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

Dogs love the Hydro.

Decided it is okay just to exist some days and today is one of them. We have more staff than customers at the moment at the Inn but if one is there then the Boss does not need to be so still serving a purpose. The days are still “filled” with chat about the Consultation and a screen clean. The route has changed and seems to be okayed by the company.

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Not sure if connected but the hydro was running at 3/4 kWhs below maximum last week and seems to have climbed to the full 90+ now.

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Lower water levels and a bit of sun grows the screen blocking algae which lets the water flow over rather than into the camber. Wood is taking a bit of time

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and energy too.

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Have been posted missing the last fortnight. Not that I have had nothing to do. Bookwork still missing deadlines but underway. Only fished at the start of last week and again yesterday. A beautiful day

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but no langoustine. Well not quite, but 10 kilos from 375 creels, “no langoustine” is an apt description. The lethargy is simply me going into hibernation, commonly known nowadays as SAD. And today I have finally given in, partly as I have just received my Christmas present of this light that everyone talks about. It will be on tomorrow and expecting book work to be finished by end of week. Yesterday as I said was a stunning day at sea,

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not a lot of marine life going on but the wall to wall sun ending with the red sky mainly to the south

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but caught the north end of it behind Ardhu.

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The temperature did n’t half plummet when the sun dipped below the Cuillin

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and by the time I was at the Inn I was nearly putting my hands in the fire. The news of the “splitters” was well received by the visitors from Blackford so all was well.

Good Company but no Prawns.

Don’t mind if I go fishing. The backdrop to the start of the day takes your mind of the severe lack of langoustines.

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The “hired help”, who stacked with little instruction,

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made sure the hauler was going at full speed and we were in at sunset.

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Wonderful weather this morning and we have a few similar days to look forward to. Onto the bike for work slightly earlier as the Boss was cavorting in Belfast over the weekend with sister. Just had to stop off on the way to take one or two snaps. Unfortunately left my ISO speed too high from the night before trying to take a photo of a fine-looking stag in the Inn Garden.  Everywhere you looked was stunning, the loch by Milton,

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Torgarve,

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Lochend

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and the Cuillin of course.

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Going by the good weather I reckoned the travellers would be out and about for lunch, lots of skeptics in the kitchen, but by 4.00pm including the last late lunchers we made it to 53, 3 better than my bet. Just had the satisfaction of winning as there was nothing at stake. When it is a bit quieter you have more chance to chat to the diners and they are still coming from afar. German, one an oncologist at Raigmore, Dutch and Aussies, from Applecross, they showed us the streets they were born on from the map of Perth, Australia, on the wall. Brexit is a very hot and topic up here and many people, working and contributing to life in the Highlands are wondering what is coming down the line. There has been nothing positive said about it so far from the tables of the Inn. Another bunch from London, Aussies again, who dined well before catching the flight south. Skye, Inverness and Lochcarron were also over. So we ran out of langoustine and I had to nip out to the Varuna to get them back on the menu for this evening. Shift finished with a fine chicken linguine and take away golden syrup and caramel ice cream, leaving a happy contented bar with a full accommodation upstairs. Sunset was not too shabby either

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and with time in the morning before the customers arrived to watch some eiders wash themselves on a flat calm Bay against a backdrop of snow-capped peaks……all in all a pretty good day.

Not too bad yesterday but for different reasons, Scottish sport, that is other than football is taking a bit of an upturn with Andy Murray a set and break up just now after beating Raonic on Saturday and wee Greg Laidlaw slotting over a very late penalty to beat the Argentinians at Murrayfield. The morning we went up the Bealach but it was misty at the top so the hoped for photos did not happen. Dougal and Eilidh

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however enjoyed a gallop in the snow chasing smells that must have included the many mountain hares we have crisscrossing the hills. Dougal pausing for effect on part of the ALPs wall that is still standing.

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Luckily we have no grouse shooting on the west so the hares have only to watch predators from the sky and not the indiscriminate slaughter they seem to experience on the grouse moors around the Cairngorm . Last night at the Inn was very pleasant with every table used, every table complimentary about the food and service and every table leaving by half nine.

Friday saw us out on the water and it was just as well the waters were calm and I was catching for the Inn. There would have been little reason to stay out, the fishing, catch wise was awful. The quality in the day was in the surroundings which were just beyond words so photos will have to do.

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Still having a little struggle getting up and about in the mornings but manage to haul just short of 400 creels. Kept the last one aboard with the intention of taking three fleets ashore for the winter. Means I can get round the rest of the gear in the shorter hours ensuring less foul ups.

