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

Archive for the ‘Heritage’ Category

Lois Mor and John “Balure”.

Although we are now into the next week, rain is torrential, which means the hydro power chart is on a vertical climb from the falling down to 40 kWhs over the last wee dry spell, the resonance of Lismore is still strong. Again a powerful meditation starts off day 2 before a walk up to one of the high points of the island with views across to Glensanda on Morvern.

An obvious lead in to the Lingerbay Quarry proposal and Alistair Macintosh, Isle of Eigg and Soil And Soul. Then before you know it we are back at the present day’s living, crafting and building. Yorick is putting together another window frame while Sarah is dehorning a ewe and treating another of her Shetland sheep, graphic descriptions of maggot eruptions. We had approached the house from a different angle and saw the astonishing stone work,

the skill and pride of a craftsman in full view. Who said crofting is romantic, hard graft but fulfilling. And then it was onto a visit to the Broch,

with Mairi intending to pay her respects at Balure. On the way we stopped to sample a rest on St Moluag’s Chair, a rock hewn out by the Saint himself. The Broch is set on a high point commanding the western approaches and is said to have been built around 2000 years ago and was continually occupied up till the 12th century before the MacDougalls built their own castle. Photos taken, chat and reminisces over

we headed down to call in to Balure to pick up Mairi.

We were immediately invited into the house by John’s son Ian, where we were offered a dram of Balvennie Doublewood and a cup of tea. Again a strong connection was felt and we toasted the passing of John “Balure” and Mairi added a story of her wedding to Dave which involved John. They had organised a Grand March for their evening part of the wedding and as usual the bride and grooms families were at the head but Mairi’s folks were late so John and Dorothy of Balure took their place with John leaning into Mairi telling her to “Ca canny lass, ca canny” before leading off with her to the tune Mairi’s Wedding. We keep these people with us by telling and retelling their stories. I felt it was a privilege to be asked in and invited to honour this well-loved man of their community and hope we did him justice.

Maybe it was through meditating with old friends and visiting the brooch and hearing tales of times ancient and not long past but you felt at one with the island and its community with its thread, unbroken and strong through timeless ages. The chat continued as we walked through time

and emerged at the Heritage Centre, for Mairi to meet up with her co organisers for the Tap Roots Festival, and for us to wander up the road back to Carnie Cottage. All these walks have a micro aspect to them as well seeing the late autumn flowers

and the small gardens on top of fence posts

make the walks longer. Lois Mor is the great garden so it is fitting here is Lois Beag

I wanted to go down to Salen as the island’s sole fishing boat was anchored there

and so leaving Martin to concoct his plate of potatoes and seafood chowder I was back on the bike to cycle down to the sea’s edge and take in the late evening’s sun sinking down behind the Morvern peninsula.

A truly beautiful evening and some very interesting sights to see

which on further investigation turned out to be lime stone kilns.

Yet another connection to the homeland, there are lime stone kilns in Applecross, like Lismore the lands are controlled by absentees, we both have Irish saints and going by some of the tales of Lismore we both scrap well amongst ourselves.

After yet another fine tea, the cooking has been the finest from Applecross seafood, Mairi’s Dalh and Ian’s seafood pasta, we set up for a bunting ritual trying to rid ourselves and places of negativity in all forms. Mairi then sang her song which stopped our concept of time for its content and beauty. Fire is a useful tool for more than giving warmth and so ended a long and fulfilled day, heading for the stairs exhausted but content in the knowledge of a strong sense of belonging.

Surprise,Surprise, MoD get their Expansion.

Back from the Pier washing the 100 or so creels I took home on Saturday.

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The washing did not quite go as planned and a few left for tomorrow.

