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

Posts tagged ‘Sal Mor Ostaig’

A Man of Assynt.

Friday evening; Sitting in Sleat after day one of the Community Land Scotland Conference AGM. Actually the AGM is taking place now but we are not members decided to head for the accommodation. Hot day so extra attention to spend time on the Dougal family, who are in the car at the moment. Planning a wee trip round to Ach na Cloich or Stonefield as it is in English. Try and time it for later around sunset time and compare to Applecross sunsets. To get Thursday out of the way, a bit of a non event for the work scene during the day, just a follow-up to the migraine. Wiped out and take a couple of days to get back on track. Made it up to the Inn and working an evening is a sure-fire way of keeping your mind of feeling not up to it. It was a little tense start to the evening as a couple of guests were put out a little by not getting what they expected. Have to say they left for their destinations very contented but it took a little extra effort from the out front guys. Lovely repeat guests that want to catch up with the Boss leaves us to sort out tables and keep things turning around.

So a quiet morning start, Alison has to get up early to do some essentials before heading off Sleat. Managed to get the cauliflowers into the ground, the battle with the slug hordes is still continuing. Most of the veg is still alive after replacing a few of the first wave which took the brunt of the onslaught last month. Some of the seed sowing has left a little to be desired. I set off up the road with Dougal and Co who were going to their first CLS AGM.


Arrived at Sal Mor Ostaig with plenty of time for lunch, taking Megan with us and dropping Owen at DMks and straight into the start of the Conference. Throughout the two days the most striking aspect, I found, was the quiet determination of the movement. There was no loud rhetoric but statements that were being backed up by more and more surveys and studies that point to the people living on the land should be the ones most involved in taking the decisions that affect their day-to-day lives. David Allston opened the afternoon with a reference to Norman MacCaig’s A Man of Assynt

Who owns this landscape?

The millionaire who bought it or

the poacher staggering down the hill in the early morning

with a deer on his back?

Who possess this landscape?

The man who bought it or

I who am possessed by it?

I have already posted this and make no apologies for posting it again, a beautiful, evocative description of how many who live up this way are attached to their land.These words seem to reach back to a time immemorial when land was communal and those living on the land did not need a piece of paper allowing them to do so. The statistics are out there saying Scotland’s land ownership is the most concentrated in Europe and some argue that is no bad thing, but the concentration of wealth, influence and power in so few hands has to be questioned in a democracy.  Maybe Gandhi is right, democracy is worth a try out. The land that has moved into community ownership has become less dependant on patronage and residents there have began to work out how to stand on their own efforts, a monumental task after centuries of deference to a supposedly more learned establishment. It must be scary for certain communities to take that “independence” step and chatting at the end of the service last night it was pointed out that all we would do would be to scrap with each other. And our local minibus was used as an example. I used the same example by saying it is on the road and being used as much as it ever was. The process of getting it back on the road was painful and unnecessary but that is the nature of small village politics. As long as we talk to each other about our differing views we will be okay. I would far rather that than rely on one person’s distant patronage that only allows a community to function in an arbitrary way. It is only a matter of time before change takes place. How, when and whether in genuine partnership, depends on the personalities at the time. Amanda Bryan spoke in the afternoon about a study carried out on Community owned land. Their capital value is up by 244%, turnover by 254%, direct staffing by 368%, local direct spend 434%. They have brought in £34 million of which 53% was their own funds. All pretty impressive statistics and stand on their own. I do not know of any community that is badly run but at the same time am privy to lots of disagreements within them but at no time does anyone think that they have made the wrong decision to look after their own community. A freeing up from patronage must be good. The breakout session about affordable housing was very interesting and there was a follow up in what I said later in the evening. So much value to meeting with like minds.

An early evening walk Dougal and Co along the loop road that takes you to Tarskavaig was just the time out one needs to process the days meetings and chats, to put things in perspective and to bring a reality to the over-riding buzz of the day. Dougal meanwhile finds every ditch he can, ditches that are more muddy than wet.


Lovely views of the Sound of Sleat and up Loch Nevis


along with a preponderance of bluebells.


The old tree catches the eye.


A lovely meal and before I know it, it is 9.30 and I decided on the spur of the moment to take a little drive up the road to Ach na Cloich in the hope of seeing the sun drop in the west. Did not realise that coming over a little crest on the road that I would see this. Would be a fine end to a day but there was more to come.


Social Enterprising and The Scottish Parliament.

The last three days have been a bit of a blur. On Friday I got an email asking me to go down to the Scottish Parliament to give evidence on a petition put forward by the Torridon Nephrops Group. They are the fishermen to the north who mainly fish out of Shieldaig. Not entirely sure why I was invited although I do have a lot to say. I never thought that politicians thought it was worth listening to. As I saw that Kenny and Richard were going down I decided there would be safety in numbers. But before that it was off to Sal Mor again to meet up with the gang again to learn more about Social Enterprise. I am not a professional course attendee but this one has been nothing short of brilliant although the assessments we are supposed to do so far are not being done. As usual the banter and interaction was as good as ever. Throughout the course we do something which is called an action learning set and these are problems introduced by people who are then questioned by the group to try to look at different ways of solving what seems an insurmountable problem. Almost everyone on the course has said that their view on how they look at and interact within their own organisations has changed. I set my one up by explaining the poor state of the fishery and how was I to put my view across in what I thought was going to be an intimidating situation in a short time. The response and questions and assumptions that were challenged I think were invaluable today in Edinburgh. I am designated driver as usual and it was off to the pub for the evening. The evening and the next day flew by and I was home by five o’clock. Quick meal, couple of photos printed off and it was off to Shieldaig to meet up with Kenny and away down the road. Kenny could not go earlier as he had a trip booked till 8 pm. Boat looked good back on the mooring with Kinloch on the shore behind her.

