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

Posts tagged ‘employment’

Life is good despite Hassles.

What I like about Applecross is you can be as busy and stressed out as working 70 hours a week in The City, although I think there is far more purpose to life here and the stress is only really in one’s head. Fantastic weather and it is forecast to continue for the foreseeable future. Took a day from fishing yesterday to try to sort out my charging problem on the boat and headed over to the Kishorn Yard to pickup a replacement alternator, although back in plenty of time to replace it the flu bug kicks in again with a vengeance. As it turned out I did not have the right size of allen key to get the pulley and fan off so it was a quick trip back over the Hill and not wasted as I watched two engineers get together to loosen the nut. It was on for 8 years. Back out in the engine room today and the prognosis is not that good as the gauges do not indicate I have solved the problem. Now its a check on fuses and connections, which is logically some thing I should have done first but I am not logical. As usual trips over the Hill are combined with other events and Kishorn Port Authority were putting on a display about the possible reopening of the Kishorn Yard, this time for building wind turbines for the expected western offshore wind farms. Not a lot of new information but got talking to one of the environmental consultants and it’s certainly of interest….may even be a tourist attraction!!! Possible 2/300 jobs involved but so much up in the air. As far as I can make out KPA refurbish the site and attract a company in to build the turbines, glad I do not live in that high risk world. As I was waiting for my alternator to arrive at Kishorn I wandered off with Dougal up the lower reaches of Russel Burn and despite feeling very unhealthy Dougal is good company and I do live in one of the most beautiful corners of the world.IMG_1607



Some in my family believe Dougal has little or no intelligence, I strongly disagree although his spaniel tendencies have to be catered for on a fairly regular basis. The Hills of Applecross I think are one of the defining features of this community, an island on the mainland and maybe makes some of us a little awkward and contrary. The Keoch Nose looks majestic from any angle but I am never going to climb it.

Tonight involved a trip out to the Community Hall to see a nature film by Nick Wright and sound by Stephen Deutsch. Very enjoyable and they are planning a film on Applecross that will involve some of the contraries as well as the wealth  of nature that we live amongst. To get there meant a lie down , a 20 minute shower and breakfast, first food for two days apart from the small bowl of veg soup at the Inn but it was well worth it and Nick is coming out on the boat for a day’s fishing, health and alternator permitting. Today’s trip over the Hill was combined with nipping into Lochcarron for a box of scallops. Really bad news on the bee front is that Audrey has found that she has varroa in her hives and has kindly given me the organic as possible solution and instructions to treat. A job for this weekend, Wandered over to the hive today and nice to see some activity. Such a shame as Audrey had tried so hard to keep her hives mite free and that was the reason for me waiting to get bees locally so I would not have to deal with varroa. As Sean has once again fixed our broadband it’s a wee spell on iplayer to catch up on Spiral and Dancing on the Edge.

Fishing and Land Representations.

Nothing on the box to watch and lots of paperwork to plough through so it is Nickel Creek on iTunes and a post to write. It was good to get out fishing again and although a cold and crisp day to be at sea I do love both the company and solitude of nature on the Inner Sound. You are both alone and in company at the same time. Some days you are more aware of where you are and connect better with the environment you are in, indeed the activity of fishing is secondary and is only the vehicle to get you on the water. Sometimes the feeling you are being watched is more than a feeling.


After a long day sorting out tangles of creels, the gear having been left over the festive period and accompanying bad weather, the evening light show kicks in again. With the sun setting to the south of Raasay over the Cuillin there are endless variations at this time of year.IMG_1211

Yesterday a delegation from the newly formed Scottish Creel Fisherman’s Federation was to meet with Richard Lochhead, Fisheries minister, and I received this email from a representative from an Association further south of us and it is worth printing off as it says it all and more.

“Thank you for giving us this time to voice the concerns and aspirations of the Scottish creel fishermen.

When I was a young lad my father, along with thousands of others were employed in the herring fishing on the West coast, this fishery has now gone.

The white fishery which employed hundreds has now also collapsed there.

These West coast fisheries were not the victims of unforseen events or natural disasters, the cycle was the same both times, the fisheries became overdeveloped due to hungry markets and better technology, and stocks went into decline. lack of supply to the market made it viable for the larger and better financed vessels from elsewhere to fill the gap causing these fisheries to collapse.

