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

List of Issues online

October 2000 Issue

Contents of the online version:

New communications network
Adopt-a-Beach scheme
Monthly reports from Knoydart, Eigg, Muck, Arisaig
Historical look at Rhue (Arisaig)

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Backcopies: June - July - August - September

COMMUNICATIONS NETWORK LAUNCHED IN MALLAIG

Lochaber Communications Network Limited have been providing computer equipment for community use since April this year, and on Wednesday 4th. October Councillor Charlie King officially launched the facilities in a short ceremony.

The equipment is housed in the Mallaig Study Centre in the centre of Mallaig and includes computer with internet and e-mail facilities, printer, scanner and software to enable use of spreadsheets and databases. Community groups and individuals have been encouraged to use the facilities by seeking the advice and assistance of Niki Robertson of Mallaig who is the LCNL Outreach Support Worker.

Councillor King welcomed the presence of the Communications Network in Mallaig. He reminded us of the idea behind the project: 'It started with a vision in 1996 by Councillor Iain 'Dubh' MacDonald and Dr. Sen, that all communities, no matter how remote, should be able to access all available information, to have one-to-one access to all services.'

LCNL was chosen as a 'Working with Communities 'Pathfinder' ', by the Scottish Executive to provide this access to information and services through a network of Community Resource Centres. Mallaig is one of the first four centres and the circle is widening to include other remote areas.. Associated with the Network, a number of communities will have computers from a Scottish Council of Voluntary Organisations' scheme - called com.com.holyrood ; Eigg has one, with Arisaig, Knoydart and Rum soon to receive theirs. Niki will be supporting these facilities also, with help and training for those who want to use it.

Niki said 'I hope to see local people taking full advantage of the facilities over the winter months. It's nice to see local groups and organisations putting their details onto the LCNL website, which is growing all the time. Recent additions include Mallaig and North West Fishermen's Association, and links to relevant fishing information sites will be included soon.'

opening

Pictured at the launch, from left to right, is Niki with Helen Turnbull, LCNL's Project Development Officer, local resident Lindy Henderson, and Councillor King. Lindy is the perfect example of how people of any age can benefit from the project - she can now send e-mails to family and friends all over the world.


Beach Clean-Up

'Adopt-a-Beach' is a new national project being promoted by the Marine Conservation Society (MCS), with the idea that people adopt a local beach to keep clean and monitor the type of rubbish washed up on it.

Members of the Lochaber Environmental Group responded initially with a clean up of 400 metres of Traigh Beach - not adopting it formally but as a trial run. Although the beach didn't look too bad at first sight, 22 bags of rubbish, plus some large items, were cleaned up in the course of the day. Most of the rubbish was plastic - oil drums, fish boxes, bottles, even shoes. But there was also a foam mattress, a sump, part of a caravan wall, fencing wire and a section of a bulkhead.

Susan Carstairs of LEG said, 'We focussed our efforts on Traigh as a trail run to test the system required by MCS for detailed data recording. Traigh is easily accessible and a relatively safe beach to work on.

Many people will know that some of the more exposed beaches on the south side of the Rhu peninsular are much more heavily affected , especially by bulky plastic waste, but to have a serious go at them would require a really good walk over the hills and a boat to ferry out the rubbish.'

New from KNOYDART

It is with great sadness that we mourn the loss of Sandy Morrison, aged 86, who died on Saturday 16th September and was buried in Harris on the 20th, where he was born. He came to Knoydart in 1961 with his family and everyone who knew him was made welcome at his home, where many enjoyed 'the Crack and the Drams'. Although retired from Stalking for many years he still remained in touch with all that was happening in Knoydart. Our deepest sympathy goes to his wife Mary Anne and all his family.

