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October 2020 Issue
Contents of the online version:
All photos are copyright either of the individual photographers or West Word.
New Vessel for Western Isles Cruises
In September a new boat arrived in Mallaig Harbour: Arwen, an ex-Mersey class lifeboat, is the latest addition to the Western Isles Cruises fleet. Arwen has been re-painted and re-fitted by A. Noble and Sons, and will be used primarily for the transport of High School pupils to and from the Small Isles.
Mallaig College Student named UHI Student of the Year for Further Education
A mature student who came back into education after 40 years has been announced as the Overall Further Education Student of the Year for West Highland College UHI. Edward Mowles (Eddie) was 56 and had been unemployed for 16 years when he started his learning journey with UHI in 2018 by attending a weekly job club drop-in at the Leven Centre in Kinlochleven. His goal was to improve his life and his chances of getting a good and well-paid job; in his own words "he was sick and tired of living the way he was".
What started off as small steps then developed into a real goal. Eddie would talk about an "ideal" job and it was always something outdoors (he loves his fishing) and after a few unsuccessful job applications he decided the Maritime and Aquaculture Skills course based in Mallaig was for him. This was a huge step for Eddie having no previous relevant experience or qualifications, but he demonstrated tremendous determination, never missing a class, learning IT skills from scratch and finding he had skills the rest of the class did not have. As Eddie was very open about the things that he needed to learn or needed help with, this inspired other students to become more confident about asking for help. His work ethic attitude of regular attendance, good communication, involving others and getting the work done before the tea break, rubbed off on the younger students.
Having completed the Maritime and Aquaculture Skills course, Eddie successfully applied for a short contract to gain valuable work experience in the aquaculture industry and has now decided to return to the supportive environment of college in Mallaig to study the NC Shipping and Operations at Level 6 and see just how far he can push himself.
Course Leader Shaun Escott said, 'Eddie had applied to several local fish farms unsuccessfully before this course and was feeling he was going nowhere.
At his final review he only had one thing to say: "I came here a rogue and I am leaving a gentleman." We are all very proud of Eddie and he is testament that our courses can be life-changing no matter what age you are or what your previous experience has been - all you need to do is give it a go - and we'll be with you every step of the way.'
Centre Manager and RYA Principal in Mallaig, Jane Henderson commented, 'Eddie more than deserves this award and all the success that will undoubtedly come his way in the future. He has worked hard from the outset to prove to himself, his lecturers and his future employers that he has the motivation and skills they look for in an employee.
'Here in Mallaig we are very proud of Eddie and all he has achieved. We are also proud that for the second year running a Maritime Skills student has achieved Student of the Year in West Highland College UHI.'
LETTER FROM THE EDITOR
Firstly, my apologies for the delay in posting out the subscription copies last month. I got half way through the print run and then the machine broke down, and this time it couldn't be fixed quickly - it needed a new clutch, apparently, and it took a while for the engineer to get the parts required. All ran smoothly once the parts were replaced - so fingers crossed for this print run!
We've some news from Glenfinnan in this month's Round and About section - great to get an update from the village, and I'm looking forward to reading more of their news in the coming months!
Hope you're enjoying the Scarecrow Trail - they're certainly making me smile! I hope we'll have some pictures of them in next month's issue for those readers who aren't in the area to see them.
Once again, thanks to Morag and Ewen for helping out with the printing, and to Anne and Jane for taking care of the envelope labelling again.
Beannachdan bho Gleann Fhionnain! It has been a wee while since we have divulged any news from the Glen and now that we are no longer bound under the Official Secrets Act (not really) I am happy to inform you of the progress and events that have happened in the village so far.
The main issue this year has of course been the challenges we have faced with visitors and their unique methods of parking which has been less, 'Shall we find a designated spot?' and more, 'I wonder if this super soft verge will take the weight of our Motorhome?' To which the answer is always no . . . BUT. . . Thanks to a dedicated group of Glenfinnan residents (The A team) a new Car Park is now under construction with expected completion at the end of October.
This is led by Glenfinnan Community Facilities SCIO and funded by the Scottish Government Rural Tourism Infrastructure Fund and Leader. Phase 2 of the project will be the footbridge and pathway which will lead visitors safely from the car park, over the river Finnan and to the viaduct without anyone having to navigate the busy A830 on foot. This should make for a better visitor experience and keep our roads safer for us all. We are hopeful for this phase of work to be started by the end of the year and in addition to this work we await an update regarding the A830 pedestrian crossing to be carried out by Transport Scotland soon. We are very grateful of the hours and hours of work from the members of the SCIO, so a big thank you from us all in the Glen!!! You did it!!
August 19th this year marked the 275th Anniversary of the Raising of the Standard in Glenfinnan. The Games Committee had great plans for this day but sadly, like all Highland Gatherings this year, it had to be cancelled. There was a small, socially distanced gathering for the residents to mark the event. The Standard was raised this year by our very own Iain MacKellaig and Mr Alistair Gibson made a small announcement. Thank you also to Katie MacRae who played the pipes beautifully. Let us hope that next year we have the same glorious weather and are able to welcome everyone back.
We were very fortunate during lockdown to have had our local businesses (Glenfinnan House Hotel and Prince's House Hotel) join together to supply us with orders of fresh vegetables and all kinds of delicious produce and not forgetting the amazing Fish and Chip Friday which were delivered to our door by Duncan, Manja and Sine Gibson; thank you all! For the residents who could not get out and about, this was an invaluable service. Thanks too to the individuals who made special trips into Fort William for our shielding families. What a fantastic village we live in.
Glenfinnan resident Mr Colin Morley, and his business partner Emma Hebborn, recently opened the new and wonderful Wolfhouse Gym at Annat Industrial Estate, Fort William. Emma sports an impressive record in weightlifting and has won many titles including European Championship for the bench press! Colin himself achieved a deadlift personal best this September of 220kg! We wish you all the best in your new venture and are sure Woflhouse Gym will go from strength to strength!
With the reduction in visitors to Glenfinnan we are noticeably quieter in the village now and this gives us all more time to perfect our knitting and embroidery. Oh for the day when we can Ceilidh again! Ṃran taing,
I started off thinking nothing much happened In September and it would be a short column and there's loads. Apologies to Knoydart locals - there is no hot gossip, but if you know any, give me a ring….
Knoydart Foundation members approved the new constitution which means the foundation can be eligible for Scottish Land Fund funding for Millburn. Iain Wilson is standing down as director at the Foundation's AGM in October after 18 years! Iain was co-opted as a representative for the Chris Brasher Trust in 2002. Many thanks for all your time and involvement Iain!
Knoydart will soon have its very own Post Office! You'll find it in the Foundation shop. It's been very much missed not having a Post office on the peninsula. I wonder if we will still be told "Computer says no" when we want to post something to Australia? . . . Many thanks to Liz Tibbets for all her hard work behind the scenes to make it happen.
