WEST WORD
Community paper for Glenfinnan, Lochailort, Glenuig, Arisaig, Morar,
Mallaig, Knoydart and the Small Isles

List of Issues online

July 2001 Issue

Contents of the online version:

Top stories
Monthly news from Eigg, Canna, Muck & Knoydart
Events - Regatta - Orienteering
Auntie Mary's Creepy Crawly Corner
Larachmhor Garden Visit
Mallaig & District Canoe Club
Early Sailing Directions
Genealogy & Reminiscences

Letters, e-mails and comments are welcome.
Contact Details & How to Subscribe
Sign our Guestbook

MALLAIG LIFEBOAT NAMING CEREMONY

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Mallaig's new 1.8 m Lifeboat was officially named in a sunsplashed ceremony on Mallaig Pier on Saturday 16th June. Miss Helen Stirling, executor of the estate of Miss Catherine Hewat, officially named the new Severn Class Lifeboat Henry Alston Hewat, after Miss Hewat's father.

The naming ceremony, which started with the National Anthem, went without a hitch and a large crowd of invited guests along with interested onlookers, locals and visitors alike, crowded onto the pier to witness the event.

They heard Mallaig Station Branch Chairman Mr. Archie MacLellan open proceedings with words of welcome and John Caldwell, Divisional Inspector of Lifeboats, Scotland, describe the 17 metre Severn Class Lifeboat and her capabilities, which include a top speed of 25 knots and a range of 250 nautical miles.

Among the guests were the Honourable Mrs. Frances Shand Kydd, Patron of the Mallaig & North West Fishermen's Association, and Sir Cameron Mackintosh of Nevis Estate, who had kick started the Mallaig Lifeboat Appeal Fund with a donation of 50,000 back in the spring of 1999. The total raised by the appeal was 130,000.

Everyone present listened intently as Mr. George Murray handed over the Lifeboat to the Royal National Lifeboat Institution on behalf of Miss Hewat and all donors to the Appeal, and Mr. Archie MacKenzie, Convenor of the RNLI in Scotland, accepted the Lifeboat on behalf of the RNLI and placed it in the care of Mallaig Lifeboat Station. The handover was completed by the acceptance of the Lifeboat by Mallaig Hon. Secretary Mr. Charlie MacGillivray.

The Rev. Ben Johnstone, himself a crew member of the Mallaig Lifeboat, assisted by Fr Michael Hutson, carrying out his last official duty before departing to America via France, and Mission Superintendent Len Scott, Mallaig's new Mission

Man, took part in the dedication service, hymn singing and prayers for the new boat, with the assistance of music provided by Arisaig's Mrs. Angela Hardman. Miss Helen Stirling then stepped forward to break the traditional bottle of champagne in naming the vessel Henry Alston Hewat.

With the three cheers (or was it four?) echoing over the scene, right on cue the Coastguard helicopter made a dramatic flypast of the harbour displaying an RNLI flag suspended from the craft, and to the skirl of Lachie Robertson's bagpipes, the lifeboat cast off from the Breast Wharf and made her way round to the Boarding Steps to take the small 'official' party out for a trip on the newly christened vessel.

The new Mallaig & Morar Community Centre was the venue for the buffet reception that followed and at the reception Miss Stirling was presented with a large framed picture of the new Mallaig Lifeboat. Mrs. Ann Currie, head of the local Ladies Lifeboat Guild, was invited to cut the christening cake and Mrs. Olwyn MacDonald brought proceedings to a close by passing on the good wishes of the Highland Council to the Mallaig Lifeboat and crew, stating that Mallaig was justifiably proud of the new 1.8 million vessel.

The coxswain of the Mallaig Lifeboat, Mr. Michael Currie, issued the following statement: 'Although the day passed me by somewhat due to my organisational involvement and anxiety for things to go well, I was thankful for the good weather, for the help of all concerned who assisted in the day's events and most of all to all those who turned up - locals and visitors - to witness and take part in the naming and dedication ceremony of the Henry Alston Hewat. The large attendance was extremely important to the success of the day and I thank you for supporting the RNLI locally and nationally, by your presence.'

RMM


ISLE OF CANNA

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The Princess Royal with Mrs. Campbell (the writer Margaret Fay Shaw)
the former owner of Canna and a foremost scholar in Scottish folk lore and music

Well, June was an exceptionally busy month for Canna.

On 5th June we had HRH Princess Royal, Princess Anne, out to open the converted St. Edward's Church to the St. Edward's Centre, she flew in by helicopter to meet Mrs. Campbell firstly then was taken over to Sanday to open the Centre. She was then presented with a posy of Canna Vegetation by Kathryn MacKinnon helped by Sinead and Mairead Wilkie. The Princess was then taken into the Centre where she was shown around all the displays which were laid on by the National Trust on recent renovations and future plans for Canna, also the Hebridean Trust for their part in Canna's restorations. A display was also put up by Magda Sagarzazu from Canna House library to show a selection of books from the archives of Canna House. There was also one done by the Primary School children on Canna Wildlife and Seashores, these are now displayed in Mallaig Marine World for anyone who wishes to see them.

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St. Edward's Centre

The Princess was then taken to the Marquee which was outside the Centre where she met local people of the island and also the contractors of the Centre. She was presented with locally caught lobsters by Caroline MacKinnon helped by myself and Patrick (Packy) who caught them. We received a copy of a letter from the Lady in Waiting to say that Princess Anne thoroughly enjoyed them.

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Princess Anne with Wendy & Packy

The 9th June saw our own Columba's church being dedicated by Bishop Murray and also by Father Michael. Ross Carr brought them over on the Frangag, what a day, the weather was lovely. It was the Bishop's first trip out to Canna, and he really had a day to remember. Sadly it was Fr Michael's last trip to Canna, so it was also a sad occasion. The islanders presented him with a small framed photo of the church and also a donation of money to help him on his way to America. Good luck, Father M.

