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

Posts tagged ‘Ullapool’

The Parrot Visiting from Germany

It is beginning to seem that I could start any post with, “a bit of variety this week” and that was certainly the case this week. Going back into the time line of the last post to Tuesday, I had done a day’s fishing and came in to meet the ladies for a bit of filming on the Varuna.

They had come up on Sunday and I met them over the weekend when they had come down for a meal on the Sunday evening.

Seemed to go well enough on the day and I am pretty sure I will not be watching the programme just in case I am on it. The Bloody Project has struck again and it was good to see Graeme and to meet his partner, just finished his French detective mystery and good it was too. Interesting from the boat perspective as we could see Culduie, where the deed was done, scurrilous Ardhu, Camusterrach, the Big House and Shore Street which was Applecross village in the book.

So up to Friday and a day off. It began at 7.00am, selling langoustines to the Loch Ness Inn and ended at 1.30am on Saturday morning loading just short of a half ton of herring into the back of the van at Aird. The time in-between was the day off. We headed north after twelve, stopped for lunch at Gairloch and a trip down to the beach with the pups.

Then going further north we took a detour down the Inverasdale/Cove road, mainly because Gemma proclaims it is the only place she knows that is better than Applecross,

so it had to be seen.

It is truly a beautiful part of the Highlands and Dougal and Eilidh seemed to agree.

Another beach walk with Dougal having a discussion with the white cow, who seemed very disinterested in him.

Then off to Ullapool to an exhibition/private showing of how plastics are entering our world in not the best of ways, even becoming part of the geology. Not an edifying prospect but well underway and out fishing the next day I pick up a plastic bag floating by

just to reinforce the message of the way we live has to change. Met up with Sara, a contact from the Inshore Fishing Conference and the discussion about sustainable fishing carried on to the Ceilidh Place where we were treated to some awesome music by King Creosote and Mairead Greene. Time just flew by and it was an hour later than I thought before we were back on the road home. Me in the passenger seat after a couple of Thistly Cross ciders and just as well as we were met on the road just outside Shieldaig by our local custodian, Craig. Not knowing the van he rapidly turned round and followed us down the Coast Road to stop us enquiring as to our late travelling home. Think Alison was quite excited to be stopped by the bobbies with blue lights flashing and all. Mason and Thor would have been impressed as the last time I saw them they were in said car outside the Schoolhouse. So the last stop was for the bait and salt and home by 2.00am, asleep by 2.05am and up at 6.00am to go fishing. Not even enough time to take off the wrist band.

It was hard work leaving the house at that time in the morning and staying on the couch with these two was very tempting.

Days off are tiring but the sights, sounds and conversations were all so worth it. Maybe Dougal could have done with more than the Pinewood walk at Inverewe and the two beach walks but his form was still good and he enjoyed the trip down to the Ullapool Harbour, fishing boats

and tall ship included.

So from the fishing to the shower and straight to the Inn where we had a tricky evening dealing with many bikers, a closed Walled Garden for Calum’s wedding and lots of visitors wanting to eat good food. And again on Sunday, the full twelve-hour shift, with a half hour for a bit of food. Lots of good food, laughter, good craic and a parrot,

a German one at that.

Seemingly she stayed at the Inn couple of years ago and was back for a return visit. She came out briefly for a wee look around during the quiet spell in the afternoon. Busy but a well run if a times tense day and even the nine bikers who turned up at 8.55pm for a meal were happy to be served nine fish and chips. They had just rode down from Thurso, turned up late at the Campsite and came straight down to the Inn. You could not serve them so another group were treated to the Highland hospitality of the Applecross Inn. The visitors were from all over, Kazakstan to Holland and all parts in-between. Hope the two Dutch girls who were to be in Mallaig for 2.00pm on Monday made it. They were to drop a hired car in Portree  and make it down the road to Armadale to catch the ferry across Sleat Sound and I think it was going to involve some hitch hiking. Good “we are all European” chat with them and while acknowledging we all come from different parts they hoped we would finally have the nerve to become Scottish in our own rights. All the european visitors are really sad about Brexit and hope that Scotland will stay around. We shall see.