The only fishery left on the West coast which employs significant numbers of people is prawns and there are signs that history is about to repeat itself. The prawns trawl sector on the West coast has been in rapid decline, and some rules are being relaxed which allow huge horse power from the East coast to compete with them. It appears from recent announcements that this situation will continue. We believe that the science behind the TAC which allows this is flawed, the West coast boats even in their heyday, have struggled to catch the full quota on their own. The added horse power will inevitably cause lack of stocks and force the trawlers inshore and into ever more conflict with the creel men, further damaging the ability of both sectors to compete in a difficult market.

Prawn creeling was going on sustainably and profitably on the West coast for many decades before the inshore zone was opened to trawling. since 1985 the ground available for creels has been shrinking due to the development of gear that can be towed on hard ground and also because some skippers take advantage of the fact trawlers are able to tow creels away with almost total impunity. We now have the bizarre situation in the NW where a vibrant and potentially expanding creel sector, which employs some 80% of the fishermen, is being hemmed in to around 30% of the available inshore ground, while also having no access to offshore grounds.

We believe that a majority of fishermen on the West coast now agree that the three-mile limit should be re-instated there, and we welcome, and would be keen to contribute to, any fair and independent review of this legislation and its social, economic and environmental impact.

We also favour o prawn permit system for langoustine, possibly based on the amount of days worked in a given period rather than weights landed.

Creel fishing has a built-in effort cap. You can only haul on creel at a time, regardless of the size and power of your vessel. Because of this inability to Oversize” it has remained a major employer round the coast.

For many fragile communities in the NW, creel fishing is the only employment. It is the aim of the SCFF that management of the inshore fisheries must put employment ahead of big money interests.

I believe that Government shares these aims.”

So good to see your views starting to be replicated and being presented to government. When Kenny and I went to give evidence to the RACCE committee one of the things I remember clearly was Kenny pointing out it was only thirty years ago that this current mess was created by implementing the Inshore Fisheries Act of 1985 and with similar legislation can easily be corrected.

Over the Hill this afternoon to take Ruariadh to the Kishorn Yard to catch his lift to Glasgow for a couple of courses and driving instruction. Forest of masts ashore where they are safe from the west coast winter storms.


Going back along the loch side it looks so quiet and it is good to absorb the quietude of nature to put all things in perspective. On the Highland News there was an article about the Land Reform Review Group’s submissions and David Cameron (the real one), chair of the Community Land Unit talking sensibly and rationally about the issues communities have to face across the Highlands. My own submission , I have had to request be kept private, as I cannot be bothered fielding the inevitable bricks. It is an interesting time we live in and reinforces my view that there is no such thing as the status quo. So I look across the loch….


Community, Medical matters and a traveller.

Yesterday we met with a group from Minginish at the walled garden. This is a peninsula on the north-west of Skye and they have just established a Community Trust and were over to see us to get an idea of what was going on in Applecross. I joined in for about three hours after walking over the Tor Mor with Dougal and family. There were wide-ranging discussions about the ongoing problems in both areas. There are differences in population sizes but there are so many similarities. Some of the statistics quoted for Skye were quite remarkable in relation to the age demography of the island. There are areas which do appear worse and the Mishinish peninsula does seem to have an ageing population, falling school role and their shop and PO is on the market. Their income generator is the Talisker distillery as ours is the Applecross Inn. I have to say some of the discussions were mildly depressing in that so much of the solutions are out with our scope, land, housing and employment. I am not an advocate of young people staying here although if after a spell it would be great to see some come back. That is where the problems arise, unless they have family/croft connections there chances are very slim in establishing themselves here with house prices at about 10 times the annual wage. Community broadband will be a small step in the right direction as some people can come to live here and bring their own job. Tradesmen of any description can find work immediately and 100 people can live here without any one noticing any negative effect on the balance of the community. The Walled Garden is looking and smelling spectacular and the food was well complimented by the guys from Skye. Photos would have been taken but I had a mini disaster with my camera on saturday with it ending up in the sea. Despite leaving it in the airing cupboard in a box of rice there seems no hope. I have since moved over to a second-hand Canon 400D following a good deal in the local camera market. Although the cash side of things is annoying the waste is the thing that bugs me most but I do seem to buy second-hand technology these days and that makes up for my little excesses.

