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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
January 2011 Issue
Contents of the online version:
All photos are copyright either of the individual photographers or West Word.
A COMMUNITY TRUST FOR MALLAIG?
As regular readers of West Word may know, both Morar and Arisaig have set up Community Trusts recently, and Trusts exist to own land on Knoydart, Eigg and Rum. Recently a steering group has been established to look into the possibility of setting up a community trust for Mallaig.
If we were to establish a Trust, it would be a Company Limited by guarantee, which means that there are no shareholders, and that all members have limited liability (of £1 maximum!). Membership of the company would be open to everyone who lives in Mallaig (from Mallaig Bheag to the boundary with Morar at Glasnacardoch).
In some instance a community trust is established with the specific aim of purchasing an asset, usually land. This is NOT the intention of setting up a Trust for Mallaig at the moment, but having a trust would allow the village to respond to opportunities, and threats, that may present themselves.
A community trust may also be able to access funding for projects that would in turn generate income for the Trust, which could be used to support the Trust and other community organisations in the village. The most obvious example of this is renewable energy, which could provide an ongoing income from generating electricity.
At the moment, the steering group is small, and consists of Charlie King, Johnny MacMillan, Richard Begg, Jacqueline McDonell, Gavin Davies (West Highland), Frank Stride & Sandra MacLean. In the New Year, we intend to have an open day at Mallaig and Morar Community Centre on Saturday 5th February from 10.30am - 2.30pm.
At the open day we will have some examples of the work that community trusts have done elsewhere, and Henry Mains, who is a Director of Sleat Community Trust and the local representative of the Development Trusts Association (DTA) Scotland will make a presentation at 12.00. DTA Scotland have over 200 members throughout Scotland, as community trusts are recognised as an effective way of communities taking control and sourcing funding to improve the communities they live in. Refreshments will be available throughout the day, and we will be asking the community to indicate whether they are supportive of the establishment of a Trust. You will also have the opportunity to make suggestions as to what you would like to see a Community Trust get involved in.
The open day will be followed by a public meeting where people will have the chance to ask more detailed questions about what a Trust would involve and how they can be part of it.
In the meantime, if you have any questions, or would like to get involved, please contact one of the steering group.
Oh, it's nice to be back in the hot seat again, tapping away in the wee small hours as a deadline rapidly whooshes past my ear. Happy New Year everyone, from this (not really) wild and (not really) remote place. I hope the Hogmanay hangover is dissipating, and that the fact that the nights are now getting shorter is cheering you up.
Weather always plays a starring role in West Word updates, and this month is certainly no different. When Radio 4 had finally recovered from The Archers birth-and-death episode ("Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhh - NIGEL!"), they found time to tell its loyal listeners that this recent December was the coldest since records began. We can well believe it - burst pipes all over the shop on Christmas Eve / Day, with holiday homes and un-insulated older properties suffering particularly badly. My imaginative Christmas Eve postal delivery included usage of a Quad Bike, cross-country skis, a santa suit, and a willing forester. The cold weather meant that only 4x4s were moving anywhere (icy roads) - luckily for folks wanting to get about, there are now more of said vehicles on the peninsula than ever before. It wasn't just mobility that was affected, though: our hydro-electric system had a big heating load on it and, and this lead to shut-downs, compounded by the pipe freezing up. So some poor folks ended up with no water, and no electricity. The fact that the telephone system remained operational is generally seen as a small miracle.
Apart from electricity problems, there was a lot for the Knoydart Foundation to deal with: not only was there the biggest housing allocation there has ever been (three new-builds, plus the house recently vacated by Donald and Marie), there were also job interviews for "Growth at the Edge Officer". Housing is always controversial, but I suppose that whatever people think about the method of allocating them the fact remains that four homes will soon accommodate those who were previously living in sub-standard accommodation. And congratulations to your regular correspondent, Davie Newton, for securing the aforementioned GATE Officer position. He should have a uniform with a title like that.
Hogmanay was suitably riotous, with the second-ever Democracy Disco (also known as the iPod Party) filling the village hall. The simple premise of giving everyone the chance to choose their five favourite tracks, feeding the results into a Shuffle (not a "shovel"), and letting random mayhem commence, once again seemed to work better as the night drew on. Watching the Wizard of Oz on the ceiling whilst dancing to Tiffany is something never to be repeated, I fear. Terry and Rick's fireworks went down a treat (with Rick suffering some sodden shoes for his pyromaniacal passion), and Bob and Morag's now-traditional five -hour breakfast was as popular as ever. Good to see some regular visitors to Knoydart returning for the festivities. And well done everyone for not defecting to Eigg for their admittedly stupendous-sounding evening.
