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

Posts tagged ‘forestry’

Changing Landscape.

Have to start with a wee apology over getting a couple of families mixed up, but in my defence, this involved two Dollys from Camusteel. And having only met one of the Dollys in An Arcasaid in her 90s, well that is my excuse. Dolly Macbeth did indeed live in the ruin on the edge of Camusteel but Alasdair, who only survived the one trip at sea was not her brother but Dolly who lived just along from the other Dolly. It is the same today, the community still has many Donalds, Duncans and a scattering of Alasdairs, Sandys and Alexanders. Not being a genealogist crossovers may be inevitable but certainly not deliberate. Not sure where the slippage came in the tale, but I can still feel that drift back into another era and loved it.

Although the dingy is baled and back on the endless line the forecast put me off today and it was fresh but not really an excuse for not going out. Fine day spent with various people, Tokhiem computer chappie, Kirsteen from CES and Dougal and Eilidh with camera on the road. Did a dip which will now be computerised for the Filling Station and was not too involved with the teaching process concerning the local cards and various techy things to do with the system. One big improvement will be we can reboot remotely and do not have to go up and switch the system back on every time we have a power cut.

So picked up the dogs from the car again and went past the current site works at the Inn




with the Site Manager keeping everyone in order.


Judith thinks she is Clerk of Works but Patch has much more hands on experience having spent his life in the Yard. Laying the foundations for the new Sheds has just about finished by the time I passed. Round the corner it was good to see the Hydro river flowing well through the autumnal trees,


nipping off to the side to let another timber lorry pass.


One a local fuel source and the other off to Ireland. Made my way up to the Timber works stopping many times



to look over the Glen at the autumn colours.


If the weather is in it there is no better time of year, Spring greens does have her moments though. The landscape is changing fast and will certainly be an improvement over time, although to get there it looks like a bomb site in places.




When coming back up the track, or should I say road, (could have mountain bike racing here)


watched an impressive display of clear felling in action





before back down to the Inn for lunch and a progress chat about the Hydro project. A few stops before reaching the Inn to enjoy the views and to give the dogs a break.





Lots of work still to be done, including getting quotes and grants in place before the Community Share launch next year.

Slightly depressing Survey Monkey missive from Highland Council concerning the next funding gap of £64 million over the next four years has come in. Bit of a shame when you go to all the effort to set up an income generating scheme like the Hydro and all you are doing is replacing Council services, after paying out on rent etc. Just have to build another one. Lots of suggestions like cutting hours kids are at school, everyone taking over their public toilets and changing gritting practices. In the long-term these will actually add to cost but no one is looking that far ahead it seems.

Before going up the road to the Inn for an extra shift Dougal took us out for a wander and so caught a view of a spectacular pre sunset going down over the southern half of Raasay.


Good shift with plenty to do.

Lombardy Wood and Wine.

Coming to the end of a fantastic week in Lombardia and going home with lots of memories and new friends. At the same time I am going home to Applecross “where I belong”. The morning began with the obligatory breakfast that is functional and nothing else and up the road with a stop at a wood holding point. The figures involved for the transporting the timber down the mountainside by tractor are mind-boggling. Took a month to take just over a couple of hundred tonnes down in three tonne loads. Good to get photos of how much a tonnage looks like and also how to manage the tonnage.


Just under 120 tonnes and when you consider John and Jenny are wee chappies, storing 300 tonnes in Applecross should not be too much of a problem. We headed up to another Alpine meadow, again in the mist, does not seem to matter, and heard more about the extraction. On the way we stopped off by a spectacular gorge where there must have been a Strome Bypass decision made to build a tunnel.



Presently it is all about the forest and is grant aided but they plan in twenty years time for this to be different. Interesting point throughout the trip for a few of us that do not usually go on these fact finders/contact making journeys, is that it is so much better to be spending public monies on this than fighting each other over a piece of land or possession. For me an experience like this makes people like Nigel Farage look even sillier than I first thought. We live in a far from perfect world but to have to listen to anti-European diatribes over the airwaves makes a mockery of the ordinary and real people who live in these places.


The trip up was followed by a rapid walk down by the Scots/Irish contingent for which I am suffering manfully just now. Luckily the following day is mainly sitting in vans, planes and vans again with a little walk between pickup points. Saw Mill museum was the next stop on the agenda and very interesting.





