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

Posts tagged ‘Highland Clearances’

Stunning, Sad and a wee bit Devine

Seems like an age since I posted and had to check, but only three days ago. Despite a strong feeling of not achieving anything lately there have been quite a few things on the go. Yesterday I was up at the Inn in the morning after a phone call from the Tokheim installers about the lack of equipment to install. When I arrived the Air Serv guy was there ready to install the compressor so went looking for the key.


The Tokeim guys had it back at the Inn as they were finding out where their “Big Red Box” was. Turns out it was in Dundee and had not been sent north. So a Meet was organised at the Tore Service Station and our two went to meet the van from Dundee. The compressor was installed and Simon turned up to finish off his work, not much but still essential.


And after a chat it was back down the road and out onto the hillside again. I only found out when I was up behind the schoolhouse that there was shooting going on further south going by the rifle shots echoing up the slopes. Just as well I chose another area to wander. I would love to be proven wrong but I have given up seeing Jenny again. Sorrow is a wonderfully descriptive word for how I felt over looking the Sound but you cannot help looking around


and appreciating what a wonderful place we live in. And it was Jenny who took me up here today. The views to the south,




and north


are spectacular and the breeze had died away to nothing. Stayed up for a good two hours before making my way back to the house. Referring to the talk later there is no accident that the hamlets are pushed down onto the shore line


and there are none on the better ground around the Glen.


Only archeological remains there.


Love looking down on the clusters of houses, just observing.


There has been a little bit of rain so the Culduie burn is flowing faster again.


Bit less sad as I am telling myself it was quick. I have said it before, this is so out of character that almost immediately we knew something was wrong. Have to say a huge thanks to everyone who has expressed sincere concern both personally, on fb and on here. It is much appreciated and tells me how liked Jenny was throughout the community…… Not by the postie or one of our neighbours but everyone to their own. Went into the shop and there were tears there as a lot of other places. Everyone has their own story, not least Simon who mentioned his elderly cat, after a visit to the vet, crawling onto his chest, lies there purring and then dies.

However life does go on and Jenny will always be around, the Highland oral history is good for keeping alive past memories. More of that later as I went out to see and hear Tom Devine in the evening. The Filling Station is now looking marvellous and is up and running.

Wednesday night it was a busy shift and as I was going out to the Hall later I came up early and flew solo for quite a while. Just on the edge of what you can do but it is such an adrenalin rush you don’t notice the time. 8pm and it was down the road to hear what Prof Devine had to say and it was fascinating. An event organised by Gordon from the Historical Society.


The Clearances and the Potato Famine  was the theme and his recall was impressive. Talked about the relocation, dipped into the Opium Trade but there were many references to the structures left on the land whether agriculture or ruins. Also reasons why the Famine did not have quite the same effect as it did on Ireland although the western seaboard and islands were badly hit. Gordon mentioned a wee tale passed to him from his uncle about my great-aunt telling him when she was alive there never was a winkle to be found on the shore between Ardhu and Toscaig, a sign of the hunger of the times. Something I have known a little about is the recycling of the stone, Hallaig across the water on Raasay being a classic example. The park walls were built from the houses belonging to the people who were cleared off the land. Such a brutal symbol of how the people were treated can still be seen clearly across the Sound from Applecross. The farm building here has more than likely used stone from the Broch. Had a brief chat with him after as he had gone to Edinburgh ten years after I had left. Told me a couple of salacious stories about one or two people who had taught me. Not for repetition on here. No lights for the way home so it was a shaky cycle from the Hall in the dark. A good turn out of over seventy people.

Yesterday, my first day not going out on the hill but will be heading there many times in the future, A morning of moping around a bit too much, still included another trip to the Filling Station, and then after lunch a trip up the road on the bike to take part in a bit of training. Great to see so many people attending,


the future is looking good here as there seems to be more volunteering as time goes on. the Community Company is getting onto a stronger footing and governance is getting stronger as we put line management and financial systems in place. May well have forgotten it already but instructions have been left and it looks so user-friendly compared to the last system.