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Arranged to meet up with Eileen, come over from Inverness to chat about the expansion of the BUTEC Range. Seems the Bylaw is being enacted on the 29th of June, assuming the fishermen concerned know that they have to shift the gear from the new enclosed area. As expected this is all going ahead with the repercussions throughout the local fishing fleet dismissed without a thought. The socio/economic survey concluded that around £500,000 would be taken out of the local economy and fishermen would lose employment with fewer boats fishing on the Inner Sound. The survey seems to have been a simple fact-finding mission with no actions intended to mitigate the expansion. It was made patently clear that there was to be no compensation awarded for lose of fishing grounds. An act of compulsory purchase which if carried out ashore would come with some recompense, but the MoD/Qinetic do not follow these rules and comply only with National Security and shareholder profits. The survey steered well clear of added value of the catches which are sold in Applecross and attract large numbers of visitors into the area who want to eat local and sustainably caught seafood. Although I do not know the source but I have read that £1 spent is worth £6 when it is spent locally.  You do not need a calculator to work out the value of the hundreds of kilos of crab, langoustine, lobster and squat lobster sold locally and what they mean to the local economy. I will always support local when I am able as, if we lose services that most people consider a right, then this community is in trouble. While there is absolutely no animosity between the local Qinetic workers and the fishermen, both sectors see the need for the other’s survival, there are only two Applecross jobs directly connected to the BUTEC Range. The other danger I see is the tie in to the Defence machine and the vulnerability of the local economy being so dependent on public funds being made available for the continued operation of the Range. It does not matter if they are left or right-wing politically, a future Government may well decide the operations here will be too expensive to run and may turn off the tap leaving local employment now dependent on this industry high and dry. Applecross has always been a Sanctuary and that has been desecrated to some extent by these actions. I was asked what now but I have always taken the view that we were powerless from the start and whatever the MoD/Qinetic wanted they were going to get. Statements put forward by management saying that the structural work taking place at Sand costing millions was maintenance was being disrespectful at the very least to the fishermen, but this has been the case since the MoD have come into the area in the 1970s. Pleasant to meet Eileen anyway and all went well apart from her camera falling over on the pier, new camera and old tripod, which a bit of tape did not sort out. This was just before the camera tipped over on the slope of the pier.

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She was doing a long shot of the moorings with the Varuna sitting peacefully there.

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The interview was finished off on her iPhone, now a lot seemingly are. On the way down to the pier there are lots of scenes telling us that conditions this Spring have been conducive to reproduction.

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With more up on the Bay yesterday.

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The weekend began early but fortunately finished reasonably early as it was a lot quieter than expected on Sunday evening. Half past four start on Saturday but again only had to haul seven fleets as the fishing is still holding up. The weather is forecast to deteriorate at the beginning of the week so hopefully have enough in tubes hanging over the side of the Varuna for the bad weather days. On the way out I passed the Suilven at anchor in the moorings.

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I saw her the previous evening bouncing her way north but obviously deciding that it was a little too choppy. The passage on Saturday was fine.

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The Boss was away at an old man’s concert at the Caley stadium, we got a couple of fairly incomprehensible phone calls late on so assume she was enjoying herself. Sunday was very enjoyable , starting with a couple of car rallies, the Porches are regulars and although parked neatly along the side of the road they managed to upset a passing local.

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There is always going to be little upsets. As I keep saying there are a lot of people wanting to experience the Sanctuary and who are we to deny them, it means going with the flow a little and when you pass the Inn it will take half a minute longer. The Aussies from Sydney, the Americans from Louisiana, Miami and Oregon along with the Europeans from Romania, Germany and all other parts seemed to leave very happy. I have been in need of a shift like that and even better when I get home early as well. When the weather is fine it makes front of house so much easier.

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This evening I had Eileen back on the phone, seems that the interview done on her phone was causing problems for the technical staff. A telephone interview follows and the spag bolls takes a little longer to cook. Foxgloves always seem to find the hardest, poorest ground to grow on.

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A Torridon House Renewal.

Middle of the night and back from a pretty amazing day. It started off as usual, a sunday morning shift at the Inn with discussions about whether it was going to be busy, were all the visitors on the way south, will we have day trippers? But in the back of my mind was will I be in Torridon for a party? The reason behind this was an invite for Judith to attend a sort of opening day at Torridon House. The House has recently been bought and renovated by Felix and Sarah. The renovations are still on going but I am jumping ahead. Felix had turned up in Applecross on Shooglenifty night and obviously enjoyed himself and again made it down to the Inn with the next session of the Lochcarron musicians. it was then he invited Judith up to Torridon over New Year. Not one to miss out on some music I immediately offered to drive. To cut a long tooing and froing short, on Saturday some friends of Felix came down to the Inn and had some lunch and through chatting to them we discovered the “party” was on Sunday not Saturday as first intimated. Saturday would not have worked as we would have been too busy to go. I still thought there was little chance as staff were still thin on the ground but Caroline intervened and told the Boss she was to go. As Sketch or at least some members were reputed to be there I was delighted with this turn of events and happily drove north about two o’clock. This despite a busy bar and I tried to take as many orders to ease the conscience in leaving other people to do your work.

