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COMMUNITY NEWSPAPER OF THE YEAR 2005 & 2008
Community paper for Mallaig, Morar, Arisaig, Lochailort, Glenfinnan
Glenuig, Knoydart and the Small Isles
List of Issues online
February 2009 Issue
Contents of the online version:
All photos are copyright either of the individual photographers or West Word.
COMMUNITY NEWSPAPER OF THE YEAR
We've done it again - we've been voted the Community Newspaper of the Year in the annual Highlands and Islands Media Awards!
As West Word was going to press, Director Susan Grant with partner Graham attended the Press Ball in Nairn on Friday 6th February to collect the award on our behalf from First Minister Alex Salmond - the Editor being too tied up with the present issue to be able to attend! The prize is £300 - £100 of which is to go to a charity of our choice - and an engraved quaich and certificate.
The award reflects the efforts of the whole community and the excellence of the contributions received by us from them. Whether you send in a photograph, a snippet, acknowledgement, a What's On or an article - it's down to you!
This is the 17th year of the Media Awards, and the second time we have won in three years. There are 11 categories and a large number of entries are received for each, which come from far and wide.
We were even the subject a Motion in the Scottish Government! On 14th January this Parliamentary Motion from Rhoda Grant MSP was put before the members:
Title: Congratulations to the Highland Press
That the Parliament congratulates the Inverness Courier on being chosen as the Newspaper of the Year, and the West Word, Mallaig, which has been awarded the Community Newspaper of the Year by the Highlands & Islands Media Awards' judging panel; further congratulates the journalists and photographers at the Inverness Courier, the West Highland Free Press, the Orcadian, the Shetland Times, the Oban Times and the Stornoway Gazette who will be awarded prizes at the Highlands & Islands press ball being held at the Newton Hotel, Nairn on Friday 6th February 2009, and wishes all of the winners every success for the future
Peter Peacock MSP
David Stewart MSP
Closer to home, on hearing the news our local MP Charles Kennedy said:
'I'm delighted that West Word's continued success has been recognised by the Highlands & Islands Media Awards - and not for the first time. Both the paper edition and the website continue to do enormous credit to all the people involved - and to the local communities that make the news. It is not only a 'must read' for its local readership but also to many further afield who can now both get a real sense of what our area has to offer, and keep in touch between visits.'
And even closer, our Councillor Allan Henderson sent us this message:
'Congratulations to all at West Word on winning the Community Newspaper of the year at the Highlands and Islands Media Awards for a second time. This is just reward for a fantastic community effort. West Word is an invaluable tool for keeping me in touch with the huge area our ward 12 covers.'
This recognition is for each and every one of you who make West Word what it is, a unique reflection of a unique community. Thank you all - and keep all those contributions coming - however small!
WEST HIGHLAND LINE VOTED BEST IN THE WORLD
The West Highland Line had been voted as the Top Rail Journey, ahead of the Machu Pichu line in Peru and the Trans Siberian Railway. The awards in Wanderlust magazine attracted 3,000 entries and the West Highland Line beat off competition from 400 other nominated rail journeys from around the world. The 164-mile long line from Glasgow to Mallaig passes many lochs and mountains, the Glenfinnan Viaduct has been made famous by the Harry Potter films, and it has Britain's most westerly station at Arisaig. It has featured in many television programmes, such as 'Great Train Journeys of the World.' Apart from the stupendous scenery, it is also a master of engineering and has the first concrete viaducts ever made including the amazing feat of the 21 arch Glenfinnan Viaduct.
A830 - DOUBLE TRACK ALL THE WAY!
Tuesday 3rd February 2009 was the day traffic ceased to wind along the last bit of single track on the A830, when the stretch from the old tip to Carnach was opened to traffic. We were promised work would take 83 weeks from the starting date of June 11th 2007, and it's taken 87 weeks dead on - well done, Morrison Construction! There are still a few weeks of work left to finish paths etc but by the end of the month traffic should be flowing freely, cutting the journey time to Fort William by an appreciable amount. However there is much local dismay over the lack of laybys and the erection of man-made mounds obscuring views Look out for a possible piece on the road on BBC's 'Landward'.
ANGER OVER LACK OF LAY-BYS RESULTS IN PETITION
Lochaber's provost and Councillor for the Mallaig and Arisaig area is calling on Transport Scotland chiefs to perform a U-turn and install lay-bys on upgraded sections of the scenic Road to the Isles.
Allan Henderson believes it is "crazy" that dedicated parking bays are not being installed on the improved five mile stretch of the A830 trunk road between Arisaig and Loch nam Uamh. Work to upgrade what was the last section of single-track carriageway on the famous route is currently being finalised.
Provost Henderson, ward councillor for Caol and Mallaig, has launched a petition on the issue and hopes to garner support for his call at the annual general meeting of the Outdoor Capital of the UK Ltd's annual general meeting, which took place on Thursday 5th February in Fort William.
He is also urging local people to get involved with the helping to improve the Lochaber area under the guise of the Outdoor Capital. Provost Henderson has worked in the tourism sector for 30 years and is a volunteer director on the Outdoor Capital of the UK board.
'We feel that everyone can help the area by making the most of what is here," he said. "As an area we need everyone to recognise that tourism is vital to our local economy.
'This is one of the reasons that I have been urging Transport Scotland to put in lay-bys on the new sections of the A830 road to Mallaig.
'This is a beautiful section of coastline and it is crazy to think that people won't want to stop and enjoy some of our lovely Highland views out to the Small Isles.
'However there are no plans to put in any lay-bys at present despite my numerous phone calls and e-mails to Transport Scotland.
'This is why at the Outdoor Capital AGM, where we are having an open meeting for members of the public, a petition will be available for people to sign to support my request for lay-bys on this scenic section of road.'
A spokesman for Transport Scotland said: 'Upgrading this stretch of the A830 will significantly improve safety, traffic flow and journey times, resulting in better links with Mallaig's ferry connections to Skye.
"It will also strengthen connections for the area's businesses and bring benefits for the tourist industry, which makes an important contribution to the local economy.
'A number of unofficial lay-bys have been removed from the existing road on safety grounds as their continued use presents potential safety issues for both pedestrians and traffic.
'We are aware of community interest in provision of lay-bys on this stretch of the upgraded A830 and will consider the feasibility of incorporating a lay-by in the scheme, subject to appropriate safety considerations.
There has also been local anger over the erection of man-made mounds of earth alongside the new stretch of the A830, effectively blocking views of the surrounding countryside and familiar landmarks, and making access for walking impossible. It has been described as a 'tunnel without a roof'.
Arisaig & District Community Council have responded to complaints and letters by writing to Transport Scotland.
YACHTING PLANS FOR MALLAIG
The public display of plans about the introduction of a yachting facility at Mallaig Harbour was well attended, the draft plans were on display in the Fishermen's Mission on Thursday 29th January and the views of those attending were sought as the Authority attempt to firm up on how to proceed.
Phase 1 was universally accepted as the way forward and the Mallaig Harbour Authority, along with its partners in this development study, HIE Lochaber, The Highland Council, Nevis Estate and the Mallaig Boat Building & Engineering Co, will now push on to finalise the plans.
