Community paper for Mallaig, Morar, Arisaig, Lochailort, Glenfinnan
Glenuig, Knoydart and the Small Isles

List of Issues online

October 2012 Issue

Contents of the online version:

Top stories
Monthly news from Knoydart, Muck, Rum, Eigg
Lifeboat log and railway news

Letters, e-mails and comments are welcome.
Contact Details & How to Subscribe to the Paper
Sign our Guestbook

Visit West Word on Facebook

All photos are copyright either of the individual photographers or West Word.
Not to be reproduced without permission.

Twenty-five minutes after his air supply ran out, Chris Lemons was recovered from the sea bed over 260 feet down in the freezing North Sea - alive and well!
Chris, who lives in Morar with partner Morag, has been a commercial diver for eight years and a saturation diver for the last 16 months. He was working from the Bibby Topaz in the North Sea 115 miles east of Peterhead when the incident happened in the middle of September. He is part of a dive team of 12. Over the course of 28 days, the team live in pressurised accommodation, taking turns in groups of three to go down to the seabed to carry out maintenance on the oil industry's metal infrastructure. One man - the bellman - stays in the diving bell, while two divers work outside, for six or seven hours at a time. The bell is connected to the ship by an umbilical and in turn each diver is connected to the bell by an individual umbilical which carries his air supply and keeps him warm in the freezing water. Chris was working with his colleague on a large structure on the seabed when they received an order to return to the bell immediately. High above them, Bibby Topaz' Dynamic Positioning system had malfunctioned, and the vessel was dragging the umbilical along, endangering the men below. They had to move - fast.
The divers began to climb the structure towards the bell but suddenly Chris' line snagged on a piece of metal. As he dropped down to free it, the umbilical pulled tight and dragged him into the side of the structure. With it pulling tighter and tighter, Chris thought his legs would break. The other diver knew what was happening but was being dragged away by his umbilical to the bell.
At this point Chris' gas supply cut out. He immediately turned on his emergency supply, which would last about 15 minutes, but his umbilical had stretched too far and broke with a bang and he crashed to the sea bed. In the pitch black darkness, he groped around until he found the leg of the structure, which he used to climb back up onto the roof. He knew not to try to reach the surface, knowing that the change in pressure would be fatal. And so he sat in the total, freezing blackness, hoping for rescue.

'I didn't really notice feeling cold at first, because my mind was racing,' he said. 'Much later I did begin to feel cold. And towards the very end I realised I was running out of gas.'
Finally, he passed out.
It was 25 minutes after his emergency supply ran out before he was located by his colleagues on Bibby Topaz. The bell was lowered close by him, aided by an electronic beacon which he was carrying. A remotely operated vehicle equipped with a camera located his body enabling the second diver to come to his rescue.
Chris says 'They worked the miracle. The first thing he did was to remove his pneumo hose (used for inflating our jackets) and push it under my neck seal to give me some gas. What he did next was incredible. Neither of us had any inflation, but he had to climb back up and haul me with him. He performed a miracle. If it was much further he would have struggled. Thankfully he was young and fit.'

What happened then has amazed experts. His colleagues thought he was dead but as soon as he reached the bell, the bellman slapped him a couple of times - and Chris returned to consciousness! After his gear had been cut off he was able to climb out of the water and into the bell. Back on board Bibby Topaz, he was wrapped in blankets and given a hot drink. Within a short time he was up and walking about.
He returned home to Morar to be reunited with a relieved Morag, but after only a short time at home he was returned to work. He maintains it is not a dangerous job.
It is possible that the cold helped save his life, by slowing his body right down, like a seal or amphibian. But it is also clear that Chris' calm reaction to his situation and his rule book attention to what to do saved him. He has received plaudits for the way he did not panic but found his way back to where he had last been seen and that he sat quietly, conserving what air he had and slowing his breathing.
Chris told West Word: 'I'd like to offer my sincere thanks to all those people locally who have shown me such kindness since my return - it has been more than a little overwhelming.'


For the second year, local family business J Lawrie & Sons have struck gold at the Guild of Fine Food, Great Taste Awards and a place in the top 50 fine foods in Britain. Jeff and Shona were presented with the awards at the ceremony at the Royal Garden Hotel, London in September.
Their Traditional Jaffy's Mallaig Kippers were awarded the top prize of Triple Gold and their Peat Smoked Salmon, Drambuie Glazed Hot Smoked Salmon and Finnan Haddock also came away with coveted Gold star awards. Triple Gold award winning products were then available in both Selfridges and Fortnum and Mason of London.
The awards are truly the pinnacle of the fine food world and Jeff and Shona are delighted to be so highly recognised for a second consecutive year.
To award Triple Gold, The Guild of Fine Food requires all 350 expert judges be in agreement that the product is faultless and that the top 50 list is the definitive list of the greatest food available across the UK and Ireland today.
To try any of the products or hear more visit the Mallaig shop or the new website www.jaffys.co.uk.