The day turned into one of those experiences that one will possibly never forget. We walked in as Felix was giving a speech on the steps of the front hall, a warm welcoming speech which was followed by a Buddhist ceremony.

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A ceremony that was to create a new beginning and to cleanse the building of some of its unpleasant past (hope I have this right). To walk into this when we both had feelings wondering if we should be here immediately put us at ease. The makeshift sign on the way in helped.

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We were quickly chatting to people we knew, Hughie, Morag, Sheila, Les, Clare and Jo, Jan, Nigel among many locals and then Herbert, Katerina, Peter and many others I never found their names, and that did not matter. I even got my New Year dancing in, bought my new Sketch album met Ali Levak yet again and heard some brilliant tunes.

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Heard Felix and Sarah on guitar and fiddle play a tune they have written called the Mam, Glenelg’s Bealach, and felt Felix’s emotion talking about leaving Glenelg.

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Heard this tune at the Inn when they were over and knew it was special then. Community, people and connections were the themes and feelings of the day expressed in music and chat and that for me was a strange and wonderful combination. Here we were in an Estate House which over the years has had a bad history connected to it on how its occupants had treated its people in the past, then we had an eastern spiritual experience followed by a desire and vision of  integrating community, music and arts with “The Big House”. A turning round of history, breathing an old decaying emblem of the past into a new form of community future. Idealistic vision but why not, better than its previous history, in particular a Colonel McBarnet who denied the tenants the right to keep any cattle or sheep, of a decaying establishment, a beautiful but dead part of the Highlands. The size of the Estate, the lands around the House means that land reform legislation would not affect positive ventures like this and the community members I spoke to were happy and enthusiastic in their praise of what was happening. A studio was already being used at the back of the House, outlying cottages were to be renovated to raise funds for more renovations and fund the project and a recording/composing and teaching music studio is planned.

Into the evening and as everyone was leaving and we were about to head home with plans to call in to visit so the Boss did not arrive during Inn hours, she was invited to stay for dinner.

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Well, as driver, that meant me too and the table was set as the conversations continued. Everything from the spiritual to fishing and reminiscing, turns out the lady of the House has a retired fisherman and diver as a Dad.

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Names such as Jimmy Philp, Dave Hardy and Ally Clam came up in the chats, blasts from the past from days in Kyle. Times when the scallop diving industry was slightly more Wild West than now with all its regulations and safety measures. Tales of nights in cells and Drams in the Field alongside Katerina talking about France, Canada and Buddhism meant the evening passed rapidly and so it was home over the Pass to the sounds of Sketch and a soundly sleeping guest.

Today, slipping back into some sort of routine, I was up at the Turbine House to pick up wood from the dryer. For whatever reason it was shut down so down to phone and make sure I was not going to blow it up with a restart. All went well and changed the mode to automatic restart. It shuts down reacting to any disturbance of power and as it is still being run in the restart is better being manual. Keeps Dougal occupied and the power saw came out in the afternoon and the sticking problem cleared up, been changing the sharpening angle and no idea if that was the solution but powered through the last of the pine and started chopping. Harsh east wind blowing all day but there was a classic west coast sunset

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around 3.30/4 pm

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so took the dogs down to the shore.

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Eilidh easing back into a bit of exercise. In the quiet of the evening it is hard to believe this time yesterday we were surrounded by Germans, Austrians, French and Americans in a fine Big House. Don’t often use these words together but an open mind keeps one healthy. So throw in Mexico and South Africa and we have had a cosmopolitan Christmas and New Year. One little correction about Hogmanay and fortunately did not cause offence but our tweaking guy was not a transvestite but a Drag Queen, and a very good one. Suspect it was the first time Son No3 played some tunes on the pipes for one.

Coming Together.

Where to start, Thursday, a hard days fishing in the Bay in an awkward southerly,

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Friday, a funeral in the baking heat and Saturday,

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a wedding after an easterly gale and driving rain on Loch Coruisk.

