people "who have only been away for 200 years" , Alistair, Mary-Jane, Natalie, wild Ashley MacIsaac too of course, and Buddy MacMaster, and young MacQuarrie, the descendant of that great Eigg Piper tutored by no less than Ranald MacDonald of Morar way back in the 1720's. After all, Gabe and Angus of Daimh are here already!
Now that's an idea, you could even make it part of the Lochaber festival! You know, the one we are still waiting for when it was decided that the Highland Festival would not come to Lochaber.
But why should we worry, the Highland Festival still comes to us! After the Canadian Chekov, here came the Highland Dario Fo with Accidental Death of an Accordionist, Monday 3d September, Isle of Eigg Community Hall. My, My, what a literary month it has been!
There’s rightly been much discussion recently over the new road as it enters and by-passes Arisaig, as the effects begin to become obvious. A recent meeting on site involved Highland Council, the Community Council, and 17 people who live in the area affected.
The Community Council put in a lot of hard work several years ago, to try to ensure that the village got the best of the situation that it could – and the feeling now is that we’ve been let down. We had to fight for the promise of a 30 mph speed limit on the by-pass, would you believe, which wasn’t originally going to be implemented, and insisted on two entrance/exits to the village, at each end, when they wanted to give us only one. We argued against tree planting which would obscure the views of the village and bay from the by-pass which might perhaps entice people to turn off and visit. We said no to a proposed picnic/parking area at the east entry, arguing that if people stopped there they wouldn’t stop in the village at shop an eating places. They promised they wouldn’t be working in the village during the summer months – hah! Was it really necessary to have a rock pecker pecking away all day on a lovely Sunday, just beside the houses? They promised us an attractive wall and olde worlde street lighting on the new stretch to give that ‘you’re in a village’ feel.
The wall at least is a lovely piece of work – but so high! Travellers in a car won’t be able to see over it. Why did entry at the east end have to be so high? The argument that we wanted the tree at the corner preserved seems a bit weak. And two graceful old trees have cut down and an iron age burial site destroyed.
Ranald Coyne, Secretary of the Community Council, has written a letter to Barrs after the on-site meeting and in it he cites the ‘tunnel’ effect through Arisaig caused by the wall, and the ‘prison type’ outlook of some of the houses on the eastern approach. The Council are calling for consultation on any planned tree screening and landscaping and ask that the wall construction is stopped until the height problem can be sorted out.
It has been devastating to see the changes to the village and such a pity it couldn’t have been made less drastic. My heart sinks when I think of what ‘they’ will do to the remaining stretch to Loch nan Uamh – personally my favourite bit!
On a different note, we’re delighted that the Land, Sea & Islands Centre has received a 4 Star Quality Award from the Tourist Board as an excellent Visitor Attraction. They liked the mix of words and pictures, the choice of merchandise in the shop, the friendly and helpful staff, the attractive interior (they even liked the outside!), etc. etc. An example of how the Centre can help the village’s economy – an American couple came in, the man being an author who was going to perhaps write about his trip. We talked about the by-pass and the Centre, and they went off to play golf and look for B & B. Then they came back – they had decided after our conversation to spend their time and money in Arisaig – B & B, evening meals, and tickets for the concert in the Hall that night. If he then writes something positive about Arisaig, it could bring in numbers of other visitors.
We had the Mull Theatre at the Hall (last night as I write this) and the real drama happened when the audience had gone home. The play has a fight in the final act and in the struggle the lead actor hit his head hard on the set and wrenched his shoulder. Luckily it was right at the end and his dazed expression was put down to acting the part! We had to call Dr. Shina out to look at him and although he is OK he will probably have to miss the performance they were due to give tonight at Lochinver – I suppose they’ll have an understudy.