Some of the suggestions expressed at the public meeting included a) the need for moorings for small local craft; b) provision of hoist for disabled sailors; c) provision of drop off points and extra parking; d) provision of slipway round East Bay; e) wave screening under existing fish pier.
Dredging - the darker area in the plan - will need to take place to allow this development to materialise, and the next step in the study will be to initiate a seismic survey of the area to establish sub sea-bed conditions. It is hoped that the seismic survey will take place later this month.
Mallaig Harbour Authority remains open to further ideas and suggestions on their development so if you wish to submit your thoughts on the plans, please contact the Authority at Harbour Offices, Mallaig PH41 1QB by the 20th February 2009.
Hello - and a happy New Year to all.
As ever the Burns Supper snuck up on us in January, although we found that as usual things were organised and went to plan. With so many folk off the peninsula it was thought that the event would be a quiet affair: well we were wrong. The hall was packed out with locals, guests and tourists; all laughing or raising an eyebrow to the many (and all excellent) speeches. Special mention must go to Calum Wilson who had us all in fits and the sheep on the farm nervous. The music, provided by the local talent, had us all dancing ceilidh style, to the wee small hours. The next morning Bernie, who was last man standing, made the sage observation that it wasn't the whisky that made folk fall to the floor but their kilts, for all those wearing the national garb had an attempt at proving the truth of their Scottish heritage.
It seems a short month for goings on. There is the odd small Knoydart contingent heading off to Celtic Connections, although Kath Robinson's attempt at such an excursion to celebrate her fortieth was stymied by a broken foot. On the whole much is as was - the fire alarm in the tea room goes off when the builders walk in, the hydro went down with the lightning (although it was dealt with very efficiently, thanks Willie) and as is every year there are early daffodils and primroses. Ian, Jackie, Anna and Struan have just returned from New Zealand, and Alex Davies was back for the Burns Supper via Goa.
Work goes on though; there is a new fence for Dave Smith. Nigel Boston was working away over the Festive round at Airor while this week lots of material came on the Spanish for the Forest Trust and Kilchoan Estate. On the Foundation front, work continues on the revision of the constitution, while a serious application to the Rural Homes for Rent should be away within the week. On the good news front we were successful in an application to the Climate Challenge fund. This means that a new two year position helping all aspects of the community grapple with how to reduce their carbon footprint will begin in the spring.
ISLE OF MUCK
The fine weather over Christmas and New Year did not last long and soon we were back to rain and gales and missed Loch Nevis calls, Keeping appointments during the winter months can be really difficult for islanders particularly if it is the wrong day of the week and if that is combined with a bad forecast one can spend five days on the mainland for one hospital call. Better to stay at home.!
February is usually the month when I unveil the social programme for the summer months. Not everything is firmed up yet this year but fairly certain is a basket weekend with Jane Wilkinson on 2nd May and the Open Day on Sunday 7th June. Mull Theatre is booked for September after the Week of Homecoming which is not a sell out yet! There should also be a big ceilidh in the barn but the date will have to wait till later - the Small Isles Sports are on Eigg!
On the farm prospects are good for 2009 with better prices likely than for 13 years! Here we are stepping up the feeding for the cows ,ewes and horses. Because we made no hay last summer we are having to feed silage to the ewes in the fields as well as ewe nuts. Hay is generally considered better for sheep but they are very keen on the silage. Because it has been the coldest winter for years there is even less grass than usual. And then there are the geese. Though Toby and the team have shot almost 100 there are still more than 200 left to compete with the sheep.
Though prices should be better this year it does not indicate that the world is facing food shortages generally in the short term.! Long term things should be very different. School leavers today should consider a career in agriculture for by the time they are my age farming will be a very well rewarded profession!
ISLE OF RUM
Firstly a word or two of introduction. My name is David and I have been on Rum for almost 3 years working as the Chef at Kinloch Castle. Stroma and Fliss have asked me to provide the monthly contribution to West Word because of their increasing family commitments and an unhealthy interest in daytime telly.
We welcomed in the New Year in Fine style with a 'stonkin' Ceilidh down in the hall. Many thanks to Skelpaig and all their friends for some great music and a special thank you to Chainsaw Dave for a spectacular fireworks display that was timed to the second, but only just!
We had a tremendous turnout for the Burns Supper that was held in the castle dining room, very grand! I missed the event as I was off the island but have it on good authority Marcel's homemade venison haggis was a "Great Chieftain o' the Pudding Race". There were a few renditions of the Bard's work to round the evening off and one or two drams were consumed in his name...
The Isle of Rum Community Trust took another significant step forward towards ownership of assets within Kinloch Village this month by holding a ballot of the electorate to determine the level of support for the proposed transfer. This resulted in a resounding 'yes' vote with all the eligible voters making their views known. The actual first phase of the transfer is due to take place in late February and we look forward to the challenges that this will bring us all.
ISLE OF EIGG
The January gales may have rocked the island, luckily with no damage, but what really rocked this month is Damian Helliwell's new band, which made its official debut at Celtic Connections on Saturday 17th January.. Needless to say, Damian had a sizeable number of Eigg supporters in attendance. Well done, Damian, we are now waiting for the album! Well done also Frances Carr who is going to take over from Gwen as nursery teacher at Eigg Primary School. A cycling trip to Cuba to start with does not appear to be bad trade off for Gwen!
Stuart Thomson is another Eiggach heading for sunnier climes, - but not before Heather's 6th birthday which was celebrated in customary styles on the 13th - heading back to Costa Rica for another stretch of guiding youngsters through jungle and mountains: we all saw the pictures and it looked brilliant. What seems to have impressed Stuart most is the fact that poor as they are, the Costa Ricans are incredibly welcoming to strangers and ready to share what little they have, a lesson for us all.
Meanwhile we batten the hatches and wait for the weather to improve whilst working on the various aspects of the Big Green Challenge. The newly formed interpretation group is busy thinking of ways to present the project to the island visitors, and there are exciting talks of hands-on displays in the porch at the Eigg Connections Centre (aka, the Lodge), which should appeal to young and old.
Sue Kirk, Ailidh Morrison and Brian Greene were the lucky winners of our Big Green Challenge solar panels lottery, drawn by 3 year old Breagha Millar: their houses will be fitted with solar panels and their fuel usage monitored for a year as part of the project. If we win the challenge, we should then have enough money to fit solar panels on all the islands' home. What with MSP Patrick Harvie's insulation scheme, we ought to be right cosy in our old age as well as being carbon friendly.
Whist the islanders were celebrating Burns's immortal memory with a supper organised by Stuart Ferguson at the pier, (and the younger ones, Struan Robertson's birthday), I was busy networking with other Scottish and Swedish islanders in Edinburgh with my Scottish Islands Federation hat on, and got to witness the budget's defeat from the viewers gallery: always quite a thing to see democracy in action.
The discussion that followed between the Small Islander, the Shetlanders and the Swede showed the glaring differences in rural policy not only between countries but between councils, something that the Scottish Islands Federation wants to help bring to the public attention (check the website on www.scottish-islands-federation.co.uk).
If we think we are having a hard time in Highland, think of the plight of the Shetland cattle producers who are witnessing their local abattoir closing down through lack of local and agency support (the not in my backyard syndrome) and a possible £500 cost for getting their beasts slaughtered on the mainland. Something is definitely wrong.
