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

Posts tagged ‘Highlandeco’

Helicopters and Hydro.

It was a normal sort of day until the phone call around mid day. Turned out it was a request from the Inn to check out the condition of a guest who had hurt his leg. His wife had left him as he could not walk and made it back to the Inn for help. It became apparent that it was to be a helicopter evacuee mission. With Dougal in tow, Eilidh has a bit of a stiff shoulder exacerbated by charging around the beach on Tuesday,


finally found them on the Ardban path after choosing the Coillieghillie one. Turned out they were okay, although he could not put any weight  on his leg he was sheltered and not getting cold and we knew help was on the way. I saw no need to hang about and, as he was not a whiskey drinker, I still had my Glenlivet in my pocket. Coming back round by Poll Domhainn Beag the helicopter came in over the peninsula


so decided to turn back to take a few snaps. These guys have great skills in lowering the stretcher



and the medic


before heading over to land on the field by the houses.


Dougal was fascinated by all the comings and goings and took a bit of time off from his work in clearing the undergrowth of small beasties.


Soon it was all sorted


and up and away.


Was on a bit of a deadline as I wanted to go up to the Hydro site as there was a first run of water down the pipe was in the program. Not on my program was another tramp up the hill to the Intake where Mick was working away getting the first flush ready. Dougal of course had no complaints.


Mick just had a couple of things left to do, one being unblocking the pipe of sandbags,


then opening up the valve and the closing of the fish gate. I ended up giving Mick a hand.


What fish were going to make it up through the cave system to the Intake I’m not sure, some special Applecross hybrid. Genuinely excited seeing the valve slowly opening and as the chamber filled up I found a use for the Glenlivet.


Apologies to all Glenlivet drinkers but not one of my favourites so it was either cooking or christening of the Applecross Hydro “Apple Juice” which should be generating in the near future. The water clearing of the pipe line went well, and after a tidying up of tools and rubbish, it was off down the hill. Impressive to see the water pouring through into the turbine house and out through the tail race.


A new sink hole has appeared at the point of re-entry into the stream and re-emerge just below the bridge into the campsite.

All this was followed by a gentle shift at the Inn where I met @criefboy from Comrie who are engaged in their own Community Share issue. http://comriedevelopmenttrust.org.uk/cultybraggan-camp-21-bunkhouse-community-shares All share issues are different and they are trying to balance their issue as it states a 60/40 in favour of local membership and so are looking to a few more locals to joining their venture. Qinetic boys and later the Hydro boys were in to swell the numbers. Two guests were missing as he had ended up on the operating table to sort out a bad leg break and ligament damage. Locals are nervous now as Heather started this little run last week with a bad break that puts her out of action for three months. The rest of us are nervously waiting for the third of the “things happen in threes.”

And finally to finish off a day to extreme variety Apple Juice interim directors met with HighlandEco to discuss the immediate plans and finances and suffice to say both parties ended the meeting satisfied with how a complicated and hurdle strewn scheme is being delivered. Although we are obviously constrained by the legalities the most important theme throughout the whole process is the decent humanity we treat other. We are aware of the managed risks involved and it was interesting to hear the response to our statement that this whole project would not go ahead without the huge input from HighlandEco. They returned with the response it would also not have gone ahead without the Applecross Community.

Things going Bump in the Dark.

Going to try to make this my last “nothing” day for a while. It is blowing hard out side with squalls of rain hitting the Schoolhouse every half hour or so. The wind is very hard to describe, whether it is blowing a hoolie like now or gently moving through the trees. Roaring, hissing or swishing do not seem adequate, whatever, we are hoping there is little or no structural damage to the grid that diverts SSE away from installing our connection. The HighlandEco boys have the backup plan in place in case things go pear-shaped. Was up at the site today and was there when Sandy told the boys that they were not coming in to Applecross as they had to prepare for the potential damage caused by the high winds forecast to come in this evening and overnight. It is from the right direction for the moorings and the boats are relatively safe. Not that I got a bit of a nervous feeling when DJ called…..turned out it was about the MoD meeting and not news on boats.

Back to the site and there is a lot of trench digging


and cable laying going on as well as a bit of roof work.


The boys were nearly finished on this side  and that was early doors. there were reports last night of things going bump in the night followed by a pretty severe smell.


Lots of speculation before it was cleared up by Mick. The two old tanks at the entrance of the Campsite were dislodged and coped over, one had a very mature mix of whisky mash that had been fed to cattle over a decade and a half ago and was pretty ripe when released in to the atmosphere.


So no great electrical mishaps and burnings, but it was impressive as one Craic Barn resident thought Mick was coming into her house, digger, tanks and all..

