Community paper for Mallaig, Morar, Arisaig, Lochailort, Glenfinnan
Glenuig, Knoydart and the Small Isles
List of Issues online
December 2003 Issue
Contents of the online version:
ARISAIG SURGERY IN NEW SETTING
The new building housing Arisaig's doctors' practice opened for business on Friday 5th December 2003. Built on the Rhu Road, the building offers a doctor's room, nurses' room, examination room as well as offices and has ample parking - and the luxury of toilets! The new surgery is having an Open Afternoon on Wednesday, 10th December, between 2 pm and 4 pm to allow anyone interested to have a look around the long-awaited new facility. There will be an Official Opening of the new surgery next year.
ROSEMARY IS NEW LOCHABER AREA EDUCATION MANAGER
Arisaig's Rosemary Bridge, once Head Teacher at Mallaig Primary School, has become the first woman Area Manager in Lochaber with her appointment, which began on December 1st. Rosemary left Mallaig Primary in 1998 to be Head Teacher at Upper Achintore in Fort William, and has recently been on secondment to the area education office.
MRS MARGARET FAY SHAW CAMPBELL CELEBRATES 100 YEARS
Mrs Campbell receives one of her many bouquets from Mary Morrison.
ISLE OF CANNA
It's been a number of months since I last wrote for West Word but as you may appreciate things in the summer were rather hectic. This month's article I must dedicate to Mrs Campbell's 100th birthday.
November 8th, CalMac's vessel Lochnevis arrived in Canna flying her flags as the start of the celebrations for Mrs Campbell's Birthday. She had arrived with the select few people whom had been invited to help her celebrate her special day, these people included Dr Duck, Mary Morrison and representatives from the National Trust for Scotland as well as some very close friends. Also arriving were many bouquets of flowers which she received.
November 9th, the Big Day, asking Mrs Campbell how she felt she replied, 'When I woke this morning I couldn't believe I was a hundred.'
Mrs Campbell was piped in to meet her guests by Hugh Cheape, the champagne flowed as did the whisky. The food had been arranged by Joanne, who is Mrs Campbell's carer, with the help of Magda, and some of the guests who were staying in Canna House with them, and what a spread it was, very tasty.
I had the pleasure of making the birthday cake which was decorated with little things that Mrs Campbell enjoys - cats, a piano, and some miniature books, and it had a piece of Campbell tartan round it.
Mrs Campbell was in great form, she played several tunes on thepiano, even trying to get people up to do a waltz (without much success). She told stories about her younger days and also sang some songs, everyone thoroughly enjoyed it. To help with the entertainment Patrick Hanley played some tunes on his accordion and Mary Lindsay sang some lovely songs. Many of the guests left with Bruce Watt's boat later on the Sunday afternoon.
Mrs Campbell would like to thank everyone for all their gifts and cards (I never knew you could get so many cards with 100 on them), they were very much appreciated.
Another big celebration on Canna was Geraldine's 40th, happy birthday Gerry from all on Canna.
Well, will give more updates next month on what else has been happening on Canna.
ISLE OF CANNA - The Farm
At last all the sales are over and Canna stock has done very well overall. We have enjoyed competing with Muck for the top lamb prices, but Lawrence beat us with his good cattle.
All the new tups are out and hopefully working hard. This year we bought a Swaledale for the first time and will be using him to improve our blackface ewes. We sold our 6 year old shorthorn bull on the 14th November, and were delighted when he made £1300, this being only £100 less than we paid for him 3 years ago.
A big thanks to Greg, Tony, Ian and Stewart for getting all our stock safely to Mallaig on the Spanish, the CalMac boys in Mallaig, and Sany Taylor from Killin. Also thanks to the MacKays at Bracara, Ewen Ross and Bill Henderson for looking after our tups. All the help these people give Canna is much appreciated.
November in Knoydart. Perhaps not the first choice of destination for newly-married couples, sun-seekers, or aficionados of the clubbing scene – but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing happening. And as for the married couples, they’ll soon have Cara’s exclusive residence to visit (finishing touches being added right now to The Gathering). And if Cara’s place is full, Butcher’s well-kitted out bunkhouse is now fully operational. Found a second-hand Landrover window yet, Butcher?