The programme gives an interesting little anecdote on this actor, John Langford. John, from Motherwell, went to England in 1985 to work in theatre and hadn’t worked in Scotland since then – until last year. He was on the MV Fitzcarraldo which was the boat that came into Mallaig with the play ‘Moby Dick’ on board. John was in that play, and when the boat arrived in Tobermory, he met some friends he hadn’t seen for twenty years, who were working at the Mull Theatre, and joined the company.
The set of the play was very good – and I had some anxious moments because the two halves, which had to turn between scenes, had a clearance of 3 inches to the sides to the hall. It was quite an effect to see an open grave with a man in it up to his shoulders, shovelling out soil – at the far end of the Astley Hall!
Homes for Africa - by Sam Foster
Well, it's September, apparently, and things have been going pretty well, if a little too quickly and we have not been bored little bunnies!
After moving to our third and final affiliate less than 1km away from Kisii town four of us went to Kisumu again while the remaining six went to Mombasa at the beginning of the month. We got a matatu from Kisii to Kisumu travelling at between 20-100mph all the way! This time though we stayed in a cracking hotel called the New Victoria Hotel which had hot showers and balconies overlooking Lake Victoria! Very nice! That night (friday) we got some local fish (tilapia) to eat and I taught the others how to play a card game called 'yup'. The next day we got up pretty early (just because that's what we're used to) and went off to Kakamega Forest, about 40kms north of Kisumu.
It's the last remaining 230 sq.kms left of a rainforest which used to run from one African coast to the other and is pretty amazing. We didn't get there until 11ish and had to leave before 3 before the daily rains came. For 3 hours we had a really cool guide called Moses taking us though an unbelievable complex network of trails and tracks explaining about all the plants animals and trees, complete with latin names for everything! Very cool indeed. Then we came back to Kisumu, had something to eat and a couple of card games, then went round to a place called the Octopus Bottoms-up Club (or as it keeps on getting called, the Blue Oyster) where there was cold beer and hot prostitutes! There were a couple of pool tables too and I even beat one guy (hooray) which was pretty good considering it was after half a dozen tuskers! Jenny promised she'd sing on the karaoke if I did win, so she sang 'Nobody Does It Better' very well indeed! After a while, the novelty wore off so we went through the back and downstairs to the club where they played everything from Britney Spears to this weird reggae stuff that only drunk folk (us included) would attempt to dance to...and we stayed there shaking our booties til after 6 in the morning and we couldn't see anymore...
I've got my diary here and just flicking through it from when I think I emailed last there's a couple of funny things: families here keep their kids in the same house with them until they're circumcised (boys AND girls) then they go and live in a house in a different part of their garden! We still go to church most Sundays and a few Sundays ago the priest actually told everyone to clap harder because we were there! We also went to Tabaka, where they quarry the soapstone which is turned into carvings by half of Kenya, then visited one of the export shops where stuff was a really good price and the range of stuff was incredible!
We're back in Nairobi now (we got back from Kisii on the 14th September I think...) and four of our band of intrepid little brickies went back to the UK on Tuesday 17th and will probably, as I write, be falling into ditches and out of nightclubs because they can't handle their drink!
It's Thursday 26th as far as I can tell from the sun and the wind and it's been a hectic few weeks. We finished at the last building site last only two weeks ago then had the celebration on the Friday which was great craic. First of all we went and watched them slaughter the goat they'd bought in our honour and then cooked for everyone to eat (really tasty actually, just like tough beef) and the afreekan ladeez danced for us, then made us dance too!
Everyone ended up shaking their booties, then we showed them how to do a strip the willow and gay gordons! These are the dances we've shown them how to do at all 3 affiliates but we've had to do them to faster, Irish music so usually mess up ourselves! African folk laugh at most things but they laughed a lot at this! Then they clapped though so that was ok...Saturday arrived after hardly any sleep because we were excited about going back to civilisation (for reasons which escape me now), and the journey from Kisii to Nairobi was by a quicker, though no less scenic route than the one we'd taken to get to Kisii.
