Community paper for Glenfinnan, Lochailort, Glenuig, Arisaig, Morar,
Mallaig, Knoydart and the Small Isles
List of Issues online
September 2002 Issue
Contents of the online version:
Councillor King’s column this month will make us all feel as if things are moving at last. News is that the Morar Playing Field has a start date, Planning Permission has been approved for both the Arisaig Doctor’s Surgery and the Mallaig Police Station, and some progress is being made on the ongoing problem of the Mallaig All-Weather pitch. A Hostel for the Small Isles school children is also in the offing.
Meanwhile the roadworks on the new section of the A830 are continuing apace and we’re beginning to get an idea of what it might all look like when it’s finished!
And in a letter to Lochaber MSP, Fergus Ewing, Deputy Minister for Transport Lewis Macdonald MSP, has at last agreed that the Labour/Liberal Executive will commission a study into providing a footway/cyclepath on the A830 trunk road between Mallaig and Morar.
LOCAL SCHOOLS GET GOOD REPORTS!
Both Mallaig and Canna Primary Schools have received very favourable reports from Her Majesty's Inspectors of Education on the standard of education at the schools.
At Mallaig they were impressed with the school’s ‘positive ethos, pastoral care and sense of community. The staff, under the leadership of the recently appointed Head Teacher, Mrs Joan Smith, was found to be hard working and committed to the pupils, school and community.’
Canna, one of the smallest and remotest schools in the Highlands, was highly recommended for ‘ethos and the very good links with parents, other schools in the Small Isles and wider community. The quality of attainment in English language, mathematics and social subjects was described as very good as was the overall quality of learning and teaching.’
Meanwhile the Highland Council is seeking head teachers for both Eigg and Canna Primary Schools.
Mrs Joan Stephen has left Canna Primary School after five years as head teacher at the school, which has three primary school pupils and one nursery pupil. Four candidates are being interviewed for the vacant position as we go to press. Providing cover at present is Mrs Karen Johnstone, a supply teacher from Sleat, Skye.
Morag Mackinnon, head teacher at Eigg Primary School, stands down after 23 years at the helm of the school. On Monday, Mrs Barbara Grieve, Fort William, will provide cover for a fortnight. From Monday 16 September, Mrs Stephen will take over as the temporary head teacher at Eigg, which has two primary pupils and one nursery pupil. The closing date for applications for the Eigg head teacher's post is 13th September.
Really the end of Kinsadel - taken the day after West Word went to press last month. The digger has just completed the job of tearing the tarmac off the hill and traffic is being re-routed onto a temporary new section.
Arisaig’s Christopher Dyer came up with an outstanding performance in the village’s latest regatta for boats big, small and very small indeed. Christopher shared open first in the junior canoes, was second in the open inflatable rowing race, and took firsts in the open and local classes for junior rowing, as well as a first in the junior kayaks. Laura Sheard of Camusdarach, meanwhile, put in a sterling performance in a number of races, while her family also took the Arisaig Hotel Shield for the best family effort.
In the big-boat class, there were prizes for Simon MacDonald of Glenuig’s Merry Dancer, Hugh Grigor of Morar’s Alana, Simon Helliwell of Eigg’s Lola and Ross Campbell of Mallaig’s Galathea. Other local boats which raced offshore were the Barry’s Luinga, and the Sheard’s Capercaille, both based at Arisaig. Alana, helmed by John Jamieson of Camusdarach and Pete Barratt of Morar, took the Traigh Trophy for best local yacht.
The fun day on the Friday started very dull and quite windy but by lunchtime things brightened up to give a hot, sunny afternoon.
A visiting fleet of eight Drascombes – 6 of which competed in the sailing dinghy race – made a very spectacular and colourful display with their tan sails. At the finish of this race Laura Sheard in Topper took the wind from a Drascombe on the final buoy to win by three seconds.
The rowing races were all very hard fought with Su Coyne, Lawrence MacEwen and Gordon Stewart all being very hotly pursued to win their classes.
The kayak races, with some expert advice from Roger Lanyon, were as usual very popular and well fought.
The raft race was very popular with eight entrants this year and lots of battles en route but leaving the Irn Brewers skippered by Arthur Campbell a good win for the second year running, with the Big House Pirates doing well to come second after turning turtle at the start line.
In the evening a well attended dance in the Astley Hall to the Gallivanters Ceilidh Band ensured a good finish for all those with any stamina left.
Thanks are due to the committee members who put in such a lot of work and to the many other helpers who all ensured that a very good day was enjoyed by a good crowd. Thanks are due to Barrs for their generous sponsorship and to Arisaig Marine for the use of the harbour facilities.
The Irn Brewers captained by Arthur Campbell (far right)
winners of the raft race, collect the West Word trophy.
Photographs courtesy of Arthur Campbell
While the Regatta’s Eigg and Spoon Yacht Race was underway on Thursday 8th August, landlubbers were able to enjoy the superb array of models on display in the Astley Hall. A huge model of the Ark Royal dominated the hall, trains ran round on the stage, planes hung from the rafters, and outside Harry Clyne drove his little traction engine as far as the Centre before a bent piston rod brought it to a temporary halt.
Meanwhile soup, sandwiches and tea and coffees were available in the Hall.
Pictured below is Harry Clyne with his traction engine. It is a 4" to the foot scale copy of one built about 1907, and is taxed and insured for the road. Harry is a leading light of the Kinlochleven Steam Railway Co.
ISLE OF CANNA
Canna has been fairly busy this Summer. Lots of people have been about, yachts, etc.
After the tragic fall of Lewis Moncrieff in August, as far as we are aware he is on the mend slowly. We all wish him a speedy recovery and I’m sure he’ll be back on Canna soon.
We had Winnie’s big ‘4 – 0’ this month as well. A small get together for that.
Granny Mac is home after having a hip replacement and getting on great.