The surveyors for the new pier arrived to check out the seabed, and instantly the “Knoydart Factor” came into play. A particularly rough night with their tug boat moored up at the present pier resulted in several supports being knocked out of place. Much of the pier is now cordoned off, and visitors arriving in Knoydart by boat are advised not to moor up on the seaward side of the pier. An inspection has taken place, and repair work undertaken. Visitors are still welcome! A couple of days later, and the platform being used by the surveyors to drill into the clay and bedrock ran into problems, with one of its “legs” being damaged. Bets on the eventual completion date of the new pier are now being taken.
The new pier has had a lot of work put into it recently from a community point of view, with a recent consultation focusing on the pathways approaching the area. It looks like there may be a dedicated path to the school, which will keep the children away from the road at boat times. There should hopefully be a coastal path round to the village as well.
Although it has been quiet, with the Pier House closed and visitor numbers down (when did we last have a yacht moored offshore?), pub debates have been raging as usual. Having ascertained that a female cat is called a Tabby (courtesy of Chambers Dictionary – far superior to the Oxford, Davie), the latest argument centred round what you call a wasp’s home. We reckon it’s a bike, not a nest – but a few still want to write to Aunty Mary’s Creepy Crawly Corner to make sure. Oh, and do you know why submarines were painted black? Ask Roger next time he comes in on the Cormorant. Potatoes and hammers are still banned topics after week-long explorations of their respective ultimate representatives.
The Campbells were unavailable for comment this month, but are rumoured to be producing regularly - £1 a half-dozen in the Post Office!
ISLE OF MUCK
Another month is over and still Loch Nevis has not entered Port Mor. The word is that they are waiting for a chart of the harbour. Perhaps such caution is not misplaced when I tell you the story of the last time a MacBraynes vessel officially entered through the Dorus Mor. The ship was the cargo vessel Loch Broom and the date was the autumn of 1956. She had come to load ewes for the Oban sales which had to be ferried out on Wave. Loch Broom had dropped her hook as they say but once the chain was run out she was fairly close to the lea shore of the harbour. Hugh MacKinnon was the Muck boatman at that time and as soon as he had brought out the first load of ewes he warned the captain of the danger he was in for the wind increased every time a shower came out of the west. Hardly had Wave left Loch Broom when a squall struck , she dragged and the props hit a rock! The ewes were returned ashore and were soon joined by many more from Canna who stayed for two weeks! Loch Broom departed behind a Clyde tug and never entered the harbour again. My father received a bottle of the finest malt from John Lorne Campbell. I missed all the excitement; I was away at school.
In memory of Bryan Walters 3rd December 2003.
From Orkney in the north to Sussex in the south and many points between they came. By Loch Nevis, Sheerwater, RIB and fishing boat they came. They had come to remember Bryan Walters; to support his family, to support the island community and perhaps fill a little of the gaping hole left by Bryan's departure. 215 of us gathered on the lawn of Port Mor House and filled the Small Isles marquee to pay tribute to his memory. Rev Alan Lamb spoke of Bryan's leaving from the Christian viewpoint. Monsignor Thomas Wynne spoke of his life as he had known him. Marcus Walters spoke bravely and eloquently of his father; the Bryan we all knew. Emma and Ishy Walters read passages suitable for the occasion. Altogether a memorable and moving 40 minutes. Then everyone stood outside and greeted friends while islanders circulated food and drinks. And all too soon it was time to depart but in a final gesture courtesy of Sheerwater we cast two wreaths upon the waters at the spot where Bryan disappeared.
ISLE OF RUM
This month we have been dominated by rain and road repairs. Unfortunately one has an adverse effect on the other. The main thoroughfare from the new slipway all the way to the Village hall is being improved to make it recognisable as a road, ie flat, puddle free and not requiring four wheel drive. Anyone who has experienced our roads will understand what this means. The work is being carried out by G. G Mackenzie (and crew) of Garve, they also recently restored the original drainage in the neglected farm fields, which has been long overdue.
The village hall has been undergoing improvements too. In preparation for the Hogmanay ceilidh we have sanded and revarnished the floor. So far it’s had seven coats of varnish and is looking great, a credit to all those who have volunteered their free time. We’ve also just bought some new tables and chairs to replace the bucket seats we have been putting up with for years. This has all been financed by the community run shop which is still proving a very successful venture.