Finishing on a sad note though I heard off the sad passing of John, who used to live in Applecross and worked and inspired many troubled youngsters. He also had a pretty troubled past which unfortunately caught up with him. I only have good memories of John, taking me out with No 3 and doing a spot of sea rescue before my trip to Canada with the kayak. So there was an appropriate sunset to finish off a memorable weekend and to remember him by.

Changin’ Scotland

Although there is a brisk east wind blowing these days there is a definite feel that Spring is here, or almost anyway. Went to the couch with the plan of heading to Perth early doors accompanied by my companion Dougal but that went awry when I woke up suddenly at 4.30am meaning I would have to leave immediately with little breakfast and drive a little more than steadily down the A9 to get there on time. I decided that it was not feasible especially as I did not get to bed till two which probably meant that driving that distance with so little sleep would not have been safe. have to say I was not happy about the decision as i have always wanted to press the case for sustainable fishing and this is one of the forums that are available to us. however I know that there are very capable and articulate fishermen that were going down the road to put that same case. Result I went to bed and slept like a log for another four hours. We had another problem in that our regular dog sitters were out of communication so we were not sure about dog sitting status.. The Spring feel gradually overtook the disappointment of not going to the Fishing Conference and I broke out the paint tin, sand paper roll and cleaned the kitchen. So by late afternoon in a better frame of mind I set off to Ullapool with Dougal around five stopping off to check out the accommodation at Leckmelm. The light at this time of year with the direction of wind is spectacular


and a couple of stops on the Hill were necessary.




I do not often do this but I had phoned in advance and booked a night with a fine couple of fish experts and cone gatherers.


After a welcome cup of tea I made it to the Macphail Centre via the Ceilidh Place to meet up with Alison and listen to an informative evening provided by Ian Fraser, financial journalist with an inside track on the doings up to and after the crash of 2008. Surprised that there was little I did not understand and was not aware off and so disappointed that we seem to be on the same road again, politically induced property bubble to try to secure another spell in power for certain politicians. You do despair sometimes, I suppose I was not in that good a mood anyway as, just before leaving home, I read a response from the Scottish Govt about our de minimis ruling and it was not good reading. Another reply will be going south, object to the time these things take for so little gain. Back to the lodgings where the cone gatherers had returned and were having a wee malt round the fire. Very pleasant late evening where Dougal made himself at home with just the one little mishap. I ended up with a couple of little puncture marks separating Dougal and the Oran, the madame of the house. Dougal did overstep the mark as Oran objected to him sniffing her bum, but all ended well with just an overturned coffee table and my marked hand.

Early start next morning due to misreading the watch so Dougal got a wee walk around 6am. Another snooze before we had a bit of toast, dropping off the bottle of wine, oyster bags, and a couple of photos of around and about.


Find cone gathering intriguing but unfortunately have read Robin Jenkins The Cone Gatherers, one of the most unremitting dome laden books I have ever read, ending in the inevitable disaster. Interesting work with its own set of intrigue and stories, some too close to home to relate. Once we got Oran’s mate out of the van,


not forgetting the ferret,


we headed over to Ullapool to enjoy a full session of Changin’ Scotland. Admittedly we were still an hour early but gave us time to have a roll and coffee before e going to hear an entertaining “sort of workshop” by Joe Lafferty. It was based on hope and he went round the audience at one stage and asked what people hoped for but also what would happen next, implying the vote in September is just the start and not the endgame. Loved the one that started it off. Speaker said he hoped that Trident would be taken out of Scotland and in the year 2020 a world disarmament summit takes place that leads to ending all possession of nuclear weapons. Another was to go back to the Greek system of three-year politicians being drawn out of the hat. The one that caught the imagination was to go across Scotland and paint the drab dreary estates in bright colours. a Tobermorification of housing in Scotland. Bit like Leckmelm, blue wood, then yellow bale and at the end turf roof.