The school took part in the Great British Beach clean along with the Ranger and managed to fill eight sacks of rubbish! Also as part of a Ranger activity they completed a barefoot mindfulness walk with Amie the Ranger which Victor told me afterwards he wasnae very happy about. . . "We only got to walk barefeet for a wee while and not all the way to the long beach!" there's no pleasing some folk.
Knoydart Forest Trust have been very busy planning new woodlands with neighbouring landowners at Barisdale, Braomisaig and Kilchoan. All the fence materials were helicoptered to Braomisaig ready for the new fence to be built. Finally, the C word was uttered by Lorna, who has been making a dedicated Wood Knoydart online shop. No even Halloween yet too . . .
ISLE OF MUCK
Hi all, with Autumn right on us now we still seem blessed with unseasonably warm weather and sunny skies which has been good news for farm and croft alike with a lot of wall and fence repairs going on 'Thanks to Doug the Dyker' and his expertise. Our self catering visitors have also benefited by making use of the beaches and cliff walks, and with the Eagles being very active at the moment there is always something to catch the attention. Boat traffic has slowed but still occasional hard-core seafarers with tales of dolphins and whales still showing themselves.
Covid is still overshadowing proceedings but we have all adapted to the ever-changing rules and goalposts so who knows if we are or not . . . common-sense seems to be the order of the day and a trusty ally . . . alongside sanitiser, gloves, masks and swabs.
This ought to get to the Editor much faster now as Muck fibre optic broadband is now connected thanks to Simon and Gareth; we just need to remember where it's buried as it's not digger, spade or pick proof. We received a nice letter from a small group of Kayakers who had a great experience which is a common theme to a lot of 'Muck Virgins' who visited for the first time and plan to return after uncovering our wee gem of an Island. . . well done folks for making them so welcome.
Well thanks for allowing me to ramble again this month.
ISLE OF CANNA
The Canna House Garden Team, Liz, Pete and Indy have done an amazing job this year, planting so many types of veg and suppling islanders with veg boxes every week. The garden looks the best it's looked in years and it's great to see it being so productive. Just a pity that due to Covid there haven't been that many visitors to appreciate it.
Despite Covid, cattle and sheep sales have been the best we've had for years and prices are now at a realistic rate that farmers should be getting for all the time, effort and hard work they put in to producing food for the country.
Thanks to the crews of the Loch Bhrusda and Larven for standing in while the Loch Nevis has been in dry dock.
Congratulations to Donald MacKenzie who won the BBC Weather Watchers, Pic of the Season Summer 2020 for a cracking photo of unusual cloud formations over the Rum hills.
Also a big Happy Birthday on the 26th to Fiona Hutton at Tighard Guest House.
Criomagan (Crumbs) from Canna House
A Hebridean Halloween
The other-worldly magic of a traditional Hebridean Halloween was beautifully captured by Margaret Fay Shaw who amassed a huge collection of song, story and images when she lived in the Hebrides as a young woman in the 1930's. That collection includes many images and film of a traditional Uist Halloween or Samhain.
Halloween's roots in Scotland stretch away back to that traditional Celtic festival of Samhain, from at least the 16th century. There are many theories about the origins of Samhain, but Margaret wrote of how the overriding concept of that time of year is that it was a time when the boundary between this world and the 'other' world could be crossed. It is supposed that this is one of the roots of the tradition of dressing up - you were disguising yourself from the spirits and trying to please them in order that they would look after you throughout the long hard Hebridean winter.
This is one reason why food is strongly associated with the festival. As a feast day for yourself but also as an opportunity to leave food out for the spirits. One tradition was to leave a place set at the table to welcome the souls of friends and relatives who had passed on. In the Hebrides, costumes were usually made out of sheepskin or whatever was lying around the croft. Unravelled rope could be pressed into service for headpieces. In some of Margaret's images you can see people clad entirely in sheepskins. She described in 'Folksongs and Folklore of South Uist' watching a young boy skin the head of a sheep, leaving the ears intact. He lifted it over his head and looked just like the original sheep. Margaret wrote, 'On the evening of the last day of October, I was sitting by the fire reading when I heard a knock at the door and looked up to see a horrible face. Mary (Macrae, Margaret's friend and landlady) laughed at me and I remembered it was Hallowe'en.'
Margaret was particularly fascinated with local folklore customs and in 1932 she decided to take images, still and film, of the local children as they dressed up to celebrate Halloween or Oidhche nan Cleas (literally night of Tricks'). Her film and photos are a rare record of these children in their sheepskin garb, haystack wigs and rope scarves. Some of this film now features in the recent DVD Solas produced by archivist Fiona, focussing on Margaret's film work.
This was a time before 'scary movies', and mass-manufactured fairy and monster outfits, and to go 'trick and or treating' . . . No, these are real ǵsears or guisers' guisers'! Guisers who 'dooked for apples' and ate treacle scones on strings. Guisers who ate 'fuarag - thick cream and oatmeal in which was put the silver sixpence, the thimble and the button' to bring luck. Of the pronouncements of Guisers who foretold future loves by burning nuts in the fire to see if they exploded together or away from one another. The ǵsears or guisers would carry lit peats to guide them from house to house, where as they gave a song or told a fealla-dha (joke) in return for a treat, usually a scone or a bannock. And Margaret's black-ish cat Uilleam Dhona (Wicked Willie) would sit in the window of Taigh Màiri Anndra in North Glendale and keep a watch on the unruly guisers . . .
ISLE OF RUM
A quiet end to a quiet summer.
The last few visitors of the year, mostly deer stalkers, are petering out and we are approaching winter without the usual feeling of relief after a busy tourist season. Hoping for better next year.
There was a lot of interest to make a documentary about the new houses, filming people move here, that kind of thing, not sure how or if that will pan out but the BBC's Landward programme were over filming so look out for that on TV soon.
I should mention the new Rum rum business. Fergus and Ali from 'Askival Rum' have been here on and off fixing up the old tack room in the byre for their wee distillery. It's very exciting to have another new business here and some motivated young people around. I think they've sold most of their bottles in a pre-sale already but we're looking forward to some kind of socially distanced launch soon.
Mr Rhys is back, finally, after a long unplanned self isolation in Wales. Good to have random singing around the village again and firewood - just in time for winter!
ISLE OF EIGG
September has seen some normality returning to Eigg with our re-opening to visitors. Lovely Labhaoise from Ireland was back for four weeks and went swimming across Laig bay every day: what a hero: she is really keen to try to swim to Rum one of these days. Then it was Elaine and Debby telling us how wonderful it was to come back to Eigg with Shona but how difficult it is to travel with a disabled child and no Changing Places toilets available between Glasgow and Mallaig. Perhaps something that Mallaig as an increasingly busy place with visitors could consider providing?
