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

Posts tagged ‘land use’

Making Friends in Lombardy.

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


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


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


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


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


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




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


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



Rallies in a Strange World.

Good lunch shift yesterday, thinking it was not too busy but by the time i headed home with my strawberry and cream ice cream at four there were over 150 people through the door.This seems to be the normal shift these days. How quickly you get used to it!! There seems to be a trend of guys travelling in groups, today there was a Mitsubishi Evo rally that paid a fleeting visit. We had a group of Porsches for lunch,


planned, and on saturday morning saw a bunch of Fords calling in for a coffee. There are usually some in these groups with a sense of humour and included in this group was a little Ford Fiesta and even better a wee Fiat Panda racing along trying to keep up. By the time the Panda arrived some of the Capris were already leaving, having had their coffee.

Both on Saturday evening and again on Sunday lunch had a couple of interesting chats with customers. After saying they probably had eaten their best ever steaks got chatting with a couple who had been in the army for 20 years with no regrets. They had been “abroad” and although they did not discuss the details they said the way they joined was through the OTC and not for any other reason than enjoying a good social life. and then became regulars. For me a relevant discussion as No4 is in Glasgow doing just that…..

Second discussion was a good one, one about landowners and how they do or don’t interact with their communities. While at work I always enter these conversations with a little trepidation as the customer is always right!! But the guy was very open and was either the landowner or son of one running an Estate down Loch Lomond way and what he said was very enlightened. Again always pleasantly surprised when your mild prejudices are challenged. He knew our owners and the stramash here last year concerning the Andy Wightman campaign and was asking about the fallout. He did seem to have a completely different attitude to working with communities and suggested that it was only a matter of time and we both agreed the mind sets will change and possibly that is already under way although it is a long road we are on.Bit of wood work in the evening with Dougal and Co before watching some of the football.

This morning, to be honest, was a struggle to get out fishing. The forecast for the rest of the week ended up being the incentive as tomorrow’s ‘cast is really poor. It was hard work today. I do not mind saying this and cannot be bothered with not being a macho fisherman. It was an awkward choppy swell that changed direction a couple of times during the day with an increase of wind in the middle of the day. Being slightly bloody minded hauled the last couple of fleets to make it to 400 for the day. One or two octopi coming up in the creels and despite the destruction they reap I cannot help but put them back over the side. Often wonder if I catch the same one again and again. Looked well cross and was changing colour rapidly, possibly telling me where to go.


Hard to describe the fishing as good but I am catching enough to keep the Inn going as well as some going to the Loch Ness Inn tomorrow morning and also taking some round for the Spanish market as well. Compared to days of old it is a poor catch but we live in today’s world. Fascinating Start The Week this morning on the radio discussing the future of the planet, always something to keep the mind occupied as you are mechanically hauling creels and nothing unusual happening around you. One startling fact about how we live and use resources is that 4 litres of water are used to get 1 litre of bottled water on the supermarket shelf. On a lighter moment, half listening to a half hour on fake tanning I heard a mother saying that her daughter had decided not to go to a university because the students were not tanned enough!! She ended up going to one in the north of England where there is a higher up take for fake tans. What a strange world we live in.

On the way in due to the weather Chris had a group of kayakers out around the moorings. The closeness to the shore of the houses has a bit of an historical context. Firstly there was very little good land so the houses were built on the edges of the croft ground and the crofts were there because the people were cleared from the better ground on the peninsula. Almost paddling in the garden.


Two days, a Season apart.

Yesterday the fishing went well, up by Sand and down the edge of the Range, hauling a few fleets left for two weeks and all was well. Only a buoy missing and a couple of small frap ups. I keep getting asked how the fishing is and it is only then do i realise how disconnected to the monetary side of things I have become. A day being on the water and having little or no hassles and no waves. Time to contemplate and come ashore physically tired….that is a good days fishing.  Not too bad a catch with 350 creels hauled and it was a quiet and grey day.


