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

Political Wood Stack.

Even if you do nothing for a whole week in Applecross there is always something going on or conversations to comment on. Up till today it has been a pretty dull week, waiting for the first storm of the winter to pass through on Monday and Tuesday, and not going out fishing when I should really have, as there are no langoustines on the menu board and the weather was not too bad on Wed/Thurs. Today was back to the strong winds but looking more hopeful for getting back into the swing of things next week. The dinghy is back on the out hauler and ready to go. Unfortunately when I took her into the pier,bailing her while hanging onto the rope and keeping her off the shore wrecked my shoulder, so hauling creels was not on the top of the agenda.

A little wait for the worst of the rain to pass through yesterday morning before attacking most of the wood left for this years outside wood stack. Seems to have gone a wee bit political and may not be fully apparent on first sight. As I have aged the progress to the right-wing of politics has not taken place, in fact possibly gone the other way as I have become even more disinterested in wealth. On the wood stack front my thoughts are very, very simply put. Trident and nuclear weapons are useless in the extreme in that a deterrent never used is not a deterrent. And if some one was to push a button to start a nuclear strike that person would be insane or at the very least dehumanized to the nth degree. Pointless being second in pushing the button. A long-winded way of explaining why I have a Trident submarine in my wood stack. Some one somewhere must have a logical explanation as to why we spend so much money on something we cannot use while we struggle to find money for services, health and education, I remain to be convinced. Lots of angst flying about how to use one’s second vote in our upcoming election….such an easy choice as I have already met him, found him to be interested and supportive of community empowerment and real sustainable development, and supports an economy that is sustained within the environment, so John Finnie our Green list candidate gets my second vote. There are lots advocating two votes for SNP but when you have fine candidates like John, Andy Wightman, Patrick Harvie among many others you know you are voting for people who will try to take your views to the legislature. And the Trident view is shared, needless to say.

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On the local front I always find it interesting that no one mentions the Filling Station in any of the conversations I have, or the public toilets. Come to recognise that this is a good sign in local politics. It means they are working well. Unfortunately that cannot be said for the AppleNet Broadband system. I personally do not think there is anyone to blame as it was an ambitious pioneering project that will still work but in certain places throughout the community there are poor signals. The system was based on the Eigg and Knoydart models but the big difference here is the number of relays to get the signal to the various outlying and awkward placed settlements. These problems were not so acute in the first systems set up further south. Seems one loses the strength of the connection if at the end of a series of relays. There also is a problem in places like Craic Barn where the signal is bounced of walls from house to house resulting in possible distorted reception from noisy radio signalling. And weather is always going to be a problem. Our masts have to be more robust and money made from the connections is going to be reinvested in the network, that goes without saying. It is a new phenomenon that we experience living in the same community as the service and responsible for that service. We are the Indians in the BT Call Centre dealing with the problems but we are in the shop or at the Community Hall or the Inn while coping with the down side of the network. I do not have any regrets in anything we have tried and on the positive side WHAN is still on the horizon, the fibre optic cabling is installed in Mallaig, the masts are in place but need equipment installed and improvements are on the way. Our local network needs improving and outside help is being approached to do just that. Back to the down side the WHFP tells the story of how bad our Skye connection is and how long BT are taking to connect the Mallaig line to the WHAN Network. As the connection date was 9th Nov 2015 I am going to stop predicting when the BT connection takes place. Maybe I will prefer being a graduate in India in the Call Centre for a wee while longer. I look forward to AppleNet dropping out as a conversation piece just like the Filling Station has done, and like the Filling Station the problems are being addressed, maybe not as quickly as some would like.

The Hydro may well be doing that already although I find it is in many people’s minds and it appears to have awakened the potential in the community. Not a few people have remarked that if the community can build a Hydro Scheme against all the odds then what are the limits. Lateral North will soon be coming here to carry out a project on just that. A vision, without the constraints of land in outside hands and lack of affordable housing, but sustainable employment both meaningful and connected to the local environment. Jamie and Mick from HighlandEco were back in midweek to run through some of the glitches in the systems, a bit of rewiring and some software programming called for. It seems to be running smoothly at 100% capacity just now. Still a bit of landscaping to finish off with some gates and fencing to be erected but the system is generating money for the community day and night. Patience while AppleJuice builds up some capital before the monies raised will be reinvested in the community. It was interesting chatting about the regression of FiTs and how they affect the future of the renewable industry. It was pointed out that actually FiTs can lead to the wealthy becoming even more wealthy as systems are built on the Lairds land and public monies are siphoned off in that direction. The regression does hit the community schemes the hardest as they have to raise investment on top of the capital cost of build and if, like us, we do not own the river we are hit with rents that will make future schemes unviable. Wonder if it would be possible to have a two tier FiTs system where communities can enjoy a better return thus a genuine redistribution of the nations finances while improving the drive to renewables. That would get over the problem of the transfer of public funds into already deep pockets.