Jackie Jobson has been fundraising for teenage Cancer charities through helping fellow islanders with window cleaning and gardening as a lot of tidying is required after all this rain has made everything shoot up again. Thanks for your help Jackie, you're totally worth it!
We also managed to get all the marine plastic rubbish from the Singing Sands in one mighty social distanced communal effort! It has been said that since Covid, there has been a noticeable decrease in the marine plastic rubbish being washed up: although the ubiquitous purple straps from the Irish Company "Arctic Fishing and co" are still to be found everywhere!
Wee Maggie celebrated her 11th birthday with a treasure hunt in the orchard followed by yummy soup and sausage rolls and the most beautifully chocolate cake decorated with a fabulous sugar moth! Her dinosaur suit impressed the little ones mightily as she ran around them at the beach bonfire that followed on Sandaveg beach.
Speaking of dinosaurs, we are most happy to hear that the bone recovered from the Valtos sandstone formations on Eigg by the Edinburgh palaeontology team is of a stegosaurus, i.e. the Plated Lizard, which roamed the island in Jurassic times. We look forward to working with them and the Lochaber Geopark to present the story of Jurassic Eigg in more details to the wider public in due course.
Another beach bonfire was also organised to say goodbye to Paula Ilut, our plucky Spanish-Romanian volunteer who is leaving for a few months, promising to come back in the spring. You can find out more about her adventures on her CWT piece! This was also the goodbye weekend for Ailidh Morrison who is leaving us to manage the Ariundle Centre in Ardnamurchan: good luck with your future plans, Ailidh, we'll come and visit for sure!
Meanwhile, the plans for the new pier centre are firming up, and we are looking forward to the start of phase 1 later on in October. Sheep are being sent to the sales, brambles, apples and pears gathered. Healthwise, with the colder days, we have turned to the internet to get on with our exercise regime: many islanders have already signed up for online yoga and tai-chi, and some of us to the fortnightly day-breaker dance session live from New York!
Shame we can't do dentistry online, as lack of access to dental services has been by far the worst of the Covid Crisis for many of us!
The best of it has been however the wonderful free meal delivery service organised by Lucy as Covid coordinator, which brought a four star Monday meal selection cooked to perfection by Angie and Gabe to a great many islanders during the whole of September. Well done Rich and Lucy for this great initiative!
Whilst plans are now afoot for a Covid compliant Hallowe'en, a big online event is planned for Peggy Kirk's 90th birthday on 10th October. As family and friends cannot make it, we are turning to facebook and zoom to bring people together for celebrating our Eigg's matriarch, a truly lovely person who has been a granny and great granny for not just her family but for the whole island! A very happy birthday to you from all of us, Peggy: may you be able to fulfil your wish to visit Iona next spring!
Could Mallaig be the latest village to gain a Community Shop?
When the Spar in Mallaig closed, people in the village expressed an interest in a community shop. A steering group formed and has now secured Stage 1 funding through the Scottish Land Fund to develop plans for a community-run shop and enterprise space in Mallaig. In difficult times for retail, community shops can employ local people, prioritise local suppliers, provide an outlet for small businesses, promote environmentally friendly practices and invest any profit back into the community. The Plunkett Foundation has reported that an average of 22 such shops open under community ownership per year across the UK.
The steering group invites anyone who lives, works or spends time in Mallaig to share their views via their survey:
Arisaig Community Trust News
Having conducted our community consultation, the final draft site layout along with a project update is available to view and download on our website. We have submitted our Planning Application and a decision on that is due from Highland Council before Christmas. Anyone wishing to comment on the application can do so in the normal way and it will also be discussed at a forthcoming Community Council meeting. In addition to the Planning Application, we have also submitted a grant application to Visit Scotland's Rural Tourism Infrastructure Fund (RTIF). A decision on the grant application should be made early in the New Year and if successful we will then proceed into the construction phase. Due to the pandemic, timings remain uncertain, although the current RTIF timetable states that projects must be complete by the end of October 2021.
Land, Sea and Islands Centre (LSIC)
We are sorry to say that the Arisaig Land, Sea, and Islands Centre remains closed, but if you would like to visit the shop at any time, we are very happy to organise individual visits. Please get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org and we can arrange a time for you to come in.
You can also visit our website www.arisaiginfo.org.uk and look at our gift page where you will find a selection of our lovely stock of Arisaig items, unique to the LSIC.
DELAY AFTER DELAY WITH NEW BELFORD HOSPITAL PLANS
Letter to Boyd Robertson, Chair of NHS Highland from Dr Michael Foxley et al.
We are writing to you as we have very serious concerns about the continuing delays in progressing the building of the New Belford Hospital for Lochaber and the Highlands.
Since we met with you in August 2019 any progress has been reversed and you will likely join us in finding this inexcusable, particularly since the hospital completion date has slipped from 2020 to an unspecified date.
To briefly recap the history: Discussion about plans for a new hospital had started in 1990 with the Option Appraisals Group which reported in 1995. A number of options were suggested with upgrading of the present building over many years, to the most viable option which was a new hospital on a green-field site. Whilst this option was being chosen a 'crash option' was completed in 1998; this involved building a new physiotherapy department at the back of the hospital, moving the A&E department in to the redesigned former Physiotherapy Department and separating the out-patient department from A&E.
Unfortunately no choice of final option was made at that time. However the site for the new hospital was agreed locally and included in the 1998 HC Local Plan. In September 2002 the Health Services Management group from the University of Birmingham delivered the West Highland Project report to NHSH which started a long running campaign that reversed the intention to downgrade the Belford Hospital to a community day hospital. Some 2,800 people turned up for a NHSH meeting to voice very strong concerns in November 2003. A Solutions group from Lochaber and the West Highlands, with colleagues from Lorne and the Islands, Argyll chaired by the late Baroness Michie delivered a report on October 1st 2004 [ West Highland Solutions Group Report https://www.nhshighland.scot.nhs.uk/publications/documents/reports/west%20highlands%20health%20services%20solution%20group%20-%20final%20report.pdf ]. Amongst other things, this firmly established the Belford as one of the 6 Rural General Hospitals (RGHs) in the H&I with consultant led and delivered services.
As a separate project, a team of GPs (Robinson, Foxley and Massie) and NHSH Community Services planned and built the Fort William Health Centre on the Blàr Ṃr in 2007. It was designed to allow a direct link to the new hospital site. In 2005 Tesco had developed a site for a new supermarket on the Blàr Ṃr. When they scrapped the project the site was put on the market. MF led the team of NHSH, HIE, HC, SFC and WHC UHI (assisted by the Deputy First Minister who "agreed to oil the wheels of SG"). Tesco were also requested to "leave a legacy" and sell to the group. HC bought the supermarket site - for housing, the new hospital and for a STEM centre for WHC. The Deputy First Minister has continued to take interest in seeing the completion of the project.
