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

Posts tagged ‘crofting’

There Has to be a Better Way

Sometimes the law really is an ass, especially when it does not protect the environment from people who believe they can act with impunity just because it is legal. That was the response from the skipper when it was suggested that he was destroying a flame shell reef where no one had towed dredges for over twenty years. “Its legal until September”, Bertie’s response was “we can’t protect all the flame shell reefs” It is an attitude that is going to have to change or we will be left with nothing to protect. The ploughed field and the I’ve dredged for scallops for 50 years there no longer are arguments that hold much water. The towing of dredges over ground reduces it to sand and gravel and yes if it is left for a year or two there will be a few scallops back on the ground but little else. A couple of videos taken before and after shows the beauty of an underwater eco system where flame shells build nest and literally hundreds of organism live in and around this naturally built reef. https://www.facebook.com/subseatv/?fref=nf&pnref=story “With one sweep of a bottom trawl all this would be gone”. And that is what happened last week. The video showing the stunning sea life that we all depend on is now devastated. I am not exaggerating as this is what it looks like now. https://www.facebook.com/george.brown.9822/posts/10211469161757411?pnref=story As you can see there is a huge argument going on with dredgers comparing the damage to ploughing up a field of grass to grow wheat. Also suggesting the veracity to the videos are to be questioned. Knowing the people involved that is a non starter. Mono cultures do not work too well on land either. I will be sticking to creeling for the rest of my days as I could not go through the Thin Red Line of accepting and getting used to the destruction of the environment to “make a pound”.

Every where you haul creels you haul live fish, crabs, shrimps, starfish, octopodes, cuttle fish and even the occasional lobster to the surface. You are surrounded by sea birds and occasionally by dolphins and see the odd whale in the distance. The live unwanted life is put back over the side. I cannot imagine sorting through a deck full of writhing sea life that comes up from a dredge or trawl just to land a few inferior langoustines, throwing dead, dying or crippled animals back over the side. I have been fortunate to have only done this for two weeks of my fishing life way back in the early eighties. The sooner we understand that we cannot keep degrading the marine eco system to such an extent that only a few inshore trawlers and dredgers can survive the better for all of our coastal communities. MPAs have been set up and seemingly the ones to the south have already been dredged through as there is little Marine Scotland Compliance can do to protect them. They have been set up to protect features but I would recommend that far bigger areas be set aside from mobile fisheries and only allow static or passive fishing methods in these fragile inshore breeding waters. These waters have only been trawled for one generation so calling this a traditional fishery is stretching that definition too far. All fisheries have to be heavily regulated to fit what the environment can give, not what we can take.  I am only talking about inshore waters and have no knowledge of how the shoals function offshore. Only note that fish numbers in the creels dramatically decreased from the 90s onwards and I do not think the creels fishery is the cause of that.

On a happier note signs of a renewal of crofting in Toscaig continues apace with several crofts now being worked. Maybe this autumn my own will finally restart.Made it down the road with a few willow which went into the ground to replace a broken fence. While I was down I took a wander onto one of the latest ventures https://www.facebook.com/search/top/?q=applecross%20croft from which these fantastic tulips came from.

The byre which used to have hens and cows with a couple of lambing ewes in it has been completely restored, now with a little stove in

while Sara weaves away.

Changed days on the croft.

Back to the fishing and on a more cautionary note I am seeing more and more langoustines with new eggs


and now believe that they spawn at different times of the year, whether that is due to warmer waters or a stock mentality of trying to reproduce as they are under pressure who knows. They still go back over. But one of the pleasures I have is seeing tiny life on the ropes or seeing minuscule squats on the deck having fallen through the creels mesh, seeing mermaid purses

on the creels or squid eggs, just seeing the continuation of the cycle of life while hopefully not disrupting it too much to make a living.



Three Medium and One Large.

On the water on Saturdays are a pleasure if it was just listening to Radio Scotland and Radio 4, but one does pass the odd tired bod.


The variety is huge from hearing the weekend News going into Shereen and guests where you pick up fascinating pieces like the interview with Mary Miller. A minister’s wife who refused a comfortable manse in a safe suburb to living in a Castlemilk council house where John Miller preached. She was one of the founding members of the Jeely Piece Club, a group of mothers who were fed up with the cycle of drugs and poverty of the estate. You also get a round-up of what has over the week, the Referendum over Europe is never far away.  Then over on R4 you are taken to Angola and the problems of falling oil revenues, sewage in the streets of Luanda, but the rich are remaining rich and the poor are even poorer. Then the humour of Aff the Ball where Sally Magnusson comes on and talks Pee. Yep, seems she has written a book about urine. Has an important place in history, it turns out, French baguettes in medieval times had urine in them as there appears to be yeast in the pee.  The fishing was excellent, first creel had 3 medium and 1 large langoustine in it and from then on very enjoyable quantities coming aboard,


and only had to haul five fleets, 275 creels, to keep the Inn going over the weekend. They are selling huge amounts of langoustines at the moment, both whole in lemon and garlic butter and half pints as a sharing starter. The mayo buckets have the whole ones while the ones ready for tailing are in the basket.