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The start of the week and up till getting on the water on Friday was inauspicious to say the least. Walking the dogs and watching the odd box set while trying and failing to do some needed book work, getting to crisis point so setting deadlines for this week. A couple of wee tales I came across last weekend, the first coming from asking a couple where they were from. Turns out they were from Banff and Macduff and hence I got the story of the outlaw James Macpherson, his hanging and clocks. Also was told about the Annat skull on the same day. So first, to Macpherson. It was said he was born from the coming together of a laird and beautiful gypsy. He became a renowned fiddler, swordsman and leader of a gypsy band. He possibly became too powerful and was captured in Keith and taken to Banff. He was tried, possibly to do with being a gypsy but also he was bothering some of the lairds a bit too much, one in particular, Duff of Braco, and sentenced to be hanged. 16th of November 1700 was his hanging date where he played a fiddle tune he composed, Macpherson’s Rant, after which he broke his fiddle across his knee. A reprieve was said to be on the way to Banff from Turriff and when Duff of Braco spotted the lone rider coming he put all the clocks forward by fifteen minutes and the hanging went ahead. The magistrates were allegedly punished and for many years the town clock in Banff was kept at the wrong time. In Macduff the west-facing clock is still covered so the Banff people cannot read the correct time to this day.

Thought to have belonged to the daughter of the Garve Wizzard, who lured passersby to their deaths in the Black Water and stealing their possessions, the skull was to be drunk from as a cure to epilepsy. The skull became famed in the Celtic/Druid world as this cure was accompanied by a prescribed walk and incantations. The presbyterian church was involved in trying to deny its existence but seems its use was confirmed as late as 1900 in Torridon by one minister of the church. Talking to the visitors at the Inn and you learn so much of folklore and local history.

A JCB on the School Run.

Not entirely sure how to deal with the latest from America. Had the radio on all night and woke up around the time it was all over for Clinton. We live in a strange, strange world where everyone else is to blame. The same in this country, poor, out of work or immigrants. Some of the aftermath is quite chilling and there is so much in history that has gone before that should prevent past insanities repeating itself. Racism is very simple and breaks down any empathy we have for our fellow beings. It is even more poignant today as it is the 11th of November and  the”Lest we forget” seems to be losing its message. Reading Edmund Blunden just now and feel very conflicted and pressured into the wearing of symbols. The reasons why people have voted the way they had on Tuesday have been analysed to death, it is the result of those votes that is so worrying. Have always thought the use of nuclear weapons would be insane……….first strike insanity and second strike pointless. Empathy and sanity go together so now we have, admittedly only through the filter of media, someone ,who may fit some of these behavioural traits in charge of the biggest nuclear depot in Western Europe which is just down the road. Applecross does not feel very remote at the moment.

It was a struggle not to be pulled into a despairing train of thought and eventually made it out onto the water the morning after. It turned out to be a pretty poor day, more wind from the south than forecast and cold with not too many langoustines, but the forecast was for even more wind, so stayed out until a fleet that was shot over sent me in, being too hard to free.

Going back to last week fishing and Inn have to be served and we were back out on Friday with a decent catch. Seven fleets hauled and two good ones providing the bread on the table. The catches are very unpredictable and you just go to the next fleet hoping. It was the same yesterday but down to one good fleet. Cold gradually seeps into you by the end of the day. Have to keep moving on the way in, as soon as you stop you realise how chilled it is at this time of year. Like it when the pressure is off with not so many people around but enough to earn a pound or two. Bit different for me as I am not involved in the mad Christmas dash for the hiked prices paid on the Continent. A first fall of snow on the 3000 feet tops

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and then further down over the weekend. Reports of the snow falling on the Bealach.The weather has not been too inclement with some nice views off to the west.

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The Inn was busy enough over the weekend. Was there since Thursday as swopped Wed for Fri. Handy for the Boss as she was away with the Ice cream Man and others to see if they could win yet another award at the Highland Tourism Awards.This time it was for the informal eatery category. Although shortlisted, no mean feat in itself, the award went to Canna. We thought the omens were good.

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An excited phone call was received at the Inn when Applecross Inn got a mention from the stage and a cheer from the floor. Fergus was on the podium and mentioned the Tuesday meeting so there is hope. It is because I creel fish I come across sea pens with attendant symbiotic starfish attached

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and boar fish

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and are able to put them back alive.