The days are getting darker and the nights getting colder as the peninsula wishes summer farewell and retreats into hibernation: Doune is set to close for the season on the 29th September, the Tearoom is no longer opening on Saturdays and are cutting down to their Autumn hours, and the pub will surely soon follow suit. But all is not dark and gloomy. This time of year means the midges have gone, the pool table will be back, and usually brings good weather (I said usually, not always).
The biggest event of the month has got to be Jan and Dave's 50th Wedding Anniversary. Congrats to them, and what a fantastic party! Great food, speeches, music of all kinds, fun, laughter and dancing, dancing, dancing. Well done and thanks to Ann and everyone involved in putting the celebration together. I think I speak for everyone when I say it was truly a pleasure to be there.
The party also witnessed the much awaited return of the Knoydart Ukulele All Stars. Stay tuned (no pun intended!) to find out more about their exciting festival fund raiser later on in the year! Any requests? Get them in now!
On smaller less musical notes we had a successful jumble sale at the beginning of the month (surely this must be the only place where buyers haggle up in price?), the highest and lowest tides in over a century, and even more ponies arriving, this time from Muck. Jim Brown is also sporting a fantastic new back door to his land rover. Trend-setter? And I have it on good authority that Chic will be breaking into Sandaig chapel any day now! I think, I hope, I can also safely say that there has been no need for emergency services this month. Although there's still seven days left as I'm writing this and anything is possible.
It was also quite a cultural month with not one but two plays in Inverie Village Hall. The comical yet informative We Won the Land was brought to us by Rural Nations Company in association with The Islands Book Trust, and was much enjoyed by all who went. Towards the end of the month we'll have Scota-land from the Mull Theatre as well.
It's been a month of firsts as babies are starting to move on to solids, Isla's taking driving lessons (good luck!) and Bernie and Kenny attempted to gatecrash the Lord of the Glens. Ach well boys, it was their loss.
In other exciting news… in case you missed it being shamelessly shared all over facebook, the Knoydart Music Festival will be happening again!! Next April, Saturday 27th - Sunday 28th. Check out the facebook page for more details and updates.
Things to look forward to next month: better weather (please?) and Halloween. Although, I think a fair few Knoydartians are understandably most looking forward to the Feis na Mara in Mallaig. Lucky devils. And last but not least, a special mention for Suzie, who was not rightfully credited for the pyramiding escapades of last month.
Amy Connolly

Another month has passed; the weather is back to normal and the lamb sales are over for most of the Small Isles farmers. Prices have been encouraging. Best Suffolk cross lambs from Muck topped £60 and within shouting distance of those received by Geraldine MacKinnon of Canna. Despite another hefty increase in the cost of sheep feed these prices must be above the tipping point in the balance between profit and loss. When I see in the diary that these same lambs would have made £35 in 1985 I know that for the second half of my life farming has been a lot about love and not a lot about money. All this is important. We seriously need to attract more young people into the industry and for them a reasonable income does matter. It is not just lambs that are leaving Muck. Ponies have been leaving too! Rhona and Ailsa could soon be carrying deer in Knoydart. Lachlan has a very happy new owner in North Uist and in the spring we should have a colt heading for Orkney to join his brothers on a farm near Kirkwall.
In the hall the 'Camas' season drew to a close with a visit by Mull Theatre. For an evening it was transformed into a museum on the island of Mickle and a rather far fetched story of the Crown of Destiny, very popular with the children who had helped by making some of the exhibits in the museum.
And lastly I have great pleasure in announcing the arrival of Tara Isobel MacEwen at 3am on Wednesday 19th September. Congratulations Colin and Ruth.
Lawrence MacEwen

A quietly busy month, whilst the numbers of visitors are on the decline and the MV Sheerwater finishes its runs out to Rum for the season, things have been happening in the background: the final interpretation panels in the waiting room on the pier have been installed, meaning the revamp of the whole pier area is now complete and looking a lot better than it did a year ago. The community composter is in place by the village hall wildlife garden and with the new double glazing for the village hall being installed in the next couple of weeks this will bring our climate challenge project to a close too.
The Blasda (gaelic for tasty) local food production day went really well, the food stall had a variety of interesting products and brews and discovering the inside of Rum's gardens was insightful, there are some very productive folk out there. The evening meal was well attended with plenty to eat, including venison, marinated mackerel, local courgette soup and brumble crumble for pudding. We were thinking of doing the same thing next year.
With the red deer rut well under way, the BBC Autumnwatch team have returned to film the deer in action, are any of the old favourites still alive? Caesar, Maximus or the very successful Percy? I actually don't know, the odds are stacked against them. I think you'll have to watch to find out.
Last Friday we had a Community engagement event organised by Vikki and the guys from the centre for rural development. Special guests included Dave Thompson MSP and his wife Veronica; Allan Henderson and Jacqueline McDonell. The purpose was to discuss local development, housing, infrastructure and involvement and see what local people think about how it's all going and where it may be going wrong! There was an exceptionally good turn out and a good mix of newer residents and folk who have been here for years which provided a good mix of opinions. All the information gathered on the evening will be put into a report to help us plan for the future. Good job.
Finally, the Hebnet team announced that the broadband upgrade will be going live imminently, giving us a much faster internet than some of the mainland. We have a new landmark now, Hebnet Hill.
Fliss Fraser

