A view on Fishing,Community and Life on the NW coast of Scotland

Farr Conversations.

This is the sort of post you would really like to write in situ trying to capture the buzz of the evening but needs must and it was a long trek home but so worth the effort. By the time I was on the road on Friday all seemed well. Big improvement on the head front, tooth healing up nicely so with Dougal for company it was over the Hill in an easterly direction. Coming up to Craig the scenery was a good excuse to stop and take a wee shot.


Obviously beautiful but peaceful as well with few cars passing. Dougal a little reluctant to get back in but I knew he had not long to go before his regular stop at Rogie Falls.


He enjoys the new smells along the paths but does not like the bridge so have never made it across the Falls yet with him.


He was happy enough to go up the river with me. Then it was to the vets where he was put on a light steroid for an irritated foreleg and also purchased an organic tick tablet lasting three months. Should have had him on a lead as he made an escape before getting up on the table. Rest of the day involved a bit of shopping and dropping off an outboard before meeting up with Alison and her dad, Raymond, a meal and out to Farr.

This was the main event of the day, the rest is just a west coast way of justifying a trip east by cramming in as much as you can. After another Dougal walk round the shinty pitch it was into the Hall with the other 300 and settle into an evening of music and chat.


Lurach had the evening off to a fine start, well after the coffee and cakes which seems are a tradition at Farr. Fiddles and Whistles before Julie Fowlis and her man, Eamon, came on stage for an enthralling spell of Gaelic song from the Strathdearn and Strathnairn area.


Interesting how she over rode her strong feelings to sing her native island songs and turned the evening to a project and research of songs of these parts. The voice and accompaniment have been reviewed by many people but suffice to say you could not hear a pin drop as the songs became part of you. The connection to the land is so powerful as is the sea and hearing this through music is the ultimate. The land is ours.


Then it was Lesley’s turn and although I have now heard her speak on a few other occasions there is always another aspect to travel along. The land reform package proposed as well as the Community Empowerment legislation is not the most radical moves in the west, but the reaction to it tells a story. painting Sturgeon as a communist is laughable and it is more interesting to hear the story from Durness. There they have been told that there will be no “development” and the good reaction to that is a proposal to take control themselves. That is the people who are living on the land, not the new owner based in Liechtenstein. The psychology of land, land ownership and land is so hard to break into. The fact that some one distant owns land for decades or centuries does not give him/her the right to carry on in perpetuity especially when you wander across the Highland and you see land degraded in the extreme. You also know that this has only taken place in the last two centuries. A chat with Jim Hunter at Ullapool comes to mind when he told us that he is doing yet another study on Strathnaver, this time about the abundance of wildlife that coexisted with the then human population in the Glen. It shows up this new “wilding ” map where there should be a wilderness. If you superimposed another map on top of it, that is the pre Highland Clearance map of where folk lived, you find that this is a well populated area of rivers and glens. Where as Lesley pointed out if you walk along a certain river in Caithness you will be guaranteed to meet a water bailiff within minutes.


The theme of “it is our land” was referred to time and time again and it is. Ours in the sense it no ones and every ones. Reminds me also of how far off track we have travelled and how careful new legislation has to be. Although LVT is not on the table at the moment it is an aim for many who see this as a means to stop land speculation. Side note why should land be so expensive? Why should the younger generation be excluded from owning a house through the unavailability or affordability of land? Going back to LVT, speaking to good friend on the Black Isle who could be caught in an unintended consequence of LVT. The aim of this tax would be to lower the cost of land, laudable in itself and allows more younger people access, but if you are running an agricultural business funded by loans backed by land as collateral, what happens when the value of that land comes down and the bank gets worried about the collateral behind the loan? I think I will stay local as I see too many greys in the picture, admire the people who see their convictions in black and white. Applecross got a mention at Farr and there is so much out there it is portrayed as an example of an outdated, unsustainable way of managing a huge land mass. No amount of PR can change that and going by conversations here and outside there is a stronger sense of capacity and well being at last emerging through the rural parts of the country. The drive home after an evening like that, although two hours plus, passed in no time despite the numerous “wild animals” crossing the road.