 

Thursday evening at the Inn and there were more staff than customers, it just felt that way, I only stayed on to get update from the Community Company Meeting. Could have been better, but volunteering is not easy, and if one has stresses in our own lives it is really difficult not to bring these to Meetings. These ups and downs are cyclical but do take their toll on people who care. Friday through to Sunday at the Inn was pretty busy, shifts that pass quickly with plenty to do especially as groups of 10, 11 and 14 book in alongside a full accommodation and several “walk ins”. We counted 46 meals on Friday evening. Met my first Saudi visitor and a pleasant couple from Norway, he was doing a Divinity degree at Edinburgh, a couple of gardening/farming sisters from Stranraer, the yurt lady from Cornwall…..the list goes on with Applecross at the centre, never remote. This week it was a Para-Olympic coach who casually talks about flying around the world, last trip coming back from Rio. Empathizing with fellow humans being is so easy, losing sight of that and you are in or making trouble.

Local politics are cracking on as well. The Trust consultation hit a bit of a rock in September when a very confused and directionless public meeting took place in spite of advice to the contrary. This consult is threatening to be one of the longest in our time and as a result, like referendums, people are tiring. And this was evident from the few numbers out on Tuesday evening when the consultation took off again. Thirteen people out, the Trustees we are told, are shocked by the community comments. They did not realise that they are not universally loved by all and do not understand why. Remember a similar reaction when the LAS campaign hit the headlines. We keep hearing about a shared vision but for a vision to be shared we have to have some idea what the Trust’s is. Maybe one day. Little surprised how shocked the trustees seem to have been, I am well aware how a part of the community think ill of the Community Company despite, fuel, toilets, broadband and hydro, but never shocked just disappointed. Maybe when one is so remote from life here it is hard to judge views. A visit on Wednesday afternoon on the way to the Inn for another wee chat. Agreement that the Trustees do not seem to know about the workings of the community and still rely on patronage and favours. The consultants acknowledge that it would take so little to dissolve the distrust of decades. We are still reduced to looking around for wee scraps of land for affordable  house sites, and not getting them.

School taxi on the agenda for the Community Council meeting that followed on immediately. Seems to be a target for HC cuts but as they are obliged to transport the wee ones to and from school and there seems to be little other options. Seconding council vehicles was suggested, humourous to the community as there would only be a JCB or snow plough available in Aplecross. The wee fellow up the Glen would probably love the ride to school on Finky’s digger. Shows up the deficit of local government, officials taking decisions from 85 miles away. With the intervention of officials and the total lack of alternatives a favourable outcome is expected. On the good news front there may be a bit of movement on the road front concerning the deteriorating Bealach. A few well-directed photos showing how bad the road edges are is registering at base. With all the NC 500 publicity the HC is between a rock and a hard place, even more cars and more deteriorating roads. Just a rumour to finish on, but a good one, we may be getting a snowblower back for the Bealach.

Thursday and it was up to the Hydro to check the screen and although needed a brush did not seem too bad. Wet feet when running so full. The river was in spate

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and for most of the last twelve days the turbine has been working at 100%. Looks and feels good to see it churning out the kWhs.

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Whales in Autumn.

Not too much damage from the poker game last Tuesday, but no intention to go fishing as the plan was to go up to Ullapool to hear a talk by Philip Hoare on whales.https://www.facebook.com/search/top/?q=philip%20hoare%2C%20an%20evening%20and%20talk With Sarah coming over to Applecross as there are plenty in need of massages over here I managed one before heading north with my two four-legged companions. Last week the colours were spectacular

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and I hoped they were still around for this trip. I was not to be disappointed.

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I stopped the van again and again on the road and once out of the vehicle the view changes. Although on this road countless times I have never ventured onto the verges or stopped to look down the river.

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The larch in particular are showing their colour. On leaving Applecross the whopper swans were peacefully feeding away on Milton Loch. The first three arrived on the first of October and were followed by another eight this week. They do not seem to be so resident on the Loch and they do not mix.

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So the afternoon saw us at Corrieshalloch Gorge

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just to the south of Ullapool

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and a wander round some awesome scenery

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with company, of course,

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took us to evening where a quick stroll at Lael forest garden completed the daylight hours.

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Happy dogs and a brief stop at Leckmelm but no one in before arriving at base. An Indian meal, a walk round the pier, watching a dragger’s deck being washed down of the discards and seeing a basket of tails and a couple of other baskets of small prawns.

The talk and slides were well worth the trip. Noel is funded by the Essme Fairburn Trust on a three year contract and it seems money well spent bringing nature closer to how we live. Even here we seem one step removed. Fine venue courtesy of CalMac, upstairs in the Ferry Terminal. Photo and talk courtesy of Noel.