And another very good day on the share issue front where another good day meant over £30,000 coming in bringing the total to around £435,000. Alison had a 5.00am start to go through for a GMS interview about the share issue and the UK Government’s withdrawal of the tax relief and how it affects our community energy share issue and the collapse of others around the country. The interview is about 1hr.35 mins in http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b06nrl48  There are lots of different reasons for investing in the Apple Juice scheme and for the bigger investors the tax relief makes it an even more attractive option. Before Alison arrived back home I took a call from the Central Belt who had heard the interview on the Radio. I managed to hold my own, he called back after partner discussions and seems to be an interested investor. So maybe worth the early start on that one alone. The Herald through David Ross printed a very good article on the scheme so it is out there. http://www.heraldscotland.com/opinion/14022263.Green_energy_scheme_ensnared_in_unexpected_red_tape/?ref=fbshr And finally Two Lochs Radio had an item on it as well. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Two_Lochs_Radio Getting to the stage where it will be easier to list the publications that have not had Applecross on their programme.

Nipped out to do a bit of contract signing with Mick and it is a pretty wild night. Seen a lot worse and as I have said earlier hoping the damage is not too bad. One of the things I have liked about this project is the huge amount of trust that has worked both ways in the project between HighlandEco and the Community. We believe that it can be built on time and they have believed that we can raise the monies to buy them out and so far this trust is working out. Another £3,000 has come in this evening bringing it to around £440,000. And with news of another £20,500 just now. Topped up by Jack this evening and already out of date.


The Inn deserves a mention as last night we had every table full, workers, both Sand and Hydro, residents a few locals and a couple of holiday houses filled the bar. No wonder, good food a fire and a bottle of wine all safe from a dark stormy night.

Cutting and Drilling.

Did not want to get up this morning, a quarter of a million pound drilling rig axle deep at the turbine house site, toilets blocked and the Filling Station playing up.

Monday was a pretty frantic up and down day for the Hydro. While we were away at the CLS Conference the drilling rig arrived and failed to get on site so it was all hands to the pump on Monday morning. Well afternoon, as the Rig chappie had some domestics to sort out and arrived at the middle of the day. I had a wee bit of phoning to do to see if Duncan and Chris could make it, Duncan for towing the Rig in and Chris for a bit of tree surgery.


Turns out the tree surgery went like a dream.


In between hauling the wood off to the side noticed the next tree was hollowed out but still alive.


More a bat tree than the one we delimbed. Suspect the bats are living in the Stedding.


Thinking afterwards, Chris is a classic Applecross adoptee in that he turned up out of the blue around 3/4 years ago and has established himself well in the community. Now living in one of the affordable Craic Barn houses he has turned his hand to several jobs, the latest is tree surgery and this was his second outing. Kayak instructor, tree planter, mountain guide, Rhoddy basher or even bar man at the Inn gives you an idea how adaptable we are up here. If it was not for affordable housing…….. and we do need more for more young guys like Chris or even some Chrisinas.

Then the heavy mob arrived


as Chris went off to plant some trees on the Alt Beag and left the sheep to tuck into some fresh sycamore leaves.


Another attempt to get the rig in failed fairly quickly but the track machine was the next option.


A tow in from the gate was organised which did not mean Mick was going to pull it in.


That quickly was underway and a routine emerged with Duncan in front with the chain attached to the rig and using the bucket to pull the rig in chain length by chain length.


In place eventually and with the compressor taken in a lot easier the drilling began.




The first two holes successful and then the problems began again with the rig unable to manoeuvre for the other two holes and that is when the back axle became level to the ground. I made myself go back up at ten to take this photo. Could not earlier on but on the assumption that there was going to be a recovery taking shape over the next couple of days it would be good to see what the boys came back from.


The actual drilling part of the operation seemed to be the easiest although we were watching an artist, joining drill bits with no hands but manoeuvring by control unit.




Mike came along for a look and soon became involved in some tractor work. A bit like being at sea, there is a problem, it has to be fixed. Day finished with the area behind the rig cleared and ready for a tow out in the morning. Leaving the field was a little depressing but a few well meant and positive words helped. And Dougal and Eildh did enjoy their long day as site-work dogs. Dougal meeting Kenny today.


Unfortunately that did not happen as Jim had more stuff to deal with so did not make it over and little happened during the day. Donald replaced Duncan and Mick returned to the east with little progress made. Difficult to work on someone’s machinery which is their livelihood. As I missed a day at sea on monday had to go out yesterday as the forecast is not settling down. Surprised by the fishing as at this time of year there is little activity with the creels. Only hauled 250 but although mostly small should be enough to keep people happy till I manage out again. Dentist in the evening and that is when I saw the static situation on the field. Worrying.