Talk about culture shock! There's fast food, music from home and women that would give you a funny turn just from looking at them...we actually felt out of place but at least we were more tanned than the white folk who had just arrived! It didn't last long until we were on the road back to Kisii and turned off to go down to the Masai Mara! this is what you expect Africa to look like: little and not-so-little sand whirlwinds moving across plains and a landscape scorched by the sun and dotted with manyatas (Maasai villages), endless horizons and Maasai warriors (and I mean warriors, these guys have to endure circumcision at 17 years old and if they even blink an eye they're chucked out. They carry a big stick and a knife hidden under their red blanket clothes and chase lions away if they attack their cattle (they also think they own all the cattle in the world so steal them from other tribes!) are dotted all over the place and you're not allowed to photograph them or their cattle since they believe it takes away a bit of their souls.
If we thought Nairobi was a culture shock then nothing even remotely prepared us for Siana Springs, our safari base. It's a tented camp and so we thought 'Cool, tents in the Masai Mara' expecting 4 man tents. What we got was undescribable. These tents were 10 feet wide and 20 feet long, had hot showers and proper toilets in them, not to mention electric lights and hot water bottles put in your bed at 7pm! They've got wee verandahs as well and baboons, colobus monkeys and blue monkeys as well as impala and thomsons (tommy) gazelles wandering around eating the grass and making funny noises. There's even an impala so tame that it comes up to the dinner table and eats food from your hand (the dining room is completely open to the front and the food is based on a series of 4 or 5 courses per meal and all we had to pay for were drinks which were a bit expensive but since the rest was all inclusive you really didn't care! Just so no-one thinks that we're off gallivanting using the money we raised, I should tell you that the personal donations and our own spending money were funding this, not to mention any other adventures we've been on.
The game drives we went on during our two-day stay ranged from elephants, gazelle, zebras, wildebeest (by the thousand - the migration back to the Serengeti in Tanzania to the south has begun so large groups of them are milling around looking stupid and trying not to run into one another before they shoot the crow...), loads of unbelievably coloured birdies, giraffes and even a cheetah! On the drive back that day we watched the sun set (in a riot of colour that would make your heart explode) whilst we were wrapped up in maasai blankets and speeding along in our souped up landrovers.
On Monday we went on an all day safari and actually reached the Mara river at a place called hippo point about 1km from the Tanzanian border (which we actually crossed so we can say we've been to Tanzania (albeit illegally, but hey)) and guess what kind of animals they had there? yep, monkeys! these monkeys are cheeky little...monkeys...and ran into the landrovers when we had got out to go look at the family of hippos and stole a couple of bags of crisps and a banana!
As if that wasn't enough we organised a six-day trek up Mount Kenya to reach Point Lenana (4985m), the highest point accessible without using ropes and technical climbing. We left on Friday 20th, staying the night at the Mountain Rock Hotel campsite and using that day to visit the Mau-Mau caves which the British had bombed during the Second World War. The Mau-Maus were a group of freedom fighters struggling to seek Kenya's independence at the cost of the British empire. It wasn't until 1963 that Kenya actually received independence and since then there have only been two presidents. The presidential elections are in January because the current president, President Moi, is getting a bit old and most people seem to think he's a bit of an idiot. People over here do most things by halves except when it comes to politics. There have been a disturbing amount of murders, scandals, random beatings and attacks all linked to different factions and sects linked to the various political parties.
Anyhoo, back to the adventure...on Saturday we went to Nanyuki, the nearest town to our route start-point where we hired some stuff and then it was off to the park gate where we began our trek up the easy 9km up to old Moses hut (3300m), passing elephant poo on the way and seeing a pretty spectacular sunset. On Sunday we left at 7am and made our way along the 16+km to Shiptons Hut (4200m)which took us through some of the different zones to be found in afro-alpine areas, such as the heath zone, full of huge heathers, then the big scary rock zone, full of big, scary rocks, then the giant funny looking lobelia zone, full of giant, funny looking lobelias and across cloud filled valleys and wee streams and do you know what? It looked just like home a lot of the time.