There has been lots of pretty heavy rain in the last 3/5 days and again in the morning. Lots of white water where normally you hardly see a stream.


When people ask me what the weather is going to do the next day I always think about wind and so the weather on Monday was good despite losing sight of both shores for a while. A very west coast day looking over to the “Rona Gap”, also known locally as the “Blind Sound”.


Today was so warm and sunny that the thought of fishing quickly faded and it was a day in the garden, not doing anything in particular, and cutting up the first load from the beech tree casualties.


Well, nothing in particular,means trying to keep the chick weed explosion I usually get under control. A bit of watering the tomato plants and watching the butterflies and bees on the dandelion flowers.




Never one to do much grass cutting none will now be done as long as the dandelions are out. To think I used to dig them up, even bought a tool especially for this task. Sometimes wonder why we do not like certain plants/weeds…..personally I think it is just because we are told to. After today dandelions are becoming my favourite plant which is just as well considering how many there are in the garden. Decided to order some more frames and wired wax bases, make them up and have them ready when I have a wee look in the hive next week. The news and social media is full of pesticide/Monsanto/bee problems at the moment. Seems US of A’s bees are in a spot of bother and may spell trouble for us all. Off to finish the sweet and sour prawns I made last night.

Where do you Belong?

Came across an interesting post on Facebook that I cannot get out of my head and have been thinking about most of the day. For me it is revealing the way I ask questions of the visitors at the Inn and the response I get and the interest in me that it sparks.

“We abuse the land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect.” Aldo Leopold. Went on to the net to see what I could learn about Aldo and was interested that he took part in the eradication of the wolves as a predator on farmed stocks but came to realise that this was totally the wrong way to go about “managing” wilderness areas. A bit like some fishermen wanting cod to join the dinosaurs so they can have a freer access to trawling the langoustine out of existence. But without a thought of what role the cod play in supporting the whole marine ecosystem. It seems to be commonly accepted that taking the wolves out of the equation areas became deforested as elk/moose numbers grew and overgrazed saplings. Who would have thought that wolves affected natural tree regeneration. Wonder what the disappearance of cod,haddock,hake and whiting in our local waters is doing to our marine environment. Short term there is less” money” to be made from the sea, evidenced by the numbers of ex fishermen now working ashore, but what is the long-term problems that are going to emerge because of the way we are treating our marine environment. A freelance writer turned up at the Inn yesterday and Judith called me over for a brief chat about the Inn’s policy on not landing Berried Langoustine and as with everyone else we speak to, it is such an obvious way to try to regenerate a failing fishery. Sarah and Aron told me a couple of weeks ago that Sam Clark, of Moro fame, has called up his supplier to tell him that he will change his buyer if he sends him any females carrying eggs…that was after spending a day out on the Varuna. I was not looking for this but to be told the news I did feel as though some thing good had happened. As I had not heard from Rick Stein apart from the fact he was busy I sent another email telling him that Moro had now stopped using berried langoustine. That was last week and no reply as yet.

Going back to the land issue, there were a couple of comments that were interesting in that “indigenous”people see land and land use in a different way. Suggested that Gaels tend to ask the question “Where do you belong?” “C’aite ‘bhuineas sibh?” not “Where are you from?” Often a bit nervous of using the term “indigenous” as it has so many connotations these days with UKIP about and making progress. When I was in Knoydart you got the feeling and at the time it was subconscious but the guys I met there belonged to the place and that was both at Doune and in general. I never really thought too much about this and it was only with the quote of Aldo’s that made me think just that bit deeper about our connection to the land and how emotional it can get. I do not think you have to be born in a place to belong. There are many people who have come to live in Applecross and have belonged here and have cared for the place to a far greater extent than I have managed as my main struggle was survival and paying off mortgages. There are always going to be scraps and arguments etc within communities regarding land and land use but I fail to see how decisions can be made by people who do not “belong” to those same communities. Visitors often ask where I am from and there is no easy answer as my family is only had a brief stay here, coming from Harris and me growing up in Kyle, but I think I belong to Applecross, maybe to the chagrin of one or two Applecross residents.

