WEST WORD
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

October 2009 Issue

Contents of the online version:

Top stories
Monthly news from Knoydart, Muck, Eigg, Glenfinnan, Arisaig
West Word ten years ago - Birdwatch
Crofting Roundup - On and Off the Rails
Local History

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Contact Details & How to Subscribe to the Paper
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All photos are copyright either of the individual photographers or West Word.
Not to be reproduced without permission.

HEROES' MEMORIAL TO BE ERECTED IN ARISAIG
Arisaig will host a prestigious ceremony in November, when a memorial to the Czechoslovakians who trained there during World War II is unveiled.
Czech and Slovak dignitaries and commando veterans are expected to attend the ceremony which it is hoped will take place on Wednesday 11th November when the granite monument will be unveiled in the village centre. A full day of events is planned, ending in a family ceilidh in the Astley Hall in the evening.
Plans are being quickly formulated as it is only recently that the date has become a reality with planning permission recently granted. Preparatory work has started with the drilling of holes for the steel rods which will support the memorial, which is in polished and matt grey granite, a modern sculpture depicting a parachutist as he lands. It is being prepared in the Czech Republic and the foundation stone has just been blessed by Pope Benedict XVI on his recent visit to that country.
The site of the memorial is on the seaward side of the village, opposite Café Rhu, but screened from it and the road by shrubs and rocks. There will be an explanatory plaque nearby.
There was an Open Meeting in the Astley Hall in July when Dr Millar and sculptor Josef Vajce displayed plaster models of the proposed memorial and answered questions from local residents.
The Czechoslovakians were here in the early 1940s as trainers and trainees in the Special Operations Executive. They were billeted mainly at Traigh House, Camusdarach and Garramore, while other nationalities were in Morar and Lochailort. They were trained to use explosives and silent killing methods, and how to sabotage railways. Once trained they were parachuted behind enemy lines to carry out a secret war against Nazi Germany.
The memorial is the idea of Edinburgh based Dr Paul Millar, Hon Czech Consul General, who formed a charity to raise the money required. You can see more details on the website www.czechmemorial.org
The Community Council are planning to have the unveiling ceremony, which will include the laying of wreaths by The Royal British Legion and the Community Council, a lunch and afternoon reception in the Astley Hall, and a village ceilidh in the evening. There will be a considerable number of people looking for accommodation in the area around that date so it is hoped B & Bs and Guest Houses will be open for them. Anyone else who is able to offer accommodation is asked to contact the Community Council.

MUCK AWARDED FUNDING FOR COMMUNITY HALL
The Isle of Muck community are delighted to hear they have been awarded £278,080 from the Scottish Rural Development Fund (SRDP) - Rural Priorities. This was a tremendous boost for the community and they are looking forward to progressing the project further.
The community started fund-raising to build their first Community Hall on the island in May 2007, and to date the community alone has raised £13,000 through fund-raising events and donations - a tremendous achievement from an island boasting only 39 inhabitants, 15 of whom are children.
An application to the BIG Lottery Growing Community Assets, as the other major funder, has also been submitted and the community hopes to hear if they have been successful around Christmas time. Once funding is in place the project will progress to building warrant stage, and a tendering process will be undertaken for a building contractor. The recent fund-raising ceilidh in Edinburgh was a resounding success, with an impressive £2,600 being raised from the evening (see Round and About for further details).


KNOYDART
September, despite some pretty miserable spells of weather, saw plenty of activity happening on our peninsula. The K10 activities (for the 10th anniversary of the Knoydart Foundation buy-out) continued apace, with the one of the highlights being the celebration day which had been postponed from March. Thankfully the visitors were able to make it over this time. The day started off with well-received speeches in the village hall. Davie Newton outlined some of the huge amounts if progress made by the Foundation since its inception in the late nineties (doing very well at ignoring the pain from a bit of grit lodged in his eye). Hugely deserved thanks and presentations were made to stalwarts John Hutchison and Charlie King who have actively supported Knoydart through the years, and there was a presentation of flowers to Angela Williams, our development manager, who has steered the Foundation through often difficult times, whilst constantly encouraging and supporting directors and staff. John Watt from HIE gave an inspiring and informative speech - then it was on to the raising of the totem pole, a project started on that sunny weekend of the music festival. Karen did really well to carry this project through to completion; there are contributions from most of the community in one form or another on the pole. The raising process was ably co-ordinated by Grant, who directed visitors and residents to pull on the tug-o-war rope (so recently used by a victorious Mallaig Ladies' team), which was attached to the pole. The pole didn't fall on top of anyone, and while it was being dug into the ground everyone retired to the village hall for a wee bit of lunch and the cutting of Karin's cake. A few interested parties came on a guided walk before returning to Mallaig on the Western Isles which did a special return trip to Inverie so that people could have a bit longer over here. A great day, and a reminder of just how many people have helped the Knoydart community with their ownership and administration of a large area of land and infrastructure.
There has just been a lively conference in Harris attended by some 20 of the community land initiatives (CLIs), attended by two from Knoydart. This was very useful, and heartening at the same time in that it showed that CLIs, although perhaps spread out over a large geographical area, are able to rely on each other for support, advice, and perhaps even as a network with potential lobbying power. Long may the connections continue.
There has also, of course, been a photographic competition here on Knoydart, kindly sponsored by Clements. There were three categories, and three age groups. There were lots of commended photos; there's just room for the winners here, but if you look at the Foundation website you can see all of the photos that got through to the final. So, here are the winners:
Up to 10 years old
Wildlife: Jasmine Humphrey, Peacock Butterfly (overall winner of age category)
People: Lachie Robinson / Finn with Lego
Landscape: Lachie Robinson / Heart of Stone
11-17 years old
Wildlife: Finn Robinson / Common Hawker
People: Finn Robinson / Robinsons on a Hill (overall winner of age category)
Landscape: Laura Fenwick / Sunset, Inverie Bay
18 years old and above
Wildlife: Sandy Sutherland / 5am Stag
People: Steve Dick / JM
Landscape: Sandy Sutherland / Lochview (overall winner of age category)

