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

Posts tagged ‘WHFP’

Creel verses Trawl.

I fear the head has been above the parapet for quite some time now so I might as well continue. A couple of weeks ago there was a regular feature in the WHFP which on that did Duncan MacInnes, a hard-working representative of the Western Isles. He holds views that are radically different from my own but maybe not surprising as there are several fishermen from the mobile sector in the organisation he is part of, the WIFA. No doubt that he works hard for his members but over the week after the article was published I decided that some of his comments could not go unchallenged and wrote a letter to the paper trying hard not to be outraged from Tonbridge Wells. This along with a BBC program which is to be aired on monday evening at 9pm on Beeb 2 is keeping the creel verses trawl argument afloat.http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p02wyv0p  Combined with the proposed introduction of MPAs on the west coast is getting a, hopefully, informed discussion about the future of sustainable inshore fishing moving forward. I am a wee bit stuck with the fundamentalist problem that certain fishing methods are right and others are not. Also already there is much information being put out there that at best can be viewed askance. Although my trawl experience is limited to two weeks duration thirty years ago, over the thirty years since creeling I have not seen the waste of those two weeks, the small dead prawns scraped of the deck and back over the side. So the letter sent is as follows.

Dear sir,

As always I enjoy your focus and profile articles but there were several “opinions” put forward with little backing of either science or observation regarding the use of mobile gear on the inshore fishing grounds of the west coast.

I appreciate the fact that Mr MacInnes is a hard-working representative of the WIFA but his sweeping statements referring to ploughing up the seabed is equivalent to that of ploughing one’s croft in order to harvest the produce leaves one open to ridicule.

One wonders how nature managed to survive and reproduce so plentifully in the past before she needed the help of the mobile sector now.

The MPAs were always going to be opposed by fishermen who fear their way of life may be altered or even stopped but the evidence is emerging from closures like Lamlash Bay and the Isle of Lundy where marine life is rapidly recovering from the constant over fishing of the last half century.

Lamlash is being surveyed at the moment and they are finding up to five times the lobsters and a doubling of their size prior to closure.

One can analysis the Broad Bay closure in a different way in that it was so degraded prior to its closure and the continuous overfishing on its boundaries has held back any possible recovery.

We are only starting to understand the connectivity of the marine environment. The hope is that this has been considered in the placement of the MPAs

To say that anyone is making money at any given time is not to say they are damaging the marine environment through these self-same money-making practices.

Even now as the creel fishery makes a modest rerun it is reliant on a high price for a scarcer commodity, no way to continue a sustainable fishery.

The imposition of the MPAs must be going in the right direction as we are now hearing from the SFF on how terrible they are.

I cannot help but compare Bertie to the Mr Cameron our PM when I listen to him discussing his concerns the impact MPAs will have on the remote west coast communities. I may be doing him a disservice but I find him so insincere as I do when the PM talks of the “poor”.

Finally back to the ploughing of the seabed, (sorry can’t help myself).

How does your neighbouring crofter feel when he sees you ploughing up his hillside, ripping up your fences and going through your tattie patch leaving a trail of destruction behind, only to come back next year to do it again?

I have always remembered reading an article by Torcuil Critchon who, when writing about the ploughing argument, said that you did not have to cut down the apple tree to harvest the apples.

Since we are so keen on analogies, would it not be better to stop chopping down the orchard and plant some new trees for a future generation so they can crop some apples?

The sooner we get back to more passive fishing methods on our inshore waters the better for the environment and economy.

There has been a lot of destructive practices carried out on the marine environment since the 80s but nature can recover despite us.

It would be good to give her a helping hand.

yours Ali Macleod.

A little surprised that there was space to publish as the WHFP is going through an upheaval having ditched two high-profile columnists in a couple of weeks. Maybe it could have been done less awkwardly but it may be a sign of the times. The fading Presbyterian culture of the Highlands and the old tribalism of Labour verses SNP whether right or wrong is being replaced by a more consensual acceptance of both spiritual and political views. Again whether one agrees with their politics Mhairi Black openly saying that she would welcome support from the Labour benches to help her constituents and John Finnie was saying the same earlier this week. Many folk are getting sick of the tribalism of the past and I fear that some columnists were keeping that alive.

That’s done so back to the humdrum of a busy Inn and fishing. The weather has been very helpful in that there has been a couple of quiet days


enabling me to get round all the creels and again there has been a decent catch. Not many rafts of guillemots and razor bills about this year.


To go back to the MPA argument I hauled a fleet of creels that were about 100 metres or so inside a thirty year old MPA, the BUTEC Range. Although you shoot on the line of the Range boundary


the current combined with a strong tide can take the gear just inside. When the fishing is good it can be exceptional on the other side of the line. I do not set up photos of creel catches and this is not scientific but this may the way ahead.


Certainly the New Zealander fishermen think so. Both red snapper and cray fisheries are healthy following their decisions to set up their no fish zones. Opposition like we are finding now when first proposed on their coast line. So the quiet days and busy nights meant I was not too concerned about a windy day


and mending creels readying my last fleet for the summer quota.


