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

Posts tagged ‘soil fertility’

Land and Food Craic

Dog walking is great for having a good think about all the ups and downs of life in Applecross. Went out on Saturday afternoon,IMG_4716


Dougal meeting and shouting at the Ardhu “wild”boar, not really wild, in fact very curious at this loud nuisance


and again on Sunday evening with them and there is always something new to see and think about.


Little touch of autumn under way.


These trips around The Sanctuary help see things from another perspective, at least I give it a go. Talking to people with different persuasions, but who are your friends is a great way to allow ” Two people to look at the same thing and see it differently”. The growing debate about Land Reform falls into this category. Saturday evening’s company threw up some interesting thoughts and I always take comfort in the fact that there has never been such a state as the status quo. Events, developments, people, attitudes will always mean that our environment, economic,political and social, are ever-changing whether positive or not. It sometimes feels a little over the top sometimes when I describe what happens at the Inn, meeting and getting to know people, exchanging opinions, views even compliments, how it all feels so positive. Having learnt so much over the last couple of years from Judith and Jill and feeling a bit more confident about having the ability to deal with most things there you find that you can take this out into the community. You feel that bit more confident that although your views are by no means universally they are mine and can be argued without rancour. Been reading a guest blog by Dr Jim Hunter  on community land ownership and found it really interesting. But as well the blog the comment stream that follows these articles are equally of interest.http://www.andywightman.com/?p=3029 There are the usual comments that come from entrenched positions but these combined with meeting fresh views in the Inn are invaluable in developing one’s own take on the debate. Speaking to Steve about the comparisons with Norway’s land distribution and their land use which seems to be so different to what happens here. There are so many more people involved in rural decisions and a more populous and varied aspect of land use. More locally controlled and better managed forestry coupled with a mature grazing policy. Here we have barren moorlands kept that way for grouse and red deer where there could be a proper native reforesting that could generate fuel, improved soil structures, domestic animal habitats and amenities for the many. It is not as though there never were trees covering the Scottish landscape. Policies that are dependent on grants rather than community benefit will soon belong to the past. Just had a conversation with some one who is not a “land reformer” and even she had to admit all is not well in the hands of those who have the power to let nothing happen. As it was suggested on Saturday evening Patience is a key factor and that was what I was told, I am patient.

The wonder of Applecross allows you to have these “radical” thoughts and still enjoy the walks, the environment you wander through and you arrive back home refreshed and ready for more.

Sunday lunch was a fairly relaxed affair just keeping an eye on the big table groups that were coming in on the hour. One of the nice things was that there were five groups of 7+ in at the same time and 3 of them were local.


Finished the shift with a fine venison burger and later in the evening had a scoop of Scottish raspberry ripple which, I think, supersedes just about everything that has gone before….that is until you try another one.  A wee bit of tension from the Boss as she knew there was a review coming out this weekend and it turned out ok, with quite a bit of license. 7/10 is a good pass rate on a crazy day,http://www.scotsman.com/lifestyle/food-drink/features/restaurant-review-applecross-inn-applecross-1-3051022.

Going back to the theme of the “circle of life” it is everywhere. Was speaking to some Americans and found out they wee from Boston and that brought back a memory of my landing in Boston on the first stage of me hitching across The States. Had a contact in Vermont so phoned from The Boston Tea Party Gift Shop. Of course the Tcheuchter from the Highlands could not work the phones and always will remember the girl who not only helped me but put me up on her couch for the night. Not only that but trusted me enough to got out with her boyfriend and left me alone in her flat and the next morning took out to the freeway and from there I set off. Told the Americans this and you could see how pleased they were to be told how I never associate the people with their government. Only once have I come across a no tax paying Republican at the Inn, but left her to it. Really wanted to ask her why were their bridges and roads were now falling apart, maybe because they did not pay taxes…..but I served her the scallops anyway.

Shock Development….Pot Noodles to be on Inn Menu.