It wasn't all K10 stuff this month (yes, there was time for other stuff too!). The Millar sisters put on a great coffee morning for cancer relief, which included a sponsored silence by Isla. Not one person tried to tickle her! She passed the baton on to Davie, who managed to persuade the whole pub to be silent for his last five minutes, prompting a wonderful Wickerman moment when some visitors walked through the door to find a very busy yet silent bar, the only noise being the radio from the kitchen and the clicking of Murdo the photographer's camera! Well done to everyone who contributed several hundred pounds to a very worthy cause.
Murdo was over to take photographs for the piece being written by Anke, the German journalist who spent a few days here last month. We're really looking forward to seeing the results - he spent a week here, which gave him plenty of time to find a wide cross-section of local residents to photograph. Luckily we have German residents here who will be able to translate the finished article when it comes out in Geo magazine in a few months.
On the topic of journalism, I should perhaps expand on my comments of last month and point out that much of the press has been exceptionally helpful to Knoydart over the years - many of the donations received for the original buy-out may not have happened had the plight of the old estate not been highlighted. I should probably also add that tourism is the mainstay of our economy, with perhaps in the region of 90% of the working population in Knoydart employed directly (boat owners; B&B owners etc), or indirectly (eg renovation of holiday homes; creation of woodland access paths) by tourism, a fact I always point out in guided walks. I realise that this column was not the best place to discuss visitor numbers, and I apologise to anyone who felt offended by me doing so. Perhaps it's time for me to hand over to someone fresh / without the capacity to offend!
Next event: "Run K10" - I'm sure Davie will let you know how that went in his column next month. He's meant to be running the 10k - apparently his trainers have arrived, but he's working over Mallaig way so is unable to try them out! Let's hope they fit. The run is followed by Gary Innes and his band, always welcome over here, so it's shaping up to be another exciting weekend.
Tommy McManmon
Anne Trussell

ISLE OF MUCK
The month opened with a visit to the island by Highland Council - mostly paid officials but Michael Foxley and Allan Henderson as well. We were not impressed. Apart from Allan Henderson and Andy Tuckwood (recycling) they seemed much more interested in a hearty lunch in the Craft Shop than meeting many of the islanders.
Then there was Mull Theatre. They were great fun and put on a good show in the school which was rather small (roll on the Community Hall) for their stage equipment. Soon it was time for Homecoming ' Week', part of Scotland's much hyped visitor event. We have 'homecomers' every year and this year there were no more than usual and only two during the week in question. However the sun shone and we had Troy and Andrea, talented musicians from Cape Breton; a dinner for everyone in the Craft Shop and Catriona White covered the history of Muck up to 1840
But the highlight of the month was the Community Hall Fundraising Ceilidh in Edinburgh a remarkable organisational achievement. It was a great night. The Occasionals were superb. We sold around 120 tickets so the hall was full without being crowded. Everyone danced. The food most of which had been brought from Muck was memorable even for an island renowned for good cuisine. And everyone gave generously. We raised £2600 to add to the £13000 we have already. Only one thing went wrong. The wind rose and we did not return to Muck till the following Wednesday on the Sheerwater.
On the farm it is sale time and prices are much more encouraging - not before time. Lambs sold for £10 to £15 more than last year and our Blackface ewes which in the dark days after Foot and Mouth disease were as low as 75p each made £36, a record in cash terms if not in real. We must hope that better prices continue. They have to if we are to mantain any agricultural infrastructure on the West Coast and not to create what some conservationists dream of-a total wilderness! In 30-40 years time the world really could be facing starvation and even the West Highlands will be needed to feed Britain. And this month even the weather has improved after probably the wettest August ever. High Pressure returned on the 9th followed by sunshine. Barnaby baled our flattened oats on the 12th and Sandra and Sandy made their hay on the 16th. A month to remember!
Lawrence MacEwen

ISLE OF EIGG
September has seen a marked and welcome improvement in the weather, considering all that was going on, it was a blessing! What with all the silage bales to finish off and the sheep to gather for the September sales, the visit by the Big Green Challenge judges (we wanted Eigg to be looking its best) and the Eigg Homecoming (please no rain for all our walks).
September has been a remarkably cultural month, with a variety of events going on, from the 10th wedding anniversary of Eigg's favourite ballad singer Sharon King and husband Jasper, which brought many well kent musical guests back to the island, to the Island Nights Homecoming show by the Mull Little Theatre, which was totally hilarious and featured a surprise guest appearance by Ailidh Morrisson as the bride, to the Homecoming Evening which featured Tearlach MacFarlane as our very entertaining fear an tighe, the Homecoming Ceilidh with the wonderful music of Troy Mac Gillevray and Andrea Beaton, our guest fiddlers and stepdancers from Antigonish and Cape Breton, and finally the uplifting drumming and energising dancing from Kakatsitsi all the way from Ghana on the last leg of their Scottish tour.
The weather did its very best to show Eigg under its glorious autumn colours to our Canadian visitors, who were walked off their socks from one side of the island to the next, courtesy of the Eigg History Society. It was a very nice experience for them, especially as they were in the company of our area's top genealogists, Allan and Elizabeth MacDonald and Tearlach Mac Farlane. Donna's pipes of course added a nice touch to it all.
We are now looking forward to their glowing reports being followed by masses of bookings from Canada next autumn! We certainly have learnt a lot ourselves about the way things were for the emigrants as they came to Nova Scotia. The stories came thick and fast from Allan J Gillis, and I do hope our recordings will help us remember it all! However, we are now the proud possessors of "The MacDougalls of Judique", which should help us piece together a lot of the puzzles that we are being regularly sent!
Canadians have not been our only visitors this month: we have had the visit of David Stewart MSP, followed by that of Charles Kennedy, MP, and of the Highland Council Convener, Sandy Park and a good half dozen Highland councillors: since when have been so intensively consulted? Anyway, we have been able to expose our many issues, particularly that of the slow and expensive satellite broadband, and the very problematic and extortionate rate bill for the buildings housing our electrical equipment which threatens to make a mockery of our efforts to provide affordable electricity to the islanders.
One very significant event this month of course has been the arrival of Eigg's newest resident, bringing the island population to 98: baby Maggie to proud parents Saira Rennie and George Carr on Saturday 19th September. Congratulations to them both! And as to Marie and Colin Carr, the equally proud grandparents, they have taken to their new role quite naturally! Baby Maggie has been especially cooed at by uncle Donnie and aunty Amy who came up for Frances's 21st birthday party which was celebrated in customary style in the hall last Saturday. Cheers for Baby Maggie and for Frances!
October birthdays: Alistair Kirk, Morag MacKinnon, Peggy Kirk, Ailidh Morrisson.
Camille Dressler.