Now I have to start taking them in for a wash. The endless cycle of the creel-fisherman. So by the afternoon, tired and over to Shieldaig for a much-needed massage. A few strains and pulls to be painfully sorted out and felt very “out of it” by the end of a long hour session. Deep sleep o the couch before getting the tea on, simple pasta, garlic, cream and wine dish with langoustine tails and mussels thrown.

Almost forgot, they have found another three bodies in the Old Estate Office. Seems the number is up to three and there are signs of trauma to the bones. The age of the bones is now going back in time possibly clan or Viking fisticuffs. PC Dominic has been stood down as the perpetrators are no longer understood to be around.


Applecross makes Hansard

(Sunday)Many countries at the Inn on Sunday, including the Porsche club.


From Holland to South Korea and Moldova on the way. For such a wee place on the edge of Europe it never ceases to amaze how many countries pass through. Bikes, cars, buses and the odd push bike, only planes and trains missing and probably just as well. Busy lunch but really quiet afternoon, big improvement in the weather with people sitting outside. Aron is down the road standing in front of his ice cream-making machines catching up on the ice cream run last night caused by his exploits at the Royal Highland Show. The writing announcing his awards has improved.



The total awards were one gold two silvers and fourteen bronze, Aron winning eight of the fourteen. Good effort. Ably backed by his good lady when he was south.


Fishing on Friday was pleasant although slightly annoying with just about every end tangled with some one else. You just get these days now and again and some days it is the other way around. Still a few prawns about, enough to keep the Inn going although the squats are still proving a little elusive. Octopus


and the odd old squat only things on the go.


Planned to go out yesterday but a short but sharp headache kept me ashore, Got rid of it by mid day so went wood gathering with the dogs and very productive, with a full van load, just left overs from the clear fell and with little effort will keep our water and us warm over this winter. Saturday evening was the usual busy spell but allowed the Boss to take it a little easier and chatted to guests rather than working the floor. Food as usual spectacular.


Lots of regulars about and when you ask where guests are from you realise you know one or two in the company, Achiltiebuie and Ullapool in this case. This from the retirement group of health workers from around the area. One of them, an exhotelier comes across his exbarman who was staying the night upstairs. The small, small world of Applecross. The phrase on everyone’s tongue is “the nights are drawing in and the summer has not yet arrived this year”

(Wednesday evening) And at the end of another very busy shift with some staff stovies heading this way, still raining but not putting any one-off coming. Had lunch this afternoon with Sam and Caroline who lived here for a couple of years, Sam with ALPS and Caroline with the Community Company. Went up on the bike with Dougal and Eilidh. Lots of stops on the way.


Visitor Centre rebuild well underway


and the Filling Station has stabilised with only one failure in the middle of the night since the engineer’s visit.


Needed another stop for a bit of pointless bird chasing.




Pleasant and lazy at the Walled Garden. Had half planned a fishing trip but could not make the effort. Try and make up lost time in the next couple of hauls by adding a couple of fleets at the end of the days. Stovies replaced by a fine beef and chutney and followed by a couple of games of that fast scrabble. Every now and again some one is not having a good day and if you jostle him/her it rubs off despite trying to keep one’s distance. Spoils the shift and the reason for enjoying coming here. Usually it happens in the heat of the moment and heals in a couple of days. That is why I am fortunate to go out on the seas and clear out of the way.

Surprised by a wee post on my timeline saying Applecrosslife got a mention in Parliament on Tuesday evening. More importantly as part of a debate, Ian Blackford, our MP, while laying the background to his questions pointed out my scepticism over a genuine consultation and mention that despite claims to the contrary the expansion plans have already started at Sand. While a little nervous seeing the blog appearing in Hansard the questions are genuine and expose the MoD in their usual obsequiousness.

“When will the consultation start? Why has the consultation process not started? Who is responsible for commencing the construction activity? When the consultation starts, why should we believe that it will be meaningful if the construction work is already underway? Why is there a proposal to take the exclusion zone right up to the shoreline? Why are the expansion plans necessary? Let me also ask: who will be responsible for the consultation exercise? Who will conduct it and who will be consulted? Why is this important?”

And Ian ends his part of the debate by pointing out that the Coast only had a single track road installed as recently as the 70s and suffered serious depopulation prior to this. “In one way or another, people were cleared from Applecross-cleared from the land. I do not wish to see our people today cleared from the fishing grounds: history must not be repeated.”

(Thursday evening) And this evening coming in from the fishing I read in the WHFP under the banner Applecross work ” nothing to do with range expansion plans” I read some of the quotes coming from the minister and MoD and feel very unsettled. The MoD are to consult on changing the bylaw governing the exclusion zone by the end of the summer. I see an exact replica of the language used by the MoD when they first arrived in the area almost half a century ago. “The aim of these talks will be to investigate what options might be available that would allow some fishing to take place  at certain times within the revised water space” exactly what was offered in the early 70s when fishing was only going to be restricted from certain times in certain areas. And then we had to deal with an exclusion zone, extended and then the trawl free zone.