September has been quite a month on Eigg this year, one wedding, a birth, two plays and two funerals. Such is the strange dance of life… Mary Ann MacIntyre's fatal heart attack on 26 September, days after her 65th birthday, very much saddened the community, who had gathered together earlier on in the week to accompany Donald Anderson's family in their final farewell to the London-born ex-RAF officer and CID policeman, who had very strong family connections with the island. With Mary-Ann, another link to Eigg's past is severed, as she was from one of the oldest island families and one of Eigg's very few remaining Gaelic speakers. Her zest for life and love of a party will not be forgotten and it is of consolation to her family that she so enjoyed dancing at Eilidh and Jamie's wedding last August. We address our sincere condolences to both the Anderson and the MacIntyre families and hope to see them again on Eigg, strengthening their connection to the island through the younger generations.
As to the younger generations, they are not doing too bad on the island at the moment, with the arrival of young Innes Finlay Kirk on Tuesday 18 September! Proud parents Ruaridh Kirk and Yasmin Finlay were given a hearty welcome home with their lovely baby. As Muck's population has also been swelling up with the arrival of baby Tara also this month (congratulations to Ruth and Colin as well), Innes can look forward to have a friend of exactly his age during future school exchanges!
Tying the knot has been very popular on Eigg this year, and this month has seen the invasion of the island by a large number of East coasters, in the shape of the Cormack family, as well as a big contingent from Dumfries and Galloway, for the wedding of Ben Cormack, our island graphic designer and heavy metal player to Audra Irvine, a bright English graduate from Indiana, who first came to Eigg as a volunteer on the croft! Romance was alive and well on Laig beach where the marriage ceremony was conducted, with the bride arriving through an arch specially made by willow artist Trevor Leat, who also provided a fire sculpture near the hall where the reception was held. The hall was gorgeously decorated with billowing parachute silk by Ben's mother, jeweller Natalie Vardey, but what really made the island's children's day was Audra's all American Love Sweets table: they dubbed the occasion sweetsmas and deemed it on a par with Christmas and Halloween! But young and old alike loved the amazing sandcastle wedding cake produced by the Eiggy Bread talented duo (see it on Facebook!) whilst the photobooth with accessories which occasioned lots of fun snaps (see it on facebook!) proved very popular, whilst Joe's best man speech was held to be a model of its kind (but you can't see it on facebook). As to Tom, Audra's dad, he amazed everyone with the way he took to Scottish dancing, the first after 6th generations of emigrants to come back to Scotland and wear the kilt!
Coming back to earth after all this romance, We Won The Land, the play by Rural Nations, brought back memories of our struggle to get to where we are now through a humorous portrayal of community buy-outs which did not shirk from tackling serious issues. The play was commissioned by the Island Books Trust as part of their conference 'Recovering from the Clearances' earlier on this month on the anniversary of the Pairc Deer Raid in South Lochs in Lewis. The community there would very much like to own their land, but can't get to buy it, and urges everyone who can to take part in the new consultation about the Community Land ownership bill as it hopes that it will make it easier for more communities to acquire the means to develop and thrive. Interestingly, Revd MacCallum who backed the Pairc raiders and was so instrumental in raising awareness of the crofters' plight, was also the minister in Arisaig, supporting the people there when they were employed to build the road with their bare hands on famine wages. It is perhaps timely to start thinking about producing an app to guide visitors to all the places where the land struggle took place!
Camille Dressler