Father M and the Bishop also presented Murdo Jack with two cases of Isle of Skye whisky and a set of tools for all his hard work which he put into the church. Without him a lot of it wouldn't have been possible.

We had a party in the Square afterwards with lots of eats and drink, then we said a fond farewell to them all.

We would like to give everyone who is interested in coming to see the works done on the church the chance. The Lochnevis is going to do a special run for us on the 5th August when you can come out and spend the day, spend a little money and hopefully enjoy yourself. We are hoping that we can get a priest out to do a Mass for us on that day as well. Look out for the posters in Mallaig and in West Word.

We also had a visit from Muck Primary School and pre-School children, thankfully the weather stayed reasonable for them as well. They visited the St,. Edward's Centre, Sanday beach and I think just had a great time playing with each other.

The harbour has started to fill up with yachts again so looks like we may be in for a busy summer again.

On the farm side, Geraldine and Murdo are busy shearing the sheep on the days that it is dry, I think they may well be halfway through them already. We had to hoe all the potatoes as the weeds were bigger than the potatoes, thankfully that's only once a year. Anyway, that's all to report for this month.

Wendy MacKinnon


ISLE OF EIGG

June on Eigg has gone like a flash as usual because it is our anniversary month and we always seem to have millions of deadlines before we can celebrate our trust's birthday, four this year, quite a bolshy toddler really.

Quoted by the land reform lobby as an example to the world, which surprises us but at the end the day the trust has created 11 part-time and full time jobs, got tourism on its feet again (don't mention feet or mouths), helped several businesses and is still in the black!!! With the added bonus of getting to the 2nd place in the all Scotland awards for our forestry project. The new path system (woodchips should be good training ground for would be marathonists) was open by Andrew Raven , director of the Millennium Forest Scheme in the presence of a few other forestry representatives and a bunch of Eigg wildlife watch children eager to get stuck in forestry games after their hard work making a Millennium forestry collage to be displayed in An Laimhrig.

The weather was perfect for the following event, the opening of the Lodge Sculpture Garden, one of a hundred projects by the Scottish Year of the Arts. The Beltane fire people and the Edinburgh Samba school opened it in style, with drums beating and fireworks lighting the sky over the metal contraptions, stone carvings and willow dream huts that some of us spent the year concocting for the enjoyment of all (look for the pictures on www.isleofeigg.org). It was great to finish off celebrating to the lively sounds of JA'MA'THA (featuring our very own "fiddling" accountant and the spoons that graced Madonna's wedding!) and DAIMH, whose first Eigg long awaited gig this was, in the marquee lent by the Old Forge for Leo and Linda's wedding. Angus MacKinnon and Ally MacDonald, whose memorial bench was completed this month would have been proud of us!

Our Royal Commission archaeologists - who are doing the new Eigg survey - were also most impressed by this example of tribal festivities and assured us that we were faithfully following the tradition set by those Neolithic people who built the strange "oracle " which they found in Struidh, overlooking mainland peaks, where our ancestors would have celebrated the solstice by crawling into a strange cave under huge boulders surrounded by a circular wall.Unless they stood guard over the sea in the fantastic bronze age fort which they also discovered above Laig. We look forward to more discoveries as the survey carries on.

And after a lively end of June ceilidh with Eilidh Shaw's new line up, HAREM SCAREM - voted the best ceilidh band of the year, really good west coast footstomping stuff with a lively dash of Orkney and Shetland, we are now looking forward the Eigg Feis which will feature the usual culprits. We will have a chance to exercise our new Gaelic skills by learning songs of the Eigg tradition with Margaret MacLennan.

Camille Dressler.

ISLE OF MUCK

The sun shone for Muck's 12th Open Day and the Shearwater was filled to capacity. This year we had Pascal Carr from Eigg demonstrating his pole lathe and his wife Catherine basket making. On the island tour there was the newly erected 'Yurt' and tipi at their new site on the north side of the island.

Eilidh the Castaway Pony: the story continues... All last winter Eilidh was on Muck running with the other young ponies. Ponies have to be sold however and when her photograph was chosen by a Mrs. Wright from Bradford, Eilidh had to go.

So on 19th May she and a younger filly Rosie walked onto Wave to once again make the crossing to Arisaig. At Arisaig the tide was rather low and Eilidh did not want to do too much climbing. No way would she leave the boat. Luckily Rosie was more willing and with some persuasion she climbed out to be caught on the pier by Helen Lamb who with Alan had come to help. Eilidh, not wishing to be left behind, soon followed. That night Mrs. Wright arrived, driving a massive camper van and towing a very large horse box. Next morning Mary and I said goodbye to the ponies and returned to Muck in time for the combined Arisaig and Small Isles Parish service.

But Eilidh's story may not be over. We hear that she has a shoulder problem and cannot be ridden. She could return north. More in future West Words.....

On the farm shearing is almost finished and silage well under way. Recent hot weather has really brought on the grass and some very heavy crops look likely.

Lawrence MacEwen


NEWS from KNOYDART

JUNE

The beginning of May saw Knoydart used as one of the venues for Lion TV's production of 'Castaway 2001'. The 'castaway candidates' commenced their ordeal at Tom McClean's training ground on Loch Nevis, followed by camping 'wild' in Knoydart. I understand that after returning for a final session at Tom's, they were immediately airlifted out to the Peruvian jungle for the following six weeks, to survive on the experiences gleaned in the Rough Bounds. Does this say something about the rigours of the life we all lead in these parts?

However, since their actions are to be on film it must mean that they are not truly or entirely on their own unless they themselves are recording video footage. I mention this because the production team appeared to consist of more bodies and action than the candidates, not to mention vehicles, phones, faxes and all the paraphernalia. I understand the first episode is to be shown on BBC1 during this month, June.