Probably what bothers me the most is that we have pretty good relations with RTB and comply with any operations they have on Range. Many times we and other boats have not hauled gear to enable the MoD to carry out their activities. The apparent disrespect they are showing at the moment is not helping future relations.

And the weather is still carp.

Applecross in the Media.

Have to start with a wee apology to the Carloway Estate Trust for mistaking them for being the North Harris Trust in regards the donation to the raffle on Friday evening of the CLS conference. Excuse being that I was still recovering from winning the three-day fishing on the Machair lochs of South Uist and did not hear that Carloway had donated the tweed.

Stayed ashore for the last three days, every one stayed ashore today and is a reflection on the fishing. Days ashore do not usual mean one does nothing but the pace is slower and can change momentum from time to time. When you are hauling creels if you achieve a continuity of motion it is less tiring. If you keep switching the hauler on and off it becomes a bit staccato. Being back at the hauler as the next creel comes up smooths the whole operation. It is nice to have days ashore when you go round the coast for bait, salt it, and tie it in with putting a new mooring down for the dingy. Stopped off on the way home to go over to the rocks at Culduie. Felt a bit guilty as they all came off the rocks when I got too close and they kept having a look to see if I was still there.




I had also stopped in to have a chat with Lesley about this and that, mainly that and missed opportunities.


Partly because I want to get the bike and trailer going as a routine I decided to bring the dingy over to the roadside at Camusterrach. Bit more exposed but when the west and north-west winds come I will tuck it over to the Ardhu side again. This will mean I have two miles less to go on the bike and just nip across with the wee two-horse outboard, using some but not a lot of fuel. So with bits and pieces gathered together the weights/anchors and endless line in place. Needs a couple of finishing touches and we are under way again.

So back home in time to get ready for an earlier start to a shift at the Inn due to the sisters going to yet another wedding at the Walled Garden. A good night, good customers and good food makes for an easy shift, although late and waiting for the discussion about fencing to finish added another half hour to the day, but no matter. Interesting conversation I overheard earlier in the evening about spraying for rush control. The complaint was that there were trees being planted and were in the way of the sprayer. Got me thinking that planting trees there may mean that rushes will not need to be sprayed any more as the trees will improve the ground making it less acidic and thus not a good environment for the rushes. Thinking about it I cannot think where there are rushes and trees together. Trees do get a bad press sometimes but provide a multitude of wildlife cover, improve the ground and provide lots of heat energy at the end of their lives. Before the sunset was worth a look.


Yesterday was one of those recovery days where you try to do nothing and feel good about it.Part of not doing anything during the day included a walk up the back of Camusterrach with Dougal and Co.


Does not matter what the weather is doing the views are always busy.


Again this year the wild flowers seem to be having a good year. Nice to see the road verges are looking busy.



Did the first but unfortunately the second part did not kick in, that is did not do much but felt bad about it.. The evening, being Thursday, meant being back at the Inn. A nippy little night, with a slow start, ensued, and a regular visitor in the shape of Johnny Hill finished the night off with a sing-song. One of the highlights was the seafood platter enjoyed by Gino’s Canadian mates. And they even managed one of Dot’s sticky toffee puddings. They could not move for an hour afterwards but seemed contented.

Today again no fishing but brood box frames made up and a bit of wood shifted. Bit dreich for most of the day and a visit to the shop and a few visits to fb and twitter confirmed Applecross was on both the media and social media. Jackie O’Brien’s take on the energy efforts of Applecross Community Company through AEE. Only a quick glimpse of it as do not like hearing or seeing myself. Should remember that when I speak to others. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-27816193  also in the WHFP this week we get three mentions, all positive. The Boatpull Team also were prominent having presented £24,000 to charities from last year and have pulled the boat round Islay this year. They hope to clear the £200,000 total this year from when they started. Impressive fund-raising by anyones standards. Donations to applecrossboatpull.org.uk. Also Roger Hutchinson reviews a book by Ian Maclennan, Applecross and it’s Hinterland. All profits to the Applecross Historical Society. And then there were a couple of Applecross people at the CLS conference but maybe skip over that just now. Evening up at the Bay is peaceful and green


with the deer laid back as well.


Dougal is not SAD.

While at the toilets on Monday, as one is these days, had a chat about this and that with a passing local and touched on a rural issue that is very rarely spoken about but crops up occasionally, one of isolation or loneliness in country areas. Living in remote parts, I think, takes a lot more skill than in the town or cities, although I am sure one deals with a different sets of problems there. I have had  very busy people comment that they sometimes feel very lonely and on the surface you think how on earth could that be. But I have always thought there is a huge difference in having a friend or two as opposed to many acquaintances. Probably at this time of year with the weather so poor and the days so short then these conversations strike home harder. Here when you have a very limited number of people to choose from the social skills you have to develop to get on with people of different persuasions and views have to be far greater than, say, in town when you would cross the street given the choice. Also when in the same company one tends to assume you know the people better than you do so are surprised when some one comes out with a “lonely” statement. Little bit aware of it as I reckon on a little SAD myself. Dead easy to hide but you know you are not nearly as tolerant as normal and have to walk away rather than get too involved in other people’s grumps and problems. Dougal does not appear to have any bad weather influences, off on a 6 hour jaunt on Monday evening, being returned home at 2.30 in the morning by Kenny G. Very interested in some moles that are along the school fence and generally enjoying life.