Eigg woman appointed Vice Chair of the European Small Isles Network
French born islander Camille Dressler was elected vice-chair of ESIN, the European Small isles Network, at the AGM and annual gathering of the network which was hosted in Mull this September by the Scottish Islands Federation of which Camille is the secretary. ESIN represents the small islands of Europe and lobbies on their behalf in Brussels. It has been particularly active as part of the Group 174, a parliamentary intergroup which brings together islands, mountain regions and sparsely populated areas. The ESIN gathering ended with a conference which brought politicians and islanders to reflect how islands could lead in terms of community renewables and what barriers they faced, a theme chosen to reflect ESIN's Green island agenda.
Alyn Smith, Highland and Islands MEP and Vice President of the Group 174, who delivered the Conference keynote address, reminded everyone that Article 174 of the Lisbon Treaty obliges the EU to take special note of islands, mountainous and sparsely populated areas. so Scotland has a real vested interest in making this important clause a reality. " We need", he said" to work together now to make the EU Resolution proposing a European Strategy for economic and social development of the areas covered by the Article a reality, so that the islands in Scotland as well as the rest of Europe, can realise their full potential and have their special EU status acknowledged by policy makers."
Camille welcomed his input, which made it clear to everyone the positive role that Europe can play for the islands. "It is encouraging to hear that there are mechanisms and schemes available in Brussels that can support our island communities, if only you know where to look, and I look forward to working more closely with ESIN and our European island partners to discuss how we can make them all work better for all our islands."

A dinosaur being assembled in the Astley Hall during the storytelling session Scota-land. The show went also to Mallaig, Knoydart, Muck and Rum (maybe! Weather was poor).
You can read an amusing blog of the tour if you go to Mull Theatre's page and look under 'Touring'. On Arisaig: 'Lovely, lovely people and lovely, lovely hall. David Campbell - the storyteller - came to see the show, as did Jim Hunter (singer-songwriter extraordinaire). It was a fantastic turn-out all round!' Mallaig was 'quiet' and Knoydart 'absolutely brilliant'. The crew couldn't take the set on the boat to Knoydart so had to improvise with what they could find but it obviously didn't affect the enjoyment of the performance!
Photos Richard Lamont

photo photo

Knoydart garden open day
It started with a muddle, not one but three versions of the schedule were discovered: the one in the West Word, which was different from the one in the window which was different from the one in the café. Gwen of course solved our dilemma by amalgamating classes, for example Class number 14 was now for 'three pancakes' and 'six eggs from your own hens' and by intruding an additional class: Class No 19 'For anything you thought should be in the schedule but you discovered wasn't'. An extremely popular class, containing a pot of lemon curd, a cauliflower, a big cabbage and lots of other things. Unfortunately Bob's entry of Viennese whirls had to be disqualified as he admitted they were made by Mr Kipling. Many tricky decisions for Sue and Pete our expert judges.
On the day it rained big style but so what. Struan still won the golf driving competition with an amazing score of 5. The show had its usual share of Knoydart idiosyncrasies. Anna's cake was 'hot' out of the oven, bit hard to ice, but with seconds to spare it was cool enough in time for judging. The giant rhubarb arrived by wheelbarrow, and it needed two people to lift Jane's cabbage, (which fortunately was tied securely overnight to stop it escaping.) Little Victor stole the show and won lots of prizes as a vegetable, amazing three peas in a pod suit. (We took pictures just to show to his first girlfriend.) The multipurpose dog, still shining from his dog show wins of Games Day won the fanciful knitting class, is there no end to his talents?
Rhona, Kim and Rhona from the café were brilliant, amazing cakes and Grant was a hero standing out in the rain making burgers The Shabeen in the bottom poly tunnel welcomed gardeners and visitors alike and Christine sold so many raffle tickets (for Karin's cake) that this will be her job for the rest of her life. Overall we raised an astounding £350, which should just about pay for a cover for one of the poly tunnels, which is bound to blow off during the winter.
Photos Steve Roberts