I sincerely hope that current efforts in the Small Isles to increase local food production will continue, as this seems a vital component of any long-term sustainability strategy for our island communities. Vive le carbon-neutral lamb, I say! And why can't Patrick Harvie help us deal with the mountain of Scottish wool that can't be sold to turn it into insulation for our homes? Surely some of the money that he is asking for could go towards creating new business opportunities in our part of the world? If the Welsh have done it, we could do it too, it would be a great opportunity for fledgling social enterprises, which in these recession times, are possibly in the best position to access capital through the very good level of support currently being offered to them by the Scottish government.
ISLE OF CANNA
January started off well with nice dry sunny weather but lately winter has definitely arrived. On New Year's day we had a bonfire on the beach to celebrate and some celebrated more than others. You know who you are!!
On the farm it is time to catch up with routine maintenance such as dyking, fencing etc. All the cattle are being fed except for the Highland cows and are looking in good condition despite all the wind and rain. Blue tongue vaccinations have all been done as well as double tagging the hoggs.
Nice to see Sinead home on Canna. She has been to India travelling and helping out at a children's orphanage. The children enjoyed her talk in school about her experiences. Murdo had a nice surprise while out feeding his cattle. He found a 7m RIB complete with outboard washed up on the shore. It has been reported to the Coastguard but nobody has claimed it yet.
We are looking forward to the appointment of our new Island Manager. There has been lots of interest and hopefully we will have a new family by early Spring.
Geoff has been away for a month doing a teaching course and all the Soe-Paings are looking forward to seeing him home on Saturday. Will the twins Meggie and Jack remember him?!!
The village has been fairly quiet lately with the notable exception of the Old New Year celebrations on Saturday 10th January. It was the heaviest rain we had had in a long time but that did not deter the Glenfinnan shinty men and women from taking to the pitch for the traditional game of shinty. Even the river threatening to spill its banks on to the field did not deter them. Lower Glenfinnan beat Upper Glenfinnan 2 - 1. There were plenty of spectators too who were well catered for with a sturdy gazebo and hot soup. To my shame, I didn't go. The weather was so bad I expected it to be cancelled. I was 'pulled-up' for my non-attendance by Euan Stoddart; who pointed out that even Kitty braved the elements and she's 90! I obviously need to toughen up so I pledge to go next year whatever the weather.
Later, we gathered in the bothy for a ceilidh. And what a ceilidh it was! Fires roared in the hearths at each gable with venison roasting on the open fire. It was the most succulent, tasty venison I ever ate. Hearts, liver and onion were fried up and passed around and there was a buffet table. There were musicians galore and craic aplenty.
Charlie MacFarlane delighted us all with his recitations of MacAllister, The Politician and his performance of the Hen's March. The bothy reverberated to the bagpipes and there was a good-going session with Dougie Hunter on the box, Iain MacFarlane, Megan Henderson and Duncan Chisholm on fiddles, Colm O'Rua on banjo, and there were other visitors playing guitar, pipes and Katy from Canada on the spoons. There was also a lot of singing. Joe Gillies gave us a few songs assisted by his chorus girls and Megan, Charlie, Iain and Colm all gave us a song. I am sure there were others too but it was a late night...
Our resident musicians have been away performing in Celtic Connections in Glasgow and quite a few villagers have been down to Glasgow to enjoy the festival. Colm, Gabe and Ross were on their way home from a gig and met Helen, Kirsty and Fraya at the train station in Glasgow and the ceilidh continued all the way home to Glenfinnan and beyond to Arisaig and Mallaig. Duncan MacFarlane celebrated his 40th birthday recently. Happy Birthday!
I was getting ready to report on the great discontent about the lack of views, walks and lay-bys on the new road, but Cllr Henderson has done a great job in flagging it up in the press. I think we're going to miss the passing places! With no laybys and stretches where you can't overtake, if you're stuck behind a slow moving vehicle, you're stuck.
Please come along to the Hall on Thursday 12th February to support the idea of a Development Trust for Arisaig. A Development Trust, or Community Company, is a way in which local residents can make a real difference in their community and take charge, to an extent, of their future. There are many models locally - Eigg, Rum, Acharacle, Morvern, Mull & Iona, Sleat and, of course, Morar, to name a few of the nearest ones. There are many projects a community owned company can undertake, and in some places these are vital, such as running shops, post offices and filling stations. We don't need to consider that but there may be future projects which could generate employment and we could also look at alternative energy sources.
To begin with, our first project is to take on the lease and management of the playing field, so that it has security of tenure and it can be improved. This is not something the Community Council is allowed to do.
So please spare an hour to come along to the Hall to give your vital support. This is all you're required to do! We will be forming a small steering group initially to take forward the charitable status and formation of the company, but coming to the meeting won't mean you have to get further involved. Once the company is up and running we will ask for nominations for Directors who will be democratically elected.
The company will be in the ownership of the community, so at least come to find out more.
I am one of the many who will miss seeing Gep on his rounds and getting the craic. He's not exactly retired to put his feet up but I know he's going to miss it all too. He must have lots of good stories - perhaps we can get some for West Word!
I understand that all the new houses are up now, and an army of joiners are here doing the interiors.
A COMMUNITY COMPANY FOR ARISAIG?
Arisaig & District Community Council are consulting villagers about the possible set up of a development trust to tackle local issues and manage projects which could improve amenities in the area.
The first stage is the consultation to gauge support for the Trust, and if this is forthcoming, a steering group will be formed to take the venture forward.
A Community Company, or Development Trust, is a company limited by guarantee, owned and run by local residents.
'Community empowerment', 'Community Capacity Building' and 'Social Enterprises' are the favoured words with the Scottish Government at present. The reason why Development Trusts and Social Enterprises are being promoted is that main sources of funding are running out and therefore projects in the near future will all have to be sustainable, i.e. able to support themselves without continual top-ups of funding.
Development trusts are community run organisations that:
- aim to achieve the sustainable regeneration of a community and therefore are concerned with the economic, social and environmental and cultural needs of their community
- are independent but seek to work in partnership with other private and public sector organisations
- are owned and managed by the local community
- aim to generate income through trading activity that enables them to move away from dependency on grant support. All trading surpluses are principally reinvested in the organisation or community.
There are a number of Development Trusts/Community Companies around the country and their projects are diverse. For example, one of the many projects of the Acharacle Community Company was to bring traditional skills back to the area, and out of this came the Wood School, which is now a valuable visitor attraction too. Morar Community Trust is looking at a number of things to enhance the village amenities, while Eigg has gone into renewable energy in a big way.
Our own first project will be modest: to take on the lease of the playing field to ensure its security of tenure for our young folk, and then to manage and improve it. This, and other possible projects, are beyond the scope of the Community Council. We will be working in partnership with the CC, not in competition.
There will be an Open Meeting in the Astley Hall on Thursday, 12th February, to hear about the proposed Development Trust and the benefits it could bring to the area. Henry Main of Sleat Community Trust will be speaking at the meeting, and there will be a question and answer session.
Don't worry about becoming too involved - what we want is your support. Those who are interested can volunteer to join the small steering group which we will form to take forward the application for charitable status and the set up of the company. Then Directors will be sought and elected democratically.