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Do it chronologically and the fishing was expected to be a lot easier than turned out, the blue arrows giving a lie to the conditions and spliced and cut my way round the start of the day. Lots of unmarked gear tight on each other. The fishing was okay and some creels came up with some nice prawns. Very unusual and unseasonal weather may be contributing to the catches these days. Little increase in the squats so things may be settling down into the summer fishing. From the sea straight into the Inn and a fairly quiet but still brisk evening service. Nothing of note apart from the good food and service its usual immaculate best. (Writing this on a quick sunny break) Just received a high-class compliment for all the staff about how welcoming they are and how efficient and friendly everyone is and compares to any pub the customer has been in, in the UK, adding as rejoinder that had been in many! The Boss can rest assured that everything is going well downstairs as she recovers from the high dose age antibiotics she is on to get rid of the infection.

Funeral on Friday and although the day was still and hot

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there was no question of not attending Eachain’s farewell to go fishing.

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Unusually there were many “enjoyable “moments and memories as his life story was read out from the pulpit. I say “unusually as at many funerals there are no or little mention of the person who we are saying the last farewell to, maybe tradition that dictates this, I know not. A strong and varied life which included many fishing boats and WWII convoys to portering on the railways and helping the Fisherman’s Co-op in his retirement. Got one or two of the other stories as well. Was very honoured to be asked to lift Hector’s coffin from the church part way to the hearse. The call to the coffin lift cut short a chat about the powerful singing of the 23rd psalm in the church. We were not talking religion but a humane moment when everyone comes together as one. Good to know it was felt by others as well. Maybe we do not speak of these moments in fear of being ridiculed. Feel this coming together could be used for a common good rather than constantly competing against one another. The community movement understands this. At the graveside I felt very emotional as Lea played the Macleod’s lament with his seanair  already at rest. Memories of the days of the ring net fishing and my own Dad who was a crewman with Hector. He often turned up at our house in Heathmount, Kyle, for his hair cut and a Gaelic ceilidh with my Dad. I do get affected by music and the pipes outside, evocative and powerful takes you where ever your memories guide you. Baking hot afternoon, big crowd sending off a fine man in a graveyard by the sea meant time flew by. So the Thai massage had to wait for another day as I was on shift again in the evening. Busy with fine food and banter. This keeps going amongst the customers and you do so little to encourage it. Just a little initial contact that you play with and people just love being made welcome. Its the coming together earlier in the day that makes it so easy and puts things in perspective. The weather has provided some fine moonlit nights

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and the sunsets feel even more prescient

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maybe due to their scarcity.

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And now to the wedding. Not at all hopeful at five on Saturday morning. Got up to look out the window and it was white water from one side of the Sound to the other from the east. Although we never got an early phonecall we half expected a call off as there was a boat trip up Loch Scavaig to get to the wedding site. Miserable wet and still a little windy by the time we made it to Kyleakin,

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but it was all go and Jason had everything organised. Stuart assigned to take us to Elgol and then on board the Eilean a’Cheo.

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Lovely trip up

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and disembarked first and had a wander around the shortest river in Scotland.

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The scene,

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the bride,

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the sound of the pipes and pipers,

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guests, bridesmaids

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and the ceremony all played their part in an unforgettable day. Bit of relief in arriving.

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A non denominational service of marriage which included a nice touch that I had never come across. The rings were passed round all the guests to warm them with everyone’s love. Karen and Martin obviously quite like each other although Martin at times had to ask what he had to say

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and was asked to look at Karen when he was saying it. The weather held up and after a lunch and a swig of champers it was back to the boat in a spirit of bonhomie. Martin’s brother made a spectacular effort to get there as he has MS. The big guys, with lots of mountain experience, constructed a stretcher with wheel and got him there and back with minimum of fuss. Heavens opened as we waited for the boats to take us back to Elgol. I went slightly higher to take snap of the brollies when I put a foot knee-deep in a bog hole. Much hilarity and even a couple of snaps taken of me sprachling about trying to dry the sock in the pouring rain. Boats arrived and soon all loaded up and making our way back to Elgol. Had a good chat with the skipper on the way back and even here there is a decline in the fishing. Caught up on the tensions ashore between the two rivals in the boat trip stakes, none among the skippers. Corry, may not have the correct spelling, was not impressed by the day and was relieved to get back home. Out of time to upload so next post for the sad dog.

