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

Posts tagged ‘land reform’

A Grumpy One

Although we are in for a busy weekend there is a definite end of season feel in the air. Maybe not helped by it being Friday and the first day on the water this week and even then it involved a northerly swell and a breeze from the south. By mid afternoon the breeze had developed into a wind, fortunately the fishing had improved from the morning although being in gear you have to watch when you steam past the south end you don’t get the tailing in the prop. Well more than once anyway. This coupled with noticing some spotlets of emulsified oil coming through my wet exhaust adds up to a bit of a grumpy feel to the day. I could have done with a longer visit from the dolphins. They came up very quickly, pirroeted a full 180 degrees out of the water alongside the boat and swam off. The oil problem is a heat exchanger and I have to find out if it is the gearbox or the engine oil I will be losing. It is never all joy and happiness in any job but at this time of year after a full on and busy summer these little things get blown up and exaggerated in the mind. Western world issues so in the grand scheme of life they will be trivial.

Good mood to have a mini rant about how the community is impacted by outside decisions and the little we can do about it. There is a theme across the Highlands that Community Councils are of little import and to some extent I would have to agree. As a region and country our local democracy is in pretty poor shape and to some degree unrepresentative. This is mainly due to most people’s perception that there is little the Council can do other than voice a community opinion. I do not usually post on individuals but the fact that the Inn Chef, Robert, and the School and Fire person, Marion, have to deal with a planning decision that stops their plans in progressing their presence on the Applecross peninsula is frankly incomprehensible. Robert and Marion, holding three jobs down between them, one young un and another imminent, working crofters cannot get planning permission to build a croft house near their croft. They are refused on the grounds that it is not in keeping with the surroundings environs and is too far from other habitations. I find it hard to put into words what I think of these decisions taken on the east coast by people who have no conception of what living on the fragile west is like. Apart from the ludicrous reasons for refusal, I can take you round Applecross and show you houses that have been built with no other houses near them, so as well as being a negative decision in the first place it has no place with any precedence. Ridiculous from which any angle you look at. It is easy to criticise but this and other decisions have little basis in a community’s growing it’s capacity and resilience. Another decision on the Street has been negative on the grounds the living quarters are upstairs. Considering that already happens in Holiday Houses three or four doors along it holds no water anywhere else but the east. You couple this with no land being released for affordable houses you can see we. are going to have problems in the very near future. Do people think it is ok for workers to live in multiple occupancy and caravans, in poor housing where do these issues come into the planning process. I leave the argument that everything is fine and should be left as it is to discuss, that is the rewilding argument in a way, saying that people should not and have not lived here for generations, which is patently untrue. Always change, sometimes the change is rather quick but you have to deal with it as it will not go away.

When, we as a community, are faced with an absentee landlord saying that a site is unsuitable because you can see it from the road you can only shake your head in disbelief. Drive down the road from Ardeslaig to Toscaig and you see every single house, holiday house and empty house from the road. Mind you I have been told of two other reasons for that site, the first being the presence of sink holes, not a good excuse due to the Turbine House being built there, and finally an agricultural reason just to make sure the site will not become available. You get the idea that releasing land is  not on the absentee landlord’s agenda, frustrating when you look at Achintrad, Sheildaig, Lochcarron, Balmacara, where affordable houses are being built and lived in by young folk who send kids to local schools and have employment in their locales. So individual planning decisions taken against this background feel so negative.

I have been to some positive and not so positive meetings lately, great to hear ideas put forward about a Community Hub, increased employment, housing from people who understand the fragility of the community and have  thoughts and plans to reverse the almost imperceptible decline. On the positive side there are more crofts being used now, the decline seems to have bottomed out and younger folk are growing and producing more food locally, building the resilience of the place, it’s a good year for wee ones being born, would be great if this was the norm rather than being unusual and employment must be 120%, more to do than the people living here can cope with. In a way it is a sort of curse when asked what is one’s agenda for the community. I can state that nothing is personal in that my living and employment prospects do not need to be improved so it is purely on a community level. Of course I may be wrong but I can see how a fine community can work in difficult circumstances and that is the one at the Inn. Great team and generally a happy place, building under pressure, workers not in ideal housing, but despite all the problems a fine example how a community can work.

So the consultations go on, there is the launching of a proper community consultation run by the Community Company, while the Trust Working Group continues. I feel I have made the right decision not to keep putting time into this and leave it to more positive minded people. I see no change in the direction the Trust is going in despite different personnel  on the Board. The suggested Chair of the Working Group, someone who is not only not local but is also not “independent”, confirms my decision to spend my time more usefully. I sincerely hope the Group is able to influence Trust policy for the future before more and more people think the  development of Applecross will have to go through new powers of the Community Empowerment Act.