People news: Best wishes to Tim for his ongoing treatment - we're all thinking of you Tim. Jim and Claire are back with baby Oren William Manthorpe, who is incredibly cute considering who his father is (but unsurprisingly tiny)... they are all welcoming cooing visitors; it appears that the hens are now taking second place. Good luck to Bob and Morag on their New Zealand WWOOFing adventures (in their own exported caravan) - we're having great fun partying in your house while you're away, and have installed a hot-tub on the lawn overlooking the community garden just so you can keep up with the neighbours. Our thoughts are with Davie as he heads off for a sad family funeral.
Stay warm as the frost descends again, and all the best for 2011.
ISLE OF MUCK
Another year is gone and it was a memorable one. Most years are but sometimes for the wrong reason. 2010 was memorable first and foremost for Colin and Ruth's wedding- this glittering ceremony was for the most ambitious social occasion ever attempted on the island . It was also memorable for the weather. I do not have totally accurate records but 2010 must have been the coldest and almost certainly the driest year in my lifetime.
And now for 2011 and I can reveal that the builder of our new hall will be Kishhorn Development Ltd or KDL. Not a builder familiar to every West Word reader (they are fairly new) but one where one of the top team worked as a joiner on our new school many years ago so he knows the island. And you would think that Muck was just down the road from head office the hall committee have had so much help through all the months of delay; even cutting the tender price to get the project on budget. We are hoping to make a start very soon and I use the word 'we' because the island will be making a significant contribution; be it landscaping, painting or catering. And when it is all finished KDL should be if they so wish, be in pole position to pick up all the other contracts associated with the Power Scheme and the Fish Farm. And while on the Fish Farm I may say that in a ballot the islanders voted heavily in favour.
So back to the recent past and Christmas. Frozen pipes were not a serious problem here and many of the islanders were able to able to enjoy a flavoursome turkey reared by Sandy Mathers with vegetables grown by David Barden. The New Year arrived at Port Mor House and the annual beach hockey match was in a field as the tide was in!
Lastly I must mention Amy, the small sized dog known to almost every visitor to Muck. Though getting on in years in November she gave birth to some beautiful puppies. She and the puppies are doing well.
In Orkney we visited Highland Park the only serious distillery on the island. We were shown round by James Watson whom Mallaig West Word readers will remember from his time in the bank. Highland Park is unusual today in that the whole process is done,' in house' even the peat cutting and the malting floor. The vats are still wooden not stainless steel so it is not surprising that one American whisky writer claimed that the resulting amber liquid is' the world's best malt'. I am no expert so I cannot give an opinion but it certainly could be. That is all from Orkney it was a great place to visit though we had the benefit of some wonderful guides. The only downside was that Stagecoach seem to have swallowed up all the bus services and Tesco have built a huge superstore in Kirkwall making it more like every other town in Britain. And even that will not be so bad if they are willing to sell Orkney produced food of which there is a great deal.
ISLE OF RUM
Happy New Year to everyone! Another year begins and we wonder what is in store for Rum. One big change is that Norman Webber has retired from the shop and Jinty will be taking it over as a brand new business at the end of this month. It's a good time to be taking it on as there will be enough time to prepare for the busy summer months. Good luck Jinty!
The Rum Community Trust have just finished the second round of receiving croft applications and there will be interviews for the successful applicants near the end of the month - fingers crossed that we will get these crofts going. If you haven't heard already, Dave 'Chainsaw' Beaton is engaged to Sylvia Stirling and will be married this April - Congratulations to the both of you! The temperature is getting warmer but that has meant a few burst pipes but luckily nothing too major.
Jonathan Livingston Seagull
ISLE OF CANNA
Compared to the mainland, our weather has been reasonable. However by Canna standards minus 4 degrees and 14 cm of snow are exceptional. As a result, some of our Christmas festivities had to be curtailed. The road was too icy for our candlelit Christmas Eve carol procession between the two churches. Also the annual Christmas 'ladies night' at Tighard was abandoned, to the great relief of the islands male population who were braced for the usual morning after mopping up. However, the NTS festive get together allowed some to make up for lost time (did not see much of the farm manager next day!) This year's school Christmas concert was 'The Littlest Fir Tree'. Untroubled by IT glitches, it was performed with gusto by a collection of interesting animals and was followed by nibbles and a natter.
Despite the cold, the livestock appear to be maintaining their condition well, although the NTS feed budget may need revising upwards. However the empty feed sacks proved to be great as improvised sledges for kids and adventurous adults. The new pedigree Highland bull Uilleam Dubh, delivered from Ardalanish farm on Mull seems to be settling in well and appears to have a businesslike glint in his eye!