After a wee feeling of dread and doing little myself, by twelve the rig and compressor are out of the field. Using the hydraulic base stand at the rear of the rig and with wood the rear wheel was built up almost level


before a successful tow out was performed.




Good to see the rig passing out through the field gate.


The boys left with a bit of a tidy up and Mick wanted another bucket hole dug to make sure there was rock on the down side of the site. The drill holes on monday showed up good rock base but no one was in mind to drill this morning. Must not lose the evidence of what came out. The toilets are now unblocked, Sean was involved with this and seems we are encountering what seems to be a new sewage disposal issue. Wet wipes that do not disintegrate are blocking sewers up and down the country. And the Filling Station is selling fuel. Seeing by the dips there are healthy sales at the moment. Not surprising as there are huge amounts of visitors around. The weather is not having any effect on the numbers. I personally feel there is a bit of an imbalance at the moment, certainly at the Inn, where it sounded as though they were having difficulty in coping with the numbers. Trying to send people down to the Walled Garden where there is excellent food being served. Accommodation beds are out of sync with the eating places. Huge pressure is put on the services some of which are being kept going by volunteers. The slightly worrying thought is that this is only May. Called in early tonight but a lot more buoyant than I was this morning. The most important piece over the 3/4 days is the community involvement, guys turning up to offer advice and to help and willing to negotiate prices and offer some of the work free. Over time I hope the community will pay this back tenfold. In recent years the skill capacity of the community has increased and become more self sustaining. Ever onwards.

Conference and Ceilidh, Day 1

A short snooze and a boring rugby match and now back on the keyboard mainly because we have just finished a pretty stunning two days where Applecross has hosted a day and a half Conference on energy efficiency and related matters. Last night we were dancing to the music of the Kyle Ceilidh Band, attended by many of the Conference goers. Yesterday morning I woke early and with a sinking feeling as the old head was going to give trouble, today of all days. Up, painkillers and a lie down on the couch before more painkillers and up the road to the Community Hall for the Conference. Lucky that it was brought under control by lunch time with more painkillers than I would tell the Doc. Unfortunately I know that I have taken too much as the stomach tells me so. All well by evening and it does not matter as there is too much to do to think too much about it. Immediately you saw how much work had gone into the organising of the Conference although I was well aware by the number of emails that had been flying about over the last week. It was noted locally that some of the info went out a little late but that was as a result of late financing of the Conference. Initially it was thought that HIE may have been interested in part funding it but that was not to be and a rush of requests for local sponsors rapidly filled the gap. Had a laugh when I picked up my name tag as when I booked I had filled it in slightly tongue in cheek.


Sat at the back to watch proceedings get under way.


First up was Jess to tell us about the Trust and how they operate in Applecross. Some interesting facts for those on the floor and Jess was followed by Wolf and then Alejandra, from Bolivia, to give us a summary of their trip to Applecross and what they hope to achieve here. Sometimes tea breaks are just as important to those attending these events where information is exchanged and disseminated.


The tea-table was surrounded with people in animated conversations. Back into the Hall where we heard Elaine Morrison talk about Just Energy.


Fascinating amount of knowledge out there and the presentations hopefully will be appearing on the AEE websitehttp://www.spanglefish.com/applecrossenergyefficiency/  and/or Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/ApplecrossEnergyEfficiency and possibly on the Community Company page.https://www.facebook.com/applecrosscommunitycompany. Rather than me badly regurgitating excellent presentations better reading them directly. A quick-lunch and as Callum wanted a little footage of wood chopping, headed off down to Heather’s but was not too impressed with the axe, she did agree. Take my own axe to finish it tomorrow. Seems it was on the gaelic news tonight, thought the hen was more impressive than me getting the axe stuck in the wood. Did manage to chop some. Called in at the Inn to give Cheffie an idea of who was going to eat what from the set menu and by the time I made it back to the Hall Amanda had just about finished her presentation about establishing local wood fuel supplies. While I was at the Inn I was stopped in my tracks by a unobstrusive meeting taking place. Every now and again some thing happens that really brings it home telling you that you are on the road.