 

Applecross Opportunity.

An unusual post, in fact a unique one, in that it is an opportunity for a family to give Applecross a try. Terry and Daniel are moving away and hope to rent out their home on a long term rent basis. I believe they have had holiday lets offers already but would prefer a lease of at least a year. Personally I am sad they are leaving simply because yet another young family will no longer be living here but fully understand that everyone has different ambitions and Applecross does not fulfil those for everyone. I only wish the MacCowans all the best and hope their house becomes home for some one else. Feel free to retweet and share as much as possible so as many people will see this. Due to lack of affordable housing and land these adverts are few and far between.

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It’s Fresh Outside.

The journey home completed with me picking up the van at Strathcarron, number plate and side panel back on and bumper back in fine shape to get through another MOT. Handy when your garage go and pick up and sort your transport while you are enjoying a break with the music. Only down side was sitting at Dingwall train station for half an hour waiting for some signalling problem to be sorted out.

In the evening it was back into the swing of things at the Inn with not an awful lot to do but do the hours and lock up around twelve. Two interesting guests were consultants working for the Trust to help them out with forming their next ten-year development plan. Sounds slightly Soviet but I jest and will try to keep an open mind that this new-found interest in sustainable community development is genuine and not a reflection of the politics surrounding the passage of the Bills going through the Scottish Parliament.

Friday saw the arrival of the first lot of wind of the weekend. While it is blowing a howling storm just now, Friday was more at the gale level but with a fair bit of damage to the power lines. First a pole was blown down round the coast and then after it was switched back on a transformer blew. This meant a welcome trip back into the old days, no internet, just the company of dogs,

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a few candles and a Jo Nesbo to while away the evening. It was our longest power cut for quite some time. Seems there was an SSE hired catering van on the go and the word was that it was going to be at the Inn for around six o’clock. It was coming from Uig but did not arrive until ten when they fed a few hungry imbibers. During the day there were some bright spells

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throughout the day and a wander down to the shop was called for.

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Eilidh is getting rid of her limp although she is not impressed with her medication. She does not bear grudges though. Dougal as usual likes to feel the wind through his fur.

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Bit quieter over the weekend although still a fair old breeze,

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there has been lots of conversations about broadband, visits to the Hydro to restart, and now more wind. The broadband has suffered through the bad weather and the continued delays with the new fibre optic line from Mallaig. Conversations at the Inn are not very pleasant at the moment and it is slightly frustrating that areas of the community are harder to serve than others. Our broadband at the Schoolhouse has been fine as has the Inns. We are going through a series of snags at the Turbine House but we are up to the 90kws now although power cuts are not helping. Restarting is sometimes not so routine as just pushing the resart button. It is back on manual so it means a visit when it trips. We can now monitor from the house to see if it is powered up and just checked and we are up and running again. Ewen restarted this morning on the way to work but the hydraulics did not kick in,  so after an attempt and a phone call I found the hydraulic motor breaker had tripped. Only went for a while before closing down again in the afternoon this time for “Export Excess”, short-term stresses but long-term gains for the community, like the broadband. The Filling Station is going well for the past few months, as it has dropped out of the story, it usually means there is little to worry about and it is just routine deliveries and dipping and keeping legal that is in the day-to-day running.

Back to the weather and today we have experienced the first storm of the winter, forget all these names, they were just gales. When you hear the forecast at 12.45am as “Hebrides south-west to west severe gale 9 to violent storm 11, increasing hurricane force 12, that s when you get a little nervous. Ignoring the pointless and silly naming of gales that have started this winter. This morning began with a wander down to the dinghy, pulling her in and straight back out to hang onto the endless line and to bail with my other hand, before setting off for the short distance to the pier. It was a nippy little passage as the engine needs some gentle tweaking of the choke, keeping an eye out for the rollers coming in from the west. Pulled shoulder muscles but still have two boats on the water. Do not think she would have survived todays pummeling. Even Milton Loch was pretty lively.