I was asked but failed to mention a 50th birthday last month. The person concerned will know to whom I am referring, so I'll take this opportunity to offer belated best wishes for the year and years to come; may the 'gentle' force be with you to be always one step ahead.

We have just had a look at Toby's house, which he has been building during the past year. It really is an amazing and inspirational feat. Well done Toby. Toby, Kath and the boys plan to be moving in during the next few weeks and can look forward to a wonderful life in such a beautiful setting

Anne Trussell

JULY

We have had a busy month in the Village Hall. First Dave Fletcher, a frequent visitor to Knoydart gave us an amazing insight into the explorer Ernest Shackleton when he did a talk and slide show about Shackleton in Antarctica. We have had many talks about the Arctic and Antarctica from Dave in the past, but this surpassed then all and the audience of about 45 really enjoyed it. All proceeds went to the Village Hall fund. Thanks Dave and we look forward to seeing you and the family again and your next interesting talk.

Then the Hall was renamed Glengirnie Hall, when we had a visit from the Highland Festival Actors who put on a play called "The Accidental Death of an Accordionist". This was an excellent play and with audience participation the laughter flowed all night. Some of the visitors were actually convinced that the Laird was for real.

Jim Brown and the young hall committee members put on a Disco which was enjoyed by all. Jim did the decks and again all proceeds went to the hall fund. Special concession from the Hydro Company who allowed the generator to stay on till late.

Polling day in the hall was slow but steady. Rush hour was between 9am and 10am. First vote cast at 7.45am and last vote 9.55pm and hopefully this report is more accurate than the one in the National Newspaper???

Good news from the Hydro Company... The refurbishment of the system is due to start on 2nd July, so fingers crossed we might have full power by the winter.

Modernisation in the Library with a new computer to record all books in stock and books to be changed every two months now.

With the size of the new Satellite dish at the back of the Post Office, we don't know whether we are going to view UFO's or buy a stamp. Talking of stamps, thanks for watering the sponge plants on the counter Bernie.

Thanks go to Tim and Bobby for the rescue mission at Dubh Lochan and thanks to Hannah for the rescue remedy. It was much appreciated.

Our regular correspondent has gone down south to await the birth of her 2nd grandchild. Hope all goes well Anne.

Jan Marriott The Primary School had their annual visit to Fort William and Stephanie Harris has written the following report.


'Home and Away' Exhibition
23rd July to 17th August

'Home and Away' is a touring exhibition about emigration from the Highlands and Islands, and 'homecoming' journeys made by people of Scottish descent dispersed throughout the world to find their roots.

Arisaig's 'Land, Sea and Islands Centre' will be the host of this exhibition, presented by Museum of Scotland International and Highland Homecomings, a project recently housed at the Highland Folk Museum in Kingussie. The exhibition will visit Helmsdale, Harris, Rothesay and Gairloch between April and October as well as Arisaig in July to August.

There are a number of display panels, with one being reserved for the host site to display their own relevant information. During the final week there will hopefully be talks and activities, and the exhibition includes 'hands on' exhibits such as a kist emigrants would have taken with them on board ship. Alasdair Roberts of Bracara will be coming to the Hall to give talks on emigration from the local area - look out for posters nearer the time.

Arisaig's panel gives details of the sailing of five ships, three to Canada and two to Australia, in the 18th. and 19th. Centuries. Copies of the passenger lists will be on display. Also on the panel is a photo of Mary MacEachen, giving scones and milk to three student teachers outside her 'black house' at the turn of the century. Our thanks to Ronnie and Vera MacDonald for the loan of the photo - Mary was Ronnie's aunt and the black house stood where Vera's rockery is now!

Ann Martin

Mallaig Mission Gala Weekend
27th - 28th July

There is just a short while to go before Mallaig is once again alive with visitors and locals alike all intent on having a good time. Starting in the early morning there will be the delicious smell and taste of a barbeque wafting over the area and at about 10.30am this smell will be joined by the evocative sound of the pipes as our Gala Queen and Princess are crowned.

Throughout the day there will be much to keep every member of the family occupied. Special exhibits from the Customs Agency, a display by a Police Dog Team, the Fire Brigade, Scottish Highland Dancing, Helicopter and Lifeboat joint display, Road Race, Children's magician, Bouncy Castle, and much, much more.

As well as the displays the Scottish Fisheries Vessel 'Vigilant' will be open to visitors, and as well as the Fort William Pipe Band, a Steel Band from Skye will be performing. Other activities, like the Boat Race and Raft Race will be run during the day together with several stands and stalls, including one from the Mission's Ladies Committee. If you are not to tired in the evening, there will be a dance held under the covered market starting at 9pm. There will be live music, and NO ENTRANCE FEE, although a donation towards the work of the Mission would be appreciated.

On the pier on Sunday, as well as the Bouncy Castle, there will also be a barbeque, and at 2.00 pm there will be a Pet Show for anyone interested. The weekends events will be drawn to a close at 3.00 pm when there will be a Blessing of the Fleet Service. All in all it looks as though it will be a bumper Gala Weekend. All it needs, apart from the sun, is YOU. See you there.


ARISAIG REGATTA

Arisaig's successful Millennium Regatta is set to be repeated this year with a three day event on 8th, 9th and 10th August. The 10th will be the Fun Day which proved so successful with visitors' families last year - it would be nice to see more locals taking part! There will be a family dance in the Astley Hall in the evening, with music by The Wild West Ceilidh Band.

North American yachts planning to visit the Highland coast later in the summer are likely to take part in this year's Regatta. And a number of top West Highland Week race-boats are also expected to compete - making the two-day event a premier date in the Scottish sailing calendar.

