Life at the end of the road

November 27, 2011

We have it so easy :-)

Filed under: daily doings, life off grid, pigs, stonework, weather — lifeattheendoftheroad @ 11:31 pm

For all I know Thursday could have been a far worse day than Saturday, but as I was in a centrally heated house I wouldn’t know. Yesterday however we were outside receiving at first hand all mother nature had to offer, and it was not pleasant 😦 It was in fact a pure sh1t of a day from beginning to end, probably not the wettest but that hardly seemed to make any difference, for even when it wasn’t actually raining the icy wind was charged with moisture and salt.

However, having just been reminded last night in the ‘Calum’s road’ play of what one man could do with just a few basic tools no matter what the weather, I wasn’t going to let that put me off. Of course my ‘willing helpers’ with the enthusiasm of youth would have followed me in a blizzard but I’m past all that. I had much to do before I left for dry dock on Tuesday and sitting in the toasty house would not get it done 🙂

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The first job (after feeding) being to take the three ‘wheelie bins’ a mile along the road to the old quarry at Tarbert as the cattle grid there is still out of commission.

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A cattle grid that Calum himself had to install because the council wouldn’t, the coal lorry can just about pass with difficulty, the bin lorry cannot get past, there’s no chance of the gritter getting through and I’ve a lorry coming on Monday to collect a 7.5ton digger. Of course the first heavy snow is forecast for next Saturday and Sunday when wifey has to take three pigs to slaughter and within the next couple of weeks I’ve barn arriving 😦

It’s a boodly disgrace and an insult to the man that toiled for years on this stretch of road that is now a national treasure. The stuff of legend, folklore, song, book, theatre and probably film yet it’s deteriorating with every passing car and shower of rain. Just wait until the first frost and snow arrive, I know there’s not much ‘money in the pot’ but much of this degradation could have been avoided with some of these.

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A pick, a shovel and a friggin wheelbarrow, oh and some common sense, instead of sending a ton of tarmac over every couple of weeks on a 7m long pickup at £90+ on the ferry why not send a 10m long truck with 15 tons of the stuff on every few weeks at £200 and employ someone local to fix the fecking pot holes. With a bit of luck he’ll (or she’ll) have some of Calum Macleod’s genes anyway 🙂

Sorry about that ‘wee rant’ there, got carried away 🙂 where was I, oh the council, well we ignored the advert that they placed in the a few months ago. I wish I’d have kept it, it read something along the lines of they were refusing to lift any bins that had ‘bungee straps’ on to keep the lids closed. Now I could understand this kind of carp coming from a council in central Englandshire but this is the west coast of Scotland for friths sake, if it’s not lashed down it blows away!!!!

Sorry again, anyway the bins went south complete with ratchet straps, bungee cords and a rock on the lid for good measure but it was quite academic as the ferry never ran until 9:55 and the bin lorry never appeared 😦

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Anyway, after that we started ferrying 200lt barrels of heating oil along the track to the Old Schoolhouse at Torran. The very school that Calum’s wife Lexy taught at and the school that many of my friends studied at prior to the depopulation of the north end.

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At one time this luxurious holiday let was attended by 60 pupils, many of whom walked daily from Umachan, Kyle Rona and Fladda.

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The coal would have been brought by boat and hauled up the shore on the backs of strong men.

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Now we bring it, and the heating oil in by quad and moan about it 🙂

That took us pretty much the whole morning after which I conned my mate the modern day road builder into helping with a few jobs around the croft.

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I’ve shifted many many tons myself, just as Calum did with a barrow but hey I’m getting old now and it’s much easier with a 6ton dumper and a son with lots of friends 🙂

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And even if you make a severe ‘cock up’ like this help is never far at hand 🙂

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To pull you out of the ‘brown stuff’ and clear up the mess afterwards 🙂

After Hugh had sorted out my little disaster, and with light fading we set about moving a pig ark.

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On firm ground, with some rollers and levers these Bidgiemire insulated pig arks are quite straightforward to moved, waterlogged and stuck in peat it’s time for a digger.

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Though the ‘transporter’ did need reversing the whole way to it’s new home several hundred yards away 🙂 By the time we got the ark in position it was well dark so we called it a day leaving poor wifey to deal with the mountain of soaked and muddy clothes that found their way into the tumble drier via the washing machine.



The night was pretty wild to say the least with gale force winds not abating until dawn and a gust of almost 70mph around 22:30.


To be honest it got off to a rather unpromising start, with more rain and only slightly less wind so we were a little late in leaving the house.