For more information, contact Ann Martin on 450263.
ISLE OF RUM VOTE FOR COMMUNITY OWNERSHIP
On 14th January 2009, the small community on the Isle of Rum took a significant step towards community ownership of a package of assets which will allow the island community to develop and grow, independently of the current landowner Scottish Natural Heritage.
In line with current land reform legislation a ballot was held on the 14th to demonstrate community support for the proposed transfer of assets from Scottish Natural Heritage to the Isle of Rum Community Trust. There were seventeen islanders eligible to vote, and by 2pm all had exercised their right to decide upon their own future. The result was a resounding Yes vote in favour of the transfer with 15 voting in favour with only 2 against, clearly demonstrating the level of support for the proposals.
The transfer of the community hall, village shop and tearoom, campsite and surrounding land will take place after February 2009. The transfer will allow the Trust to develop visitor accommodation and designate land for crofting.
Rum resident and director of the Community Trust David Frew said:
"This is a very exciting day as it demonstrates support for the plans that have been developed by the Community Trust through the Rum Task Group set up by environment minister Mike Russell. The transfer of assets to community ownership will mean that the community will have a chance to grow and develop independently of Scottish Natural Heritage. There will be opportunities for the population to grow, private businesses to develop and for people to feel secure in their homes, knowing that employment by SNH is no longer the only means by which it is possible to live and work on Rum."
Chair of the local community association Fliss Fraser said "We've been working towards this for around 10 years and this marks the beginning of a new era for the community on the Isle of Rum."
These magnificent photos are of a pod of bottle-nosed dolphins who ‘first-footed’ the Isle of Muck on 6th January. It was estimated there were at least 14 in the pod, including 2 calves. First spotted, they were in the bay at Port Mor, but then they followed the survey boat Seabeam in and at one point were at the end of the pier. It is believed they were off Eigg a few days earlier.
West Word ten years ago - February 1999
- The relaunch of an appeal by the Knoydart Foundation was the front page story, struggling to secure a lease agreement between the Knoydart Foundation and the Mackintosh Foundation.
- The other front page story told of plans 'well underway' to install an old railway turntable at Mallaig.
- Plans were afoot to provide a school hostel in Mallaig and our MP David Stewart was involved with the consultation.
- And another comparison with this issue, ten years on - plans were afoot for a Marina for Mallaig!
- A meeting was being called to discuss plans for the Millennium Festivities for Mallaig.
- St Edward's Chapel on Canna was struck by lightning and caught fire, and the top of the tower later collapsed.
- A library was planned for Mallaig, with a portacabin on offer for a pilot scheme.
- Work had begun on the Land, Sea & Islands Centre in Arisaig.
- Neil and Maggie MacDonald were married on the 6th February - so happy 10th anniversary!
- Viv de Fresnes and Donald MacLellan were climbing Kilimanjaro!
- The first local telephone directory was on sale - proceeds to the RNLI.
- We dubbed David Rodgers the fastest postman in the west. He was in training for a marathon and after running round delivering mail in Mallaig he then ran the 10 miles home to Arisaig.
- Jill was doing oral history interviews even 10 years ago and we featured her article on Angus Grant, the 'left-handed fiddler'.
- The now defunct Badminton Club were looking for the return of two trophies, the Helen Duncan and George Duncan cups. Did they ever get them back, we wonder?
- The back page featured this item: 'Lost - presumed missing from back garden in Blaven View on or around 9th January, 1 red-handled ladies spade by the tradename of 'bulldog'. Old and well used, but of sentimental value. (Please come home, the garden fork is missing you!)
WORLD WIDE WEST WORD
ASTLEY HALL MIX-UP
You may have read in the Lochaber News about the paranormal societies which were trying to beat a path to the door of the Astley Hall. The trouble was - they had got mixed up with the 400 year old, ex-stately home and now museum, Astley Hall near Chorley in Lancashire! I first received an email from Further On Paranormal Investigations, based in Lancashire, asking if we would take part in an investigation with themselves and Chorley FM. The investigation would start at 10pm, and they would install infra-red cameras, motion detectors, microphones for 'Electronic Voice Phenomenon', identify suitable areas for 'psychic glasswork' and a location for a séance.
I knew of the 'other' Astley Hall near Chorley, so I politely replied with the contact email and thought no more of it.
However, I was a bit non-plussed a few weeks later to receive a second email from Paranormal Tours in Basingstoke. They offer the chance for the public to visit a 'genuine haunted location' overnight. The idea is they get up to 30 people to come to the event, for which they would pay the location up to £22 per head, a buffet, Psychic Workshop, demo and full use of ghost hunting equipment, history walk with local historian around the property, a ghost walk with their medium, vigils and experiments and a post-investigation discussion. They wanted at least 5 areas with a room as a base camp. They were also seeking B & B for up to 30 people.
The thing is - what if I had received the second email and not the first! Would I have caught on? Tempting to take them up on the offer! No ghosts connected with the hall although several with Highland!
As a result of the Lochaber News story I suddenly found myself next day being interviewed live on BBC Radio Lancashire's breakfast programme. They sent a reporter to the 'real' Astley Hall, as they would have it, to hear about the ghosts which are said to haunt it. Apart from the usual Grey Lady etc, they have a spectral vintage car, which has been seen and also heard drawing up at the front door where no cars are allowed and when the gates are locked. The Hall was built by the Charnock family in 1665 and I have no idea why it's called Astley.
PERSONAL ANGLE (excerpts)
With December's issue of West Word clearing up the mystery of the exact location in Morar Cemetery of the grave of local war hero Charlie Lyons, it came as a surprise to me that I actually had a photograph of him and eleven other Arisaig men, sturdy and true!!
While leafing through my collection of local football team photos, I came across one of the Arisaig FC, precisely dated 1910 by Canon Iain Gillies, the person who gave me the photograph some 30 years ago and there, first in line, is Charlie Lyons.
Here, left to right, are the names of the players:
Charlie Lyons; John Cameron (Traigh Gate); Sandy MacDougall; Lachlan Gillies; Donald Gillies; Jack Caldwell, Archie MacEachen (Kinsadel); Kenny Clyne; Donald MacDonald; Sandy Gillies; Donald MacVarish; Donald Duncan MacLellan.
Incidentally, if anyone out there has photographs of any local football teams or players - old or more recent - I would appreciate if they could be sent to me c/o the West Word office. Any photos will be copied and returned.
The news that West Word had been selected as Community Newspaper of The Year was a most welcome fillip for our editor Ann (Martin) Lamont and lightened the gloom of the dark, and dare I say, depressing days of January!
As Chairman of the West Word Committee, I am aware of the effort (and frustration) expended each month in getting the paper out and into the shops (and the subscribers' envelopes), so it is very gratifying when these efforts are recognised. Whilst Ann quite rightly deserves most of the accolades, I'm sure she would want me to recognise the important role played by all the 'West Word team'.
I am very pleased for Ann and all our correspondents and contributors. I think the award is sweeter the second time around and I wish to extend my thanks to all, who over the 14 years of West Word's existence, have helped mould the paper into its present award-winning shape. To all West Word readers, subscribers and on-line scanners, thank you so much for your continuing effort.