Five of the eight families short listed for the restored house of 'MacIssacs' have visited the island. The mainland snowdrifts have prevented some others from coming so the timetable will now have to be extended. The poor weather made it a close run thing for Aart and Gerry returning from Holland and Fort William respectively. Neither did the snow prevent some stalwart island regulars like Fiona & Duncan, Brigitte and the Bevan family from arriving for the festive period. The NTS cottages are now available all winter so we look forward to others visiting all year round.
Magda and Stewart braved the mainland weather and travel delays in order to attend the launching of a new website by heritage organisation Tobar an Dualchais - Kist o riches. This new facility includes around 1000 items from the Canna House sound and picture archives and can be found at www.tobarandualchais.co.uk.
Many of you may have heard about Canna's rejection by 8 votes to 7 of Marine Harvest's request to establish an offshore salmon farm near the island. That decision was accepted calmly and maturely by supporters and objectors to the plan. However, as other islands around us move forward progressively to develop their economies, the onus is now on all Canna stakeholders to find development that brings some hope for the future. You can't depend for ever on scenery and subsidy.
Finally all on Canna would like to wish you a successful new year and as the Gaelic proverb says, Gum fada beo thu, is ceo as do thaigh- long may you live with smoke from your house!
ISLE OF EIGG
The snow and ice may have slowed things down on Eigg this December, but compared to the chaos in the rest of the country, we got off fairly lightly with electricity on red alert as water froze in the hydro dam, early closure of the school on only one occasion, frozen pipes for quite a few households. The worst damage was suffered by Stuart Thomson who returned from Spain to a disaster scene in his flooded sitting room. Luckily the council was able to move swiftly to ensure repairs were done in time for Xmas...
The festive celebrations kicked off with the curry and quiz night organised by Ailidh Morrison in the hall, a very pleasant evening which raised £345 for Catriona Helliwell's Handimachal charity in India (see story in next column). Then the Primary School children's bazaar raised £186 for school equipment and the Christmas dinner, which was held at the hall on Sunday 19th December, with festive food provided by Stuart Fergusson and his team of the now renamed Galmisdale Pier café-restaurant. This followed the Primary school Christingle service on Wednesday 17 December, which was deemed to have been the most professional children's production for a long time! Well done Hilda and Sue for getting the children to sing so well and say their lines with such confidence.
A couple of solstice parties were also organised on 21st December, fires looking very bonny with the snow and the brightest of full moon. Quite a few people even managed to see the lunar eclipse in the morning, which occurred as the moon was hanging above Laig bay and provided a wonderful show of an orange globe in the early morning sky.
St Donnan's church being repaired, the annual Carol service took place this year at Peggy Kirk's house. And a very nice occasion it was, finishing with a festive dumpling and mulled wine. With Eddie's and Berni's birthday on the 27th, the shop was pretty lively, and even livelier on the following Wednesday, the official shop party day, with fast and furious table tennis contests being carried out on the table which was jointly bought by the local players. And it was a good warm up for Brian and John in their annual finish of the 2010 scrabble championship hotly contested to the end, with John declared the 2010 champion after the last three games on the 31st!
The year finished in style with the arrival of good crowd for Hogmanay, including most of the line up for the band - Heaven and Helliwell - the Heaven part being provided by Ross, Eilidh, Gabe and Tam - Damian and Brendan providing the Eigg half! The crowd of revellers was swelled by Mandy Darling and Kenny Morrisson's wedding party all the way from Stornoway, which also included a good number of musicians. Mandy who is a familiar figure on Eigg from her time as a feis tutor, tied the knot on New Year's eve at Kildonnan on where Marie provided her customary excellent hospitality, and the party went to the hall where the band played on to an enthusiastic crowd till the wee hours. The fun started again at Damian's the following night to celebrate his 30th as well as his housewarming! Damian, who only unveiled the building's plastic sheeting on 19 December worked like a Trojan to install water and electricity in the house which was suitably warm (all that straw and insulation) and warmed on January 1st, with the proposed recording studio space deemed by all revellers to be the most perfect club venue on Eigg! (watch this space!). Well done Damian, you have done a fantastic job!
The festive season finally unwound on the 3rd with our favourite postie's birthday - the big 60 - by the end of which most of us (the oldies) were thankful to go to their beds for some sleep...
What a start to 2011! So Happy New Year to you all, and hoping it will be a good one!
A Shinty match was planned for New Year's Day at Glenfinnan. The pitch was under the Glenfinnan Viaduct and anyone in the village, man, woman or child, was welcome to take part.
MORAR COMMUNITY TRUST - DECEMBER NEWSLETTER
At the last moment we organized a bonfire for Friday 5th November and it was a great success!! Many children came along with their parents and grandparents and had a wonderful time watching the fireworks and nibbling goodies. Lots of food and home baking was donated along with some mulled wine to keep warm. After the windy weather that week the night of the bonfire was still and clear and full of stars… just perfect!