Last three days have been full of interest and hopefully some improving health. First the interest, well I find it interesting. The weather has helped in that the Rona broadband station was needing some work on it. Sean supplied with configs and other info along with some hardware came on board at 7am for another trip to the island. Uneventful trip across on a calm sea but with a northerly forecast imminent.


Not too worried in that it would be mostly on our stern on the way back. All went well at the mast and I managed to make myself useful in a small labouring way. snipping tie wraps and undoing stays and bolts to lower the mast, now with out the turbine.


The mast is now connected to Bill’s power supply and that is working well. Sean found three problems, cabling, the nano station and tough switch all needing replaced. So back down the hill after an admiring look around at the fine views.




Can see the Varuna tied up alongside the pontoon. Always love the perspective for afar. Shows how tiny we are in the grand scale of things. Next it was on to the “summer house” to fix the signal there. unfortunately this did not go so well. Not entirely sure what the issue was but Sean was hoping it could be fixed remotely as he got one of the stations up. Difficulties arise when our expert is working in London and our communications systems could be better, but texts did get through. Think Sean’ concentration could have been helped if there had been less chatter down below. Bill and I almost always try to discuss and have ideas to solve our land issues. Bill has a great working relationship with his Danish landlady and has a slightly different view on land matters, but not that different. He is as puzzled as anyone as to why our Charity cannot see the wood from the trees. Been a while since he spent any time over our way but was suggesting solutions to the foresting contacts as far back as the 90s, the same solutions that are needed now. With Sean having done as much as he could we headed off in bright sunshine


but with the stiff northerly up and running.




The Auk was fishing/diving off the Blind Sound and soon followed us in as their dive time would have been completed. Soon caught us up coming down the Sound. Mind you I am fuelling them up again on Thursday morning.


From the boat it was straight to the dentist, this time on the right day.


To cut a long story short, a quick inspection, a decision taken, numbed up, followed by a ten minute wait in the waiting room before going back in for an extraction. Cannot remember my last one and the build up for the dentist when he mentioned it might take some removing as the roots were quite spread. But all I can say is that living in rural Applecross we are so fortunate to have such a good dentist service just over the Hill. Tooth was whipped out, examined and reassured on right decision, before going back over the Hill with swollen face. The fact that I had no pain and swelling came down really quickly is testament to the dentist Parson’s skills

Wednesday was a rapid round of creel hauling and managed 300 hauled before the breeze increased from the south. Couple of the fleets produced some fine langoustine and made for a break even week. For the first time I ran out of battery power in the camera and missed a couple of nice shots on the way in of a flock of eiders and seals sunning themselves on a still low tide.The forecast for the rest of the week looks poor and again into next week. Which is a bit unfortunate as Bill and Lorraine are getting married in the Church Cave on Rona on Monday. We all wish them well and again are appreciating all their efforts in keeping our broadband going round the North coast. The day’s fishing would have been far more enjoyable if the breeze had been a little less but more if my head had been behaving itself. Try not to mention it too much but as part of the “rural story” it has been bothering me a lot recently. Wednesday, an example, taking far too many milligrams of paracetamol to function, coming ashore, lying down for an hour then going to the Inn for an evening shift and waking up the next morning to my first action of the day another painkiller. So up to the Surgery for a consult. And hopefully I do not embarrass our Doctor with too much praise it was nothing short of brilliant. Good down to earth discussing my pain, all the potential issues and solutions. Along with reassurances about my current level of painkiller take up I left with two set of tablets which hopefully will cut down my previous intake. I am sure there is physcological aspect to the visit, some probably not quite placebo effect but knowing that some solutions are being sought. Have to say that we are well served here in Applecross with health measures, certainly at my age and chronic pains, head and teeth. We are lacking in some elderly care and that is being worked on. So with the weather poor, and this morning pain and painkiller free, looking forward to an evening at Farr Conversations, with Lesley Riddoch and Julie Fowlis. It was only last night before I started to look forward to it as the pain receded. Although a bit fuzzy last night and worked round a couple of mistakes it was an easy night and was able to relate to the customers and not through a pain barrier. Too soon to say but a huge improvement on yesterday morning.