Another short painting session at the toilets and it’s is just about there with mirror, toilet roll holders up and gloss appearing on some of the wood work.Another windy day


although glimpses of sun made the beechwood look fresh.


Little bit of wood chopping and again today, a bit of cutting and chopping. Weather continues to be pretty awful although today was not as bad….not good for a single-handed wee boat. Forecast for another howler tonight. It does get into to your head and I think this will be my last winter with out the Light. There have been blinks of light,



spectacular in some cases



and the last two episodes of Borgen to see so it is not all bad.

Nipped up to the Heritage Centre for Gordon to scan a couple of photos for me I had found that coincided with the Focus in last weeks WHFP. They show my uncle Kenny Gollan with a couple of his teams based at Balmacara House


and were taken just before the formation of the Kinlochshiel shinty club in 1958. These were taken in 1952. I am assuming that they were both taken in the same year as Kenny is wearing the tie and suit. Do not know any of the guys but they would be around 80 if still around. Intrigued by the screen saver on Gordon’s computer showing, among others, my Dad looking as though he had just joined Applecross Primary School making it approximately 1922.


Storm and After.

Despite feeling a bit shaded, accept it is the time of year and weather, although yesterday’s storm has abated. The rollers are still coming down the Sound and twenty years ago I would have set off for a challenging day at sea, but sense prevails and the wind and sea is forecast to continue to decline. Mid afternoon and it seems to be doing just that. Things to do up here are never hard to find, it is just the energy and will to do them. Yesterday was an excuse day and enduring a storm from the north is one of the extremes we have to put up with. Gusting storm force easily.





On the early morning dog preamble I noticed a splash of spray on the Sound and could barely make out a ship heading north butting into the storm. I nipped back in to see if I could get a zoom shot on the boat but she disappeared in a squall and when I saw her again she was making south having turned around. Checked up on AIS when I came home and sure enough. Do not think the Ronja Commander has done that very often as she ploughs her way up and down the Fish Farm supply route. Made it out with the dogs with the intention of filling the van with some seaweed from the Bay but the height of the storm saw that off. Not too much storm damage due to the direction rather than the strength of the wind. A bit more easterly and there would have been more disruption.


Evening was a gentle shift at the Inn and although the Inn was full there were very few others out dining. Enjoyed a bit of banter with the German Geordie. Also had an interesting chat with an SSE chappie who was working at the Corriemoillie sub station installation and giving him a moan about our own connection problems. Very sympathetic and told me the list of works on the grid is stretching out of sight. But the big developments seem to be getting priority, no surprise there then. Talking to Robert, who is developing his croft at Milton, about a meeting they had this week. It is the planting that is going to be taking place behind Tor Mor as part of the ALPS. Around six hectares of broadleaf planting for the future, turning barren, bracken infested ground into a native broadleaf forest.


Not a bad scheme for a group of crofters to get involved in. Over time I am sure there will be managed grazing animals wandering about a much improved landscape, better than the overgrazed wasteland of today.  And of course, as I was working, finished off the night with a golden syrup/blackcurrant/raspberry ripple ice cream.

Nice variety to the day as it was off down to the pier to do some creel sorting and get the seaweed under way. Had to put something in the back of the van to justify the run down the road.


Then it was down to the shop with the Dog family where I got the boost of the day. Stopped to have a chat and was very pleasantly surprised about the comments about the Blog. A lady from Deep South who has a long connection with Applecross and also who has been going through difficult times told me that the Posts from here helped. It was obvious through the conversation that the connection is very deep and the Gaelic phrase/question came to mind “Where do you belong?” and not the less important one “Where are you from?” Thinking about it I was saying exactly the same thing to the German Geordie last night. He had been in Newcastle for ten years and the pull of “home” was getting weaker. Friends remain the same even from distance but he was saying he belonged in Newcastle. I laugh after having one of these conversations, although I do look around a bit first. Not to lose sight of the difficulties the front page of the WHFP has a story of how the smaller 20kw turbines put up by communities are causing severe amounts of hassle. Firms going under and technically sub standard units paid for. As if life is not hard enough….Filling Station. Seaweed off loaded and on a couple of the beds. Dougal and his Mum, Eilidh rodent hunting industriously on the other side of the road.


The usual ever-changing back drop where the Cullin shows a blink of sun on her


or the shafts of light coming through the cloud as a back light for Ardban.


Some more minutes to do before the evening shift so this will be finished later tonight.

Another easy winter shift. Good to see John and Lorna back up for a few days. Interesting topics at the end of the shift. So fishing tomorrow. Crazy but really looking forward to it.