Thanks to all who brought food, drink and fireworks or helped in any other way to make this a successful community event, like those who supplied wood, built the fire, spread the word, took pictures, looked after the fire and fireworks and so on. Special thanks to Katie and Richard and their daughter Heather, Margaret Ann, Morar Primary school, Donalda, Colin, Angus, Pauline and directors of the Trust.
ANNUAL GENERAL MEETING
Our second AGM was held on Monday 8th November. Five directors and five members were present and we acquired a new director: Audrey MacEachen. Welcome Audrey!
Architect John Renshaw will do part of this study but as directors we have to do the research on whether or not the building will be sustainable.
We have been approaching local B&B's and businesses in order to get their views on the Pavilion and its impact on their business. We have also been talking to other community groups with similar facilities to those we plan to create.
Visits have been made to Eigg, Knoydart, Canna, North Uist, Sleat and Kyle of Lochalsh. These visits are encouraging and good opportunities for networking and learning. It is great to exchange ideas and experiences with people in similar communities and see what they have done.
Currently we are researching the market for potential customers, groups and sports teams.
We can only progress slowly as all directors have limited time to give because we are tied up in work, study or other projects.
We are looking into renewable energy schemes in order to establish the lowest cost possible for heating & electricity. We are looking at wind and hydro energy, ground source and air source heating, solar and photo voltaic panels, biomass heating. Several visits were made to other communities like Eigg, Knoydart, Skye and to Fort William to research our best option. More visits are planned for this month.
For three nights in December, Lady Lovat and Mallaig Primary Schools, along with Mallaig High School, presented Lionel Bart's Oliver to packed houses. The production had taken months of rehearsal and involved complex choreography, courtesy of Victoria Horn who travelled weekly from Fort William. Chris Josey and Lucy Hodes both arranged the music with a band made up of High School pupils, assisted by Angela Hardman.
We would like to thank all those who helped with a very successful production. Parents made a tremendous effort to help Ann MacGillivray with costumes; there were many donations of raffle prizes as well as considerable efforts in getting pupils to and from rehearsals which had started in August. The production played to full houses but we are particularly grateful to those who braved horrendous weather on the final night to be there, and to support the pupils.
Notable performances included Joey Baker as an enchanting Oliver who was feisty, particularly when giving Liam Brown a good kicking, and moving when singing "Where is Love". Molly Duncan's Nancy was superb and she showed a maturity well beyond her years in her rendition of "As Long As He Needs Me." Everyone loved Alan Cargill's Fagin and Matthew Bird's very cheeky Artful Dodger. There were others, too numerous to name, but particular mention must go to the pupils in the chorus who worked tremendously hard, particularly Fagin's Gang of thieves, and who rehearsed for many hours. Some of them are only P5 and yet they behaved like seasoned professionals. The smaller primary school pupils were enchanting and their Victorian costumes made them look truly in need of "Food, Glorious Food."
The productions raised money for all three schools. The money from Mallaig High School's share (nearly £2000) is going towards the London Trip and we would like to thank everyone who helped, watched and worked to make the show such a success.
News in Brief
- This January Glasgow restaurant 'Ubiquitous Chip' celebrates its 40th birthday, and on 11th January they will be going back to 1971 by having on the menu the first dish ever served at the restaurant. Mallaig landed squid with conger eel and bacon!
- Well done to Davie Newton, Knoydart's West Word correspondent, who has been appointed as the Knoydart Trust's 'Growth at the Edge' Officer. He will be employed until at least November this year to develop and implement a community growth plan.
- Over £2,460 has been raised in memory of Kirsty Bryden, who died with her friend Roddy MacInnes in the tragic car accident at Loch Eilt at the end of September. The money was collected at Kirsty's memorial service, at the crematorium, and online at www.justgiving.com/kirsty-bryden, and has gone to the children's charity she gave so much time to, Over the Wall.
- Caledonian MacBrayne has been voted Scottish Public Transport Operator of the Year 2010 in the Transport Times Scottish Travel Awards, and Best Ferry Operator in the Guardian and Observer Travel Awards. CalMac took out a large advert in the Oban Times to thank their staff and passengers for the award - nice touch!
- After April 1st our green wheelie bins rubbish will only be collected fortnightly - but the upside is that the blue bins will be also be uplifted every two weeks too. Highland Council budget cuts will be felt soon. We will see reductions in street lighting, grass cutting, street cleaning and changes to the Service Points, to name the most obvious. From April this year, the Council will be stopping all cash and cheque collections at Service Points, directing the public to 300 shops and facilities with Paypoint payment facilities as well as the existing service available at Post Offices. Already more than 100 councils across the UK have adopted this strategy to realise significant savings. The Council also provides the Registration Service in Highland and Service Point offices and Registration offices in Fort William, Wick, Thurso, Dingwall and Portree will be merged into a single office location to provide a "one stop shop" for customers.