Struan with prize winning plant

Three peas in a pod

Knoydart garden day prize winner

There's a very nice double spread on the Hall in October's Lochaber Life, written by Iain Ferguson of The Write Image. It gives a potted history of the Hall and paints some emotive pictures of its place in the community over the 119 years of its existence. A short excerpt: 'It must also have been a place of 'firsts'. Imagine back in its early history when not only travelling players could come to entertain, but also the glimpse of new 'technology' from Victorian magic lantern shows to early silent movies…Where else would local people have been introduced to such developments without the long and difficult journey to Fort William or beyond?'
Next year we will celebrate 120 years at the heart of the community and we will be hoping some of you have ideas on what we can do and how we can raise some funds. Apart from the 200 Club, we have done no fundraising in 12 years but we will be looking at a big bill for repainting the exterior next year and the overheads for caring for a wooden listed building are high. The lighting is being overhauled at the moment. If you haven't joined the 200 Club yet, do consider it as a way to support this community hub with the chance to win money each month! Pay Tommy monthly in the Post Office or ask me for a form for a standing order. This year we took the Senior Citizens' Lunch Club under our wing to prevent it from closing when Highland Council stopped funding it, so your £2 a month could be seen as supporting the continuation of the Lunch Club.
The Hall continues to be extremely busy, and once again the Produce Fairs this year have helped local groups raise money for their causes through the provision of lunches. Last year nearly £6000 was made and this year seems much the same, though totals aren't in. Add to that the sale of local products which means money circulates in the local economy and it's all good news.
The 'lunch spots' for the Fairs for 2013 are all booked up, and even two in 2014! We've had the last concert/play for this year - what an end to the season, those who didn't attend missed some treats! Scota-land was well attended and the hall looked great as a museum; terrific storytelling from Mull Theatre's Andy Cannon. Arthur Miller's The Man Who Had All the Luck, a gripping story, excellently acted, superb cast, but played to a very small audience.
But there's plenty on still - a Yoga weekend, an Arts Club weekend, a Christian Aid Quiz, Sunday lunches in aid of Mary's Meals, the dance for Songs for Dawn, a Bodyshop Party, a St Andrew's concert by Stella Nova, and an open meeting about road safety on the A830, to name just the 'extras'. The regular events are on every day of the week except Friday, and that gets booked up with other events. Did someone say the hall was underused?
The Christmas Fair is on Thursday 29th November, with a bumper number of tables (no more spaces left), and it will run from 3pm until 8pm. Seasonal refreshments are by Arisaig Community Trust.
At present the website is being changed to something a bit brighter and better, and we now have a Facebook page. (I've found there is an Astley Hall in India!) I'm always surprised by the number of 'hits' the hall website has, mainly from people coming on holiday who want to know if anything is on, but also by people wanting to get married in the area. Recently someone phoned me from Belgium about concert tickets!
Hopefully we will finish off the car park soon!!
Look on Facebook for more photos of Scota-land.
Ann Lamont

It is expected that the sale of the Mission building will be completed before the end of October, so hopefully we will have the details for November's West Word.
The Mission canteen will stop trading about 2-3 days before the entry date and Karen will be holding a sale of furniture etc. about the same time. Once there is a concrete date for the sale, it is hoped Nevis Radio will broadcast it.

News in Brief

Leatherback Turtle
There was a very unusual sighting from MV Sheerwater of a Leatherback Turtle on Friday 7th September, 1.5 miles east of the Isle of Muck. By its size, it could be well over 100 years old. These turtles can dive to a depth of 4500ft, stay underwater for 85 minutes and swim at 21mph! There have long been rumours of turtles in out waters escaped or released from the collection at Kinloch Castle on Rum, in the early 20th century. Could it be...

Rutting roe deer at Glenfinnan. Photo Steve Roberts

Mallaig Lifeboat Log
Three call outs or 'shouts' for the Mallaig Lifeboat Henry Alston Hewat during September 2012.
Saturday 1st September: With near gale conditions prevailing at 1150hrs, the Stornoway Coastguard request to go to the assistance of a yacht dragging its anchor in Canna Harbour came through with the Lifeboat on exercise. Responding immediately, the Lifeboat arrived in Canna at 1250 hrs to discover that the 10 metre yacht Goldrush, although on the beach, had grounded on sandy bottom and the four crew safe on the shore.
Two members of the Lifeboat crew inspected the hull of the yacht but no damage could be seen. After two/three hours waiting for sufficient tide, the Lifeboat via clever use of tow lines, anchors, capstan and the Y-boat, managed to successfully re-float Goldrush which was made secure on a local mooring.
With the yacht and its crew all safe and well, the Lifeboat headed hone for Mallaig and was refuelled and ready for service at 1830 hrs.
Monday 3rd September: Lifeboat was launched at 1754 hrs to go to the assistance of the Lerwick registered fishing vessel Alison Kay on passage to Mallaig to land its catch. However, two miles SW of Rum, the vessel's auxiliary engine - which powers the steering and hydraulic systems on board - failed, prompting the call for assistance.
As the Lifeboat approached the North of Eigg, the Coastguard relayed a message that the engineer on board Alison Kay had managed to restart the auxiliary engine and subsequently regain control of the vessel. With all systems now functioning properly, there was no need of the Lifeboat which was stood down at 1846 hrs and returned to Mallaig.
Monday 3rd September: A request from the Highland and Islands Fire and Rescue Service via the Coastguard and the Local Operations Manager saw the Lifeboat underway to the Island of Eigg at 2130 hrs. On board the Lifeboat were four Mallaig Firefighters being transported out to the island to deal with a bad chimney fire at Eigg Lodge.
On arrival, the Fire crew were taken to the scene and, although the chimney fire had by now died down, their use of specialised equipment located a hot spot in the chimney. A large amount of soot was still burning and had the potential of spreading into the roof space had it not been located and dealt with.
Once everything had been dowsed down and made safe, the Fire personnel returned to the Lifeboat which then set off for its Mallaig base arriving there at 0030 hrs on the Tuesday.