GLENFINNAN
The highlight of last month was 'A Highlanders Celebration of Whisky' in a packed Ben Nevis Distillery with Iain MacFarlane, Ingrid Henderson, Ewan Robertson and Charlie MacFarlane. Iain was commissioned by Blas to create an audio-visual show which he did to the delight of audiences in distilleries across the highlands. In Iain's world whisky equals craic and that is what we got. The show touched on the darker side of uisge beatha with a thoroughly miserable song and then without too much time for sombre reflection lifted our spirits again. The highlight of the show was the 'you and me' song, specially written for the show to a drinking tune from Whisky Galore, which sees Iain and Ewan don tweeds and caps (DJ's fore and aft got its 15 minutes of fame) and sing a very funny song. It put me in mind of hogmanay sketch shows from years ago. This was followed by a short clip from Whisky Galore and then Charlie MacFarlane delighted everyone with his recitation of 'The Politician.'
The show was being filmed by the BBC and this had the effect of subduing the audience, which was peopled by lively characters, but at least we will get the chance of seeing it again on BBC Alba. I would heartily recommend it.
The night didn't end there as the Glenfinnan contingent regrouped in Glenfinnan House Hotel for a wonderful ceilidh. It was one of those rare spontaneous nights with everyone on form for a good ceilidh. Andy Thorburn was piano maestro and at one point after a challenge from Isobel there were 30 fingers on the piano and they did manage to play a tune! There was also lots of songs and much standing on chairs and tables. The ceilidh continued around the kitchen table at Grianan well into the night.
The community council regrouped after the summer recess. There's not much to report but we are making some progress on the road speed reduction issue but too early to say yet. Rudy at the trust has collected thousands of signatures over the summer.
The parents of primary school children going to the Gaelic medium unit in Fort William and to Banavie have been complaining and campaigning to the council about the school transport service to no avail. In short the 7 children, 4 of whom are in P1, have to take a public service bus to the head of the loch and then change buses into another public service bus to get to school and on the way home have to take a public service bus which takes an hour because of its route which goes through Middle Street and various other primary schools. For various obvious reasons we don't think this is suitable transport for such young children. We have complained to councillors, council officials and MSPs and so far all we have received from the council is silence on the matter. We are now driving them to and from school ourselves. Two round trips a day is 72 miles and 2 hours of time so we are anxious to have the issue resolved. We simply want to put our children on dedicated school transport and be assured that they will be taken safely and directly from A to B.
Well done to Shelley Gillies who completed the Great North Run on Sunday 20th September. She got a bit sunburnt and a few blisters but she did it and raised £430 plus Gift Aid for Make a Wish to grant magical wishes to ill children.
The last fly fishing competition of the season was on Saturday 26th. I am afraid I don't have any results as DJ wasn't there! It will be boats out of the water time again. Congratulations for a long and happy life to Ailsa Powell and Jay who are getting married in Edinburgh on 1st October.
Mary Blyth of Glenfinnan passed away on 22nd September 2009 at 95 years of age. She is survived by her son Iain, daughter-in-law Anne, grandchildren Lynne and Andrew and baby great granddaughter Elena.
Eileen O'Rua

ARISAIG
Definitely autumn. It's not just the nip in the air. It's not just the leaves turning brown and starting to fall, or that the cat has come inside at last to find a fire to sit by. No - the yachts have been brought in from their moorings for winter storage at Arisaig Marine!
Well, the new houses have been allocated and as always there are disappointments and musings over the selection criteria used. But thinking positively, a lot of local people now have much needed housing and are looking forward to moving in later this month. I had the chance to look round some of the houses recently and they are very nice indeed, with bay windows and some lovely views.
We have had another busy month in the Hall. Nevis Radio were at the Blas concert so you may have heard some of it. With just under 40 people in the audience, it wasn't very well attended for a Blas event but they have a lot on in a week and we clashed with the Alasdair mac Maighstir Alasdair day in Strontian, which was followed by a concert with Ingrid Henderson and the MacDonald Brothers. I've come to the end of my arts programme until the spring, but we do have a few more concerts. This month we have our new local super group Fuaim, as part of their Highland Homecoming tour, and the proceeds from the admission will go towards their first CD, which is great.
Apart from concerts, September saw Sam and Jan's wedding - they made the Hall look absolutely beautiful and cleverly 'cosied up' the Club Room by hanging large and small paper lampshades at varied heights. They have kindly donated the gauze drapes and ties and the lampshades to the Hall to be used by others.
The dishwasher arrived in the nick of time and is much easier to use than the last one. The washes are only 1 to 4 minutes in duration, but the timer is marked in seconds - so don't look at it and think it takes from 1 to 4 hours!
On the subject of dishwashing, could I plead with anyone taking tea towels away to wash to bring them back. Our supply has dwindled quite a lot recently, so thank you to those kind persons who have replenished the stock.
And what with Bridge starting again soon as well as the Whist, and the Playgroup just starting to meet on Mondays as well as Wednesdays, the private parties, the meetings and functions for various groups outwith Arisaig, the calendar is getting pretty full!
I can't end my piece this month without a reference to Nellie MacQueen, whose funeral was on Saturday 3rd. October. The large turnout proved that, although she had lived at the Mackintosh Centre for four years, she was still in the heart of the village. At 96 she was our oldest resident, and had lived through such times as most of us only read about in history books. There will be more about Nellie in next month's West Word.
Ann Lamont

Arisaig Community Trust
It was a close thing but we are now incorporated as a Company Limited by Guarantee. Having sat on our Memorandum and Articles for three months, the Office of the Charity Regulator finally told us that we had passed the charity test - oh, and we had less than ten days to get the M & A to Companies House before their criteria changed on 1st October - and there were postal strikes causing hold ups. It seems to have been quite a well kept secret by Companies House that so much was changing on 1st October. They sent something round which said forms would be different, and companies have one less month to get annual accounts in to them. A search of their website couldn't find much more information until perseverance paid off and the relevant part was found - Memorandum and Articles are changing format and the whole process is different. If we hadn't got ours in, we couldn't have used them - and after so much hard work had gone into drawing them up, the thought of starting again just wasn't an option!
However we managed it and got the everything to them on 30th September. Our thanks to Jeremy Benfield for his help in signing the relevant forms!
So now we are up and running properly, a Board with six Directors. At some point we will look to co-opt up to three more.
Meanwhile the lease to the playing field has been occupying us and hopefully can be signed soon, although there are still details of size of field and length of lease to be agreed. Our next meeting will be with John Hillis of Bidwells on site of the playing field on Thursday 29th October, and afterwards we'll go up to the Hall to continue the meeting. Now we are 'official', we can start to look at some of the other issues on our list - but we will proceed slowly and carefully. Community renewable energy is one such item.
Please join us as a Member if you haven't already! If you want to see the minutes of the last meeting (24th September) please apply to Hilary Trodd.
Ann Martin, Chair

TAPESTRY PROJECT IN ARISAIG AND MORAR
Two panels of embroidery tracing events in the journey of Bonnie Prince Charlie through Scotland are being completed by ladies in Arisaig and Morar.
The Battle of Prestonpans 1745 Heritage Trust came in their battle bus to the Astley Hall on 15th September to appeal to local residents to help create the tapestry and met with ten enthusiastic needlewomen who took up the challenge to help create this unique piece of artwork.
The panels have been checked carefully for historical accuracy, but the Trust also wants each panel to be 'signed off' by the community depicted in that panel. The Trust members have been to Eriskay and Glenfinnan prior to the visit to Arisaig and already alterations have been noted.