The above picture has ended up on a website that is part of an NHS advert for a new doctor. We are feeling a bit nervous now that Dr Mark has handed in his resignation and is heading off down to the Brecon Beacons. Always when these events take place it brings home the vulnerability of our area. There are very few practices of our small size on the mainland and with the cost implications every where there is always the possibility of budget cutting when there is change of personnel. The advert reads as though anything will be considered and we can only hope that the attractions of Applecross will bring in the right applicants. Of course we are back to accommodation issues if it turns out that we are to have a two salaried doctor option. A 24 hour medical service is a must for the survival of a place like Applecross if it is not merely to become a holiday destination.

The weekend was extra ordinarily busy at The Inn, especially on saturday evening. At the end of service at 9 o’clock there were still 26 people waiting to be seated and cheffie was still cooking at  9.45pm. He was not ecstatically happy but the food was as good as ever and that is why there are 26 people waiting to be seated at 9 o’clock. I am enjoying getting to know the regular visitors from around Europe. Previously I only did the Sunday shift and a few emergency ones and as a result I only had a passing acquaintance with many customers. But getting to know Matthais from Germany, Tom and family from Norway and Eric from Austria a bit better has been fun and bearing in mind that I have a son travelling round Europe I hope he is coming across as many pleasant people as the ones that visit Applecross. We get occasional emails from Bonn or Cologne, Paris and now Lyons where he is playing his bagpipes to anyone who will listen. Being a student he is using couch surfing as a means to get around. None of this was available when I hitched across America 30 years ago. I always remember the lift a got from a lady who said I was her first hitch hiker but as her son was hitching down to Florida she decided to pick me up and hoped her son would be well looked after. It would be a different world if we all did things on this level. This is the couch surfing photo advertisment. A bagpipe playing doctor in the family, who would have believed it.

A community day out.

Today it was off to Strathpeffer for a community day out. We always wonder if these days are worth the effort and a day off work but this one was ok. There were several people we know who were there, agency employees and other community councillors. The subject was how to spend the money that was accruing to communities through mainly outside developed wind farms. This was not directly connected to Applecross as we are developing our own and it is hydro. It nevertheless interesting to see how other communities deal with the large amounts of money now coming in to fairly small population centres. A purely personal observation but I only found one speaker inspiring, an employee form CES who worked up in Orkney who stated the community owned facilities had more worth to the communities involved as they had put all the effort into building it and thus had more pride in the results. Also the money earned would be put to good use as it had been hard-earned. Although there is nothing wrong in developer money going into affected communities for me it would not have the same meaning. Maybe this is just splitting hairs. These events are great for meeting new people of similar minds, guys who are positive, who faced with problems try to fix them and warn other people about the mistakes they have made. There is a genuine network out there which helps communities to help each other and avoid each others mistakes.

Only down side of the day was we ran out of petrol yesterday evening. I was hoping the delivery would have come in on the Tuesday but it was not to be. Even worse was the news today the delivery did not turn up  due to a brake down on the way over. It bothers me that it was avoidable in that I should have ordered fuel a couple of days before I did, but as they say in France “c’est la Vie”.

On the way in to Strathpeffer we talked about Applecross especially as we had a Board meeting last night and all our problems and possible solutions were fresh in our heads. All the agenda items of Hydro,grant applications,broadband provision, elderly care/support worker, work units all have employment prospects but all have one serious problem for us to overcome and that is one of access to land and in particular affordable housing.It came up later in the day but enterprise is one of the solutions to places like Applecross. Until there is a solution to this problem then it is going to be an uphill struggle, not insurmountable but harder than need be to sustainably develop our community.Thinking out of the box and using enterprise I think is definitely the way ahead for places like Applecross to survive and even better thrive. There are a lot of interested visitors at the Inn wanting to know how the community functions out with the obvious tourist industry. I often have a chat with some one about the fishery or the community work going on and later in the evening some one else brings it up saying they overheard what I was saying and lots more questions are asked. I find it great that so many people want to know more than the superficial.

Coming back to work at the Inn after a positive day away you cannot help but be in good form, front of house is easy on nights like these. You hopefully entertain the customers as well as giving them some sort of insight into the way you live. It was a gentle service this evening so it was good to speak to everyone, the German bikers, the French couple, the Wiltshire business travel agent and our first Malaysian of the year. They just keep coming.