The thrust of the talk was that hope leads often to community and puts that above self. Good to have a bit of realism as well in the form of  Eileen Reid telling us that education is not in such a great shape as it could be and that is a devolved power. She commented that it would take a lot more than painting the houses of the estates to sort out a lot of the problems of endemic poverty and poor education in areas of the Central belt. This was followed by Douglas Robertson, Stirling University, who talked about housing and made a few pointed comments about how the audience, middle class was okay and had benefited from house price rises but how the whole of the housing station is so distorted and unhelpful to the country as a whole. David Donnison then spoke about what was missing from the Referendum debate saying he was still undecided but I suspect after listening to him he will be voting yes, only a feeling. Jean Urquhart came onto the panel that finished off the day. We were given enthralling talks from Cat Boyd, Jamie Maxwell, Robin MacAlpine and Ronagh Gallacher, all connected to RIC and The Common Weal. Whether you believed their politics or not their articulate passion was inspiring and if nothing else the Independence Debate is finally getting people re engaged in politics again. They arguments carried a lot of weight and came from the left where there is now a chasm as Labour seems to be out doing the Tory party in trying to catch the 250,000 votes south of the border they need to win the next election. Fascinating times and good company to be in,some of which would be frowned upon by the powers that be back home, challenging your ideas, and giving you so much to think about. There is one thing that annoys me about this Referendum when people ask me about what I think. So many people say they do not have enough information to make a decision. I could not disagree more it is everywhere and it will be up to people to be bothered to read and then decide but saying they need to know more is just not an excuse. Interesting talk from Jean when she told us about a visit from a Norwegian delegation going around Scotland. Now given our admiration of everything Scandinavian at the moment she asked them what Norway wants and she was more than a little surprised by their reply…they want to be like Scotland, food, culture, whisky, energy resources, can go round the world be recognised and welcomed, writing, art, ideas……how other people view you is interesting without getting too big-headed. Interesting that a campaign that says we are not able to do this or cannot do that or will not be able to do the other holds almost 50% in the polls, I suppose if you are told that for centuries it difficult to realise the potential that has been there all along.



not being too interested in politics and the arts, went for a wee walk up above Ullapool,




interesting Skara brae type houses beside the path and renewable energy around the buildings,


although a bit disappointed to see they were holiday houses and not lived in. So day finished off with a fine meal and banter at the Ceilidh Place and a satisfied drive home.

Inspiration in the Rain.

Driving west of Achnasheen in the lashing rain at 10.30 last night on my way home from Ullapool the old head was brimming full of conflicting thoughts having just come from Ullapool via Inverness. Often think of Angus Macrae of North Strome saying very eloquently about how he wanted to see lights in the dark glens keeping him company for the way home. Fourteen hours earlier the day started as usual with Dougal and Co heading out for their first jaunt of the day and a quick breakie. Unbeknown to them it was going to be a longish day for them as Alison was away to Arisaig to a little gathering of LDO guys who are going to talk about what sounds like boring things such as di minimis rules on grant funding. These items sound boring but are going to be critical in the ongoing work within our communities. For me and the Dougal crew it was off to Inverness and an IFG meeting at Great Glen House. Set off in good time but came across a wee problem in that the van coming down had a bit of a brake problem, alright for me but not for the van as, although missing me, ended up securely in the ditch.


To cut an everyday saga short half an hour later they were pulled out and everyone’s day continued. Not a cross word was said and all were just concerned with sorting out the accident. Slightly hairy moment when the van shot out across the road and up the opposite bank. Only in the ditch for half an hour, good Applecross help.