The Knoydart Forest Trust achieved another major milestone in its life recently, with its first Annual General Meeting on Saturday 16th. September. Tim Bowyer from Inverie and Andrew Campbell from Skye were re-elected as directors. The reporting accountant Iain Gordon of Johnstone & Carmichael commended the trust on a comprehensive set of accounts which exceeded regulatory requirements. Iain Gordon and the Trust's financial adviser and company secretary, Andrew Banks, described as 'the big guns', were warmly thanked for providing reassuring support.

There has been much work in rhododendron removal, felling to waste and fence removal. Our major Woodland Grant Scheme is at contract stage after one year of consultation with the Forestry Commission. When this 200,000, 5 year programme comes off it will herald the start of much more work on woodland management and new native woodland. The Trust will then be looking for another employee for chainsaw work, to support the community forester Grant Holroyd but first accommodation will have to be found.

The AGM closed with a buffet meal and drinks, provided supposedly by the directors but actually with much generous input by their partners and Dave Marriott, and also Gwen Burrell from Pier House.
Anne Trussell

NEWS from the ISLE OF EIGG

Much has been written locally about the excellent fiddler and accordionist Farquhar MacRae who died recently, and about his wonderful and totally unmercenary approach to life. May I add just a few words about someone I didn't really know very well but what I did know reflected everything that his friends have said. In particular his lack of thought about monetary gain.

A few years ago I was wanting someone to play a varied selection of music for my husbands 70th birthday Ceilidh. Specially to please him I needed music for Ballroom Dancing and from the Shows of his era but for all our Eigg guests, normal Scottish Ceilidh music was required. It was suggested I asked Farquhar to play for us which he willingly did, and we had a lovely evening the music of which satisfied all tastes . However when settling -up time came I had the utmost difficulty in persuading Farquhar to give me any idea of the cost of his night's work, he looked rather shocked when approached on the subject and to this day I have felt that he did not receive sufficient recompense. Now all is explained.

Possibly one of Eigg's most important achievements took place recently when at long last the Lodge Hydro was reinstated. The original system was built by Lord Runciman in 1920 and islanders who were in possession of a radio were then able to take their accumulators to the power house to be recharged, these were the days before dry batteries came into being .

Several years before the buy-out the whole system succumbed to old age and lack of care and irretrievably broke down, it was never repaired. Hugh Piggott from Scoraig had already built & installed 3 micro hydros on the island with excellent results so his expertise was called on again to design & install new equipment. A number of volunteers from the community put in many long hours clearing the dam and laying cables to enable him to complete the work.

The use of water power will be a real asset to all the businesses in An Laimhrig. It produces 24 hour electricity much more cheaply & reliably (and environmentally friendly) than that provided up to now, by a Diesel Generator.

In the last couple of weeks many island ladies have spent much time gathering Brambles (known in England as Blackberries - Blackberries grow on Brambles there!) This year has produced a bumper crop and numerous pounds of jam and jelly have been manufactured in a number of Eigg kitchens. There has also been a record crop of Chanterelles and some enormous Field Mushrooms were found near Laig, just the thing for tasty soup! It is not only the fruit and fungi which has been prolific. Sue and Neil's Muscovy Ducks have produced 19 ducklings, all looking for good homes so anyone interested in Duck l'Orange for dinner should ring 482480 and order the basic ingredients!!

Brigg has received not only orders for Rocking Horses, but surprisingly the proprietor of 'The White Hart' in Campbeltown has commissioned him to carve a white hart (a deer) to enhance his hotel. Brigg quickly rushed over to Rum to make some sketches of the deer there. We hope this will prove to be the first of many outlets for his undoubted talents.

In last month's West Word Mairi Kirk wrote a lovely article about Canoeing on Eigg, this week the children have been able to pursue their new activity with their temporary teacher Keiran Johnston from Armadale. Hopefully it will eventually be possible for them to enjoy canoeing on a regular basis as it seems to be a very popular pastime.

Alan and Helen Lamb came to Eigg on Tuesday for Alan to conduct Harvest Thanksgiving in the Church of Scotland. This was attended by all the school children who took their part in the Service by offering various readings. These were all extremely well performed, Briony's contribution was considered especially good, she is by far the youngest and has only just started at primary school. The children also brought wee boxes of Harvest Goodies to be distributed to the Senior Citizens.