Another meeting attended this week concerned the laying of fibre optic cable from Sheildaig to Lochcarron. Wonderful one may think but we came away from the meeting thinking little or no benefit to the community. There will be empty chambers for a licensed provider to build cabinets to deliver superfast broadband but that is unlikely to happen as cabinets cost around £65,000 and does not make economic sense to supply to a half-dozen houses. There was more unsaid than we were told, i.e. the contractor, the huge expense of laying a cable that is not going to be used locally. SSE backhaul does not really hold water and we all came away with the strong suspicion that the customer is based on the North Coast and has little to do with the local community and decisions are taken far far away. Meanwhile some residents are being promised 50/70 meg speeds from BT as they take in broadband by radio. Very puzzling and can only wait and see if this is true.

Now that feels better and life goes on. As said before the fishing was better than expected and the tea was good, it being these shrimps, all eyes

trying to make me feel guilty, some squats in mayo, and mussels increase,garlic and wine sauce, good accompaniments to baked Tatties.  This chappie was released after the photo and swam away happily in a flash of colour.

In-between the grumps the dolphin visits, they were too quick for me,

and the occasional calm days with lots of activities on and in the water,

a Thai massage and good chats with good people keeps you on a level, although maybe reading this I may need a lot more therapy.And to finish with a light show

or two.


Cornering Failure

You never know what is round the next corner, or in my case on the corner. I made off to Inverness around 9 this morning after taking some langoustine ashore for the Loch Ness Inn. Called in at the Inn where I decided to go round the coast and up Glen Torridon. I had plenty of time so managed a couple of stops on the way to try to capture the beauty I was driving through. First had to try to get the locals to use the passing place


before rounding the Cuaig corner.


I have never managed to capture this scene, the road winding its way north against the backdrop of the magnificent Torridons and the bleak foreground of the Cuaig common grazing. A brief stop at Ardeshlaig


before coming to the corner up Glen Torridon. Black ice and before I could react I was sitting in the van on rock and heather five feet below the road


and slightly shock up.


Would have been a fine bit of parking if there had been a car park there.


Twinge in the back was all and after checking the langoustine in the back I was helped by some very kind visitors who let me use their phone to get in touch with recovery. A pleasant hour was then spent waiting for Peter to turn up, not before Colin wandered down having recovered another van further up the Glen. So home in a wee Peugeot instead of my van which is almost certainly written off. A cup of coffee and natter at DMK’s before coming back over the Bealach stopping again



as it was breathtakingly beautiful.



So a phone call or two before making arrangements to head off to Inverness, this time to buy a van, still instead of thinking if only I had….I think I was looked after today.

I knew my post last night would cause reaction and am pleased that it did. I am always careful not to personalise problems, but becoming less afraid of pointing out the negative effects of organisations, hoping that they will change. I can only say that being positive is the only way ahead. Sorting out a nonexistent Filling Station, then a duff one, helping to improve Broadband, helping with the Hydro, both publicize it and sorting out small problems. I believe we will have affordable housing built in Applecross and maybe in the future the community may be able to buy into the current housing stock and create a two tier market. Short term we need affordable housing now. I have enjoyed a Facebook conversation since coming home and I know there are residents ready to take this community forward. Access to land is definitely not a lost cause and it will happen either through talking, cajoling or in the last resort using powers given to communities by the Scottish Parliament.

I got so involved in posting last night that I forgot to post the photo of the German contingent in town with Graeme.


I give tables little titles when I put the food orders through, usually after a wee chat and it causes puzzlement in Prep and kitchen as they are off the wall at times. Their title was “Graeme and the Germans” I suggested it could be a title of one of his future novels, we’ll see. The crumbles went down a treat as did the haggis and cheese melts.

The day has ended with me missing out on the funeral service, leaving the beer kegs in Inverness but salvaging the langoustine by selling them to the Applecross Inn. So instead of a planned trip to The Loch Ness Inn it will have to be another trip over the Bealach for the best seafood in the Highlands.

It’s Fresh Outside.

The journey home completed with me picking up the van at Strathcarron, number plate and side panel back on and bumper back in fine shape to get through another MOT. Handy when your garage go and pick up and sort your transport while you are enjoying a break with the music. Only down side was sitting at Dingwall train station for half an hour waiting for some signalling problem to be sorted out.

In the evening it was back into the swing of things at the Inn with not an awful lot to do but do the hours and lock up around twelve. Two interesting guests were consultants working for the Trust to help them out with forming their next ten-year development plan. Sounds slightly Soviet but I jest and will try to keep an open mind that this new-found interest in sustainable community development is genuine and not a reflection of the politics surrounding the passage of the Bills going through the Scottish Parliament.