And finally back to Kyleakin Hall for a rip-roaring dance with an extremely good ceilidh band, including the very talented Mr Cameron from Glenelg, on the box. After a good few wee ceilidhs round the hall and a fine buffet this was all worked of with a series of Strip the Willows, Virginia waltzes, Boston two steps and not very slow Canadian Barn dances. The fitness levels showed up but giving up is not an option and by the time I left the dance floor after a fine dance with the lovely bride the black shirt looked cool with its silken sweat soaked appearance. All that was left was a reflective drive back, passing martens, stags and mountain hares on the way home. A fine day with lots of unforgettable memories, like the day before when Eachain’s was laid to rest. It was a honor to be at both events and to be able to appreciate lives both past and present. Leaving the Hall for home the view to the North was special in many ways and made for even more reflection.

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Feel so fortunate to have lived and shared these events and to be connected to both events and people in them.

Zones,Ice Cream Medals and History in the Living Room.

In the zone, that where we were tonight, I think I may be using the royal”we”. Made it with a couple of minutes to spare and very quickly in the deep end. Jack, Heather, and I. Eighteen booked in at the top end of the bar for 7pm so the four tables to the north gone for the night. Residents and walk ins made for a busy, busy evening. But first the hot news from Ingilston was that Aron had won eight, yes eight, bronze medals for his ice creams. He had put in twelve flavours  and honestly hoped for one award. This was the kick off for the evening. As soon as I heard the news I wiped the board outside and was going to write-up his achievements. My writing is eligible but does not compare to the Boss’s……in fact no one’s does.

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So just asked the two visitors approaching the door if they could write. Got a wry smile from the Mrs who said that believe it or not she could and not only that she could do joined up as well. Thought I had come across a teacher. All just good craic which set up for the evening. Seems the other news from the Royal Highland Show was Aron’s shirt, so loud it was heard at Edinburgh castle, ten miles away, and yes even he has now been interviewed by Dougie Vipond, almost tempted to call him Our DV. Bit of a late shift as we had twelve people waiting for tables around 8.30pm. As usual it all works out and there were many happy people leaving the Inn. From start to finish the customers were special, appreciative, interesting and great company. They came from Maine, California and the mid west, France and all parts of the UK. Humour levels high as was intelligent conversations. At one time in between a retired Met Bobbie and two French journalists. Very different opinions on Scotland, England, France and Europe. And that was without going into the Ref, Salmond and Sturgeon. A couple of mistakes tonight in the ordering but even they were okay, lamb for a crab and a curry for a linguine. The mood and atmosphere were so good that the lamb and curry were eaten, complimented and were no longer regarded as mistakes. Nights like these fly by and the ten o’clock quiet descends on the bar. A dozen people left down stairs as I spend my second night sleeping in. Morning up earlier to get away to do some fishing as the weather has settled down again and met Berry, the Californian with this family getting ready for breakfast. Another good chat, this time he expressed surprise at hearing Iris Dement on our playlist, always back to music. Abiding political theme is not if but when the next Indy Ref is going to be. Hope there is not too much anti Jock sentiment stirred up by the more basic press. I suppose we have a job to do in continuing to welcome one and all as guests first and foremost, an easy thing to do in an evening like last night.

Although the evening shift goes like a dream there is still time to think of the Mackenzies and their extended family as yesterday they said goodbye to Mary. Big crowd and they came from far and wide to pay their respects. Always a catch in the throat as the coffin is lowered slowly down into the grave. The weather stayed off and a brief chat at the grave side meant I was one of the last to drift away. I never made it in time for the service but paid my respects at the grave. Went to the Heritage Centre and had a wander around for ten minutes waiting for the mourners from the Clachan church to emerge. Not sure if I am privileged to be on the Heritage round of photos as every one else I saw has passed away, just think that I am older than I look.

Tonight I was told that this summer/spring is the worst for 43 years.

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Not sure what the reference is but good it is not. One day of decent weather

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followed by four or five of miserable stuff. Even Dougal

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and Eilidh are getting down about it.