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Wandered round the Bay after going up to the Turbine House late in the afternoon.

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The power of nature was in full flow as the wind strengthened

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and the Bay became a cauldron of white water. The odd brave oyster catcher was still about.

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Good fortune to anyone who is out there just now. Dougal just laps it up,

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wind in the fur again.

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And Part 2

Day 3 Laid back start to the day and went through to Edinburgh to put my very dirty camera in for a clean. All went smoothly apart from the fact that I had to leave the camera as it was a fairly big job. Going through Linlithgow I dozed off and woke up coming into Queen Street, how time flies. Going back though tomorrow. Great not having a vehicle down, with no parking fines, no stressful city driving, lots of walking and public transport. Then it was off to sort out my rover ticket and discounts. The Celtic Connections box office are very helpful and being pleasant and the good humour helps every one.

Evening saw us heading out to the City Halls to see The Wainwright Sisters. They were preceded by Ethan Johns who, although it seemed he had a newish band, played a fine set. I did not know much about him but was surprised that I knew one of his songs. Becoming a music nerd. The Wainwrights were simply brilliant, funny, homely and, of course, quirky and very musical. A full set of fine songs I have never heard before based largely based on lullabies and fairly dark as well. Apart from El Condor Pasa (If I could). Their dresses bought by brother Rufus were a theme throughout the evening, bit of a bad uniform theme. This has turned out to be the best Festival yet and that does not include all the music at the Festival Club, the many, many concerts we have not seen. The best way to deal with this Festival is to completely ignore what you can’t see and not wonder if you are missing out on anything. As the camera was in Edinburgh this is the only , but poor photo of the Wainwrights taken on iPad.

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Day 4 just back from Hillhead and another fine,fine night of music. Tuesday was a quiet night for music and although Rachel Sermani was very tempting the price put me off. We applied for Mike Harding tickets for his Radio 2 but did not get any and I then went for BBC ALBA’s show at the Hillhead Book Club. Turns out it was the right choice. No real idea what to expect and it was with a fair amount of patience we settled down to lots of lights, cameras and sound guys organising a night of music. We thought we ended up with a duff seat but that mattered little and we saw as much as we wanted. Gentle start with a bit of Gaelic and what reminded me a little of Na h-Oganaich, a band from the 80s.

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Ewen Macpherson, nice chat earlier as he had spotted us coming in, was playing with a mixture of musicians and as Gillie Brighe. Grand start with lots of interruptions and links and interviews. Then it was The Edith Piaf Show, stunning set and yes we got Regret Rein. She was brilliant show girl and a great back up band.

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Then it was the Wainwrights again and they were as good as last night, (If I Could) heard again was stunning. They were on the other more distant stage, slightly unseen but sounding great. We then finished up with James Grant. He was just on the verge of losing his tolerance when he was asked to do the interview before his set just as he was ready to start. There were lots of links and interviews that tried the patience of the artists and some went with the flow slightly better than others He held it together with lots of humour in the end and his music was cracking.

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Reminded me a little of Jackie Levin although a bit more upbeat. Finding out so much about these cracking musicians. James Grant passed me by but a wee search and he is one of those guys that you realise you do know, that is, as singer with Love and Money.

So another full on day completed which started in Edinburgh, picking up the camera, a splurge on CDs and lunch at the Royal Concert Hall. Recovery afternoon before the night out at Hillhead.

Day5 a film followed by a meeting of friends at the Cafe Gandolfi. Then round the corner to The Old Fruit Market to see and listen to Jarlath Henderson

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Had a couple of ciders and a wonderful evening. The melancholy Jarlath accompanied by familiar faces such as Innes Watson,

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played a fine set interspersed with pipes, guitars and fiddles. Pretty dam good for a support act but we are getting used to this. Not really sure I have the right words to describe Rhiannon’s show. Just immense apart from the dry ice. Anyone who sings Patsy Kline and  gaelic puirt a beuil in the same set along with a rocking banjo and rapid southern fiddle sits at the top table.

