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

Posts tagged ‘Lombardy’

A Bit Gloomy.


Went off to Strathcarron Monday morning to catch up with the Strome Bypass saga. Was late due to the weather, kept pulling over and watching the ever changing rays coming through the clouds.


It was fairly interesting although things began to wilt by lunchtime. It was universal and I was quite surprised at that as there were many professional meeting goers there. There is a long and fairly tedious process that the Highland Council have to go through if they go on to seek funding from some other source. they have to go through all possible options and put them up against agreed objectives and whittle them down to options that will be costed and then built…..maybe. During the meeting I could not help recalling a conversation with Morris over the weekend when he mentioned he was in the Faroes and said the infra structure even there was vastly superior to ours and when I was in Norway up in the Lofotens, they built bridges to communities that were smaller than Broadford. Also in Lombardy where we went through tunnels in very sparsely populated mountainsides. For a rich little country we do not do the infra structure very well. I do like the option over the Strome Narrows, but I hasten to add I do not live there or the detail has not been set down on paper yet. For Applecross it is the best option and the west would be so much closer, at least until we start going by sea again. The journey over the Hill took far longer than normal as I had to stop taking a wee photo round the next corner.


Although windy, the light was playing its usual tricks.


On the way past noticed a new wood store at the Smithy…definite signs things are changing here, using more of our natural resources, not in quite the same scale as Lombardy but getting there.


Yesterday, another dark day with bright spells between the squalls. Lightened up the day with a look at the Celtic Connections line up and probably will go down on two consecutive weekends as some of the music is ace. Also discovered that Lesley Riddoch is speaking at the Ceilidh Place in Ullapool and it will be up there on Friday, albeit after an IFG meeting in Inverness. So Dougal and Co will be well-travelled that day as Alison is off down to Arisaig and Jill and Kenny will be in Dumfries. Dougal takes his family to Inverness and Ullapool could be a post on its own. With the miserable weather on the go and purely coincidentally I thought the Highland cattle next door were not looking their happiest, knee-deep in glaur. Sure enough in one of my frequent trips out the gate to get another barrow load of chopped wood there were two out on the road. They had pushed over a strainer and got out through the gate.


Clever beasts and to be frank the two of the four that were out on the road looked well up for a jaunt. Felt a little sorry for them putting them back into the “field” although they are Highland cattle and they may used to it.


Hard enough being a fisherman….crofter/fisherman looking out the window just now, a step too far for me. In many ways it shows the slow break down in the crofting system where it is now individuals becoming small holders rather than townships coming together on several occasions throughout the year to help the township in shared tasks. There was never a golden age but I do remember back in the 60s/70s the fank gatherings were, although hard work, happy community gatherings where genuine laughter was heard.

Last night it was a quiet Community Council meeting, a little gloomy again, started with a no crime in the area report but notice that there are plans to close Lochcarron, Kyle and Dunvegan police stations. Maybe get the crime report more active. With a brief chat about the pier, establishing as the CC guy on the ALPS Management Group that opinions are far too diverse in the community to offer any cohesive advice to the best solution. Sounds like a cop-out. Then on to a strangish discussion about an issue that has been rumbling on in the community for over a year, our community bus is off the road, easy to get it back on the road in a technical sense but is turning out to be very difficult to achieve. Another letter and prospect of another meeting and hopefully……. It is approaching the end game with several people trying all sorts of ways to resolve the problem. It is not really a conflict but more a brick wall. Frustrating in the extreme and very hard to write about it.

Another very relevant local problem that has reared its head is di minimis totals that the community companies have to deal with. What this means basically is this is a method to prevent State Aid distorting the competitive markets. We came across it when receiving funding for from CBS to set up the community broadband network in Applecross. Who in their wisdom decided we were in competition with is beyond us. It is not as though BT are going to supply us with anything more than the half meg we have already. It does seem just an easy option for those to say that it is di minimis rather than sit down and work out the actualities. Read a cracking email from this morning that puts the problem really well.  It detailed a local supply that barely goes outside the immediate area and the funding could be declared di minimis due to another company doing the same trade in another country with no intention of supplying this locality.What we seem to be missing at the moment are people in positions who are looking at rural problems and actively finding positive ways around those issues that arise due to unintended consequences. The problem with di minimis is there is a cap of 200,000 euros which lasts over three years and that can and is a severe restriction on some communities development while in no way affecting any competition rules in the outside world. Interestingly public funding for a nuclear power plant can find its way around this while it looks as though our anchor community organisations may be caught up in it. How silly is that, How on earth, by helping our communities, do we impinge on the competitive world.

Interruptions this morning were Dougal, the Mobile Library


and a group phone call/skype from the guys running the Travelling Tales project. On the bike in a very wet gale to the Inn later for the evening shift. Even Dougal is not greatly keen on a day like this. So now minute writing and a vitamin D capsule should see me through to work.