Ended up being twenty minutes late for the meeting but it was fairly interesting despite itself. There is still a feeling that we are not being listened to very well….the opening up of the west coast grounds to squid trawling and this strange hardship fund that is only designed to compensate poor trawler men for not catching enough prawns this year are two very bad examples of badly thought through policy from above. As often happens the chat over the lunch sandwiches elicit the most interest for me. Brief chat with Richard but longer one with Nick and Beth about data collection and luckily it turned out that Beth’s phd was done on nephrops in Torridon and we had a good chat about the survival of returned berried langoustine. If I was told by the scientists that it was a pointless exercise I would be so disappointed but would have to change my practise. Fortunately for me there is no known science that tells me by returning the berried female is detrimental to the returned one or the fishery as a whole.

After a wander about the buildings with Dougal,


a look across to the south of the growing town,


a trip to the Dog shop and Wholefoods, it was back on the road to The Strathpeffer Pavilion.  On the way into Strathpeffer I had to stop as a field, with no apparent reason to me, had hundreds, possibly thousands of birds landing and taking off on the land.




Important purchase of two tickets for the Treacherous Orchestra gig on the 25th of April. Bit strange as I do not what I am going to do this afternoon, dogs check out the Pavilion http//strathpefferpavilion.org/ grounds, a chat and catch up with Andrea, a lovely bowl of  potato and leek soup and up to Ullapool. Mid afternoon in the Highlands means the lights are on early.


Stopped in at Leckmelm but no lights on. Plenty of time for a fish and chips sitting on a bench across from the pier on a windy and cool november evening in Ullapool. This is living the real sensations of life up here.


The mutts got plenty of exercise and had a good night-time tour of the wee town, little surprised how many houses had no lights on. Lots of reasons, I am sure, but hope second houses was not one of them.

So to the Ceilidh Place and Lesley Riddoch. www.lesleyriddoch.com/blossom-book-tour.html Huge amount of informative chat and ideas about the Scottish nation, how we seem to view ourselves, how for some reason we listen to people who tell us we cannot do it ourselves. Many comparisons looking across to the Scandinavian countries and looking at energy or banking whether it be Norway or Germany. 41 energy companies in Germany and in Sweden the price of energy went down due to the 2008 crash, obviously because there was lots of spare capacity about, but in our energy rich country what happens….the opposite. We do have a lot to learn from other people and countries and have to cast off the “it won’t work here attitude”. Interesting statistic from Norway when they passed a law giving landowning Norwegian men a vote in 1814, 45% qualified. In 1832 the same happened in Britain and 5% qualified. We have suffered inequality for centuries. I do not have the mindset of wanting more so do not understand it but those who have vast lands and wealth their whole existence seems to be occupied in either growing or at least keeping it. A little of this came out at the IFG meeting when one of the organisation representatives became quite shirty when it was suggested that a more equal share of a quota was suggested. It was the “hard work” ethic that was introduced and the example of some one wanting a croft you do not go to the big farmer and take some of his farm for the crofter. Looking at it another way what he was really arguing for is the farmer to have more than his needs while the potential crofter is to have nothing. How we address this growing problem in our society is going to be crucial, but we either accept the present situation or look at way to redress the imbalance. These imbalances were created with the full backing of changes in the law in the past by those who directly benefited, maybe now it is to be redressed. An interesting example Lesley put forward was the impoverishment of the quality of the land over centuries of overgrazing and told us about a small project carried out by Ron Greer and Derek Pretswell www.andywightman.com/?p=3291. But more importantly was the project that involved planting of 100,00 hectares that would now be a community asset and Dunkeld, Birnam and surrounding area would be carbon neutral. Failed because they did not have the right “qualifications” for the project. Their Loch Garry project counted for nothing despite them taking land that was sour and turning it into a rich soil structure now supporting lots of wild life habitat. Planting lupins was one of the keys in returning nitrogen back to the depleted soil. Met a teacher who is involved with the Ullapool St Ayles skiff and a great chat about the community aspects of this. It will happen here.

Struggled to leave as I knew, as usual, there would be good craic after and would have to use one’s brain in keeping up a banter with these guys. So after many offers of Highland hospitality from Jean, the offer of a room to a flask of coffee for the journey home, had to be turned down and I made my escape, but not before meeting Noel outside and having a chat about fishing, SCFF www.scottishcreelfishermansfederation.co.uk/ and MPAs before turning down yet more offers of a place to crash.