At the beginning of September Eigg music lovers were entertained by the band with the Silver Slide Guitars, 'Chili Dogs' and on the 19th, Leo McCann & Aaron Jones were here to play for us in the tearoom. Both events were very enjoyable, and a couple of good nights were had by all!!

During September two interesting and successful courses took place in the Glebe Barn, one covering Geology and the other, Human Ecology. Unfortunately no-one turned up for the Eigg Historical Society tour of the Kildonan Early Christian Site, scheduled for 2nd September, and mentioned, rather late, it must be said, in last months Round and About Eigg. We apologise for not advertising it earlier.

So when is the 'Loch Nevis' going to arrive at Mallaig Pier? There is a proverb, 'Hope deferred maketh the heart sick', how many Small Islanders are sick of waiting for that boat?----- But three Basking Sharks have been seen at Eigg Pier, which I'm told, is fairly unusual!

Farmers are reputed always to be complaining about something (if it isn't the weather it is the price of feed!!) but one Eigg farmer actually came back from the Dingwall sheep sales feeling very happy. His lambs had fetched 5-6 pounds more per head than he had expected, this must be almost unheard of!

Joy Williams


ISLE OF MUCK

The Dump:
Highlight of the month has been the disappearance of this island's eyesore which for years has been the last resting place of farm machinery and much of our household junk. On the afternoon of 24th. September Harry from CCG cleared the lot into the adjoining gully with his digger and then drove over it compressing it into a fraction of its former volume. Then a team of islanders (Colin and Barnaby) with tractors and trailers, together with dumpers from CCG, covered the lot with surplus material from the pier site and built two embankments at each end of the gully to screen any future rubbish from both sea and land. Thank you to CCG.

Pier:
As work draws to a close for the season we have now five concrete towers rising from the sea and a massive new road under the cliffs. To the present writer who had expected the whole contract to be finished in one year it is great news that many of the builders will be back next summer. In so many ways it has been great to have CCG on the island.

Steamer:
As I write there is still no sign of the Lochnevis. So far only rumours have reached the island. As the new winter timetable cannot be maintained by the Lochmor it seems likely that its start will be postponed. Hopefully even when Lochnevis does arrive Lochmor will be kept on standby.

On the farm:
The best crop of oats for many years was mainly cut on the 7th. By the Bisset binder which works well when the crop is standing and with a 6' cut did not take long. 'Leading' the crop for threshing was more of a problem with the very mixed weather of recent weeks. The 300+ Greylag geese have certainly benefited. They are increasing in numbers each year and threaten to overwhelm the farm. If any readers would like some really challenging shooting and wonderful dinners, they know where to come. Greylags are only a partly protected species and in the long term if the numbers keep growing they too will suffer.
Lawrence MacEwen.

ARISAIG
Astley Hall:

The hall renovation is going well and it should be finished at the end of the month, bar a few bits and pieces such as some of the landscaping. Hopefully then we will have our opening concert and ceilidh as soon into November as is possible.
Way back when we were planning it all, the primary school children suggested that a good way to show who was in Arisaig in the Millennium year was to have a wall of hand prints. This wasn't altogether practical and we didn't think people would like to have their fingerprints taken either! But we liked the general idea. Mandy came up with the idea of each household or family writing their names on a tile, which would then be coloured and baked and all the tiles put round the entrance hall as a frieze. We decided to take this forward, so it will be happening soon; watch out for Jack coming round with a pile of tiles and a marker pen! It would be lovely if we could get everyone to take part in this as an enduring record of 'We wuz there'.
Another of Mandy's ideas was to make up a 'Lochs' Quiz' to raise money to reinstate the dry stane dyke around the hall, and it was very successful. After the prize money had been handed out we banked 125 towards the wall. We have been allowed to use the wall which was around the playing field, since the road will be going through there, so our thanks to Mr. MacMillan for that and to Donnie and helpers for the actual physical graft of fetching them!
Ann Martin


A Backward Glance

The following article was written by Mr. Pat McCarthy for the Village History of Arisaig, compiled by the WRI in 1965. It was reprinted by Fr Wynne in one of his Parish newsletters, and by kind permission of Morag MacDonald we print it again here.