Another birthday was Caroline Donna who was 5 on Friday 30th. The school had a surprise party for her which she really enjoyed. The girls, Sinead, Mairead and Kathryn, made her cake, it was good!
Geraldine went away with the first of the lambs on Thursday 29th August for the sale at Fort William, with her own sheep reaching the top of the sale. Well done! Another batch away on Thursday coming (5th), hope they do just as well.
The school has lost Joan Stephen as I reported in my last entry. We have Karen Johnstone doing acting head until such time as a new one is appointed and I myself am doing Nursery Auxiliary until April next year.
Good news for Canna was that my application for the Tea-room shop has been given planning permission so hopefully it will be up and running for Easter 2003, also the grant aid towards it has been approved.
Work has begun to try and repair water damage to St. Edwards. Ross MacKerlich arrived a fortnight ago to start re-pointing the building to see if this will stop the water leaking in.
On a final note, the Press and Journal are doing tokens to try and win a trip to Disneyland Paris for schools. Canna has entered this and are looking for anyone who reads the P&J to pass on their tokens to the school. Thanks.
Games day at the beginning of August seems like an age away now but the sun shone, many friends joined us and we believe a good time was had by all. We’d like to thank the many contributors to the Raffle, namely the Boat House, Harbour Shop, Spar, Co-Op. Eclipse, Johnstons, Cromag, Got-It, Cabin, Ross Clark Salon, Hydro-Electric, Pharmacy and Mallaig Gift Shop; also a big thank you to everyone in Knoydart who contributed to make the day’s events and the ceilidh at night a great success. It is estimated that 400 people passed through the gate and out of the total profit made £100 which will go to the lifeboat and £100 to the Mission.
More recently there had been a Jumble Sale in the Village Hall to raise funds toward refurbishment of the hall and an impromptu ‘Burns Night’! In the Old Forge to bid farewell to Nerea who has returned to Spain.
Work on the school internally has been completed and it looks bright and fresh and cheerful for the start of the new term. There is ongoing work on the exterior and on the school flat, to be finished before winter storms set in.
We went over to Rum to look at the camp site on the hillside connected to the BBC filming which has been happening for some weeks. It was good to see Aidan and Nell. Aidan had suspended his fishing to cater for the hungry film makers at lunchtime. No doubt he’ll be out there fishing again soon.
That’s all folks. Hope it’s not toolate, I really must be on time with contributions. After all, we have a whole month to be prepared!
ISLE OF MUCK
A great month of weather and the Craft Shop has been really busy eve on days when the Sheerwater did not call. Right at the start of the month it was the venue (in the Berber Tent) of a Penny Whistle course organised by Mandy Ketchin with instructors Donna MacCulloch and Frances Carr. Muck is not noted for its musicians, but it could be in future judging by the enthusiasm of the participants and the level of talent shown.
Muck teams also took part in Kilchoan and Arisaig Regattas and at Arisaig enjoyed some success. Barnaby Jackson and Barbara Graves came first in the Canadian canoe, and Barnaby came second in the skulls. I came first in the over 60s rowing.
On the slipway front Sandy Thompson has gone leaving the work on shore complete apart from some large heaps of building materials. So all that is left is scour protection and placing the perches are to mark the entrance to the harbour. All underwater work and no-one is going to be foolish enough to attempt that until next Spring.
On the farm with the driest August for decades, silage making has gone well and we are now nearing 700 bales. Only 10 of these have been hay though several fields have been near hay when they were baled. By wrapping one can avoid any heating and the bales can be stored outside saving shed space.
The lamb sales have commenced and I detect an air of optimism round the ring side after three very lean years. The best 80 Muck Black Suffolk crosses averaged £36.60. £9 up on two years ago and the best Cheviots made £31. These prices would be higher than those paid by Mull Butchers and reflect the fact that as with calves store lambs have been making more per kilo than fat.
ISLE OF MUCK WHISTLING WORKSHOP
Over three days in early August, nearly a third of us (Barbara, Caitlin, Eileen, Ian, Jill, Judy, Katie, Mandy and Rosie) were joined by visitors from far and near (Wendy from Arisaig, Tracey from Fort William, Ann from Lismore, Ingrid from Moniaive, Ed, Georgie, Harriet, Sarah and Sophie from Sussex, and Marie from Clermont Ferrand) for Muck’s first (but hopefully not the last) Whistle Workshop.
Ranging from five to fifty something, and spanning all abilities from tone deaf complete beginners, we presented an awesome challenge to our tutors, Donna MacCulloch and Frances Carr from Eigg, who were absolutely brilliant, not only in skilfully and tactfully converting our squeaks, squawks and grunts to tuneful pacey music, but also getting Katie hooked on learning the chanter, and enthusing us all to keep at it.
Many of us have become intimately acquainted with one Father John MacMillan of Barra, though it has to be said he’s subsequently driven us (and our long-suffering families) completely round the bend. We desperately need Donna to come back and introduce us to some other new people. Huge thanks to Donna and Frances: we all learned a lot, improved our playing enormously, and steadily built up our confidence. Sometimes ear-splitting, totally exhausting, frequently hilarious, occasionally maddening, hugely enjoyable, and deeply inspiring, it was deemed a great success and we’re already making plans for more.
An impromptu alfresco ceilidh at the craft shop on the first evening saw some great piping and whistling from Donna and Ian in honour of Barbara’s 40th birthday. The final lunchtime ‘concert’ in the tent was played to an unsuspecting audience of one (thanks to Ronnie who’d innocently wandered in off the Sheerwater!). Special thanks also to Helen Semple, Lochaber Arts Officer whose generous financial support enabled the workshop to take place.
ISLE OF EIGG
When you were a kid in the islands, circa 1974, you would hang about in a gang and you would swap the odd farm gate about, that's what you did when you were young and there was no skateboarding facilities.