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Huge amount of emotion in the music and one of those shows that are timeless and you do not want it to end. And then the last walk along Argyll street for the year after some goodbyes. The one down side to all the enjoyment and music was walking past the several homeless people sitting on the pavements, the knowledge of how fortunate you are to be going to these events, the warmth, camaraderie, food and drink at our fingertips and then you pass these poor unfortunates and you question the society you live in. Every one will have a story of some disruption in their lives as being there does not appear to be one of choice.

Not too early a start but after pre ordering and picking up tickets made it onto the Aberdeen train for Inverness. Lots of time for snoozing, only just waking up for the change over at Perth. Ending up in Dundee would not have helped the signing off of the Pier books. Duly done and then onto the Kyle line before an evening at the Inn. How easily you slip back into the way of ones world, paper work, work at the Inn and tomorrow fishing politics with a little bit of Hydro thrown in, up to 90kw now.

Going back to the Festival I think this picture sums up it all for me, the joy of the artists making superb music to appreciative audiences.

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Celtic Connections Part 1

Coming to the end of a long day but what music. Did not know about Small Glories but when their album is out this summer its a sure cert for a buy. They were brilliant, a duo who played their own as well as covers, Led Zeppelin folk band,evocative song about a fisherman lost at sea. They spent a bit of time in the East of Canada in the Maritimes writing songs. She played a mean banjo and we had a series of jokes about it. One being what do you call a woman on a banjo players arm……..a tattoo. Found out later that Cara Luft was a Wailing Jenny.

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Reminds me…earlier in the day while waiting for Alison to come up from Dumfries I nipped out for a wee snack. On the way out I over heard the next customers request, “Three bottles of Buckfast, please.” I was definitely in Glasgow, the “please” gave it away.

As I had bought The Lone Bellow’s album after the Cambridge gig I was familiar with the set. The atmosphere, the crowd, the venue (OranMor) and the music made for one of those gigs that I will never forget.

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You could see the band were affected themselves. I do not think I have been to a gig where, almost to a person, the crowd came to listen to the music first and foremost. They played a series of slower emotionally charged harmonies around an old style mic and people in the crowd shushed everyone to silence. You could hear a pin drop. Before and after this part of the show it was rocky Americana, full on guitars, keyboards ands rhythm.

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If there is such a thing as a musical spirituality it was at the Oran Mor on Saturday night. They came back on to do an acapella version of Slip Sliding Away that was simply awesome. Privilege to be there.

Day 2 After a pleasant lunch with in-law’s and Son No4 I split off and headed back down to the centre and Hazy Recollections, main attraction was Small Glories and they were good value. They dedicated their set to the Saskatchewan families who had lost relatives in the insane shooting back home. Power of music. There were five sets in all and was well taken by Michael Cassidy and a band Have Mercy Las Vegas. Great sounds. Nothing wrong with the other two but pleasant to doze off to. In the evening the ten ladies who went to Eigg for a week this summer treated us to a special two hours of musical magic. From Bulgaria to the Gaelic Highlands and so many places in between. The theme of Separation was a loose theme for the music and ranged from songs about homeless in London to the cave where the Macleod’s massacred the Macdonalds. We heard Norn and Gaelic, accompanied by fiddles, clarsachs, bass guitars and mini organ.

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And then outside I come across a couple, Bridie and Donald, I served at the Inn last year. Inevitable I suppose. Used my google map app to get home as we only have the one road in Applecross, a bit more confusing down here. Discovered that it was less than ten minutes from the hotel but thirty minutes the way I went.

The weather by the way was much the same as back home although it seemed slightly more remote due to the streets, buildings and people, not as raw as Applecross.

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A Winter’s Moan.

The trip through to Inverness went well, beginning with the Whoopers on the near side but quickly making their way across as soon as we stopped.

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Clear roads but cold

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and at times beautiful but bleak scenery.

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It was a long drive just to get volunteer books done in time and I think my tenure is coming to an end. Made it through sixteen years only being late the once. Set up a system that puts everything in place for a next year hand over. There is definitely a moody feel about the community with people not happy with broadband, talking about the people leaving the community, the falling school role and a general discontent in many conversations about the state of roads and other services in the community. I know there are people working really hard to keep things going but you do go through spells of wondering “Is it worth it?”Sometimes you have to go through a period of crisis management to survive and in theory you are supposed to be stronger coming out the other side. When you see four young families either leaving or planning to leave it is disheartening that people’s efforts may be for nought and the community will be an attractive tourist destination serviced by people who live here for six months of the year.