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I can’t say that I was surprised to find my IBC blown off its stack of pallets, but I was amused to see it hooked on my trailer. I had intended to move it last night but got distracted by the labours of pig house moving and darkness.

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After sorting out the fuel container the next job was to clean out the ark prior to filling it with fresh bedding for the ‘spotties’ that had outgrown their half oil tank 🙂 We had actually turfed all but two of the pigs out on the hill yesterday hoping to give the croft a rest and get them settled in new accommodation but darkness falls quickly and early at this latitude so they were left to find their own shelter. Not as harsh as it sounds for there are plenty of ruins, shelter in the trees  and both Tamworth’s and ‘Old spots’ are very hardy.

The only reason that we left Rocky and Shona on the croft was to ensure that she got served, Rocky appeared to have covered her just over two weeks ago but we’ll keep them together for another cycle to make sure. Sows come on heat every 21 days, she was covered on the 11th so should come ‘on heat’ again next weekend if he’s not ‘done his stuff’. Once we’re certain he has Shona can go back to Dave and Sarah at and he can  join the herd roaming Arnish 🙂

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No not them, that’s my ‘herd’ cutting bedding on what turned out to be a rather nice day.

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This is the herd 🙂 and what a joy it was to see them all out in the sun, the three ‘spotties’, my boy riding Jamie Lee, who is around four or five times the size of the pig in the foreground. Just behind the green quad was Bramble with her three tiny piglets lost in the rushes and Bracken, the ‘boss pig’ somewhere out of sight.

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It may not require petrol but it’s just quite as manoeuvrable as a quad 🙂


Pigs really are funny creatures, Bramble (in the middle) could stay up at her own ark with her wains and get extra rations with no hassle but she prefers to be with the herd and get bullied by Bracken (far pig), Jamie Lee is normally higher in the ‘pecking order’ but is now at the bottom, probably because Bramble has piglets 🙂

In perspective

I’m quite content with my lot in life, it may seem like hard work to many, who have mains everything on tap, superfast broadband and 24 hour shopping. But it is my choice, when I was living in a corner shop in Burnley with a primary school next door, coal delivered to the door and a TV there were two families living in those ruins behind the pigs. Two more in the ruins of North Arnish in the background high above that gate, two at Torran, three or four in Fladda and a couple in South Arnish. It wasn’t the turn of the century it was the late fifties and early sixties, there was no road, no electricity and everything was carried in on someone’s back.

For years they campaigned for the road that never came until one by one they left leaving Calum to build his road in the hope the north end would once more prosper. I suppose he started his road at about the same age that I am now, just as I’m beginning to feel ‘burnt out’ and planning for retirement in ten years or so.

I’m waffling now so I’ll shut up and go to bed, it’s been a long day, by my standards at least :-)  

November 26, 2011

Stranded :-(

Filed under: daily doings, harbour — lifeattheendoftheroad @ 10:28 pm

The first real winter weather has arrived with avengance (which according to my ‘spellcheck’ is not a word) but I’m keeping it in anyway. It hit with a right bang around an hour after we left Raasay on the 9:55 ferry and is one of the reasons why there’s been little activity on the blog front, for I think that was the last but one ferry for the day. Certainly there were no more sailings from Raasay from 12:15 onwards and it left many stranded on either shore.

Still that’s one of the joys of island life and there’ve been far less disruptions and grey hairs since we moved to the new ferry terminal at Clachan. I had of course checked the forecast the night before and it didn’t seem like ferry stopping weather, but I’d failed to reassess the situation in the morning during the mad rush to 

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feed the pigs and change bedding in the arks.


An expensive rusty ladder

We arrived at the terminal just in time for the ferry and just as one of the rusty ladders was being lifted off the new pier by a very capable looking crane.


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Now I’m no expert but it struck me as a little OTT when another crane appeared to assist, how heavy can a ladder be ?? The words ‘health and safety gone mad’ spring to mind. Those ladders can’t be much more than a ton, if that, so why bring what must be an 18ton crane from the east coast ?? The world has gone mad!