- Long serving former Highland councillor for Lochaber, Olwyn Macdonald has died at home at the age of 78. Mrs Macdonald made a major contribution to local politics in the Highlands between 1989 and 2007, showing a particular interest in housing and social work issues, and was Convener of the Lochaber Area Committee between 1999 - 2007.
WIND TURBINES REJECTED
The proposal to erect three 15 metre wind turbines on the croft at Sunnyside, Bunnacaimbe, Arisaig, has been rejected by the Ross, Skye and Lochaber Planning Applications Committee at a meeting in Portree on the 14th December 2010. The proposal attracted 61 objections and six expressions of support, and also a 61 name petition objecting to the plan. Environmental Health recommended that the application should not be granted to prevent potential amenity loss due to noise, which would be above the recommended level.
NEWS FROM THE HARBOUR
- Sprat Fishers
The sprat fishery brought a nice end of year fillip to the port and its pelagic fishermen - the last of a dying breed it would seem. In reality the fishery barely lasted three weeks but in that time a total in excess of 530 tonnes of sprats were landed by the combined efforts of the local trawlers: Corsalisa OB956 (W J McLean); Margaret Ann OB198 (J Manson); Ocean Hunter SY503 (J MacQueen); and Rebecca Jeneen OB38 (R Summers). The quayside price paid for the sprats was in the region of £200 per tonne.
A small amount of herring (12 tonnes) was also landed and sold for bait to the creel fishermen.
Although this winter's landed catch was not spectacular, it proved to be the best sprat fishery at the port since 2005 when, over the period 31st October to mid December 2005, a total of 8883 tonnes of sprats were landed.
The photograph below left shows sprats being discharged into bins on Mallaig Pier by the crew of the Margaret Ann last month.
Phase 1 of the Authority's yachting development is being carried out in three main stages. Stage 1 is ongoing with the dredger Ben Crom sledge-dredging material from the seabed from the inner area of the harbour close to the shore off Smith's Beach into the deepest part of the harbour - the end of the fish pier!
The dredger is set to continue its operation in the harbour for the next 6 - 8 weeks. Stage 2 is the construction of the pontoons and walkways. The tenders for this portion of the works have been issued and indeed returned and the preferred bidder has been informed. The appointment of the contractor will be confirmed later this month.
Stage 3 is the shorework's element of the development and this will create the landfall site for the walkway from the pontoons, and will be located round the bay close to the old lifeboat steps.
The tenders for the shoreworks have been issued to eligible contractors and are due to be returned to the Harbour Engineers, Wallace Stone, by the end of this month.
As well as the yachting development, other business opportunities for the Authority are in the pipeline and this, coupled with the implementation of the Modernisation of Trust Ports legislation means that 2011 is set to be a busy, interesting and exciting one for the Authority.
Following on from the decision last month by local skipper Douglas McLean to 'retire' his boat Azalea OB80 from the fishing industry, two more local fishing boats are set to be scrapped early in the new year, so depleting further the number of boats based at the port. Brothers John McLean (Siarach SY278) and Thomas McLean (Rebecca McLean OB11) are taking advantage of the latest Government decommissioning scheme and, like brother Douglas, are scrapping their vessels.
Last month the Fishing News took a look back in time to December 1970 - 40 years ago - when they reported thus:
Mallaig was one of the busiest fishing ports in the UK with boats arriving, discharging and sailing for the herring grounds day and night and shoremen working 18 hours a day. The port's rise superseded Ullapool as the Scottish west coast's first herring centre due to the best quality herring moving from the north to the south of the Minch. In two years landings rose from about £250,000 in 1967 to £738,779 in 1969.
Best wishes to all harbour users for the coming year from the Chairman, Members and Staff of the Mallaig Harbour Authority.
Mallaig Harbour Authority
PETITION TO SAVE STORNOWAY COASTGUARD
A website has been set up to assist in the campaign to not only keep the Coastguard station in Stornoway but to keep it as a 24 hour station. With the help and support of the local & regional councils, MPs, MSPs, Harbours, fishing fleets, businesses and the public a case will be put forward to maintain a full-time Coastguard Rescue Centre on the West Coast of Scotland. On the website you will find links to the MCA consultation document so that you can read for yourself what the proposals are, link to the response form so that you can put your points forward. The consultation ends on 24th March 2011. Go to www.stornowaycg.co.uk to view the information and to add your support.
Below left: A first for West Word! It's being read by Ian Shield underground in a chamber known as 'the colonnades' in Lancaster Pot which itself is a part of the Easegill cave system just outside of Ingleton in the Yorkshire Dales. Ian says 'the formations to my side are stalagtites and stalagmites which over time have met in the middle and filled out into the columns you see.'