Birdwatch by Stephen MacDonald
Still a few waders passing through at the beginning of the month. Black-tailed Godwits were seen at the various locations around Traigh Farm and the golf course during the first week. A Bar-tailed Godwit and a Knot were seen on the shore by Traigh golf course on the 4th. other waders seen there during the first week included Whimbrel, Curlew, Turnstones, Sanderling, Redshank, Snipe, Dunlin, Oystercatchers and Ringed Plover.
A single Greenshank was present on the Morar Estuary until the last week, when it was joined by another, mainly feeding in the bay at Bourblach.
Numerous Great and Arctic Skuas were reported in the Sound of Sleat and an adult Pomarine Skua was seen just off Arisaig on the 18th.
Stormy Petrels were seen on several occasions and there were 2 sightings of Leach's Petrel between Arisaig and Eigg on the 10th and 17th of the month from the MV Sheerwater about two miles out from Rhu point.
The first Pink-footed Geese of the autumn were seen flying south over Morar on the 12th and the first Whooper Swans were heard over Mallaig on the night of the 17th. A single adult Whooper Swan was present on Loch nan Eala, Arisaig, from the 25th to 29th at least. A single Lapland Bunting was seen along with Yellowhammers and Chaffinches, feeding in a field at Gorten, Back of Kepppoch, on the 26th.
Numerous reports of Sparrowhawks from throughout the area and several reports of both Golden and Sea Eagles, from Mallaig to Druimindarrach.
With predominantly westerly winds mid-month and indications that it had the most successful breeding season for many years, an exceptional amount of Manx Shearwaters were recovered from Mallaig, and to a lesser extent Morar and Arisaig.
The first bird received was a single one in Mallaig on the night of the 3rd. ones and twos were found until the night of the 10th when over 50 were recovered.
Fort he following 8 -10 days, numerous birds were found, peaking at over 155 for the night of the 14th/15th.
By the 29th, the total ringed and released was 682, plus there were 18 birds that had already been ringed on Rum, which were also released.
The total of 700 birds successfully released was incredible and a big THANK YOU to all the people who collected, delivered or reported birds so that they could be ringed and successfully set on their journey to the South Atlantic.

Save Our Shearwaters by Mark MacDonald


It is that time of year again in the west highlands. The time of year when Mother Nature decides to batter us with all the elements - sometimes in one day - and the tourists decide, rather wisely, to head home. However, as our loyal tourists begin to drift away, we are visited by a new, slightly more unusual, incomer. The Manx Shearwater. During September these pigeon-sized black and white seabirds fledge from their mountainous burrows on the Isle of Rum to their wintering grounds in South America, more than 6000 miles away. It is at the beginning of these long-haul voyages that some of these young birds can become disoriented, particularly getting distracted by lights in Mallaig. They crash-land here and become stranded as their short legs and overly long wingspan of around 82cm makes them clumsy and unable to take off on land. This year has seen a severe surge in the amount of stranded 'manxies' particularly due to there being a strong westerly wind which could have knocked them off course.
Sean Morris, one of the reserve staff at Rum Natural Nature Reserve said: "It may be ironic for a species which is capable of making such long journeys, but very often their trip ends very abruptly and close to home. This year looks as if it might be a good one for the Manx Shearwaters as many of their burrows in the study areas on Rum are occupied by heavy and healthy chicks." He suggests that if you live on Rum to catch the birds and hand them into SNH staff or the Ranger on the island. The National Nature Reserves (NNR) are about giving people the opportunity to experience some of the best of Scotland's nature. More than 60,000 pairs - more than a fifth of the British breeding population of around 295,000 pairs of Manx Shearwaters - breed on Rum NNR. The Rum colony is unique in that it is in the high mountains of the island as this is not usually the favoured habitat of the species.
However, if you live in Mallaig, Morar or Arisaig and happen to stumble across one of the helpless and distressed young stragglers, handing them into Martin Carty is the safest and easiest way to help the defenceless birds escape predators and continue their migration. Martin confirmed: "Together with a small group of dedicated volunteers and the local community, we are committed to helping these charismatic downed young birds. In this way, we reckon to have rescued nearly 600 chicks over the past five years. This work is also important as it helps restore some sort of balance by allowing these young birds to fly all the way to South America where they winter. We are so pleased to be able to lend a helping hand."
This year alone there has been a record 700 birds been captured and set on their journey again, with a staggering 155 being rescued in one night.
Although the peek for bird standings has been and gone as they are mostly caught between the 12th and the 18th of September, there is still a chance of the Manx Shearwaters losing their way, so as always be on the lookout. The helping hand that Mallaig and the surrounding areas shows towards these wayward birds really shines a positive light on this community and the willingness we show to help preserve our rich and diverse wildlife.