Various groups were set up by NHS Highland in 2015 to develop the New Belford project including teams developing a Clinical Model, Transport, and Communications along with a steering group involving NHSH management, local hospital and community health service workers with representatives of the community councils, West Highland College UHI, Highland Council and the emergency services. Sadly this has never gained momentum.
Five years later the result is a number of inconclusive and postponed meetings; no local project manager; no complete Business Case and no completed and agreed Clinical Model for the new hospital, despite determined input by hospital staff and DS over the past 3 years.
Despite assurances from NHS Highland Board, given publicly through the Communications Group, the absence of drive from the steering group and continual delays makes us question whether there is really any desire to see this project succeed. We need your strong public reassurance on this.
MF visited the new Balfour Hospital in Kirkwall, Orkney (photos attached below) which opened in 2019. This hospital should be the template for our Belford Hospital, with any lessons learnt since opening. Their hospital has:
- two theatres and endoscopy room;
- a HDU with adjacent lab and X-Ray;
- a 3 bed A&E Dept with specific rooms for children and resuscitation;
- a place of safety suite; and,
- a mortuary and viewing room.
It is an exceptionally impressive hospital for the Orkney Islands which has a similar resident population to Lochaber but with fewer tourist visitors and less A&E activity. Our hospital in Fort William has the busiest A&E, compared to the other 5 RGH's with approximately one third of the number of new cases seen at the A&E department in Raigmore Hospital, which appears not to be reflected in the relative staffing levels.
Questions have also been asked about the New Belford Hospital in the Scottish Parliament in June 2017, when assurances were given by the Cabinet Secretary for Health [http://www.parliament.scot/parliamentarybusiness/report.aspx?r=11042&i=100861&c=0&s=June%252029th%25202017 ]. The new hospital has cross party support from all our MSPs.
Throughout the last 15 years, DS has been involved in meetings at local, regional and national levels to address the training needs of generalist Surgeons and Physicians required to adequately staff the RGHs. A very helpful report produced in October 2016 by a short life working group in RCSEd outlines how to provide a safe, high quality surgical service in the RGH's and how to train consultants for such work [https://www.rcsed.ac.uk/media/4413/rural-surgery-report-march-2016.pdf] . This was presented to Scottish Parliament in a meeting on September 28th 2017.
We are very concerned that the site designated for the new hospital and the STEM Centre will become constrained and potentially inadequate, as the housing development is now underway and the STEM centre has detailed planning and other consents. The opportunity to have the entire building on one level has been missed because of the delays, though we acknowledge that the NHSH architect has indicated that two floors are most likely needed.
CR organised a meeting with PMP, the Fort William Health Centre owners, with JH and MF to discuss a direct access across their site to the housing development, using JH's experience as an engineer. The HC Head of Development, Allan Maguire, then helpfully reorganised the housing site layout to permit a direct one way system through the housing development to the new hospital site. We repeatedly asked at steering group meetings for NHSH to agree this route with HC. They have failed to do so. As the houses are now being built, NHSH need to buy a house site before they have to buy and demolish a house to permit direct access. It would be gross negligence if this access opportunity was lost - patients will be required to make two right hand turns across an already congested trunk road, with an unnecessary 5 minute extension to the cyclic bus timetable which adverse effect will compound throughout the day. This was a really simple issue to sort yet we have been met with complete intransigence.
Covid is now the excuse for inaction - although it has not stopped work progressing hospital developments in Broadford, Aviemore and, of course, Inverness. We feel betrayed and deliberately neglected by NHSH, who seem determined to reduce activities at the Belford so that they can concentrate their resources at Raigmore. Community parties are becoming quite alarmed and irritated by this trend.
Can you please instruct your executive to act now on the following:
- ensure a direct access from the FWHC to the hospital site, working with HC;
- appoint a locally based project manager with drive and determination;
- set a firm timetable for the stages of the project, eg. completion of the clinical model, submission of case to Scottish Government, etc;
- review the project management structure to make the steering group an effective force with proper accountability; and,
- use the new hospital in Kirkwall as a template for consultation with the Belford Clinical staff.
Both the local population and the health community wish to see a hospital providing resilient services for the trauma, general medical and surgical patients of Lochaber.
Last, please give the public reassurance that the community deserves.
Dr Michael Foxley, Mr John Hutchison, Dr Chris Robinson, Mr David Sedgwick.
28th September 2020
The Balfour Hospital, Kirkwall - Opened June 14th 2019
On and Off the Rails
Whether to look forward to look back at start of this column is the question? I will do both. Starting with looking forward, as things stand on Monday 12th October - subject to Covid-19 changes, of course.
Jacobite season extended
Following an episode of Scotland's Scenic Railways on Channel 4 on Sunday 4th October which resulted in the phones at WCR to "go crazy" on Monday 5th October with requests for bookings, 'The demand was so phenomenal that we have decided to extend the season and give more people the chance to travel on the train,' said a WCR spokesman. (Currently running with 160 passengers due to Covid-19 restrictions.) The Jacobite will now run daily until Sunday 25th October, and Monday to Friday from then until Friday 13th November. The spokesman added, 'Friday the 13th might be considered to be unlucky for some - but not for our lucky passengers!'
Also featured frequently during the hour-long programme was Mallaig conductor/guard Suzie Sangan proudly flying the flag for ScotRail and our wonderful area. On social media Suzie is an industry ambassador, frequently posting photographs as #girlonatrain. She was also shown walking her dog on Mallaig's circular walk. Good on you Suzie! The filming was carried out in 2018 and also featured, often visited by me in the past, Rannoch Tea Rooms - open each year approximately from Easter to the end of the summer season at the railway station buildings. Filmed there were Bobby Duncan and Lachie McNeil, WCRC employees, purchasing refreshments on their way south with that year's returning train stock. Very sadly, Bobby (Jacobite driver) passed away this year, and his presence is sadly missed. Lachie has been guard on the afternoon Jacobite this year. The program was well edited and a joy to watch again on Plus1 an hour later!
Poignantly, in the break a ScotRail advert was shown stating that 'Due to the current regulations if you need to travel on our trains, or if you must travel, travel safely'. The Scottish Government through Transport Scotland is providing financial assistance to ScotRail which allows it to continue its full timetable regardless of how few passengers it can carry, due to Covid 19 restrictions. This enables us to know that our public train service will continue until (at least) the end of January 2021 - there for us if we need it. Thank you ScotRail and our local depot teams, plus Network Rail, for staying on track.
Caledonian Sleeper news
Used by locals - you would be astonished who uses it - but I won't tell!! Currently two walkouts by union staff, plus an instigated overtime ban after a ballot by the RMT union, have created stressful times. The dispute with Serco concerns fatigue management and the provision of additional rest berths for on-board staff.