The transatlantic visitors - larger-sized vessels from both the United States and Canada - are attracted by the prospect of racing under sail on the famed 'Jacobite Coast' of Morar, Arisaig and Moidart.

They have heard of this year's event - just the second ever held - via the international grapevine of Scots yachtsmen cruising the Caribbean and the western seaboard of the US, along with the Website maintained by the West Highlands and Islands Sailing Clubs Association.

Local sailor Mick Grigor - who has spent the last ten years in the waters north of Trinidad - is also expected to take his 32-foot cutter Malana home for the event, via Bermuda and the Azores.

And as West Highland Week finishes at Oban just four days earlier, meantime, it is thought certain that a number of family boats will take part in the regatta's feeder race from Tobermory to Arisaig - a new race for this year's event.

The spectacular growth of interest follows the success of last year's inaugural regatta, which witnessed the Eigg-based classic ketch Lola broad-reach under all available sail to a storming victory on the tricky, rock-strewn finish-line off Arisaig.

Said Regatta Secretary Ranald Coyne, 'Last year's Eigg and Spoon race was a great success. We just have to repeat it this year.

The fleet races from the entrance to Arisaig over to Eigg where one member of the crew either swims or rows ashore and collects his - or her - special commemorative Racing Spoon. Once back on board, it's then a matter of a blast back for the finish-line at Arisaig. 'We think the new feeder-race from Tobermory will be a hit with West Highland Week competitors who would like to come up round Ardnamurachan for some racing - and cruising too.'

And Ranald, who owns the formerly Baltic-based classic sloop Aurelia, added, 'We also have some round-the-cans racing in the mouth of Loch Nan Uamh, where the Young Pretender arrived on the Scottish mainland in 1745 to claim the throne. And of course there is a full programme of dinghy and other inshore events for the young and young-at-heart, as well as a ceilidh dance at the centre of our onshore programme of entertainment'.

The growth of interest in the regatta follows the development of Arisaig as a sailing centre by Murdo Grant of Arisaig Marine, with the assistance of Highland and Islands Enterprise's local enterprise company.

Charlie Williamson, commodore of the regatta and owner of the locally-based ketch Laura Eve, said, 'Without Murdo's efforts over the years, there just wouldn't be this level of interest. Marking the entrance with buoys and beacons made a huge difference in itself. But Murdo's 23-year campaign to get a causeway and pontoon to serve the moorings really did the trick.'

He added, 'And Lochaber Enterprise deserve to be complimented for their association with this project - it is a case study of what local economic development, and the intelligent investment of public funds, is all about. Yachtsmen have wanted for years to cruise the Jacobite coasts of Morar and Arisaig and Moidart, along with the Small Isles of Rum, Eigg, Muck and Canna, from a local sailing centre - and Arisaig Marine has now made that possible'.

The feeder-race from Tobermory takes place on Wednesday, August 8th. Arisaig Regatta takes place on Thursday 9th, and Friday 10th August.


ORIENTEERING IN ARISAIG

Friday, 10th August, should bring a large influx of day visitors to Arisaig. About 2,500 competitors - from all over the world - are expected for a race in the Scottish 6-Days orienteering event. The 6-Days competition has been staged biennially in various parts of Scotland for the past 25 years. This current event - known as Lochaber 2001 - is based on Fort William, with each race at a different venue in the area as the week progresses.

Unfortunately, as with so many other outdoor activities, Foot and Mouth has cast a huge shadow since February. Even now the 6-Days will be called off - probably postponed for 12 months - should the situation worsen again during the next few weeks. Meantime, however, with strong encouragement from the Highland Council and support from landowners, preparations are pushing ahead in line with the Comeback Code.

The focal point for the Arisaig race will be the fields north of Mr. and Mrs. Gillies' farm at Kinloid.. The competition itself will take place on the hill-sides to the east, courtesy also of Arisaig Estates. Competitors will use a very detailed map, specially prepared for the event. There will be about 30 different courses to cater for all levels of experience and for ages from 8 to 80.

Traffic management on the day is being tackled in close consultation with Sergeant Souter and his colleagues, and with the residents along the Kinloid road. Incoming vehicles, predominantly from the east, will start to build up soon after 7am and continue till nearly midday, with the flow reversed during the afternoon.

Sadly, nearly two years of effort to interest ScotRail in these many potential customers appear to have been in vain!

Aside from the tidal surge of traffic to and from Kinloid, the impact of these visitors can be managed in part to suit the preferences of the local community. For example, if the Arisaig foreshore is already at capacity that day from regatta-related activities, the orienteers can be directed elsewhere. A daily news-sheet is produced throughout the 6-Days as a simple way of conveying last-minute information.

Residents and other visitors are invited most cordially to come along to the orienteering, either just to enjoy the spectacle or to try the sport themselves. A 'tented village' at Kinloid will provide catering, first aid, toilets etc. and there will be 'enter on the day' courses suitable for beginners. The main practical considerations are:-

  • traffic on the Kinloid road will be one-way inbound till 12.30pm and one-way outbound thereafter
  • come prepared for the weather on the day, and especially for wet feet if venturing on the hill.

Look out for an update on preparations in August's West Word. Meanwhile, I'm happy to field any questions that anyone may have, if you send them via West Word.

John Colls


BOOK REVIEW

One look at the title, Arnisdale and Loch Hourn, followed by an inspection of the book at The Boat House would be sufficient review for any local to want to own a copy. But for those who are further afield - read on.

For sheer size and quality this is no ordinary local history book. Its 500 pages contain over 1000 black and white photographs, both old and modern, plus more than 50 outstanding colour plates to complement the text.

The subject is a small community nestling on the northern shores of Loch Hourn, a fjord-like sea loch lying between the island of Skye and the famous Knoydart peninsula.

The book is by Professor Peter English of Aberdeen University. He has known the area since he was a child, records it history, culture ad folklore, as well as the rich and varied flora and fauna to be found in the surrounding hills and glens.