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So in between the fishing days there are still creels to mend,

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prawns to deliver to the Loch Ness Inn,

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where there must have been some serious celebrating last weekend, some cousins may have been partaking.

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Also I picked up some boards from the sign makers at Inverness, did not know at the time what they were, but Alison had organised historical photos put on hoardings

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with the intention of displaying them at the Filling Station.

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And since the engineer has been here there has been no drop off. Seems it was a hardware issue and not our broad band.

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Was back out while Alison unpacked

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and spread them out in the living room.

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They are amazing and will look tremendous on site.

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Spread around the room you could not help but be transported back in time.

The garden is very unconventional and we no longer have any vestige of a lawn, the grasses being waist-high. The Aquilegia are looking fine

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and the rain on the mantle always stays as drops on the leaves.

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South to Music.

Full on few days. We have negotiations regarding the Hydro Scheme at a crucial level. Lots of people saying that it may be on the edge of viability, but that is puzzling as a comparable scheme down the road is going ahead and will make money. But we are in other hands at the moment and we await process. Time is not on our side.

Life goes on despite all this in the background, mind you not really in the background as emails, phone calls are ongoing at the Schoolhouse. Days are varied, Monday although weather was nice a quite, decided not to go fishing and worked on gear instead. With a Board Meeting later on there was enough to do. Tuesday/Wednesday was on the water on a couple of quiet days

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and reasonable fishing

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with a guest appearance from Dana who is at the Inn at the moment.

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Starfish, gulls and the bonxies of course.

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Very cosmopolitan just now with Romanian, Azorean, Dutch and South African alongside the Camusteel stalwarts at the Inn. Nipped over to give Dana a chance of some seal photos

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before landing and heading up to the Inn. Calum would not make a living here with seal trips.

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Dougal still needs his walks and out and about with him and Eilidh in slightly better weather. Always something to see.

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Last night was a little quieter than usual although still people waiting for tables. A bit of a rush late on with a three and two fours waiting to be seated at half eight. Finished off the evening in fine style with a good chat with one of our guests who with his partner were well taken with the place and the Inn, despite being stood on earlier. These out takes are what it is about and exchanging views and just having a craic is so enjoyable. Girls from Glasgow were on the scene as well and we caught up our Indy Ref conversation, started pre Ref. And then a little bit of politics before on the bike and away home. This is a short wee post as I am out the door and down to Edinburgh to hear the exciting Mairi Campbell at the North Edinburgh Arts Centre. Just now going to find out where it is , tent and sleeping bag in the van and land prawns on the way south at the Inn.

Introspection before a Farewell.

The best thing about working on your own is working on your own. So when I get up on time on Wednesday morning, just a little less concentration and energy than usual, a wee snooze on the couch before heading out at ten. No crew man to phone up five times between seven and ten when you change your mind about whether you go out or not. So made it out for ten and as my shift had been changed to the previous evening at the Inn there was no pressure on coming in. The northerly breeze did that for me but not before hauling 300 creels for a few small prawns. The weather for the last couple of days has been fantastic,

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bright blue skies and only an afternoon breeze to cope with. Fairly routine time going through the fleets of fifty creels, with only the company of gulls

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and at most two bonxies along side waiting for their feed of bait.

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As always, good to get to sea where although the work is hard the mind can be elsewhere, like four decades ago. The very day humdrum of grabbing the stopper, opening the creel, emptying it, rebating and stacking before turning the Varuna round and finding a space to reshoot the creels happens to a rythym that is so natural you do not notice it. It is only broken by an interruption, a tangle or something unusual in the creel like an electric blue wrasse,