For Hogmanay we have ‘The Squashy Dance Band’ whose line up will be Eilidh Shaw, Tam ‘the banjo’ Kinsella, Sandy Wright from Russell’s house on guitar and vocals, and Donald Hay on drums. The ceilidh will be £10 and includes food. If anyone’s interested I think there’s still room at the castle (462037) or ring Sandy 462038 for more info.
In the game of endurance, otherwise known as the Reserve Manager’s job, we have struck lucky. The post has been filled by Ed Hawan, currently living in Co. Waterford. Ed worked on Rum as the foreman from 1992 to 1997. A popular choice, he will be arriving in the new year to take over. Ed’s wife, Sharon, is just completing her nursing training and they will be accompanied by two of their four children.
The stalkers, Innes MacNeill and John Alex Boyd completed the hind cull this week. They had 60 to shoot and out of that, 21 skinners. Along with trusty ghillies Neil, Blair and Mark they’ve done a great job and been good craic down the shop. We hope everyone is enjoying their venison.
This month we welcomed back Regge for a visit until Christmas. She has been off on a big adventure, taking her back to Norway and over to Iceland. Regge’s most recent employment was in a slaughterhouse in rural Iceland !! among other new tricks she learnt, she has taught herself Icelandic. Regge is still selling her beautiful crocheted hats and can only just keep up with demand.
We haven’t heard anymore about some possible involvement with the Castle from the Phoenix Trust after their whistle stop helicopter trip visit last month. The highlight of their trip, for most of us, was a shot in the helicopter for the school kids and the ‘big kids’...
Bullough Mausoleum, Isle of Rum
Last month West Word printed a letter from Mr. E. Douglas King, Secretary of The Kinloch Castle Friends Association, which told of a recent work party to Rum. The deteriorating condition of the Bullough Mausoleum was mentioned. The Association has now been in touch with the Bullough Trustees, owners of the Mausoleum, who state that the problem they are facing in carrying out repairs is that they have been unable to find anyone prepared to undertake the work ‘in such an isolated place.’ They have asked the Association for help in finding someone capable and willing to carry out the work.
The Mausoleum is a ‘B’ listed structure. Do you know of anyone who might be prepared to tender for a contract to undertake the extensive repairs needed to this building? It would be a great pity if it were allowed to fall down, and the Trustees have funding for the work. As Mr King points out, in years to come, as the island develops, it could become more of a tourist attraction.
If you have any suggestions, please get in touch with West Word in the first instance
ISLE OF EIGG
Hallowe’en comes a close second to Christmas in the calendar of exciting events for most young children and certainly ours on Eigg. This year’s Hallowe’en party held in Eigg primary school fully rose to their expectations. An abundance of spiders and webs, ghosts and pumpkin lamps, bats and skeletons, and most of all sweeties, apples, cakes and seasonal goodies insured that Bryony, the White Faced Monster, Lachlan “Nailhead,” Kirsty Ann “Ghostie” and Kathleen the Witch all had a fantastic time along with toddlers Struan the Wizard and Erin the Hallowe’en Princess.
A week later, Bonfire Night offered another opportunity for fun for the whole community. Alastair Kirk excelled himself building a spectacular bonfire, with his sons’ help of course, and the fresh wind that night ensured impressive results. Everyone enjoyed the fireworks as well as those that we could see popping off in the distance over Arisaig, Morar and Mallaig. The food was great, the craic good, the fire warm and it was late into the night when the last stalwarts departed in a darkening nightsky as the lunar eclipse progressed.
Meanwhile, as the weather became increasingly wintry, the islanders found themselves having to fight the rat population seeking shelter from flooding by the torrential November rains: this recurrent problem was aggravated this year by the good October weather which allowed late breeding and a higher than average survival rate. This keeps our SWT warden busy as he struggles to keep even with these destructive creatures in areas where they severely affect the wildlife.
However, we have had other things on our mind such as the much awaited crofting reorganisation which is presently taking place in Cleadale. With a wealth of candidates wishing to take up crofting life, the wisdom of a Solomon is required to come up with an appropriate means of selecting the best candidates, and having pondered over the problem for some weeks, the Grazings Committee managed to come up with a list of criteria which met with the whole community’s approval. Since the reorganisation aims at fulfilling three objectives, namely to bring people back to the township, to make it more viable and to keep traditional crofting skills going, three categories of criteria were circulated. Firstly youth, family status, residency on Eigg and being born and brought up on the island; secondly, diversification plans, ability to earn a living on the island, essential skills, capital, and land management experience; thirdly, farming/stockhandling experience and commitment to the township. The Grazings Committee is now awaiting comments from various bodies and individuals before finalising the process, crofting reorganisation being expected to be completed in early spring.