Well, now skateboarding ramps are being planned and when you are bored, you can hang about at the feis, or the percussion workshop. The cool place to be on Eigg this month (August) was the street dance and percussion workshop with Tabogo, a South African percussionist from Mamolodi - outside Pretoria - who brought the " township sound" straight to us from the Edinburgh festival, courtesy of Conrad Ivitsky.
Surely this should make us all more aware at least of the place where the world environment summit is taking place. Let's hope the Scottish first minister honours the trust people put in him to fulfil the Scottish parliament's commitment to continue making Agenda 21 work towards a better and fairer environment.
Recent weather patterns have certainly been alarming enough and concerns about climate changes are mounting. However one could not fail to appreciate the recent bout of good weather which allowed for record hay harvests on Eigg. It has also led to an unprecedented high whale sighting in our waters: Ronnie was recently able to count 30 minke whales between Rum and Arisaig. He also reported the arrival of Sooty Shearwaters, a bit early for the season, our warden dixit, and a regular trickling through of Great and Artic Skuas, as well as one Pomerine Skua, a more unusual event. Also of note is the arrival of five Crossbills in the plantation woodland: is this a sudden influx due to pine cone scarcity in Northern European forests?
Indeed things do change and never remain the same: we now have to say goodbye to Morag MacKinnon who is retiring from her post as headmistress of Eigg Primary after 20 years of service. Thank you Morag, from all the Eigg parents, for looking after our kids all these years and taking some of them safely half way across the world. It is an experience they will never forget. We wish you all the best in your new life on Eigg! And as your first task is to make sure that your father-in-law Dougie MacKinnon is having a great 90th birthday, you can be sure we 'll all be there to help him celebrate! A very Happy 90th, Dougald!
ISLE OF RUM
Scottish Natural Heritage are looking for £1 million of lottery cash to preserve Kinloch Castle, one of Scotland’s most remote castles.
Consultants Page and Park, called in 18 months ago at a cost of more than £40,000, are preparing a plan to preserve the castle, whose art treasures alone are reckoned to be worth £1 million. An SNH spokesman said, ‘The castle needs a lot of money spent on it to repair and maintain it. But it is a national treasure. It is one of the most remarkable castles and collections in the world.’
The castle attracts 8,000 visitors a year but SNh will try to improve access.
E Douglas King, the Honorary Secretary of the Friends of Kinloch Castle was moved to write to the Sunday Herald in August in response to an article in that newspaper. An extract of his letter reads:
‘I felt it was unacceptable for the Scottish ministers through the Scottish Executive and their agents Scottish Natural Heritage to allow this Grade A listed building in their ownership to deteriorate into such a state of disrepair. To quote from government guidance on listed buildings in their ownership: ‘it is for government to set a high standard and to be an example to the many other owners of such property.’ how can they expect private owners to properly maintain listed buildings when they set such a bad example?’
(Anyone wishing to join the Friends of Kinloch Castle, who make regular work party trips to the island, should contact Mr King at 7 Plewlandcroft, South Queensferry, West Lothian, EH30 9RG. For more information click on www.kcfa.org.uk)
Mallaig Community Council Chairman Alistair Gillies said: ‘I would like to express the Council’s appreciation to all those who have been tending their baskets this summer. They have helped keep the village looking attractive and the competition was a hard one to judge.’
Andrew Dale, who lives in France, has recently posted on his website the memoirs of his father, Ernest Dale, of his time in Lochailort during the war. They are at http://andrew.dale.free.fr/wartime/wartime.htm the pages about Lochailort being at http://andrew.dale.free.fr/wartime/lochailort.htm
Andrew writes: ’It would be good to hear from someone who knew my father. Sadly, he died in May, and in a way this is my tribute to him. He loved his time in Scotland, and named me Andrew in honour of his fond memories of the place. He played saxophone and violin in a band that played in Mallaig and Arisaig. I am putting together some of his writings about the period. He knew very well a family named McCrae, especially their two sons Farquar and Urquhart who lived at the time in Roshven. I remember visiting Mallaig in the early 1970s and staying in a bed and breakfast run by another member of the family, whose name was Madge, I think.
Does anybody (or their parents/grandparents) remember my father up there? Can anyone give me news of the McCrae family? Sadly both Farquar and Urqhart had died young. Can anybody refer me to any other websites that may be of help? Many thanks.’
If you can help, write to Andrew Dale, 124 chemin du Clezet, F-01220 Divonne-les-Bains, France.
The web site has some interesting anecdotes of Ernest’s time stationed at Inverailort Castle and is well worth a look.
The McCalmans came to Arisaig and entertained a good audience with songs and jokes and stories – and of course sang the one they’re famous for – ‘Don’t go on the 830’ - not a tune destined to help the area’s tourism! A great night and we hope they’ll be back next year.
The children had a funfilled afternoon with Tricky Ricky and his magic shows. The younger ones were treated to a display of magic tricks in which they were able to join – and Ruaraidh made a great Harry Potter – and the older ones were given hints and tips on how to perform tricks, juggle, spin plates and make balloon animals.
This month we’re having an extra to our Hall programme when Fon a Bhord appear in concert on the 29th September. This seven piece band play everything from whistle to pipes and some of the members have been with Tannahill Weavers, Ceolbeg, Alba and other well known Gaelic bands. I hope we’ll have a good turn out to give them a welcome – the bands so far this year have been delighted with their Arisaig audiences.
On the 2nd October, in a slight change from the date advertised in our fliers, the Mull Theatre are coming with ‘A Skull in Connemara’ which promises a lot of laughs. Ironically the set is too big for the stage and will have to go down the far end of the hall (and will be a tight squeeze there!) so seating will be bit limited – so make sure you book a ticket if you’re keen on catching the first play to appear in Arisaig for many a year. It won’t be the last! Now how about that Amateur Dramatic Society starting up again......