I am not one for taking lots of food photos but thought the seafood pasta of the other evening


deserved one as did the view out west with the mist rolling over the north end of Raasay,


should have been the warning that there may have to be a later start the next morning.


Like every morning, bar one, this week the starts have been early and the first “job” of the day is to return the sheep south. Wednesday was a particularly early start, just after four and was about to head out to sea, after a breakfast, when the mist rolled in.


It was pretty dark around the moorings and did not lift till around ten. Ardubh did look mysterious in the fog.


Cannot say I am too bothered about the sheep coming up the road, other than the lack of sleep. Some things never change and even as the deer fence was being built I knew the sheep were never going to go out onto the hill for the summer. A pity but sometimes you have to live with rural idiosyncrasies. One of the reasons I am keen to see them off south where they belong is there are patches of wild flowers that appear in Camusterrach that help the bees. And the sheep here are out on the hill, must be a little depressing to see the grass being taken while the village sheep here are giving it a rest. Tells you what the sheep think of the state of their native feeding. Dougal enjoys his early morning jaunts.


Have to say the sheep are getting used to it and take off south as soon as Dougal and I open the gate. They need persuading to keep going so we have to go to the top of the Craig Darroch to make sure they are in their daytime pastures.


On the way past the dinghy on the out hauler saw she was resting on the shore and I take that as a sign of how tired one becomes when you make little mistakes like not tying the endless line off.


After breakfast this morning the tiredness in the legs meant another short kip on the couch before going out at half eight. Great thing about being single-handed and self-employed, you please yourself and have no one to blame for things that go wrong like the dinghy resting on the shore.

Fishing has been fine this week, with a little dip in the middle but has come back strongly in the last couple of hauls. Just as well as the Inn has turned into a Langoustine Bar with scallops and crab going well. The weather changing may slow down the output although no signs today. A passing super yacht


made me think of Sandy in his little dingy and to be perfectly honest I know the one I prefer, closer to nature in the wee dinghy. Not sure if that is the new one but it was the Hampshire as they were booked in and cancelled at the Inn. Fair old size as you can see the Mairead M in the background.


Took the Loch Ness Inn some langoustine on Friday and included a trip into Inverness, a dart round the outlets, Highland Wholefoods, Gaelforce Marine, Macgregors and Simply Pets. Managed a haircut before calling in to BlackIsle Berries on the way home. Four punnets of the best, tastiest Highland strawberries you could find, gone already.

Going up to the Inn for the second half of the work day and realising that will have crammed ten days work in the last eight with little respite in prospect. And that is not counting a five-hour trip picking up parts and delivering langoustine on Friday. The Inn shifts on Wednesday and Thursday have settled down a little and you are able to make a bit more contact with some customers. Lots of German and French about and we have the French-speaking Charlotte home for the month to help out in any of the linguistic difficulties.

Good Weather and a Fence Chat.

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

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

Another fine day at sea,


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


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


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


Nippy but easy evening.


Nothing Much (Part 2)

Mid way through the day at 5pm, ashore from a strange day’s fishing. After the first 4 fleets of creels I was for coming in as the catch was so poor but working up the Bank it improved a little making the decision to stay out the right one. So far it has been a poor year for the prawn fishery and from what I am hearing this is not just locally. Still enough for the appearance of the occasional octopus.


The prices have held up although I am hearing one of the buyers from the Skye Bridge area has gone down. Speaking to some guys at the Inn this afternoon after landing the prawns and they were from Chicago, living in Perthshire. Got married in Culloden House Hotel and wanted lobster but could not get any as they needed three days notice because they were off to Spain, lobsters that is. Crazy world. A home market being bypassed and I am not sure why. Any one know what fish these are? They are becoming more plentiful.


Deep water and soft fleshed with two long tendrils and always cannot handle the pressure change. A little bit of colour mid day coming down the Sound.


Quite a sensible night with spare tables most of the night as the weather was good and a breeze from the north kept the midges away until after food was over. Lots of good conversations about langoustine, creel caught , of course, the guys that come to Applecross are well versed in what they eat and it is good to see such an interest in the food they are eating. There is a huge debate about how we grow our food and GMO is turning out not to be the saviour of the world that it has been sold as.  From reports coming out of USA GMO yields in some instances are lower and use more pesticides than”normal” crops but we are being bombarded with PR about how this is the only way. Small actually produces more per acre and uses less carbon but industrial farming pays well for that industry. Crofting?? I am off fishing now as three rants in a row is too much.