Applecrosslife Meets Endoftheroad

Every now and again you have a day that looking back on it seems almost as though it did not happen, but this morning the body says it did. But Wednesday first, spent the day buzzing about on the bike, Pier, shop, Estate office, Inn, with mixed results. Washed a fleet of creels


and had a good evening shift although at this time of year finding people seats are slightly harder as dinners are slower to move, which is fair enough.

Yesterday was a day, when not going fishing was a no brainer, and such a right decision. If I had gone fishing then it would have been enjoyable, made a little money but maybe not too remarkable. Instead I was at the Pier where I took on board a couple of day trippers, Jill and Kenny


along with George and Sean plus bikes and headed off to Raasay for a Community adventure.


Always good to see others plying an honest trade on the water.


With a fleet of creels on board that was shot on the way over we made it over to tie up alongside the new pier by about elevenish, seeing Simon safely anchored in Churchton Bay,


and after making sure of directions, Sean and I headed off up to Arnish on the bikes. Not before seeing the Raasay House activities in full swing.http://www.raasay-house.co.uk/


Directions were asked from the Postie who turns out to be Barbara, Paul’s http://lifeattheendoftheroad.wordpress.com/ partner and our destination. Small world which got even smaller when I stopped off at the water plant construction where there are three new turbines.


Got chatting to Hughie Mackay whose partner is Joan and who was LDO in Raasay but only for a short time. He just said it “was too close to home”. Made me think even more that our Board, including me, should have defended our LDO,Alison from the attacks she has to suffer. Sometimes the niceties of living in small communities prevent you from saying what you really think of some unpleasant people. Also tells me that although under huge amount of stress she is still battling on. Today it the AGM of the HSCHT. Also chatted about the Applecross/Raasay connections of old. His family was the Maclennans from Fearnmore. Connections that we are now remaking, there is nothing new. Contentious issue for some people but not for me, I think these turbines can be beautiful and useful. People complain that renewable energy is so expensive but if we stop and think how expensive fossil fuels are in the long run they may turn out to be very, very cheap. Environmental damage is not costed in to our fossil fuel consumption and our legacy is our children have to clean up our mess. I watch with disbelief some of the objections to the Coigach Turbine planning application. This is a community who over the years have battled to get a valuable renewable resource up and running to regenerate a community. When it is built it will be worth going to see it and knowing what it is for and where the money is going would be inspirational for many other fragile communities to do the same in their patch whether, hydro or wind. A far different cry from the millions of pounds of subsides that disappear into corporate and land holders pockets. These hard-fought for community projects are worth the pain of development for the communities involved and hopeful will help them to sustainably regenerate into the future. More power to places like the Coigach in their efforts.

Back to yesterday, cycling north was simply wonderful.




Just by chance when I uploaded this picture ,was it the view of Portree,or the cow but no, when you look closely in the hills above the town there stands a lovely wind turbine.I had been up here before by car but biking it was so different, views and time to think were cleansing although at the north end,




all I was thinking off was the impossibly steep hills on the way back!!

A wee story told by a relative of Calum’s wife that in no way is meant to be disrespectful both in the telling and retelling. Calum died very suddenly while working on a drystane wall at his house. The only way that his widow could get him in to the house was to lift him on to his wheel barrow and take him inside. I wonder if that is the same wheel barrow.

Arrived at Paul’s in good condition due to the electric bike and Paul arrived not long after, having given Simon a lift up to the top with the cabinet. He loaded me up with a few bits and bobs and I set off up following the cable to the top.


Could not help thinking of Paul and helpers paying out the 1080 metres of cable for us. I am utterly grateful for all his efforts. Hard graft. By the time I got to the top to meet up with Simon of Hebnethttp://www.tegola.org.uk/hebnet/ I was knackered. While I was there Simon took a couple of calls,


the first from Paul asking if the power was connected ok and it was, this being the north end of Raasay I saw Paul strategically standing on the rear end of his ATV parked only where he knew he would get a connection, the second was from Ian, later ferry but all sorted at Portree. Slick operation in the wilds.


But the beauty of the place is wonderful.



The only downside to the day was the tight schedule as I was working at 6pm. So leaving Simon drilling into the rock,


meeting up with Paul it was slightly hairy getting a lift down the hill. Back down as Ian, from Rhum, arrived from the AROS centre having finished the installation there. It was going to take an hour to set up the three dishes before taking them up so it was back on the bikes leaving three good men to finish the installation. Only regret was not being able to stay and help more, just being around people like Simon, Ian and Paul is uplifting. Found out the hard way that not having a fully charged battery on the bike makes for a broken man syndrome. By the time I got out of Arnish and made it to the top of the many hills back on the West side I was broken. But an hour and a half after leaving we were back at the boat just half an hour behind schedule. Bikes loaded, quicker than some people, but better safe than sorry,


coming back on board on the lower tide. and away we went, glass calm and easy to spot the two dolphin pods, one breaking away to come and play briefly with us,


talk about a special day. Good to see some feeding on the bait balls on the way home.


Before I headed up the road, an all too brief chat with Grieg and yet another photo.