The road is beginning to make some sort of sense I suppose and the new layout at Highland began on the 20th August. The bad corner has been replaced by one not so bad and now the residents of Highland can no longer take a tour of the village when they want to turn their cars to go the other way. However a turning place is being made at Roshven View. Now that landscaping is taking place those residents don’t seem to be living in such a hole – time will tell what the landscaping will look like but meanwhile Barr’s have re-erected the huge stump of the chestnut which they murdered and its sitting there rather forlornly. Odd.
The Parish of Arisaig and the Small Isles hosted its 2002 festival from Thursday 8th August until Sunday 11th. The church was fragrant with the smell of wild flowers which made up the arrangements with the theme of ‘Celebration’ and which were proof of the considerable artistic talent of our Arisaig ladies.
The first display was outside the main door, a depiction of the Queen’s Coronation in gold and green and white. Inside the visitor found ‘Lochaber through the Years’ - photos of events in Lochaber during the Queen’s reign, with red and blue predominant; ‘The Life of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother’, a large display in muted pinks and blues which included a fishing rod and a modestly placed bottle of sapphire blue gin; ‘The Psalms’, which included tiny woolly sheep; ‘The Parish of Arisaig & the Small Isles’, with photographs of the congregation; ‘St Columba and Celtic Christianity’ with a grass saint standing beside his stone cell; ‘Marriage’; ‘The coming of the Holy Spirit’; ‘Baptism’; ‘The Lord’s Supper’; and a collection of fragrant herbs with the title ‘The Ministry of Healing’.
Soup and sandwiches at lunchtime, teas and coffee and home baking were available all day and the exhibition was open until 9 pm at night, making a very busy few days for the helpers.
In the name of charity, They’re off to ...
Heather Clyne of Lochailort is undertaking a sponsored hike across Brazil to raise funds for a proposed cancer care centre which will serve the Highlands, at Raigmore Hospital Heather, who now lives in Banavie, has pledged to raise a minimum of £2,500 for the trip in October.
Over £1 million is needed to build ‘Maggie’s Highland’, the latest of the Maggie’s Centres. Some 56 people from all over the Highlands have signed up for the Maggie’s Scotland organised trek which sets off from Alto Paraiso, near Brasilia, aiming to cover 60 miles in five days.
Heather, a reader of West Word and who is studying for a PhD in Computer Science, has trekked in Patagonia and the Andes. She said ‘Although I am looking forward to the hike, the thrill for me will be when they open the doors at the new centre.’
She has been busy fundraising with baking stalls, model exhibitions, etc, and has organised a grand raffle and a special draw (see below). The raffle will be drawn at the fundraising ceilidh dance at the Milton Hotel on September 19th.
Win a hardback set of Harry Potter books -signed by JK Rowling!
Author JK Rowling, patron of Maggie’s, has donated a full hardback box set of Harry Potter books, all signed! Heather is taking entries into the draw at £1 a time, and has a wee web site at www.ivyt.demon.co.uk/harrypotterdraw.html which has more details.
Bloomsbury books are linking to this website and Warner Bros are sending posters of the new Harry Potter Film with Glenfinnan viaduct behind to use as advertising.
The Draw will take place in the first week of October in the "Quidditch field" in Glen Nevis, where they superimposed Hogwarts school in the background. To enter, contact the webpage, or Heather at Canal House, Banavie, Fort William, PH33 7LY. Tel 01397 772544.
Isebail MacKinnon of Glenuig (and Canna) is going to work with Azafady as a volunteer, a social and environmental charity which develops projects to create sustainable development. Leaving in October for 10 weeks in Madagascar, Ishy is looking for sponsorship and donations to buy a long list of equipment and supplies. You can donate direct to her at Rose Cottage, Glenuig, PH38 4NB. Tel 01687 470364 or online at www.justgiving.com
Ranald Coyne of Arisaig has been asked by BESO, British Executive Service Overseas to go to Bangladesh for two months to advise them on converting a group of guest houses for tourism, local and overseas. He goes on the 27th October. Bangladesh is one of the poorest countries in the world, most of the country is less than 10 metres above sea level. The country, used to be East Pakistan, is based round the Ganges Delta. It is situated between India and Myanmar (Burma).
Margot MacDonald is leaving on October 5th for Bosnia to work with survivors of war in Sarajevo. She uses the word survivor rather than victim as we so often hear, as she believes the people there are very much in a process of rebuilding their lives practically and emotionally. She and other therapists will be working to carry out Holistic treatments for a variety of people, some from refugee camps.
Healing Hands Network, the organisation she will represent, was set up to send volunteer care professionals to work with people suffering from trauma and terrible consequences of war or disaster. Since February 1997, teams of four members have worked in Sarajevo, giving over seven thousand treatments.
Margot has been raising funds now for a couple of months to help cover costs and also to pay for equipment and materials necessary. She wants to thank everyone for the support she have already received and to say that Keith Eddie is kindly helping her run a late licensed 60's 70's disco on Saturday 7th September to complete the fundraising. See you there, says Margot.
Margot can be contacted on 01475 803806 at home and her mobile is 07751143023.
Su Coyne of Arisaig is off to Bucharest on 16th September, where she will be driven to Iasi which is in NE Romania, in Moldavia. She believes the city has retained a great deal of its traditional charm, and the surrounding countryside is still charming.
Su will be undertaking a gardening project in monastic and town gardens. To raise money she opened her garden on 2nd September, which attracted well over 30 people, and took £118.40 plus $10. The garden is a superb example of organic gardening, with a composting area, vegetables growing in lazy beds, a wild flower section, a pond and an interesting collection of shrubs and other plants. Su says she is so grateful for the generosity of the folk who made the evening such a success with their donations, cakes, and their presence. Thanks also to the Arisaig Church of Scotland Guild for their cheque, and the congregation of the Church of Scotland for the gardening books she is taking as gift to the people of Iasi. John Arnold has made book plates using his photos of the church, to say that they are a gift from the congregation. The money will be used for essential materials for the Romanian Gardening Project, such as tools, propagating equipment, etc. She hopes to spend it in Romania because not only shall she get more for our money, but it will also help the local economy in a small way.