Nothing Much.

Hit a little wall today when I decided “No”. Just a little too tired to head out to sea and the weather was not very inviting. First things first and it was back to bed for an hour, solid sleep so obviously needed. Then it was off up to Carnoch Wood with Dougal and Co and a pleasant wee walk through an atmospheric old wood.


Unfortunately on the way back down the road Eilidh decided she would have “a go” at a tourist’s dog, very embarrassing and unpleasant for the tourist, but I know it looks far worse than it is as she never makes contact. Dougal, never one to miss out on anything, comes bounding along to join in. All over in seconds but me with scratches and twisted ankle from hauling Eilidh away. Back down the road to pick up some prawns for The Loch Ness Inn and while I was boxing them up at the Inn I was informed the Filling Station was down. A reboot and a really good chat about community work and sustainable fishing during my wetstock dip and getting it going again. Although it is the last reason why you do community “stuff” it is always feels good to get encouragement from people who really appreciate a service you play a part in providing. The reboot was successful first time and away we went for another snooze but not before having the dogs out for a wee stroll. Noticed it’s the devil’s bit scabious that are showing now in huge numbers and also covered in some sort of flies. It is so-called as it’s roots end abruptly as if bitten off by the devil, obvious I suppose..


In the evening got a phone call saying there were a couple of ladies in distress with their camper van teetering over a bank at Toscaig pier. By the time I arrived all was under control as Billy and DJ had the towrope attached and all it needed was a pull on the side pillar to make sure it  did not cope as it was pulled off the bank. No idea how they managed to get the van where they did and thought it a wee bit insensitive to take a photo. But result was two very happy and relieved ladies. Never stuck in Applecross, although that may not be a bad thing!! Having said that Mark, Around Britain, does seem to be still stuck here although his Scooter is mended but still needs to make its way back.

As always, these days housing is an issue in rural parts and Applecross is no different. Being in Toscaig always reminds me of how I am now here. The crofters at the turn of last century gave a croft to Finlay Macleod, my grandfather, for him to establish himself and raise a family in the hamlet. Times have changed but generosity of spirit and possessions do not. They are timeless. I really enjoy the fact that his house has been renovated and is lived in now, means that it is still alive as is the house down by the pier, although slightly more controversial. The shore base for the scallop farm had become very underused and I complied with a request for an affordable house site. I always try to do things on trust but sometimes this does not work out. The house was half built and then sold on for lots of dosh. But, for me, that is always going to be Greg’s problem. He was not big spirited enough to pass on the favour he received but decided to cash it in. The house is now lived in for 6 months of the year and is an addition to the housing stock of Applecross and who knows in the future…..  There seems to be a new positive mood going by a report of a meeting held last week in Toscaig where all sorts of possibilities were discussed regarding Doctor’s accommodation and the potential of resuming some grazing land for house sites. This is taking place with the worrying back drop of a continuing decline in the school roll. Splitting my croft to allow some one to establish themselves in the community was the reason the meeting was held but as it is an ongoing situation I do not want to prejudice anything until all is resolved, but good to hear very positive comments about it all.


I always think it is slightly crazy that initiatives are taken by people who rent land/crofts on a 70,000 acre Estate while there are 70,000 acres…… This is all taking place with a sort of mad background. Reading an article in the Guardian about “special” mortgages for people wanting to buy second homes for investment. Specifically geared for tax avoidance but with no consideration of what effect this has on the communities they buy in. It is a complicated issue and every case is individual but when the surveys say that once you have more than 20% second home ownership in a community then that community is then struggling to retain its services and the population ages, school rolls decline and the essence of the place struggles to maintain a presence. We are up to 50%. Rather than criticize any one with a second home, there are a hundred different reasons for having one, I find it more fulfilling in trying to alleviate the problem in practical ways. The ethics of the lenders have to be called into question as it is only the bottom line that is their criteria. More and more you see the system skewed towards people who have money enabling them to make more. House prices to local wage ratios will be driven completely out of sight for the local working population, I suppose they are already. I find links every where I look when I think of a problem and tonight I was listening to a speech given by Bill Shankley to his players about how they should feel privileged to play for the club and more importantly the fans, a community based speech. All we hear about from the 70s/80s is how bad the country was run etc but behind it there seems to have been a stronger sense of community and that has been driven down by this cult of the driven, achieving, individual and the sooner it re emerges the stronger our fragile communities will be. Some people who come here to live take their high expectations with them and expect the same instant service they have become used to in their previous lives. When these are not met by “local” services a few get a little too grumpy and you do question why they have come to live here. There is nothing more satisfying than investing in your own community…. that’s enough me thinks I better get back to work tomorrow and think less.