Todays venue took place in the beautifully refurbished Spa Pavilion. It was good to meet up with  the Strathpeffer ladies who are on the Social Enterprise course as well as James who was facilitating the event.

A little tale from the Inn to finish. When Judith’s ex was behind the bar one evening he got into a conversation with “Legs” one of our local worthies now sadly passed on. The discussion for some unknown reason gravitated to breakfasts to which Legs stated that he had a Talisker in his porridge every morning  but some mornings he would think “ah f*** the porridge”

Community Broadband

Although the Community Company is still waiting to see if our application to take over and run the public toilets is successful we hope to progress an application which will help us to improve our woeful broadband provision. Two weeks ago I did a test which came back at .39 megs. I know how bad this is just by visitor reaction. There is a debate among some people who think that it would change Applecross for the worse. The argument goes that Applecross will lose some of its uniqueness, a poor argument if you realise that a graphics designer cannot work from home. And what about the young people? Do you condemn them to poor social media access because you cannot switch off your blackberry? As a Community Company board we have decided to go ahead and try to improve the system. Again this will be social enterprise in action where we apply front an initial grant to set up a system which will be run and maintained locally and will improve an essential service and hopefully attract much-needed new families into the area.The system depends on finding a host relay point in Broadford to beam the signal across to Applecross. We are working with guys that have set up a successful system on Eigg. Simon sailed to Applecross two weekends ago and spent a day with Sean and Alison looking at the potential.He immediately identified a point that would give coverage for the south townships and we hope to make contact with Arnish in north Raasay to relay a signal round the north coast where they still have dial-up service. Simon was very positive after his visit and described it as an exciting challenge with a small mast on the Tor Mor above the Hall and also at Ardubh. The essence of the project is that it will be handed over to us to install and operate ourselves, going back to the principle of self-help rather than wait for other outside agencies to do it for us. Lots of work to be done but a positive project for the Community Company to improve working and social conditions making survival on the edge more likely. Of course I had to take Dougal up to case Tor Mor and after I quelled his interest in a three-hour old lamb he give his approval and headed off for his walk.

The views from up there were stunning and I always think that we have the best of everything , assuming this scheme works out, we are living in such a beautiful part of the world and still benefiting from latest technology. Cheffie from the Inn kitchen is just out of picture relaxing on his croft. He has to keep away from the stove at least two days a week to stay sane. Robert must have one of the best views from any croft in Scotland. We are advised to stay away from BT as much as possible as we find big organisations seem either not interested or incapable of working out solutions for minority situations. The end product will be the Community Company providing a Local Broadband network of up to 8 meg which allows streaming and uploading of graphics taken for granted in most of the rest of the country.

After a cracking walk it was off to the Inn for another session lasting from half ten through till half five. Musicians from Lochcarron providing the backdrop appreciated especially by the group of visitors who flew up from Manchester for lunch…..yes I kid you not. I had a really interesting discussion with a customer who was wondering how there were so many people at the Inn and we went through about five or six different reasons,good food,scenery,hospitality but he was looking for something else and I suppose I touched on it on my last post. It is very hard to put into words this indefinable magic that is Applecross and found every day at the Inn.

Todays activities were curtailed somewhat by me pulling a back muscle while eating my muesli for breakfast, managed to plant most of the main crop potatoes with only a row left to do. Did a last row in the evening with the sun shining through the blossoms on the apple trees and Dougal keeping me company maybe with thoughts of yesterdays walk fleeting through his consciousness.

Full Circle

Sitting here with a half-moon streaming in the window as it lights up The Sound it is sometimes hard to believe you can pack so much into one day. The Inn has been taking up a lot of time this week due to birthday celebrations and staff off sick. A north wind blowing most of the week means that there was very little fishing activity since monday’s effort. Stocks of prawns at The Inn were low especially as every second order on friday seemed to involve prawns so that meant a long day at the office. But what an office. The day started at 5 am as day light came in and after the shipping forecast, breakfast,sorting Dougal and family it was off down the road to the boat. As I was crossing the Bay to my first fleet of creels the sun rose above the Applecross hills. Although I was under a bit of time pressure to catch prawns for the Inn’s menu board and be ashore to start my shift at mid-day there was time to look around the office, watch the blackbacks scrapping with the ‘bonxies’ over the meager bits of bait. Yesterday’s 30 knot wind had decreased overnight and just being on the water was a pleasure again. Ashore on time and with plenty prawns and squat lobsters for the Inn it was off to work although I struggle to call it that.