Walkouts by Sleeper hosts, and Sleeper team leaders, have been carried out over the past two weekends (4-6th and 11-13th October) causing Serco to 'advance cancel' some services (I think all services) from Aberdeen, Inverness and Fort William. A ballot was called for by the RMT union as to whether to take action. Despite less than a third of the workforce being in favour of it (because not every member of staff is a union member) it went ahead with action against Serco. Caledonian Sleeper Managing Director Ryan Flaherty said, 'The decision to launch strike action is especially disappointing as it comes at a time when all of our focus should be on supporting the Scottish Government to rebuild the economy and maintain vital transport links.'
Let's hope a resolution can be found in the near future, without further disruption to guests who are supporting us. We need to keep our rail services during this pandemic without strike strife or strikes. Jobs are precious.
Hot off the press
A special issue of the glossy, newsworthy West Highland News Plus is out now and on sale. The summer 2020 issue of this well researched and finely edited magazine was cancelled as the printers had to close down due to the pandemic. So now a BUMPER 80 page glossy edition - effectively a summer, autumn and winter edition - is available to purchase.
This is the only magazine spotlighting the West Highland lines, ScotRail network past and present plus an 'On the Waterfront' section - and all for a cost of &163;3.50 plus postage. The colour reproductions are wonderful - a photograph by John Hunt of The Jacobite in full steam coming around the curve of the bend by Morar Cemetery is uplifting and quite rightly on the front cover.
Should you want to purchase a copy locally I will get one to you. If you would like one posted to yourself, or anyone else ring me on (01687) 462189 and I will attend to it. Alternatively write to me at Fasgadh, No. 5, Marine Place, Mallaig, Inverness-shire PH41 4RD. Produced for the Friends of the West Highland Lines it has no rival. What more can I say?
Inverness railway station transformation
It is heartwarming to hear so much positive news at the moment. With financial help from Transport Scotland, Network Rail has purchased the former Royal Mail sorting office and car park, the TK Maxx and Sports Direct buildings, a public car park and Highland rail house on the north side of Station Square. The sites will be the subject of planning a much-needed major transport hub. Happy days - integrated transport - at last!!
Cairngorm Funicular Railway news
I know many locals have travelled on it in the past. The U.K.'s highest railway has been closed since September 2018 due to major structural problems. The good news is that it is Highland and Islands Enterprise's preferred option to reinstate it. Now the Scottish government has agreed to the preferred option and is making available a capital contribution of &163;10.6 million, while HIE will invest &163;10.35 million including &163;8.5 million that it earned from the sale of the Centre for Health Science in Inverness to the University of the Highlands and Islands.
Balfour Beatty have been appointed as the contractor for the project, creating and saving jobs at this crucial time.
HIE's business case for Cairngorm is published on its website www.hie.co.uk. That details revenue costs of between &163;9.76 million and &163;14.57 million over a five-year period to support the operating company until 2026. Internal project management by HIE has also been costed at &163;1.88 million over the same five-year period.
A further &163;4.35 million has been approved for potential additional capital requirements including building improvements, electrification of snow cannons, the existing toe infrastructure, parts and car parking - again all creating jobs.
Rural economy secretary Fergus Ewing said, 'We want to unlock the potential of Scotland's only funicular railway and bring it back into service - and make it an all year round destination - during the winter of 2021-22.'
Speaking for myself I know that railway tourism is our lifeblood in Mallaig. There will come a time when we look back at decisions made during this dreadful pandemic and know that tourism transport is key to our economy. I am proud to pay a small part in it. Now how can we get our railway platform covered in the glass and metal canopy that it once had? Is anyone listening?
I for one look forward to travelling from Mallaig by ferry to Armadale, catching a waiting bus to Kyle of Lochalsh, then catching awaiting train to Aviemore (I did it 20 years ago)! Now again it seems like tourism connectivity may be coming back into fashion. In my dream I would even take my E-bike or E-scooter with me. Who says it won't happen? Not me!!
Isle of Mull railway
Finally I get to a bit of looking back - sort of.
The above railway closed in 2011 after nearly 30 years of operations and everything was put up for sale in 2012. Amid much secrecy most of the assets were purchased in October 2012 and removed from the island and stored in Oban. (Steve and I were involved at the time!!) The assets purchased consisted of diesel locomotive Frances, virtually all of the passenger carriages, 17 sets of points, 1.25 miles of track, two turntables (be still my beating heart!) and the Craignure signal.
Shortly after that the diesel locomotive Glen Auldyn and the steam locomotive Victoria were also purchased. What happened then?
Well, dear readers, it all got incorporated into the Leek and Rudyard Steam Railway in the North Staffordshire Peak District (honestly it did!!) And the owners are as 'proud as punch' to have it all up and running.
Now, fast forward to just three weeks ago and, by chance, sat on a station platform were two of my 'rail connected friends'. They had never met. One was Doug Carmichael, editor of the West Highland News who I know so well, the other was no other than our friend Frank Santrian, now retired but 'famous for being a driver on The Jacobite' (plus on the footplate during the actual Harry Potter filming). They exchanged pleasantries. Within two minutes one said to the other, 'I'll bet you don't know Mallaig do you?' The other said, 'Know Mallaig? I was the driver on The Jacobite steam train for years!' Both then said, 'Do you know Sonia Cameron?' And laughed, and ended up talking about Steve and I for ages! How the railway reunites us across the lines is wonderful. Connections and true friends are made for life, and even after it.
See on the train eventually - in the meantime, letters and faxes and phone calls keep coming, thank goodness.
News from Mallaig Harbour
September seems to have passed quickly - which is always a good sign! The Marina has continued to be busy throughout the month, although unfortunately we didn't have enough space for the Ngoni - which some of you might have seen passing into Loch Nevis on the 21st and 22nd September. For those of you who didn't, Ngoni is one of the largest sailing yachts in the world, at 190 feet (58 metres), with a 71 metre high mast - so just a bit big for our wee pontoons! She was quite a sight though, and did send in a tender to offload some passengers in Mallaig.
The pandemic has meant that we haven't been able to welcome back the Eda Frandsen this summer, and she has now been sold by James and Chloe to new owners, Mungo and Stella. Mungo is originally from Ballachulish and Stella grew up on the Helford river. We look forward to welcoming them next year, when hopefully things will be a bit more 'normal'!
The month began with the arrival of the Arwen, the newest addition to the Western Isles fleet. Arwen is an ex-Mersey class lifeboat, which has been re-painted and re-fitted by A. Noble and Sons, and will be used primarily for the transport of High School pupils to and from the Small Isles.
We then had the Taumar, a newly-built Norwegian well boat operating out of the Harbour for a fortnight, harvesting fish from Grieg Seafood sites on Skye. On Saturday 26th September, we bade farewell to the Aqua Senior, which has been a regular fixture in the Harbour over the past few years, loading fish feed for EWOS / Cargill to be taken to sites around the West Coast. EWOS sent the Ulla to do one loading in the following week. The Ulla is bigger than the Aqua Senior, and loads on the opposite side, so it took a bit of juggling, but we managed!