The dream of creating new crofts out of land at the north end of the township, from what used to be Howlin farm, dates back to the 1920’s. It was stifled then by fear of losing employment on the estate, hence the unfinished wall at the top of the Cleadale cliffs, started enthusiastically by crofters thinking of a setting up a sheep club but abandonned under the threat of being blacklisted by the factor. It is a sobering thought that it has taken almost a century for these threats to become a thing of the past.
At least by then, there were still some crofters left in Cleadale, which was organised in the way it is now in 1810, when Dr Macaskill operated the final division of runrigs into crofts, half crofts and quarter crofts at the height of the kelp boom. Ten years later, when it subsided, Cleadale was scheduled for clearance by Clanranald’s factor in the 1820’s but the sale of the island prevented it from escaping the fate which befell the two townships in Upper and Lower Grulin after the potato famine: their 14 families were evicted at Martinmas 1853, exactly 150 years this November. Most of these joined the mass of wretched Highland emigrants sailing to Nova Scotia on overcrowded ships. To my knowledge, no Canadian ancestor hunter has yet come forward claiming to be descended from these families, which probably means that, sadly like so many emigrants, they never made it to the New World.
Another thought this November has been for the Eigg War veterans. Apart from a Catholic Roll of Honour in St Donan’s Church, beautifully painted and calligraphied by the late Anne Campbell, there is no memorial for all those islanders who served in the two World Wars. This is something which Roddy MacKinnon, latterly of Flesherin, Point, Isle of Lewis, who served in the Royal Navy and whose sister served in Africa and Italy, asked the Trust to remedy. We are now looking at a suitable site for a memorial cairn featuring a list of all these brave men and women.
All this year I've quietly been putting on the Astley Hall flyers, 'Celebrating 110 years at the heart of the community' - and I'm not sure if anyone has even noticed! It was all a bit low key as 110 years is a rather odd number to celebrate, and I believed there was some doubt as to exactly when the Hall had first come into use. We didn't celebrate the 100th birthday because, well, we all know the state the hall was in in 1993 and there wasn't much to celebrate!
Next year, in good Hobbit fashion, will be the Hall's eleventy-first birthday, and I hope to do an article on what has gone on in it for all those years. If anyone has any photos or information or anecdotes, please let me know.
The recent craft workshops have gone down very well, and I apologise for the short notice for the cancelled silk painting one (tonight as I type so I wouldn't have been there anyway!). I hope I got hold of everyone who was going to come. Hopefully next week we'll have Fiona back but a frozen shoulder can take ages to get better, so fingers crossed (ours, not Fiona's, that's probably a move she can't make!).
The Storytelling went well too, with 19 Arisaig Primary School pupils joining in with the afternoon workshop. The evening session went well, although no real substitute to your traditional ceilidh round the fire.
However, out of it has come 'Arisaig Word', a small group which aims to meet weekly - at the moment in Heather's house, 3 High Land - with stories and perhaps a bit of poetry and prose readings. Anyone is welcome to come. Phone Heather on 450737 to find out more.
Our thanks to everyone who handed in their used printer toners and inks - I sent two boxfuls off and the Hall has benefited by £42.24. So keep them coming please!
The Centre had a successful 'Open Afternoon', so we're having another, on the 14th December. The exhibition will be free (and we still have the Canna archaeology panels) so if you've not been in yet, here's another chance. Stock is a bit low at this time of the year but we have local photographs, prints, CDs by Daimh, Fergie, Eriskay Lilt, Wolfstone, Talisker and more, and books and stocking fillers too. There's also a booklet detailing all the information which is in the exhibition, with some of the photos.
I was one of the many who travelled to Muck on Wednesday 3rd to take part in the memorial service for Bryan Walters. So many travelled from Mallaig, Morar and Arisaig and the other Small Isles, let alone from elsewhere, that we found caught glimpses of friends and neighbours and then didn't see them again in the crowd. It was a privilege to know Bryan, a feeling obviously shared by everyone there.
FIGHT FOR THE BELFORD
The most frequently uttered phrase last month was 'Were you there?' usually answered by 'Yes, I was!', followed by 'Have you written?'