Arctic weather by yesterday afternoon with a very strong northerly whipping down the Sound. Quieter in the morning but as the forecast was poor phoned Martin to call him off and good to see the ‘cast accurate. Martin was coming over from Kyleakin so it was a long way not to go out. Not much on the go today…too cold for the garden so it was just Dougal and Co that got me out on the day. Very different today with the wind well down on yesterday but a big run in the sea from yesterday and although it was fine for a few hours before the west wind increased I decided not to go out. Another pleasant day planting, sowing and digging up a patch that had to been touched for 20 odd years, full of bind weed, ground elder and nettles. The plan is to sow some bee friendly seeds there and ox eyes and wild pansies are in the green house and they will be joining the corn flowers and poppies to make happy bees. Planting some digitalis further along and some Dianthus. Seeded some cabbage, kale and sowed some more beetroot and radish adding some lovely manure that has almost returned to a dark loam. Also got some chillies under way as well.

Wandered down to the shop and passed as always the Massey Ferguson at Camusteel. These tractors are scattered around the Highlands and in their time transformed crofting in the 50s/60s. This one is not going to do any more ploughing. Often they stopped and were parked up waiting for a part that never quite got round to arriving. When I came over on my school holidays I remember two little grey ones in Toscaig. They were almost an unofficial machinery ring where most crofting townships had one or two and the went round the townships as needed. Reminded me of a program made by a nature camera lady who went home to her dad’s traditionally run dairy farm in Cornwall and she was really interested in the carbon dependency of food. I have never forgotten her description of the tractor her dad had and it was a 400 horse John Deer and then got us to imagine that was the equivalent of having 400 horses doing the work on his farm and that showed how dependent we have become on fossil fuels.



Tonight was spent in the Inn and I was not looking forward to it as there were masses of booking and with the inclement weather there was no chance of the garden tables being used. There were some Porsche drivers, about 12 of them, 9 over from Lochcarron, 6 cyclists,10 who were backing the guy running over the Hill, raising funds for the Erskine War Veterans Hospital. I do not think I worked a night where guys sat at tables and never moved, which is fair enough for the customers but the list of people waiting for tables was very difficult to shift and for the first time I suggested to a 4 that it would be better to come back tomorrow. People turned up looking for accommodation at 7.30pm, they got it and then wanted to eat. They did but at their accommodation!! We just plated up and sent it along. Three guys came over from Garve and to come that far they just had to be fed, one of them ate his fish and chips of a bar stool. It was about 8.30pm that Judith decided that it would be a good idea to get some Pot Noodles in for nights like this. I got the impression she was only half-joking. A good night though and left about tenish with the accordion, whistles and mouthie playing away. Promised to be a late night.

MBA Delivery to Uags

Coming down from my Knoydart/Doune high, been told to “stop going on about it”, it has been a case of getting into as much of  a routine as one does here. We had taken on a trip out to Uags for the Mountain Bothy Association to transport a load of building materials on the Varuna. The first bit was very easy and after an hour’s work the boat was loaded up and back on the moorings with the intention of me taking the equipment round in the morning.


Sunday morning and I decided to pull out as the weather was not suitable and went off to the Inn where things have generally quitened down with the occasional busy spell. The weather turned out to be not too bad but I had taken the decision and that was really all that was too it. As in Knoydart, when Andy decided that the trip to Airor was not on it was not on. Land people look out to sea and see it differently, on shore winds, half hour calm periods in between squalls are seen as reasons for going/not going. On Monday and Tuesday mornings the decision not to go was taken again and were ready for a weather window yesterday early doors. And so it was, turning up at the pier at the back of six, the Varuna in at the pier, and loading up enough food for a battalion, we were off south. Loaded to the scuppers and towing a “mussel farm” dingy we did a slow 6 knots. The weather stayed reasonably calm and we embarked on a rapid transfer of 4×2 lengths of timber, 8×4 sheets of ply, fire places, cement, glass,sand, tools, wheel barrow and last but not least, the food. This was all done on my wee 10 ft Orkney longliner with a constant eye to the west. While I had no problem with the operation the stress levels were way up and my constant thought was ” I must learn to say NO’. But I did leave a bunch of volunteers happy with their lot and ready to get stuck into what looked like a major renovation of the Uags Bothy. No photos of the unloading due to health and safety regulations although I think I was being filmed by Steve from the Varuna as I headed ashore with load after load. Wonder if you could go out there when it was done and squat in it. Be a nice place to live!!