Rhue

Rhue today, with its old pier, is a quiet little bay studded with green islets, and strewn with countless rocks. It is a favourite haunt of holiday-makers who now throng the district, and who delight in driving, or walking, out from Arisaig along the Rhue road that winds so picturesquely round the bay at Arisaig. Here they come to see the view, observe the birds and the seals, or see the gorgeous sunsets which are so characteristic of this western part of Scotland.

Rhue is now quiet, but there was a time when it was a bustling, busy place. I refer, of course, to the days prior to 1901 and to the coming of the Mallaig extension of the West Highland Railway, when MacBrayne's steamers formed the chief means of communication with Glasgow and the south. Those were exciting times, and I can recollect hearing many stories of times when the life of the community revolved around the arrival and departure of the steamers 'Clansman' and 'Claymore'.

My great-grandfather, Donald MacKinnon, came from Morvern, Argyll, settled in Rhue, and married a Mary MacVarish from Moidart, a sister of Domhnull dubh laidir Mhingary (Black strong Donald of Mingary) whose name is linked with some very large stone crosses on St. Finnan's Isle in Loch Shiel. The family home was not far from Rhue Farm House, and the ruins of it can be seen to this day. Donald was known to all as Am Portair (The Porter). He was a well-educated man, and was much in demand as a tutor to members of the well-to-do families of the district at the time, and was able to provide some measure of 'further education'. He may have at an early age studied for the priesthood - however, he seems to have been the first paid ferryman in the service of the MacBrayne Company, and served in this capacity for over 40 years. In these times, the pier was but a flat slab of rock not far from where the Rhue Farm march fence reaches out into the loch.

The ruins of the store-house then in use are still to be seen. Also to be seen are iron rings fixed into the rock where the boats could be tied when not in use. Goods landed here had to be carried upon broad strong backs up to the road, and there to be transported on carts to their final destinations. Many other ships came in as well as MacBraynes. There is on record that Russian and Latvian ships would come to buy cured herrings.

My great-grandfather's family were struck down by the dreaded smallpox, brought to these parts by foreign seamen. Those members of the family not affected had to be isolated in the homes of neighbours. This outbreak of smallpox took away two of the family, a son and a daughter. There was no vaccine or other means of fighting the dreaded disease in those days, and everyone kept away from those unfortunate enough to be struck by it. I am told that my great-grandparents had themselves to row the dead body of their son to Arisaig for burial, even having to dig the grave themselves, and as if that was not bad enough, they found on their return that their daughter had succumbed as well.

As traffic began to increase, the landing on the slab of rock became impracticable, and so the present pier or jetty was constructed, and bears the date 1885. This together with the Pier Store close to the road, made the movement of goods much easier. There was provided also a hand-operated crane for raising and lowering weighty goods to and from the barges. At that time, there grew up a brisk trade in shell fish with the London market, and many families found a useful means of making extra and much needed cash by gathering whelks and sending them to such salesmen as Samuel Rapkin, Baxter, Scott, names familiar even to the present day.

At this time, about 1887, the Porter's Lodge was built. There is where I live, and much of this cottage has remained unchanged to this day. Still to be seen in the 'waiting room' are the wood mouldings which carried the coat-hangers; wood-lining was fitted to head height behind a bench seat which ran along two sides of the room. The 'Room' was finished in a better style, as there would rest the gentry and the well-to-do travellers until the steamer would be sighted. The steamers would sound blasts on their sirens as they approached the mouth of the harbour, where they would lie at anchor while the passengers and cargo were brought out from the pier in a big red barge known as An bata dearg - the red boat.