The meeting at the Nevis Centre about the threats to the Belford Hospital was attended by 2,500 out of a population of 19,000. Buses were put on from Mallaig and Ardnamurchan and there was the unprecedented move of an extra couple of Corran Ferry trips to take peninsula people home. Feelings ran high and there were a number of excellent speeches from the floor as well as the platform.
Since then 6,000 letter have been sent by Lochaber residents to NHS Board Chair Caroline Thomson, who has promised to read them all.
And it seems to have worked - so far. NHS bosses are now going to form a 'solution group' involving key parties to agree the best possible outcome for the Belford. The NHS Board has now agreed to consider the Lochaber Medical Community Option, which had previously been thrown out by the West Highland Health Project steering group
David Stewart, MP for Inverness East, Nairn and Lochaber, said he supported the creation of a 'solutions group' to look at other options for the Belford, allowing key people to talk round the table.
'I am glad it will now also look at the options put forward by the Lochaber medical community of round-the-clock consultants and retention of acute services,' said Mr Stewart.
'In the longer term I believe there is still a strong argument for a new build Belford in Fort William and I will be pushing for this too.'
He explained he met with Caroline Thomson last week to support Lochaber's cause and will be following closely the recommendations of the solutions group.
Local MSP Fergus Ewing held a meeting with the Scottish Executive Health Minister and is lobbying for more work to be offered to the Highland hospital. In addition he also tabled a question for First Minister's Questions asking the First Minister what assistance can be given to retain the hospitals status.
TBAG involves Community representation
The Lochaber Medical Community Group, who are presently fighting to retain a full coverage of acute services at the Belford Hospital, have invited a cross section of representatives from the community to join their group. The expanded group includes representatives from the Highland Council, Community Councils, the business community and of course the medical profession and will operate under the banner of The Belford Action Group or TBag.
Michael Foxley, a member of the Lochaber Medical Community Group said ‘It is important that we should be reflecting the views and concerns of the wider community and by adding members to the group we are, at the same time, adding strength to our proposal.’
The objective of the group is to ensure that existing standards and levels of service provision at the hospital are retained, sustained and improved. Initially the Belford Action Group will support and assist the medical professionals in having their proposal included as a fully approved option in the public consultation document to be issued by NHS Highland in the New Year.
A fighting fund of £9000 has already been contributed by 9 local tourism businessmen and further assistance will be sought from agencies and other businesses. Alastair Maclennan, one of the businessmen, who has already contributed to the fund said ‘The provision of a 24 hour, 7 day a week acute emergency service is essential to the growth of the economy and in particular the sustainability of the tourism industry. We are considered by our younger visitors as a centre for outdoor activities, activities which can lead to unfortunate accidents and at the other end of the age spectrum our elderly coach tour customers often require hospital attention during their holiday.’
A spokesperson for the Action Group, Stewart Maclean, said ‘The strong feelings and unanimous support for the local proposal at the meeting on Tuesday 11th November were obvious to everyone. We want to retain that support and at the same time keep the people of Lochaber informed of the progress towards the groups objective. We have already registered a website (www.tbag.org.uk) and we will be using this and the local press and media to keep everyone up to date.
Councillor Olwyn Macdonald said ‘This is great news and I am delighted that support is coming from all sections of the community. I can honestly say that this is the first time in all my time in Lochaber that I have seen such widespread support for any campaign.’
The Action Group will meet early in December to access the impact of recent activities on the decision makers including the unprecedented turnout for the meeting at the Nevis Centre, the well coordinated letter writing campaign and the excellent media coverage. In the meantime any one who has not yet written to Caroline Thomson, Chairman, NHS Highland, Beechwood Park, Inverness, IV2 3HG expressing their deepest concerns at the present proposals is requested to do so as soon as possible.
For further information contact Stewart Maclean at firstname.lastname@example.org
The Belford Action Group initially will include Olwyn Macdonald, Michael Foxley, Chris Robinson, David Sedgwick, John Hutchison, Stewart Maclean, Patricia Jordan, Isabel Campbell, Ian Sykes, Ella Jamieson, David Rodger (to be confirmed).
The local tourism businessmen who have each pledged £1000 to The Belford Action Group are Alastair Maclennan, Allan Kirk, Ian Fyfe, Russ Morgan, Ewen Cameron, Stewart Maclean, Ian Milton, Ian Sykes and Alistair MacLeod.