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The two panels taken on locally will be the landing at Loch nan Uamh, to be tackled by Arisaig residents - and his wait at Borrodale for a response from Locheil, which will be sewn by Morar ladies.
The materials will be provided, and include yarn from New Lanark Mills. Crewel embroidery - a variety of stitches used to follow a design outline - was felt to be most appropriate as it was used in Jacobean embroidery.
The tapestry will consist of 79 metre-wide panels depicting the travels of the Bonnie Prince from his departure from France to Eriskay, featuring several panels of sea battles, to his preparation to leave Scotland for England 'full of Hope and Ambition'. In the spirit of Hope and optimism, the latter part of his sojourn here, including the Battle of Culloden, will not be included.

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Jenny Cameron, HRH Prince Charles Edward (aka Arran Johnston)
with Dr Gordon Pretoungrange.
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The tapestry group

The finished article when all the panels are stitched together will be over 80 metres long by 400mm high. It will be completely finished by June and will then be paraded around Scotland. The members of the Trust who came included Bonnie Prince Charlie himself and Jenny Cameron, a Jacobite sympathiser. There was also Gordon Prestoungrange, Baron of Prestoungrange, one of the organisers of the trip, artist Andrew Crummy, author Steve |Lord, who wrote In the Steps of Bonnie Prince Charlie, Story-teller-in- chief Greg Dawson-Allen, and architect Gareth Bryn-Jones.
There was an interesting presentation on the Battle of Prestonpans and the ideology behind the tapestry project.
The group are finding out a lot of new information as they travel round so artist Andrew Crummy is devising more panels as each new piece of information comes to light. The ladies now await the delivery of the panels and the materials!

Mallaig Oral History Project
The project has now been running for over eighteen months and over that time we have gathered lots of interesting stories about life in Mallaig over the years. The most recent interview was with David MacDonald and Donnie MacLellan who drove lorries at the height of the herring boom. They described Mallaig at the time, with up to seventy vehicles lined up all round the bay, waiting to be loaded before heading out on the single track road to Fort William and beyond. Unfortunately the project is only funded until February so if you have any stories you think we should hear or would like to interview someone yourself give the Heritage Centre a call.
The finishing touches are at this moment being added to our DVD and we hope to have this available before Christmas. There will be more details about this later but in the mean time don't do all of your Christmas shopping yet!
In conjunction with the Oral History Project I hope to organise an exhibition of wedding memorabilia, dresses, photographs, favours etc. If I can gather enough material I plan to hold a one day exhibition in the Mallaig Community Centre with soup and sandwiches to raise much needed hall funds. The exhibition will then move to the Heritage Centre for a week or two depending on the interest it generates. If you would be willing to lend me your wedding dress or photo album they will be well looked after and returned safely. Maybe you have photographs of your parents or even grandparents wedding, or a video of your own? Please contact the Heritage Centre on 01687 462085 for more information.
Bridget

WIDE WORLD WEST WORD
Another trip round the world this month!

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Above left: Subscriber John MacLellan of New Milton took his copy with him to Seillan near Grasse in the south of France.
Above right: Taliban Stan catching up on the West Word in Icemeler, Turkey.

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Above left: Subscriber David Philp from Stirling sent us a photo of Fran reading her West Word at Wiarton on the Bruce Peninsula Ontario, Canada. David says not many people from the UK stray into this remote part of Canada. But West Word's been there!

Above right: We often feel all at sea at West Word. And here we are! Chris Hilton writes: 'This is my home for half the year, offshore of Azerbaijan in the warm and sunny Caspian Sea, where I manage a large oil rig. When I'm on leave back in Edinburgh, me and the family visit Arisaig at least a couple of times of year to see our friends in Bunnacaimbe. We are still enjoying the completed road and the improvement it brings ! And congratulations on West Word. We are subscribers and it is a great way to keep track of what is going on and who is doing what. Good luck for your continued success (...and yes the guys on platform like to read my copy of West Word too !!).'

MYSTERY BABY
Does anyone recognise this photograph?
It was found inside a second hand book, bought from Kenneth Mackenzie.
On the back is the message: 'To Auntie Sam, Love Matthew.'
If anyone knows anything about it, please contact West Word.

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Fact Finding Visit to Small Isles
At the beginning of September, a small delegation from The Highland Council made a whistle-stop fact-finding visit to the four Small Isles. The group met community representatives in Rum, Canna, Muck and Eigg and left with a number of action points to pursue.
Included in the group were Convener Sandy Park, making his first visit to the Small Isles, Councillor Michael Foxley, leader of the Council Administration, Councillor Allan Henderson, Mallaig and Caol, Alistair Dodds, Council Chief Executive and Dot Ferguson, Wards Manager for Lochaber.
It was the latest in a number of visits to Highland communities by the Council leadership. Councillor Park said: "It is important to travel throughout the Highlands to get a better understanding of our vast area. The Small Isles are our most remote and vulnerable communities and our visit highlighted the important role the Council plays in sustaining local residents, from schooling to transport and waste management to economic development opportunities.
"I hope the communities welcomed the opportunity to meet us and air their views. There are lots of good things happening and also things that need our attention. We will do what we can to address the issues flagged up by local communities."
On Rum, the community of 30 residents is in the process of assuming ownership of Kinloch village and Glen from Scottish Natural Heritage. At a meeting in the village hall, residents set out their plans for regenerating the community. The delegation also visited Kinloch Castle, the local pier where there are plans for a new tearoom, and the local primary school, which has three primary and two nursery pupils.
On Canna, the community is eager to increase the population, which stands at 17, including five pupils at the primary school. The island would like to develop more housing opportunities and sees its future based on small, sustainable businesses. It also has ambitious plans to implement a renewable energy scheme.
Muck has a growing population of 39 and the community is busy fund-raising to build a new community centre. Like the other Small Isles, the island depends heavily on renewable energy and needs to upgrade its existing windpower. This is being considered as part of a wider EU funding programme.
On Eigg, the island now boasts a population of nearly 100 and the primary school roll this week reached 13 - the highest for many years. While the community has developed a tremendous renewable energy infrastructure, they have many more ideas for moving the island forward on a sustainable basis, including further development of local food initiatives. Eigg has now reached the final ten of the Big Green Challenge (from an original entry of 355), a competition designed to stimulate and support community-led responses to climate change. The winner will be announced in January.