Friday saw the arrival of the first lot of wind of the weekend. While it is blowing a howling storm just now, Friday was more at the gale level but with a fair bit of damage to the power lines. First a pole was blown down round the coast and then after it was switched back on a transformer blew. This meant a welcome trip back into the old days, no internet, just the company of dogs,



a few candles and a Jo Nesbo to while away the evening. It was our longest power cut for quite some time. Seems there was an SSE hired catering van on the go and the word was that it was going to be at the Inn for around six o’clock. It was coming from Uig but did not arrive until ten when they fed a few hungry imbibers. During the day there were some bright spells


throughout the day and a wander down to the shop was called for.


Eilidh is getting rid of her limp although she is not impressed with her medication. She does not bear grudges though. Dougal as usual likes to feel the wind through his fur.



Bit quieter over the weekend although still a fair old breeze,


there has been lots of conversations about broadband, visits to the Hydro to restart, and now more wind. The broadband has suffered through the bad weather and the continued delays with the new fibre optic line from Mallaig. Conversations at the Inn are not very pleasant at the moment and it is slightly frustrating that areas of the community are harder to serve than others. Our broadband at the Schoolhouse has been fine as has the Inns. We are going through a series of snags at the Turbine House but we are up to the 90kws now although power cuts are not helping. Restarting is sometimes not so routine as just pushing the resart button. It is back on manual so it means a visit when it trips. We can now monitor from the house to see if it is powered up and just checked and we are up and running again. Ewen restarted this morning on the way to work but the hydraulics did not kick in,  so after an attempt and a phone call I found the hydraulic motor breaker had tripped. Only went for a while before closing down again in the afternoon this time for “Export Excess”, short-term stresses but long-term gains for the community, like the broadband. The Filling Station is going well for the past few months, as it has dropped out of the story, it usually means there is little to worry about and it is just routine deliveries and dipping and keeping legal that is in the day-to-day running.

Back to the weather and today we have experienced the first storm of the winter, forget all these names, they were just gales. When you hear the forecast at 12.45am as “Hebrides south-west to west severe gale 9 to violent storm 11, increasing hurricane force 12, that s when you get a little nervous. Ignoring the pointless and silly naming of gales that have started this winter. This morning began with a wander down to the dinghy, pulling her in and straight back out to hang onto the endless line and to bail with my other hand, before setting off for the short distance to the pier. It was a nippy little passage as the engine needs some gentle tweaking of the choke, keeping an eye out for the rollers coming in from the west. Pulled shoulder muscles but still have two boats on the water. Do not think she would have survived todays pummeling. Even Milton Loch was pretty lively.


Wandered round the Bay after going up to the Turbine House late in the afternoon.



The power of nature was in full flow as the wind strengthened


and the Bay became a cauldron of white water. The odd brave oyster catcher was still about.


Good fortune to anyone who is out there just now. Dougal just laps it up,


wind in the fur again.


A Torridon House Renewal.

Middle of the night and back from a pretty amazing day. It started off as usual, a sunday morning shift at the Inn with discussions about whether it was going to be busy, were all the visitors on the way south, will we have day trippers? But in the back of my mind was will I be in Torridon for a party? The reason behind this was an invite for Judith to attend a sort of opening day at Torridon House. The House has recently been bought and renovated by Felix and Sarah. The renovations are still on going but I am jumping ahead. Felix had turned up in Applecross on Shooglenifty night and obviously enjoyed himself and again made it down to the Inn with the next session of the Lochcarron musicians. it was then he invited Judith up to Torridon over New Year. Not one to miss out on some music I immediately offered to drive. To cut a long tooing and froing short, on Saturday some friends of Felix came down to the Inn and had some lunch and through chatting to them we discovered the “party” was on Sunday not Saturday as first intimated. Saturday would not have worked as we would have been too busy to go. I still thought there was little chance as staff were still thin on the ground but Caroline intervened and told the Boss she was to go. As Sketch or at least some members were reputed to be there I was delighted with this turn of events and happily drove north about two o’clock. This despite a busy bar and I tried to take as many orders to ease the conscience in leaving other people to do your work.

The day turned into one of those experiences that one will possibly never forget. We walked in as Felix was giving a speech on the steps of the front hall, a warm welcoming speech which was followed by a Buddhist ceremony.


A ceremony that was to create a new beginning and to cleanse the building of some of its unpleasant past (hope I have this right). To walk into this when we both had feelings wondering if we should be here immediately put us at ease. The makeshift sign on the way in helped.


We were quickly chatting to people we knew, Hughie, Morag, Sheila, Les, Clare and Jo, Jan, Nigel among many locals and then Herbert, Katerina, Peter and many others I never found their names, and that did not matter. I even got my New Year dancing in, bought my new Sketch album met Ali Levak yet again and heard some brilliant tunes.


Heard Felix and Sarah on guitar and fiddle play a tune they have written called the Mam, Glenelg’s Bealach, and felt Felix’s emotion talking about leaving Glenelg.