We can't become complacent however, and we remain open to ideas and suggestions from YOU! If you have any, why not send them to Ann or myself c/o the West Word office.
THEN ... AND NOW
Did you recognise Cnoc-na-Faire in the top picture, taken in the 1950's? It's been added to several times over the years.
The porch in the top photo is where the bar counter is today. Notice the field strips in the top picture; they are there in the bottom photo but seem to be aligned slightly differently. Please send us your Then..and Now photos. Have a bit if fun trying to find the right angle to take the present day one! If you can't do that, send us the old photo and we'll see what we can do.
Richard and Ann Lamont provided these two photos and had a right sprachle trying to get the one below because of all the fences erected up the hill!
LOCAL GAELIC FILM NOMINATED FOR TWO NATIONAL AWARDS
The Gaelic Department of Mallaig High School is delighted to announce that "An Rathad Dhachaigh" has been nominated for two awards at the national FilmG awards. The film was entered as part of a nation wide competition to encourage and find new talent in Gaelic Media. More opportunities are opening up in Gaelic Media, with the recent launch of the Gaelic Channel BBC ALBA .The competition was well supported with schools from all over Scotland taking part. Mallaig High School was short-listed for two of the five awards in the Youth section of the competition.The pupils involved the film making process have been invited to attend a prestigious award ceremony in Eden Court on the 6th February. Fraser Coates, Megan Maclellan, Olivia Johnston, Rachael Robertson, and the Gaelic Teacher Ms Lisa MacNeil, will attend the ceremony, where the winners of each category will be announced. The pupils are particularly thrilled, as the total value of the prize money is £1000. Anyone who is anyone is the world of Gaelic Media will be present at this ceremony and so this gives the pupils an excellent opportunity to mingle and make an impression. Well Done to all pupils involved in the making of this film. Nach math a rinn sibh uile.
FISHING NEWS - John Hermse, Mallaig & North West Fishermen's Association
The weather has been mixed from the start of the year although it has been generally better than the respective period last year. Worryingly, prices for nephrops continue to fall. This is a side effect of the credit crunch and the lack of processors compared to say 5 years ago.
West Coast Conservation Measures
The West coast measures are not going to adversely affect the prawn fleet with regard to technical conservation measures. However, the White fish fleet will be greatly disadvantaged and we are currently looking for ways to ameliorate the measures for this sector of the fleet.
Effort/Days at Sea Management
Again, the days at sea management measures should not adversely affect the majority of the West Coast Prawn fleet. However, the North Sea whitefish fleet may have difficulty once a regularised system is in place. The North Sea prawn fleet will be similarly affected. There are basically two systems that may be implemented: a "flat rate" system or an "historical allocation" regime. There will be a consultation exercise carried out on which system is finally emplaced although different systems could be used to manage the various fleet segments. What is important though is that the cod catching prawn fleet are not disproportionately affected.
Real Time Closures RTC
As before, RTCs will be the backbone of the Conservation Credits Scheme. The starting point for the effort buy back will be observance of Real Time - and seasonal - closures. All vessels will be required to respect such closures and the relevant buy-back will be incorporated into initial allocations. FRS outlined the necessity to increase the number of RTCs in operation significantly if we are to achieve reductions in mortality that will merit significant levels of buyback i.e. around 10%. Given resource and practical limitations, VMS and landings per unit effort (LPUE) will be used to supplement existing SFPA sampling activities which will continue. In implementing closed areas, actual samples taken will take precedence over data analysis. 'Real time' samples will replace the lowest ranked data closure in the relevant zone. A comprehensive communications strategy is being formulated to ensure those vessels directly affected by any given closure are alerted as soon as possible.
- RTCs will be mandatory for all vessels.
- Basic rules on RTCs - size, duration, use of Commercial Impact Zones, flexibility to amend Boundary/location of closed area - will continue as before.
- VMS and LPUE will now be used to supplement SFPA sampling, identifying areas of highest abundance.
- 4 RTC quadrants will operate (south west, north west, north east, south east) to ensure that RTCs are not exclusively concentrated in one geographical area.
- We shall aim to have 9 closures in operation at any one time.
- Where possible and in observance of the maximum number we shall aim to have at least 1 closure in the South West zone, and 2 in each remaining zone.
- We shall liaise with other member states to ensure they are aware of our intentions.
Inshore Fishery Groups (IFG's)
The first formation meetings of the Clyde and SE IFG's have been held with the Outer Hebrides one taking place in early February. The Mull and Small Isles and NW IFG meetings will take place towards the end on March. Early indications are that the meetings have gone off relatively well although there is a lot of disquiet amongst the attendees that travelling expenses will not be paid.
There has been a great deal of effort expended by a group set up to combat the imposition of yet more environmental designations in the West Coast. In this instance , Barra and Mingulay are the targets. It has now become apparent that impacts on the indigenous industries such as crofting and fishing may be considerable and any promises and assurances given by the competent authority, just cannot be believed.
There is however, a belief amongst some parliamentarians, that the Barra/Mingulay designations are imposed by Europe and are hightailing it across to Brussels to ask why. I would strongly suggest that the first port of call is our Environment Minister, Mike Russell. Although the EU sets the targets and criteria for the designations, it is the Environment Minister to decides where the designations are to be placed. IT IS ULTIMATELY THE MINISTER WHO DECIDES THAT THERE WILL BE SAC's IN BARRA AND MINGULAY - NOT EUROPE.
Birdwatch by Stephen MacDonald
A fairly quiet month on the bird front, with nothing rare or unusual reported. There were still several Iceland Gulls around Mallaig harbour during the month, with at least 6 seen there on the 21st. An adult was seen on the Morar Estuary on the 13th. The first Glaucous Gull seen this winter was at Mallaig on the 19th, and 2 were seen there on the 30th.
Three adult Whooper Swans were on Loch nan Eala most of the month, and up to 20 Teal were counted there on the 13th. Loch nan Ceall had good numbers of Red-Breasted Mergansers throughout the month, with at least 30 there on the 9th, along with at least 7 Little Grebe, 10 Wigeon at Morroch, and 10 Mallard and 2 Shelduck near Millburn.
There were still 2 wintering Greenshank on the Morar Estuary all month. Other waders included 16 Curlews feeding in a field at Back of Keppoch on the 23rd. A single Sanderling was amongst the Ringed Plover and Turnstone at Traigh on the 24th.
A flock of over 40 Fieldfare at Traigh on the 10th and another of 16 at Silver Sands on the 21st were the only flocks reported. Only small numbers of Redwings were seen and twos and threes of Mistle Thrush were reported from Millburn and Back of Keppoch.
Still good numbers of Goldfinches reported from garden feeders in Morar and Mallaig, and also Yellowhammers in several Arisaig gardens. The first Siskin reported back on garden feeders was one at Rhubana View on the 24th.
Both Sea and Golden Eagles were reported from Arisaig and Mallaig early in the month, and the Barn Owl was seen regularly throughout the month in the Mallaig area.
A male Hen Harrier was seen at Back of Keppoch and also at Millburn, Rhue.