Although not operational in itself, there was a full working model powered by solar to show us how it operated. We were then taken on a tour of the mill by a very enthusiastic guide. It was water driven and one of many across the region with many of the working parts wooden and was producing up to the mid 60s. That came across all week, their love of what they do and where they live. They al believe in what they are doing about helping their communities and environment.

And then it was lunch. This time when the meat platter came out we got ready to take a couple of slices to pass round but platter after platter came out until we had one each. Bacon lard and horse meat were included seemingly, no sight of Giovanni so I am assuming  that it was true. I was called over to talk to Claudia who was vice chair of the Val di Salvi mountain community to share our problems and also to talk positively about the future. The problems are many and similar. They have an elderly and declining population with similar numbers at school as we have. They are in an area where they are surrounded by relative wealth but are poor being in the mountains and too far to commute so young people leave. They were very interested in the fb doctor recruiting page and the other services we are trying to provide despite no access to land for any future community development. They could not understand the restrictive and feudal like land system we operate under here and even what you say back home has to be carefully moderated. That was one good aspect of the trip in that you could really say what it is like back home without being pulled up. Due to the continuing misty weather the trip over the pass to see the chestnut forests was postponed and we went to a vineyard Co-op.


Successful and growing, the main difference in this one and the scallop marketing group that I was involved in the 90s was the growers got paid by the quality of what they produced and not quantity.


Public money used to set it up but the growers after 20 years will buy the public out so making it into a loan as opposed to a grant. Through out the week ” The Crisis” was mentioned time and time again. It has entered their language.

The evening involved a very quick shop and it was back up to the cantina where we got the full tour,


and yes more cheese, salami and wine tasting.


Get the impression Steve is thinking “bad” thoughts about what he could do with what is in the barrel he is holding up. Oh and then there was the meal. All went well and all the wines were quaffed and things were very convivial although I was a little nervous as I was to drive back allowing Steve a couple of well-earned glasses of wine for his efforts for the week. Mission completed although my only regret was Ruaraidh’s compelling self penned tale of the building of the last bit of the Railway line into Kyle was interrupted by yet another toast of the wines. I reckon I will hear it again in its entirety.

All that remained after this epic week was to get home and everything went smoothly with the exception of a flat battery in the Range Rover. Jenny to the rescue….well she found some one that had jump leads and home we headed via Perth, Steve, and Inverness, Jenny. Home with my new hunter’s hat embellished with a black grouse feather given to us by the kind Alessandro. Home, knackered and happy.

Making Friends in Lombardy.

The breakfast is the only missing link and that is due to habit. I should have taken my own pineapples with me but I manage. Today was an information overload, back into the forests of Val Camonica.


After a stop off at the forestry office where we met Jovanna, a doctor of forestry, we headed off to another tree place. Conservation is a key to this area and the wood ant is the main focus in this forest. I ask lots of stupid questions, my excuse being I am a fisherman in a forest but no one seems to mind. The ant is a really good indicator of the health of the forest and also tells us how the air pollution is affecting the trees. Basically if it is ok for the ants it is ok for us.


Were taken to various sites throughout the forest and some interesting operations and management that will not take place at home, although we will give it  a go. Brash is piled up in neat bundles and left to rot with the goodness going back into the ground, that is confirmation of things I knew.


Although Ruariadh says that replanting can be quite dangerous where the machines have been in, with brash and splinters left lying around. The hunting season is in full swing and shots echo across the valley. Up on an misty Alpine meadow there are a group of Scots and Italians talking about wood ants milking aphids, happens all the time but not with me involved.


We then wandered down through the mist to the hunter’s tower where we were told the practice of the hunters……..only banned in the eighties. Firstly they kept birds in cages through the summer and then took the clothes of so they thought it was spring and they started singing. Then they laid berries on the surrounding branches. The trap finally set by scaring the settled birds that had stopped by on their migratory route into the nets already in place. Then into the pot. Little discussion afterwards about me doing the same at sea, pause for thought.


Both coming out of Breno and again coming down from the mountain we came across some of the Alpine traditional farming ways.