MALLAIG'S NEW POLICE STATION IN BUSINESS
Thursday, 20th November finally saw the new building at the roundabout in Mallaig become the official place of work for the area's police force.
The brand new building, funded by the Northern Joint Police Board, replaces the house next to the Tourist Information Centre, which has been the station for 50 years. The spacious new premises have two cells and a custody room, a sergeant's office as well as one for the police constables and receptionist, a meeting room, a shower for people in custody, and a charge desk. There is also a kitchen and an eating area.
Lochaber Area Commander Ian Cox said 'We have lost the single man station at Arisaig so it is important for us to deliver an enhanced policing asset to the area.'
The Police are actively encouraging members of the community to go in to have a look round, and are hoping to welcome school and community groups for a guided tour. An official opening is being planned for early next year.
NEW WATER TREATMENT PLANT IN OPERATION
Mallaig, Morar and Arisaig are benefiting from the new £1.2 million water treatment plant, opened officially by Fergus Ewing MSP, on Friday 7th November. Owing to a hiccough in the arrangements, not many local invitations were issued, but pupils from Mallaig and Lady Lovat Primary School were at the reception in the Mallaig and Morar Community Centre, and refreshments were provided by Morar WRI. The project is part of Scottish Water's programme of upgrading public water supplies in the Highlands and Islands.
The new plant is a mile outside Mallaig on the hill above Glasnacardoch. Professor Alan Alexander, Chairman of Scottish Water, admitted at the opening what we had all known to be true, that the supply up to now has been 'fairly primitive by modern standards.' The new plant contains a sophisticated treamtent sustem designed to remove the peaty colour and combat taste problems. It treats water from Loch Eiragoraidh using modern nanifiltration membrane technology.
Have you noticed the difference?
Marie Curie Daffodil Appeal 2003
When Karen Milne, Marie Curie Cancer Care's Community Fundraising Manager, came to see the pupils of Mallaig and Morar Primary schools in October, she gave them sponsorship envelopes. They raised the magnificent sum of £620.54, and presented a cheque for that amount to Cathie Stewart, who is organising a Marie Curie Field of Hope in Morar.
Children in Need
Although there were no major fund raising events in the Mallaig area this year, the annual Children in Need Appeal did not go by unnoticed with money being raised via the efforts of staff and pupils of Mallaig Primary School and Lady Lovat School (Morar), Sonia Cameron, staff of the Mallaig branch of the Royal Bank of Scotland, and staff at the Harbour Shop.
For the past dozen or so years, the Royal Bank staff have always assisted the Appeal by dressing up and providing home baking for their customers in lieu of a donation being made to Children in Need. This year staff members AnnBaillie and Fiona Maclellan were Pudsey Bears and they managed to raise the sum of £130.
Another regular fundraiser for Children in Need is Sonia Cameron, and this year was no exception as Sonia, in her Pudsey T-shirt, managed to raise £100 with her 'Pick-a-square' competition. The winner of the Pudsey Bear was Pip Fairbairn (Tougal) while Carol McLean (Mallaig) won the Pudsey T-shirt.
Pupils form Mallaig Primary school, under the watchful eye of Head Teacher Joan Smith completed an 80 metre long line of pennies and this, supplemented by donations from the school staff, raised the sum of £135.
Pupils at Mallaig Primary were joined by their counterparts from Morar's Lady Lovat Primary for an afternoon 'Dance-a-thon' and aided and abetted by Catherine McDonell from the Mallaig Swimming Pool a further £94 was raised.
Customers to the Harbour Shop were treated to the arresting sight of Theresa, Helen and Moira dressed up as women police constables complete with diced cap, truncheons and hand-cuffs! With the threat of being arrested it was 'suggested' to customers that it would be nice if they made a donation to Children in Need, and that was how a further £90 was raised.
