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

Posts tagged ‘Sleat’

Fishing,Tweed,The Merc,LVT and Home.

Getting back from my little trip the meal had finished but managed a quick coffee and a choccy and settled in to the raffle draw. Turned out to be a little extra ordinary as blue 121 came up and I won three days fishing on the Uist lochs courtesy of Storais Uist. Not usually involved with raffle prizes other than donating them I was a little shocked to have blue 122 come up four numbers later. This time it was the second top prize of a bolt of tweed. When I say second top prize I mean they are of equal status, amazing and I can only thank Storas Uibhist and North Harris Trust for their stunning prizes.


Still enjoying the frisson of the Black Cullin sunset and the day’s chat and, after seeing to the dogs,


I crossed over to the ceilidh. Usually where meeting up with the guys takes place. With this group of people it happens throughout the day as well so this was only an extension. Had some good craic with Davie, Andy and Calum with lots of invaluable advice and information heard and hopefully stored away. Late for me although I have had a bit of practice at the Inn lately, but slept lightly. Dogs, late returnees and lots of thoughts made for broken sleep. Up with Dougal at 5.15am, walked, and put in the car for me to doze till 7.30. So all packed up and taking the car down to the College for the benefit of the dogs I swung into the parking place to tuck in beside the minibus. The Merc was there in the next bay and it seemed like a slow motion incident that I knew was going to happen but could not stop. Clipped the bumper, felt sick and went to breakfast. Found David and told him about his car. He took it remarkably well, finished his breakfast and then made his way out to see the damage. By the time he came back I had all my details ready for him and whatever he wanted to do, fair enough. I reckon it could have been a new bumper but we ended up agreeing on £30 to the apprentice and a closing comment “There are far bigger things in the world to worry about”. All I can say is he is a fine man.

Back to the Conference and listening to Paul Wheelhouse address in the morning got us back into the mood and good to hear the political support and the commitment that the Land Fund is to be extended to 2020. The commitment to one million acres in Community ownership still stands and 40,000 acres have been added in the last year. It is also good to get our problems out there and Alison asked a very specific question about how difficult it is for Community Companies to combat Govt decisions on di minimus. Why can it not be project specific and not relate to an organisation’s activities when connected to Community benefit. My emails have made no impact but maybe it is a long haul. There does appear to be an acknowledgement of the problem and CLS are on the case. Then our passenger, Megan, who works for the charity Gobal Witness, spoke and it was fascinating hearing what is going on around the world, depressing as well. But the comparisons are similar. Our land grabs took place over 200/300 years ago and are taking centuries to correct. Trying to stop corporations and governments across the world doing the same simply to grab limited resources is an unending task. Off to our break out session and to hear and discuss in detail the fiscal history of land, property and business taxation. Not only that but to talk about possible solutions within the current structures and markets. No one is advocating what the Daily Mail calls “land grabs” however frustrated people feel about how the concentration of land has ended up. Have to admit that I felt a bit dazed after an hour and a half  of talk about recurrent taxation, capital and transfer tax, land tax, rates, council tax, NDR, LVT and offshore charities. One wee bit of information and graph I found interesting was the impact of tax on land, property and business. Business rates have meant that the increase in value of these properties have only risen incrementally while untaxed land and property taxed with the regressive council tax has risen out of sight and lost all correlation with incomes and land use. Land speculation has now become normal and is a problem as farmers, ordinary ones that is, are being priced out of what would be reasonable value to raise a crop.  I hope some of it stuck. A few mentions of wood and what is happening now with markets gave a clearer insight  on current trends. Another chat over lunch and then home. An interesting comment that stuck “Those in power do not really understand what power is”.  Really taken with the quiet dedication of people such as David Cameron, the real one as he is known, Peter Peacock and many others, the warmth of the welcomes and the “see you agains”.

The Jim Hunter quote ” Communities have a right ( irrespective of whether or not they excercise it) to control, benefit from and (ultimately) own land and other resources in their own vicinity.” will stick with me. My own thoughts but more succinctly put.

All these events are followed by a big dose of reality and mine was back at the Inn by four and from then on till after ten it was organised mayhem. Passed tent city at New Kelso, a secretly revealed event by Lowe Alpine that involves running up and down several mountains.


Only running I do now is between tables at the Inn. Groups of bikers, families and birthday celebrants along with many ordinary punters and a full hotel of residents meant the shift flew by and not too much meaningful contact was made. Time certainly flew by. Rain had arrived


and it was a conventional bike ride home in the wet. Hard work, and a deep sleep to follow.


Always good to get back to the familiar sights of home.


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.


A Tractor with no Wheels

Quiet couple of days although still managed a couple of pleasant shifts at the Inn, a bit of seaweed gathering and a fuel delivery from our cheery oil tanker man, Kenny. A brief excursion out on the boat to haul a few creels to check how bad the fishing still is and it was. Hauled 150 creels for very few prawns and went back in to do some work on the moorings. Changed a bridle and saw that I need new chain for next year, good to have this done as today’s forecast was right in that there was a gale coming into the moorings for most of the day. Can rest a little easier knowing things are in not too bad shape. Although pretty dull there was some bonny light south over the Crowlins and Skye.


Passing Milton loch I almost always stop now to have a wee look at the swans, love hearing them call to each other and the way they gracefully move away from you, just in case.


Yesterday while dropping off a couple of things in Milton I noticed there is a Baxter Project under way…..aiming to become a two tractor family.