Ora E Sempre Resistenza

Finished the last post tired and happy, still tired but now a little unsettled about a couple of ongoing situations in the community. There are two ways of dealing with problems and disputes. One is to walk away and the other is to deal with them. The Lombardy trip has shown that we are not alone in dealing with rural problems and many they are.  A stunning and beautiful place to live  you would think but only four houses that are lived in and no children, just heart breaking.


Some small and insignificant things that can be worked around on a daily basis, others that will take time and rather a lot of effort. With this in mind both in Italy and in a couple of instances here and over there I came across some wonderful sayings and advice in unusual places.

I have no idea why we as a species seem to fall out, argue, disagree and end up doing even worse to each other when being helpful,useful and kind to one’s fellows is so much more fulfilling. 

Anyway yesterday’s shift at the Inn went well, busy and time flew by. It being the first of the month, a smaller than usual group of Lochcarron musicians came over but they played away and entertained the visitors well. I had decided to head off to Ullapool to see and hear Mairi Campbell http://www.mairicampbell.co.uk/at the Ceilidh Place but after a bit of thought and a couple of chats that pleasure has been postponed till another visit. Got to know Mairi a little in another life and got in touch saying how sorry I was not to be able to see her this time and received a wonderful reply. Not only is she a wonderful communicator through her fiddle and voice her words are special too. Consider myself fortunate to know good guys like her.

The Italian trip threw up a fine strong saying which we found on a commemorative stone at the Co-op vine yard and was to do with the second World War and their travails with the neighbours. Ora E Sempre Resistenza.


You can take this with you where ever you go and if combined with other attributes/memories I have come across today it can be a powerful but peaceful weapon in one’s armoury. Remembered the goodbyes at Malpensa where we parted company with Elena our interpreter who said she will remember the advice I had given her. I had to ask as I was suddenly very nervous about what I had said but she reminded me she asked for advice when she and her boyfriend finally go fishing on Loch Awe. Without thinking I had replied “Patience”, she remembered and thanked me when saying goodbye. I liked that. Now combining the little saying on my Yogi liquorice tea I reckon I have the formula to see through all our local travails. “Deal in kindness with everything in life.” Just realised that strength is so much stronger if used with patience and so much more effective if laced with kindness. Better stop while I am ahead. Must have picked up something from some people over the last week.

Only other things to report are the bike and trailer are operational


and Dougal is enjoying autumn.


Well there are lots more but that will do for now.Oh and the hat, finding its natural place on top of the speaker.


Lombardy Wood and Wine.

Coming to the end of a fantastic week in Lombardia and going home with lots of memories and new friends. At the same time I am going home to Applecross “where I belong”. The morning began with the obligatory breakfast that is functional and nothing else and up the road with a stop at a wood holding point. The figures involved for the transporting the timber down the mountainside by tractor are mind-boggling. Took a month to take just over a couple of hundred tonnes down in three tonne loads. Good to get photos of how much a tonnage looks like and also how to manage the tonnage.


Just under 120 tonnes and when you consider John and Jenny are wee chappies, storing 300 tonnes in Applecross should not be too much of a problem. We headed up to another Alpine meadow, again in the mist, does not seem to matter, and heard more about the extraction. On the way we stopped off by a spectacular gorge where there must have been a Strome Bypass decision made to build a tunnel.



Presently it is all about the forest and is grant aided but they plan in twenty years time for this to be different. Interesting point throughout the trip for a few of us that do not usually go on these fact finders/contact making journeys, is that it is so much better to be spending public monies on this than fighting each other over a piece of land or possession. For me an experience like this makes people like Nigel Farage look even sillier than I first thought. We live in a far from perfect world but to have to listen to anti-European diatribes over the airwaves makes a mockery of the ordinary and real people who live in these places.


The trip up was followed by a rapid walk down by the Scots/Irish contingent for which I am suffering manfully just now. Luckily the following day is mainly sitting in vans, planes and vans again with a little walk between pickup points. Saw Mill museum was the next stop on the agenda and very interesting.





Although not operational in itself, there was a full working model powered by solar to show us how it operated. We were then taken on a tour of the mill by a very enthusiastic guide. It was water driven and one of many across the region with many of the working parts wooden and was producing up to the mid 60s. That came across all week, their love of what they do and where they live. They al believe in what they are doing about helping their communities and environment.

And then it was lunch. This time when the meat platter came out we got ready to take a couple of slices to pass round but platter after platter came out until we had one each. Bacon lard and horse meat were included seemingly, no sight of Giovanni so I am assuming  that it was true. I was called over to talk to Claudia who was vice chair of the Val di Salvi mountain community to share our problems and also to talk positively about the future. The problems are many and similar. They have an elderly and declining population with similar numbers at school as we have. They are in an area where they are surrounded by relative wealth but are poor being in the mountains and too far to commute so young people leave. They were very interested in the fb doctor recruiting page and the other services we are trying to provide despite no access to land for any future community development. They could not understand the restrictive and feudal like land system we operate under here and even what you say back home has to be carefully moderated. That was one good aspect of the trip in that you could really say what it is like back home without being pulled up. Due to the continuing misty weather the trip over the pass to see the chestnut forests was postponed and we went to a vineyard Co-op.