Parachuted into work a half hour behind schedule, but even tonight felt wonderful as this is another community I enjoy. Lots of twenty-minute/half hour conversations about broadband, community, the  indefinable specialness of Applecross, otters, fishing, local politics, land reform, all with people I regard as friends, whether I see them again or not. Last night they belonged to Applecross but came from Chicago, Germany, America, Milton, and all over Scotland and England.

Stopped to read Maggie Cunningham’s lovely tribute to her mother-in-law, Alice Byrne, in the WHFP and poignant memories of a way of life going by. I have happy memories of going down to Station Road and always being made welcome at Alice’s being on the same class as Phyllis, also no longer with us. If we still remember those good people they will always be alive. Maggie talked about Alice being in the centre of things telling the tale of the crofter finally going to London but glad to get back home to “the centre of things”. I know what she means. And although I am off to Lombardy today for a week my heart will always be at the centre of things. Had a wee chat in the Inn about how it is important to always look and see how others do things in their communities, always things to learn. The comment came back that not only is it important it is crucial so I am off.

Letters, petitions and much energy expended by some.

Health all good again and have another couple of shifts under my belt at the Inn. Saturday evening was a very enjoyable one and would you believe it busy. At one stage we opened up the dinning room but customers decided to wait so they could sit by the fire. There was a couple from Whitby that reckoned I was more stressed out than they were about them finding a seat for their dinner. It means there a is a good banter and rapport by the end of the evening and they and me are very relaxed by the end of the evening. There were a couple of tables I had to ask to move for people so they could eat but luckily I knew them from my ever-expanding networks of ,hotel work, fishing, local politics and community “stuff”. And they got to sit by the fire half an hour later and all ends well. They are usually so happy with the good atmosphere, food and ambience that every one wants every one else to be content. it is such a simple way to live but can only be carried out in trusting company.

Local politics are back on the agenda and it would not be an honest blog if I ignored them. I knew there was a letter going to be sent to the press today and it was to be a rehash of the “confidential petition” that was selectively circulated round some of the community although I did not know it was to carry signatures,eight, with no surprises Like the “petition”I found the letter strange and was fairly irrelevant to everything that is being discussed about land reform,community survival both on a local and national level. It was the first “petition” I have ever heard of that was confidential but it was n’t and it’s only purpose was to gather as many signatures as possible so it ended up being very garbled. I do like discussion and argument but on an intelligent level and I am more than happy for people to disagree with me. It is a shame that the petitioners have completely missed the point of both the campaign and the role of the Community Company and the Community Council in the community. Usually when things get personal I know I am on safe ground because there is not a lot of logic in the opposing argument. Although some of what has been going on in the community has at times been fairly stressful I have to accept that as I have put my head over the parapet and expect the pelters coming my way. But as I have said before and will say again no one has come to me to complain that I am involved with running the Filling Station, or taking over and refurbishing the public toilets,or helping set up an income generating hydro scheme, or ,as announced, being picked by the Scottish Govt as one of six areas to drastically improve our broadband. For obvious reasons we chose particular sites to upgrade as part of a pilot scheme and the schoolhouse was one,even simple things like iplayer is now accessible for people working irregular hours,and our community has been recognised at national level as one that is positive and proactive. There is another announcement pending which we hope by the end of next year Applecross may have an 18 meg system. That is what we are aiming at. This is supported by the Community Council. At present the Company is involved in reinstating the pier at the Coal Shed so large numbers of artics do not truck wood out over the Coast road but is taken away by sea transport and we are left with a rebuilt vernacular pier that was a unloading point in the past for coal and other supplies brought in by sea. Even I am impressed by how much has been done in such a short time, and this does not include the toddlers play park and Doctor’s campaign, First Responders. Actually I am proud of this community and I am really sorry to have missed AppleX Factor as that appears to have been another example of what I am talking about.

I have often talked about the list above and it will only grow as the next generation come through and take over the reins set up in the last 3/4 years and as people realise that, with a little confidence, they will get involved and the capacity of this community will continue to grow. So with this in mind I turn to the Land Reform Scotland campaign, which does not change any of my views. I want to make it clear that I read The Guardian on Saturday and the WHFP on a Thursday, I don’t read the Telegraph or The Daily Mail although it is good that other people do for a bit of righter wing balance, just saying this so people know where I am coming from. Over the years I have read Who own’s Scotland and more recently The Poor Had No Lawyers, also Soil and Soul and enjoyed and got frustrated by the story of how the land was taken from the people who lived on it over the centuries but latterly this is changing and in many cases the land is being returned. Latest being the Island of Scalpay. What I really object to is this attack on our institutions to get to my own personal views. If people object so strongly to them that they have to go to the national press to miscall our Council and Company just to get at me, well I thought that some of those that signed this “petition” were better than that. A tweet stream tonight was going on about how the LAS statement in response to todays letter was not factual because two individuals had prior warning of the campaign. I am a little surprised that the letter/”petition” is being defended in this way as it fails on so many levels to make much sense. Surely if one is against LAS there are better arguments than the misleading aspersions to the the ones circulated in the letter. I suppose I have better “local” knowledge of who is involved but then I could not and do not comment on other communities until I get insights from people living there. How can anyone sign a “petition” supporting a strategic long-term plan that no one ,to my knowledge, has seen. To make it as clear as I can one of my crimes is that I met Andy Wightman in Lochcarron and was given prior warning of the LAS campaign, the most important part of this is the info was given in confidence and for me that is important. Over the years here I have been in the same situation several times and that confidence when asked for has never been broken. I went to Lochcarron as an individual, not as a director or councillor and believe we have moved on from the olden days when we had to be subservient in order to receive the patronage of the laird. This is 2012 for goodness sake. But as ever I am fortunate to be here now and this is only a tiny blip in the timeless history of Applecross. When I was on the “Forgotten” path the other day I listened to Darrell Scott’s Open Door on the ipod,brilliant. Just put it on again and it is a fine way to end a day along with the surprising release of writing this blog.