Mixing Old and New.

A look at the snaps taken and you change your mind about not a lot happening in the community and there about. Saturday saw me out reasonably early and a rapid 300 hauled before going in ostensibly to watch the rugby, poor fool that I was. Supporting Scotland in just about anything at the moment takes so much out of you whether it is community, nationhood or just sport. Although it was the poorest performance so far there is always the next game and hope springs eternal. The Irish are always the best team to lose to as are the French. Lovely and quiet day at sea


and the fishing not too bad, the creels seem to need a longer lying time or soak to catch a decent amount of prawns. That is why most boats have so many creels and now miss days at sea. In the past hauling creels every day or at least every second day was the norm. Sign of the times now that they have to be left 2/4 days to give up a good haul. Part of the eclipse, moon etc has resulted in a very big tide and only just getting the dingy into the shore.


Signs of spring appearing although I am sure winter will be back, the first bonxie of the year in the morning. Just a scout around and did not land for a feed. Sometimes you see as much colour here as you would in the Red Sea or the Caribbean.


So after the rugby it was up to the Inn, nice cloud cover to the West


and a busy but easy night, everyone heading off by ten before the recyclers from the Hall arrived for an on the road coffee before going home. It all got slightly surreal when the survival suit came out and Lynne put it on, part of Anne’s dolphin rescue outfit and very fetching it is. What the dolphins make of it….. Donald walked away with his own cup with his many entries. There was a recycle down at the pier today. This shed used to be a freezer shed at the Inn and now is going to enjoy another life as a fishing shed. Looking a bit drafty at the moment but I am sure there are plans for improvements.


Sunday shift at the Inn was as quiet as has been for the last couple of months and had plenty of time to wander down to the Bay


to take a couple of shots.


There was a family digging for spoots and he obviously knew what he was doing in the way he was walking backwards.




Today after a slow start a trip with the dogs down to the pier to mend some creels getting ready for the summer hauls. On the way down noticed for the first time a ruin just below the bench on the Craig Darroch and stopped for a look.


No idea what this was, best guess a sheep shelter if not for the opening to the west.


No suggestions although lots of interest from Dougal and Eilidh.


Synchronised all round watch.


They amuse themselves while I am mending, Jenny was not good at that and got easily bored. With the iPod on shuffle it was a mix of the old and new. Mending fishing gear and listening to new fangled music. The shuffle feature gives one many pleasant surprises. One minute you are listening to an Alabama Gospel choir belting out Amazing Grace then its John Prine, Neil Young, Van the Man and a bit of Floyd before you are into the Peatbogs and Cathy Anne Macphee singing Canan Nan Gaidheal. Music takes you to places all around the world and then back home. And it is back home that is providing some fine sights. A stop off in the shed to refill the mending needles and wait for the shower to pass, but when it passed you are treated to yet another magnificent spectacle,


a rainbow of fine proportions stretching across the moorings.


Was earmarked to go to Rona for Sean to do some work on the system over there and as the Wedding is this weekend there was a little pressure to get over before the weather breaks. Sean with a spot of flu called off but on for tomorrow. Early start to get most of the way before the northerly blows up. The ay back will be fine with the motion and wind on the stern. Only blot on the day was the dentist appointment, nipped over the Hill in double-quick time to find locked door and realise appointment is for tomorrow. The joys of rural living without a diary.

The Community Company battles on, seems Vodafone cannot work with third-party networks as BT are the best. They provide half a meg while the AppleNet Broadband with a few exceptions is around five meg. But BT are deemed better and they also consider themselves to be better than our attempts at providing a phone box at the Filling Station. I think we may well do better than this although it has to be said the bar has not been set very high.