After getting to Shiptons camp at about 4pm with most of the valley obscured by low cloud and watching as snow fell across the camp area and up, high around us, we tried to get some sleep since we were getting up early the next morning to climb to the highest point accessible to trekkers.
After poking your head out of your sleeping bag the first thing you see is a strange ethereal glow coming from the window obscured by the end of your bunk bed. Then you realise that what's waken you is someone knocking on the dormitory door to alert all those people doing this...thing...that the time has finally arrived. Slowly but surely everyone stirs and wakes, quickly getting out of bed and putting layer upon layer of sweat-wicking (for the rich) or thin cotton (for the not so rich) clothes on as fast as they can - partly from the adrenaline running though our veins and partly because it's sooo cold!
The next stage involves everyone filtering out into the eating area (really just a glorified hall) and gulping down hot, sweet, milkless tea and enough biscuits to worry Mcvities. Then, after checking our daypacks, we don them and move outside to where the light blue-grey glow we first saw is coming from.
The light in the mountains here around 3am on a September morning is startling. In our case, the clouds had cleared and an almost-full moon had risen to cast enough light to read our watches by, not to mention illuminating the most dramatic 360-degree natural theatre I have ever seen.
Like massive volcanic giants the peaks rise up to over 5000m and make you feel like no more than an inquisitive insect about to revel in the fact that you've actually touched one of these obscenely beautiful yet extremely dangerous leviathans...
And then that's it. O-F-F-ski. But it's not a race to reach our destination. Moving at this altitude is a slow, deliberate process and our journey to see the sunrise takes the form of a trudge; each footstep only millimetres in front of the last in order to get into a steady rhythm and make our energy last as long as possible. Making our way from Shiptons to Point Lenana (4985m) has us in a zone where there is only half as much oxygen in the air as there is at sea level and so your heart must work twice as hard. Going up to these altitudes without acclimatizing is not to be recommended since Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) is a very real and very deadly threat. As it is, Robin, our guide, knows what we can do safely and leads us steadily for three hours past small tarns (lakes), receding glaciers and sheer rock faces 1000ft high until the light of a new dawn creeps from behind the darkness and replaces the moon as our light source for the journey.
Then Robin points out that we've only another hundred feet or so before we get to our destination... Almost scrambling now, we clamber up onto the small plateau just in time to witness the birth of a blood red sun from clouds the colour of gold and above an ocean of early morning cumulus. It never enters your head that we're more than 3 times higher than anything at home, and in the distance Kilimanjaro and neighbouring Mawenzi are getting the same treatment and the warmth of the sun, not to mention the adrenaline, is heating us up quickly...
I'll not bore you with the adventures of the way down because Ann will kill me for taking up too much space! As it is, we're back in Nairobi and should be flying back home tonight. If any of you ever get the chance to climb or hike around here then grab the opportunity with both hands and don't let go until you're blue in the face. See you all very soon, and thank-you once again for making this experience one which I will certainly never forget. I will always be indebted to you for making it possible.
Coastal Ranger Report
Zoooooom! There goes another month, and not only that, but all of a sudden it’s October (shows you how observant you have to be as a Ranger!). So what’s the significance? you might ask, well for me it signals the end of what has been a rather mixed up walking programme. Somehow, having lost the months of May and June to the "knife" this year, nothing seems to have quite caught up properly, and I felt on my final walk last Thursday somewhat cheated, but there it is, you know, "the best laid plans of mice and men etc."
Well, what have I for you this time? Firstly let me ask you a question, "What makes a good article?" Obviously content must be important, what about spelling and grammar? punch lines? references, photographs? How about feedback? This is what I need. I need, after almost four years, some HELP! What would you like me to write about? Believe it or not, this monthly article is part of my contract, and I would hate to think that my efforts produced a bored audience, because I know what being bored is all about, (ref. Health and Safety lectures some months ago!!) So readers, it’s over to you! I want to have hundreds of letters/ faxes/ phone calls before next month!