ROADS TO LOCH NAN UAMH by Malcolm Poole
As work on the Arisaig-Loch nan Uamh section of the A830 draws to a close it is interesting to look back a little over 200 years and wonder what the Arisaig men who laboured then with picks and shovels to build one of the first non-military roads in the Highlands would have thought of the powerful excavators and other earth-moving equipment that seem to make such easy work of changing the landscape today.
Ironically, given that the A830 is probably the last trunk road to be rebuilt to double track, a process that has taken almost half a century to achieve, the original road from Arisaig to Fort William was a pioneering undertaking, as it was one of the earliest civilian roads in the Highlands. Work began on it several years before the Highland Roads and Bridges Act was passed in 1803 and Thomas Telford was commissioned to survey and superintend the construction of roads all over the Highlands.
The first survey of a road between the Lochy Ferry and Arisaig (The Loch-na-Gaul Road) was carried out in 1796 by the Elgin engineer George Brown, who then went on to survey the road between Kilmallie and Loch Lochy (The Gairlochy Road). The survey was commissioned by Lord Adam Gordon, the Army Commander in Chief in Scotland, but it was the local landowners, principally the Guardians of the 19th Macdonald of Clanranald, who took on the responsibility of actually building the road and by 1803 a total of eighteen miles of road had been built, most of which, it seems, was on the Clanranald Estate, which then extended as far east as Kinlochailort.
Brown had estimated the cost of building the road at £6,456 and by 1803 over £2,500 had been spent on it, with a lot of work still remaining to be done, especially on bridge building. The Clanranald Trustees were obviously eager to pass on responsibility for the road to the Commissioners for Highland Roads and Bridges and hoped that the money that they had already spent on the road would be taken into account when calculating Clanranald's future contributions to its construction. Thomas Telford inspected the completed and proposed works in September 1803 but was less than impressed with the quality of the work done:
"... moft of the Bridges remain to be built; in many places the Road is inconveniently fteep; and in feveral places the Bulwarks of Turf have given way. The Culverts are too fmall to take the Water ... and the gravel upon the formed Road is fo thin that it would very foon be cut through and deftroyed."
Telford decided that much of the Clanranald Road would have to be rebuilt on more solid principles, but adopted most of the route surveyed by George Brown for the Commissioners' Road which would be finally completed in 1812. The map accompanying his survey shows both the route surveyed by Brown and his own diversions from that route. Because most of the Clanranald Road was used as a foundation for Telford's Road and it in turn has been rebuilt, sometimes more than once, during the twentieth century, very few traces of Clanranald's Road survive. One long forgotten section zig-zags over the hill to the north of the old Mamie bridge before disappearing into the railway embankment and another short section has survived between Arnapol and Polnish House. The most substantial section is between Beasdale railway station and Loch nan Uamh, which was evidently one of the places where Telford decided that it was too steep for carts and carriages.
From where Beasdale station stands today Telford's road followed much the same line as the modern motor road, although it crossed the Beasdale Burn a little further upstream, where the abutments of the bridge can still be seen. Clanranald's road, however, ran more or less straight down to the Burn, which it crossed by a ford close to the site of the railway bridge. For a few weeks in 2008, before the old road bridge was demolished, it was possible to identify no less than five crossings of the Beasdale Burn within a hundred yards, namely the remains of the Telford Bridge, the old road bridge, the new temporary bridge, the old ford and the rail bridge.
Much of this section of Clanranald's road was obliterated by the railway when it was built in the final years of the 19th century but it is still possible to see a short length to the right of the railway when heading towards Fort William and it is also possible to trace it as it emerges from beneath the railway beside a small bridge to the north of the Burn and then runs down to the ford. On the south side of the ford no trace of it can be seen until it crosses the motor road a few yards east of where the railway crosses the road and then climbs steeply, curving towards the railway. It reappears on the other side of the railway and then heads in a southwesterly direction before turning sharply south into a wood. This section is very lightly built and only the shadows of the drains alongside it allow it to be followed. The road itself seems to have sunk down into the landscape, leaving one of the culvert as a ridge like a very short hump-backed bridge. Just beyond, however, in order to avoid an extremely steep descent to Loch nan Uamh, the builders used a zig-zag section which is clearly shown on George Brown's original map. and the central section of this is supported by a substantial stone wall that can be easily seen from the train when passing between the two tunnels. In fact, to the modern observer the road seems to mysteriously disappear at the mouth of the northern tunnel. In reality, the section of road which doubled back from here towards Loch nan Uamh was built over by the railway and can be traced emerging from beneath it just below milepost 28. From here it runs straight down a glen to the loch with drains visible on both sides, although all traces of it disappear a short distance before reaching the modern road, probably as a result of twentieth century road construction.
Although this section of Clanranald's road was redundant within 10 years of being built it was still recorded on the first Ordnance Survey maps of the area, surveyed in 1875. As Telford's route down Glen Beasdale was vulnerable to high tides and storms where it reached the coast (a problem that reoccurred as recently as 2005) Clanranald's Road may well have been used as a valuable alternative route from time to time during the 19th century. Nevertheless, by the time the Second Ordnance Survey was carried out in the 1890s the route was no longer deemed worthy of mention and disappeared from the OS maps. Ironically, the last few years of the 19th century is probably the period when the road was most used, as it would be surprising if the navvies and engineers working to excavate the railway tunnels above Loch nan Uamh did not take advantage of the old roadway to move equipment in and out.
Looking back it is probably not surprising that the climb from Loch nan Uamh to Glen Beasdale is part of the last section of road to be rebuilt, as it seems to have posed a problem to road engineers from the very beginning. Telford's survey indicates that he originally intended to use George Brown's route here, with a small diversion near the highest point, but at some later point the plans were changed to follow the route that we use today and which was to prove so vulnerable to damage by the sea.
There is, however, another short section of road which leaves Clanranald's Road at the top bend of the zig-zag and goes west from there before turning sharply north and winding down to the modern road. It is more lightly built and the stonework much more crudely built than that which supports the central section of the zig-zag and I suspect that it may be evidence of an even older attempt to connect the farms of Glen Mamie and Borrodale. Unless some long forgotten Clanranald maps appear to confirm this, however, we will probably never know for sure.
Clanranald's Road makes an interesting and very enjoyable short walk but is much easier to follow in winter when it is not hidden by bracken and other foliage.
On and Off the Rails by Sonia Cameron
Engineering work gets under way in and around Mallaig Station
As an ongoing commitment to ensuring safe and reliable rail travel on the West Highland Line, Network Rail and ScotRail are carrying out rail sleeper replacements on the line. Due to wear and tear caused by the weather and increased loads being carried on the Mallaig Line, the wooden sleepers can rot, split and generally deteriorate. So brand new pressure treated wooden sleepers are being inserted at various locations along the line. In doing this, it also enables the engineers to examine the rail, rail chairs and the support ballast. You may have noticed various yellow machines traversing the line; these are called 'Geismars' and they are used to fit and stabilise the new sleepers, before the engineers drill and fit new chair fixing screws. It's nice to see that wooden sleepers are being fitted, as the trend nowadays is to use continual welded rail on either steel or concrete sleepers. Somehow traditional wooden sleepers seem to fit into the West Highland landscape in a more pleasing way.