Bealach Eclipse

So true in Applecross, to expect the unexpected. The expected being the eclipse of course but the unexpected was watching it from the Bealach car park with a proof reader and ice cream maker


from Toscaig.


Was looking west in the morning and slowly realising that the weather forecast had got it slightly wrong. They were predicting almost a 100% cloud cover and rain to slowly improve during the day. It seemed the opposite turned out with the rain a little later. So this was followed up by a phone call from the south and ten minutes later we were in the little mini speeding up the Hill. A few stops on the way to take some rushed photos.


Getting a bit nervous that people expect the photos to be good.


Tried to get some that included landscape and judging by what they saw at the Inn with the eclipse appearing behind the Inn in between the buildings…… We made it to the top in plenty of time with colanders, cardboard and buckets of water and a very dubious pair of glasses.


They were soon left as it became bitterly cold and a breeze got up.


It was quite an event in the grand scheme of things despite being earmarked as “a bunch of crusties without a job”. Best thing about living here is if you work hard you can sneak these wee events in. There were watchers already at the top and some more passing through with an attraction to the “glasses”.






Stopped a couple of times on the way down but did not manage to capture any more images and took a couple of shots of the Alt Beag


running down the hillside as if nothing untoward had happened.


The rest of the day was pretty full with a couple of trips out to the Varuna for langoustine for a private party, then Loch Ness and the Inn here. Last trip was in the dark with a sticky outboard in a north-westerly breeze.

Couple of enjoyable days at sea although quite tiring as not used to it and a couple of foul ups and shoot overs to deal with. Luckily not together, that is the worst single-handed scenario to deal with, hauling up your own fouled gear and some one is shot another fleet over you. Discovering Pi is easier or feels like it at the time. Hard to believe I was taking photos of the Bay eight days ago where you could not see the water as it was whipped up with the wind.


Today in particular was so calm and peaceful and I know I am where I should be when I start admiring the seagulls.


Although generally regarded as the rats of the sea and can be pretty vicious, especially the blackbacks, today they glided across an oily sea with perfect reflections showing on the surface.


Cormorants and shags are turning up t get the pout out of the creels before they hit the surface.


It has not been wall to wall sunshine and sometimes the cloud cover has felt slightly oppressive although not like in summer when it is accompanied by heat.


The MoD Trials are still going on , supposed to have been finished, and had the semi submerged sub off to my starboard for a short while.


Good to get the communication from Sand which usually means he is seeing me as well. He was only about 100 metres off but no problem as we both knew where we both were. Reminded me of an incident about 20 odd years ago when we were shooting a fleet back in a brisk south-westerly breeze with a conning tower to our port when she took a right-angled easterly change of direction and was to our starboard side with us still shooting our gear. She had passed directly across our bows and at one stage we were over the top of her. Called Sand to ask if they knew we were there and got a pause followed by a negative. Not a good feeling. Anyway today was different. Fishing okay in fact not too shabby despite losing a fleet down the Range edge.


Plan to take a fleet up there to shoot over it and hopefully snag it tomorrow. Do not have much leeway to work with as I cannot go too far to the west being in the Range. One of the local signs of Spring and a short dry spell is the first heather burns are under way.


Inn is starting to look busy already, the weather I am sure is contributing although if anyone wants to go anywhere just now it seems Applecross is the majority destination. A lot of places are not open yet and most people know the Inn is. Nice surprise when I ended up with some smallish scallops from Robin, would have had them in garlic, bacon and squats but the gas had run out and the shop was closed so that is tomorrow’s tea sorted. Had breakfast again before going up to the ALPS Meeting.