We had another 'virtual' Board Meeting on 11th September, at which we approved the Annual Report and Accounts for the y/e 31st March 2020. As usual, the Annual Report highlighted some of the activity on the Harbour, and I have included some excerpts from it below.
Landing volumes and monetary values for the current year, the two previous years plus two other random years (for comparative purposes) are listed:
During the year ending March 2020, 45,043 tonnes of fish feed was shipped through Mallaig a 9% increase on the previous year.
Mallaig Harbour Ice:
In our first year of operation, we have sold 1,017 tonnes of ice, and the chart below shows the distribution of this by month. During August, September and October we supplied ice to MOWI, while they were awaiting their own new ice plant being commissioned.
The volume of cars and passengers conveyed on the CalMac ferries based at Mallaig during the year - MV Loch Bhrusda; MV Loch Fyne; MV Loch Nevis; and MV Lord of The Isles - indicates an upturn when compared to the previous year, and more significantly, given the disruption in the y/end March 2019, also an upturn on figures for 2018. Commercial vehicles are down on all three routes, while passengers were up 9.6%, cars up 15.4% and coaches up 4%.
It is worth noting the increases on the Mallaig-Lochboisdale route in particular, where both passenger and car numbers were up over 38% on the previous year. This service is obviously becoming more established and well-used, but again suffers from the challenges facing CalMac with regard to their fleet, and the need for the Lord of The Isles to be redeployed to cover when other vessels on different routes are not operational for various reasons. Previous years have noted the disruption to the services from Mallaig, and 2019 was no exception, with 54 days of tidal restrictions leading to over 200 scheduled cancelations, and 177 cancelled sailings for April - September 2019, with a further 84 in October. The unreliability of the timetable makes it less attractive for commercial vehicles, and for much of the summer, the Mallaig-Armadale route operates at capacity, making further growth without a dedicated vessel extremely challenging.
March 2020 saw the introduction of a three-year pilot of additional sailings between Mallaig and Armadale, utilising the Loch Bhrusda. These were timetabled from the 6th March until the Summer timetable was due to start on 27th March, and were initially well utilised. Unfortunately, restrictions on travel imposed with 'lockdown' associated with the Coronavirus mean that the first year of this trial will not be representative.
West Bay Road Access: After procurement, the contract for the West Bay Road Access was awarded to Fion Construction, and work started on 22nd August, continuing until the end October.
Energy Efficiency: Resource Efficient Scotland undertook an energy survey of the Harbour, and produced a report highlighting potential energy saving measures that could be implemented, some of which would attract an interest free loan. Quotes are being sourced for LED lighting throughout the Harbour, and consideration is being given to other energy saving measures to be incorporated into any future developments.
Renunciation of Denholms Office and Ice Factory: In December the renunciation of the leases for the empty office upstairs in the Harbour Buildings and the old Ice Factory was completed. Plans have been drawn up to convert the office into three smaller offices, and provide welfare facilities for those using the building. The old Ice Factory provides an opportunity to create more industrial space quayside, and to potentially provide new workspace for Harbour Authority staff, but these options need to be investigated further.
Re-facing of the 'Splay Berth'
Work started to remove all the metal rubbing strips from the piling on the 'Splay Berth' (which is mainly used by the Loch Nevis), to re-galvanise and replace these. Whilst most of the work was undertaken prior to the financial year end, and the berth has been left safe to use, Coronavirus restrictions meant that this work is not complete, and will be a priority when restrictions are lifted.
I mentioned last month the proposals to develop more space in the Outer Harbour, which will be discussed at a public meeting on 5th November. I have included a photograph annotated with the proposed development, which is effectively designed to fill in the 'corner' in the outer breakwater.
The public meeting will provide an opportunity for stakeholders to consider and comment upon the prospective application. Full details on how to join the event will be displayed at www.mallaig-harbour.com/news/ , 10 days prior to the event. If you wish to be emailed event details, please contact: email@example.com. If, having seen the proposals, you wish to make representations on the proposed development, please contact: Fiona Henderson, Affric Limited, Lochview Office, Loch Duntelchaig, Farr, IV2 6AW, firstname.lastname@example.org by the 12th of November 2020.
01687 462154 email@example.com
19th September 2020
Requested to launch at 19:55 by Stornoway Coastguard to the assistance of three marooned persons on an island off Arisaig. The day being bathed in beautiful Autumn sunshine, two females walked out to the island and enjoyed a day's sunbathing topped off with a stunning sunset. A male also ventured onto the island to do a spot of shore fishing and also got lost in the day's exceptional weather. When dusk had fallen and both parties decided to make for home they soon realised that what they had walked over earlier in the day was now covered by a spring tide. The fisherman decided to swim back to the beach and to recover his gear the following day. Meanwhile on the beach other campers and onlookers had contacted the Coastguard and alerted them to the situation. Another female who was kitted out in a wet suit swam out to the Island from the beach and informed the two others that help was on the way and she remained on-scene with the casualties. The Lifeboat arrived on-scene at 20:20 just as darkness was falling and launched the Y-boat with two crew onboard. The Y-boat transferred the casualties back to the beach to awaiting Coastguards. After recovering the Y-Boat the lifeboat departed the scene at 20:55 and berthed back in Mallaig at 21:30, washed down and made ready for service.
22nd September 2020
Requested at 17:45 to transfer Coastguards to Loch Scavaig to recover an injured hill walker. Once Coastguards had mustered and boarded the Lifeboat departed for the scene at 18:40. Arriving at the location on the west shore of Loch Scavaig at 19:40, the casualties were located on the hillside by the light from their Mobile. The Y-Boat was launched to recover the casualty and her partner who had now made their way to the shore for pick up. Within 10 minutes both casualties and crew were back onboard the Lifeboat. Once the Y-Boat was recovered the Lifeboat intended to drop the casualties at Elgol jetty but on arrival there at 20:15 the tide and wind were not suitable to hand the casualties over to Coastguards. It was decided to relocate to Armadale on the east side of the Sleat peninsula where more sheltered conditions would be found. Arriving at Armadale at 20:50 to await the arrival of Portree coastguard team who the casualties would be handed over to. Coastguards on-scene at 21:00 and casualties handed over for transportation back to their vehicle. Lifeboat berthed and ready for service at Mallaig at 21:30.
After consideration it has been decided that the RNLI shop will remain closed for the near future. As you all know it size is its failing and no social distancing could be obtained within its confines. But all is not lost: Margaret next door in An Cala has kindly donated a table in the cafe for your favourite RNLI Christmas cards.
We have a Facebook page now - Mallaig RNLI Lifeboat - and our administrator is fine tuning the page for us, so keep an eye out going forward.