Yesterday’s shift at the Inn was far more sensible but still very busy. The world map is up on the wall and we are filling in all the countries that did not arrive last year. I am going to go off on a tangent and see how many States I can get. Yesterday I was talking to guys from Wisconsin, Michigan and Iowa. Weather still very unsettled and I called off my trip to Uags, although at the time the weather was fine I believed the forecast and it was right.


Today is another day ashore dodging the weather in the garden, getting the bee friendly seeds in book work and blogging. Down the road in the afternoon to fuel up the Auk.




Although not good for fishing the light is wonderful and changes all the time. Met up with the Welsh/Coillieghillie contingent as I was fuelling up and gave Dougal a run back up the road alongside the van. Met Robert, back from Knoydart, on the way up the road and he is experiencing the Knoydart high having just come back from a weekend of music and fun. Our own Applestock is coming closer and was speaking to Sarah this evening about the bar and really looking forward to it. Tickets are selling really well and the excitement factor is rising. It is going to be a busy week-end in three weeks time. There are probably updates and changes from this poster but if there was only half of what is advertised it would be well worth a visit.


Who Mentioned Spring?

It is very windy and the only item on today’s agenda was off down to Toscaig to measure the fiefdom/croft for a Species Rich Grasslands ploughing and planting in May hopefully. Went down with Robert and he left happy with the prospect of enough off cuts for the rest of his raised beds. Dougal loved Toscaig, maybe a little too much, as he tried to say hello to the Soay sheep and ended up taking his first shower…was not impressed.

Soil engineer and Duncan on the other part part of the croft and  if all goes well there will be three new houses going up in the next couple of years. Lots of life in the Old Place yet. Wind direction still with just enough westerly in it to take the edge of it coming into the moorings. Not good seeing your £60/70,000 bobbing up and down on the end of a bit of rope and a shackle. The wind is forecast to swing round to the NW and that is our bad one especially at high water.IMG_1355



Not a patch on the wave sizes further north and west but big enough for me. Nice to see glimpses of the sun in between the showers. Yesterday the Hill was blocked for a time and although the weather was poor and mid winter there were still 25 customers in for food and drink at the Inn before 2pm. There is always a debate at this time of year about businesses shut down, I suppose that is one of the markers for the Inn ……everyone knows it is open all year round. Difficult for small places to offer a service when more often than not you make a loss for 2/3 months in the year but once a reputation is established it is surprising the “off season” trade that comes along.

Flags,landscape, students and another sunset.

Beautiful day yesterday and saturday come to think of it. There is a change in the weather this week but it is still bearable. The sunday lunch shift was full on and every flag was in use. We use the flags as table markers for the prep staff to take the food to. The inn is starting to get flags in the post from visitors who have noticed that their flags are not represented in Applecross. A sign of a smaller world. Seventy years ago a traveller from the other end of Europe visiting Applecross would have been treated as an event, now we get 50 visitors from different countries in a day.

Had to take a break and nip outside with Dougal to enjoy the sun dipping behind the north end Raasay and Skye. You just cannot get used to these light shows. I have been here for 30 years now and they are still awesome to me.

Another student has arrived to have a look at what is happening in Applecross and use it as part of her post grad thesis. It does seem since the Community Company has been formed there is a perception that something is happening here and we are trying to do something on a community level. In the past when almost every house was lived in and most of the crofters were working their crofts there was a natural sense of community, necessary in most cases. Amy is looking at the landscape and how we live within it and value it probably more from a cultural view-point. After walking up to Tor Mor with Alison she stopped off for a cup of tea and a chat. Planning a day on the boat next week when the good weather returns for a different view on things. As always we had a good natter about lots of stuff. I always wonder why we cannot marry technology with a good quality of life growing your own food, having time to appreciate what is around you. We still seem to live in a world of ever-increasing speed and acquisition. Food and the cost of quality food always comes up in these type of rambles. Always cutting the costs of production for profit inevitably means that the quality of what you eat is affected. Buy cheap trawled prawns to find out what I mean.On the way up the road on friday there was another example of the strange way we live now. I had a photo of my neighbour carrying out bracken control on his own croft by cutting hay and also encouraging a wild flower meadow, all on a very small-scale. This is how we control bracken now… by helicopter spraying a herbicide.