West Highland Free Press stories and local colour

Three articles in the WHFP this week caught the eye and go to the very crux of the current debate on the survival of rural communities. The first being the West Harris Trust erecting a 5 kilowatt turbine to supply their school with electricity and excess to the grid. This is action on the ground taken with the hope that they not only can save their school but turn round the decline of the school roll. They are down to 6. The Trust have a target of increasing their population by 50% partly by providing affordable housing and the retention of the school is an integral part of this laudable ambition. We then move on to Scalpay, Harris where they are discussing whether to go ahead with a community buyout. This has come out of the blue and they have not suffered from a bad landlord, but they have lived through a generation of decline, both economically and socially. I found some of the stats staggering like the absence of pre school children, primary school already closed. This is on an island which had a population of 600 post WWII declining to approximately 300 now. Fishing industry devastated and the bridge built to the “mainland” of Harris along with increased education and communication opportunities seem to have all contributed to this decline. A further list too long to repeat is quite startling but also the comments from a resident, Donald Macdonald, who stated that if people had not come into the island to live the situation would be even worse. One of the possibilities is they go into partnership with the North Harris Trust which has a completely different set of figures from Scalpay since 2003 when they took over the community. The article finishes on a positive note saying that the possible buy-out is giving a boost to people to start doing things for themselves. They did in the past but have suffered from a generational “brain drain” which has diminished this in recent times. The third story that caught the eye was the future funding of the Comhairle nan Eilean Sar, The Western Isles Council, which is facing larger than average spending cuts as they are based on population figures. They are expecting a cut of 6% over two years but at the same time are experiencing larger costs because of an ageing profile in the community. Although it was a party political article the facts remained the same and , to be honest I was less interested in who was to blame than the fact that it was taking place.In the same vein I saw a fb post urging people to buy local,from the neighbour who makes jewellery or crafts,local food from the croft or veg from some one’s plot, home baking and not to send the dosh outside the community to some faceless multi national that only exists to make more money from you than the last time they did. Money kept circulating locally is worth far more than that which is earned and disappears into anonymous coffers. More and more people are getting interested in looking after their own, not at the expense of any one else but alongside each other.

It was with this in mind as I headed of to work at the Inn, expecting a routine that is to say quiet evening. Quick look round the bar and the bookings for the evening dispelled that notion. It still never ceases to amaze me about this place. At one stage we had 14 customers waiting for seats, admittedly almost every one wanted to eat in the bar and not the small dinning room. But still, a thursday evening in November with very inclement weather outside….. The Hill was almost impassable and we had to advise the family heading back to Onich to go back round the coast as the Hill was treacherous. With everyone fed and watered I got into a discussion about what is happening here and the future of the community. Lots of little snippets of gossip to keep the conversation going but the theme was the same and I mentioned some of the above and the way some people misrepresent what you say and mean. The Applecross population IS in decline,IS getting older,school roll IS in decline,PO hours ARE getting less,services ARE getting harder to maintain, far less improve, and me saying that we need 100 more people living here to keep this community viable in often met with 50 shades of horror, what would they do? where would they live? and the slightly dodgy view of would they be undesirable? whatever that means. I look around Applecross and see people not “incomers” just people who are prepared to live here and take part in this community. After all I suspect that if we went back far enough everyone “came in”, it is just not an issue. The issue is we need more and all that would do is to sustain numbers not create the implied imbalance that people use in their arguments against this as an aim. This does appear very negative but there is no point in “ochoning”,saying it’s not the way it used to be and putting our heads in the sand. The question of what people would do is answered with the fact that there is almost 100% employment here all be it not in some people’s chosen field of work. There are many basic trades that are missing and many of the new opportunities will now become available if our broadband plans come to fruition. Watch this space. I think that is the essence of the Community Company , to create the structure that allows people to prosper in a sustainable way within the area. The trick is combining “old wisdom” and new technologies in a way that is sustainable and does little disruption to the environment. Proof reading, making ice cream, having a hen care home is a classic example of this. It also means that a house my grandfather, my dad, and I lived in is still “alive” and guys that want to live here and contribute to the community can. The only way that happened was me not selling to the highest bidder and again to me that is worth far more than a few quid. Doing that on a community level is going to be far trickier and needs a mindset change but maybe …… This has all got a bit serious so back to the beauty of living here.Yesterday while taking Dougal and family up the Glen the larch plantation was looking so bright after the rare summer we had. And a couple of weeks ago on the way home this rowan,growing almost on a rock, caught my eye in the evening sun at Ardhu.For those following the competition, Pakistan arrived last night .