She is taking her trusty camera and hope to be able to show us what she has been up to, with a slide show when she returns.
The Environmental Group were present at the Open Evening and are happy to offer any advice on composting - telephone 01397 700090
Drew Coupland is from Mallaig he has cerebral palsy and is also visually impaired. Drew is now three and a half years old and like all kids this age he is about to start in education for three year olds. For this opportunity to be maximised kids with special needs require special equipment, it goes without saying that there is never enough in any budget to go round.
Last year we held a sponsored cycle from Beauly to Fort William along the Great Glen Cycle Way, the success of that prompted me to think, could we try and do something again this year? Everyone made a huge effort last year and raised money for our son Drew and enabled him to purchase an off road buggy and set up a trust account for his future. We also donated money to Children’s Health In Lochaber District and purchased equipment for Highland Vision Services Toy Library.
Could I ask again or would it be stretching friendships? After a few phone calls, confidence was growing, the route was decided, Dalwhinnie to Fort William via the Corrieyairack Pass. All money raised was to be spent directly on equipment for the SEN (special educational needs) class and nursery in Mallaig primary school and the special unit in Banavie primary school.
At seven thirty on Saturday the 24th of August we began to gather awaiting the imminent arrival of the coach, which was to take us to Dalwhinnie. Jason Latto had given us the use of his van to carry bikes and equipment, and act as our support vehicle, without this and the support of Iain Latto and Grandpa Jock things would have been near impossible, a very special thanks to them from everyone involved.
By the time we had bacon rolls at the Ben Alder café in Dalwhinnie and the arrival of the independent travellers, it was ten fifteen, and time for the team photo, final checks on bikes and last minute route clarification. In all twenty three riders left to attack hill at the back of the distillery, which always looked big from behind the wheel of the car; from behind the front wheel of a bike you don’t want to know, after that it was virtually all-downhill to Laggan Bridge. Everyone turned left as instructed, and onwards to Garva Bridge the weather was beautiful and the countryside has to be amongst the most picturesque in Scotland.
Fifteen miles and the sight of the van was as usual a welcome one, there were refreshments and of course words of wisdom from the support crew, we had all read the guide book, we were all adults, we all knew how hard the next section was going to be and indeed it was, the fact that it started to rain just as hard as it could and the mist closed right in only added to the challenge. For the Lochaber die hards Stephen Cant and Calum Anderson it was just another day out, so much so that when they reached the top of the pass, they left their bikes and ran back to help those of us struggling at the back. Good on you guys!
The decent from the top of the Corrieyairack Pass to Fort Augustus is long, and in mountain bike language pretty technical. There were a few incidents my brother in law needed medical attention in Fort Augustus, others required refreshments to settle their nerves. That man Calum Anderson damaged his bike about 200 meters from the top, so he ran down carrying his bike, what can I say.
Our overnight stop was at the Caledonian Hotel in Fort Augustus. The hospitality was exceptional, a warm friendly welcome, food fit for a king and again that Highland hospitality. Chris and Johanna really did us proud and even managed to get all our clothes dry for Sunday morning.
Sunday was an early start; everyone had to be at the Great Glen Water Park for ten o’clock. The staff at monster activities were ready to take us white water rafting, a few the guys were old hands to the water, others approached it with a little more trepidation. After a strict instruction session it was onto the River Garry, because the flow of the river controlled from the dam there was more than ample white water. After our decent of the river everyone agreed that this was a truly monster activity and one that I am sure many of us will be returning to. The instruction and the staff were superb.
We all had lunch back at the Water Park, talked over the thrills of the morning and one or two from the night before. This was the last major stop of the weekend and all vital components were well lubricated for the long run to Fort William. The wind was behind us going down Loch Lochy, which was great, and in no time at all we were at Gairlochy, a quick juice from the van and onwards to the Lochy Bar via the Canal Bank.
Friends and family had gathered to welcome everyone home, Gordon Clelland and staff provided a great spread for all, and the next few hours were spent saying our farewells and making plans for next year.
Thank you to everyone who took part and to everyone who worked hard to make it a success and of course thank you to everyone who sponsored us it really is appreciated.
Homes for Africa by Sam Foster
Well! Where to start? At the beginning is as a good a place as any so here goes... First of all, thank-you so much to EVERYONE who contributed to the twelve of us actually making the 18 hour, 5000 mile journey here to western Kenya to build houses with people who are more deprived than you'd imagine. It really is humbling to be supported by such kind and generous people and I hope I can show you how worthwhile it has been so far.
What a place! Tuesday 16th July was the actual date of departure and we all met up outside the Student's Union early afternoon and managed to cram 12 people's luggage (and the 12 people!) into just two seats of a minibus designed for 14 people - thank goodness it was only for an hour and a bit to Glasgow airport! We flew from there to Heathrow with only a few minutes to spare looking frantically for Gate 10 when we got there and then sat on the jumbo for nearly an hour because they couldn't release the docking platform - typical! Spirits were generally high as you might imagine though there's always one miserable fart and one short exchange after leaving Heathrow went as follows:
"We're actually off to Kenya!"
"Not if we crash. Either way, we're out of Dundee I suppose..."
Nairobi was, well, Nairobi. It was cloudy and not all that warm and basically a bit disappointing. That only lasted until we got to the guest house we were staying at for a few days before heading to the house-building.
What a place! I only wish I could send you some pictures because words don't do it justice. It's a Menonite guest house in Westlands, one of the posher suburbs of Nairobi, and has a huge garden with a wee gazebo in the centre and a veranda where they serve tea at 11am! It is one of the most relaxed places I've ever seen which barely prepared us for the fact that most of Kenya is like that. 'Kenya Time' it's called and if there's a daft, inefficient way of doing something they'll do it and a two man job uses five or six people! There are a lot of differences between here and home, some immediately noticeable and some which take time to identify. The time thing is probably one of the most difficult things to get used to when you come from a country which charges train companies silly money for every minute they're late!
