It has been a sad two weeks for Applecross. Tomorrow I am going through to Inverness to say goodbye to Carol, my neighbour. She passed away last week far too young and it is hard to believe that a couple of years ago I was trying and mostly failing to get her dinky little net shots back on our monday and thursday badminton evenings. She was always so uncritical of everyone, something many of us could aspire to. Judith’s mum Vera has headed off to Inverness for an assessment to see how her dementia can be further treated and realistically is going to have professional care. Her assessors so far have been amazed how her family have coped as much as they have up till now. Vera has always been a character and often would come into the bar and give you a big hug and you did feel that she meant it. My own mum has been in care for almost 10 years now also suffering from dementia. It comes as quite a shock when your Mum asks you if you have a family. Over time you process and get used to this and eventually she does not know you. In a way you already have said good-bye although she is still alive and relatively healthy. Growing up in Kyle you remember the relatives nursed in their last days by my mum and you feel the guilt that you don’t do it for her. The only consolation is that she is in a brilliant place and so well looked after by amazing people. I always think of the story of some one I knew from Kyle who went to visit his mother in law and when asked what day it was replied “Any day you want it to be.” Humour can sometimes get you through the c**p. Over the past two weeks there has been a search and rescue operation looking for a young lad who had grown up in Applecross. He was last seen on the Bealach despite extensive searches carried out by local volunteers and RAF Mountain Rescue. Listening to the people closely connected there does appear to be little hope. Because it is a close-knit place most people know every one. In fact I am of an age where I can name just about every house owner and dweller in Applecross. It is not being nosy but just the way it is. So for such a small place there has been a lot to contend with over the last couple of weeks.
A good shift at the Inn can be an antidote to a sad time. Life will always go on and there was a good crowd in again tonight, all enjoying superb food and towards the end there was Finbar regaling several tables with his stories of his cheese mining exploits and trying to persuade people of his relationship to Alan Shearer. His attempts to get dance partners on to the bar floor failed but did not stop him trying. The 60th birthday party went very well despite some of the party starting the celebration at 9am.Speaking to Ishbel from Lochcarron and discovered that her family were the owners of the Crowlin Islands and that was where my family landed leaving Harris in the 1890s. Had a bit of a banter that as I was doing service tonight we were still in the same position as over a hundred years ago. The Macleods still in the service of the Macleans. So it has been a series of different kinds of goodbyes.
The weather has broken this weekend but before it did I looked across the bay to Camusteel and like many other scenes here there is a timeless feel to the place that is far bigger than any of us. There is probably 10,000 years of history in the picture but we can only see the last hundred or so. It is times like these when you realise the importance of oral history. This strong tradition on the west coast is slowly dying but is the best way to keep alive the memories of those that have gone before us.
As it was a pretty dark and very misty morning decided not to go out. Although can be used as an excuse and we can find our gear with ease using GPS plotters the problem arises when you shoot back the creels in a busy area. It is impossible to see the other boats buoys in time so end up being foul on some one else’s gear. I had been putting off renewing some anodes and pressure washing the bottom of the boat so made that today’s job. I had a copper paint put on three years ago so I would not have to use anti fouling every year and this seems to work economically and also as I hate painting especially lying on my back underneath a boat.
On monday I took Dougal and family down to the Toscaig Regeneration scheme on the Ardmor peninsula. This came about in the early 90s as a direct result of a European grant scheme I was involved with. At that time I was developing a scallop farm and included building a shore base and a new boat, taking on a full-time employee, casual labor and lots of debt. There was an environmental follow-up scheme which developed into fencing off 122 hectares of hill croft land with the intention of allowing trees to naturally regenerate. It is a beautiful part of the Applecross landscape but is fairly inaccessible as the ground is rough, a very peaceful place. As a committee we are relatively wealthy but lack the ability to take many decisions so the scheme remains in its basic state.
Love the view looking over the old homestead. My grandfather’s house is the one with the red roof and blue porch. It is great that it is being lived in and not a holiday house, joining 50% of the houses in Applecross. Since moving up the road to the schoolhouse I have always wanted to do something with the croft but economics and time has always stepped in. I am now going to have it ploughed and resown with species rich grasslands. A return to the meadows of old. Even in the early 80s they still existed but as the crofting population has got older the grazing rules relaxed and sheep destroyed the old hay meadows. To the south the view out Loch Toscaig is spectacular.
The little lochan has shrunk to half its size due to the spell of prolonged dry weather. Although the dogs put up a very healthy hind there does not appear to be too much damage to the regeneration. There are areas that are bursting with young birch and there are rowan and oak appearing as well. Over to the west it was another still day on the Crowlin Sound with a solitary sail boat heading north. Over a hundred years ago my family came over from the southeast of Harris and thought the Crowlins were a step up. They must have come from a material poverty unimaginable now.Eventually they came ashore and settled in Toscaig due to the generosity of the people at the time. As I remember this it is something I try to put in practice when people ,especially young , try to live in Applecross. It appears wrong that it is such a struggle for people to establish themselves here. There is only 65,000 acres to choose from , I suppose. Back in Harris things are now looking up with the North Harris Trust and also on the west side with the south looking to join in. School roles are growing and population demography is getting younger, houses are being built, not as investments but as homes. The investment is in the people.
One of the obligations for the Toscaig crofters is to keep the fence in good order,a job that Dougal does not find onerous although on monday he did think it a little muggy. He does appear to have a big tongue.
Back home after a couple of hours where as you have been out on the hill your senses are sharpened and I noticed the orange blossom tree was in full display. They do not last very long but when out they look and smell wonderful.