Now back to sanity. I’ve had a busy month with the walks being well attended, culminating in an attempt at conquering "Sidean Mor", but having to stop short of the summit owing to thick mist and low cloud, very disappointing considering how much wonderful weather we have had over the period. The views from the top I know are quite magical, so perhaps at some point over the winter or in the early spring, if we are lucky enough to get some clear weather, perhaps a group of you who are too busy during the season to join the walks, may care to join me on a gentle tour to the summit?
As I write this, I wonder how the children who, over the past weekend completed their Bronze Duke of Edinburgh’s Award expedition. Seven cheery souls complete with well-filled rucksacks set off from Lubilea at the south end of Loch Laggan and trekked around 18 miles of Scottish countryside to finish near Laggan at the north end, still seven cheery souls, albeit with a selection of hard earned aches and pains! How this affected their supervisors, two of whom accompanied the group from Mallaig (courtesy, by the way of the kindness of Mr. Ross of the Arisaig Hotel who lent us the minibus, there being no other vehicle available), and the other two who were kind enough to travel all the way from the far side of Portree to join us. (Thanks Suzanne and Alex.) Our kind assessor was the redoubtable Roger who also stepped in at the last minute to make this expedition possible, as the rules forbid "wild country" outings over the winter months. So, perhaps now, with both my walking programme and the D.o.E hikes ended for a while, maybe these old bones can rest a little!
Having indicated that I am really "knackered", please don’t let that put you off contacting me if you fancy a walk, or a bit of practise map work anywhere at any time, I’m sure that a break from school work won’t go wrong with me! But if there is any reason that you wish to get in touch with me, the same old boring number’s the way. Just give me a buzz on 01687 462 983.
MAPS, CHARTS & THE ARISAIG CENSUS - by Malcolm Poole
The Heritage Centre has finally received the microfilm reel containing the Lochailort, Arisaig and South Morar Census for 1901 and this is now available to anyone wanting to delve into the past of these areas.
While the changes in this area are perhaps not as dramatic as Mallaig's transformation from a crofting hamlet into a significant port and railway terminus, the coming of the railway has left its mark in the form of new jobs as stationmasters and signalmen at Arisaig and Lochailort and railway surfacemen at points in between. A number of local men who have been at work on the construction of the railway still list their occupation as "Railway navvy" and there are still quite a number living in the navvies' huts near Lochailort, where Donald McNab the innkeeper was probably seeing trade falling off after a busy four years. So too will have John MacKinnon, the steamboat porter at Rhu pier.
Presumably Malcolm MacLure at Arisaig Hotel was looking forward to the arrival of more visitors travelling north on the train. Other aspects of life continued as usual. Arisaig's agricultural land and larger population had always been able to support more tradesmen and there is still an impressive range of trades listed, of which the blacksmith was then one of the most important - in 1901 the Arisaig blacksmith was Ewen Young from Corpach. No doubt he was often called upon to make boat fittings for Angus Campbell the boatbuilder at Back of Keppoch.
While most of the people of Back of Keppoch and Bunacaimb are still making a living from their crofts, Arisaig estate and other smaller estates provide a considerable number of jobs, as coachmen, grooms, dairymaids, laundresses, gamekeepers and gardeners. At Rhubana we find Ronald McLachlan, gamekeeper, whose photograph appears in an album of photographs on loan to the Heritage Centre by Alasdair Macdonald, Portnadoran. Nearby, at Toigal, lives John MacDonald, the fisherman who is the subject of several photographs by M.E.M. Donaldson. At this time the school for South Morar was at Kinsadel, where Mary Macintosh from Moidart was the teacher.
Perhaps the saddest aspect of this census, taken only 101 years ago, is the long list of people living in the Ardnish peninsula, now completely deserted. The census lists 56 people living in Ardnish, not counting a further 12 at Sloch and 24 at Mullochbuie.