While it is quieter at the Inn you end up chatting  more than what you would call working. A couple of things not on the menu board, you tell the customers and all they have is what is not on the board. Must be the description of venison loin in a red wine jus served with new potatoes and vegetables. The monk fish in that day was served in a lemon and herb butter also with potatoes and vegetables. No wonder they take their time in choosing when you add in the bog standard, rump of lamb, lobsters, duck breast, seafood linguine, it goes on and on. Got to know a couple from Dundee quite well, good chatter and interesting talking to an agronomist for a wee change. Inevitable this week of all weeks politics seems top of a lot of conversations. Quite an art, still to be learnt, to chat about next years referendum without becoming too involved in the topic. I have taken a lot of time and read and still read a lot of information about the subject. A lot of what I feel is emotion and I have always thought about Scotland as an entity, more than a region, and why not, a country. Status quo is not usually a very attractive proposition. As in many areas in life, whether at a local or regional level it is time for a little thinking out of the box. It was not that long ago I was in Sleat and saw a pretty impressive operation in how to manage a forest and it seemed aspirational. Cannot help comparing it to back home where the figures are so different no one seems to be able to turn over the profit and employment which Sleat Community Trust are doing. Reading posts, streams, papers the reality is no one can predict much into the future, although everyone is trying, as that is the only way to justify their positions. It would be nice to have more of a say in one’s own destiny. There was plenty of opinion locally that told us that taking over the Filling Station was not going to work….four years of hassle  and I took another fuel delivery today with just short of 500,000 litres  of fuel sold and we keep on going.

Not too much excitement today, just a trip up to see the delivery of fuel,


a not very interesting job for Dougal and Co,


the seaweed gathering was much more interesting. As I went up in the van I had to put a load of weed in the back to justify the trip. It is quite hard being green. So with the minutes done all that remains is to finish a Scottish quiz for Saint Andrews night at the Inn. May or may not be used, depending on how many people out and enthusiasm. Curry night at the Walled Garden means less guys at the Inn. Keeping the political theme going I came across a great quote from a slightly surprising source, the Pope. Every Friday we get an email from Lawrence, who sends out the Senscot bulletin www.senscot.net/view_bull.php?viewid=16359 and usually has something pertinent to say this time it was quoting the new Pope who seems to have a different take on things,“The thirst for power and possessions knows no limits. In this system which tends to devour everything which stands in the way of increased profits, whatever is fragile, like the environment, is defenceless before the interests of a deified market, which becomes the only rule”. Good to balance Boris’ view that greed is good.


Dougal visits Strontian.

An overnight trip to Strontian has meant that I have been to a beautiful part of the Scotland for the first time. We had been invited down to give presentations about what is happening in our communities and the benefits of community consultations and development plans. Alison and Angus were lined up to give a couple of talks to a meeting held in Strontian Hall set up by their community company. After yet another reboot of the Filling Station in the morning, loaded up of a couple of bags and with Dougal and his supplies on board we set off to meet up with Angus and family from Sleat prior to a 6 pm start. Although I have passed it on numerous occasions I have never been on the Corran ferry. The brief chat with the ferry man was very underwhelming, from his perspective there was very little inspiring in his job. Dougal got out for a bit of fresh air while waiting for the ferry to come back across the narrows.



Arrived in good time to give Dougal a walk, have bowl of soup, check in to the Strontian Hotel and then down to the Hall.I had nothing to do but sit and listen to the two presentations and although I know what is going on in Applecross hearing what our Community Company has done in the last four and a half years compacted into a 30 minute talk, it sounded very impressive. Angus spoke about what is happening in Sleat of which, being in the network, I have a good knowledge. There were not many questions but there was a very encouraging turn out of over 90 interested people and all supportive. Always with these events you end up in really interesting conversations. Met up with some one who had sent a much-needed and very supportive e-mail when we were getting all the attention during the Land Action Scotland campaign last year. When you are getting swiped from all directions support from people who know what is really happening is invaluable and it is always good to meet up with like-minded folk. Both presentations were really appreciated by the organisers and it was back to the Hotel for a bite to eat and an early bed.

Wonderful still morning at the head of Loch Sunart and Dougal was all set for his morning jaunt.



So peaceful and still as we walked along the shore for a mile or so with Dougal investigating everything. Lots of conversations over breakfast as the hotelier was none other than James from the SEA course. Good to get some advice and a little information regarding the next meeting of our newly founded Fishing Federation. Hopefully the problems are only teething and can be sorted without any casualties although not too hopeful. Back home about half twelve and straight into a shift at the Inn. Judith is having a hard time , full of the cold and a leaking hot water tank. This had to be drained as the last thing you want is 100 gallons coming through the Hotel. A microwave oven blowing up did not help matters. Busy lunch shift finished off with the Lochcarron musicians coming over. One of our Strontian conversations was trying to describe why Applecross has the appeal for so many people. I always find this hard to describe as I think a lot it is indefinable. There are many obvious attractions like the good food and welcome visitors receive but the peace and calm many people describe as they arrive over the Hill is something different and this was part of another conversation this afternoon which dipped into talking about “spiritual aspects” of the place. I have often thought that Maelrubha arriving here was no accident and the old name for Applecross is translated as The Sanctuary. It is always this train of thought that sees you through the various disputes that come your way. This was a topic over the last couple of days and it seems that as soon as a group of people who get together who try to improve conditions within their community they inevitably arouse suspicion as to motivations or have people question their actions. Maybe the fear of change amongst older folk is a factor. This seems to be the case whether it is Strontian, Sleat or Applecross. Another chat about the Company and its activity took place towards the end of the lunch shift and this was overheard by another customer who introduced himself as someone who works with partnerships and has a different way of looking at how to progress through difficult obstacles. One example was instead of buying the turbines for the hydro scheme it may be an option to lease the technology from the manufacturer thus cutting down on initial capital costs and spreading it over a longer period. Remarkable couple of days and you realise the huge capacity in this area and the offers of help and advice seem to be all around.

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