One of the 36 chapters contains an account of the famous Loch Hourn herring or sgadan beag Loch Hourn as it was once known. No records are available now on the precise extent of this harvest. However it was reported that in 1882 the herring catch in the loch was 90,000 crans or 18,000 tonnes. Since the total annual herring harvest around the UK at that time was about one million tonnes, Loch Hourn's contribution was certainly significant.

The book contains numerous tales of deer-stalking, shepherding, cattle rearing, funerals, weddings, sea-monsters and muych more to grab the reader's attention.

There is a poignant chapter on War Time and the Welcomes Home with wonderful records and photos, and the chapter on Knoydart is potted history - with photos.

The book Arnisdale and Loch Hourn is 20. Post and packing can be arranged. It is available for review and/or purchase at The Boat House, Main Street, Mallaig PH41 4QS, tel/fax 01687 462604. Proceeds from the sale will go towards building a community hall and heritage centre at Arnisdale.

Sonia Cameron

Auntie Mary's Creepy Crawly Corner

This month's question is from Heather Murray: How are corries in the hills formed ?

What we call a corrie, technically a cirque (French), (coire in Gaelic, cwm in Welsh), takes a very long time to form.

In the Highlands at the end of the last Ice Age, about 10,000 years ago, the ice sheet which had covered Scotland finally started to melt, leaving the highest, bare, rocky hill tops exposed. The climate was still very cold with snowfalls in the "winters".

Corries are formed when snow banks build up in depressions on a hill slope. When the snow in the hollow becomes compacted into ice, it starts a slow, circular movement to escape from its hollow. In the meantime, the seasonal freeze-thaw effect on the rock at the edges of the snow produces shattered rock fragments which become included in the snow and ice and help to dig the hollow deeper. The escaping ice, which, if there is enough of it, will form a glacier, may drop some of its rock debris at the escape lip, making the lip higher and the hollow lower.

When all the snow and ice have melted, the back wall of the new 'corrie' may be almost sheer and hundreds of feet / metres high, and there may be a lochan in the hollow held in by the rock debris at the escape lip. Many corries are on north-eastern slopes in Scotland as these positions, facing away from the warmer, wet, west wind, retained the ice and snow for longer.

Dr. M. Elliott
SNH Area Officer for North Lochaber


Larachmhor Garden

On Saturday 16th August, Arisaig and District Gardeners' Club enjoyed a tour of Larachmhor Garden. Dr Alan Bennell, external affairs manager for the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, kindly agreed to come and talk to us about the garden and indicate the important and interesting plants.

The originator of the Garden was John A. Holms, an art collector and business man from Glasgow, who was probably inspired by the great plant hunter George Forrest. Forrest travelled through western China between 1904 and 1932 and brought back over 30,000 herbarium species, 300 new rhododendrons, camellias, magnolias, Himalayan poppies, lilies, primulas and gentians which aroused great interest in gardening circles and was to change the appearance of British gardens.

Holms wanted a West coast site to cultivate some of his slightly more tender collection of plants. He realised the advantages of Arisaig's suitable climate, being influenced by the Gulf Stream and having an average annual rainfall of 60 inches. In 1928 he began transferring specimens from Formakin to Larachmhor, although there was a garden already in existence on the estate; the old hut dates from 1915 and one of the huge magnolias from 1914.

John Holms' enthusiasm for rhododendrons is apparent and, at one time, over two hundred species have been recorded. The building of the house, which can now be seen from the road , was started in 1929 on the ruins of an old cottage but was never completed. There are several lines of Western Hemlocks, presumably for shelter, and the remains of a formal box hedge which could have enclosed a kitchen garden or more likely have been used as a nursery area for young specimens. His gardener Mr Brennan cared for the garden. Many of the original plants remain although, when Holms no longer had an interest in the garden, a number of them were sold to all and sundry for ten shillings each, or a bottle of whisky! Until fairly recently Miss Becher owned the estate. The Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh acquired a seven year lease of the garden in 1961 and have since continued to be involved with felling and replanting. Like John Holms they keep some of their less hardy species at Larachmhor as conditions here are more favourable than Edinburgh.

Dr. Bennell gave us a lively and enthusiastic tour and we found ourselves scrambling up banks and darting in and out of the undergrowth to discover some amazing specimens that most of us had no idea exited. Fortunately Dr. Bennell had a very carrying voice so that the stragglers amongst us could hear him even though we had lost sight of him.

He explained to us the main reason for healthy looking trees suddenly falling to the ground: heavy rain quadruples the weight of a plant thus making it top heavy. Often the roots are still able to sustain a tree and it will sprout new shoots from its trunk . We have had plenty of experience of heavy showers recently; hopefully there will not be too much damage. Rhododendron ponticum, the wild rhododendron, is prevalent throughout the garden. It originated from the Pontus mountains of the Caucasus but is not vigorous there. The "dreaded ponticum" that invades our gardens is an aggressive hybrid strain of this plant.

On the right of the path from the gate is a huge magnolia that is about 85 years old. The clearing along this path has been recently planted with Chilean specimens, including the Chilean lantern bush, Crinodendron, and Chilean Fire tree, Embothrium, of which several beautiful examples can be seen both at Larachmhor and in local gardens. There are some newly planted Mexican pines on the higher ground which are part of the International Conifer Project. This has been established to conserve the 620 conifer species world-wide, 300 of which are presently threatened. A China fir, Cunninghamia, in the garden is one of the largest examples in Britain. A variety of New Zealand/Australian plants grow at Larachmhor including Griselinia, Olearia ilicifolia and Olearia glabrata which is situated behind the new hut. A variety of acers can be seen especially the snake bark maple, Acer rufinerve.

