Community paper for Mallaig, Morar, Arisaig, Lochailort, Glenfinnan
Glenuig, Knoydart and the Small Isles
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July 2003 Issue
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LETTER FROM THE EDITOR - Saturday 5th July
June has been a terribly sad month in Mallaig. Sympathies and our thoughts go out to all those who have been bereaved .
We at West Word don’t pretend to be at the cutting edge of reporting journalism — we would rather promote pride in our communities, celebrate achievements and share any disappointments or unhappy events than knowingly upset or hurt anyone’s feelings.
Not all newspapers can say the same however, so it can be with no surprise that we have been recently reading extremely inaccurate and totally unnecessary press articles about the Isle of Eigg.
One can get a little amusement from these articles by spotting the more obvious misrepresentations, misquotes and contradictions, but it doesn’t take away the nasty taste in the mouth left by such deliberate efforts to discredit folk who have worked hard to try to change the island from a run down playground for absentee landlords to a well run community with work opportunities for confident individuals.
We’ve all had the experience of reading poor reports of facilities in this area from travel and food writers and we’ve been angry that facts can be so twisted. How much more unpleasant when it strikes even more personally.
I had first hand experience many years ago of how reporters can twist things if they are out to get a ‘bad’ story regardless of facts. A paper with a reputation of dishing dirt was trying to get a story on Keith Schellenberg, then owner of Eigg. No-one would talk to them, and I was no exception. I worked then for Arisaig Marine, and I had two days of harassment of constant questions which I wouldn’t answer. Eventually I said ‘There’s some friction in any community’ - and the next day’s edition credited me with saying ‘Schellenberg rubs everyone up the wrong way’.
Not everyone in every community sees things the same way — we’d be living a strange, unreal existence if we did, something out of science fiction! - but we’re usually left alone to work out a middle way. Imagine if all our differences of opinion were given the ‘Eigg treatment’! Eigg is a victim of its own success in the Land Reform process.
On another tack, my apologies for the late appearance of West Word this month. As some of you know, I broke my ankle in the middle of June and have been hirpling about on crutches (who said ‘what, again?’). The combination of not being able to walk far and having no car made the logistics of West Word a bit of a challenge. Thanks are due to Lochaber Communications Network Ltd for the loan of a laptop computer and to chauffeur Richard Lamont for making it much simpler. Thanks to all those who have enquired after me too and I’m now hobbling around without sticks. Now I have to look for a new car….
Thanks for printing this month go to Roger Lanyon between canoe trips (and gritted teeth at times) and to Alasdair Roberts, and as usual our grateful thanks to our terrific contributors and our patient folders. The new machine gets ever closer...
NEW JOBS FOR MALLAIG
Marine Harvest have received planning permission for a new harvesting station to be built in Mallaig in the autumn.
The new plant is being built to give Marine Harvest an advantage in the competitive global market place by making sure that fish will get to market as fresh as possible.
Salmon will be brought from the Western Isles and the northern sector of Marine Harvest’s fish farming operations to be harvested in the Mallaig plant. They will be shipped live in a newly designed wellboat, humanely dispatched and then transported in tankers to Blar Mhor in Fort William for processing, cutting down drastically on the time between harvesting and gutting. The wellboat, designed after the salmon disease crisis in 1998, will be based in Mallaig.
Mallaig Community Council were told by Dr Andrew Jackson and Steve Bracken of Marine Harvest that six or seven tankers will leave Mallaig on five days in the week. The process of pumping the live fish into the new harvesting facility, reducing the need for salmon to be moved in boxes, will take approximately eight hours and create no smell.
After delivery the wellboat will process the water to rid it of any bacteria, pump it out at sea and replace with fresh sea water. This minimises the possible spread of bacteria and viruses to wild salmon or other fish farms.
‘This facility will be a boost for the port,’ said Harbour Secretary Robert MacMillan, ‘particularly after long and costly arbitration with Morrison Construction over extra costs in building the outer breakwater. The continued use of the outer harbour for the landing of the farmed fish is a further plus, although the outer harbour has been used extensively over the past twelve months by vessels involved in the Small Isles jetties contracts.’