Music,Wheels,Pigs and Orchids.

Fairly busy night last night although under control and it was topped off by the amazing sunset which we are all hoping is the portend of a spell of good weather, it certainly is very calm and tranquil.

Went out to the boat this morning to get some medium prawns to keep them on the menu. The squats had run out by friday evening and the prawn tails this afternoon. A wee spell of unsettled weather and they are quickly sold out. Mark had his binoculars and telescope trained on the Bay and sure enough a couple of porpoises made an appearance on the flat calm waters. Quietish lunch, no doubt as a result of our newest Scottish hero playing a game of tennis in the deep south. Seems the boy did well. Slightly unusual at the Inn as Room 8 had a telly on and there were a half-dozen people watching there while in the bar Mark had his laptop on the wi-fi. The stream was a little intermittent and the bar finished about 10 minutes after the Room 8 match. Watched them both and it was just as good the second time round. Andy won them both. Life does go on though and the afternoon was filled with some very good music, pipes, accordions, whistles, guitars and some great vocals.


As ever some interesting modes of transport arrive  like the three-wheeled Morgan which is staying overnight.


Seems they are being made again after a long break. Also the impressive Harley Davidson seen heading off after a couple of fish and chips.


Met up with a character, Greek and Canadian origin, who was from the east end of London where he owned, ran and sold a successful restaurant. Had a lot to say but was very entertaining in the short time he was part of my life and was very complimentary about the rare sirloin he had as well as the pistachio and hazelnut ice creams. Now a lorry driver he sold up to a friend who went bankrupt in 6 months. He thought running an establishment was easy….he could have come up here to see how time-consuming it is. He said his day started at around 11am when he got up and served lunch till 3pm when he caught a couple of hours off and then it was into dinner service till after 1am when he headed to his markets ready for the next day and set everything up and finished at 6am. Found it too much so sold out. After my fish and chips I was off down the road where I noticed Robert was up on his croft feeding his new acquisitions, two of Paul’s Tamworth pigs from the north end of Raasay.www.lifeattheendof theroad.wordpress.com/ Looked very happy in their new home and “snouts in the trough” sprung to mind.


Robert and Marion have been developing their croft for over a couple of years and you are starting to see some great results. Got to see the guinea fowl living in the back room with another batch of eggs set for hatching on thursday.

Picked up Dougal and Co for a short walk to Camusteel,




one of the many places where there are numerous orchids out showing off their delicate splendour.

Morning Ceilidh in Arrina.

Up earlyish to catch the Lewiston car to take prawns to the Loch Ness Inn. Also took the large and extra-large ashore for the Spanish market. Managing to keep the prawns in good condition and despite keeping them for over two weeks am losing very few. Landed the prawns at Ardheslaig by 10am and decided to stop off in Arrina for a ceilidh and a cup of tea with Muirne and a catch up with what was happening round the North Coast. Some times it feels they are a little closer to Shieldaig than the South Coast, but after a couple of minutes we are all one. Planning is a bit of an issue to the north and there is a meeting in Shieldaig tonight to discuss the impression that planning applications from out with the community and not in keeping with the environment are given priority over locally based applications. Planning, always contentious and emotive, seems to have quite a few awkward questions to face this evening when the local officer fields enquiries tonight. Tempted to go but would be  a little voyeuristic.So sorted out all the crofting problems, issues on the road and who is doing what to whom. Part of the chat was about a small building just next door to the schoolhouse which is earmarked for development and is known as a half house, possibly where elderly relatives lived close to the family.


Muirne, as well as being a prawn van driver and Leiths lorry driver, works with stained glass and has a self catering chalet out the back of the schoolhouse. www.shardsstainedglass.co.uk and oldbyre@arrina.co.uk  Good to see where every one lives and whose house is where and craic was had before heading over to see Rick and Lynne at the end of Arrina. Really strange never to have been in this part of the peninsula and in this house.  Known Rick and Lynne for decades but usually see them when they are down in the south part of Applecross. Memories of a trip down Glen Pean and a climb up the south side where he discovered my head for heights disqualified me from all mountain rescue teams. Cracking views from across the loch towards Diabaig from where our broadband will eventually reach this remote part.


Leaving Rick’s noticed the technology problems wee remote places have to access any kind of service.


Passing Cuaig I noticed the shop is open as usual. Seeing sights like that it is comforting in a way that some things do not change. And back down to Camusterrach where it was blowing strong from the south.


The day ends with a bit more storing wood away for the winter. Good old fashioned day when you chat to people you like.

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