Heard this tune at the Inn when they were over and knew it was special then. Community, people and connections were the themes and feelings of the day expressed in music and chat and that for me was a strange and wonderful combination. Here we were in an Estate House which over the years has had a bad history connected to it on how its occupants had treated its people in the past, then we had an eastern spiritual experience followed by a desire and vision of  integrating community, music and arts with “The Big House”. A turning round of history, breathing an old decaying emblem of the past into a new form of community future. Idealistic vision but why not, better than its previous history, in particular a Colonel McBarnet who denied the tenants the right to keep any cattle or sheep, of a decaying establishment, a beautiful but dead part of the Highlands. The size of the Estate, the lands around the House means that land reform legislation would not affect positive ventures like this and the community members I spoke to were happy and enthusiastic in their praise of what was happening. A studio was already being used at the back of the House, outlying cottages were to be renovated to raise funds for more renovations and fund the project and a recording/composing and teaching music studio is planned.

Into the evening and as everyone was leaving and we were about to head home with plans to call in to visit so the Boss did not arrive during Inn hours, she was invited to stay for dinner.


Well, as driver, that meant me too and the table was set as the conversations continued. Everything from the spiritual to fishing and reminiscing, turns out the lady of the House has a retired fisherman and diver as a Dad.


Names such as Jimmy Philp, Dave Hardy and Ally Clam came up in the chats, blasts from the past from days in Kyle. Times when the scallop diving industry was slightly more Wild West than now with all its regulations and safety measures. Tales of nights in cells and Drams in the Field alongside Katerina talking about France, Canada and Buddhism meant the evening passed rapidly and so it was home over the Pass to the sounds of Sketch and a soundly sleeping guest.

Today, slipping back into some sort of routine, I was up at the Turbine House to pick up wood from the dryer. For whatever reason it was shut down so down to phone and make sure I was not going to blow it up with a restart. All went well and changed the mode to automatic restart. It shuts down reacting to any disturbance of power and as it is still being run in the restart is better being manual. Keeps Dougal occupied and the power saw came out in the afternoon and the sticking problem cleared up, been changing the sharpening angle and no idea if that was the solution but powered through the last of the pine and started chopping. Harsh east wind blowing all day but there was a classic west coast sunset


around 3.30/4 pm


so took the dogs down to the shore.


Eilidh easing back into a bit of exercise. In the quiet of the evening it is hard to believe this time yesterday we were surrounded by Germans, Austrians, French and Americans in a fine Big House. Don’t often use these words together but an open mind keeps one healthy. So throw in Mexico and South Africa and we have had a cosmopolitan Christmas and New Year. One little correction about Hogmanay and fortunately did not cause offence but our tweaking guy was not a transvestite but a Drag Queen, and a very good one. Suspect it was the first time Son No3 played some tunes on the pipes for one.

Modern Day Eviction,Hydro and Hangover.

To go back a couple of days now that the hangover has slowly faded and a little of the euphoria of the Hydro switch on has dissipated. Monday afternoon, a quick visit to the after Turbine House


to see the weekends progress





before making our way down the road to Perthshire and to talk about land reform to some Germans on a fact-finding visit. We went down to Tom’s the night before and had a very pleasant evening augmented by the arrival of Andrew from Coulston Mains. When I think about land reform it is always about people and/or communities. How they are affected by landowners who are usually absent and their actions are usually based around money rather than humanity. I have read and seen a fair bit about Andrew so knew the background of his eviction. But the hearing the story direct and quietly spoken almost left me open-mouthed. How we allow such a system to legally treat people the way he has been treated beggars belief but I bet there is a huge majority in this country who have never heard of Andrew. A tenant farmer who has worked a farm over twenty-two years from an almost derelict condition to one that is very viable and now has to leave as the laird has the law on his side. Not only that but with little or no compensation for half a life time of work put into the ground. Improvements to the soil and buildings count for nothing when the laird wants the subsidy for himself. So now three families are evicted and the farm will be run by a local contractor who has no incentive other than to sow and crop.

Next morning before the Germans arrived Tom took us on a tour of the neighbourhood. We went with Andrew and it was interesting to hear a farmer talk about what he was seeing. Basically good farm land going to ruin as it was not being cultivated. Broken and blocked drains and spectacularly ruined farm houses and steadings that were left to fall down, Tom’s father’s farm in this case.




All done at the whim or advantage to the laird. From Tom’s window he can see five derelict farms. As he is well read Andrew has done a fair bit of research about the history of Coulston Mains and finds an exact recurrence of his own situation in 1882 when a farmer is evicted at the end of his lease and the laird reaps the rewards of his hard work. You can see why there is a demand for an absolute right to buy coming from tenant farmers and how there is such strong opposition from the establishment. I could see the German delegation were a little taken aback when we told our stories of how both individuals and communities are held back by such practises. How EU subsidies just keep the establishment in their positions, handing out monies for nothing, purely ownership of land. Also interesting to hear how certain legal firms unpick the legislation piece by piece to nullify attempts for any sort of reform. Like the fishing industry the main players want to keep everything they have and lobby to that effect. There are some very obvious exceptions but they are few and far between.