On a lighter note, for the purely curious, on the same reel is the census for Ardersier, which includes Fort George Barracks and the names of the 17 officers and 549 soldiers stationed there.
Seacharts of the Hebrides
One of the Heritage Centre's current projects is to produce an exhibition covering the story of navigation along our coasts and in the waters of the Hebrides. We have just obtained some excellent copies of charts from the National Library of Scotland illustrating our coasts from 1580 onwards which will form part of this exhibition, but we would also like to obtain some Decca charts for local coasts to accompany the Decca Navigator which we already have. One further request - does anyone have a boat's compass, preferably in a binnacle, which they can lend or give to the Centre. Once again, it would be ideal if it was from a local boat.
Map of Eigg
In addition to the charts we have also obtained colour copies of Thomas Leslie's 1824 map of Eigg and Herman Moll's 1745 map of Lochaber. These have been added to the Heritage Centre's archive, so if you would like to have a look at these, do come in and we'll be more than happy to show them to you.
We have received a number of articles from Allan Gillis in Ottowa, Canada, which we hope to feature over the coming months. By coincidence, one of them is about the census....
The MacLellans of Inverness County - 1871 Census
Compiled by Allan J. Gillis © 1997
The MacLellans of Inverness County came from the West Highland and Hebridean areas of Scotland. Those who settled in the county were mainly Roman Catholics, with the exception of one family grouping in the Whycocomagh area and several other isolated individuals elsewhere in the county.
It appears that the few MacLellans who originally settled in the Judique-River Denys Road-Glendale areas were not connected with those in the northern part of the county. I suspect that these MacLellans settled near their friends and relatives from South Uist. (This remains to be proven) Also, some of these MacLellans might have been from Eigg.
The majority of the Inverness County MacLellans came from Morar, with perhaps a few from Knoydart. These MacLellans were, at first, concentrated in the Glenville-Broad Cove-Southwest Margaree areas and tended to intermarry with other Morar families, such as the Gillises and other MacLellans. If one consults MacDougall's History of Inverness County, it is mind-boggling to try to sort out the various family connections. However, it may be that certain persons have traced out and recorded their own families to the point where they can add to the sketchy information given in this census.
The day is pretty well past when one might readily visit individuals who could rhyme out from memory the highly intricate family connections of our people. (There are a few left, but they are disappearing quickly!) One should record any oral traditions from older family members as soon as possible - or even record your own. Every little snippet of family or local lore can add to our knowledge of our ancestors and our neighbours.
The census is merely an enumeration of the population but it can prove valuable when combined with land records, wills, probates and many family records such as Bibles, obituaries, correspondence and partially-completed genealogies. (Genealogies are on-going and are never completed.) Ages given in the various censuses are not etched in stone; they can vary widely from one ten-year period to another and should be approached as being only a rough guide to each person's actual age. (See the 1871 ages and those of 1881 in small brackets to appreciate this.)
Sometimes, the census can give us unexpected little clues such as the inclusion of people of a different surname living with the family. Considering that our people operated their own welfare system, one might presume that these extra people might be relatives or distressed neighbours. It helps to have a look at the complete area census to see who the neighbours were as, often, the Scotch pioneers didn't go too far to find a husband or wife. Knowledge of one's in-laws can be helpful!
I hope that this compilation of the Inverness County MacLellans will be of some use to anyone trying to trace their roots to Inverness County and beyond. Good luck!
P.S. Ages given in small brackets are those in the 1881 census. Unfortunately, I didn't have time to complete them all. Also, you can find at least one family from Eigg. There were a total of 652 MacLellans in Inverness County in 1871.