The Garden has many unusual rhododendrons including R. sinogrande with leaves up to thirty inches long, the first of the species to flower in Britain. R. wiltonii is also very rare and is found at high altitudes. The red or orange flowers of R. griffithianum and R. falconeri are tubular and bees, being unable to reach inside them for nectar, have learned to drill holes in the sides of the flowers; in their native habitat birds drink the nectar from these plants. The yellow azalea flowered R. luteum is thought to have hallucinogenic properties and sometimes a " fizzy pile of bees " can be seen under them.

A thoroughly enjoyable afternoon was rounded off with tea at Arisaig Hotel. Dr. Bennell has promised to return again earlier next Spring and will also be giving a talk at one of our Winter meetings.

Larachmhor Garden is now owned by Monsieur Namy who generously allows locals to visit and marvel at the botanical delights. Dr. Bennell described Larachmhor as a "secret garden" and perhaps it is best kept that way for the preservation of its outstanding collection of plants.

Sue Hood

For further information on Arisaig and District Gardeners' Club
please contact Sue Hood Tel. 462164.


Mallaig & District Canoe Club

After an active Winter season providing instruction and opportunities for practice at the local swimming pool, members were keen to "do their thing" in the rivers and seas of Lochaber. Like so many other sporting and outdoor activities, white water kayaking on the River Garry was proscribed by the foot and mouth precautions, but happily for the acrobats of WW, access has returned and the "usual suspects" are now playing in the stoppers every Thursday night. Sea kayaking suffered similar restrictions, but from the weather rather than foot and mouth!

On the weekend of May 19th/20th, Nancy Campbell and Willie MacDonald led a very successful and enjoyable trip for beginners and less experienced members down Loch Morar to Tarbet. They repeated the successful formula of last year, but this time there was no strenuous portage of boats over the pass to Loch Nevis. And perhaps this was just as well, considering the energies required for ceilidhing into the early hours with Donald and Frank. By the time Alex and Suzanne had paddled to North Tarbet from Mallaig harbour via Loch Nevis, the party staying at the Chapel bunkhouse numbered 22 souls.

photo
The Chapel Bunkhouse at Tarbet

Sunday turned out to be something of an epic. After a suitably late start (considering "the night before") the party returned to Loch Morar and then headed east towards the head of the loch. Conditions were overcast, but favourable in terms of wind and wave, and it was noticeable how many of the beginners had improved in strength and technique since May of last year.

photo
Nancy at the head of the loch

The fleet was predominately made up of single sea kayaks, but with the club's tandem sea kayak and a single Canadian canoe also in the party. In the UK we tend to call all double-ended, small craft "canoes"; but strictly speaking, canoes are derived from the open, birch barked, native North American, river craft which are propelled with single bladed paddles, whilst kayaks are derived from Inuit, skin covered, decked hunting craft propelled by double bladed paddles. As the wind increased during the afternoon's westward journey down the loch, the Canadian canoe with its higher sides became a victim to wind drift and seriously slowed down the convoy. Eventually Birgit marooned her kayak for collection later and generously helped paddle the canoe home.

One week later, members took the road north to experience Alex Turner's expedition to the Summer Isles. This was a trip for experienced paddlers and by the time our tents had been set up at the Achiltibuie campsite it was clear that we would need to be experienced if we were to cope with the strong south westerly winds. On Saturday morning we took a look at the Summer Isles across Badentarbat Bay. White horses as far as we could see: not a pretty sight for paddlers. So across the peninsula and take a look at Enard Bay.

Naturally, as the water was in the lee of the land things looked gentler, but we were not misled by this. After consultations it was agreed we would go for a down wind trip to Lochinver rather than a "there and back" or circular trip. This required the setting up of a shuttle to enable us to return with kayaks from Lochinver and two hours later we were ready to depart, with the company reduced to five paddlers, i.e. Kjersti Birkeland, John MacKenzie, Alex Turner, Suzanne May and Roger Lanyon.

Kjersti is quite light and she was paddling a high volume boat with water ballast to make it behave in the wind. Once into the waves it became clear that the trim was not correct, so Alex set about adjusting things. Unfortunately a hatch cover went overboard and it became important to effect a jury rig as the craft's buoyancy depended upon intact decks. A sheet of polythene kept tight with a bungie cord did the trick, but it was felt expedient to return to shore and borrow a hatch from one of the kayaks not in use. At last we were off again, in winds which by this time had moderated slightly. We had a lively trip across Enard Bay to Fraoch Eilean where we lunched after managing a rocky, slippy landing in the lee of the island.

The sun came out for half an hour then disappeared again. The sky darkened, but the wind held steady as we continued north, deciding at the last minute to circumnavigate Soyea Island in the mouth of Loch Inver before landing at the slip at Lochinver. We had completed a nine mile journey in about two hours paddling time.

Next day the weather seemed to be conforming to the generally favourable forecast and nine paddlers launched from the jetty at Old Dornie in the protection of Isle Ristol. The sky was overcast, but the SW wind was initially gentle and the seas slight. The Summer Isles beckoned. We chose to head due south to enter the sound between the islands of Tanera Beg and Tanera More. Fulmars, eider and grey lag geese flighted around us as we landed for a break on Eilean Fada Mr.

Two miles to the south, the silhouette of Eilean Dubh was as enticing as the eponymous tune, and we resolved to endeavour to land there. Just after we passed Sgeir Revan the wind increased and we had to look after one another and keep close order to ensure we could offer assistance should anyone capsize. Half an hour later, tired after plugging into that stiff headwind, we made it into the sheltered, enchanting cove which harboured a couple of empty holiday houses.

The return, down-wind leg was invigorating, but as we rounded the west of Tanera More and crossed Anchorage Bay the wind dropped to nothing and the rain set in. By the time we landed at Old Dornie and had loaded the boats onto our cars we were soaked through, but all agreed it had been well worthwhile extending our cruising waters to Wester Ross.