He continued ‘But with the fishing industry going through troubled times, it is important that Mallaig Harbour broadens its operating base, and the Marine Harvest base is one way of doing just that.’
It is hoped that work on building the new station will commence in September or October. At least ten jobs will be created in Mallaig, and more at Blar Mhor which will be handling more fish.
The downside is that 82 jobs will be lost on the Isle of Lewis when Marine Harvest closes down its operations in Stornoway.
THE ROAD TO THE ISLES AGRICULTURAL SHOW
Llamas and alpacas
were a popular attraction
One of this year’s attractions were Tullochville Farm’s heavy horses working with old farm machinery
Well, the yachts have been blossoming and the hillwalkers blooming in what’s been a very mixed month in Knoydart. Busiest weekends on record were rapidly followed by weekdays with no visitors apart from the occasional roaming film crew (we’re becoming almost as laid-back as the residents Rum when it comes to the media).
We’re now the proud recipients of a brand-new post-box, which should hopefully alleviate the number of tourists trying to pass postcards through my window. It was proudly attached to the Post Office wall by Donald Lamont and Kenny Edwards from Grantown-on-Spey, who will be most disappointed to discover that the digital picture taken for the benefit of West Word has been lost somewhere between the camera and computer.
Friday 20th June brought some familiar faces over to perform Uisge Beatha – with songs and music exploring everything there is to love about whisky. As part of a tour by the Theatre Collective, residents and visitors were entertained by some of the same performers who brought The Wedding to Inverie last year. A cracking wee ceilidh followed, with the Orcadian Strip-the-Willow proving by far the most popular way to keep the midges at bay.
Donald Mac Lugash had his surprise retirement / birthday party on Tuesday 24th, despite his protestations that he wasn’t retired. Plenty of old faces showed up, and the night continued in chaotic fashion as we celebrated Sandy’s 29th birthday with a spot of jiving. Rumours abound that he decided to celebrate by finally cracking and joining the ranks of the yachtsmen…
Just a short news section this month. I’ll leave you with the news that Bernie’s ducks (Campbells), are being regularly attacked by his hens (Mac Donalds?), with wee dog Midge jumping in as well (Government Soldier?). Not all is peaceful in the remote glens of Knoydart….
Tommy is been standing in for our regular correspondent Anne Trussell for a few months. He’s lived in Knoydart for the last 14 months and his past career has included Tourist Information Assistant at the Wallace Monument, bus and coach driver, and vocabulary editor at a photographic library.
Last year he won The Scotsman Young Communicator of the Year Award for an article about the power situation in Knoydart (we only have the cream writing for West Word!). Ironically, Tommy says, one of the prizes was a top-of-the-range mobile phone which required a 4 mile drive or a hike up a mountain to pick up any reception! It was quickly sold on Ebay, the auction website.
Tommy is surely one of our most eligible correspondents - 28 and single.
INVERIE SCHOOL UPGRADED
Teacher and pupils wait in vain for the boat to dock
The project is a result of partnership working between the Highland Council and Lochaber Housing Association. Local Councillor Charlie King said: ‘This is a great investment for Knoydart. The old schoolhouse attached to the school had deteriorated and become uninhabitable, unsightly and unsafe. We have been able to create a new nursery, which is a first for Knoydart, and simultaneously we have created accommodation to help alleviate the chronic shortage of housing in the area.’Lochaber Area Education, Culture and Sport Chairman, Councillor Michael Foxley said: ‘We have managed to put in place procedures which involve the Council having full nomination rights to any tenant who must be police cleared before taking up residence. There are many similar situations across the Highlands and I am very pleased that the first example to officially be unveiled has been in Knoydart. The investment in Knoydart also proves our commitment in Lochaber to ensuring that children in remote communities have first class preschool facilities’.
Head teacher Eilidh Klemm said: ‘This project means we can offer nursery education as it should be - the purpose-built, cheerful surroundings enable our 2 imaginative and committed nursery staff to provide the 6 children with a secure and stimulating environment for learning. But most important is the effect that the smart, bright building has on the morale of the entire school - pupils, staff and parents alike. It is an expression of the value we attach to the education of our children and of our commitment to their future’.