Wednesday was coarse, no other word for it. The weather gradually wound itself up to a full gale and the rain was torrential.


The morning mission was to gather a bit of wood to take to the Turbine House just as back up as the weather may put off the planned visit by the SSE boys on Thursday. If for any reason the connection did not go ahead the heating bank would have been switched on and we would have a very efficient wood drying shed.


As I was loading up the van with the wood and feeling wet, cold and wondering why on earth I was doing this, one of our retired GPs trotted by on his morning run.  Thankfully as  you know we did not need this operation but it made me gather some wood already prepared and dropped some off at the site. Found Jamie hard at work on yet another program for the system.


One is a safety system that if there is a failure at the Turbine House there is a shutoff  that warns any cavers of any rush off water coming down the river instead of the pipe and allows them time to come back out before the water rises too much. I have found this build so interesting, all the different scenarios involving hydraulics, generation, deflector plates, control units but still from a layman’s point of view.

Then it was a shower to warm up and clean the mud off before nipping down the road to bail the dinghy and take the engine off for safety. Up the road to the Inn and a relatively quiet shift until I sat down with the Hydro boys and a wee dram of Bruichladdich. Earlier the cork had popped off champagne style and I decided to make sure it was okay to drink. Sat with the boys with the dram and after they went was thinking about home when it started to go down hill. A young couple had turned up earlier and booked a room, had lots of food and went away for a wee kip. Turned back out about eightish, had a little more food and were quite happy sitting on Table 7. Then he offered to buy me a dram and I said ok and then it led another and another…………And then it was early morning. Interesting couple as we found out that he is a singer song writer, the One Direction connection, and she worked for Nick Jones. A connection with the Inn, he owns Babington House, as Rob and Son No1 have worked there, but that is another story. A good ceilidh was had and they were very grounded 27 year olds considering they were living a life so far removed from ours it could be another planet.

And then it was a very, very bad hangover.


Bonxies on a Bank Holiday

After being immersed in land reform for a couple of days energy has returned to far better levels and just as well. A fine couple of days with huge varieties of emotions, the emotional highs and connections have been the strongest I have felt for a long time. If I had written this yesterday I thought my blog would have been “Bonxies or People”


with the intention of writing that I preferred the bonxies.


To explain, I was up relatively early and after dog duties and a muesli breakfast, I was on the Varuna before eight. Unfortunately with all the thoughts of land reform since Wednesday I had completely forgotten about the fleet I had left on board. Into the pier to take it ashore and off out west. Still had many thoughts floating around about land reform and they were mainly about how power and wealth have become so influential. How do we go about dissipating it in such a way that people who live on the land take the important decisions around their own communities. Interesting that the idea of Human Rights are presented just now as the defence of those in power. Surely they were created to help the disadvantaged. Anyway I was not hanging about as the forecast was for an increasing southerly and I wanted to catch some prawns for the Bank Holiday weekend. Succeeded in that by hauling 300 creels in a freshening breeze, awkward and hard work. The Mayday coming over the radio from the Mallaig area does make you think that you are always at the mercy of nature and simple mechanical failure. Catch slightly better than expected and they did last through the weekend, chuffed to manage that. I had one or two more round the boat possibly due to the lack of fishing activity on the Sound.



Managed a snooze with the dogs in front of Netflix before making it up to the Inn. It was as expected although it went surprisingly well. Everyone did amazingly well at everything that needed to be done. Cannot describe how it all works, it seems to be a unit of which we are all part of and if you knocked out the individual components the unit would not work in the same way. Working at the Inn confirms my belief in movements like the Common Weal. We are far better together, in the true sense, not in the political slogan sense. Despite all this Did not have a true connection and felt more connected to my natural surrounds earlier in the day.

That all changed today and for several reasons and people. As our Company grows and learns how to deal with problems that emerge there are inevitably tensions and strains within the community and even the Company. Sometimes when we become so involved in running the broadband system, or the Filling Station we forget the people who take the strain in keeping these services going. We are not an anonymous identity like BT or SSE but live in the community where if the service provided fails we meet the people who want it sorted. And we all work as well. A phone call this morning followed by a return message means a lot. All this before a 14 hour shift at the Inn. At truely amazing experience although a bit concerned about the Boss’s fitness. Judith stayed behind the bar today and left us to “go for it”. And that is what we had to do. We had to deal with wave after wave of customers from eleven till well after food finished at nine. Food still going out at half past. Five highs amongst the floor staff after ten when we knew we had cracked it. Lost a bet of a pint with Steve as the M V Hampshire guys arrived a little before time. They do like their haddock and chips. 9/10 had them with a cod being the other although the cod was eyed a little enviously by some of the haddock eaters. Not a word about fracking passed our lips.