Do not have a strong opinion on the rights and wrongs of the actual chemical sprayed but think it is a misuse of valuable energy and the old way did work. It is only since the decline of working crofts that bracken has mushroomed here and surely the way ahead is to resurrect some of the old practices that worked. I was asked on thursday why I wanted to have bees and I could only say that it was something to redress the balance of decline I have seen in the last 30 years and as I have not worked my croft properly over that time feel a sense of contributing to the decline. I do not think the use of helicopters has any place in shaping our landscape.

Busy, busy week…….so far

After saying goodbye to Carol on monday, I headed back home only to go back over the Hill to see Andy Wightman in Lochcarron. He was doing a talk about land issues and ownership in Scotland. Fascinating talk and good chat with him after. What first got him really interested in land was when he was doing a degree in Forestry in Aberdeen he went to a talk given by the then Scottish Landowners Federation. He was already working as a ghillie on the hills of Scotland so had lots of contact with landowners. It was about the time that Terry Wogan, Phil Collins etc were planting up the Flow Country with conifers with grants and tax breaks. He asked the question why were already rich absentee landowners receiving these additional benefits instead of giving them to the people who were living locally. He was taken aside by his prof and told not to ask awkward questions. That set him on his current path. Lots of interesting facts about public debt and land speculation coupled with some positive solutions to young people denied access to land due to cost.

Staff is a little short on the ground this week and as it is Applecross Games weekend this puts added pressure on every one and tests us to the limit. Done three session so far this week and with another three to go and a day to catch prawns I am not sure what day it is. Little scenario last night when people who had booked did not get the table they wanted and when they wanted it. And from then on it was down hill with them being quite abusive to the staff. Judith pulled them round with free drinks and chat and they left with a bottle of wine but not before more digs at extremely hard-working staff. Speaking to a few very happy people who were content to wait,enjoyed the busy friendly atmosphere, very complimentary to and about the staff and food and it struck me that the guys who went off with free wine were the grumpiest, most bad mannered customers of the evening, the others left happy. I know which I would have prefered. On the positive side the food was top quality as usual and this was an excellent Seafood Platter for three on Wednesday.

Managed another trip to Inverness to attend another fishing meeting about our faltering Fisheries group. Already our co-ordinator is gone and our Chair will have gone by today. Marine Scotland seems to have dropped the ball despite our attempts to give it back to them. Positives were us standing up to the bullying of the Pelagic boys and preventing an extremely biased new Chair being appointed. A lot of the meeting was taken up by the mobile sector on the west coast complaining about the large east coast boats using up the prawn quota and they are worried that the fishery will be closed by the end of september. It must be interesting for them to feel like the creelmen feel when they are dealing with them. The creelmen see the inshore trawl destroying the creel grounds and that is sustainable fishing but when bigger boys come on ‘their’ ground it is a different matter. Just having a little cynical moan and this was compounded by the total horror when a biologist was suggesting that we could work with him concerning  the setting up of a Marine Protected Area. Some fishermen feel that science is only good if it agrees with their opinions and I had to listen to a fisherman’s leader say that fishermen knew best and fished traditionally and well for the last 50 years. Of course he could not tell me where the fish were and I did not waste my time asking. Still even on the busiest of times you still can take in the awesome scenery around here.

Lots more going on including the social media campaign for our GP practice. Facebook is certainly busy. More of that later.

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