A customer under the watchful eye of Jim takes a fuel delivery. Interesting to see if sales increase due to the simplicity if the system.Local cards were thought to be part of the package but it appears not and will be an extra cost. We will have to work out how much and who will bear this. The last system cost the Trading Company money and we tried to balance this out with extra fuel sales through loyalty. May not be enough and fuel cards may have to carry a penny or two to cover operational costs if we go ahead with this. A sideline at the moment and I never thought I would get excited about a Filling Station but it is looking good and simple to use. All these trips are on the bike and it allows you to look around and yesterday afternoon seemed very autumnal. That shared light across the mature reeds on a gloomy backdrop.


Stayed up and began the shift early at the Inn and it was pretty full on with people waiting for tables and just getting the residents tables when they wanted them, even finding a bit of time to chat to them. A good night with a wee scrap at the start over who was to get the last prawns in the building. Once that was over then it was down to looking after everyone as the Boss was out for a meal and left us to it. From Lewis to Ohio and the Philippines in between it went well.  Really enjoyed it and despite being asked after Jenny managed to lift the spirits for a short time. Never forget her but want to smile when I think of her. Good craic with the Tokheim boys as well as the Lewis connection on table 5 who had been down the previous evening. Asked for lots of info through out the evening on walks, where to see otters and even about the concrete blocks on the shores of Loch Toscaig, but some other time for that. The indy Ref is still a hot topic and I for one hope it does not go away. There are so many aspects that can now be talked about that does not involve fear and if and when the next one comes along these fears will be discussed and worked through and we will no longer be the only country that voted not to be a country. Always a compliment when some seeks you out as they leave to shake your hand in thanks for a good evening. That handshake is for all the staff, everyone who works at the Inn. And to finish again on the kindness surrounding Jenny, had a phone call from Shieldaig and jenny was gong to be on Two Lochs Radio just in case some one may have picked her up and is looking after her. Lovely that guys are spending so much time trying to help. Thank you.

Knoydart Part 1

Too much to put down in one post to describe the last three days. The morning, teeming down with rain saw me knee-deep in sh**e but good sh**e. I was up at the farm bagging some rich, and mature cattle dung mixed with straw and ageing well. Some of it had almost returned to a rich dark loam. So a shower and a couple of paperwork jobs, visit to the bank in Kyle, and I was in Armadale,old pier, with 15 minutes to spare. Luckily some one else had some modern technology, a mobile phone, and Tekela discovered we were going to Doune in Knoydart via Mallaig as it was a bit rough for the Doune ferry.


Tekela and Ollie had come from Raasay and we headed back to the new pier and the coffee shop where we met up with Davie, Christine, Avril and Elgar. Soon on board the Mallaig ferry in the lashing rain. Weather had quietened down a bit by the time we got to Mallaig and we already had a good conversation about the sad state of the fishing in this area. There are a few prawn boats in the port just now but seems only for a few weeks when it will be scraped clean. Came up in several conversations, unprompted by me but certainly I contributed, and related to ex fishermen was whether in Mallaig or Islay there were former fishermen who were now unhappily working in cafes and distilleries. A fate for most of us if we do not get our act together soon.IMG_2504

It was straight onto the Mary Doune, Andy waiting on the other side of the pier, and on to the Knoydart peninsula.


The Mary Doune and the second boat Gripper II were both fitted out at Doune by the guys there. Honestly, I was genuinely excited to visit such an iconic part of Scotland, so near to me but never set foot on during the last half century.


And out of the mist the little habitation of Doune emerged. Ashore with no fuss and we were taken to our rooms. Built up over the years the group of buildings consist of a boatyard, three houses, a dining room, one wooden and two stone lodges, all within a ten-acre part of the area. The chairs faced the window. This was the telly, radio and internet for the next two days.


I don’t own a clock or watch so ended up being late for the first meal and was called to order by Davie. Food was amazing as was the atmosphere in the dining room. We have power till 11.30pm as Knoydart is off grid and Doune is powered by generators although I believe that had no effect whatsoever on the party in the wooden lodge. I had scored in that I had a lovely double at the end of the wooden lodges to myself as Alison was too much under the weather to make the journey and it was so quiet, falling asleep to another Anne Holt Nordic Noir. This meant I was in a lot better shape than some of the rest of the team and was up bright and early for breakfast on day one. The main thing I get from these gatherings is inspiration from a group of like-minded people who are all working within their own communities and coming across the same problems that we do in Applecross. I love all the connections that we have. I reckon two years ago I did not know a single resident in Mull, that has changed and Colonsay and Islay have now joined my growing list of contacts.