Shark Hunters of today
"Shark!" - over there! A cry that has carried across the waters around Mallaig for many a year, mainly from the deck of the Sea Leopard or the Traveller, Gavin Maxwell and Tex Geddes' shark hunting vessels, as well as other vessels from the port itself. And you can still hear it, from a new generation of hunters, albeit hunters who only want to capture a picture of the shark in question - the basking shark.
|The basking shark is the second largest fish in the world, and the biggest wild animal to regularly visit Britain. Growing up twelve metres in length and up to seven tonnes in weight, these animals make an impressive sight when viewed at close range. And although a distant relative of the white shark, they are filter feeders that strain out minute animal plankton from the water passing through their huge gaping mouths.|
For centuries the sharks have remained mysterious creatures, arriving in our waters in spring and summer, feeding on the abundant plankton blooms that occur during that period, before disappearing as autumn arrives. As a creature that spends very little of its time at the surface (as a fish it doesn't need to breathe like a whale or dolphin), the shark is a very difficult creature to study, leading to all kinds of strange theories as to where they might go in winter, for example. Some scientists believed that they migrated far offshore to find new areas of plankton abundance, others that they simply sank to the seabed and hibernated over the winter.
Nowadays, researchers have a far wider range of technological wonders that they can call upon to address such difficult questions, and this has certainly been true in the case of the basking shark. For the last two years a research team from the Marine Biological Association led by Dr David Sims have been attaching pop-up archival satellite tags to sharks in the English Channel and the Firth of Clyde in a bid to answer the "winter question" amongst others. The tags, around 20 cms in length are attached to the dorsal fin of the shark by a modified spear gun, and trail behind the fin on a short wire trace. The tag has been pre-set to record variables such as pressure and light, allowing a profile to be made of the depths the shark visits, and has also been set to detach itself on a specific date, when it will float up to the surface and send up a summary of the data it has collected, via satellite uplink. This is then relayed to the research team by e-mail! As these tags have a battery life of a year or more, phenomenal amounts of data can be recovered, although the tag itself has to be recovered to obtain the maximum amount of data. 21 sharks have been tagged in this manner, and 9 of the tags have performed effectively.
So what has been discovered? Well, some of the sharks have remained in fairly local areas, such as the Firth of Clyde, others have made long foraging trips down into the Bay of Biscay from the Channel, before returning to the same area. Two sharks made a far longer journey from the Channel out to the Continental Shelf edge to the west of Ireland, before moving further north to the Hebrides, a distance of around 2,000 km in a couple of months. From the data that has been examined, it is clear that the sharks actively feed throughout the year, diving down to one thousand metres in some cases, searching for the best patches of plankton - they don't hibernate.
Which brings our own work into the equation. The Wildlife Trusts Basking Shark Project visits west of Scotland waters each summer hoping to find basking sharks with a view to recognising individual sharks using a technique known as photo-identification. Photographs that are taken of the dorsal fin (and sometimes tail fin) of each shark encountered, recording individual fin shapes, marks, scars, injuries or unusual pigmentation, will allow researchers to track the movements of individuals over time, in some cases over several years.
Another facet of the Project is to complete an overall survey of the waters of western Britain to identify "hot spots" that the sharks regularly frequent, looking for evidence of mating behaviour, where a number of sharks can be seen swimming very close to one another, or nose to tail. Video recordings are made of such activities for later examination, and behaviour such as breaching, where the shark leaps clear of the water is recorded - one day we even hope to get that on film!
In 2002 we made our first journey as far north as Skye, and used Mallaig as our base for two weeks. During that time the weather was less than perfect, but we managed to cover the area between Coll and the Small Isles well. However, not one shark was sighted during that time, although we saw plenty of harbour porpoises and minke whales. In 2003 we arrived earlier, saw sharks in the Firth of Clyde, and moved on to Mallaig in early August full of hope.
On our way north we met the crews of many yachts and fishing boats who told us that there were more sharks around further north than had been seen for many years. Our only hope was that we would arrive in the area before the sharks disappeared, a far too common occurrence as the plankton becomes exhausted.
Within hours of leaving Mallaig on our first survey we were into sharks - and so it remained for the four weeks we were in the area. In total we saw fifty eight sharks in Scotland in 2003, most of which were successfully photo-identified. We believe that one, maybe two of the sharks we identified in Scotland had already photographed by us earlier in the year off Cornwall, further evidence of their ability to move long distances in the pursuit of the best food supplies.
We also carried on board our research vessel some of the written records left by the old time shark hunters, as these passed on to us their favourite hunting haunts. Over the four weeks we visited many of those areas and saw sharks on every occasion. We also managed to spend a quiet night at anchor in Soay Harbour, directly below the remains of Gavin Maxwell's ill-fated shark factory, an amazing experience for me having read about the place since childhood, in the remarkable story he left behind in his excellent book "Harpoon at a Venture".