One of the other things which is difficult to get used to is sleeping in a room with 11 other people, several of whom have snores like rabid warthogs with machine guns...
That aside, Nairobi turned out to be pretty cool actually, the sun appeared and the mall was just down the road and was pretty westernised so we could stock up on essentials like Imodium and toilet roll!
Friday 19th July saw us head out to Kisii district which is in the Nyanza province. Here's a quick lesson in Kenyan facts: there are eight provinces on Kenya and 70 tribal groups, each of which have their own set of traditions, customs and language (some of which are as different as Arabic and Icelandic!). Nairobi is the capital and Mombasa (on the coast) is the second city. Mombasa used to be Kenya's capital for a long time as it was an important trade stop on the edge of the Indian Ocean. Nairobi only became the capital when the railway was built from Mombasa to Uganda and the small set of huts became host to railway operations headquarters. This means that Nairobi doesn't really have the historical atmosphere of some cities but is a nice place to visit nevertheless.
Kenya straddles the equator which means that the sun rises at 6am-ish and sets at 6pm-ish all year round, and has four main zones: the Rift Valley and central highlands; western Kenya; northern and eastern Kenya; and the coastal belt. They all have distinct and differing topography, flora and (to a large extent) fauna.
Back to the story...
Arrived at Amasago School in Keumbu (12km from Kisii) late on Friday evening to a welcome you wouldn't believe! The women were hollering and whistling and EVERYONE wanted to shake your hand! After a quick introduction and name swapping session we were shown to our collective bedroom for the next three weeks - a classroom divided in two so the two girls and ten boys were split.
The next morning we all woke up, dazed and groggy to the sound of the cooks (a group of six girls) preparing our breakfast next door and wandered through, prayed (something that happens before ALL meals, social occasions, and just when they feel like it) and tucked into fresh pineapple, fresh passion fruit, roasted nuts and boiled eggs, coffee/tea and bread and jam! This wasn't even anything special and has been our basic breakfast ever since!
Our basic facilities were just that - basic. The toilets are a hole in the ground with a couple of upstands for your heels and the showers were of the bucket variety and open to the sky! And do you know what? They are the best things in the world! There is nothing quite like throwing a bucket of hot water over yourself when it's raining and there's thunder and lightning directly overhead!
Since it was the weekend we thought we'd take a wee stroll down the hill into the village and see what the craic was. What we didn't think was that everyone and their dog would follow us and paw at us like we were foreign or something! Again, EVERYONE wanted to shake hands with us and as horrible as it sounds, after a couple of weeks the novelty wears off after the first thousand or so and you'd like to invite them to just p*** off, but it's probably not a good idea since even the children carry machetes round here. All in the name of fruit chopping, apparently...
What's particularly funny though is the fact that no matter where you go in the world there are still a number of characters who seem to occur, i.e. the J.... C........ character: friendly and relatively innocuous but essentially mad; the R..... M........ character: talented musician and equally capable of taking the piss given half a chance; and the M....... R... character: good inside but ultimately willing to exploit his entrepreneurial skills whenever possible...c'est la vie. Since Habitat For Humanity is a Christian organisation we were expected to go to church and dutifully did so, only to be paraded at the front by 'The Secretary' who is really a serpent in disguise. It really doesn't feel like we're doing anything special at all but we're thanked and glorified all over the place.
Thankfully things quietened down a bit when we split into two teams and started work on Monday. The team I was in had a 2.5 km walk to work which was nice and refreshing first thing in the morning. The foundation and first couple of courses of brick work were down already and after a day we had the hang of most of the jobs like brick laying, mortar mixing, filling and faffing. As it turns out, both teams had the houses finished within a couple of weeks and so we spent last weekend in Kisumu, Kenya's 3rd largest city, on the shore of Lake Victoria by way of a wee treat. It's pretty civilised and there are loads of mzungos (travellers) there too, though we didn't speak to them - just played at mzungo-spotting from the bar of the hotel we were staying at! While we were there we had our first taste of fending for ourselves and took boda-bodas (bikes which carry a passenger) to the aptly named Hippo Point at 6am on the Sunday morning to see...you guessed it...hippos! Which we did and some sight they are. they weren't too far from the shore but when a fishing boat tried to pass between them and the shore one of the hippos reared out of the water and threatened them! apparently one of their young was hiding in the tall grass near the fishermen...sunrise over Lake Victoria is something to behold.
Unfortunately we had to leave sometime and came back that evening after being heckled by the tourist stalls selling soapstone, ebony and mahogany carvings. Even after haggling them down to a good price you really have no idea if they're getting a good deal or not, phrases like 'you're breaking my heart, man', 'I've a family of ten to support, my friend' and 'I give you African price, not mzungo price' being veritably thrust around to get the most out of you they can! They even offer to 'kindly' take your hat, jacket or watch for a good price or in exchange for something they promise is unique but which they have ten of on their stall the next day! Anyhoo, we stocked up on pressies (I hope you children have been good!) and came back to what had fondly become known as home.
Now though we've moved to the next affiliate and are staying in another school, Cardinal Otunga High School, on the other side of Kisii. We arrived on Thursday 8th August and noticed a couple of subtle differences between here and Amasago. The first one is that, because the school holidays have just started, there are no annoying, cheeky, in-your-face, free-loading, funny, friendly, sharing kids around, and the other is that, because it's for 1000 pupils and Amasago was for 300 pupils, it's HUGE and the facilities are great! It has a flat football pitch, basketball courts, showers (albeit cold - but still good!), dorms with BEDS! (though i've actually gone back to sleeping on the mattress on the floor) and a rattlesnake lurking somewhere near the toilet block...