And at the end of the evening I had a wee reward. Earlier in the evening Garry came in with girlfriend Hannah. As Judith did not know Garry he is only classed as “well known” and not famous. I ‘ve bumped into Garry a couple of times over the years as has most of the Highlands and the rest of Scotland. Met Hannah for the first time and had a good banter going when they came in for their meal later. Very accommodating with tables and sharing at one stage Garry thought they were going to sit on separate tables and he was up for that, not so sure Hannah was. met up after everything had settled down and on the spur of the moment decided his offer of a drink was a good idea. A large bunnahabhain followed by a couple of hours of fine craic. Music, history, politics, land reform, a wee touch of the spiritual and yoga and just life in general. Time flew by and it was just what I needed at the end of the night. Not only that it seems Hannah has had a very interesting political past and always good to hear inside stories and opinions. Fond farewells and a quick bar clearance was followed by a thoughtful cycle home. Grand welcome from the dogs so wandered down the shore, time had wandered on to 1.30am, but in the company of nature’s sounds from the shore and Blair Douglas’s tunes, it was really timeless. Maybe the effect of a couple of malts had something to do with it but all was good despite the stresses around and about.

As well as all this going on  I had to make a few phone calls to organise tractors and tree surgeons for the morning ‘s events at the turbine house site. the first attempts to get the drilling rig in position failing due to the wet top soil. A 16 ton back axle did not help. The bonxies sometimes are easier to live with but they do have their scraps as well and are fiercely competitive so maybe are not that much different from us. Flying free does appeal sometimes.



Today was probably more stressful but more later.

Farr Conversations.

This is the sort of post you would really like to write in situ trying to capture the buzz of the evening but needs must and it was a long trek home but so worth the effort. By the time I was on the road on Friday all seemed well. Big improvement on the head front, tooth healing up nicely so with Dougal for company it was over the Hill in an easterly direction. Coming up to Craig the scenery was a good excuse to stop and take a wee shot.


Obviously beautiful but peaceful as well with few cars passing. Dougal a little reluctant to get back in but I knew he had not long to go before his regular stop at Rogie Falls.


He enjoys the new smells along the paths but does not like the bridge so have never made it across the Falls yet with him.


He was happy enough to go up the river with me. Then it was to the vets where he was put on a light steroid for an irritated foreleg and also purchased an organic tick tablet lasting three months. Should have had him on a lead as he made an escape before getting up on the table. Rest of the day involved a bit of shopping and dropping off an outboard before meeting up with Alison and her dad, Raymond, a meal and out to Farr.

This was the main event of the day, the rest is just a west coast way of justifying a trip east by cramming in as much as you can. After another Dougal walk round the shinty pitch it was into the Hall with the other 300 and settle into an evening of music and chat.


Lurach had the evening off to a fine start, well after the coffee and cakes which seems are a tradition at Farr. Fiddles and Whistles before Julie Fowlis and her man, Eamon, came on stage for an enthralling spell of Gaelic song from the Strathdearn and Strathnairn area.


Interesting how she over rode her strong feelings to sing her native island songs and turned the evening to a project and research of songs of these parts. The voice and accompaniment have been reviewed by many people but suffice to say you could not hear a pin drop as the songs became part of you. The connection to the land is so powerful as is the sea and hearing this through music is the ultimate. The land is ours.


Then it was Lesley’s turn and although I have now heard her speak on a few other occasions there is always another aspect to travel along. The land reform package proposed as well as the Community Empowerment legislation is not the most radical moves in the west, but the reaction to it tells a story. painting Sturgeon as a communist is laughable and it is more interesting to hear the story from Durness. There they have been told that there will be no “development” and the good reaction to that is a proposal to take control themselves. That is the people who are living on the land, not the new owner based in Liechtenstein. The psychology of land, land ownership and land is so hard to break into. The fact that some one distant owns land for decades or centuries does not give him/her the right to carry on in perpetuity especially when you wander across the Highland and you see land degraded in the extreme. You also know that this has only taken place in the last two centuries. A chat with Jim Hunter at Ullapool comes to mind when he told us that he is doing yet another study on Strathnaver, this time about the abundance of wildlife that coexisted with the then human population in the Glen. It shows up this new “wilding ” map where there should be a wilderness. If you superimposed another map on top of it, that is the pre Highland Clearance map of where folk lived, you find that this is a well populated area of rivers and glens. Where as Lesley pointed out if you walk along a certain river in Caithness you will be guaranteed to meet a water bailiff within minutes.