News in Brief

AUTUMNWATCH RETURNS TO RUM
Scottish Natural Heritage welcomed BBC's Autumnwatch back to the Isle of Rum national nature reserve (NNR) at the beginning of October as Simon King, Gordon Buchanan and the team return to capture the special autumn magic of the island.
The Autumnwatch team will be staying in one of Scotland's grandest hostel locations in the Edwardian grandeur of Rum's historic Kinloch Castle. James Smith, Autumnwatch 2009 producer, said: 'Rum is not only one of the UK's greatest wildlife hot spots - it is also the most beautiful and breathtaking backdrop to what is widely considered to be the most dramatic wildlife spectacle of autumn - the red deer rut. We've only been up here a few days, but we've already seen some dramatic action - and there's much, much more to come. We simply could not wish for a better location from where to make Simon King's first report for Autumnwatch 2009.'
SNH staff are helping the film-makers gain full access to the special wildlife features on the island for the series which runs 2nd October - 20th November.
Rum reserve manager Richard Kilpatrick, said: "We are delighted to welcome the Autumnwatch team back to Rum. The island is a national nature reserve and we are really keen to promote its wildlife as much as possible, and encourage people to come and see it for themselves. Rum's impressive deer population and the spectacle of the annual rut mean it's a particularly special time on the island. We know the Autumnwatch team have already gathered some wonderful footage and look forward to enjoying the broadcasts over the week ahead along with millions of viewers in homes all over the UK."
Among the island's natural highlights is the mountain-top colony of Manx shearwaters, which accounts for around a third of the world's population of the species. The reserve was the base for the first sea eagle reintroduction programme in 1975 and is also home to golden eagles and a thriving population of otters.
SNH owns and manages Rum on behalf of the people of Scotland and is one of 58 national nature reserves which provide access to the country's nature at its best. SNH and the Rum community provide a range of facilities for visitors and the island records around 10,000 visitor days a year. A draft management plan for Rum, covering the next six years, is currently out to public consultation and can be accessed on SNH's NNR website www.nnr-scotland.org

THE MERSEY MAMMOTH
Could this be the biggest ship ever to berth at Mallaig Harbour? The Mersey Mammoth, with a gross registered tonnage of 1793, 65 metres in length and with a 24 metres beam, certainly dwarfed all other vessels when it made an overnight stop in Mallaig Harbour on 13th/14th September. The skipper of the Mersey Mammoth, owned by the Mersey Docks & Harbour Co., is Gordon M. Skea, a cousin of pier worker Tony Skea.

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NEW MALLAIG COASTGUARD STATION OPENED
The new base for Mallaig Coastguard was officially opened on Friday 25th September by George Lawrie, who retired as Mallaig Station Officer five years ago after 25 years service. The Rescue Station has moved from Station Road to its new site on the Industrial Estate, because more space was required for equipment.
Mallaig Coastguard is one of the service's 'super teams' and have far more equipment now they are a 'rope rescue' team, which means they can carry out rescues on cliffs and high places. The Maritime and Coastguard Agency has spent £20,000 fitting out the building to the standard required.
Following the Mallaig ceremony, the party retired to the Morar Hotel, where Ian Macnaughton, Mallaig Coastguard Station Officer, was presented with a medal for 20 years' service. Before the Mallaig opening, officials travelled to Rum on the Lochnevis to open the new Coastguard equipment store on the pier there. The Rum Coastguards raised £2,000 locally towards the costs and it was built by member Sandy Fraser.


West Word - ten years ago


Birdwatch by Stephen MacDonald
Plenty of birds on the move this month, with a few waders still passing through early in the month and the first of the migrant geese and swans appearing from the 3rd week.
A group of 30 Brent Geese were seen at the mouth of Loch nan Ceall on the 23rd and a single one was on the shore near Morroch, Arisaig, on the 30th. Large groups of Pink-Footed Geese were seen over Arisaig on the 29th and a flock of 120 were seen flying south over Glasnacardoch the same day. The first Whooper Swans reported were a group of 27 flying south over Arisaig on the 29th and another group of 12 were over Rhue the following day. A single Great Northern Diver was back at Gorten from the 26th.
Waders were mostly sighted at Traigh and included small numbers of Sanderling, Turnstone, Knot, Dunlin, Redshank and Curlew, with larger numbers of Ringed Plover and Oystercatcher present. Up to 4 Bar-Tailed Godwits were seen at Silversands on various occasions and there were still at least 2 Greenshank on the Morar Estuary. 2 Whimbrel were seen on the south shore of Loch nan Ceall on the 19th and 5 Redshank were at West Bay, Mallaig, on the 9th. Golden Plover were present in the fields about Traigh most of the month, with 23 there on the 28th.
Still a few Wheatears passing through with birds seen at Back of Keppoch, Traigh and Mallaig till the month end. Mostly quite large birds, probably from Greenland.
An adult Sea Eagle was seen flying around a prawn trawler just outside Mallaig harbour on the 4th, and an Immature was seen on the shore to the west of Druimindarroch on the 20th. A Peregrine was seen hunting over Mallaig on the 4th and a Merlin was chasing Meadow Pipits at Traigh on the 11th. Barn Owls were seen regularly in the Mallaig area.
A big thank you to all who helped to rescue the grounded Manx Shearwaters during the month. There was a great response from fishermen, fish farm workers, school children, Police, etc, resulting in an impressive 254 birds ringed and released.
The first bird was found on the 1st, and there were only a handful over the first fortnight, but from the 22nd when the wind was stronger and more westerly, there were some large numbers picked up. 55 birds on the night of the 25th was the highest count.
Interestingly, very few birds were found in Arisaig or Morar compared with other years. Inevitably there were still a few mortalities, e.g. road kills, cats, dogs and predation by gulls, but quite a bit less that in previous years, so it is worth the effort to rescue grounded birds.

Auntie Mary's Creepy Crawly Corner
Before this month's question I'd like to mention that the pair of Hawk-moths in Ann's and Richard's photo in the July West Word were probably Poplar Hawk-moths - phew, at least I'd said I wasn't sure! Thanks to Uncle Dr Ian Strachan who explained that "they are recognisable because they project the hind wings forward of the forewings". Kevin was wondering if these berries are red blaeberries, and are they edible?