The Highland Council contributed £73,000 to the project, which was carried out by contractor Norman Payne from Mallaig, with the balance of £57,000 coming from Lochaber Housing Association and Communities Scotland.
ISLE OF MUCK
June 8th was the Open Day and we enjoyed the finest weather for many years. Sheerwater was fully loaded and people came from as far away as Melrose to see the island looking its best and hear a little about the problems and benefits of farming on the fringe.
June 17th saw the whole island gather in the Craft Shop to meet Peter Clarke Cal-Mac area manager who told us a little about life after Lochnevis finally docks at our £6.5 million ferry terminal. Parcels and luggage are to be carried on interchangeable trailers provided by the islanders but towed by a tractor provided by Cal-Mac but driven by the islanders. Not too much was said about the prices to be charged for each metre of trailer, car or commercial vehicle but doubtless that will come. Peter expressed a wish to carry all the freight to the Small Isles and intimated his intention to set the rates so low as to eliminate the opposition.
Finally I would like to congratulate Marcus Walters who has just obtained a ‘first’ in Marine Biology at Newcastle University. As far as I can recollect he is the first islander to achieve such an elevated qualification. Also Glenn and Julie MacFadzean on the birth of their son Benjamin Findlay. Also we are delighted at the arrival at long last of Charlie MacKinnon and Marie-Anne Sutherland (I was determined to get her name right this time).
On the farm things are going well the shearing is over, and so it should have been as there were five of us able to shear on the three machines. Silage is also well underway and John Morris and myself have just singled 110 drills of Ruteotofte Swedes. This is not the most popular job on the farm!
Muck always sends cattle to the May/June sales and this year was no exception. Cal-Mac could not spare the Raasay so this year I have to turn to Greg Milligan and the Spanish John II. I had not seen this brand new vessel before but I could not fail to be very impressed and would say that this is the perfect vessel to carry freight to and from islands. It was no problem loading the cattle as unlike Raasay, Spanish John’s ramp went right down on the flat pier and the cattle did not have to jump up to get aboard. At Oban the nine beasts made very impressive prices. It is a pity that no-one else had cattle to send. Bowman’s large float was almost empty.
ISLE OF EIGG
June is always a busy month on Eigg as the tourist season kicks in and the island prepares for an influx of well wishers on the anniversary of our community buy-out. There is also the Arisaig show and the Muck open day to squeeze in, and this year for good measure, Eigg also hosted the Small Isles Games before the grand anniversary ceilidh on Saturday 14th of June.
The weather held after gales, wind and rain more appropriate to earlier months in the year (however, since we got the June weather in March, I guess it all balances out somehow, my tulips certainly tried, turning their stalks into graceful curving snakes to hold their regal heads high against the southerly wind). The games were well attended by Muchanach as well as Rumach and even a team from Mallaig (Malaigach?) competing for the football trophy! The Muck children particularly distinguished themselves and won the Richard MacIver shield. As for the adults, no one was able to tell me who won exactly what, apart from the fact that no one got the whisky on the elastic slide and that Alan from the RG MacLeod team won the toss the caber competition: well done the Uibhisteach! You could say it was the usual good humoured organised chaos, a famous Eigg speciality! Everyone enjoyed themselves and there were tunes on the go in every corner as a tent village appeared around the pier area. A big thank you to the barbecue team as well for putting on a real feast.
The anniversary ceilidh was certainly memorable for the excellent dancing music from Yah Matha - featuring Graham Scott - our “fiddler/accountant” - and Eddie Spoonhands, the great Fergie MacDonald himself (complete with BBC crew - they are filming the biopic of our famed Moidart button box player) and the fantabulously energetic Eilidh Shaw band, followed by DJ dolphin boy and his cool grooves. The youth of the area, from Knoydart to Glenfinnan, enjoyed themselves with such enthusiasm that Fergie dubbed the night to be “a showcase in the west highland dancing scene”! As to the new Small Isles Marquee purchased with assistance from the council, it looked great bedecked in flower garlands whilst the hall was turned into a chill-out zone: are we trendy or what?