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a change of engine note that alerts you of a problem. The radio can take you across the world or close to home. Whether it is Peruvian endangered rare animals or floaters voters, voting conservative, scared of the new wave of marauding Scots descending from the North today it mostly is of my teenage years playing football every night on Douglas Park, one of my claims to fame is that I have played football with and against Bertie, still playing at a young 62. It used to be golf with Jimmy Beaton and Andrew “Plumber”, often accused of “gardening” while playing a ball out of the bracken on the wee golf course at the back of the Plock, now sadly no longer there. My hole in one at the 3rd made it to the WHFP. Being part of the victorious Balmore team that won their only trophy, the Macleod Cup, meant a very hazy end to that evening. By this time I was getting adept at climbing in and out of my bedroom window, luckily on the ground floor. The life of sport and attending weekend dances was combined with going to series of communions in the locale stretching from Portree and Broadford in Skye to over here in Applecross, taking in Plockton and Lochcarron on the way. Although at the time disliking these attendances looking back I have little regret and they all form part of one’s make up. The right-off of a mini van on the back road to Balmacara has its balance in spending three and a half hours on a church pew on a sabbath communion morning watching two “tables” taking place, the second in gaelic. Many of these participants are no longer with us. The travelling communicants such as Lachie Mackinnon, Donald Mackay or John Mackenzie, men of huge presence, and even some of my football friends such as Ian Munro, sadly passed away too young all make me smile and appreciate the age I have lived through. Over the years it has become more and more apparent that the reasons I smile or feel uplifted are to do with people, actions to help and nothing at all to do with possessions or money. That is to say I do think I am extremely fortunate in everything we have but it is not the driving force in my life. The other night at the Inn hearing a couple from Quebec say how welcome they felt, almost like being in their own front room, is what it is about. They were chatting to Austrian, Flemish and Dutch on their neighbouring tables. That is what under lies the success of the Inn not turnover or increasing business or cutting costs. Catching ten stone of langoustine is not the buzz anymore but being able to be on the water and catch them while appreciating everything around you is far more important. Maybe this is why I hardly notice if the fishing is “good” but the weather and general well being is more important. If a table is not ready to sit at there will be one and that really is all that matters. Possibly this all relates back to the formative years of my parents and although I have not gone down the route of absolute faith but carry a certain spiritual optimism in a in a world that is full of pessimistic outcomes, the biggest being that of environmental abuses that may well come back to bite us.

So the introspection done and dusted life continues as does the broken weather. The first two days of the week were poor with strong winds from the south although making for the Registrar in Kyle meant I would not have been to sea anyway. Cutbacks mean it was not Lochcarron and made me think that there are serious consequences for the continuous cutting back of services. Not affecting me as I can jump into a car and head to Kyle, but imagine a eighty year old spouse who needed to register for an imminent funeral and it is a difficult and unnecessary problem. Called into the Yard and made arrangements for the cats head to be sorted, needs straightened and strengthened sometime next week and a visit to Dave and Maggie’s for a wee catch up. Shift change on Tuesday from Wednesday which suited as pots hauled over the two days meant a good break on Wednesday evening. A walk in some beautiful light

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with the sun dipping down on the northern half of Raasay.

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Dougal and Eildh

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loving the run out to The Ardban track. On the bike as I had walked enough across the deck all day. Sunset awesome from so many different angles

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and the low sunlight is everywhere.

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Often looking round you catch the best. So with everything in place, I hope, tomorrow I am off to Ardelve and Balmacara to bury my mum but not her’s or my dad’s memory. She is free now.

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Housing still a Priority.

Monday became Housing day and we headed off to Dornoch to see some affordable housing to be opened by housing minister Margaret Burgess.

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Turned out that when we were there we decided to make for Helmsdale for another gathering, this time the Community did their own house building.

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It was an early start and made Dornoch in plenty of time but spent about twenty minutes finding the right street. Small gathering of builders, new tenant and family, HSCHT representatives in Alison and Ronnie

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alongside politicians, Rob Gibson

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and aforementioned Margaret Burgess.

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Wander round the house and a chat with the tenant’s son. Short family history and how grateful he was to get the house. £350p/a fuel bill and cost around £100,000 to build. A bit more realistic to have a warm and dry roof over your head. On up the road to Helmsdale, only a few miles away and coming so far it was a shame not to see what they were up to. Their “local consultation survey” was very similar to ours and had affordable housing at the top of the list. The key word in the sentence is affordable. And as usual the hoops they had to jump through were enormous but that seems to be the way. They were so proud of their achievement in Helmsdale, lots of kids and smiley faces.

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They have arrested their declining school role and it is now increasing. Classic case of community empowerment. Lots of chat about renewable storage and filling stations.

