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

Posts tagged ‘Knoydart’

True Value.

Feels a bit like having walked up and over Liathach a couple of times in the last couple of days. Although still very part-time at the Inn I knew that they were a little short-handed out front and also there were a few big bookings for Saturday evening, so offered to come in a couple of hours early. Accepted with some alacrity and so at 4 pm there was a constant flow of customers until things quietened down at around 12 pm. Had a little dip into the past as well as there was a little local/staff session going on concurrently with the amazing food that kept coming out of the kitchen. The only difference is that I have moved on from being involved in the said “sesh”. Such a better feeling the next morning both physically and financially, that is not to say that it is not good banter you hear from that corner. The Boss intervened at one stage to keep things under control, sounding ominous with out shouting is a skill honed over the years and receives instant quietness, lasting 15 mins. Actually Saturday evening was a stroll to this lunchtime when we were panned again, may be what the season is going to be. The big groups are easy for front of house but the kitchen have to deal with 10/15 orders all at the same time and hats of to them for getting it right every time. All I had to do was get the orders right. Have to say over the two days the number of compliments about the food and how it all works are endless. No delays, lots of banter and great atmosphere are some of the reasons why people from Mexico, Germany, France, Norway, Manchester and Lochcarron have all visited this weekend. There are so many familiar faces now, just working the two seasons through the week. I missed many of the regulars only working the Sunday lunch shift, but now am starting to see them year in year out. It is a very personal Inn and people want to know what has happened since the last time they visited, having made the connection to the community through the Inn and it’s working. New faces in the form of Lena May and Charlotte have bolstered the defences for a wee while so leaving at five today was not too guilt ridden. Hopefully with Son No1 and Jill leaving for the Walled Garden that will take some of the summer’s pressure of as visitors sample another amazing eating place on the peninsula.

Although it feels as if I was at the Inn all weekend Saturday saw me ankle-deep in the proverbial….. loading up a number of fish boxes for the garden’s raised beds, lovely black mature compost produced by Jimmy’s cows now long since gone. may have moved around a half ton, so my back says and as I had the Dougal family with me I wandered into Torgarve and then down the Carnach track.


Always such a peaceful place and feels so ancient and timeless,


stones and rocks covered in thick layers of moss and lichens.


Dougal and his Mum love it being new ground for rodent hunting.


Through ALPS there have been some experiments on how to regenerate a bit of new growth, and with some success, as the area is scattered with many fallen birch and hazel. You can easily imagine the inhabitants of the Broch using these grounds as a working forest. It also ties in with a little post that got me back into a little meditation which hopefully will keep a balance with the frenetic world of rural Applecross during what I think will be a busy summer season. The appearance of Spring is finally breaking through the winter gloom, it always does, but it was a little late this year. The arrival of the compost, the seeds and seed potatoes are all indications the cycle of life is started again.

Leaving the house this morning looking across to the south end of Raasay looked as though south of Sconser was an island in the light.


Another little excitement was a phone call this morning that had so much in it over a period of 45 mins. It was genuinely exhilarating and if a fraction of what was talked about comes to fruition then Applecross will benefit immensely and it will experience a growing capacity to be able to look after itself and may be a model for other communities to regenerate in ways that overcome the restrictions they are coming up against at present. Some communities are well down that road already in many ways and I really liked the story I heard from Knoydart. The community shop is being refurbished, good story in itself, but the local community building company is doing the work and the wood they are using for the shelving has been grown and processed in Knoydart. What more do you want from a community, so often said that a local economy is six times the worth when the money is generated locally and spent locally. And this is what happens through the Inn with its local employment and local produce  generating money to be spent in the local shop or Community Filling station. This morning’s phone call was based on human value and not sterling value. The sterling value comes automatically when the human value is to the fore. Regular visitor, Mike always sparks of these thoughts which never deny the reality of day-to-day living but question the true value of life and he is back in town. I suppose some of the thought provoking part of the weekend was fielding quite a few enquiries as why there was no music on Saturday evening. Pinny and the Breakers were supposed to play but cancelled due to the untimely death of Dougie, one of our very popular electricians, some members of the band coming from the same village. There is still a sense of disbelief in the area and one can only offer sympathies and condolences to the family and friends of a popular and helpful man.

Knoydart Part 3, Leaving.

The prawns were pretty good and one was left on each plate until the plates were gathered and both were snapped up. It is all very well being polite but there are limits. The prawns were picked up at Armadale the previous evening from Duncan’s boat and were a decent size. The prawns were followed by chicken in honey and hazelnut and then by a lime sorbet…top food. Evening then flashed by and before you knew it the power down time had come along with the frantic carry out being organised just in case. Some way through the evening I remembered it was my birthday and Julia volunteered it was her’s as well. The obligatory Happy Birthday was sung and reminded me why I generally keep quiet about it. This followed by a Hip,hip hooray chorus, which in turn was followed by this explanation. Seems “Hip, Hip” may be connected to a Latin phrase meaning “Jerusalem has fallen” and was taken up by the Nazis up to and including WWII, becoming an anti semitic call. The things you learn on a LDO gathering are many and various. And even better was Morvern from south end of Mull finding out that the french translation of her wee nickname was fairly uncomplimentary, although I am a bit suspicious that this was made up on the hoof. But good night was had although background headache kept the evening to its proper length for me. Woke up a couple of times in the night thinking I was going to be in trouble but for some reason it did not develop and leaving Doune was as enjoyable as arriving. I know that sounds a little strange but I have always Applecross to come home to and I now have an amazing memory of Knoydart and have met some new and good people. The previous day there was a brief chat about the future of CAM and some figures were produced for the HIE Board that show the cost of the scheme  and the money that it has brought into fragile areas to be a pretty startling use of public money. Most of the monies raised are directly spent on infrastructure projects and either maintain or increase the viability of the communities concerned. Not only that but small and sustainable cottage industries can be attracted to these areas as basic services are improved or just kept.