Successful and growing, the main difference in this one and the scallop marketing group that I was involved in the 90s was the growers got paid by the quality of what they produced and not quantity.


Public money used to set it up but the growers after 20 years will buy the public out so making it into a loan as opposed to a grant. Through out the week ” The Crisis” was mentioned time and time again. It has entered their language.

The evening involved a very quick shop and it was back up to the cantina where we got the full tour,


and yes more cheese, salami and wine tasting.


Get the impression Steve is thinking “bad” thoughts about what he could do with what is in the barrel he is holding up. Oh and then there was the meal. All went well and all the wines were quaffed and things were very convivial although I was a little nervous as I was to drive back allowing Steve a couple of well-earned glasses of wine for his efforts for the week. Mission completed although my only regret was Ruaraidh’s compelling self penned tale of the building of the last bit of the Railway line into Kyle was interrupted by yet another toast of the wines. I reckon I will hear it again in its entirety.

All that remained after this epic week was to get home and everything went smoothly with the exception of a flat battery in the Range Rover. Jenny to the rescue….well she found some one that had jump leads and home we headed via Perth, Steve, and Inverness, Jenny. Home with my new hunter’s hat embellished with a black grouse feather given to us by the kind Alessandro. Home, knackered and happy.

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.



Traveling round Lombardy

The last two days have full to the brim for a Highland lad in Lombardy. The trip so far has been so educational, friendly, and so well organised. All I have to do is turn up at the right place and at the right time and we head off to somewhere new,see something different and talk to some one interesting, whether it be Niccola, imageGiuseppe or the mischievous Giovanni. Found out the saffron eating cows is probably a wee joke to wind up the more gullible Scots amongst us……me. image The area we were in tues/wed was heavily forested but with young trees as the place was denuded after the Second World War through clear felling for charcoal burning. Although we were kindly looked after I have struggled with the local dishes, the over abundance of salt and the lack of vegetables. As a guy of habit the fruit and muesli start to the morning is badly missed. We are visiting an area where there are even more problems than back home. imageWhere we had lunch Niccola told us that the school had closed and although there were a couple of new restaurants opened up there was little activity in the area. It was especially attractive to tourists, the forests were not mature enough for saw milling and the wood fuel supply was not established in an economic basis although the wood stacks were very artistic image. Hardly saw any kids any where over the last few days. Lots of politics chat, Scottish, Italian and environmental. Couple of interesting points of discussion, a different view of carbon as a problem and nature’s take on globalisation. imageI made the comment that nature does not like globalisation but that was countered by the statement that nature does not care but just gets on with it….. True whether we like it or not and we tend not to like it. The Italian politics are sad to hear about, whether from the older Niccola or the younger Helena and “Tatty”. Helena wants to leave and Tatty does not see any one to vote for. Berlusconi does not even register as a joke. Going back to the serious side there does not seem to be much employment linked to the forest although that may change as the forest matures. At the moment there is a consortium of private and public bodies involved, state and local, and seems very complex although it does  work. The jobs are based either in offices and are rangers. image Wed morning saw us get ready for another full day at the office. While waiting for the two rangers to arrive I was told about the amazing Mario who had built an observatory almost single handed from scratch.


I just could not make it needing twelve hours sleep instead. Giuseppe and Baptista turned up and we headed off on a pretty stunning day”s tour. We are now in the Valvestino/Capovalle forests and the van was left behind as we traveled in two jeeps up the sides of sheer cliffs, getting commentaries of species and histories all the way. These guys were passionate about their jobs and they were easy company. Lots of War tales and made you realise that the wars we get involved in are in other people’s countries and for them it is far more immediate, even after this time. One story that Guiseppe told us was after Mussilini had headed north and set up the Republic of Salo his own mother had been visiting her sister and stopped to watch some one play tennis. She had never seen tennis before and not only that but it was El Ducie himself. Quite extra ordinary that I was sitting a couple of feet away from the son of some one who had been in Mussilini’s company if only for a brief time as she was quickly moved on by his guards…….living history. Up 4000 feet we were talking about ibex,bear, lynx when a couple of hunters walked past us out of the mist. Earlier there were several shots echoing around the two valleys we traveled over. Nice to hear the red deer roaring.


More than one photographer in the pack though.


Where we stopped for lunch in front of a big fire was a view point back to where we were yesterday. Baptista was very interested in fishing and through Helena we exchanged stories and I did a bad drawing of a creel.


After driving on through the young forests Giuseppe stopped and we spent a wonderful half hour catching white clawed crayfish and salmon parr.


Everything going back of course and so much information about life cycles and the river environment.


I felt we left as friends at the end of the day. So all that remained of the day was a three hour drive to Breno where I had too much to eat, spaghetti followed by pizza, but as ever good company and another fine day complete.

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