Each June for the last three years, a trip to the Treshnish Isles has been put on the Club's calendar: each year the weather has dictated otherwise. On the week end of 16/17th June, the 60 hour forecast made the trip seem possible, so Tony and Elizabeth Laidler, John MacKenzie and Roger Lanyon made the journey to Lochaline and hence via MacBrayne's to Mull. From the Sound of Ulva we launched onto moderate seas and made our way west within the protection of the lee of Ulva. Our plan was to land on Little Colonsay, take a look out to sea and decide whether to go on to Staffa as a stop on the route to the Treshnish Isles or stay within the relative shelter of Loch na Keal. The panorama was breathtaking: from the empty peninsula of Ardmeanach, to the Ross of Mull, then onto the Isles of Iona, Staffa, the Dutchman's Cap, Lunga (our desired destination) and the rest of the smaller Treshnish with the mountains of Rum (turned inside out to out Mallaig habituated eyes) in the distance.

Conditions seemed settled and we estimated we could comfortably manage the seas with the wind on our starboard quarter. One hour and three miles later, we were entering Fingal's cave with ne'er a boom of swell nor surf. The unnatural quiet, as well as the famed geology, conjured up cathedral like images and we hushed our voices, just as one does in church. After exploring the neighbouring Boat Cave we landed at the Causeway and set about the island on foot. A pair of great skuas dive-bombed the nesting gulls and demonstrated to all and sundry that they were the top of the food chain. Half way round the isle, whilst watching tourists watching puffins, we realised that the wind had got up. (It's amazing how you don't notice it on land the way you do whilst on the sea.) We resolved to stay put and see whether the wind would abate before attempting the four mile crossing to Lunga. Three hours later the wind was still too fresh for it to be wise to make the attempt. We would spend the night on Staffa and return to Ulva ferry on the morrow. So near, yet so far. In the meantime, we had Staffa to ourselves, for the tourist boats had all returned to port......

We awoke the next morning to the cries of sea birds and the strange silence of the absence of wind. By the time we had eaten breakfast and packed up, the wind was as fresh as ever, blowing strongly out of the NNE. We resolved to circumnavigate Staffa and then head for Gometra, i.e. directly into the wind. We surmised that we would then have the protection of Ulva for the rest of the trip back.

The three miles to Gometra were tough and we were only too happy to refuel on a sandy beach below Gometra House. Resuming, we discovered that the wind had backed round to NNW and we sped across the bays and between the islets off the south coast of Ulva, eventually having to slog into a stiff headwind in the Sound of Ulva. The sun came out as we landed and we felt happy and exhilarated from our stay on Staffa. Our collective dream of visiting the Treshnish Isles had remained unfulfilled: but we could safely place it on the calendar again, this time for 2002.

A. Paddler


Mallaig Heritage Centre article: Early Sailing Directions.
by Denis Rixson

In the early days, books of sailing directions were very incomplete. Few travellers ventured to the Hebrides; certainly there were no government surveys. Those who compiled such manuals were dependent on hearsay and the evidence of seafarers who had passed through the Minches.

What went into the books was not always accurate. For instance Skye was sometimes referred to as Bracadale. There is a Loch Bracadale in Skye but somehow the name had been transferred to the whole island. Seafarers, though, were desperate for information so anything was better than nothing. We can imagine such a situation today when most of us would rather have any guide book to a foreign land than none at all.

To satisfy such demands there were a series of 'portolans' and 'rutters' published from mediaeval times onward. These gave sailing directions for the area concerned - initially the Mediterranean, later North-west Europe. In a Scottish context the earliest and most famous of these was that compiled by Alexander Lindsay for James V's expedition to the Western Isles in 1540. This was republished by the National Maritime Museum in 1980. In the British Library there is also a surviving sixteenth-century manuscript called "The Booke of the Sea Carte". This contains the same material as well as a very attractive hand-drawn map of Scotland and a long discussion about tide tables. Typical extracts from these two documents read:-

'Courses of tydes ...
From Kylra (Kylerhea) to Ardmurthe (Ardnamurchan) by the Isles of Ege, Rume, Muke and Cannay it floweth est and west ...'

'Floodes and ebbes ...
From Logh Byrne (Broom) to Kylark (Kyleakin) and Kylra and alongue the cost of the Skye, Uist and Barray the moone south, full sea ...'

'Courses from ... Dungisbe Head (Duncansby Head) to the Mull of Cantyir (Kintyre) ...
From Kilark to Kilra est, iii myle (3 miles).
From Kilra to Ardmurth south southwest xxxiii myle (33 miles) ...'

Dangers like Corryvreckan were renowned:

'Betwixt Scarba and Dura (Jura) is the most daungerous streme ... in all Europe ... the best tyme that may be had of it is the tyme of full sea and lowe water.'

Otherwise:
'yf shippes do enter, there is no refuge but deathe onely.'

In 1612 a book called The Light of Navigation by WJ Blaeu appeared in Amsterdam. This included maps, views and sailing directions for the Western Isles, Orkney and Shetland. As the publisher recognized, knowledge of these furthermost corners of Europe was by no means complete:

'Whosoever travileth into these parts may help himself with that description which we have heere made, till such time as we can gette further and fuller knowledge of them.'

Amongst the many pleasing features of this guide are a number of sketches of the elevations of certain islands as taken from a boat at sea. Unfortunately they were probably useless in practical terms. The map of the Hebrides is even worse - the islands of Uist lie north and south of Lewis! In fact it is less accurate than that compiled by Laurence Nowell 60 years earlier. But then, as now, material about an unknown area could quickly find its way into print if no one else knew enough to contradict it.

Nevertheless such documents were intended as practical handbooks - written for fishermen and merchants. They contained observations and knowledge built up over a number of years by visiting skippers who had also acquired information from local people.