WIDE WORLD WEST WORD
Frances Whyte of Glenfinnan was snapped by husband John
Below left: Neil Nicolson sent us this photo of himself, son Anthony and his mum, Mairi Nicolson having Christmas dinner the beach in Hua Hin in Thailand, with the West Word taken over by Mairi from Mallaig.
Below right: Dickie McBuison from Orange County is pictured here on Laguna Beach, CA. He is planning to visit Lochaber next summer to discover his half-Scottish heritage.
|After her sail across the Atlantic, Morar's Sue Barrett is pictured, appropriately, at Petit Nevis on 2nd January. The boat reached landfall at St Lucia on the 20th December after 30 days at sea as the Trade Winds forgot to blow! Sue is now safely home.|
Corno Cloete left the Café Rhu in Arisaig to go to visit his family in South Africa,
taking West Word with him. He sent us the photos below.
The animals seem strangely interested in West Word!!
Here he is pictured with his mum having a picnic in the Kruger National Park.
Birdwatch by Stephen MacDonald
December Report (to 26th December)
A fairly quiet month on the bird scene with no new birds reported from the area. A couple of Waxwings on the 4th and 5th in a Mallaig garden were the only reports this month. The same garden had up to three separate Bramblings coming to feeders during the month, again the only report from this area.
A single Long-tailed Duck was seen with Goldeneye on the Morar Estuary on the 8th, and another was seen at sea approximately two miles west of Arisaig on the 17th. The only report of Little Auks were two seen near Sleat Point on the 9th.
At least two Snow Buntings were seen regularly at Traigh, mostly along the high tide mark or on areas where cattle were being fed near the farm.
Purple sandpipers were seen at West Bay, Mallaig, throughout the month, with at least eight there on the 1st along with three Turnstones. At Traigh, there were at least ten Dunlin on the 9th along with four Turnstones, three Redshanks and several Ringed Plovers. Still two Greenshank wintering on the Morar Estuary throughout the month.
The cold, frosty weather must have been the reason for the numerous reports of Woodcock seen feeding in people's gardens throughout the area. Snipe were also seen feeding out in the open on several occasions.
The icy conditions were probably the reason three Whooper Swans arrived on the West end of Loch Morar on the 23rd. Earlier in the month there were up to nine Whoopers on the ice-free area of Loch nan Eala but even that froze over and they disappeared.
Dippers were seen on the shores of Loch Morar throughout the month, while several Goldeneyes and Goosanders were also present on the Loch.
Sea Eagles were reported on several occasions, mainly from the Arisaig area, with two seen together at least once. Hen Harriers were reported from the Back of Keppoch area, and there were still two Barn Owls at the usual site in Mallaig.
An interesting report from Knoydart, where at the beginning of the month a Jay was seen at Scottas on the 4th and 5th. Thanks to Ranger Jim Manthorpe.
Mrs Mary Maclean
In the contribution I wrote about Patrick Strong's connections with this area in the February West Word there was a reference to Mrs Maclean. As a follow-up, here is an affectionate pen portrait of her by Patrick's grandfather, Hubert Brinton, written shortly before Mrs Maclean died. Clive is Clive Bowman. I have left spelling and punctuation unaltered.
'These things are only a dream to me.'
In January 1849 at Rhu, Arisaig, where Donald Mackinnon and his wife lived in a sturdy two-storeyed stone-built white-washed cottage a few yards back from the rocky shore, a third daughter was born. She had two brothers older than herself. The two elder girls died when they were little. Mackinnon was employed by David Hutchison and Co to take passengers between the Company's steamers and the land, for the shallow rocky channels prevent ships from reaching the pier. One day a passenger arrived at the cottage, to be put aboard the next steamer for Eigg. His face was muffled up and he seemed unwell. He was given a bed in the cottage, sharing it with one of the Mackinnon boys. The stranger was sickening for small-pox and the disease spread in the family so that one of the little girls died. All the children are dead now except Mary the third daughter and John the brother born after her. He still lives in the cottage at Rhu. Hutchison's steamers gave way to those of MacBrayne and with the arrival of the railway MacBrayne's boats no longer call at Rhu Arisaig. John still uses his boat to take holiday visitors to Linga or to help him get lobsters. His comfortable dwelling with its garden protected by a stout willow hedge and the entrance to the door shaded by a tall maple-tree is regularly filled with lodgers who come for the quiet restfulness and the fresh air and the wildness of the surroundings. Heather and bracken and wild flowers give peace and happiness to tired minds and, as the Greek poet said, 'The sea is everywhere the sea.' There it stretches in the gap between Rhum and Skye, and the immensity of the view draws your soul into it down the long sunset lane.