These are the deep red Cowberries (Vaccinium vitis-idaea) which are close relatives of the blue blaeberries (Vaccinium myrtillus). Cowberry has evergreen leaves whereas blaeberry is deciduous resorbing nutrients and losing its leaves in autumn. Cowberries are described as "scarcely edible when raw" but can be made into a jelly with apples which supply the pectin to set the jelly (Mabey, 2003). Blaeberries can be eaten raw or cooked. Both grow on moorlands and hills in the Highlands.
Cowberry is distinguished from another evergreen member of the Heather family Bear Berry (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi) which also has deep red berries, but they are round without the undulating flare and the Bear Berry's evergreen leaves have clearly defined veins on the underside (Stace, 1997); and from Crowberry (Empetrum nigrum) which has black berries and needle-like evergreen leaves.
Dr Mary Elliott
Refs : R. Mabey 2003 Food for Free. Collins
C. Stace 1997 New Flora of the British Isles. 2nd edition, Cambridge University Press.
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RED CROSS YOUTH CAMP HELD IN SERBIA
The remote Serbian town of Vrnjacka Banja played host to this year's Red Cross youth camp exploring International Humanitarian Law (IHL) - the rules that apply in wartime to prevent war crimes and atrocities such as recruitment of under-age soldiers, rape and wilful destruction of civilian life. From the 20th - 24th August, teachers and pupils from Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Solvenia, Estonia, Albania, Macedonia, Montenegro and Scotland met to discuss, share and explore ways of teaching IHL to young people through workshops, debate and drama. After attending a Red Cross course for teachers on Teaching Humanitarian Education, I became involved with the Red Cross and delivering Humanitarian themed lessons in my classroom, which in turn led to my becoming the Educational and Curriculum Advisor to the Scottish and Northern Irish division of the British Red Cross for the last year, Having taught about the Red Cross and IHL to several different classes within my school, I was honoured to attend and take three 3rd year pupils with me - Niamh Coyne, Rhona Aitken and Sophie Halpin - as the British representatives at this wonderful and inspirational event, and am pleased to report that the trip was a complete success.
Over the four days, staff and pupils bonded through presentations of their countries and of the work they have undertaken in school exploring IHL, in team-taught workshops, and through activities organised and facilitated by the fantastic Serbian Red Cross team, who never seemed to fatigue - despite the sweltering heat and constant stream of work needing to be done! It proved to be a thoroughly positive experience - we met great people from several countries, used and developed interesting material and it still managed to be extremely fun, for both the young people and the teachers. It is an incredibly rewarding and motivating experience to meet so many people who teach this deeply important topic and share my, and the girls', enthusiasm for it. It was also wonderful to meet so many young people who are committed to making a difference in the world, and for the girls to have met them too - without exception, each student there was a role model for today's teenagers. Despite being the youngest participants there, the girls went down a storm and their enthusiasm, energy and positive attitudes were a constant source of praise from all the teachers there. Niamh, Rhona and Sophie did a wonderful job of representing their country - introducing shortbread, tablet and Robbie Burns to Eastern Europe! They also did a great job of presenting what they had studied previous to the camp - an initial study of IHL with a focus on Child Soldiers, before studying the play 'Little Soldier' by Bernard Ashley: a play about a child soldier from Africa who, after losing his family in his country's civil war, is forcibly moved and adopted into an English family in London. We then learned about what the other participants had studied, and the projects they developed from their learning. We have all since added thirty people to our Facebook friends and continue to hear from our new colleagues on a regular basis: connections which we all hope to maintain and cultivate. Having met so many colleagues whose curricula firmly includes Exploring Humanitarian Law (EHL), I can be confident that I have established professional contacts with people who can give me great advice about teaching this topic further in my own classroom. And surely, with the focus on Citizenship that the Curriculum for Excellence demands, we cannot afford to overlook the importance of such a subject - one that teaches the true meaning of humanity; that encourages young people to feel empathy for all, without discrimination; that makes them sit up and take action against injustice. Indeed, until IHL becomes a recognized subject in its own right, firmly embedded in every school, in every country, can we honestly say that we are doing all we can to address ignorance about social injustice and the crimes of war? Perhaps the difference is that countries which have a strong culture of teaching IHL - such as Bosnia-Herzegovina, Macedonia and Croatia - have painfully recent memories of the devastation and atrocities war brings in its path. It has been over sixty years since we lived through a war on our own shores; perhaps we grow complacent. However, in today's turbulent political climate, can we afford to continue to close our eyes to the suffering around us? As a Bosnian colleague pointed out, if people in his country had known that IHL existed during the war, perhaps more people would have acted against injustice - knowing that they had Geneva conventions on their side. We tend to get comfortable in our bubble of safety - but we should be very aware that the bubble can burst at any time, and if so, we should certainly want our young people to be educated, motivated and able to make a change.
Alison MacDougall
English teacher, St Kentigern's Academy, Blackburn, West Lothian


Crofting roundup by Joyce Wilkinson, SCF Area Representative
At the SCF Conference in Grantown on Spey last week it was heartening to hear a government minister pledge support for crofting through implementation of measures to reduce speculation of croft land.
Rosanna Cunningham, Minister for the Environment, told the annual gathering of the Scottish Crofting Foundation that although the occupancy requirement was going to be dropped from the Bill there would have to be other measures in place to reduce absenteeism, neglect and the selling of parcels of croft land to the highest bidder.
As the consultation process is now finished it is hoped that the Bill team will be able to find an effective alternative from the responses already sent in to the draft bill consultation.
The SCF response offers an alternative by suggesting that there would be no right to assign to a non family member. A democratically elected Commission who will have the power to refuse decrofting applications was another suggestion . It is possible however that by the time the Bill goes through there will be little left of it to be effective. 'Crofting is in decline because people are not working the land or living on the land' said the Minister, and she assured listeners that the new Crofting Bill would take effective steps to reverse this trend. She also spoke of the pot of money sitting waiting for Crofters grant applications this year, and advised that it is used other wise it may be cut. ' The money is there, please spend it. Ask for it, Spend it so it won't be cut' She assured that CAGs is protected and it is here to stay.


On and Off the Rails - by Sonia Cameron

Jacobite steam train season nearly at an end
Friday October 9th sees the last Jacobite steam train service into Mallaig for this year. Despite the 'credit crunch' and so called recession, West Coast railways have seen record numbers of passengers on the Jacobite. Even the wet days did not deter people travelling on the train. Birthdays were celebrated, as were engagements, anniversaries, and Friday 18th September, a newly married couple (all of 20 minutes earlier on Camusdarach beach!) and their guests travelled to Fort William in one of the carriages, along with champagne and balloons, returning to Morar Lodge by coach for the honeymoon. Congratulations to Mr and Mrs Johnson-Whittle! The photos are in the post!

Harry Potter driver retires
Driver of the famous Hogwarts Express and of the Jacobite steam train, Frank Santrian, has finally said goodbye to driving steam trains on the main-line. His last trip to Mallaig was on Friday 18th September, which was followed by a party on Mallaig platform and on the train. Frank was presented with a beautiful inscribed cake made by Jill Smith of Curtaig. Harbour Secretary Robert MacMillan gave Frank a bottle of 'Mallaig Harbour Water', presented on behalf of the people of Mallaig. Rachel Inglis played the fiddle, many photos were taken, three cheers were acknowledged and a good time was had by all.
On Saturday 19th and Sunday 20th September, Frank was 'recalled' to 'fire' the Hogwart's Express over Rannoch Moor. It was Warner Bros wish that Frank was involved in the final filming of the two-part Potter film. It is the seventh Potter film but with one more to go it will probably be the last one to involve the 'Hall' engine, and the West Coast Railway Company and Warner Bros felt that Frank should 'star' in the movie. He drove the first Hogwart's Express in the film which showed it crossing Glenfinnan Viaduct and so it seemed appropriate that he should be in the final film to show the engine.
Frank will be involved in the 'Photographers' Charter' which takes place over Rannoch Moor on the weekend of the 3rd and 4th October. The charter also includes a visit to Arisaig Station on the Saturday. We all wish Frank a long and happy retirement and thank him for all the pleasure he has brought to steam enthusiasts. He now lives at Biddulph Moor, Stoke-on-Trent with his wife Dorothy, and has two sons in the Fleet Air Arm, based at Yeovilton. He has restored a Staffordshire Pottery bus, and will spend his well earned retirement driving it to various rallies and preserved railways.