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Perhaps it’s just me and I’m a dinosaur, an extinct creature that has just managed reach the ripe old age of 55 without losing any limbs just to trusting in his lucky underpants. I can’t wait to retire 🙂

The weather rapidly went downhill during the day and all the outdoor jobs like clearing the gutters and checking the water supply at my parents were put on hold. Instead I spent most of the day inside checking the sailing status and watching the fearsome hail showers and spindrift from safety of may parents toasty conservatory 🙂 If it’s bad in Loch Duich you can bet it’s horrendous at Sconser 🙂

Fortunately we’d already arranged pig feeders, had not to worry about the herd so we just made the most of it with a fish supper from Hectors 2 go and an early night at my parents. And I can’t recommend this establishment highly enough, exquisite fish, large portion, friendly service and proper mushy peas 🙂

An early night in bed followed the haddock and chips so we’d be fresh for the 6:30 start, well so wifey would be fresh, me I’m always annoyingly alive in the morning 🙂

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Sure enough at Sconser we found a good portion of Raasay natives awaiting the first sailing from Sconser, yet more causalities of the extreme weather of the previous day.

Home at last 🙂

After exchanging stories of our stranded nights with the various other Raasarians in the queue we boarded the Loch Linnhe for home. Ours was one of the more fortunate tales. One poor lassie had just ‘nipped’ over to Broadford hospital yesterday and been stranded with two children and no mobile phone 😦 She was only in hospital ten minutes and arrived back to Sconser in time for the cancelled 13:00 sailing. Having no phone or change she drove to  the in Portree, great website, no public phone 😦 Not being offered the use of their own she went to the tourist information centre, phone there but minimum of 60p she didn’t have 😦 Fortunately she met a former Raasay resident in the Portree Co Op who gave her and her two children a bed for the night.

The other stranded travellers included much of the cast from who had been booked into the for the night prior to the performance. Just as well they weren’t on Raasay for I think the place was full of storm bound workers 🙂


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Very emotional

It wasn’t much and it was probably hail not snow but it was white and it was on Raasay 😦

We finally arrived at the end of ‘Calum’s road’ to a hungry herd at around 9:30 and after feeding them and myself I attacked the wife’s car. Or to be more precise, set about doing a major service on her Nissan Almera and replacing the rear discs and pads.


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Dodging hail showers and freeing off the seized calipers took me pretty much the whole day and I was all too ready for the hot bath and dinner prior to the ‘big event’. The ‘big event’ being the last performance of the National Theatre of Scotland’s production of ‘Calum’s road’ adapted from Roger Hutchinson’s best selling book .


Adapted by David Harrower with screenplay and direction by Gerry Mulgrew this celebrated production was finishing its nationwide tour, very aptly, on the island of its inspiration.

To say that I had reservations would be far too strong a word but I’m a cynical old git at the best of times and not a great fan of the media. I’m also very sceptical of dramatisation of anything that purports to be of real events. I’ve lived here at the end of ‘Calum’s road’ for 22 years and know many of the people, alive and dead in the story. So I have to confess that my heart was just beating a little bit faster than normal when I joined the long queue at the door, especially after meeting both David Harrower and Gerry Mulgrew on the way in, both who complemented me on the blog 🙂

However after meeting my friend, neighbour (albeit not as permanent as she’d like) and Calum’s daughter Julia MacLeod in the foyer, my ‘reservations’ abated. Her face said it all, a mixture of joy and deep emotion. Upon entering the transformed hall, climbing up the professionally installed seating to the ‘gods’

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seeing the sound, lighting engineers

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and seeing the stage, I knew we were in for a treat.

I’m not even going to try and tell you how good it was for there is probably just as much cr4p spouted by the mouths of theatre critics as there is wine buffs and football pundits and I barely scraped through a GCE in English 🙂 It was simply, well acted, funny, deep, sad and emotional, leaving myself, and I’m sure many others in tears.

Some names had been changed, though I knew the folk well enough, but I think the director and producer captured the spirit of the story of the road and the depopulation of the north end (and probably much of the highlands) very eloquently.  Many of the chapters in this epic tale I’ve heard first hand but the one that’s etched most clearly in my mind is two schoolchildren being left with their suitcases to trudge miles home alone in the snow. Not because I heard it in a play or saw it on TV but because I’ve known about it for years, and still these friggin clowns in the council wouldn’t build a road.

All too soon the marvellous production was over and the entire population of Arnish plus a few ‘willing helpers headed north in the well heated and illuminated Land Rover. It would have been nice to stay, mingle and perhaps have a drink or two in the hotel, but I, like Calum had a road to build 🙂 OK, mine was being built with a 7.5ton Hitachi digger and a 6ton Terex dumper  by Hugh MacKay but it still needed doing at ‘cock crow’ 🙂


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But I’ll tell you all about that later, and I hasten to add that it was I and not Mr MacKay that got the dumper stuck 🙂

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He just pulled it out 🙂

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