Back to the forests after a two hour lunch of various foods I have never eaten and most wonderful. Their forestry methods are so far advanced to what I have seen at home over the last thirty years. There is no clearing felling but they do not have to deal with the neglect of wind blow. They take what they call coups out which are selected strips of trees and then there is a natural regeneration growth to fill in the gaps. There is a general move to replace the spruce with hardwoods. I asked about the house prices and they are very cheap to rent, about 200/300euros a month. The big drawback is there is no employment. The work is down on the valley floor and the journey down is too far and expensive, diesel is more expensive than Applecros. There also is the problem of little or no services….same problems, different place. The local group is trying to show that to welcome people in is good. You do not have to sell out your heritage and culture by attracting more young people to live in the area but they find it as hard as we that in persuading older, settled in their ways people to accept that the community life can change without it affecting their life style.


After the magnificent lunch it was back into another forest, this time included was a bit of archeology, very early and similar to the Celtic runes of Scotland. Again the themes of replacing the spruce with hardwoods such as beech. Also the traditions of coppicing are to be changed to allow the trees to grow tall which they seem to do very well around here. They are also looking at entering the tourism market and feel they are twenty years behind the game line. Walking, cycling and archeology are main themes to be pushed. Yesterday fished off with another fine meal at a little restaurant ,exquisite ravioli. I like the way they start taking out the starters when you sit down, bread, meats and sticks, then you get tucked into the mains. Then without asking the sweets come out . A good day.



Traveling round Lombardy

The last two days have full to the brim for a Highland lad in Lombardy. The trip so far has been so educational, friendly, and so well organised. All I have to do is turn up at the right place and at the right time and we head off to somewhere new,see something different and talk to some one interesting, whether it be Niccola, imageGiuseppe or the mischievous Giovanni. Found out the saffron eating cows is probably a wee joke to wind up the more gullible Scots amongst us……me. image The area we were in tues/wed was heavily forested but with young trees as the place was denuded after the Second World War through clear felling for charcoal burning. Although we were kindly looked after I have struggled with the local dishes, the over abundance of salt and the lack of vegetables. As a guy of habit the fruit and muesli start to the morning is badly missed. We are visiting an area where there are even more problems than back home. imageWhere we had lunch Niccola told us that the school had closed and although there were a couple of new restaurants opened up there was little activity in the area. It was especially attractive to tourists, the forests were not mature enough for saw milling and the wood fuel supply was not established in an economic basis although the wood stacks were very artistic image. Hardly saw any kids any where over the last few days. Lots of politics chat, Scottish, Italian and environmental. Couple of interesting points of discussion, a different view of carbon as a problem and nature’s take on globalisation. imageI made the comment that nature does not like globalisation but that was countered by the statement that nature does not care but just gets on with it….. True whether we like it or not and we tend not to like it. The Italian politics are sad to hear about, whether from the older Niccola or the younger Helena and “Tatty”. Helena wants to leave and Tatty does not see any one to vote for. Berlusconi does not even register as a joke. Going back to the serious side there does not seem to be much employment linked to the forest although that may change as the forest matures. At the moment there is a consortium of private and public bodies involved, state and local, and seems very complex although it does  work. The jobs are based either in offices and are rangers. image Wed morning saw us get ready for another full day at the office. While waiting for the two rangers to arrive I was told about the amazing Mario who had built an observatory almost single handed from scratch.


I just could not make it needing twelve hours sleep instead. Giuseppe and Baptista turned up and we headed off on a pretty stunning day”s tour. We are now in the Valvestino/Capovalle forests and the van was left behind as we traveled in two jeeps up the sides of sheer cliffs, getting commentaries of species and histories all the way. These guys were passionate about their jobs and they were easy company. Lots of War tales and made you realise that the wars we get involved in are in other people’s countries and for them it is far more immediate, even after this time. One story that Guiseppe told us was after Mussilini had headed north and set up the Republic of Salo his own mother had been visiting her sister and stopped to watch some one play tennis. She had never seen tennis before and not only that but it was El Ducie himself. Quite extra ordinary that I was sitting a couple of feet away from the son of some one who had been in Mussilini’s company if only for a brief time as she was quickly moved on by his guards…….living history. Up 4000 feet we were talking about ibex,bear, lynx when a couple of hunters walked past us out of the mist. Earlier there were several shots echoing around the two valleys we traveled over. Nice to hear the red deer roaring.


More than one photographer in the pack though.