Operationally things have not changed, and we are still able to exercise and attend service calls. Lifeboat stations throughout the UK are in management areas under an ALM (Area Lifesaving Managers) and Mallaig comes under Area 33 which comprises of Mallaig, Tobermory, Oban, Islay, Campbelltown, Tighnabruaich, and Arran. We have devised a watch system so that not all stations exercise every week. Pretty simple! Port watch exercise this week and Starboard watch will exercise the following week. So, if anything gets broken or an engine fails or anything technical, we are not overloading our RTC (Regional Technical Cell) team who are being brought out of furlough and have a lot of catching up to do around the coast on essential maintenance that was suspended due to Covid.
Again, thank you for your continued support in these strange times.
Michael Ian Currie
Rum's First Mausoleum
On the west side of the Isle of Rum, in Harris, there is a well-known Rum landmark: the 'Greek Revival' style Bullough Mausoleum, built around 1900 by Sir George Bullough. However this was not the first Bullough mausoleum: an earlier one was built for the interment of George's father, John Bullough, in 1891 and was completed by 4th August that year. The contractor was Mr William Bain of Creagory, South Uist who was mainly known for building piers and schools on the West Coast. The contract was signed in April between him and Mrs Bullough, who was in Rum at the 1891 Census time.
The mausoleum was not a groin vault, nor was it built into the hillside, as is usually stated. In January 1895, an article appeared in the Ross-shire Journal entitled The "Amateur Vagrant" on the Tramp - The island of Rum and included the following description of the first mausoleum:
"We joined Captain Macvicar and Lieutenant Murchison in hiring a yacht and sailed from Islornsay to Rum. [. . .]
"The Mausoleum is, indeed, a beautiful work of art. The porch is octagonal; the floor is marble inlaid with other stones, worked into squares and circles; the sides are panelled with mosaic work, formed into various devices. The roof is of coloured glass supported by eight marble pillars; there are two windows of stained glass; on one on the south side 'He past a Soul of Nobler Tone'. In the window on the north side 'Thee had him by the pleasant shore, and in the hearing of the wave'.
"The vault is entered by an iron gate from the porch. The vault is also octagonal; the floor is laid with mosaic work; the sarcophagus lies in the west side of the vault at the height of about three feet; it is also of marble cut into various chaste forms. On the panel immediately above the sarcophagus these words are inscribed
'So many words, so much to do,
So little done, such things to be,
How know I what had need of thee,
For thou wert strong as thou art true.'
Above this in another panel, there is an angel with halo and trumpet in hand. On the side of the sarcophagus: 'John Bullough, died 25th February 1891, aged 53 years. Those who knew him best esteemed him most.'
The roof of the vault is a round dome of stained glass, wrought into a variety of artistic designs and the whole has been exquisitely finished at a cost of &163;55,000."
Perhaps the visitors could not enter the vault as the description of the porch is more detailed. The story goes that the mausoleum was described as "redolent of a public lavatory in Waterloo Station" by a guest of the Bulloughs, prompting them to build another and demolish the original. Or perhaps it was already showing wear and tear after ten years of Atlantic gales?
Felicia and Paula walk the Cape Wrath Trail!
Back in March, I was packing up and getting ready to move to Edinburgh. Then lockdown happened. This gave me an opportunity to shift my focus and I started thinking of what I could do to help in a world where so much help and care is needed. After speaking with a friend who is currently working in a refugee camp in Greece I felt very moved yet inspired to help out there too. The only thing was I didn't have the funds to get there. That's when another friend suggested doing a gofundme to raise the money needed. I felt I wanted to do something to show solidarity for our fellow humans who have travelled great distances and currently only have tents to live in. I decided to walk and camp from Knoydart up the west coast to Cape Wrath. My neighbour Dean had been given some maps from a friend some years earlier and he thought it might be the Cape Wrath trail. . . He dug them out and when we stuck them together the route appeared already marked out! I had a mixture of fear, apprehension and excitement as I had no previous navigation experience and had never used a compass??!
I was grateful when my friend Paula said she would join me (she at least knows how to read a map!) We had a few navigation lessons with Dean and off we went! With very heavy bags we walked and walked, took a few wrong turns but eventually found our way, sometimes with the help of a fellow walker and sometimes with our own sense and ever improving map reading skills! We had to rest a couple of days due to an ankle injury I sustained after falling off a rock in a river. Once it felt better, we set off on our final week of walking. After 17 days and 160 miles of walking through bog, rivers and loads of midges we made it to the Cape Wrath lighthouse!!! Wooo hooo!
The experience was humbling and everything felt so luxurious afterwards. It made me realise just how much we take nature for granted, clean water being just one example. I was so grateful to each river we camped beside that provided us with fresh water to cook, clean and drink from. This experience made me aware of how little we actually need to live comfortably (a mattress thicker than 2cm for a start - that felt like the ultimate luxury to be able to have a good night's sleep) yet so many of us in the West have a level of comfort and food that we are not even aware is excessive.
A few weeks on and I can feel the pull to consume. . . things I think are useful/educational. . . books are my addiction! All these things we have so readily at a couple of clicks. Things that distract us from our deeper connection to life and our brothers and sisters out there who have only a tent as a home. Please send some thoughts of care and compassion to them.
I have raised &163;760 over my target and I want to say a big THANK YOU to all those who have supported and encouraged us to walk the walk. We could not have done it without you!
I have been accepted as a volunteer and will be going to Greece in December. I'm still trying to raise funds until I go to donate to foodKIND so if you feel like helping out in this way please donate here:
Felicia (Isle of Eigg)
When Felicia told me she was thinking about walking the Cape Wrath Trail to fundraise to volunteer with foodKIND, a refugee organisation in Greece, I could not resist but to join in. At first it was to encourage her to stick to the plan and the potential of a small summer adventure.
In the meantime, I did get an offer for a six month position with the Bolivian NGO CIWY (Comunidad Inti Wara Yassi), so helping Felicia to set her fundraising inspired me to also set a GoFundMe campaign to raise funds for CIWY, having heard about this organisation through Laura on Eigg who spends a few months every year working for them and tirelessly fundraises throughout the year (this year, she managed to collect &163;314 from food sold at our Friday street food market!)
Against all odds, CIWY has worked for over 25 years to rescue wildlife (some of the species being endangered) from illegal trafficking and use as pets. They also create sanctuaries for them in Amazonian forest land. By doing so they not only give a better and more natural place to live for these animals, but they also protect the forest and its biodiversity from being repurposed into agricultural fields.
This organisation has been surviving thanks to volunteer work and donations. One of their biggest income streams is from international volunteering programs. Their work is very vulnerable now; with international travelling limited by COVID 19, they have not been able to get new working hands or much money to buy food for the animals. Their work is more essential than ever considering the massive decline of biodiversity and Amazonian forest land due to climate change and human pressure.