The meeting was with Mick and Duncan of Highlandeco and local contractors concerning the ground work building the turbine house, pipe line and intake. This was followed by Nick Chapman who told us about the work of Community Energy Scotland who have mentored us through to where we are, in particular Mel Macrae who has since moved on to greater heights but is keeping an eye on how it is going. The local power initiative is the next stage of the project. Finally it was Susan Walker’s turn to tell us what is happening on the south end of Skye’s crofting township of Camuscross and Duisdale where they are also looking at hydro and a community hub, coupled with what looks like a thriving crofting community. The agriculture side of Applecross crofting has been crammed into the marginal lands on both the south and north coasts and has not the same opportunities as the bigger better land crofts of Skye but even here we are starting to see little hot spots of new crofters trying out different things other than the traditional sheep.

So a 4.30pm finish on the first day and after a quick dog visit, they have been neglected a bit lately, up to the Inn before the masses came. Switched into the Maitre d’ mode and just as well as Boss was not long back and feeling not too chipper after a long couple of days on the road. Twenty-five from the Conference were expected to eat before heading down to the Hall for the Ceilidh. All went well apart from a soup for a haggis, but quickly sorted by cheffie, with not too much grumbling. Have a memory stick to fill up for Kayvan who was taken by the music we played as background in the morning.


To be fair he had been in since sixish,in the morning that is. Stayed till around eight and then back to the Hall again. The ceilidh was simply awesome The Flensburg guys were on the floor all night, they had no choice. First time I knowingly danced with a Bolivian, a Nicaraguan, a Nepalese, an Indonesian, a Kenyan and a German all on the same night. Sadly Christine from the Phillipines was not feeling too well but was better yesterday so joined in late. They were really quick learners and by the end of every dance they knew what they were doing. The floor from the first dance to the last was full and the night was based on raffle and donations kindly donated from the Inn and the shop. I love this picture, showing young and older, lots of different cultures all coming together, having a great time. I don’t think Michelle stopped smiling all night.


A princely sum of £350 was raised. Willie and the rest of the Band said it was the best night they played at in years and they said it several times and meant it.


Having booked bands before I went looking for money to pay them but it had already left the building. Applecross at its best, half eleven at night and off I went. Raised the money in quarter of an hour with an unsecured loan and back at the Hall as they finished packing the equipment away. Michelle from Kenya and Flensburg had a starring role as she sang unaccompanied,seems it was “the Titanic song” originally by Celine Dion, beautiful it was too even if I did not recognise it and it kept the kids attention, well maybe not Thor’s.


Back by popular demand Michelle had us and the band singing along to a song from her homeland.


I found this very moving, here we were in the far north-west of Scotland listening to a young lady from Kenya singing a song to us from her own culture. It is one world and I have been wearing the tee-shirt for years. Heart felt thanks to all who organised the two days. Last Conference post to come.

Land and Water.

Alison was invited to a meeting of the Scottish Affairs Committee held in Inverness, the subject being land reform. Sounded really interesting and if nothing else I have learned about Chatham House Rules, under which conditions the meeting was held. Seems one can use the information from the meeting as long as you do not reveal the identity or the affiliation of the speaker. Here goes, no names or areas and generalisations all round but it still sounds fascinating all the same. Tenant farming featured large in the discussions with some fairly grim statistics. Interesting how land owners get around various legislation by giving out 364 day leases so hold the tenant in their thrall. One of the results of this is there is no grant money available to the tenant as they generally need five-year leases to comply with grant stipulations. Result is a continued degradation of the farm that is being tenanted. Also a story of a farm that is now surrounded by derelict farm buildings of the now defunct farms, derelict because of a completely disinterested landlord, with the result that the PO and shop was closed with the school in danger. There was interest from people wanting to work the farms but there were no leases available. There were submissions from a biodiversity point of view showing how the mono culture of red deer was so detrimental to the environment across the Highlands. These Committees meet to hear the problems and there may be amazing stories out there to counter this evidence but interestingly enough there was constant reference to the Scandinavian land models. Seems there are few ecology based jobs to the east as the smaller landholdings are worked and bio diversity is regarded as important to those that live and work the land.  Always aware they may have their own problems but when you hear that Danes can buy up a Scottish estate, pay no tax in this country, but are taxed in their own country for land they own here, sort of crazy one thinks. Land tax?? In our circumstance the most worrying case was stated by a community group who were constantly struggling to survive and it was suggested almost that it was too late, with so few people of a young enough age still in the area to turn the decline around. Sometimes when the mood is not as it should be you remember many more people staying in the community and far more children in a two teacher school. Often feel we have built up a false sense of security based on one industry….tourism. However over night things can change and the horizon can look so different, here it would be the reopening of the Kishorn Yard. Yesterday, all I did was go to the shop.


Today we met up with Duncan and Mick from Highlandeco and Felix from CES and it was certainly absorbing and so much to take in. As I was heading up to the Inn to discuss hydro could not help seeing the result of all the overnight downpours. The little stream, Alt na Chriche,


that was part of the first desk top study that can produce 50kw was flowing well, as was “our” stream.