Today (Saturday 10th August) has been typically bizarre. When we woke up, the first thing we were offered was not (as is usually the case) warm water for a wash, but the chance to go and see an African wedding! It was actually just like any catholic wedding back home, except in kiswahili, but still nice to be asked to go and see it. Now we're in Kisii checking emails etc There's loads I've missed out but we're building houses, ahem, building communities, for another 4 weeks and then a few of us are planning on spending some time doing a bit of exploring afterwards. Mount Kenya looks like a bit of an adventure even though we'll only get to the third highest point (still 4,985m!) and then Mombasa's going to get hit for some sea-level sun tanning and a bit of quality snorkelling! To be perfectly honest you start to miss being near the coast after a couple of weeks.
As they say, you can take the boy out of the sea but you can't take the sea out of the boy. I hope you're all as well as I remember you and that life's being kind.
Coastal Ranger Report
This month I am starting to go all technical! Did you know that the first week in September was "Scottish Biodiversity Week"?
O.K. so you didn’t know, and apart from the strange word do you have to know! ‘Fraid so!! "bio" meaning "life" and "diversity" meaning variety, any clearer? Of course it is, I know you’re not daft! But right now it’s a bit of a "buzz" word what with the world summit going on in Johannesburg. So what does it really mean? Here goes! (just skip a bit if you get bored!)
The word "biodiversity" is a relatively new one, and encompasses the whole rich variety of life that surrounds and sustains us. It includes all kinds of animals, plants and microbes, the air land and water in which they live, their interactions with each other and their surroundings, and finally the differences between them.
The balance between existing species and habitats changes over time, and is influenced both by natural forces, e.g. climate, and also by mans’ developments and changes in our use of land and sea. In 1992, at the "Earth Summit" in Rio, governments across the world pledged backing to secure the future of the Earth’s resources, and this was followed up in the U.K. by the drawing up in 1994 of the "Biodiversity Action Plan". The "Scottish Biodiversity Group" was set up in 1996 to oversee action in Scotland, and the Government is "strongly committed to protecting and enhancing Scotland’s biodiversity as part of a wider strategy of sustainable development". If you are still with me read on!
Following the last ice age, for more than 6000 years, the Highlands were covered by 1.5 million hectares of wild mixed woods including oak, birch, hazel, elm and Scots pine. A slight weather change and the clearances by man saw this vast forest reduced to a mere 1% of it’s original size, with the ground now covered with grass, heather moor and peat bog. Beginning to get the picture?
Modern Scotland functions in a comparatively cool, wet, maritime climate, which, especially on our west coast, gives us the richest collection of mosses and liverworts anywhere in the world. Our mountains are home to rare plants and lichens, and abound with different birds like the shy ptarmigan and snow bunting. Our seas, as well as the common fish like haddock and mackerel also harbour occasional visitors like the leatherback turtle, sun and trigger fish. If we include the marine life, Scotland is home to around 90,000 different forms of life!
Biodiversity is in fact a life-support system for the planet, and helps to sustain human life. We must attach great value to it. Peat bogs lock up the greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide, and filter impurities from rainwater, feeding pure water to the salmon and trout rivers and lochs. Seaweed beds absorb the power of the waves reducing coastal erosion, and the surface floating plankton recycle the carbon dioxide to produce life-giving oxygen. Most importantly, we take, from Nature’s store, all of our food, clothing, fuel and construction materials.
Our habitats are changing, and some 99% of Scotland’s land now bears the mark of human activities! Our peat bogs - Scotland has some 70% of the U.K’s bog - with their stores of information in their layers are slowly being destroyed by drainage, conifer planting and erosion. Grazing sheep and deer are cropping young vegetation to the roots with subsequent destruction of habitat to plants, animals and birds, and the invasion of non-native species like rhododendron and hogweed diminish the range of flowers, fungi, insects and animals.
We have the ability to influence our environment significantly, for better or worse, and we all have a responsibility to use it wisely.
Gee Whiz! Did you actually get through that lot? Maybe re-cycling etc is not such a bad thing after all?! Right, I’ve said my piece, done my duty, maybe Ed. can cut the boring parts and knock the flesh off the bones, but you get my drift!! You have to give me a break, I can’t keep it light every month, it’s a serious job I have you know! O.K, so over the last month I entertained vast numbers of visitors as I traipsed round the country, but I have a bit of good news too! We have in our midst a small group of girls who have just completed their Silver Duke of Edinburgh’s Award. Was it straightforward? No chance, not with this lot! Not enough to have a quick sprint round the local mountains, let’s be different, we’ll just do an exploration in Northern Ireland! To be fair, the girls organised most things themselves, leaving us supervisors with little to do except confirming bookings etc. I have no doubt that in the fullness of time something of a report on the trip will creep into the pages of West Word, but in the meantime, all I will say is that the behaviour of all was absolutely exemplary, with happy faces from beginning to end. The trip was financed through various sources, but I must personally thank Peter Semple of Inverary for giving us the use of a Renault Scenic which coped with the vast amount of luggage that it seems young ladies must carry!!
The unfortunate bit about this report is that I had recently learned that my readership had actually stretched beyond the two faithfuls with at least another two saying that they actually enjoyed the column, but I suppose that there is only so much a body can stand! Never mind, I’ll bounce back sometime in the future and tell you all about the excitement of my mountain first aid refresher course in Nethy Bridge.
Even if it is only to criticise the number remains the same! 01687 462 983.
Auntie Mary's Creepy Crawly Corner
Visitors were asking about the regular patterns of channels and ridges they had seen on hillsides in Lochaber.
These are the remains of feannagan, known in English as lazy beds seemingly because some people (who were not doing the digging) thought they were easy to work! In places where the soil is shallow people found that by digging trenches, often about 3 feet wide, and heaping this soil on the ground in between - usually about 6 feet across, sufficient depth could be formed to grow potatoes or oats.