On and Off the Rails

Competition results
In September's column I set two competitions for which I received all correct answers, on very interesting postcards, but not one local area entry this time. Where were you all? Maybe you were just too busy. However, from the many entries I received I am delighted to announce the postal winners who will be receiving their prizes shortly.
Competition One: A tin of Glenfinnan Viaduct Shortbread goes to Mairi Illsley of Crieff, and a tin of Glenfinnan Viaduct Tablet goes to Lynn Reid of Glasgow. The question was: When is the final scheduled date for the Jacobite train of 2012? The correct answer is Friday October 26th and the prizes were donated by Mallaig Visitor Centre.
Competition Two: A DVD of Steam to Kyle goes to Angela Long from Perth. The question was: How many miles long is the Inverness to Kyle of Lochalsh Railway Line? The correct answer is b) 82 miles. This prize was donated by Fanedram Publishers Ltd. Thank you to all who entered. A further competition is announced at the end of this month's column.

Keep Up!
Talking of locals not entering the competitions, it has also come to my attention that some local businesses (who shall be nameless ha! ha!) do not always read my column. How can this be!! And how do I know? It was reported back to me by Tour Operators that several restaurants were unaware of Special Trains coming into Mallaig in September even though I had reported them in my column! Seriously though, I really do try to help local businesses so that staff can be re-scheduled etc, but if you don't read the information I cannot help you. The next extra train slotted in this month is Saturday 6th October when the Jacobite is hosting passengers as part of a three day visit to the Western Highlands by Statesman Rail. Using the K1 62005 Steam Engine owned by NELPG, it will be in Mallaig from 12.25 to 14.10 as usual.
The last visit of the year of The Royal Scotsman will be on Sunday 14th October. This luxury touring train has run on many Saturdays this year into Mallaig. The final one for 2012 is changed to a Sunday due to engineering works further down the line the previous day.
The Jacobite continues Monday to Friday between Fort William and Mallaig and return, with the last day being Friday 26th October for this year. Come along to Mallaig Railway Station at 12.25 on that day if you want to say thank you to all the Crew who have faithfully transported many thousands of visitors to Mallaig this year. The income that West Coast Railways generate on our behalf in the area - which, let's face it, keeps us going through the winter - is much appreciated, and we owe them thanks and a debt of gratitude for it. We look forward to welcoming all Tour Operators back in 2013. In the meantime, reliable ScotRail trains and staff will see us through the winter. Long may they continue.

SRPS/Jacobite farewell journey for 2012
A new departure venture is announced for Saturday 27th October. SRPS (Scottish Rail Preservation Society) are joining forces with West Coast Railways on this day. At the end of every season, the engines and carriages have to go away to various depots. This year passengers are being given the opportunity to travel as fare paying passengers on this train, as far as Polmont. It may be that there are still some places available for travel from Fort William to Polmont, departing Fort William with two Black 5 steam engines, and returning on a later ScotRail service train. If you are interested, ring 0131 202 1033, Monday to Friday, to ask, or look on www.srpsrailtours.com for further details.

Club 55 ScotRail offer
As mentioned last month, but always worth a reminder, this terrific value £19 return anywhere in Scotland offer for persons aged 55 years or over continues until November 30th 2012. Call at any staffed Railway Station or call 08457 550033, or visit www.scotrail.co.uk/club55 for further details.

ScotRail flush with success!
If you have travelled by train recently on the Class 156 Sprinter service, and visited 'the facilities', you cannot have failed to notice the innovative improvements that have been incorporated to 'the flush'!! Boffins have come up with improvements which prevent the flush operating when a train is stationary! If you are attempting to flush whilst it is standing at a Railway Station, the flush will not work until the train has left the station, meaning cleaner tracks at Railway Stations!! Brilliant idea, because the first thing that visitors to Railway Stations do, when there are no trains in, is to stand at the platform edge and look onto the track!! Until we get newer trains with holding tanks, it is a step towards keeping our Railway Stations cleaner.

A wonderful soft back book called Old Mallaig, Morar and Arisaig has been released and is being stocked by at least two Mallaig outlets - Mallaig Heritage Centre and Mallaig Bookshop - and one in Arisaig, the Post Office. Priced at £9.00, written by Guthrie Hutton and published by Stenlake Publishing, it is a gem of a book. With three quarters of each page taken up by wonderful black and white photographic reproductions and accompanied by lines of text underneath, it is a real page turner that makes you want to go back to each page again as soon as you get to the end of it. It contains at least eight pages of railway related photo reproductions, including a 'fantasy' impression of a future Mallaig entitled 'Mallaig - Twenty Years Hence', from a North British Railway Guide issued before the First World War, the likes of which you will have to see to appreciate! Mallaig never - I can state - will ever be like it!!
To try to win a copy of this gem of a book, answer the following question: What is the title of the book? Answers on a postcard please to Sonia Cameron, Fasgadh, Marine Place, Mallaig, Inverness-shire PH31 4RD, closing date for entries October 26th 2012.
So while you enter this competition, I shall be planting spring bulbs at Mallaig, Morar and Arisaig Railway Stations - that's after I have removed the hanging baskets and summer bedding remains of plants! When I have done that…. I'll see you on the train.
Sonia Cameron