Interesting meeting where unusually had a fair bit to say on questioning the ownership of the South Coast Deer Fence, Trust’s, Crofter’s or both. Still up for grabs. Always good to put the alternative view, the one that many residents are not comfortable putting forward. Not convinced it is a good idea to start a “buy in”with a liability, that is a fence that does not earn an income but will need maintaining. The only positive I can take out of it is that this is the first time that a buy in has been offered. Would have been better if it involved houses, community hub or community woodlands, all of which would be social enterprise and would be income generators for both sides of the buy in, generate monies for fencing. But here’s hoping for a future generation. I cannot help thinking that a well off Charity should not  really be asking crofters for an annual tenner to maintain the cost of a fence that keeps deer off croft ground, wild animals albeit, but only there to be shot by the Charity. A crofter’s conversation made me smile when he/she said if only they had known when they put their deer fence up that they could have gone to The Trust for some maintainence money it would have softened the blow for them. A little stress involved in getting those views across, despite a bit of aggressive questioning, keeping it impersonal is important but still making the point. Bit of a shame that any opposing views are still treated in this way in this day and age but such is life. But the fence has to be looked after and if history proves anything the crofters/community will have to get involved no matter. Lovely cycle home in the starlight and a bit of Fargo to see the night out.

Another fine day at sea,


only hauling 300 a day just now, and find that plenty especially combining with the Inn. Busy pier in the morning,


good weather has the same effect on fishermen as bees, all coming out at the same time. It was nice to see the bees flying from both hives on Saturday. Fishing a little patchy although hauling fleets twice in deep water on the same week by Wednesday is fairly unusual, uneventful fishing with one or two boats passing North. Ronja Commander, low in the bow coming out of the sun


and a lovely eastern sunset as I began the shift at the Inn.


Nippy but easy evening.


At last, my fishing career is back under way. An early start, up around five, and on board by six and off out to the Bay. Not a huge amount to report apart from a breeze from the south-south-east combining with little 6/7 creels fouled ends making the day hard work.



Traffic on the Sound as usual, must have seen he camera as got a blast of their horn on the way past,


as were the very awkward foul ups. But the fishing was a little more productive than it has been of late and the 300 creels produced enough to put the Langoustines comfortably back on the menu till I get back out on Monday.

One of the reasons for the early start was meeting up with Rob and Ian in Shieldaig to check out if there was much to do about the MoD expansion plans. A pity that there was a wedding afoot locally as the only guys to turn up were three from Applecross. Was a bit of an effort to get there a little late but glad I did. One wonders what you can do if the MoD decide they want your livelihood but you have to try. Otherwise complaining in the pub only becomes irritating if that is all one gets around to doing. Information gathering was the order of the day and to say that our way of life is at stake is not an exaggeration. Interesting to be shown some FoI MoD maps that show the extent of their interest in the Sound. The southern line is well to the south of current Range edges and if this is what is planned for the future then fishing will be a thing of the past in Applecross. As it is the “map” that has been circulated recently has caused a lot of consternation with the local ranks with enquiries launched as to how this has been made public. One speculates that it does hold a level of importance, that it was not meant to make it into the public domain. The puzzle amongst the fishermen is why does it show the closure up to the shore, leads to one or two wry comments about practising groundings. The Americans have also been mentioned as a possible further commercializing of the Range. Managed a wee political chat about land reform and deer management before making it back around the North Coast,


picking up a few slabs of herring on the way and back home in time to catch the best of the Scots trying yet again to beat the English at Twickers.

The Inn in the evening and fairly busy it was too but remarkably relaxed. Find there is little point in spinning. You get far more done with a bit of thought rather than rushing about looking busy and not achieving much. Today (Sunday) was a little different in that there has been a staff shortage for a few days now and it catches up a little in small ways, the condiments run low for example. Things that are done when there are enough around to do the extras to make everything run smoother. The great thing about the last couple of shifts has been how pleasant and appreciative everyone has been, possibly the glorious weather has been a factor. Today was wall to wall sunshine on the way to work




and again on the way home where several stops and a walk with Dougal and Eilidh allowed me to wallow in a fine sunset.


These dogs are so good at getting you out to enjoy some fine sights.