After a fine breakfast,where Donald from Colonsay had his first ever poached egg, and he was not the youngest chap in town !! we settled down to listen to the story of Doune. The site is possibly the oldest on the peninsula and is a Pictish vitrified fort of 3/4,000 years old. In 1853 the village was cleared, the largest village on Knoydart and by 1860 the population consisted of a shepherd’s family of 8 down from 130. Doune lay empty after many shepherds until 1982 when Alan and Mary came when they rebuilt the ruined white house, built a pier, slipway and a boat The Gripper. By ’92 Andy and Liz had joined and they had expanded and began rebuilding the Eda, a decommissioned Danish 60ft fishing boat. Disaster occurred when a fire struck and destroyed the boatshed and ruined the Eda. This is where Davie came to Knoydart answering a call for volunteers to help rebuild the Eda. This is one of the highlights of the couple of days when Davie recalled those days and suddenly became so emotional that he could not speak. Thinking back on those days and he is still here working away for his community, just a good guy. I found all this, the story and the place very moving and found myself agreeing whole heartedly with Davie that this business was not grown on any “known business model”. I found myself thinking about the Varuna and The Applecross Inn and similar “businesses” where making money is not the key aim but quality of life is more important. We had a discussion that it really was good business model but I for one could not put Doune on a spreadsheet. There was too much love and feeling put into the business to be able to do this. I found this thread ran through the whole time I stayed there.

Spanish Prawns

Tuesday, if I have caught enough large prawns, means a delivery to The Packing Shed where the prawns get prepared for their flight to Spain. I always find this a little strange, us selling really good local seafood abroad where often Scots go on holiday to eat it, but then life can be very strange. I take them by van round the North Coast Road and drop them off to Ardeslaig where I put them in chilled tanks waiting for the packers in the evening. In good weather there are not many more spectacular routes in the country.This is a view looking down the Sound with Lonbain houses in the distance. There are always changes in lighting every half day when the weather is settled as we rarely get wall to wall sunshine.

One of the views that always gets me is when you come round the corner at Cuaig and you see the road disappearing into the distance with the Torridon hills as a back drop. It is beautiful and bleak at the same time. In the past I have spent a fair amount of time at Cuaig as a friend and previous crewman used to live there and we have a few six-nation sessions in residence.

On the way to the Shed I pass several hamlets and that sums up the lay out of the peninsular. Although Applecross is a 65,000 acre Estate there are only about 200 souls living here and from the south end to Inverbain there are little groups of crofting townships around the coast, mainly in these positions due to the Highland Clearances as the people were cleared from the better land to make way for the sheep to increase the incomes of the laird to sustain their profligate living in the city. The township of Kenmore, pictured above, is next to the Shed.

The Packing Shed itself is beside a little inlet where the Torridon fishermen moor their boats and the operation was started up by these guys as a way of trying to secure a steady market and price for the produce. There have been a few ups and downs on the way but it is really good to know you can always have a method of selling the bigger prawns. It is run as a marketing Co-op and I am charged the cost of what it takes to put the prawns on the market.The prawns have been packed individually by me as they come on board the boat and held in the water until I have enough to land to The Shed. There used to be a regular van run to Applecross to pick our catch up at our pier but we do not land enough prawns to justify that now. There is usually only one packing night instead of the previous four and that shows the decline in our catches.

The Shed houses several tanks where the prawns reside and there is a constant flow of chilled and oxygenated water running through the tanks keeping the prawns live and also slowing down their metabolism keeping their quality for the market. The prices increase in relation to the size and liveliness of the product so all this attention to detail pays in the long run. On the way home it was a quick stop at Sand as I had Dougal and family with me. He is out of the picture making friends with a visiting dog.

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