'The Fortil McFreighter'
Rail tour operator 'Pathfinder Tours', based in the West of England, are organising a 'freight line only' tour on Sunday 8th February, to coincide with the Scotland - Wales Six Nations Rugby International at Murrayfield. They are sending a 'special' train from Fort William to Edinburgh to convey passengers to the game, and for rail enthusiasts the 12 luxury carriages will then traverse lines only used by freight. Managing Director, Peter Watts, told me that he has negotiated with Network Rail and EWS to do this trip as a 'one off', never to be repeated, event. For anyone interested in Scottish freight and branch lines, this is an opportunity not to be missed. The 12 luxury coaches will be hauled throughout by two EWS Class 66 locomotives, one at either end of the train.
For more information on this trip, visit www.pathfindertours.co.uk, or call 01453 835414/834477 - and mention that you heard about it through the 'On and Off the Rails' column in West Word!
Please note: Pathfinder Tours will be coming to Mallaig on Saturday 11th April 2009, with a tour called 'The West Highlander'. Locomotives will be two Class 37 EWS. More of this tour in West Word in April.
Model Rail Scotland 2009
Once again the Association of Model Railway Societies in Scotland are holding their annual event at the SECC in Glasgow, between Friday 20th and Sunday 22nd February incl. If you read 'On and Off the Rails' in January's West Word you will see details of how to get there, etc. It's the biggest exhibition of its kind in Scotland and well worth a visit! And for three lucky West Word readers, I have Family Tickets, worth £20 each, to give away! These admit 2 adults and 2 children on any of the three days.
In order to win a Family Ticket to the show, just answer the following question, and send it to me at 'Fasgadh', Marine Place, Mallaig PH41 4RD, no later than Friday 13th February 2009.
One of the 50 model layouts at the exhibition
Q: What is the piece of wood that the railway lines sit on?
The organisers have arranged for over 50 layouts and 150 exhibitor stands to attend, so there is plenty to see and do. Food and drink are available all day. A full listing if the featured model railway layouts plus other information can be found at www.modelrail-scotland.co.uk
That's all the news for now, best of luck with the competition!
See you on the train
On and Off the Rails - an enthusiast's view
In August 1955, my Mother and Father treated me to a holiday, travelling by rail from Wolverhampton, via York, Newcastle and Edinburgh, to Portree on Skye. It involved travelling on the West Highland Line and to this day I remember quite clearly leaving Glasgow Queen Street at 05.50 behind two Black 5 locomotives, and then travelling over Rannoch Moor, arriving at the Grand Old Fort William Station, before going west via Glenfinnan and past the Gated Level Crossing at Morar, on to Mallaig. Here we caught the Loch Seaforth, the ferry which was bound for Stornoway. Memory does not allow me to recall how we got to Portree, but we either changed at Kyle of Lochalsh or Loch Seaforth itself called there en route to the Isle of Lewis.
This brief introduction to my first visit to the West of Scotland really sets the tone for the next 50 or so years as, without many breaks, I have travelled to this part of Britain for holidays or Railway Business ever since. In the mid 60's I, with other railway enthusiasts, purchased Scottish Rail Rovers which for 7 days and nights took us all over Scotland with the West Highland Line being part of the itinerary. In the late 70's, I introduced my wife to Lochaber and beyond by having a 10 day holiday in Glenfinnan. Dare I say, it rained every day, so she and my two sons never got to see the beautiful scenery which was available. Then, 1984 was the beginning of a now unbroken run of visits to Arisaig, Morar, Mallaig, and some of the islands, this co-incidentally being the same time as the introduction of Steam from Fort William to Mallaig on the West Highlander and The Jacobite. Being a complete lover of steam, a holiday or visit to Fort William and Mallaig has become a complete necessity, and over that period I have amassed numerous Video shots as well as sound recordings of this wonderful Line.
It would be unfair of me not to say thank you to two people who regularly ask us to stay with them: Andy and Helen Race, who live in Morar, are old friends from my home town of Wolverhampton. My wife, two sons and I, have had some fantastic holidays with them, and even my pal David and I visit Andy and Helen in mid-winter, when things take on a totally different perspective. When Railways and Steam take a back seat, there is nothing we all like more than to visit the Inner Isles, travel over to Skye, making a special trip to Elgol, or to take the Western Isles boat to Inverie and Tarbet along Loch Nevis. In 2008, I think only three visits were made to Morar and Mallaig, the last of these was as a participant on 'The 2008 Steam Charter' which saw 150 or so grown men and women playing trains over an October weekend between Fort William, Rannoch and Mallaig. A wonderfully organised operation, thoroughly enjoyed by everyone, in pretty good weather. Well done, West Coast Railway, and thank you also for stopping the last return run from Mallaig on Sunday evening at Corpach where I and five other friends were able to get off and walk just a few hundred yards to our B & B accommodation.
It seems a long time since this happened, but I look forward to returning to Morar on January 2009 to continue this Love Affair I have with the West Coast of Scotland.
David Groves, Wolverhampton
News in Brief
- Highland Council has agreed in principle to take over the role of harbour authority for the Isle of Rum, making it responsible for all operations and future maintenance. It follows approaches by Scottish Natural Heritage, which wanted the Council to be responsible for Loch Scresort, the sea loch where the marine terminals are located.
- Oban was the busiest single Scottish RNLI lifeboat in 2008, involved in 55 search and rescues, rescuing 57 people. The 235 lifeboat stations around the UK and Ireland launched 8,182 times in 2008, rescuing 7.533 people.
- European rules limiting the working week to 48 hours which are coming in in 3 years time could mean the end of volunteer firefighters - the RNLI and Coastguard would also suffer. Charles Kennedy MP is backing the campaign to opt-out of the regulations.
- In May we will have the chance to go aboard the last sailing herring drifter, Reaper, when it comes to Mallaig for a day and to Inverie for some hours. Look out in future West Words for details of the visit and plans to make it a day to remember.
CROFTING ROUNDUP by Joyce Wilkinson, SCF Area Representative
Crofting at an all Time Low
Active crofting in the Highlands and Islands has reached an all time low this winter. The outcome of the Shucksmith report initially appeared as if it would be a shot in the arm for active crofting but the watered down version will be ineffectual when implemented and the demise of the Bull Scheme is linked to the recommendations in the report. These recommendations were based on figures from the Crofters Commission that appear to be an inaccurate assessment of cattle keeping and use of the bull when looked at in detail.
There is also uncertainty over LFASS and while it is hoped that changes to it may be possible at the moment there is a serious discrepancy between what it is supposed to achieve and what it is actually achieving. Changes need to be linked to: Meaningful activity, a move away from the historic base, the needs of new entrants and high nature value farming.
Crofters feel they are no longer being listened to because their opinions are outweighed by those of the wider community, and public bodies such as SNH , RSPB and HIE .
Crofters are delivering a 'public benefit ', producing disease free food from high nature value agriculture using the least productive ground in the country, yet there is little hope for any further support and crofters cannot continue to subsidise crofting from their own pockets. Even if there is no more money to go around support through a reduction in red tape would go some way to help.