Just now it was a little wander under a starry night black night.The busy day was not helped by a pretty brisk headache but only the Boss knew and asked when it was peaking. Made it through and it did not develop. Kept at bay through necessity and helping a couple who had a breakdown above Keppoch. It is easy to help people and after a couple of trips to the car, a few phone calls at the Inn and finding a room at the Hostel, I left them fairly satisfied with the “problem” of having a puncture on the Hill. They were sitting outside watching the sun sinking behind Raasay sipping some white wine and wondering what to have to follow their lunch of scallops. Hire cars with no spare wheels are just daft as repairing tyres that are split does not work and the expense of calling out the local garage surely does not justify not carrying a spare. I am working on the basis that if I breakdown outside Applecross some one we have helped here will pass by and tow me home. If that never happens I will be content with the fact that I have helped some one out and they appreciated it.

A wee footnote from the previous post is I was informed the gulls that I thought were feeding were indeed doing that but were at the outfall of the Russel Fish Farm. Not quite as natural as first thought. So the feeding took a different form. Cannot beat local knowledge.

Anti rotation pump is something I did not think I would be talking about, but as I ended up ankle-deep in hydraulic oil in my engine room it turned out to be quite important.

A wee portent of the weather that appeared today showed its face over Raasay as the shift started last night.


low-key shift last night with the MoD boys in as usual Inn family but little else to keep one occupied. Scored later with a breaded wolf fish as the lady wanted one pan-fried. Some good but slightly depressing chats, especially the one about how scarce the young folk are and as usual the lack of accommodation. Have had a couple of in-depth conversations about the future of our wee place and again a worrying trend in place. The guys from Hamilton were sparky and provided some irreverent humour about the Dukes of Hamilton and Buccleuch’s origins. One or the other, maybe both were cited as the bastard descendant of Charles the second. On to be born of good stock, takes away so many of the every day stresses. One only has to keep what one has.

Genuinely excited about the sea-going today. Trip to the pier for bait and left the bike at the endless line and cleared the seaweed from the rope all in readiness for a day at sea. Weather beautiful and over the Hill


to see the Varuna already sitting in her cradle and ready for the off.


Noticed the recovered landing craft on the beach


before heading out past a showing of fish,


the Applecross Hills


and down Loch Kishorn.


Stunning day, flat calm and passed several boats making the most of the weather. Mood was buoyant and she felt new with all the bits and pieces in the right place and working. Steel plate in the deck where hydraulic pipes had worked themselves free of the fibre glass,


new flood light


and radio ariels all sorted.


Deck all sorted and ready for hauling by the time I was passing the Crowlins.


So had time to programme the new radio, I find if I read instructions it’s not a problem. So onto the first fleet and then the wee problem. All good until 3/4s of the first end up when the hauler died. Familiar problem but as the tank had been topped up thought it a bit strange that I would be out of oil. Everything okay on deck so looked below to find 80 litres of hydraulic oil swimming around the engine beds and the last of it pouring out the seal at the back of the pump. Nothing for it but to head for home and after a couple of abortive phone calls back over the Hill to see Ewen. He was mystified and said he would be over once he finished at the Yard. Took the Varuna in to the Pier where he replaced old with new and saw the seal on the new one burst. After a check on turning the engine worked out the old one was anti rotational but was marked as rotational so the new one worked against and burst the seal. After filling another can from new and sieving some from the floor, luckily no water involved, replaced the oil as well as the pump. Seals will be ordered and pump turned around and all is well sometime during next week.

Have to say felt pretty carp for a couple of hours on the way in and going over to the Yard but solutions sought, found and sorted means I hope to be on the water first light tomorrow. Tied up with the rope over the new cat head


and admired the search light,


mood lighter. Came ashore around sixish


to enjoy a lovely sunset over Raasay


and again just south of the Tor Mor with Dougal and Eilidh.


At peace listening to the water falling in the Alt na Chriche and losing the smell of oil in the evening breeze.

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