Wind, tide and weather would often cause delays, and there was no means of knowing what was happening, or when the steamer would come. A watch was posted, and when the steamer was sighted the alarm would be given, and there would be a desperate scramble to get aboard the barge for fear of missing the sailing. Many times it happened that, when all was ready, the steamer would go sailing on, and then it would be 'as you were' until the next sailing. No explanations were given for not calling. The steamer coming from the north was more subject to delays caused by tides, fog or adverse conditions. The steamers called at Lochinver in Sutherland, and then went on to Stornoway in Lewis. There would be much disappointment to those set on a voyage to Glasgow if the ship failed to call. Often this would happen, and she would be seen ploughing majestically westward as she made for the point of Ardnamurchan and the Clyde. A local bard composed a song of some merit in praise of the steamer 'Claymore'. She is reputed to have been a very beautiful ship with a graceful figurehead.

The goods landed in these days would consist mostly of flour, cereal, maize meal, salt and sugar in bulk. Biscuits of the 'Cabin' variety came stacked in wood barrels, and there was a steady demand for them in the local shop at the time. Soap, candles, and later paraffin oil began to arrive in casks, which were very heavy and difficult to handle. Paraffin lamps using glass chimneys began to be common in the Highlands from about 1880 with the discovery of shale deposits in the lowlands of Scotland. Lamp chimneys also came packed in wood barrels. My grandmother often told how she would have to leave her household chores, and go and help grandfather unload the barge, toiling at the crane until all was safely landed. My grandfather would have paid a man to help with this sort of work, but there was not always one available.

The days of toil and hard work attendant on meeting the steamers would now and again be enlivened by the occasional humorous incident, of which the following is one can best recall. Among the passengers asking for the south-bound steamer one day, was a family of tinkers complete with piper! Upon setting out from the pier in the barge, the piper struck up a rousing selection. This gave my grandfather an idea; the crew of the 'Clansman' would, on hearing the bagpipes, conclude that a wedding party would be coming aboard, and there would be a dram all round - a great event! To complete the effect, my grandfather hoisted the flag in the stern of the barge. Now sure of their free dram, one can well imagine the rage and disappointment of the deck-hands of the 'Clansman' on seeing the tinker family climb aboard! Grandfather never tired of telling of the rain of invective and abuse which fell about his ears from the crew after having been hoaxed. He had a good laugh though!

Were it not for the very difficult entry, and the number of dangerous rocks making the navigation hazardous, Rhue was to have been the terminus of the West Highland Railway. Mallaig being able to boast of a better harbour was chosen, and on completion of the Railway in 1901, the steamer service to Rhue ceased. My grandfather was offered work at MacBrayne's Glasgow depot, but he, preferring to remain with his young family, refused and made the best living he could by concentrating on his small croft, and fishing round the coast. He died at the age of 84 in 1938. On the death of my grandmother in 1955, the last link with the steamer service to Rhue was severed.
Pat McCarthy, 1965.

In 1966 Pat featured on the front page of the 'GPO Courier', in the article reprinted here.

Highland village postman Pat McCarthy was featured in a television programme last month - but he had to travel six miles to watch it. His isolated crofter's cottage has no electricity. A BBC television team spent a day with 53-year-old Mr. McCarthy, postman at the West Highland village of Arisaig. Scottish viewers later saw him in the programme 'Saturday Night, Almost Sunday'. It was a busy time for the camera team - for Mr. McCarthy is a very busy man. They were up before daybreak to film his first task if the day - milking his three cows. Mr. McCarthy is a crofter too. Then they filmed the other 'lives' of postman Pat. If there's a film show in the village hall, he is the man they call out. Since 1961 he has been the village cinema projectionist. And the church choir would have a tough time getting on without him - because he has been choirmaster and organist for 14 years. Which all goes to make Mr. McCarthy a Very Important Postman in the life of Arisaig.

Pat retired in 1982 and is at present in the Belhaven Ward in Fort William.

Pat


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