Where we stopped for lunch in front of a big fire was a view point back to where we were yesterday. Baptista was very interested in fishing and through Helena we exchanged stories and I did a bad drawing of a creel.


After driving on through the young forests Giuseppe stopped and we spent a wonderful half hour catching white clawed crayfish and salmon parr.


Everything going back of course and so much information about life cycles and the river environment.


I felt we left as friends at the end of the day. So all that remained of the day was a three hour drive to Breno where I had too much to eat, spaghetti followed by pizza, but as ever good company and another fine day complete.

Land and Food Craic

Dog walking is great for having a good think about all the ups and downs of life in Applecross. Went out on Saturday afternoon,IMG_4716


Dougal meeting and shouting at the Ardhu “wild”boar, not really wild, in fact very curious at this loud nuisance


and again on Sunday evening with them and there is always something new to see and think about.


Little touch of autumn under way.


These trips around The Sanctuary help see things from another perspective, at least I give it a go. Talking to people with different persuasions, but who are your friends is a great way to allow ” Two people to look at the same thing and see it differently”. The growing debate about Land Reform falls into this category. Saturday evening’s company threw up some interesting thoughts and I always take comfort in the fact that there has never been such a state as the status quo. Events, developments, people, attitudes will always mean that our environment, economic,political and social, are ever-changing whether positive or not. It sometimes feels a little over the top sometimes when I describe what happens at the Inn, meeting and getting to know people, exchanging opinions, views even compliments, how it all feels so positive. Having learnt so much over the last couple of years from Judith and Jill and feeling a bit more confident about having the ability to deal with most things there you find that you can take this out into the community. You feel that bit more confident that although your views are by no means universally they are mine and can be argued without rancour. Been reading a guest blog by Dr Jim Hunter  on community land ownership and found it really interesting. But as well the blog the comment stream that follows these articles are equally of interest.http://www.andywightman.com/?p=3029 There are the usual comments that come from entrenched positions but these combined with meeting fresh views in the Inn are invaluable in developing one’s own take on the debate. Speaking to Steve about the comparisons with Norway’s land distribution and their land use which seems to be so different to what happens here. There are so many more people involved in rural decisions and a more populous and varied aspect of land use. More locally controlled and better managed forestry coupled with a mature grazing policy. Here we have barren moorlands kept that way for grouse and red deer where there could be a proper native reforesting that could generate fuel, improved soil structures, domestic animal habitats and amenities for the many. It is not as though there never were trees covering the Scottish landscape. Policies that are dependent on grants rather than community benefit will soon belong to the past. Just had a conversation with some one who is not a “land reformer” and even she had to admit all is not well in the hands of those who have the power to let nothing happen. As it was suggested on Saturday evening Patience is a key factor and that was what I was told, I am patient.

The wonder of Applecross allows you to have these “radical” thoughts and still enjoy the walks, the environment you wander through and you arrive back home refreshed and ready for more.

Sunday lunch was a fairly relaxed affair just keeping an eye on the big table groups that were coming in on the hour. One of the nice things was that there were five groups of 7+ in at the same time and 3 of them were local.


Finished the shift with a fine venison burger and later in the evening had a scoop of Scottish raspberry ripple which, I think, supersedes just about everything that has gone before….that is until you try another one.  A wee bit of tension from the Boss as she knew there was a review coming out this weekend and it turned out ok, with quite a bit of license. 7/10 is a good pass rate on a crazy day,http://www.scotsman.com/lifestyle/food-drink/features/restaurant-review-applecross-inn-applecross-1-3051022.

Going back to the theme of the “circle of life” it is everywhere. Was speaking to some Americans and found out they wee from Boston and that brought back a memory of my landing in Boston on the first stage of me hitching across The States. Had a contact in Vermont so phoned from The Boston Tea Party Gift Shop. Of course the Tcheuchter from the Highlands could not work the phones and always will remember the girl who not only helped me but put me up on her couch for the night. Not only that but trusted me enough to got out with her boyfriend and left me alone in her flat and the next morning took out to the freeway and from there I set off. Told the Americans this and you could see how pleased they were to be told how I never associate the people with their government. Only once have I come across a no tax paying Republican at the Inn, but left her to it. Really wanted to ask her why were their bridges and roads were now falling apart, maybe because they did not pay taxes…..but I served her the scallops anyway.

Crofting Forestry

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.

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