A hectic evening was anticipated going by the bookings. On evenings like this it feels as though the Inn takes on a life of its own borrowing some of the magic of Applecross that is all around it. There is a huge amount of hard work behind the front of house welcome and service. I often say to customers that it is easy to work front of house as the food is fantastic, the situation is magical and there is genuine contentment all around. It seems to be sensed by so many people even as they see how busy we all are serving them. I still think I have so much to learn and still make far to many mistakes but if explained openly people appreciate what you do and it does not spoil their enjoyment. So many different people from so many different walks of life and countries express their pleasure verbally, people you have met two hours before for the first time shake your hand as they leave all because they have had a special experience. The glorious weather,the landscape,the food and atmosphere touches many people in a way that I think is on a different plane than the material. The kitchen, under pretty severe pressure still manages to have a bit of banter with front of house and this filters through to the customers. Some of the repartee is not to be heard out front but it keeps every-one sane. Exhausted but happy at the end of the night I go over the mistakes but far more important I recall conversations,with visitors from,Switzerland,Denmark,France, Inverness,Lochcarron and Applecross, lots of chats about life, fishing, Applecross, anything. Like my involvement with Community Company I feel very fortunate to work at the Inn where you can connect with so many people and still have a quality of life that is second to none.

Twenty hours after starting my day it was off home and as I left the Inn I put on the radio only to hear Sailing By the melody that introduces the night shipping forecast. A full circle with so much in between. It does take a while to wind down from the adrenalin rush of earlier but with the moon a bit lower in the sky but still shining over The Sound it is to bed and a dreamless sleep.

Fishing future,the Inn and a little Bees.

Just read a report from the New Economic Foundation about how inefficient our fishing methods are and how far we are from sorting it out. Although the report concentrates on white fish and pelagic fisheries I see the same happening on our prawn stocks. The report suggests that if we take measures to get the stocks of fish and shellfish back to a level which is a maximum sustainable yield then everyone from fishermen to buyers and all connected on the shore make more money than they are doing just now and more people will be involved in the fishery. The present situation of catching more than is being replaced by the stock is unsustainable but every-one both at sea and people in power seem unable to take action until yet another stock disappears from view. The report uses the word ‘restore’ and I remember we tried to put that into a management plan for our inshore fisheries future. We had to take out the word because other fishing association leaders objected to the unscientific nature of the word. Unfortunately I had not read this report as the science is there to back up the use of the word ‘restore’. One suspects that the opposition to the word restore rests in the fear that their members would have to suffer some short-term pain, that is lose some earnings, in the hope that stocks will recover. When you look at the Applecross Inn,one of the best west coast eating establishments, specialising in seafood, what a shame that all the white fish comes from the east coast. It is a pity but I see no long-term future for fishing in Applecross if we stay on our current track. One of the more troubling developments in recent years is the fact that by putting back the berried prawns you can no longer make a viable living from the fishery. Up till now you could argue that I was making a good wage while still returning the berried females and you could argue with other fishermen that this is good fishing practice. I do not think that is the case now and that is why I now work part-time at the Inn and am fortunate Alison has a two-year contract. So unless there a policing policy introduced then it will not happen on a voluntary basis. The brief spell of good fishing has already tailed of here. The other missing link is that we do not seem to catch for the market but go out and catch whether the demand is there or not.

On a lighter note work at the Inn is going well. Was there the last couple of days where the Easter trade has started up and the Inn is full of happy diners. A couple of shifts lined up over the next couple of days and the staff numbers are reaching full complement as the boys come back from South Africa. It does seem that the Inn is not being too badly affected by the general down turn in the economy but this is not accident in that there has been a huge amount of hard work gone into building up a loyal and sustainable trade over the last 23 years. Spoke to Kenny and Gemma for a while last night. they came down with leaflets for the Torridon sea tours, although it may have just been an excuse to have some good food. Booked a trip this summer to the Shiants an ambition second only to going to St Kilda.

Turning thoughts to bees again as the weather and the time of year means the beekeepers will be having their first look at their hives. We are hoping to get 3 nuclei from Colonsay. Toying with the idea taking Dougal and co with me and camping overnight. Hope the winter was not too harsh and the keeper has some bees for sale.

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