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A journey by some one who, up til the age of 25 could not swim and was frightened of water, was swimming with sperm whales off the Azores. The talk was fascinating all the way through with more than few highlights. Like when he swam towards a group of sperm whales and had one come over and check him over. He described it like an MRI scan, he was ” clicked” and then she turned away and swam into the deep. He described how the sperm whale is adapted for deep diving with its unusually anatomical attributes which compensate against huge pressures at very deep depths. Although we have little evidence of life down in the deep it is believed she will suck up rather than bite giant squid. Very similar to human species in both the relative layout of organs and size of brain, maybe an answer why we are so attracted to cetaceans. No other species has a female living long after reproduction is over and indeed the matriarch of the orca is known to be the most important in passing on gathered information to the pod. So much more and thinking about and remembering the talk and slides made it a short journey home.

Gone Fishing with Fergus

So the morning half three start under the belt and through in Inverness still in the dark, only able to imagine the colours rather than see them. The train journey did not feel long as I slept most of the way. As we got into Edinburgh at ten I had a bit of time before the meeting. It was put back a couple of hours but after I had booked the train tickets. The wander down The Royal Mile was very pleasant in the autumn sun. Checked out the Parliament, wandered past the Indy Camp and over to Salisbury Crags. Heard in the passing that the response from the Camp after losing their court case was to park another car by the caravans. The climb up the hill was stunning and Edinburgh was resplendent in the autumn sun. Looking across to the castle,

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seeing the old alongside the new, so different from back home.

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The old and new side by side, in fact more them and us. Holyrood Palace just across from Holyrood Parliament. One lodged in the past and the other looking to the future.

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The Crags were lit up looking through the courtyard of Murray House.

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Time flew by and made for the cafe where over time the others came in. Just thinking that we had a good spread of knowledge from the east coast, west coast, diving and creeling, buying and legal were all round the table. Civil service joined us and off we went up a maze of stairs to a meeting room where we met with Fergus Ewing. This was our first meeting since he had taken over the brief from Richard Lochhead. The brief has been split and Fergus has rural affairs and connectivity. I had a good feeling about his reaction to what we had to say. He appeared to take on board our common sense views. Bob Younger gave a background summing up of how we have arrived at today’s position, citing the Cameron commission through to the Inshore Fisheries Act of 1984 and its detrimental effect of  today’s harvest. Some interesting facts emerged that show how skewed the position is when it was pointed out that ground available to trawling constituted 96.3% of the total worked, this was an east coast statistic. Basically shows that the static gear industry is doing a pretty amazing job with such a little share of the resource, not only to survive but in many cases are thriving. And still the crab gear was being towed away to the tune of tens of thousands of pounds. How much ground does the mobile sector need to operate at profit? We also pointed out that the static gear sector needs so little of the resource compared to the mobile sector as we receive so much more for our catch, landed in better condition all live with little or no discards. On the west it has been a relatively profitable summer in both sectors. Although unscientific, I would suggest that this is connected to less effort, certainly in our area. The drastic diminishing of the inshore trawl fleets from Mallaig to Ullapool must be having an effect. Also having 3/4,000 creels less north of the Crowlins.

We all managed to say our piece and it did seem well received and two suggestions were taken on board. The first was that towing away static gear was to become a criminal offence and a pilot scheme for spatial separation was back on the table. One could see the civil servant beside Fergus was becoming quite agitated recognising how the mobile sector is going to react to these proposals. I could see Fergus was reacting in such a way that customers do when they are told a few observations on the fishery and why they have so enjoyed such a good meal of creel caught langoustine. He was told about the filmed recovery in the Wester Ross MPA after only a year. Valuable breeding grounds being left alone to allow regeneration to continue both in and outside the area. But realistically politics enter a common sense argument and his next fishing event will be the SFF Annual dinner where the picture painted will be with many different colours. I managed to get my Norwegian anecdote at the end. To relate it again, kayaking in the Lofotens, I was speaking to a fisherman helping his partner run their campsite during the tourist season. We talked fishing, prospects, conservation and the likes. I mentioned that you can trawl up to the Scottish shore and I will never forget the look he gave me. He just lost interest in the conversation and you could tell he thought what an idiotic way to manage such a valuable resource. So the meeting ended on a positive note and renewed hope mixed with the usual realism.

Back up the road/rail and home by ten. Time enough for a mug of tea at the Inn and believe it or not a game of poker with a couple of ciders at 6/7 and yet another goodbye. No intention of fishing on Wednesday so no pressure going to my kip at 1.30am very, very tired.

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