Was up early this morning to sort out hens, dogs and prawns before I headed of to Sheildaig to tag along with Torridon Tours trip to the Shiants, a group of islands of the Outer Hebrides. Made it with five minutes to spare but all on board and away we went. Passed Shieldaig Island with its resident sea eagle. Unfortunately this year they lost their chick, fallen from the nest, and their activities have been different. They are not seen going back and fore to the nest as in previous years. The island has changed from being a busy heron residency to the home of an eagle.
Shieldaig has a history going back to when the herring industry was booming and there still is a legacy from that are in the front gardens of the houses built on the shore. They are made up of Irish soil brought in as ballast in the barrels, which were emptied out and then filled with Torridon salted herring. We were not out of Shieldaig more than 15 minutes when we came across a pod of about 50 dolphins.
They were magnificent. Its great when they come to you so you know you are not disturbing them if they are feeding or just chilling.
After a brief stop it was off out to Rona where we saw our first minke whales lazily feeding , coming up for air and then disappearing on dives for about four or five minutes. The next land mark were the cliffs of Staffin and although the weather had closed in they still looked spectacular. Interesting to see the geology so clear, the basalt sitting on top of the Jurassic.
From Staffin it was round the north end of Skye and across The Minch to The Shiants, stopping only for another minke spotting.
As we approached the Islands from the south-east we went over some tidal rips and even in slack water and a gentle north-easterly breeze you could see and feel the boat being tugged about. No wonder there has emerged stories in Celtic folk-lore about the Blue Men of the Minch. You can imagine in severe weather sailors under dire stress seeing apperitions such as The Blue Men. Some say that they originated from fallen angels who were not quite guilty enough to go to Hell. They lived in underwater caves inhabiting the waters around The Shiants. There is a channel to the west of the islands called The stream of the Blue Men, in gaelic Sruth nam Fear Gorm. They had glossy blue skin, long grey faces, long arms and were very strong. Sailors who were abusive to Selkie Folk were in pretty serious trouble if they encountered the Blue Men. Their appearance portended storms but you managed to escape their clutches if you could recite poetry to them. On to the islands and the birds.
We steamed round the islands anti clockwise going through the two main islands and stopping to see the numerous bird colonies both ashore and on land. The weather closed in a bit and it added to the atmosphere, misty and ethereal. Birds did not seem to mind our presence and carried on their own activities.
Passing rafts of guillemots, razorbills, puffins with kittiwakes and gulls flying over us we made our way slowly round the islands to anchor on the more sheltered west side and lunch of smoked salmon and prawns.
Just read a report from the New Economic Foundation about how inefficient our fishing methods are and how far we are from sorting it out. Although the report concentrates on white fish and pelagic fisheries I see the same happening on our prawn stocks. The report suggests that if we take measures to get the stocks of fish and shellfish back to a level which is a maximum sustainable yield then everyone from fishermen to buyers and all connected on the shore make more money than they are doing just now and more people will be involved in the fishery. The present situation of catching more than is being replaced by the stock is unsustainable but every-one both at sea and people in power seem unable to take action until yet another stock disappears from view. The report uses the word ‘restore’ and I remember we tried to put that into a management plan for our inshore fisheries future. We had to take out the word because other fishing association leaders objected to the unscientific nature of the word. Unfortunately I had not read this report as the science is there to back up the use of the word ‘restore’. One suspects that the opposition to the word restore rests in the fear that their members would have to suffer some short-term pain, that is lose some earnings, in the hope that stocks will recover. When you look at the Applecross Inn,one of the best west coast eating establishments, specialising in seafood, what a shame that all the white fish comes from the east coast. It is a pity but I see no long-term future for fishing in Applecross if we stay on our current track. One of the more troubling developments in recent years is the fact that by putting back the berried prawns you can no longer make a viable living from the fishery. Up till now you could argue that I was making a good wage while still returning the berried females and you could argue with other fishermen that this is good fishing practice. I do not think that is the case now and that is why I now work part-time at the Inn and am fortunate Alison has a two-year contract. So unless there a policing policy introduced then it will not happen on a voluntary basis. The brief spell of good fishing has already tailed of here. The other missing link is that we do not seem to catch for the market but go out and catch whether the demand is there or not.
On a lighter note work at the Inn is going well. Was there the last couple of days where the Easter trade has started up and the Inn is full of happy diners. A couple of shifts lined up over the next couple of days and the staff numbers are reaching full complement as the boys come back from South Africa. It does seem that the Inn is not being too badly affected by the general down turn in the economy but this is not accident in that there has been a huge amount of hard work gone into building up a loyal and sustainable trade over the last 23 years. Spoke to Kenny and Gemma for a while last night. they came down with leaflets for the Torridon sea tours, although it may have just been an excuse to have some good food. Booked a trip this summer to the Shiants an ambition second only to going to St Kilda.
Turning thoughts to bees again as the weather and the time of year means the beekeepers will be having their first look at their hives. We are hoping to get 3 nuclei from Colonsay. Toying with the idea taking Dougal and co with me and camping overnight. Hope the winter was not too harsh and the keeper has some bees for sale.