This form of cultivation was practised in the Highlands and islands and in Ireland, particularly in the 18th and 19th centuries when local inhabitants were moved from areas with better soils to make way for sheep farming and had to try to survive in places with thin, nutrient-poor earth. Cattle dung, seaweed or cut bracken were used to improve the soil fertility.
On some Hebridean islands narrow feannagan were created in the coastal grasslands growing over rock to allow stock to feed on the grass on the ridges in wet years, and to feed in the depressions if the summer weather was dry.
Today many feannagan in Lochaber are marked by the thick growth of bracken which grows well in the better soils which were created by the hard work of previous inhabitants.
Dr. Mary Elliott
A Little Genealogy by Allan MacDonald (email: email@example.com)
August was too busy a month to catch up on the articles and hopefully next issue will contain some more info on the various families of the district.
However I have two small corrections to make. In the July issue of 2002 I mistakenly wrote that Donald Walker taught in Bracarina School, I am thankful for Jessie Gillies’s correction that he taught in Bracara School, which was down on the shore of Loch Morar, below MacDougal’s croft of today. He died in 1903 and I doubt if Bracarina had yet a school by then. In the August issue an error was made between my longhand and the typing process and it should have read thus:
‘No.4 Anne, married Allan MacEachen of Kinsadel and their son Hugh married a Barra woman and had 3 children, Mary-Anne, Archie (Screwy) and John. They lived in the ‘other’ house at Kinsadel which is now derelict and John was the other featured piper in the photograph in the June issue.. They were first cousins to each other.
The article should have continued:
‘No 5, Sarah, married Duncan MacLellan’, etc, and I forgot to include James, youngest brother of Duncan and Isabell ‘Traigh’, most neglectful and regretful and no excuses.
Scottish Folk Cures Used in Eastern Nova Scotia by Marlene MacDonald Cheng
Toothache was always an issue and people went to great lengths to cure themselves of the pain. Whatever the cure, it was usually accompanied by blessing the affected area and saying a prayer. Sometimes there were charms for toothache, but only certain women had these charms. They were thought to be descendents of Druidesses of the old country. These women would take a rusty nail into the woods and hammer it into a tree, while saying something like "May you be there all aches and pains" (a translation from the Gaelic). As soon as the nail was driven into the tree, the toothache would disappear.
Another cure for toothache was to chew a splinter of wood from a tree which had been struck by lightning. A more Christian way of eliminating a toothache was to write a prayer on a piece of paper and put it into the mouth on top of the aching tooth. You left it there for a while until the paper became all soggy, and then you removed it. The most effective way in my family was to rub all around the gums of the affected tooth with oil of cloves, then kneel and say the Rosary. If we were out of oil of cloves, baking soda was used instead.
Earache was also a bad thing to have. The cure for that was to roast an onion, put a cloth over it and lay your ear on the cloth-wrapped onion. The fumes of the onion were thought to cure the earache. I saw this happen with a little girl who had always had many earaches. After the onion cure, she never again had any earaches. People say "You can’t beat a roasted onion for earache!"
Some women were schooled by their mothers or grandmothers in the art of herbal medicine. These women knew all about the various trees, shrubs and herbs which grew wild in the countryside. They could cure almost anything. The older people still use these cures today, not believing in doctors, or perhaps not having enough money to pay a doctor. For pneumonia a bran poultice was used. Bran would be put into hot water, as hot as a person could bear, then put between two cloths and over the lungs. When one poultice got cold, another one would be applied, until the lungs were clear. Another good poultice was made from beets. This was used for blood poisoning, when a wound became infected.
When a child had a fever, the woman would take a herring, split it open, and bind each half onto each of the soles of the child’s feet. The fever would cook the herring on the feet, and when it was removed the herring would crumble right up. The herring drew the fever right out of the child. I have seen this myself, and it seemed to work very well.
Parents were always worried if a child got a cold that it would turn into pneumonia. A common cure was to use goose grease. A big plate of goose grease would be melted. The hot goose grease would be rubbed on the child’s chest and back. In addition, a pancake would be made with flour, sea salt and the goose grease, and these hot pancakes would be tied onto the child’s chest and back with red woollen cloth. It was thought that red wool had curative properties. Any kind of wool would do, but red wool was the best. One old lady said that she wore red woollen shirts against her children’s skin when they were young, and they hardly ever took the cold. If the weather was damp and cold, many children at school would have red woollen cloth and goose grease wrapped around their throats. I still remember that oily smell in my dreams.
Croup was always a frightening illness, especially in children. Many times a child would die of the croup. The main cure for that was camphorated oil or camphor gum dissolved in olive oil, heated and applied to the chest. Hot wool cloths would then be applied which helped to keep the heat and the oils against the skin so it would penetrate better. When I had a bad cough and my mother was afraid I would get croup, she would fashion a tent with a sheet over my bed. Then she would bring a little hot plate (a one burner electric stove) and put it beside my bed. She would boil a pot of water with Friar’s balsam in it, and open a hole on that side so that the fumes would enter my tent. I would lie there in the hot balsam steam, feeling much better, cozy and relieved of my cough. My father would sit beside me, outside the tent, and tell me stories. It is one of the best memories of my childhood.
Another cure for a cough was to go out to the woods and take the bark off a wild cherry tree, then steep it in water on the stove in a bit of water, adding more water as it boiled down. A drink of that now and then was great to cure a cough. My grandmother always had a pot of that brewing on the back of the wood stove. Balsam buds also made a good cough syrup. We never bought any when I was young. My mother would send us to the woods to pick balsam buds off the balsam fir trees. We would gather as much as we could. Then Mom would boil it in water to the consistency of cough syrup and we used that if we didn’t have any cherry wood bark. The Mi’kmaq people used balsam fir for coughs and cold congestion too. Molasses sprinkled with a little black pepper was always used to cure a hoarse throat. Swallow a big dollop of it. That really works well.
Watch this space for extracts from next month's issue!
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