Seeing so many well-kent faces felt like a real gathering of the tribes and the tea-room session on the night after held many special moments, one of them being the Eilidh Shaw and Angus Grant fiddle duet on the patio, playing slow airs like angels and fast tunes like devils. The Craic was tremendous and I must award the gold medal for endurance to our own Angus Kirk and the Moidart boys for keeping the ceilidh going until 4 pm on Monday! Well, too bad for Harry Potter, the film crew lost its piper for the day, but we gained plenty of lovely tunes from Donald MacAulay on the small pipes, accompanied by Shuggie on the button box. Great stuff!
It was all the more shocking in the aftermath of such a good event, to discover that die Zeit, the respected German newspaper, had published a press release on our anniversary day advertising a sensational feature about Eigg titled “war in paradise” written by its UK correspondent who told with great relish how he felt more threatened on Eigg than when captured by the Contras in Venezuela! The article was reprinted by a number of publications, including the Oban Times, without any attempt at checking facts or details. It turns out that the German reporter had come to investigate dissent on the island as the predictable results of a community buy-out engineered by middle class English colonizing incomers…and then busily circulated an English version of his article to leading Land Reform opponents who promptly send it to MSPs, MPs, councillors and the likes, advertising Eigg as a model of corruption brought about by access to easy money!
Easy money? I don’t think so. Every penny received by the trust is made available through country-wide development schemes, has been spent for the good of the island and is accounted for as per its audited accounts which are made available to the wider public through the Company House website. I bet few private landowners would wish to submit to such scrutiny, especially as so many of them still claim that it is impossible to run a Highland estate profitably whilst we remain nicely in the black.
One of our more recent achievements is the completion of the Kildonnan Hydro scheme, providing 6KW of electricity to 4 houses through turbines fed by 540 m of 8 inch pipes connected to a feeder dam. No more hum of generators spoiling the evening peace, a little less pollution on this corner of the earth: this is a pilot scheme which will be eventually extended to the whole island and will gain it some income through ROCS, the government’s Renewable Obligation Certificate Scheme. This has been achieved through funding from the LEC, SLF, SCEEDS (the precursor for the community renewable energy scheme) all bodies demanding exacting standards from the grant recipient, and at much smaller cost to the taxpayer than installing mains electricity at the tune of a million pounds. As council tax payers, we feel it is money well spent.
As to the bit about the corrupt colonizing middle class incomers who run the trust for their own profit, I‘d like to know where they are, because I don’t recognize any of us under that label. Those of us who are not native Eiggach are certainly doing our best to uphold west Highland culture, promote openness, democracy and sustainable development, although this is perhaps not good enough for some. Our trust may only be 6 years old but the structures that we have put in place include a process of regular review such as the one we are currently undertaking with Investors in People. Malicious insinuations and libellous slanders may be newspaper’s fodder in this day and age, but must not be tolerated if democracy is to win the day. The Press Council will hear from us yet and Eigg can hold its head high, its achievements as a beacon in the Land Reform movements have been recognised by all truly independent observers. And we shall be in Assynt in August to attend the 10th anniversary of the first ever community buy-out. Maybe die Zeit would care to send an informed and unbiased reporter this time!
It’s great to see the new Playing Field getting such an amount of use. Every week the local children have been playing football there, but there’s a bit more to it than that.
Local school children got free tickets to the Downhill Mountain Biking event in Fort William recently and while there with Sue Currie they met Sue Watson, the Highland Council Sports officer. Out of this chance meeting came the offer of football coaching, so every Tuesday coach Mel Davenport has been coming out to Arisaig to supervise evening games at the field, with the help of our own Graeme Stewart. Upwards of 20 youngsters have been taking part and although the holidays are here now the coaching is planned to resume in September.
Hopefully the bike jumps will be operational by then too. And to round off news about that corner of the village, the Community Council are still pushing to get larger equipment for the swing park. And the surgery has had a start made on it at last and should be ready by the onset of winter.