In 1695 Martin Martin gives us an example of such knowledge in this area. He is referring to the Cailleach stone off Skye between Kyle of Lochalsh and Kylerhea. I discussed this stone in an earlier article and it now becomes clear why it was so noteworthy. It was held to mark a turning point in the flow of currents between Skye and the mainland. Today of course we can just look such things up. In 1695 such knowledge was invaluable. Your life might depend on it.

'The tide of ebb here runs southerly, and the tide of flood northerly, where no head lands or promontories are in the way to interpose; for in such cases the tides are observed to hold a course quite contrary to the ordinary motion in these isles and the opposite mainland. This is observed between the east side of Skye and the opposite continent, where the tide of ebb runs northerly, and the tide of flood southerly, as far as Killach-stone, on the south-east of Skye, both tides running directly contrary to what is to be seen in all the western isles and opposite continent. The natives at Kylakin told me that they had seen three different ebbings successively on that part of Skye.'

In 1612 there was also a word of warning, issued in the context of the Western Isles. Unfortunately this area was regarded in an unfavourable light.

'He that falleth upon anie of these Ilands must looke well to him self, for the most part of them are inhabited by wilde and cruell men.'

It is to be hoped that in this respect, if in no other, the West coast has greatly improved.


A Little Genealogy
by Allan MacDonald

At the beginning of June, Penny MacDonald married David Buick with a reception in Cnoc-na-Faire Hotel in Arisaig, and a question arose as to how 'The Johnny Sandys' (me) and the 'Hettys' (Penny) were related and somebody suggested the dim and distant past.

Quite rightly, it started a long time ago, and a very considerable number of people in Mallaig, Morar and Arisaig share the same relationship if you have any connection to the 'Coiteachan' MacLellans, i.e the 'Hectors', the 'Donald Sandys' or the 'Foremans' people.

Ian MacLellan and Mary MacDonald had a son, Angus, b. 1816. Mark MacDonell and Mary Gillies had a daughter, Rachel, b. 1821. Angus and Rachel married on 21st. January 1840. They had nine children, of whom two interest us in this article; Alexander and Mary.
Alexander married Cath Cameron and the connections I will explain shortly.
Mary married Angus MacDonald from Kyles, Knoydart and Angus's parents were Roderick and Penelope, both born 1811.

The line of descent which links the two families runs like this:

Brother and Sister
Alexander and Mary
Clementina 1st. Cousin Penelope (Hetty)
Marjory 2nd. Cousin Angus (Hetty)
Johnny (Sandy) 3rd. Cousin Penny
Allan 4th. Cousin Lindsey
Charlie 5th. Cousin ?

Charlie is a 4th. Cousin, once removed, of Lindsey and 5th. Cousin of any children Lindsey may have.
As a matter of interest, the nine children of Angus and Rachel were Catherine, John, Alexander, Mark, Clementina, Mary, Anne, Flora and Donald.

Dear Allan MacDonald:

In your March 2001 issue of West Word you mention that a Canadian, Rick Grace, visited you in Arisaig last September looking for Highland relations. He mentioned a Donald MacDonald who left Arisaig in 1842 with three sons and a widowed daughter. In fact, according to our family records it was Ronald Macdonald who left Arisaig in 1842 with two sons, John (Cramp) and Ronald (Drover) and a widowed daughter, Janet (Mrs. Duncan Smith). Ronald's son, Donald, who was born in 1799 left Ardnish (Ardness) Scotland before his father, in 1828. He was my Great Great grandfather and was known as Captain Donald MacDonald, because he piloted the ferry between Arisaig and Skye. John (Cramp) appears to have been short and stocky in build and walked with his shoulders hunched up. It was the local parish priest who nicked named him the Cramp.

Trusting that this information will be of interest to you, I remain,

Edward Rogers, 84 St. Ninian St., Antigonish, Nova Scotia.

School Days by George W. Baird

Ram it in, cram it in
Children's heads are hollow.

So wrote the poet, but we didn't take it too badly.
We were there to learn, and there was some enjoyment along the way. Dad gained a merit certificate at Peterhead North school. He couldn't go on to higher education though; he was the oldest and he was needed at home. His pal became a fishery officer. He gave me every encouragement. I responded it seems, for I was dux at Mallaig, and a prize-winner at Fort William.

The three R's were drummed into us, reading writing and arithmetic. For reading, we got well-versed in the stories of Stevenson, Scott and Dickens, I devoured the boys' magazines which went from hand to hand. Morgan the Mighty, the Black Sapper - we were in suspense for the next adventure.

We copied a specimen line of words half a dozen times, filling page after page until the letters were the exact length above and below the line. To begin with, we did sums on a slate; a messy business, but then we progressed to jotters.

Mental arithmetic kept us on our toes. The competition was fierce, but the teacher helped any slow scholar at the front. Tables of marks were pinned up on the wall. There was always plenty home work.

The first half hour was Religious Instruction, Bible story, catechism, the Lord's Prayer. The catechism had the arithmetic tables printed on the back, so it was always to hand. The R.C.'s went off with their own teacher, Simon MacDonald.

Geography, history, art were other subjects. In the first two I became proficient, but art was my bte-noir. When I sketched a jar it was always a bit lop-sided.

The bigger girls had a weekly period of cookery. After my time, physics, chemistry and French were introduced, I believe. I remember headmasters Taig, Eunson and McRain, and men teachers Boyd, McIntosh, MacDonald. I forget the names of lady teachers.

With no hall, there was no PT, but there were plenty of games in the playground, and after school, rounders, football, cricket, 'catchie', hide-and-seek. We ran errands , of course, for mum and dad.

On Saturday morning I ran up to the Post Office with telegrams. To begin with, my dad was in the fish business on his own, then he became a part-timer with D. A. MacRae.


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