Any one that says being a director is a status symbol should have been there today. So much community level information and decisions to make but it was very uplifting to hear about the possibilities of using local power from a local green source and not giving up despite of the set backs we come across when dealing with the likes of SSE. Just a thought that crossed my little brain ….would it not be good to convert a company like SSE to putting the common good/weal in front of maximizing profits for shareholders. This would not mean they cannot make a profit but change the direction of their headlong plunge down the road of continually augmenting their assets and profits year on year. Back to the theme of lots of little energetic companies, like Highlandeco instead of these over large oligopolies that suppress fragile communities because there is not enough profit for them to bother with. So our discussions revolved around preaccreditation of FITs, CAR licence variations, the size and out puts of the turbines, control systems and generators. The loss 5% in the value of our FITs if we change the size in the future offset by the increased power sales by using the extra generated power in the vicinity of the turbine. How to set up the local power net work. The incentive for people to sign up, long but interesting conversations.


The meeting was broken up by lunch during which I went down to the Bay with Dougal and Co,



having put them in the car as I had taken them up alongside the bike. Big winkle picking tide, hard, but strangely satisfying work.


Evening and the dogs are happy but no where to sit. And now it is another storm to sit through.


Forty Shades of Grey

Very productive couple of days starting with Struan, the Sparky, coming over yesterday morning to have a look at my electrics and half an hour later we were all sorted out. Turns out that I really am not an electrician, but I knew that anyway. As the new alternator was slightly different in the wiring posts I took instructions and everything was ok until I tried to thread a bolt into too small an eye electrical end. Left it and did not rush out to get smaller bolt as I thought it was just the Rev counter that I was without. Unfortunately it had a dual purpose and the second reason for that connection was an exciter for the alternator, without which, no charge. (Reminded of Billy Connolly”s Song of the same name.) Sorted now and a spring clean and refuel saw the morning off. A little change in the weather and I like this just as much as full on sun, so many shades of grey.



Looking north over Camusterrach Bay, although you see it practically every day of your life sometimes it has a different feel, with the headland of Camusteel reaching out on to the Sound guarding both Bays.


The entertainment lined up for the afternoon did not take place due to the wrong form being filled in. Huge amount of public money being spent on these disputes, unnecessarily I think, although I was sort of looking forward to it in a macabre way. So glad not to be any part of a dispute but watching the attempted resolution can be instructive but not to be this time. Some do run and run and this one will.

Fine day to restart the fishing career and although not very bright it was flat calm for most of the day. Good to see all the gauges all in their correct position and the day went well with no surprises after finding my hydraulic hauler would not work. A couple of trips down to the engine room had me puzzled but problem solved when I switched the oil valve on!!. Oh the little things in life are so important. Hauled 350 creels for a decent catch, looks like I will be sending some prawns to Spain next week, and went over to Lochcarron to the bank and then for a much needed massage. Turned out to be pretty painful but very relaxing. On the way to Sheildaig the loch at the side of the road just before the Coast Road turnoff was remarkable still and a couple of shots were called for. This is supposed to be the most westerly stand of Caledonian Pine on the mainland.



Back home round the coast, picking up some boxes and inners for next weeks fishing and feeling as though the year is finally getting under way after a long slow start. Stopped off at the Inn to pickup some steaks for tea…nothing to beat a good sirloin from Speyside with a little Bruichladdich in the sauce. Had a wee chat with our residents about the blog and all good. It is interesting when guests come year after year and suddenly you seem to get to know them a lot better after serving them food and drink over the years. Seems the “Independence “question was asked again last night and to the wrong guy. Four hours later….. Lots of niggles going on even in this calm weather. We are still battling with Gilbarco to get the Filling Station software sorted out and are in touch on Monday with Proteus, this software sort out will allow us to get the long overdue bills out. Bank refuses to pay fuel bill despite monies in account. Sorted now but can do with out the extras. These are hassles that make volunteering just that little bit harder.

On the positive side Highlandeco, our Hydro firm, that has been with us from the start came over to do a top soil survey and are generally very optimistic about the scheme. They have seen so many fall by the wayside coming across seemingly insurmountable issues. We have not had it easy with over long lease negotiations, connection charges and export limitations have all been there to overcome. Now at planning stage finding finance is going to be a major issue but we have to keep believing. We are heading down to Strontian tomorrow to speak to their community about the importance of putting together a development plan. They are also trying to put together a hydro scheme and what you do with the finance is up to the community. It will be an overnighter and Dougal is invited.

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