The theme of “it is our land” was referred to time and time again and it is. Ours in the sense it no ones and every ones. Reminds me also of how far off track we have travelled and how careful new legislation has to be. Although LVT is not on the table at the moment it is an aim for many who see this as a means to stop land speculation. Side note why should land be so expensive? Why should the younger generation be excluded from owning a house through the unavailability or affordability of land? Going back to LVT, speaking to good friend on the Black Isle who could be caught in an unintended consequence of LVT. The aim of this tax would be to lower the cost of land, laudable in itself and allows more younger people access, but if you are running an agricultural business funded by loans backed by land as collateral, what happens when the value of that land comes down and the bank gets worried about the collateral behind the loan? I think I will stay local as I see too many greys in the picture, admire the people who see their convictions in black and white. Applecross got a mention at Farr and there is so much out there it is portrayed as an example of an outdated, unsustainable way of managing a huge land mass. No amount of PR can change that and going by conversations here and outside there is a stronger sense of capacity and well being at last emerging through the rural parts of the country. The drive home after an evening like that, although two hours plus, passed in no time despite the numerous “wild animals” crossing the road.


From Busy Waters to Gentle Snow Scenes.

A couple of days of variety. Thursday evening was steady busy with plenty to do and the prawns just got bigger


and bigger.


Yesterday back to the Varuna to finish off the keel, some rust appearing so must be getting somewhere. Stopped off at our little Highland stream which produces the purest of water.


And then over the top with little snow on the road


but bonny to drive through.



Anodes and a coat of anti fouling on next week. Three hours of that is the limit so went over to the landing craft salvage.


It was low tide so the dive bags and pumping was going flat-out.


Impressive operation, looked daunting but everyone did appear to know what they were doing. Obviously succeeded as the craft is now in Kishorn waiting for the rehab work to start. Seems a wee bit late in catching the tide this morning so Ewen was late back tonight, putting her up the shore and moored off for the weeks coming gales. Photos next week, better taking them in her proper place as I find it quite upsetting seeing boats under the water. Have experience of that in the past and not recommended. The chap that owns the boat is Nigel who raised the Mary Rose in the eighties. Seems he had seafront property in Portsmouth or Plymouth and sold up for redevelopment. Now has a farm on Knoydart, hence the landing craft to bring in supplies for the farm, it being so remote.

From there it was away to Shieldaig for a massage and chat. Not too bad with only a couple of tender areas. Always leave Sarah’s in a gentle mood and driving up Shieldaig Glen this was mirrored.


Decided to go back over the Hill and fine again with the snow all gone but showers still coming in from the west.


Finished up with a couple of sirloin steaks.

Thinking no much happened today but just finishing a six-hour shift at the Inn. Good night, kept busy with all the tables in the bar full. Local birthday and some nice contacts made, transport family from the east coast who lived a couple of miles from the glass blowers from the same area. The couple from Paisley kept them company. Bit of hydro and land reform chat and the night is over. High praise for the pan-fried monk fish in a lemon and herb butter. The wolf fish, breaded and served with a couple of scallops was no bad either.

Better Laws.

(early Sunday evening). Tiring but have to keep going as we are starting out on the last leg, the Oran Mor next for ALDOC and Songhoy again. Morning was the first laid back one as our outing was on for 2.30 at the O2. A series of five acts of which three were very good


and the other two were okay.


Had a bit of a weird experience on the way there. Just crossed the road in front of a marching band and did not like it at all.


Felt the aggression from them as they passed. Strident music with loud harsh drumming making a statement of who they were and almost daring me to look at them, of course the camera came out.I reckon I am passionate about a few things but they took the biscuit. The other downside is walking past the beggars, quiet, polite and looking pretty miserable. No doubt everyone has a story behind them and who knows but them, made me very uneasy and sad they could not enjoy what we were. The music was fine with three of the five very, very good and the other two good, but not to my taste. Busy place this town.


(Later) Just back from the Oran Mor and buzzing. Love writing these snippets when you still feel the music in you. Find of the weekend was ALDOC, a mix of Irish, New Zealand, Dutch and others, playing bass, electric and acoustic guitars, with flute, whistles, trumpet,drums and decks.


At one stage the could be described as rapping to a reggae beat but the flute was still prominent….simply fantastic.


Set too short but iTunes getting a visit tomorrow. Longish before stage set for Songhoy and we thought we had heard what they could do as they played last night. The venue, intimacy and crowd made for a special end to the weekend. Sometimes not knowing the language of the songs matter but not in this case, music is universal.


Even the subway not working did not matter, taxis ten a tenner. Banter on the way out was superb, he tries to stay clear of Sauchiehall Street, Saturday nights as the lads “after three pints of lager tops think they are King Kong”. His wee story of the Commonwealth Games. His neighbour, an elderly wifie was telling him she was watching the opening ceremony when she heard thunder and rushed to get the washing in. He could not understand it as weather great, worked out after she told him a couple of times that it was the fireworks she had heard…. she was watching them on telly but never twigged. It felt a short journey out. Bit of football on now and it just occurs to me that we have probably spent less on the whole weekend than we would have if we had gone to see overpaid superstars kicking a ball about a pitch for 90 mins. Poor comparison I know but makes think about priorities.