Feeling a little bit bruised but never bowed.

Firstly I would like to thank all the folk who have expressed their support for me as a person. Most folk I am acquainted with or friends with know that I do not seek the attention I have received over the last two or three weeks. My grandfather was given a croft in Toscaig over  100 years ago, he was welcomed into this community and from what I have heard about his life he returned that many times over. Although I know I fall far short of this in many aspects of my life that is what I aspire to, simply to be kind to others. The debate I had when starting a blog with Sam was great but the full implications have hit home recently. I do not regret anything I have written and, as said before, these are my views. Having just read an article in the WHFP I felt the familiar feeling of “oh no what now”. But having re read it the only thing that was missing and is important was the end of my reply to the question did I agree with Brian Wilson’s article the previous week. I quoted from a letter written by John Wills and ended by saying the enquiry had to be directed to the Trust as I could not answer it. I have picked up a lot of different comments and arguments over the past three weeks and most are very emotional. I had a very interesting conversation this morning with some one who is reading about this aspect of decision-making and had an interesting way of saying that most decisions we make are emotional and we then spend an enormous amount of time and intellect trying to justify them. The one thing I have never defended at anytime is the status quo because I do not think it is sustainable. There have been huge changes over the past 30 years that I have lived here. On the positive side there is a community pier, a community hall, healthy heritage centre and many other groups but against that you look at the school role of 8, an ageing population alongside a falling population, crisis campaigns to re install our PO and keep our medical services. Most people who live here love this place and regard it as the Sanctuary,some who have lived here all their lives may not desire the changes that have taken place since growing up here and many who have come in see Applecross as a Sanctuary from the outside world and may not want anything to change from when they first came, all perfectly understandable. The fact of the matter is Applecross is not and never has been divorced from the outside world. In the past the change has come slower due to its isolation. Possibly one of the problems in recent times has been the speeding up of communication systems and globalisation has opened up the area so much to visitors who appreciate the peninsula and are welcomed in as an important part of the economy. But part of the process I see is the increasing vulnerability of communities such as Applecross due to events outside our control. Climate change, food and fuel poverty but there are many people living here who believe that we have the solutions within this community and that is why the Community Company is working with the Trust in trying to secure a viable wood supply for the community. I accept the fact that the Trust has been set up with objectives which involve culture, heritage and the environment and trustees draw a distinct line between that and the social and economic needs of the community. I have argued with the Trustees that this is a false demarcation and there has to be a coming together of all these objectives.Sustainable development is in the remit of the Community Company and needs more support from the Trust. I do not think you can isolate the culture of this place from the economic and social needs of the people, maybe this is the root of our problems. I think this is the only criticism of the Trust that I have voiced.

On a practical point I have asked the link to my blog to be removed from the Community Company website. This blog has never been the spoken word of the Company and was fairly safe up until this political turn of events and it also keeps me free to express my views about life, fishing and community in the NW of Scotland, and I thought …….but so glad of the SEA course and the guys who were on it as it keeps me with a sense of realism.

I am not fearful of any campaign whether inside or outside Applecross and find the whole subject of land and land reform fascinating and I know this will not go away. There are many rumours, maybe even a petition to sign, and lots of opinions swirling around and I actually think this a good sign that the community is alive and kicking. This is what happened when the Community company was formed and since then we have a Community run Filling Station, just about to refurbish the Toilets and set up a pilot Community Broadband system, with the Hydro scheme making progress and looking at Toscaig pier and the surgery grounds, all for the benefit of the community and whatever happens this will continue. Very slowly the Community Company is increasing its capacity with more people actively joining in, the latest example being the sub committee to roll out the broadband throughout the rest of the community.

And you know, life goes on, with the fishing still holding up, a lovely day on the water on Tuesday with another hoped for tomorrow. It is good to get out there to get a proper perspective on things. Even living in such a beautiful place like this we do seem to complicate our lives so much but a day at sea seems to settle things down. It is a pity that it is raining hard today or I would be out watching my bees going about their business.Lovely black bees who seem to have settled into their new home. They are feeding well having scoffed 4 kilo of sugar since arriving in Applecross.

Not so good news on the hen front and I have admit temporary defeat at the hands of the pine marten. We were woken up to the screams of one of our remaining 3 and although rushing out at 2 am was unable to save her. Found lots of spraints around the house has meant that we have a pine marten that is practically resident with us. The remaining 2 have been taken down to the hen care home in Toscaig where hopefully they will have a happy life in amongst their new mates.

Speaking of which Aron, the ice cream man, is now finding it hard to keep up with demand at the Inn. Thetubs of ice cream are disappearing as fast as they are being made and are receiving as much praise as other excellent dishes. Had  milk chocolate and apple and bramble scoops last night for my “staff drink”. Sublime.

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