Morvern Lines – 7.5.20

Is the Corran ferry to be replaced by a tunnel or a bridge? If so how will it be funded in a global recession? Photograph Iain Thornber

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This week’s Morvern Lines is something of a mixed bag – others might say a bit of a burach but I hope it will be of interest.

On the back of my recent columns on eagles and adders, an Outer Isles correspondent writes: ‘I recall a story about my great grandfather, who was sole tenant of the Island of Wiay on the east side of Benbecula, finding a lamb among his flock of 450 sheep, that had someone else’s ear mark. His were the only sheep on the island and he knew that the ear mark did not belong to any neighbours on mainland Benbecula. The conclusion was that an eagle, of which there were a number nesting in the area, had carried the lamb across the Minch from Skye.

‘Then, just yesterday, a lady who was born and brought up in North Uist, mentioned among other things, a story told by her late father about an infant being buried close to a turf dyke between Carinish and Eaval. The infant had apparently been found there after being carried away from his or her mother by a golden eagle’.

The story of the incident on Wiay reminded me of finding a fresh smoult in Kiel graveyard about a mile above Lochaline. Scratching my head as to how on earth it could have got there, a helicopter flew overhead with a bucket suspended below it taking young fish from a fresh water station to a fish farm in the Sound of Mull. Either the fish was unusually lively or the bucket was so full that it flopped out. Whatever it was a tasty morsel.

The Canadian government is assisting thousands of salmon to overcome an impassable waterfall blocking the route to their spawning grounds, above. Why can’t Scottish river owners do their bit?

On the subject of fish, I have just read how the Canadian government is helping thousands of sockeye and chinook salmon to overcome an impassable waterfall blocking the route to their spawning grounds on the Fraser River in British Columbia. Fears of local extinction have grown since a massive rock fall creating a 20ft cataract that the fish are unable to leap. New technology in the form of a gigantic cannon has been ingeniously placed through which the fish will be propelled out of and over the waterfall, tails flapping, to continue upstream unharmed. Just what is required on many Highland rivers to improve the fishing. Trust the New World to come up with a solution while we Brits continue to sit and grumble.

I mentioned adders on Carna, Loch Sunart, in my column of April 30 forgetting that I had had a letter published sometime ago about Willie Mackay, the island’s late tenant, losing a cow with a suspected adder bite to the udder.

This brought a personal letter from Michael Carmichael, the well kent Fort William vet, who wrote: ‘I was surprised to see a statement attributed to you that a number of people have lost cows in the peninsula through adder bites during the past 50 years. In the 35 years from 1947, during which I ran the practice, I do not remember any authenticated cases of adder bite in cows, and certainly no deaths. Some cases of acute mastitis were wrongly blamed on adder bite, but none were bitten on the face, which is where it would be suspected in a grazing animal. In this time I remember two cases of adder bite in dogs, both on the face, but neither fatal.

‘It is generally recognised that an adder bite is not strong enough to kill anything larger than a child or a dog – not even a man, let alone a cow. I know that unscientific farmers are much inclined to attribute sudden death or illness to exotic causes. If you have any reliable reports of cattle being killed, or even affected by adder bite I should be really interested to hear about them.’

The first cuckoo was heard in Morvern at least a week earlier this year. So far they have never failed to turn up despite having to brave thunderstorms and sandstorms during their 4,000 mile journey from West Africa.
We know from the British Trust for Ornithology’s nine-year tagging study, that one made the flight in only seven days instead of the customary two to three weeks. Carlton II, who is at least two years old, was tagged in 2018.

The tracking study, which started in 2011, is providing ornithologists with an insight into the migratory cycle to better understand the rapid decline of the species. Apparently Britain has lost three quarters of its breeding cuckoos. Even if they do get on your nerves with their constant calling, enjoy the sound, make the most of it, they may not be around for very much longer. Doubtless global warming will be blamed, but I think it is the loss of their favoured habitat to great swathes of all enveloping and destructive commercial forestry practice.

Writing this on May 1 reminds me of my grandmother who knew all the old customs associated with that date but there is one in particular I will never forget.

Some of the oldest May Day traditions are connected with dew. According to folklore, dew on May 1 has magical properties and anyone who washes their face in it will have a flawless complexion for the remainder of the year.
Well no amount of face-washing in May ever did anything for my face over the years but I still do it, although on one occasion I wished I’d forgotten. It so happened I was in central London when I suddenly remembered Granny’s words. But where was I going to find a nice piece of grass? Walking along Euston Road I spied an open gate leading into a postage-stamp sized lawn. Hallelujah! I shot in, wiped my hands across the moist grass, applied it, then shot out again but not before catching sight of a very large tom cat sitting grinning at me!

Now that a proposal to build a tunnel or a bridge to replace the popular and much loved ferry plying between Nether Lochaber and Ardgour has presented itself again, a head line in a national newspaper caught my attention, ‘Land wobble may be early warning of huge quakes’. Apparently earth scientists have recorded unusual shifts in the earth’s tectonic plates worldwide which accounted for the quake and tsunami that killed more than 15,000 people in 2011 and led to the Fukushima nuclear disaster.

ny fixed-link over Loch Linnhe, of which the Corran Narrows form a part, crosses the Great Glen Fault. The fault has a long movement history and although it is mostly inactive today, occasional moderate tremors have been recorded over the past 150 years which meant that seismic buffers had to be built into the Kessock Bridge carrying the A9 out of Inverness.
The Highland Council’s consultant engineers are in denial about seismic activity being a problem at Corran, but I know how I would prefer to be crossing the narrows should there be an earthquake even if the old ferry does needs a rest now and again – at least I can get onto a life-raft and make for the shore.