One of the most enjoyable aspects of the time we spent in the area was the feedback we received from local people, particularly fishermen. We received many reports of sightings first hand when fishing vessels came alongside, in Mallaig, Eigg and Barra, and it was great to hear such enthusiasm for the shark. We even received a report of a shark with a satellite tag still attached to its fin - the tags don't always detach when they are supposed to, but this record may enable some of its movements to be pieced together. Many thanks to all of you who came to say hello - we really appreciated it, and we look forward to meeting up with you again next year.
The basking shark is, of course, a protected species now, and may even be slowly recovering from the huge numbers taken in the various hunting grounds in the north-east Atlantic - we hope so, so that future generations can marvel at them too. It seemed so right to see them in the waters off Mallaig and Skye, just as they have been for centuries, to travel in the same waters as the remarkable men that hunted them, and to share in that momentary thrill, when the cry -"shark!"- goes up.
Basking shark satellite tracking
Wildlife Trusts Basking Shark Project
European basking Shark Photo-id Project
A Little Genealogy by Allan MacDonald (email: email@example.com)
Bill MacLellan travelled over from California in August 2003. He was looking for relatives of his great great grandfather, Allan MacLellan, who emigrated from Brinacory ca. 1820. I had a short article on this family in an earlier edition of West Word and suffice to say that Bill met quite a number of his 5th cousins during his stay in Bracara. An interesting story of Bill is worthy of mention.
Bill was an engineer by profession and in 1960 he attended a lecture given by Dr. Richard Feynman, Nobel Prizewinner and Theoretical Physicist. Dr Feynman was discussing the growing importance of micro-miniaturization and at the end of his lecture he promised a prize of $1000 to the person who could bring him an operating electric motor of only 1/64th of an inch. cubed. To put that request in layman terms, the motor would have to have the dimensions of a “full stop”. The possibility of anyone doing this was virtually nil.
Six months later, Bill walked into the Doctor’s laboratory and presented the motor, which was so small, that it could only be seen under a 40 power microscope.
This was the beginning of present day nano-technology which Bill pioneered all these years ago. He got his $1000 and an entry in the 1965 edition of “The Guinness Book of Records” for the smallest electric motor. In 1993, he presented one of his motors to the Science Museum of London and it is on display, with a microscope at hand, should anyone care to visit. Further researches in the fields of fibre optics and micro-chips have now progressed on from Bill’s pioneering invention.
Kintail. When I was researching family connections in the 1881 Census for October’s article, I chanced upon a family living in Bourblach, Morar, at that time. The family consisted of Isabella MacRae, widow, and her children, Mary, 17, Hannah, 14, Donald, 9, Roderick, 6, and John, 3. I had no particular interst in this family at that time but I was researching a family in the Kyle of Lochalsh area. This was the family of Archie MacLellan, son of Gilliesbuig Brinacory who had gon to that area in 1890s, married and had a family. Communications between Kyle and Morar were sparse but Molly “Seaview”, met with a descendant a few years ago.
I was going to Kyle to meet a descendant of Archie MacLellan’s and called in at Clachan Duich cemetery to look at the MacLellan graves. To my surprise, there, a few yards away, was a memorial to Isabella MacRae, née Matheson, Bourblach, Morar. Included on the gravestone were several family members, the latest inscription being that of Hannah who died in 1943.
Elizabeth and I have been recording the Memorial Inscriptions in Kilmory cemetery and we came across a stone in memory of Roderick MacRae, Bourblach, Morar who died on 1st Feb. 1903 aged 18 years. We wondered why had he been buried in Arisaig and not in Morar where the graveyard was adjacent to, if not part of, Mrs MacRae’s tack. Does anyone know anything of this family?
Michie. There will still be people who remember the Michie family of Morar which I also came across in the 1881 Census. William Michie and his wife, Jane, were both from Ayr, In 1881 their children were Robert, 10, Marion, 7, Kenneth, 5, and Andrew, 1. All the children were born in Morar. Neillie Michie, who lived in Mallaig at the foot of Annie’s Brae, was also a brother of the above children and must have been younger than Andrew. Robert lived in “Seafield”, Morar. Does anyone know where the rest of the family went to?
Watch this space for extracts from next month's issue!
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