So there I was driving through the rain with everything in overdrive, not the van as I followed a police car for twenty odd miles at a respectable distance and speed. Inspired, but knowing the huge problems of community work, realising that no matter what you do you will always be criticised, but aware that you are fortunate to know  some amazingly kind and considerate people. This with the Finlay Macdonald Band on the Ipod made for a “short” journey home.

And that is how I finished my day with a brief political/land /nation discussion, the good fortune we have to live in such a place amongst wonderful people. So important never to lose sight of this amongst all the hassles and carp of daily life.

Row, Row, Row Your Boat.

After landing some prawns to the Loch Ness Inn  I went up to the inaugural  St Ayles Skiffs Rowing World Championships at Ullapool. Partly to fight off a little cabin fever and mainly because I wanted to, Ullapool was the place to be. All week there was a display of skiffs rowing, all ages and all abilities. On the way in I noticed an older looking boat with mast and I think she was a replica with sail.


Did not find too much out about her but she drew me back to her after parking up. The pier was filled with stalls and the beach from the pier to the campsite was lined with skiffs and rowers from all round the Scottish coast and from as far afield as America.


Their skiff, the Sephira, was intriguing as they had set up a series of wires from the bow to try to sing to and record the whales. They had built a skiff that doubled as a musical instrument which was going to play to the whales, fantastic imagination.


Lovely carved head at the bow.


That was their main objective as their rowing was not up to the competitive standards of the Coigach and Ullapool boats.

The starts to the races and the whole seemed to go like clockwork and the amount of organising to put on an event like this was well impressive.


One sensed a very strong competitive edge to the days proceedings, and in particular, a couple of close races had the crowd yelling encouragement coming up to the finishing line.This was one of the heats where I think it was the Coigach boat well ahead and looking like they were going to stay that way.


The skiff from Crail were either getting a last minute pep talk or asking their steerswoman where to go.


All the skiffs are from an identical kit and are built as a community project, all self funded. I think lots of potential in Applecross to get at least one on the water.


Walking along the shore every skiff that came back from their row was met with cheers and congratulations no matter how well they had done. It was quite a spectacle and spent the whole morning watching, chatting, and meeting several people I knew along the shoreline. Had a good chat with Joe about how little we know about bees but as always you pick up a little knowledge every time you speak to some one with bees. It is better sometimes to chat with guys that are ahead of you but not too far. Alison had mentioned that there was a chance that the Coigach boat could make its appearance in Applecross to maybe inspire a community build and row. I have only mentioned it to three guys and there was immediate enthusiasm. This is just as well as when I wandered up to Lesley on the Mic she immediately announced Applecross was going to be inline for a skiff. Not the reason why I was there but it is always good to hear Applecross on the “airwaves”.

Early afternoon I wandered down to see if Noel and the Summer Queen were going out in the afternoon but it was called off being a bit quiet, there was too much to do and see for people to take trips out on any boat.


Probably for the best as the journey back to the Inn would have to have been a bit hairy to be on shift at 6pm. And it was just as well as we got absolutely panned. The weather was just on the verge of being uncomfortable outside so demand for tables was way over premium. Warned that friday evening was silly and last night was worse/better whichever way you looked at it.

Stopped for an invited cup of tea at Leckmelm on the way home as I was not on the Queen and had a good chat about fishing etc but wish I had my camera in the house for the robin rescue. Ailsa had told me why she had some pheasants growing in a little”house’ in the garden and as we were chatting away about this and that she noticed the robin that was prancing about around the house nipped inside to see what was doing. Next thing Ailsa shot off saying she had to get the robin out as she/he would not last long in the company of pheasants. And she was right as they had a good go at robin before being rescued by the lady of the house. Ailsa half in half out of the wee house trying to separate robin from pheasants……a fine cup of tea and craic with no biscuits, still doing well and getting down to summer weight at last.

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