It did turn out to be  a weather window and the squally westerly window increased again but not before I got home. Up to and past the farm with Dougal and Co as Alison is away at the CBS conference with Sean and George. Working tonight so have to tire them out a little. Eilidh ended up well exercised as she decided to run with the deer. Not often, but she sneaks of before you notice and is on the hill out of sight. Back to the Inn and loaded the other better behaved ones to go back up the Tore Garve path where I meet her trotting down the track with not a care in the world. We were walking through the Carnoch plantation when she took off. I find this place very moody and dark but in between squalls, patches of sunlight lite up the path.


You come across a cleared settlement in the middle of the wood and it feels quite eerie to me. I have this feeling when visiting places like Hallaig on Raasay and you connect in some ways to the pre Clearance times when the indigenous population was shoved off the better land. Now there is a Sitka spruce forest where people used to live….maybe there will be affordable housing there when it is all felled and people will be living and working again where they used to.


With Eilidh back in tow, and in better frame of mind looking around you were able to appreciate the spring blooms.


Before work and in between the showers it was a catch up in the garden with the Charlottes, Sharp Express, Red Duke of Yorks and some Roosters all in the ground with some fine manure. Then on to setting up some tomato plants in the porch kindly given to me by Torquil at Tore and peas, beans in the toilet roll inners with some beetroot and carrots in the new raised beds topped of with more “fertiliser”. Quieter evening at the Inn and home tired after a long day which started falling out of bed at 5.15am. Came across my first dog that had wheat intolerance and another which had a little tankard and stopped off for a wee sup of beer, responsible drinker though as he only had one. Had another chat with Gordon and Val and chatted about the heritage Centre and gaelic place names going “live’, which will be imminent. Mentioned his uncle, who is a natural sennachie, and who told me the other day about Bob Hardie who ran the Inn around the war years. Seems his previous job was chaffeur to the Bishop of Glasgow….simple a mine of information. So with another day ashore today and it is off out to the garden again although noticeably colder today.

Two very special days

Yesterday I went out a bit earlier than usual to catch the quiet morning before the afternoon northerly breeze got up. Even after 30 years of fishing from Applecross some days are beyond any description I am capable of. The sun was well up and there were a scattered array of clouds creating a moving tapestry of shadows across the land. To the south-east you could see the Five Sisters of Kintail like an etching, to the south-west is the Red Cuillin and I cannot resist taking yet another photo.The dusting of snow still on her with the remains of the morning cloud above the clearing shadows are wonderful to watch. Then to the west you have the Island of Raaasay stretching up the Sound with its distinctive table top of Dun Caan in its middle. You can see the Harris hills through the Blind Sound. Off to the east its home dominated by the slightly foreboding or maybe protective Applecross hills. Perfection and a privilege to be here. Work is not the right word for what I do on days like this.

It was a long day and 500 creels were hauled and although the fishing was poor it did not seem to be important. We take each fleet of creels ashore once a year to wash and do some repair work on them as well as sorting out some splicing that builds up over the year. There is an interesting small crab that we seem to be catching more of recently. It never grows more than 2.5 centimetres. This is it beside a squat lobster and it looks as though it could handle itself.

The evening shift at the Inn was a bit more relaxed with everyone enjoying the fantastic food. Judith took the evening off which is a good sign we are doing something right. A beautiful sunset had people leaving their meals to take in yet another wonderful Applecross scene.

After a day working on the pier sorting out my creels and trying to sort Dougal out it was back off to the Inn for another shift. These evenings are special to the people eating and staying at the Inn. There was a family from East Lothian who could not say enough about their evening’ experience and to be quite honest I was probably enjoying it as much as they were . They tucked into some large prawns I had taken ashore two hours before they ate them. It gives me so much pleasure seeing people enjoying themselves so much and it reminds me of being told once that if we honour and respect our food then it means so much more to us.