Back at Dornoch and I got chatting to the tenant’s son and Alison to the tenant

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and there was a sad but nice story. His wife had broken her hip and triggered an onset of dementia which meant she was now in a home in Dornoch. He had been living on his son’s croft but now with the house he could visit his wife at the care home. Worth building a house for alone. both Alison and I had political chats about housing or the lack of it and got to chat with Rob briefly about MoD. Also have Rhoda, MSP, on the case and slightly disturbed at the reply from the ministry she received. They claim they are reopening the Rona Range. Tricky one as it has never been closed. PR I suspect when they go ahead with their closure. It was a beautiful day on the east and the architecture is so different from back home. Went to see the Lateral North exhibition in Timespan with a lovely picture of Tom and Lesley and another of the Applecross kids prominent on the wall.

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They have such a strong historical link to the land and having it ripped off them. Cannot help but feel the Duke’s statue looking over the whole area.

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Back late afternoon and after tea went down to Toscaig to view the renovated byre.

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Derek has done a fine job in a major rescue.

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Although in theory it has been passed down with the croft that my Seanair worked, I have had little use for it after it being a bait shed and then the roof came off in one of the winter gales. Now a fine basket weaving shed.

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Grand chat about housing with maybe slightly differing opinions but that is what makes us tick. The essence of what I believe in is the Common Weal and is inclusive, working out solutions with as little detriment to those around. Views, ideals, ambitions, wants and needs compromised for a genuine Common Good. Intriguing little tackety boot

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found while the renovation to place.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

This and That.

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When you think nothing really happening and what to write, look back on the last couple of days and full on. Although does not feel productive we are keeping the Filling Station going at the moment. Seems just rebooting it is getting it going again and maybe our router that is the problem. Down again and just going along now for a reboot. Twice yesterday and again today. Will be a technicality and be sorted by the technicals shortly. Still far better than the last system. Just got to accept that things do go wrong, after all my boat is ashore and having wear and tear repairs are underway.

One of the trips to the Filling Station meant I just made it to see Morag off. Nice little group of people turned out. She had spent her last days in Wales and had reached the fair old age of 98. Was born in 1916, three years before my own mum. Pleasantly surprised to get a photo of her sitting all dolled up in Broadford.

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Morag was married to my granny’s nephew and lived in  Culduie for most of their lives. Nice wee story about them as they were getting on in age and they were traditional crofters, bed and breakfast ears with a few jobs thrown in aswell, Duncan being on the roads. He gave her the choice of the cows or the B and B. The cows won hooves down. Her man did not see this century and used to work on the roads, was involved with the coast road construction. A road that was opened just short of forty years ago by Princess Margaret. Celebrations were mighty on the day and carried over. Unfortunately the Dingwall bobbies were in and said road man ended up in Dingwall after a humorous but unsuccessful plea. Ironic that he was not allowed on the road that he helped to build for a couple of years anyway. Had many a cup of tea in Morag’s and shortbread or fruitcake and enjoyed the craic. All good as long as you knew that you were always going to end up in an argument. Morag loved this and it did not matter the subject but she would take the opposite view. If you went back the next day and changed sides she would do the same and you would have the same argument but on completely different sides. I know one goes through little phases but every now and again you do feel the passing of a fine generation of simple, natural and intelligent people. Closer to nature with a better understanding of the land and sea that we have. We have to study changes and work out cause and effects while they through experience passed down through generations seems to know what thrived or was caught when and where.

Inn shifts went well on both Wednesday and Thursday, last night in particular it was just short of 30 meals and for no special reason. Mid week and mid winter, the bar half full and mostly people living here who appreciate what we have. It is fun matching up couples on tables, guessing that they will get on with each other. Easier in the summer and only fails now and again. Success last night and makes it easier as every one looks after each other and do not need entertained. Filling Station still acting up and rebooted today and see again Zuzu was on duty again tonight. Suspicious it is our equipment and not Tolkhiems. Alison has been down the road fighting our cause for funding for the private wire side of the Hydro scheme and sounds as though it went really well, or as well as could be expected. certainly got praise for her efforts from the Agencies that are helping us progress the scheme. So just the weather to moan about with only a glimpse here and there of spring. The Cuillin do look good in the mornings if there is a bit of sun about.

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A major local sea story is breaking here over the last couple of days, with more information over the weekend. Big boy against the wee boys story.

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