In the summer months the four mile way from Arisaig to Rhu is a riot of colour as it winds round inlets of the sea, the shores of which are rusty with beds of sea-weed when the tide is out, or as it passes between banks rising rough with grey masses of rock like ruined dwellings half-covered with bracken and ling. Swampy bits of ground are green and fragrant with bog-myrtle; grassy bits have sheep grazing on them; here and there, wherever they can assert themselves, you may see golden rod, bedstraw, fox-glove, meadow-sweet, and the despised but very decorative ragwort, and rowan trees, sage willows and stunted oaks; a few deer may look up suspiciously as you pass, a peregrine falcon may circle overhead, and the harbour-islands seldom are without a few thoughtful herons. I would like to think that little Mary Mackinnon was conscious of all these beautiful and interesting things and enjoyed them with her small companions, the children of Gunning, the keeper at Millburn, with whom she trotted to school; but it was just in those months that she was wanted at home, as there was much to do about the house. The winter scenery was often obscured by mist and rain. The evenings set in early and did not give much inducement to stop; besides, when the child got back in the gathering darkness, she had some cold potatoes to eat, left over from the meal of the elder ones. It amuses her now to think that this fare is regarded as indigestible. It did her no harm.
On Sundays a boat was used from the first bay on the harbour, reached by the track across the neck of a rough peninsula called Torr Mor. One could see the church on the opposite side and seemed to get there in no time.
With the enviable capacity of a Scottish child, in a little time Mary Mackinnon learnt much - not only poetry which she still remembers, but the larger lesson of the great world and its constant interest. She has often told me of a little boy who had left Lochaber, where he was born and bred, going to be a 'herd' on a farm a few miles away. Getting to his destination he was amazed to find himself in surroundings completely new. 'My! What a bog place the world is!' whispered the awe-struck lad. To Mary the world has always been a big place to be viewed with wonder, but a wonder in which intense interest has had a part. She did not wish to change her country or her home. When she heard of wars and rumours of wars, of cruelties, of disaster happening elsewhere, she would say, 'The poor things, the poor things! This is the best corner of the world.' I once showed her a Palestinian postage stamp with the dome of Rachel's tomb on the further side of the roadway and on the hitherside the tree put there to entangle the ghost of the sad mother, who died when her baby - 'the son of my sorrow,' as she called his name 'while her soul was in departing' - was born, and therefore, according to the Bedu way of thinking, would try to waylay and kill those happier ones allowed to live - in a spirit of revenge upon all mankind for her individual unhappiness. This Mrs Maclean could not bring herself to think. 'No, no, the poor thing,' she said gently. 'She would not wish harm to anyone.' There is in her face a very beautiful kindness. She has seen much sorrow, and the experience has left her without any bitterness, but with an overflowing pity for others less fortunate. The husband of another dweller in these parts once said to me of his wife, 'She can always find something kind to say of people. I believe she would be able to see good in the devil himself.' I could believe that of my old friend too.
Mrs Maclean did not always live at Cuartaig, her present home, which was built in the summer of 1880 and given its name from the burn, 'winding', that runs at the foot of their croft. When she married High Maclean, who had been manager to Aeneas MacDonell at Rhu House Farm, the young couple migrated to the Camusdarach property, where Maclean was in charge of all the animals. The cottage that they were given had been occupied by Sally and Florry Og: a black wooden cottage nestling against the bit of cliff on the south side of the real 'bay of the oak', the camus an daraich. It stood nearer the sea than the stone house now called Achatailsaig, a name of unknown meaning. Aeneas MacDonell took the name Camusdarach for his new big house and farm built in 1880. the little black cottage was near the thorn-tree, she told me. What a landmark that must have been as she came down from the opposite side of the bay by Glas-na-Corp, 'the passage of the dead body', the burial place of those that fell when - och! it was many years ago - Danes and Scots fought, the Macleods of Skye and the Macdonalds of the mainland. When the ploughman's widow and bairns lived at Achatailsaig after this time, one wee lad (footnote: Andrew Smith) was coming across from the farm in the doubtful light of a winter afternoon and saw the passage filled with figures in a turmoil and all swaying backwards and forwards. He had a fright and crossed himself and fair tuk to his heels. Ay! He did that. An' now he's a man earning good money in Fort William. The sea came lapping close to the cottage. Mary MacDonald was in it once when a high wind and a high tide drove the waves nearer and nearer - the breakers on a western beach: the surge and thunder - and she heard them getting closer and wondered if they would come right in. that was a bad storm. It broke the boats moored along the coast: many a person minds it yet. It just turned before it reached the cottage, which would have disappeared as rapidly as a boat. It was an uncomfortable dwelling with an inner lining of wood, the space between the windows being filled with saw-dust to regulate the temperature. The cottage was however stifling in summer, and the saw-dust, winter and summer alike, was 'full of beasts. It is not easy to forget it.' The daughter was more explicit: 'They were bugs; the space between was all bugs.'