Just reread this and will leave it for posting and hope that this is just a pessimistic low point, coupled to the time of year. But back to the scenes from yesterday

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which were uplifting and the hope that the music coming up over the next few days will banish the negativity. If The Lone Bellow and Rhiannon Giddens don’t do that I am in a spot of bother. (Took a little break there to compound the feeling of gloom and read a dire prediction given by Paul Mason on the world economy.) It’s about time there was another gathering of community enablers so that we can share all the ups and downs of our small town politics. To finish here is the reminder I live in one of the most beautiful parts of the world.

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The light sometimes literally takes your breath away.

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Moody.

Starting this late Tuesday evening and should be in a good mood. Celtic Connections are looming large this week-end, starting with The Lone Bellow and following up with another four days of what should be cracking music, ranging from Songs of Separation, a bit of BBC ALBA, and the brilliant Riannon Giddens. Have managed about 5/6 hours of book work today and that has not lightened the mood. Not terribly bothered but getting books to Inverness and doing three VAT returns is a bit of an achievement. These systems that have to go into place will be sorted by February, they will have to be as the season at the Inn seems to be already starting. The Inn’s accommodation is already mostly booked for the rest of the week.

Monday was supposed to be the last day for getting the accountant sorted, well it was Sunday, but I am a brilliant procrastinator. As the Hydro had shut down on Sunday and Ewen had tried unsuccessfully to restart it I went up to the Intake to check the water flow. There was plenty water coming through the bottom of the screen and as ever I had the brush with me as it seems to attract a fair bit of grass and sediment just now.

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Not enough to impede flow but a brush across to keep it clean takes no time. I have picked up one of the bugs going round Applecross, slowed my progress on the climb but gave Dougal lots of investigation space on the way up. Taking a break to have a look at the awesome views and wee fire over the Bay.

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Back at the Inn and after a phone call I went up to restart the Turbine as Ewen had put it back onto manual start. Successful, but the next job was to get a tow out of a rut on the track into the Hydro. Val was first up but after a fine effort which included some intricate reversing, Owen was next up. Broke the rope and finally Ali arrived in the Track Machine and was easily pulled out. Good to get towed out and Applecross again when I get three offers in the space of half an hour. Time flies by in the mud and water of a Hydro Scheme. Followed this up with a wander round the Bay with Dougal as the sun was lowering to the west.

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Cattle happy chewing the cud in the field at the Big House. So a day away from the books.

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Wednesday evening now and the feeling of “can’t be bothered coupled with stress” has lifted a little, helped by a pleasant and friendly drive to Inverness, catching a few photos on the way and way back. Did like the one on the Bealach heading home. The skies brightened as the sun was setting in the afternoon lighting up Kishorn through the snow of the Applecross Hills. May make it on to next years calendar. The Inn is already booked up for the rest of the week and we are expecting a busy, busy season. The Italians and Belgians loved the banter and seafood tonight. I think the North Coast 500 have done a pretty amazing job on their advertising. A really good problem to have but we are already nervous about the numbers for this summer. We are trying to put across that just driving the route is not an achievement in itself but enjoy the local food, drink, hospitality and scenery while helping the local economies that need a little boost. Article after article is appearing across the world, the latest being the NY Times and you wonder how our roads are going to cope with this extra pressure. But it is a good problem to have.

Finally the bad run of losing people connected to the Community continues with the passing of Ian and Alec. Ian “Cruary” a local historian of repute used to come up to his Mums in Toscaig and get the tatties planted on the croft. Son No3 was often down helping and Ian made a lot of time for him. I heard many a tale from Ian over large drams. Reminds me of my uncle Robert when we called in at Shieldaig, he would say “you’ll have a dram” while going to pour one. The option was limited to having a dram. About a half inch from the top and then he would ask if you wanted water. There were quite a few sips taken to get the right amount of water in and the drive home was slow and careful.  Alec, I knew less well, owned Tilda’s house in Camusterrach and had not been well for some time. We are losing many of these characters just now but they will live on through tales and memories.

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