The evening finished with another spectacular light show. I dislike intensely that corruption of the english language, “shock and awe” and awesome is over used so much these days but this scene looking across the Sound from the Inn does instil in me a real sense of awe.

On the way home the local network alerted me to the possibility that there was a delivery of worms waiting at the shop. Dai the Post is too wary of Dougal and family’s intentions when he has tried to deliver mail in the past so we pick ours up and sure enough the worms were there so that is tomorrow’s job along with another 500 creels. What a life.

Garden Colours


After a week of unseasonably warm weather, despite Dougal’s attentions the garden is starting to show some of its colours. The flowering black currants have been out for a little while.The forsythia is also under way.Over in the corner by the wall is the first honesty and the wild garlic is appearing.

Down by the decking there is a delicate hellebore showing its face.The forecast for next week is for a dramatic 20 degree change in temperature so there may be a few changes on the ground. I am a bit late in sowing any of the vegetables but that is not too bad a place to be now.

RNLI, Food, and thoughts.

Still dealing with the fallout of our meeting at the Inn and lots of emails and discussions have followed. There are items that need to be clarified so any actions have to wait until this takes place. I see this community discussing and planning solutions to problems like never before. There is a realisation that there many problems that the community has no say or control over but that does not hamper the conversations. You influence the situations that you can and hope the the over-riding problems will change, dealing with them in the future. There was a really interesting conversation that took place on friday about how important the bottom line was to a business. On one side the argument was based on the fact the business was more than a business and the help, compassion and services extended to the community was paid back tenfold to the business by the community in trade and loyalty which in turn contributed to the success of the business. The other side of the argument was the bottom line is everything, creating distrust and decline. Social enterprise in action.

It was good to get a bit of light relief on friday evening although that meant taking a lot of not very sober people home around the various parts of Applecross. The 10th anniversary of the Applecross/RNLI boat pull. Over the 10 years they have pulled a model lifeboat on a trailer to a destination 50 miles down the road, raising 10s of thousands of pounds in the process for the RNLI stations. Wick, Dingwall,Barra and Skye have all been involved and they came to celebrate at the Community Hall to the sound of Rhythm and Reel, regular visitors to Applecross. It was a good night and good to get away from ongoing politics about the future direction of the peninsular. Being one of the only sober people who go to these events I am often asked to drive the Community bus to get the revellers home, as this did not finish until the wee small hours fishing did not happen on saturday even when the weather improved by mid day.

I got my hot box finished but still waiting for my thermometer before I launch into some real composting this week. Having really good food outlets means we will have access to lots of materials and of course the hens will be contributing. The combination of good compost, the wormery and rock dust hopefully will increase production in the garden meaning we should have excess that we can put to the local producers market and maybe the Inn. As it will take at least a year to get the soil back into proper condition photos of before and after will be available. As well as the hot box it was a day of rugby but the least said about that the better as winning the wooden spoon is not an accolade.

Mother’s Day at the Inn went off ok with a busy lunch, the star meals being the Rib Roast and the Fish Pie. The countries are mounting up as we have hit the 26 mark, Slovakia added to last weekend’s Greece and Hungary. I went up to the Walled Garden to sample the new menu on friday and had an amazing Pulled Pork roll, salad and chips. Once Pete and Jaqui’s flowers come out it is going to be a well visited venue.

Board Meeting,Compost,Worms,Party and a proverb.

Although it is pretty quiet on the fishing front there has been a lot happening in the last couple of days starting with A Community Company Board meeting at the Inn. This was attended by Ron Gilchrist who was scheduled to hold a workshop at the Hall the next day. The agenda showed how much the Company is working on. We are trying to make Applecross more resilient and a bit less reliant on food and fuel being constantly being trucked in by road. This is going to be reflected in the Walled Garden’s new chef Aron. He is hoping to use as much local produce as possible. The Inn also tries to use seasonally produced food both from the sea and land. The Hydro scheme is still progressing although negotiations around the lease could be going better. Our attention is turning to The Coastal Communities Fund which we hope to access this year and the aim of this fund is to increase employment and sustainability. We hope to improve our broadband capacity from a miserly .39 of a meg speed to around 7 megs, progress the Hydro further, keep trying to set up a wood-fuel supply and look at the possibility of improving housing on the peninsular. It was a very positive meeting but also we recognise we have many problems to overcome and have to work to change mindsets that are lodged in the past.