In a recent report by SAC Animal Health officers reported an unusually high number of welfare complaints about thin cattle at the end of last winter. The report says that an average of 15 cows a day were dying in the Highlands from a variety of reasons but mostly through being in poor condition from fluke, lack of feed value in silage and hay and lack of shelter from wind chill and old age. Surely this indicates the scale of the problem in the Highlands and Islands , where weather conditions for out wintering animals are worse than anywhere else in the country through the winter and feeding is expensive to make or buy in. Yet we are being told we will have to over winter a bull and meet the costs ourselves. These are obstacles that are hard to overcome and it is difficult to imagine a future for crofting anymore in times like these.
MALLAIG ORAL HISTORY PROJECT
As well as collecting new interviews with people in and around our area, the Oral History Project has also been looking at archives elsewhere, and material already collected in years gone by. Mallaig has had its share of characters over the years, and one I will always remember fondly is Freddie Salmon. He arrived in Mallaig, along with many others, during the war. I interviewed him at Mallaig Harbour Office in 1996, and this interview will also form part of the archive of the project - which will be kept at the Mallaig Heritage Centre. If there are any other interviews, old newspaper articles or photographs out there which people would be happy to contribute as part of the History archive, we would be very happy to hear from you!
Freddie Salmon - Fishing Under Sail
Freddie began fishing in the early 1930s - out of West Mersey, Essex, in a traditional 40 foot sail powered beam trawler.
"The boat was in the Fishing News some time back - the Mayflower - and Boadicea [Queen of Colchester]. That was the first boat I was at sea in. I fished out of West Mersey Essex, shrimping, catching them, cleaning them, and cooking them aboard the boat. The boat was about 40 feet and powered just by sail - no engines or that kind of thing.
I started fishing when I was 14 - I just left school. All the young lads went away to sea. I was lucky to get aboard a boat. I don't know why I went to sea really - I was awful seasick. I was sea sick 'til the last day I went to sea. I never got over the sea sickness - never! I still remember the smell of cooking the shrimps. The water starting to boil - and the smell that used to come off them! We had a big copper aboard the boat and we'd boil up about a gallon a time - and we would take them out and put them onto driers - as they call them - spread them out to dry before we put them into the baskets - we called them 'peds'. First day at sea. As far as I can remember - well, the wind was from the east and it wasn't a very good day. I was awful sea-sick and I just kept saying to the feller - oh no - man! - and he said 'Here drink a cup of salt water - it'll do you good' - so I tried the salt water but it wasn't any good. And when we landed and got ashore at last, I could feel the boat moving under my legs as I walked up the shore.
We used to leave in the morning - go out with the ebb tide as a rule - in the summer time. Most mornings, when it was good weather, the wind would be in the N.W. and then would fare away in the daytime and the wind would come up in the S.E. about dinner time. We had to have the wind. In the summer time the wind was fairly dependable. It wasn't so good in the winter time because if the wind was from the north, or the tide was wrong, well, you couldn't tow across the tide - you had to tow with the tide all the time. If you towed across the tide you wouldn't get much at all. There were limitations to working on a sailed vessel. There was only one boat with an engine at that time - later on they all got engines. We got a Thornycroft eventually - started off with petrol and switched them over to paraffin after that - 2 and a half pence a gallon.
There were only the two of us aboard the boat. Everything was hauled by hand - the whole lot. We had no power of any description. Later on we got a hand capstan - a hand hauler - to haul in the net. We worked a 14 foot beam trawler. Half an hour before we were going to haul the net, we used to light the fire so the water was boiling all ready for cooking the shrimps.
As the boats got the engines in the work got easier - we had a winch - a capstan. It was made out of the back axel of a car and it had a wooden block on top of it and we used to have a belt from the wheel - the fly wheel up into the top of the pulley - block. We had no levers or anything so we used to go down below with a stick and put the belt onto the fly wheel with a stick and when you'd finished you'd to go down and take it off with the stick again. That was a new patent that we had!
The fishermen - they had car engines in. Once they got the universal coupling, they could get any kind of car and just put it in and join it up. There was a lot of old Ford engines - you'd go up to the dump and get an old engine for £1 or 30 shilling - second hand engines. If they gave you any trouble you'd just take them out and put another one in. Anything they could get a prop put into. It was a very crude kind of turn-out at that time of day. Nobody knew much about engines either. There was very few knew anything. Just one or two older folk who'd been involved with them beforehand when they were younger - maybe on bigger boats or steamers, that kind of thing. So it was quite an adventure.
The sails had to be set up by hand. They could be moved around whichever way was wanted - pull them out or in or round - whichever way the wind was. You had to work that way, you see, to sail them. That was the traditional way of fishing - it'd been going on for donkey's years I expect.
We had beds aboard - hammocks, swing beds - when you got out you'd tie it up to the side of the boat and we had no mattresses. We would get big bags of sawdust and shavings and take that aboard - that was the bed. A bed of shavings - they were inside a bag. When I got too soft I would go up to get more. There were no sleeping bags or any of that kind of thing. They would have been handy in those days. You couldn't go to sleep though. You'd be working all day from the time you left til you came home - there'd be something to do.
This morning I was going away to work - about 2.30 in the morning and I had to go along a footpath - a 'foray' as we called them whichever way you went to the village your had to pass a big cemetery. So this morning as I was going up through this foray, I could see something white coming up the other end of it. And I said to myself - oh well, that's somebody playing the fool with me. If I do turn back they'll be saying I'm yellow and all kinds of things. So I plucked up nerve and I said to myself - maybe it is a ghost. I knew there was a grave open - if it is a ghost, this ghost would go back into the grave. I would meet it at the gate - there was a white gate at the back of the cemetery and then it would go back into the cemetery and disappear. I kept walking and walking - I couldn't turn back and as I got to the white gate - I thought I'm sure it'll go into the grave. But it didn't go into the cemetery. It stopped and spoke to me and it was the baker going up to the mill, with his white top hat on and his apron right down to his feet and a white coat on. That was my ghost!
I had to carry on even though I was sea-sick. I forced myself to do it. I wanted to stick it - and I did. I came up here during the war - April '42. I was working with the SOE up here. We had a big boat called the Catchalot - a sailing boat she was, though she had a Gardiner engine in. She'd sailed round the world twice and there are two books written about her. She had her name changed to HMS Alca. I got involved in that because I had experience of sailing boats. I volunteered for that at Lowestoft. One of my mates said you had to cross over to France to pick up ditched airmen and all that kind of thing - he wouldn't volunteer - but I said well, if that's what's going I'll take it - so I volunteered. I don't know if it was good or bad - but that's another story!"
Unfortunately I never got the chance to interview Freddie again, but it shows the importance of capturing some of the stories which people do have to tell.
Contact the Mallaig Oral History Project on 01687 462085
Jill and Bridget
What’s On in the Astley Hall in 2009
for more information and links to the artistes web sites, visit:
Tuesday 14th April
Duncan Chisholm & Ivan Drever
Friday 1st May
Thursday 28th May
The Tannahill Weavers
Thursday 30th July
Friday 14th August
North Sea Gas
Friday 21st August
Fiona Knowles in ‘Fur Coat & Magic Knickers’
Saturday 12th September
BLAS festival featuring
Mary Ann Kennedy & Na Seòid and the MacCollective
Watch this space for extracts from next month's issue!
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