It turned out to be an easy drive down with little traffic on the road and going through Edinburgh was an easy task for me, finding the hotel not quite so but modern technology kicked and saved the Highlanders yet again. Kenny luckily had his phone which has a GPS, maybe they all have, and from then on it was easy to complete the last stage. Weird hotel though, three floors up in the lift and then down seven flights of stairs. Not owning a watch or alarm meant I had to leave the tele on for a morning time check. We had to be at the Parliament building by 9.45 so that was easily done with breakfast on the way. Met up with everyone and knew that the SFF were not there so things were going to be a lot more peaceful than anticipated a few days ago. It turned out to be a really interesting experience and seemed to go well with the MSPs showing a fair degree of knowledge about our situation and they also seemed to take on board all our points. Marine Scotland ‘s Mike Palmer was there as well as our IFG chair and there was a lot of chat about the structures in place and how they could be improved. It really can be quite stressful as you want to make an impression because you are on a 600 mile round trip about something you are passionate about. I did manage to make a couple of points and that settled me down a bit and was really impressed by Richard’s and Kenny’s contributions. I think they are far more polished than me at putting points across. The meeting over ran by about an hour and towards the end I decided to go for it and told the room that we have to do more than talk about the issues. The way I see the problem is the fishery is in decline and will not survive unless something is done. In this case extend the no trawl zone south and north of Torridon. The creel men are willing to then cut back on creel numbers but only if the trawler is taken out of the equation. I did my usual in saying everything my Dad fished for is gone and we are now fishing for bottom feeders and are endangering them as well. I think it was slightly different to what they were used to and possibly registered and was different from all the structure discussions. I know there was and probably still is huge controversy over the Parliament building and how much it cost but it is pretty impressive. Beautiful inside and out.

So after the hour over run which we all took to be a good sign, it was a quick-lunch and away up the road this time with Richard as well. Good chats about everything and a positive feel about the meeting meant we were in Inverness in no time. Quick visit to Tesco, not by me, and back to Shieldaig to pick up the van and was back at the Inn for a shift that started an hour late. After half an hour managed to make contact with the real world again and got chatting to visitors about politics, fishing, parliaments etc, just every day life for a wee Highland lad . Maybe I will have a quiet day out on the water tomorrow.

Ps Finland arrived when I was away so that makes it 51 countries that have visited the Inn this year.

Inspired Social Enterprising and a little football.

On thursday I headed off to Sal Mor Ostaig to the fourth part of our Social Enterprise course. This is turning into an inspiring little journey where you pick up methods and meet people who seem to be improving ways of looking at how you deals with issues and processes in our own communities and organisations. This part of the course was about delegation and negotiation and almost without realising it I have changed my way of dealing with what seems insurmountable problems. It is now coming up to a year since we started to negotiate the Heads of Terms of the hydro lease and we have learned so much about how the legal process works, mainly slowly and expensively, and that is usually paid for by those who can afford it least. The course however suggests that you look to what you have gained and not what you think is a poor deal, also I am proud of the fact that I have shaken hands with those I have fundamentally different views and have managed to depersonalise the whole process. Also the fact that you try to keep a long-term focus while you are bogged down on what you think are trivial or poor counter arguments is very important and will see us through in the long run. The course is run in such a way that you take different methods and aspects and turn them to individual circumstances in your own communities. There are many examples of really good Boards who are all active and have their own individual expertise. The speaker we heard this time was from Oban and was a director of the Atlantis Leisure Centre and while realising that this is a perfect model it is something to aspire to. There is a lot of personal reassessment going on amongst the participants and everyone is saying they are far more reflective in their dealings back home. While we have a limited capacity here in Applecross just due to our numbers I think there is a huge amount of untapped and underused energy here and there may be some little appearances from the Social Enterprise course at our Board meetings in the near future. I think one of the things we fall down on here is that not enough of us go out to see what is happening in other communities. Looking at other people’s success stories are inspiring and you head home with lots of ‘new’ ideas.

On the way home I went north through Broadford and armed with binoculars I did a recce on the Applecross hills, basically making sure that we could see Tor Mor, the proposed site of the broadband reception and there are several possible host buildings at the north end of Broadford. Talking to people on the course there is laughter when you tell people who our broadband speed is .39 of a meg. This is another aspect of the course that has come through in that while you get bogged down in negotiations you do not lose focus on other important issues. Probably the hydro scheme may be the single most important event in our recent history possibly pulling the population and school roll decline round but we still have to try to make living here easier by increasing or at least retaining services taken for granted in most other parts of the country.

Back home felling good but not that well physically and scrambled a shift at the Inn without anyone but the Boss knowing I was not up for it. Staff is falling like ninepins at the moment and there are troops arriving from Australia to fill the ever-increasing gaps. It always good to see some staff offering to fill in just through a sense of loyalty to the Inn. Some guys offer hours way beyond their alloted shifts just because they know how stretched things are. Saturday was another 300 meal day but not for me. Used it as a recovery day with just a short quieter day at the Inn. This was followed by a couple of Manchester United fans from Australia accompanying me down to watch the final game of the season at Mark’s. Only in Applecross. Unfortunately for all concerned it did not go well and I think am becoming a bit of a jinx in Mark’s eyes. Five minutes to go I said it should be all over only for Manchester City to score twice in injury time. Never mind Ross County are in the Premier League next year, surely more important.

Meanwhile we are watching with interest and not a little apprehension at what is happening to the European economies and how all this will affect our prawn markets.

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