Due to COVID 19, I have decided to put my Bolivian travel plans on hold for now, and am off to Romania to be with my family for a while, but I am really pleased to have managed to raise almost &163;500 for CIWY. It was worth all the midge bites and bog trudging we had to endure, with on the plus side, the discovery of the amazing Scottish mountain landscape. You can go to my Gofundme page to find out some more about CIWY:
MALLAIG STARS FOOTBALL CLUB
Here's a photo of the all-conquering treble winning Mallaig Stars FC of 1978 but can you name them all? The season stats which I list below should help you out but if not see below.
Mallaig Stars 1978:
Back row (L to R): Seumas Macdonald; Alan Mutch; John Alick Campbell; Manson Sutherland; David Reid; James MacMillan; John May; Archie Henderson.
Front row (L to R): Billy MacMillan; Johnny MacMillan; Robert MacMillan; Angus Kennedy; Cathel MacAskill; Alex Kennedy.
The trophies on display are the Duthie Cup; the MacRobert Thistle Cup; the MacKenzie Cup; and the Star of the Year Shield.
I kept a diary of our exploits, noting all the games played, team selection, subs, goal scorers etc similar to the layout contained in The Rangers FC Handbook of the time - a summary of our season during which we played 43 matches. That's a lot of organising, loads of travelling and great commitment from the players. Player/Star of the year 1978 was Centre Half Archie Henderson.
The photo was taken at Mallaig Park - note the (real) grass and the backdrop which was the Coastguard Hill - so called because the Coastguard Lookout Hut (manned in poor weather conditions to look out for boats in possible distress) was located there.
The Coastguard Hill was removed in the mid 80's and the rock used as infill in the creation of West Bay (Fishermen's Gear stores, Mallaig Hall etc) with the cleared area adjacent to the Playing Field becoming the site of the Mallaig Swimming Pool and the Mallaig High School.
FWWL Fort William Welfare League
McKC MacKenzie Cup
DC Duthie Cup
McRTC MacRobert Thistle Cup
Wildlife on Eigg Summary 2020
The summer season for the wildlife Ranger post has come to an end now, so this is the time to look back at all the wildlife recordings and send data to various wildlife organisations for research and conservation. Yearly figures of animal populations can show patterns, which will help with national conservation efforts. The wildlife thrived during the amazing Spring weather we had, and the quieter summer without visitors.
Wildlife highlights include: once again the successful breeding of White Tailed Eagle with one fledged young. Also Red Throated Divers, Hen Harriers, Buzzards and other birds of prey all had a successful breeding season. It was a pleasure to share sightings with more locals this year and there was an increased interest in moths, butterflies and insects by residents during lockdown. We had some unusual bird rarities passing through such as the Nuthatch and Magpie, and six new species of moths. And the amazing displays of wild flowers in Spring and early summer was a beautiful and therapeutic sight during lock down walks.
Birds - 114 bird species recorded for the season (down from 120 last year), with 77 species attempted/successful at breeding.
Moths - A bumper record this year, with a total of 121 macro moth species recorded, up from 106 last year, and six new species records for Eigg.
Butterflies and other insects - a good summer for butterflies, with 14 species, and six species of dragonflies/damselflies. Other insects were noted, with four new species not recorded on Eigg before.
Marine mammals - Whalewatch surveys were carried out, but with less sightings from boat users, sightings overall were down. In August there were several sightings of very large pods of common dolphins. Several Minke whales were seen over the summer, but only one basking shark.
Others - also carried out surveys of bats, seashore life, orchids and other flowers - there is so much wildlife on Eigg!
BIRDWATCH September 2020 by Stephen MacDonald
A fairly busy month birdwise with our summer breeders moving out and winter visitors starting to arrive.
The passage of Pink-footed Geese from Iceland was probably the most obvious event. Late on the 15th, Pinkfeet could be heard flying over in the darkness and from first light on the 16th till about midday skeins of Pinkfeet could be seen and heard heading south. At least 350 went over Loch Ailort in a couple of hours.
The next reports were around 22nd - 25th, with some observers counting over a thousand geese flying over Arisaig on the afternoon of the 24th. This was part of a major movement over a large swathe of the West Coast and Western Isles. On the 25th several skeins of Pinkfeet were mobbed by a pair of Golden Eagles as they flew over Loch Ailort.
Three Whooper Swans on Loch Eilt early on the 25th were the first reported. Later the same day 18 were seen flying south over Arisaig. A single Whooper was on Loch nan Eala, Arisaig from the 29th.
Many seabirds also on the move, although less obvious to land based observers, apart from the grounding of newly fledged Manx Shearwaters at night. Thanks to all those who rescued or reported grounded birds. At least 324 were rescued, then successfully released, by the month end.
A Leach's Petrel was seen between Eigg and Mallaig on the 4th. Storm Petrels were noted on several days, including seven from the MV Sheerwater on the 11th. Both Arctic and Great Skuas were reported on several occasions in the Sound of Sleat. Still plenty of Gannets, Guillemots, Razorbills and Kittiwakes to be seen throughout the month. An immature Sabine's Gull was seen and photographed on the 11th, near the Oberon Bank, between Eigg and Arisaig. They are fairly small Kittiwake sized gulls which breed in the High Arctic, with birds from Greenland and Eastern Arctic Canada migrating south through the Atlantic to winter at sea off south west Africa in the cold waters of the Benguela Current. Occasional birds are sighted off Western Europe, usually after autumn gales.
Wader passage continued throughout the month, only slowing down during the last week.
Still large flocks of finches seen throughout the area, mostly Goldfinches, Redpolls, Siskins, Linnets and Twite. A flock of up to 30 Greenfinches visited feeders in a garden at Woodside, Morar on several occasions.
The first Fieldfares were reported from Millburn, Rhue on the 16th and Redwings were heard flying overhead at night from the 24th.
On the night of the 28th - 29th the lone male Mute Swan at Loch Ailort was predated by a fox, while resting on the shore line by the river mouth. He first arrived at Loch Ailort in early March 1996, along with a female and four juveniles - presumably their offspring. The youngsters were colour ringed, which indicated they had been rung the previous year near Campbeltown, Argyll. The adults set up territory at the head of Loch Ailort and drove off the younger swans, and settled down to breed. They nested every year up until 2014 when the female was predated while sitting on the nest. From then on he was on his own, the only other swans visiting the loch being migratory Whooper Swans. The head of the loch and fish farm cages were very much his domain and he would drive off any Greylags, Canada Geese or Eiders that strayed into his patch, especially during the breeding season. As Mute Swans don't usually breed until at least four years old and if the juveniles in 1996 were his, it could be assumed he was four or five years old on arrival, making him over 29 years old when he died, which is close to the record age for a Mute Swan in Britain.
WORLD WILD WEST WORD
Peter Winnington-Ingram of Arisaig and Kinlochmoidart stopped to read his in Darmstadter, Germany, where he has an office; he's sharing his work between there and Edinburgh. It's a good job he took his West Word as the paper booth was shut!
Watch this space for extracts from next month's issue!
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