Scottish Folk Cures Used in Eastern Nova Scotia Part 3 by Marlene MacDonald Cheng
If a child had the mumps, the old people would gather what we called "matches" from the woods. These were a kind of dry moss with a red head on it which was found on old dead trees. The moss looks like the old kind of wooden matches with the red tops. These matches were tied into a clump or put in a bag and hung around the child’s neck for the mumps. People were always afraid when a man got the mumps of it going into the bladder and the intestines which was very serious. So the man would tie a very tight belt or rope around his waist to keep the mumps from "going down".
Fir balsam was also great to heal sores or cuts. We would pound it with a mallet on a wooden board until it was like a sticky salve. Then we would put that right on the sore spot, and it would heal up in no time. Around Port Hood in Cape Breton there weren’t many balsam fir trees, but they did have Balm of Gilead trees. The balsam from that tree was just as good as balsam fir. It was especially good for weak lungs. It would be boiled in water on the stove and the sick person would sit close by, sometimes leaning over the pot with a cloth over his head. It was used when people had bronchitis, or asthma, or even tuberculosis.
To stop bleeding we used puffballs from our back yard, you know the ones – when they ripen and you squeeze them, smoke comes out of them. We gathered them to keep for the winter. If a cut or wound won’t stop bleeding, we just put the inside of the puffball right against the wound, and it stopped bleeding in no time. Cobwebs were also good for stopping bleeding. Stomach ache was a common malady. We used to dig up blackberry roots and steep them in water for a long time. Then we drank the liquid and the stomach cramps were gone. Another old time remedy for stomach ache was what was called gould (gold) thread. It was a little plant that grew on the ground, something like a shamrock or clover. It grew everywhere in Nova Scotia. The plant had three little leaves on it, very smooth, growing on a vine, and long yellow roots on it (from whence it got its name). People would just gather up the roots and put them in a glass jar. Then they were boiled in water as needed and used to treat canker sores or cold sores in the mouth.
Tansy was a valuable herb to the old people. It’s a plant with yellow, button-like flowers and aromatic leaves, something like tea tree oil. It was used in cooking as well as for medicines. It was especially good for swelling, and was used on horses as well as people. My grandfather was a blacksmith and often used a tansy tea poultice to bring down swelling in a horse’s leg. Once when I injured my knee, it was washed down first with tansy tea, and then a tansy tea poultice was applied to take down the swelling. Tansy was always cut just when the yellow bloom appeared. It was gathered up, tied with a string and left to dry near the stove pipe. Then when needed, the leaves were boiled and steeped in water. Tansy leaves were also used to flavour stews.
One favorite plant around our yard was the plantain leaf, those big ugly leaves that grew everywhere. It was used to heal bruises. My mother just bound the leaf around the bruise and in no time at all the bruise would disappear.
A superstitious kind of cure for sore eyes was to save the last snow of the season (called the "May snow" in Nova Scotia), and keep it in a bottle until ready to use. Then compresses were made of the snow water for putting on sore eyes. The old people always saved the last snow of the year, enough to last all winter until the next spring. It had to be the very last snow. If it snowed after you had collected the first batch, you would throw the first one out and keep the latest snow. I never felt that it made much difference from ordinary water. Another cure for sore eyes, one that seemed to work better in my opinion, was wet tea leaves. We didn’t have tea bags in the olden days, so we tied wet tea leaves in a cheesecloth bag and lay down with them on our sore eyes (which we often had at haying season).
To cure hay fever or any kind of sinus congestion, especially during haying season, we would go down to the shore and get some sea water, and sniff it up into our noses. This really helped to clear the head of any kind of congestion. There were a lot of other herbs but I don’t know the uses of all of them. I remember my grandmother using a weed called agrimonia (I think that’s how it is spelled), boneset (another weed), Thompson’s bitters (a big plant which is prevalent in the fall of the year), and a tree called wormwood.
If any of these remedies appeal to you, feel free to try them. You may have to go to Cape Breton to find a particular herb or tree, but I’m sure there will be equivalents in your part of the world. The remedies might not cure you, but they certainly won’t kill you. I am living proof.
Watch this space for extracts from next month's issue!
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