There have been two prestigious events in the village in the last month. The first was the installation of the Rev Alan Lamb as Moderator of the Lochaber Presbytery , and the second was the ordination of William MacLean, the first local priest to be ordained locally for several hundreds of years (more about this next month). William is Felicity Blackburn’s nephew, from Kinlochmoidart. The Hall was the venue for the receptions of both events and as someone who was involved with the restoration project for the Hall I think I can speak for the committee when I say what pleasure it gives to know that the Hall is now a fit and comfortable venue for such notable events as these as well as for weddings and private parties - truly the heart of the community once again.
Not that the turn outs for the various events under our Arts Promotion have been very great. We’ve just had a wonderful evening of George MacKay Brown, a mixture of drama, poetry and story telling which was at times very moving and at times very funny. Such a shame that not more people could take the opportunity to come to see such professional people portraying such a beautiful use of language.
We hired lights from Glenuig and thanks to Helen Turnbull of Acharacle for ferrying them to Lochailort and to Duncan Lee for delivering them to the Hall, and to Richard for returning them next day. Next week we should know the outcome of our latest grant application which included stage lighting.
Across the Moss from Arisaig
Driving back along the new road after ten days away, I nearly fell off the motor bike at Kinsadel. The sign for Morar and Bracara affected me strongly and I carried on in shock, handlebars gripped tight, before coming back to Loch Morar through the village. The enormous size of the notice in two languages (Mòrar as well as Morar) wasn’t the problem so much as Bracara’s new name: ‘Bràigh Garbh’ for rough brae. Who thought that one up? It’s bad enough that ‘Bracora’ has been on maps and road signs for years, with people putting stress in the middle, but now this.
Of course there is a rough brae which for timid motorists, including locals, bars the way into Bracara. There’s a famous photograph of Christina MacVarish, the young girl carrying brushwood at the foot of Bracara Brae. It is shown on old maps as Feadan Garbh, which seems to mean the rough discharge pipe of a whisky still: Allt Frogach, the burn of crannies, tumbles down past the Gillies croft at No. 1 Bracara. Whisky was certainly distilled at the other end of the township until Bracarina’s new chapel made the road end respectable. Another possible meaning from the dictionary is a rough bagpipe chanter. Rough piping is heard in the vicinity to this day....
The signmakers should have consulted Paul Galbraith who lives in Bracara with his wife Mary of the old-established MacDonell family. Paul has written articles on place-names for West Word as well as in his book Blessed Morar. There he offers the spelling Breacgharbhruic: the 1762 rental of North Morar shows MacDonells at ‘Breckgarveruick’. Paul rightly says ‘it is very descriptive of the terrain: breac - speckled, garbh - rugged or rough ground, and ruic - rocks.’
Ann Martin sometimes asks, between inkstained bouts with the printer, for West Word ideas. I usually say there should be more about Bracara. This is it - my chance to point out that while Mallaig remained quite small, mostly Mallaigveg, Bracara was the place to be. Families with names like MacDonell and MacDonald, Gillies and MacVarish, were here to the number of 112 at the first government census of 1841. Mallaig had 24. The priest was Donald MacKay who, seeing a bit of land going spare, sent to South Uist for his nephew....
The rest of this is something I gave the editor last year - now’s the time, Ann! A letter dated 14 January 1882 was written by Father Donald Walker from the Bracarina chapel-house. He was reporting to Bishop Angus MacDonald of Borrodale, newly promoted to the Oban cathedral after being priest at Arisaig. The letter touches on matters described in Blessed Morar, especially the new church which became St Cumin’s, and ends with something topical:
‘I had Lord Lovat and Mr Peter [his factor] here last Sunday, and the window which was blown in by the first gale was done up for the occasion with all the old timber I could get from about the farm. He complains of having too much to do, and I believe it. There is a new pier to be erected in the spring. The fishermen who lost their boats in the late storms are to get new ones from him. In fact his lordship is doing an enormous amount of good for this country. He walked the moss from and to Arisaig so as to get a new road made straight through to Arisaig.’ The opening of the latest section of the A830, it seems, is 121 years behind the start of the planning process.
Watch this space for extracts from next month's issue!
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