Ron Gilchrist’s day at the hall was fascinating basically telling us all that we have to have a rethink on how we compost. Just about every-one has the black plastic bins and if anything like me just put layers of material to decompose or as Ron said rot in them. As a result of his talk there are going to be a few Hot Boxes built along with some Wormery Boxes set up. He is a big advocate of rock dust as well, specifically basalt. I have come across this before but Ron was very persuasive about the results of mineral deficiencies in the soil both in the quality and taste of what you grow. I am always interested in a stronger local economy which does not necessarily means a poorer quality of life. Again we are back to changing mindsets. All these local changes are going to take place against a backdrop of peak oil and the fact that economies cannot keep growing in a finite world. Takes me back to the conversation I had with Ruth about sorting ‘self’ out and if theat is successful you do not continually want more.

Off to the Inn for a shift,but not before calling in at 6/7 for a lovely piece of lamb and sundries cooked by the eldest. He really is not that bad a cook. Food at Applecross parties is probably the best. The party went on till the wee small hours and judging by the condition of some of the guests staying at the Inn this morning, who had gone along there was a lot more than lamb being consumed. So glad on the morning after when I see the damage emerging from the parties that I’ve given up trying to drink. Gave it a good go for 25 years so can’t say that I haven’t tried. Today was taken up with reacting to our grid connection news and the next steps.

I have come across this proverb before and it seems so relevant to our material times,

“Treat the earth well. It was not given to you by your parents. It was loaned to you by your children.” Ancient American Indians knew where they were coming from and I think we have lost sight of it a little.

Applecross conversations

Because the Heads of Terms negotiations between the Estate and Applecross Community Company are reaching a conclusion it is becoming a hot topic in the community. Although not having an insight into all sections the community I do have the ability not to ‘take offence’ so I tend to get any one giving their opinion even if they know I don’t agree. I find that you question why you disagree and put it in a coherent argument. If you hid behind prejudices we might as well walk away now. In Applecross the long view and patience is critical as what is happening now is an evolution and never going to be revolution but there are too many people living here now realise that there has to be a positive movement to try to reverse the decline. I will never tire of pointing out that our school role is at its lowest ever and by all indicators that spells trouble for any community. We are all different but I believe most people in Applecross have what I call the ‘community gene’. In the past this went hand in hand with the crofting way of life but as this has declined and the few working crofters by necessity have had to become individual to survive. I am and will be very open about what I think of land ownership in the Highlands and while accepting the history of the decline I believe if you own large tracts of land where the community is in decline the owner has take part of the responsibility for that decline.

Nowadays this’community gene’ is expressed by people, for example, running the community Hall, The Pier, The Heritage Centre organising the Annual Games, and the new focus is the Community Company. The importance of what is happening in Applecross cannot be under stated. Alison has just come of the phone after speaking to Ron Gilchrist who we hope is coming  to Applecross to carry out a soil fertility workshop. He is obviously enthusiastic and has lots of ideas to convert small pieces of land to fill the food gaps here. We cannot get away from peak oil and planning for it getting our values right is going to make living here good. Even with a phone call anaerobic digesters, revitalising unworked crofts the possibilities are endless, watch this space.

There is little to say about the negotiations other than we will probably accept the latest offer which means we will be paying the Estate almost double what other Community Companies are doing with their Landlords. We have tried to explain that this is no way to establish a partnership but I think it has fallen on deaf ears. Already we are moving on in a positive way looking at the endless opportunities to make living here better. I believe the future is with the people who live here and we will have our scraps but that will be ok as well. This blog has come up in several conversations so I better explain that it is personal, represents my view and is not part of any orchestrated campaign. The fact that it goes on the net and is sometimes thought provoking is fine and if it becomes part of anything bigger, well fine again. If it is of any interest to any one I am honoured that people take time out to read it. I am still really not sure why I am doing it but it feels ok to me. Off to the Inn for another couple of shifts.

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