When the Macleans lived in it they heard the wailing of a baby, but could not tell if the sound was inside the house or outside. It meant, wherever it was, that there would be children in the home and the prophecy was fulfilled. A relic of the previous occupants, besides the 'beasts', perhaps, previously recorded, was a cruskean or iron lamp in two portions, each consisting of a perpendicular handle and a horizontal bowl. These portions were of different sizes and fitted together, so that any of the precious fish-oil, extracted from the inside of cuddies, that fell from the upper bowl was caught in the lower one. The wick was the inside of a rush. This lamp was found in the bushes near the cottage and is still hanging in Mrs Maclean's present house at Cuartaig.
Something must be said of Sally and Florrie Og who had lived in the cottage. They were the daughters of a Mackinnon of Skye, the nickname 'Og' meaning 'young'. Sally was unmarried, Florrie married a Cameron. Their father was forced into being a soldier by a Macdonald, 'one of the wild Macdonalds of Traigh', and went with him to Egypt. When he returned he was vexed with Macdonald and went and lived in Skye with his own relations. His daughters stayed in these parts. Florry died in Mary Mhor's cottage at the top of the road leading up from Traigh Corner. Mistress MacDonell who had helped her in her declining years bestowed upon the dead woman yet one more sign of kindness. She told the bearers of the coffin 'to do their utmost and their best' to reach the graveyard at Arisaig before those that were carrying the dead body of Mistress MacDonald of Bunacaimb, whose funeral was fixed for the same day; the reason for speed being that the spirit of the person buried last must wait and watch until another is buried to take up the task in succession. Florrie's bearers, thus urged, took the cut from Traigh Bay to the boat-house, straight across the burn. They fair ran. Mrs MacDonell followed and backed the bearers up. It was a strange thing for her to heed a Highland superstition, for she was English herself, from Preston. Oh, ay! Florrie got to her grave first. That she did! That will have been about 1870. You must not suppose that Florrie Og killed her first husband by means of a stone put in a stocking and that she then followed her second husband to Waterloo. That was the woman called 'Waterloo', who lived in Arisaig. Florrie followed her father to Egypt, a very different affair. She only married once. Her man died just ordinary.
I first saw Mary Maclean in 1893 when I was staying at Garramor. We would go through her croft in the way to bathe in Refuge Bay. I would sometimes go in for a chat. Her husband was a big man, could not share in the talk for lack of English, but he was glad to see his home entered and would give his visitor a chair and would sit chuckling friendlily. He had been a great singer, and when Miss Lucy Broadwood was at Arisaig collecting Highland songs and had secured a couple, she was advised b y Father Angus MacDonald to come up to this place, where she stayed at Garramor and got old Hugh Maclean to sing to her. It was said that the old man contributed about eighty, both works and music, with the assistance of his daughter Katie.
I remember Mrs Maclean's figure bent years ago under a load of peats, as she came down the hill behind her cottage. Clive and I, and sometimes Katie the pony, would help her with them or with her hay; and up to a year or two ago she could still get about a little, enough to 'mind the cow' and to prevent it stamping about on the clean 'wash' spread out on the short turf, while she herself sat on a little slope near the scabious and pansies or yellow bedstraw, ready for a crack with me on innumerable subjects, started by one or the other, in which opinions were invited. Would I tell her about the Phoenicians? Would she tell me about the ghost of the reaper-girl that had a feud with the Macdonalds? What did I think of cock-crowing in the night? Did it mean a death impending? For the last twelve months she had been getting more and more frail, and after never being ill has become bent with rheumatism in her back and disabled almost to powerlessness in her arm - 'hew! hew! hew! Oh Gosh, Gosh!' She does not want to die, or at least she did not a year ago. 'No, no! I love this place and I am well off; and I don't know where I shall go or what I shall find there.' That was also the feeling of Charles Lamb. I often feel a sinking in my heart when I leave her sitting by her fire-side of an evening. Sometimes she says, perhaps by mistake, but I like it so, 'Good night - dear' and she asks when I will come again to see her. I have a fright that next year I shall come to her cottage and shall find only an empty chair.
And so I did.
Note added by Barbara Brinton: Mary died October 1932, having stumbled in her cottage and injured her leg.
The MacKinnon family from Rhu, circa 1894.
We published a genealogy of this family by Allan MacDonald in West Word of May 2008 - which can be read online at www.westword.org.uk
Back row (l to r): Donald MacKinnon; Angus/Allan/Archie MacLellan;
2nd Row: Annabella; Flora MacKinnon (nee MacDougall); Angus; Mary; John (Am Phortair); Donald MacKinnon.
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