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The West Highland Weekend
The weekend starting Friday 9th October sees a special land cruise train operated by Statesman Rail departing Leicester and visiting Mallaig on Saturday 10th October. It will be in Mallaig for about 1.5 hours for those on board to visit shops, restaurants, Mallaig Heritage Centre, etc. the engine booked to traverse the Mallaig part of the journey is K162005. The coaches on the train will comprise a mix of Pullman and Premier dining stock, plus heritage first and standard class coaches.

Royal Scotsman season draws to a close
The last luxury land cruise operated by the Royal Scotsman will visit Mallaig on Saturday 3rd October. There have been fewer visits by the Royal Scotsman, with one third of its visits being cancelled at short notice. The Management have since stated that in hindsight it was a mistake to cancel so many trips. They felt that not enough foreign tourists would travel this year, owing to the world recession, but this proved not to be the case, and looking back they could have run the train as originally planned.

Britain from the Rails book competition
Thanks to all of you who entered the competition last month. Unfortunately there can be only one winner! - who is Angela Dastor from Finstock in Oxfordshire. Yet another winner from far away (loved the post card too, Angela). The answer to the question, 'What is the distance by rail from Glasgow Queen Street to Mallaig?' was 164 miles, and not everyone got it right! Sorry, no competition in this month's West Word, but there will be one in November's edition.

Mallaig - Fort William Line Closure
Owing to essential engineering works, the line between Mallaig and Fort William will be closed on Saturday October 17th until Saturday October 24th. On Friday 16th October, the 22.10 departure from Fort William to Mallaig will be a bus, and on Saturday 24th October the 06.03 departure from Mallaig to Fort William will also be a bus. During the line closure replacement buses will operate to the train timetable but please allow time for loading cases, shopping etc. into the hold of the bus before departure. Should you wish to check any train alterations and closures, please call in to see Susie at Mallaig Station or telephone her on 01687 462227.


U.F.O. SIGHTINGS IN MALLAIG AND ARISAIG
The weather on the nights of 10th - 12th September was fine and settled. The night skies were clear and cloud free. It was a beautiful starlit night when Pimmy McLean got a phone call from Mark McLean, drawing his attention to a series of bright lights in the sky. From his vantage point overlooking the harbour, Pimmy and his wife watched the lights. 'There was no sound,' said Pimmy, 'but there were definitely lights moving quickly in the sky in the vicinity of the fishermen's gear stores on west Bay.'
Two nights later, in similar weather conditions, Audrey MacDonald and Ernie Yule at Portnadoran in Arisaig watched a series of lights moving soundlessly in the sky above the Rhu peninsular. Visitors on their caravan site also watched the spectacle. 'There was no sound of engines or whatever,' said Audrey, 'but the lights were moving through the skies quickly. It was interesting but a wee bit poky at the same time.'
There have been no media reports of other sightings. Is there an explanation? Did anyone else see the U.F.O.'s? if so, get in touch with us here at West Word.

LADY LOVAT PRIMARY SCHOOL REUNION
On Saturday 26th September, a number of current and ex pupils, teachers and the wider community met up for the Lady Lovat Primary School reunion, with a busy day and night of activities enjoyed by all generations.
Messages of good wishes were received from others who were unable to attend, a 90 year old lady who attended the school in the 1920's, another lady who now lives in West Virginia attended the school in the 1940's read about the reunion in West Word and wrote to say how disappointed she was at not being able to come along.
Charles Kennedy MP made the trip to Mallaig and delighted two ex teachers by posing with them for a photograph. Councillor Allan Henderson also came along and was somewhat amused by some of the content of the school jotters on display.
The day started in Mallaig & Morar Community Centre, where the current pupils played a film of their musical talents including the Morar Song and other well known tunes to visitors to the hall where there were table top stalls selling a variety of items
Elsewhere in the hall their parents were kept busy with the demand for home baking, soup, sandwiches, teas & coffees, while everybody gathered to reminisce having spent time browsing the display of school photographs and others of local interest ; curling on the Lily Pond, Shinty, Gala Days and the old school books and projects that were also on display.

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Charles Kennedy MP with Mary Dilby (left), who taught at the school in the early 60's and Molly Buchanan who taught in the 60/70s.

In the afternoon the school was open to those who wished to sample modern day school life or a trip down memory lane.
The football match kicked off at 3pm and attracted some passionate banter from the side lines! The players ranged in age from current High School pupils to some more senior 'boys' near their half century. Unfortunately the Morar 'boys' pre meeting in Morar Bar on Friday night seemed to affect their game with Mallaig winning the trophy 8-1. The last minute goal to Morar was controversially assisted by the referee Andy Grant (Fort William) who did not want to have to tell his mother (a Morar girl) that they hadn't scored.
The evening old style ceilidh was a huge success with entertainment from 'Fuaim' and 'Shorelight' both bands have members who are ex pupils of Lady Lovat. John Ferguson and Ian MacLellan then coordinated an open mike session which proved very popular and attracted a number of volunteers who sang their hearts out to the delight of the audience. There were two very special acts, which were "for one night only" a 30 strong gaelic choir of ex pupils who sang Chi mi Muile and a 20 plus group of ex pupils who danced the Highland Fling. The standard of the entertainment was excellent and the eagerness to perform proved that the sense of true community spirit is well and truly alive in Morar folk.
During the evening a beautiful painting of Morar by ex pupil Andrew Fairbairn was raffled and unbelievably won by his brother Douglas, who promptly gifted it to one of the Hanratty girls who had returned home specially for the reunion.
The night was rounded off with everyone dancing into the wee small hours with Gary Innes and a special band (Allan Henderson jnr, Ross Martin & Hugh (Shughie) MacCallum)
The day proved to be very successful and far excelled any expectations of the organisers.
Carolyn Thain