Sonia, pictured with John Yellowlees, overseer of the 'Adopt a Station' project, is highly praised in the latest edition of West Highland News Plus, the magazine for the Friends of the West Highland Line. She is the only station adopter in Scotland to single-handedly look after three stations - Mallaig, Morar and Arisaig. Mallaig (and Sonia) received a Gold Award last year in the Keep Scotland Beautiful station awards, while Arisaig and Morar picked up Bronze. photo

Sonia Cameron's flowers at Mallaig & Morar stations
Photos Steve Roberts


Two photos sent to us by Barbara MacDonald, who's husband Alex Iain drives the Jacobite.

The Jacobite Crew at Mallaig Station 28th September 2012
Back - Fireman Rob Hawkins and Driver Alex MacDonald
Front - Firemen Michael Keenan, Matt Earnshaw and Ian Saunders

The last train to come in to old Fort William Station from Glasgow then on to Mallaig in June 1975.
Mallaig Crew - Driver Freddie Watson (second left) and Secondman Allan MacDonald
Fort William Crew - Driver Sandy Cameron (shaking hands with Freddie) and Secondman Alex MacDonald

Wide World West Word
Another world trip, though all in the Northern hemisphere, to the bathroom and to hospital - and looped the loop...

Helen MacNicol (Anderson) and her husband Fraser from Ullapool tells us 'Yes, West Word is in Amsterdam' (last month Jim Morton said it must be the only place West Word didn't reach).

Kayleigh MacNicol, Helen and Fraser's daughter, took her copy on a school trip to Egypt. Kayleigh was at Mallaig Primary School for her work experience earlier this year, and stayed with Alison Mclean.

Mary MacLellan asked daughter Ishbel to send us this picture to show that West Word is being enjoyed in Edinburgh too!
The picture is of Mrs Margaret Wood of Edinburgh who was in the bed opposite Mary during her recent stay in the Royal Infirmary. She enjoyed reading about places, especially Canna that she had visited in the past. We wish Margaret - and Mary - a swift recovery!


Here are Michelle Robertson and Terry Irving (who subscribes to the West Word) from Newcastle Upon Tyne. They tell us 'We recently embarked on a camping holiday travelling throughout the Western Isles from top to bottom. This picture was taken on Isle of Barra with the view of Kisimul Castle in the background.'

Tony Barry from Edinburgh - and a long time visitor to Arisaig - sent us this inspiring story:
'This was taken especially for West Word in Dundee Airport on 3rd October with a Heron Grub aircraft belonging to Tayside Aviation.
'I am 85 and started flying in 2003 but gave up because of my Parkinson's Disease. The Flying fraternity, quite rightly does not allow us to do solo landings.
'However my medication got me going again and I decided in 2011 I would like to learn aerobatics . I was fortune to have Capt Pete Anderson (Senior Pilot with Logan Air) as my instructor. A brilliant guy. We spent half the time doing all sorts of stunts and the other half laughing! He would do a stunt then ask me to do it! This included Loop the Loops, sometimes doing 3 in a row, Barrel Rolls, Stall Turns, Cuban Rolls, Spin Dives etc. and many more. Some very disorientating but I really enjoyed every minute!'

Pirate Johnny Depp shows his pleasure at getting his hands on the latest edition of West Word.

Dora the Explorer, one of Mickey's Magic Show friends, reads West Word outside the Holyrood Hotel in Bundoran, County Donegal.

Katie Murray from Linlithgow tells us she read hers on the top deck of cruise ship the Akademik Ioffe. She says 'I was working on the ship which was transiting the Northwest Passage through the Canadian Arctic and making several stops in Greenland. At this point we were in Cuming Inlet on Devon Island, looking for polar bears!' Katie's family have had a holiday house in Smirisary (near Glenuig) for many years.

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

The paper version of West Word contains approximately 40 pages (A4 size) including:

  • Reports from the local communities, lifeboat log and weather
  • Columns on local sport, wildlife, politics
  • Poets corner, letters, snippets
  • Feature articles, local events, festivals and games
  • .....and lots more photos!

For 12 issues: £36 anywhere in the UK
£55 for Eire and Europe / £75 for the rest of the world.
Contact the Editor to subscribe.

West Word
Morar Station Buildings
Inverness-shire PH40 4PB
Tel/Fax: 01687 462 720
E-mail: editor@westword.org.uk

Sign our Guestbook or Read our Guestbook
(Your comments may be printed in next month's issue)

Visit the official Road to the Isles web site


Copyright © 2002-2012 West Word
Page last updated: October 2012

Site designed by
The Internet Guide to Scotland