And home, it’s a long journey and a stop in at Birnam for a coffee and scone before Alison taking the van up the A9.


Roads clear, Treacherous playing on the iPod, and head full of memories of an epic weekend. Straight through to Applecross with a brief stop at the top of the Bealach for a view across the Sound.


Just a bit of House and a sleep. Busy in the other room as the tenders are in for the Hydro and lots of big, important and informed decisions to be made in amongst all this music. As we had stopped in Birnam on the way I sometimes stop and wonder how more people do not know about land issues, generally issues over legal rights and the like. I sat beside a tenant farmer who would not say where he was from, bit damming considering we have abolished Feudal Law. Outside Dundee we were told about a development which was objected to by all residents and CCs but went through at higher levels, the developer is based in the Isle of Man. It must be what the Africans on the ground feel when their land and resources are sold from under them by their own governments. Interesting to hear other people talking about the value of land and why as soon as you put planning permission on it does the value go through the roof. Housing a human right?….. it does say that in the laws we are supposed to be following, so many considerations that will be regarded as being less radical in the future. I often feel I am a little out there is what I believe in but am somewhat protected by my lack of desire on things. Collecting and selling holds nothing of importance as opposed to giving and helping . There is a structure and legal system to live within but when you read about how these laws come into being…….Why is it shooting a deer has become a right but cleverly the deer remains a wild animal so liabilities are nullified if the deer “causes” a car crash? Why can no one catch a wild salmon, a fish that has swam 4000 miles to Greenland and back, without paying a private individual extortionate amounts of money? Why do Sporting Estates have tax exemptions? The only reason I can think of is that those who make the laws actually benefit from them and they will argue to keep them the way they are. The way ahead is for the people to get together and make better laws in which the many benefit over the few. So three consultations to reply to in the next week or so, otherwise how can I continue to complain.


Snowy (Not Tintin)

Inverness on Friday, a bit strange being a passenger, especially in the poorish weather. But the driver was not too bad. Roads on the way, especially above Glen Docherty were interesting.


Ben Wyvis looked good on the way in


and for no reason at all, is a picture of the railway line just before Inverness Station.


Had to go in to answer some book-keeping questions that I thought needed face to face explaining. Bit cheesed off that I had to travel so far for such a trivial reason. Hundred and sixty miles, but needs must. Not too bad as it turned out, got lift in with Judith, her dentist and jobs and me Highland Wholefoods and Thai massage on the way home. So not a wasted trip for a couple of book-keeping questions. Turned out that they were easily answered with only a little more work. Not only that but my VAT billing was correct and got email saying so. Not good enough a book-keeper to bo too smug though. Cracking massage in Shieldaig and all the gossip on the street thrown in, meanwhile Judith visited the local and had a bit of craic with the resident mafioso. Unfortunately there was no lager, a little problem for a pub on the west coast at the start of the week-end. Shame it does not seem to be working out. Inn can be the making of a community, we are so fortunate with ours.  So nice and relaxed, back home with a fish and chips carry out, after a snowy drive round the coast. Hill is closed for the weekend.

Saturday and I was almost on the water but that would have meant getting up in the middle of the night to catch the tide for putting the dingy back on the endless line. So as times have changed I slept through. The light in the morning on the Cuillin was worth a trip down the road before breakfast,


suited Dougal fine. And again Dun Caan.


An easy-going day with just another trip down for a couple of mid day shots of Ardhu.




And took the dingy over to the line. An example of the power of the sea is seen by the size of the boulders that were shifted in the storms, one ending up over the line.


Had to split the splice before tying up and heading up for the papers. Tonight the shift was very local, in fact those left after nine were all related to me and each other, not in an Apalachian way, of course. A golden celebration tonight and there has been a lot of reminiscing. Coming on at five and chatting coming along the street realised that there was going to be four people sleeping on Shore Street tonight. Wonder if that has ever been the case before, then conversation goes along the lines of how many elderly and single occupancy houses across the peninsula. Every now and again I put my oars worth in on the land reform debate. I only argue from a community point of view and argue that the blocks to any sustainable development have to be removed. I have no idea how, if it is not done on a voluntary basis. Was on fb this week on a stream about an article/advert about good landowners and portraying land reform as the politics of envy. Codswallop when you have first hand knowledge of a policy of obstruction and the even more clever policy of deflection, when another year passes and nothing happens. As the man says “The poor had no lawyers”. But four people sleeping on a fifteen house street cannot be a healthy prospect for the future.

And today consisted of four lunches, and light at that, and lots of chit-chat around local politics. Not all about land but also about how public funds are used that distort competition locally. I recall this coming up before when organisations, not based locally, gain access to public funds and then set up in competition to small local based traders who have invested their own time and money building up their trade over the years.


I have railed against ludicrous di minimus decisions in the past but see these as classic examples where they should be taken especially when the grant is given expressly stating no unfair competition should take place. One rule for……

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