A BACKWARD GLANCE - SHEPHERDING WAYS OF BYGONE DAYS
Last summer I decided to go on a walk from Arieniskill at Lochailort across the hill to Meoble Estate which lies half way up Loch Morar. Walking across the hill brought back a lot of memories to me, as this is where I went to work as a young lad after leaving school in 1969. The family I was staying with were Neil and Marie MacDonald (Neilly Meoble) and their family who were Isabel, Theresa and Sandy (Meoble).
Sandy and I left school together and were given employment on the estate learning the art of shepherding and deer stalking in this wild and beautiful corner of west Inverness-shire. Meoble estate stretches from Scamadale at the Morar end to Glenfinnan estate at the east end, a total of 33 000 acres. We had a flock of about 3 000 blackface ewes to tend over this vast areas. All the ewes were lambed on the open hill which involved a lot of walking. We also had a herd of highland cattle running with a highland bull and a Hereford bull for crossing. Walking down the road towards the Lodge I passed the big shed where we used to shear all the sheep and quite a few memories came back to me, one I remember in particular. I was learning to clip by hand using the old hand shears and this tup (ram) I was clipping took off on me and ran off up the road with me hanging on to its half clipped fleece which was getting longer and longer by the minute. After a bit of a struggle I managed to catch it, to a loud applause from the other shepherds.
Next I walked up to the sheep fank at the back of the house where all the sorting out was done, dipping, dosing, marking lambs, branding the hoggs (year olds). Its amazing over the years how things decay and rot away and the fank which had not been in use since 1982 when the last sheep went off, was hardly recognisable, the walls had crumbled down, the gates were non-existent apart from rusty hinges, and the dipping pen was covered in bramble bushes and rushes. Many a happy day we spent working here.
Our season started in the spring with the lambing and my hirsel (hill that I was looking after) was Druim a'Chuirn, which goes from Meoble Pier all the way to the Carn Mhor at the top of the Loch. You were away all day at the lambing, spying with your telescope to see if there were any ewes that were in difficulty lambing. Keeping on top of the vermin was another very important job, especially the foxes which were cubbing at this time of year. They were a real problem taking numerous lambs before you finally located its den. We would spent a fortnight going around all fox cairns and then do a second round to tidy up. Birds were also a problem, especially the hoodie crow and ravens who would peck the eyes out of weak lambs. Eagles took the odd lamb as well but it was mostly dead carcasses they lived on. They also took grouse and hares.
Then came the summer and the start of the big gatherings. We would get extra help for this with Alisdair MacKay (Bracora), Joe Duffy (Bracora) (deceased), Calum Cameron (Swordlands) (deceased) and his brother Donnie who is living in Fort William. Another man that helped us was John MacDonald (Kinlochiel) (Johnny Ruadh) He is Marie's brother.
The more men you had the better it was, but it was good working dogs that you needed, dogs that would run all day and used their brains. It is amazing the distance these collies would go out for you, working away on the distant skyline to the whistle commands.
We would leave the house at 5.00 am in the morning to gather the sheep and hope to get them in by midday before it got too hot. The dogs did not like too much heat as it used to tire them out quickly. Swimming and paddling in the mountain streams used to cool them down before they were ready to go again. There was nothing I liked better that to be out on the high tops with the dogs by your side, listening to the golden plovers calling and the skylarks flying overhead.
All the sheep were sheared by ourselves and our neighbours using the electric machines. We were taught how to use them by an instructor who came to Meoble for a week to show us all the different positions and moves that were required. What a difference these machines made compared to the hand shears. You could take a fleece off a ewe in just over a minute if things were going right.
We sheared the tups (rams) first, followed by the hoggs (year olds), yield ewes (ones with no lambs) and then the milk ewes in July.
After all the gathering was done at Meoble we headed down to Lettermorar and started there. I used to like going down there as it was good ground with good sheep and a great big hill park for holding them. We used to stay in Lettermorar house for about 4 days and nights. The dogs were kennelled up in an old byre that was opposite the house. Some of the older dogs stayed in the house with us. You were down there about 5times in the year, lambing, foxing, gathering, shearing and dipping.
We sold all our poor ewe hoggs, cast ewes and 3 year old wedders (castrated ram) at Dalmally auction mart, Argyll. It was the practice in those days to keep your wedders until they were 3 years old, this was what the market wanted then. All our ewe hoggs were wintered at home on a hill called Cruach Rifern opposite the school house on Loch Morar side. On sale days we would walk the sale sheep out the drove track, across the hill and down to Lochailort which took most of the day. Some weak sheep would lie down on you, so you just had to leave them behind. After a few minutes you would look back and see them running back along the track heading home. Who said sheep were stupid animals!
We would head down the main road towards Inverailort, I would be away out in front of the flock slowing down cars and lorries and pushing any Inverailort ewes that were by the roadside out of the way so they did not get mixed up.
Once down at Inverailort we would put all the sheep into a big holding pen and await the arrival of the sheep lorry. Hettie and Farquhar Macrae would take you into their house and give you soup, stew and tatties. You were in need of this after the long drove. Farquhar was the shepherd for Ms Cameron-Head at the time looking after Inverailort and Rannochan. He had the help of his brother Donald who was also a shepherd on Inverailort.
Farquhar and Neilly would talk about what was happening in the sheep trade over a few drams and maybe a tune on the fiddle by Farquhar. He was an excellent musician playing both fiddle and button-keyed accordion. He passed away round about the late 90's I think. Sadly missed in the music scene.
All our tups were bought at Dalmally or Stirling and usually walked over the hill from Arienaskill back to Meoble in October.
Other people who were there on the estate when I was there were Sween MacDonald (Boatman, deceased), Morag his wife (nee Cameron - deceased), their daughter Catherine-Anne who was the only pupil in the small school which still stands today. I think she lives up in Lairg, Sutherland now. Her teacher was Miss Mairead Macdonald (Kinsadel) Morar who was staying in the same lodgings as me with Neil, Marie and family.
Every Friday evening after school she would walk over the hill track to Arienaskill, jump on her small motorbike and head back to Kinsadel. She was a hardy lass.
Another shepherd who worked at Meoble but left in 1968 was a man called Angus McDonnell, known as the "Ghillie Ruadh" due to his read hair. Angus left to go to work at Glen Moidart estate and then Inverailort estate for Ms Cameron-Head. His family originally came from Ardnamurach up past Kyles, Loch Nevis. He died some years back.
Every second Sunday we would go to church at Tarbert Loch Nevis. This was an all day affair crossing Loch Morar to Swordlands and then walking across the Glen to the church. The parish priest would come across from Inverie, Knoydart to say mass. We had three different priests during my time at Meoble. The last one being Father Iain MacMaster from Sheilfoot, Acharacle. The small church is now a bunkhouse for walkers and climbers and is run by Nevis Estates owned by Sir Cameron Mackintosh.
On my return journey, heading back out the track above the Turbine house, a walk that I have done many times now, I headed up to Prince Charlie's cave, looking down to Loch Beoraid and over to the surrounding hills and the empty glen below.
It was silent apart from the odd cry from a circling buzzard overhead. I saw no-one that day, no people, no sheep, no dogs - all gone.
It's a sad fact to say, but this way of life is vanishing in front of our eyes all over the highlands. It was a great job to do and if I had my life to live over, I would do it all again.
Alas, these days are gone forever, the end of an era.
Finally on a last note there is one dog left in this beautiful glen (An Cu Glas Meobhail), the grey dog of Meoble, but that is another story altogether.
J J MacDonald (ex Meoble Shepherd)


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