Morvern Lines with Iain Thornber – week 22

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What’s doing in Morvern?’ is the first question I am always asked when I call on an old friend from the parish, now living between Ballachulish and Oban.

Although Jay enjoys getting news from home through the Argyll talking newspaper, she also likes to hear of the things which don’t make the headlines.

Based in Ardrishaig, this wonderful group, staffed by 16 volunteers, sends out weekly recordings of local newspapers, including The Oban Times, to more than 150 people who cannot see as well as they used to. So, to my friend and other exiles, here is an open letter to let you know what’s happening, mundane and otherwise, in one of the loveliest parts of Argyll.

Dear Jay: Morvern, along with Tobermory and Seil Island, now has a St Ayles skiff (pronounced Saint Isles) named the Witches of Morvern after the waterfalls between Ardtornish Point and Inniemore Bay.

Launched a few weeks ago from the Lochaline moorings by local entrepreneur Lesley Jones, it is a four-oared rowing boat, designed by Iain Oughtred and inspired by the traditional Fair Isle skiff. The boat’s hull and frames are built using clinker plywood and measures 22ft with a beam of 5ft 8in. It is normally crewed by four sweep rowers with a coxswain.

The boat design was commissioned by the Scottish Fisheries Museum in 2009 as a vessel for use in the Scottish Coastal Rowing Project. It is suitable for construction by community groups and amateur boat builders.

By 2017, more than 200 of them had been built worldwide, mostly by communities around the Scottish coast but increasingly by groups elsewhere, including England, Northern Ireland, the United States, Australia and New Zealand.

With a double-ended hull and relatively wide beam, the St Ayles skiff, which is owned by the Morvern Sailing Club, is a stable and seaworthy boat well able to cope with Mull’s mighty sound.

The midsummer muster of the Royal Highland Sailing Club this year will be held at the Loch Aline pontoons on June 30. I am a little disappointed that it isn’t to be in Loch Teacuis, which was suggested a few years ago.

The charts of today are so accurate, entering the loch through the Carna Narrows on a rising tide would have been challenging but possible. As you may remember when you were the teacher at Claggan School, the late Commander Archibald Colville, Rahoy, owned a lovely trimaran called the Victress of Rahoy in which he and his family used to regularly negotiate the Carna Narrows.

That, of course, was in the days before satnav and chart plotters, yet this 40ft x 21ft beauty, drawing 3ft 6in and, with no reverse gearbox, came and went without misadventure.

Commander Colville’s family owned David Colville and Sons Ltd, the well-known Scottish iron and steel company.

Through this association, innovative metal fluorescent road signs, which swivelled with the currents, were named and fixed to many of the rocks and skerries in the neighbourhood to determine the vessel’s exact position, even in the dark. Tom, Archie Colville’s son, tells me he spent many hours at low tide armed with a hammer and chisel attempting to create holes into which the poles could been fastened.

Staying on matters nautical, a coastal vessel called Red Princess is shipping Armour stone from Glensanda to Rum, which I imagine is being used to build or lengthen a new pier.

The Morvern allotments opposite the Lochaline School, are a hive of activity with 24 members getting ready for the summer.

A plant sale was held the other day to help raise money for a second poly-tunnel, a clay-oven for barbecues and another wood and turf shelter.

The old sand mine cubicles and recreation hut are to be replaced by a community business hub containing a gym, offices with wi-fi and an exhibition area, near the Lochaline Stores along with six two-bedroomed cottages and sites for a further three self-build houses close by and behind the petrol station.

With all the waste land in and around the village, questions are being asked why all this is being crammed into such a small area and why Lochaline needs a business hub and not, for example, a drop-in cafe, but of course you will never please everyone!

Two local girls, Heather and Sarah, are lumbering up for a marathon in New York on November 24 to raise money for breast cancer (http://walkthewalkamerica.com). If you, or any of your friends, would like to sponsor them or make a donation, contact Lochaline Stores on 01967 421220.

Cattle straying onto the busy A884 and breaking into the Morvern games field, are becoming a nuisance, not only to the travelling public but the organisers of the annual games who spent many hours last year preparing the site for what has become the major event of the year and only a few
weeks away.

Overseas visitors on the ancestral trail have started to arrive and have been less than impressed finding sheep lying on their family graves.

Lochaline silica sand mine employs 23 local men and women. Photograph Iain Thornber
Lochaline silica sand mine employs 23 local men and women. Photograph Iain Thornber

The sand mine goes from strength to strength. Lochaline Quartz Sand Ltd owns the site, which produces high quality silica sand for the glass industry, and continues to invest in the business and now employs 23 local people. The output in the past two yours has been around 81,00 tonnes, which is taken to Runcorn in a dedicated ship.

The Morvern peninsula carries on producing ever more hydro electric schemes – some say too many and that enough is enough to prevent the area from becoming an industrial yard. There are dams, intakes and unsightly access roads, some worse than others as well as turbine sheds at Kinlochteacuis, Carnoch (four) Savary Glen, Kingairloch (four), Ardtornish (five), Killmalieu (two), Laudale (three) and talk of more.

The two new villages at Achnaha and Achabeg continue to grow.

The A884, between Lochaline and Carnoch bridge, the B8043 from Inversanda to Tor na Cabar, the B849 Lochaline to Drimnin and the Caggan to Kinlochteacuis roads are in a very poor state. Not only are they badly pot-holed but their foundations are sinking. It remains to be seen where the cash-strapped Highland Council is going to find the money to repair them.

The problem is there are too many long, heavy-laden, articulated lorries with trailers, more suited for the A9, using them.

There is only one solution and that is for the Highland Council to reduce the weight limits by 50 per cent. No doubt it suits the hauliers to pile as much equipment and materials on one truck and trailer rather than spread it over two.

Cuckoos have been more numerous than I can ever remember and call incessantly from dawn until dusk.

 Deer are dying because they have lost their winter shelter to new woodlands
Deer are dying because they have lost their winter shelter to new woodlands

The roadside banks are covered in primroses and other wild flowers which are the best I’ve seen for years. The grass on the hill, however, has been slow, due to the cold and wet weather. That, and the loss of their traditional winter shelter to badly planned woodland blocks, probably accounts for the great losses among the deer this spring and not, as someone has suggested, because their numbers are too high.

Iain Thornber

iain.thornber@btinternet.com