So after breakfast, it was off down to the jetty in wonderful sunshine and the Gripper II took us to Armadale across a flat calm Sound of Sleat with a couple of porpoise sighting on the way over. The views back to Doune in the sunshine were wonderful.





The Mary Doune took the rest over to Mallaig with Andy at the wheel.


There was still plenty to talk about on the way across and we went into the new pier to offload.



From there it was up the road with Avril and Kristine on board with a wee stop in to see Nicola in her new shop in Isle Oronsay. Nicola was on the SEA course last year and used to work at Sabhal Mor, has had a baby and gone self-employed buying a little tweed shop. Leadership courses do work it seems although not for the college!!

After dropping the girls off at Strathcarron it was down Shieldaig Glen in the hope of a massage. Messages were left so I was not sure but the note left on the door meant it was going to be ok. A wander down to the new pontoon and a coffee with Linda, Kenny and Gemma followed by a good but painful massage and it was home by mid afternoon. The Shieldaig pontoon is yet another example of a few people getting together, and they benefit, the whole community benefits even more.


It was noticeable that we were still chatting all the way through the treatment, just the aftermath of Knoydart still working its way around the senses.  And back to the usual run of the mill problems….Filling Station shut down again and not accepting local cards so had to manually delivery fuel to the postie, but after the last couple of days you just put the hassles of every day life into its proper slot and get on with a good life. Dougal and tattie planting is now on the agenda.

Knoydart Part 2, Visiting Inverie

Following the talk in the morning by Liz there were changes of plans that Davie had to cope with due to the weather. We were planning to go north to Airor to discuss forest crofts. This was going to involve a boat trip and a land rover preceded by a steep walk up the back of Doune. The weather was very unpredictable and was swinging around from the south-west to the north and combined with a lowish tide and a 3/4 foot swell Andy decided that it was too uncomfortable for those who would not care for the hill climb.IMG_2525

Instead we had a very good short discussion about broadband and with Elgar’s help I now have a little more understanding of the issues and being told that there is a 100% take up in Knoydart is comforting. They are on the JANet, over from the Gaelic College and superior to what we intend to put in but out of sight to what we have. Although broadband is a done deal in Koydart Davie realised that it is an issue for most of the communities up and down the coast and there seems to be a lot of movement and growing awareness that problems can be solved.

Lunch and then it was off to Inverie.


One or two decided not to hike up the hill to the road but it was well worth the effort. Even although the weather was still pretty poor the views over to Eigg were awesome. Lots of memories around the whole trip. I used to come down here fishing on the Dauntless Star and the Golden Rule and Peter Jan, up Loch Hourn, Sandaig, Marianne’s Point and Armadale Bay, staying at Isle Oronsay and Barrisdale overnight. In fact the last time I was in Mallaig by boat was with a not very sober Ali Rua on the mooch for bait. Happy days, I think. Jumped into Tommy’s landrover and it was off over the top to the “town”, Tommy being the local Ranger as well as the postie gave us a really interesting chat about the recent history of the land, who owned it and what they did not do with it. The story that stuck was the one of Lord Brocket who was a Nazi sympathiser, so much so that he was at Hitler’s 50th birthday celebrations in 1939. Much to his dismay The House and Knoydart was requisitioned for the SOE, fore runner of the SAS and after the war the first thing the “Lady” did was dump all cutlery, crockery and even toilets in Loch Nevis as they were “defiled” by the servicemen. Then they went on to sack most of the staff, employ their own toadies, shepherds were warned they could be shot for red deer, kids kept off the beaches, all quite extra ordinary. Finally it came to a head when the Seven Men of Knoydart staked out 65 acres of inbye and 10,000 acres of hill land and settled in.  They received huge popular support but poor legal advice and little political support. Although they ultimately failed Knoydart Foundation now exists for the people who live there. I used to think that The Clearances and the Land Raids were off  time and not to be constantly brought up but I am now full of admiration for these people who stood up to the establishment and with everything to lose. The little tiff we had in Applecross last year has brought this home to me. Remembering how stressful it was and that was with secure tenancies and accommodation they must have been living in awful conditions, both emotionally and physically to stand up for their justice and basic human rights.

First stop was a lovely wee tea room with a coffee and cake and a couple of presentations about the Foundation’s past present and future finances followed by a forestry talk and this was very specific to the Raasay contingent.


They seemed very pleased with what the got from it and probably over the next couple of days may realise that they have even more than they thought…it is the way it works. Chatting quite a bit to Andy and really interesting to get a very down to earth view on what goes on, more on the way back and good to get the history of the buy out and how at the start it was controlled by agencies and not the people themselves, that came later.

After afternoon tea it was off down to The Old Forge, via the little shop where I bought a calendar that you can use any year…..smart and maybe one for Applecross.


This is Andy with the Islay/Colonsay contingency getting ready for a pint.


After a pint of orange and lemonade I went for a wander round the head of the Bay while the guys slipped a couple of pints in.Distant memory for me and not missed. Sun popped out for a little while and showed off the place in its majestic glory.





And there was a bit of local character thrown in.


7.00pm and we were loaded up in the vehicles and driven back to tea at Doune. On the way back down the hill into Doune even in the now gloomy weather the views out west were magnificent with a clear sight of Eigg.


On time tonight  and prawns were promised….fresh and creel caught of course.

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.

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