Life at the end of the road

September 30, 2013

Awaiting the halibut :-)

Filed under: boats, daily doings — Tags: , — lifeattheendoftheroad @ 9:36 pm

Monday 18:30 in ‘Sunny Gourock’, which is just a mile or two from ‘Sunny Greenock’ which I’m sure is an Anglicisation of the Gaelic ‘grian’ which is all about the sun. Not sure what the literal translation is, but Grian a Sgeir off Raasay is the ‘sunny rock’ and a sea eagle is called Iolair Suil na Grian or the ‘eagle with the sunlit eye’, how I wish I could understand Gaelic, it’s just so descriptive.



And, it certainly was ‘sunlit’ at 7:30 this morning during the commute to Ferguson’s to join the Hallaig once more. I’d travelled down yesterday after what had been a couple of busy and emotional days on Raasay. The former being my involvement with setting up the broadband relay station and the latter being Annie’s funeral.

The funeral of Annie MacLean took place on Saturday at 11:30 and was attended by relatives and friends from far and wide, the day was beautiful and the service moving. Many is the funeral I’ve attended on Raasay and it’s the only time I ever visit the church, I’m not a ‘believer’ but respect those who do. Of the all too many funerals  that I have  attended in the ‘Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland’ on Raasay, this is the first one where I’ve heard psalm 23 in Gaelic.


It’s not psalm 23 and I’m certainly no ‘bible basher’ but just listening to that makes my hairs stand on end and my eyes water.

Balfour Christie

It was whilst there at the church, on the car park in fact, that I learnt that an old colleague, nay, friend had passed away. I’ve not seen Balfour Christie from Portree in years but at one time we were good friends and neighbours, at least when he was when ‘on shift’ at ‘Rona Salmon’ that is. I first met Balfour when he was an ‘operative’ at Highland Fish Farm’s’ Rona Salmon branch in the nineties. Balfour and his compatriots DJ, Christie, Tommy, Bernie, Willie  and Whizz  worked ‘two weeks on one week off’ at the salmon farm in the Dubh Camas (black bay) there.

They lived in a ‘Portakabin’ on the shore for a fortnight at a time, just two of them except at harvest time, and apart from whoever happened to be living on Rona as caretaker, I was their nearest neighbour.


Map picture


Many is the time that Balfour and his workmate would come down from Rona in the summer for a ceilidh and many is the dram that we’ve shared whilst ‘putting the world to rights’. Having said that I’ve just remembered that Balfour’s favourite tipple was rum with a dash of water Smile

The things that we got up to Smile One time he and his workmate turned up at my front door soaking wet with a bag of potatoes, apologizing because the rest of the stuff they’d brought for me had fallen in the sea Smile Basically they’d made the six mile trip from Rona in the 21’ ‘tin can’ safely but fallen in the sea rowing ashore in a 10’ plastic boat, all the ‘gifts’ they’d brought me had fallen in the sea and the spuds were all that could be salvaged Smile Of course I knew that this was just a ruse for me to drive them the 10 miles to the pub, but that was what we used to do then. Happy happy days indeed, priceless days in fact and I’ll never forget them.


Harvest 1

Not the best picture of Balfour, but it’s the only one I have, that’s him on the right  with his distinctive flat cap Smile We’re harvesting salmon in Fladda almost 20 years ago. A talented musician, songwriter and accountant Balfour is sorely missed by all who knew him.

Anyway, on a lighter note I’ve finished the baked halibut done with new potatoes, mustard and butter and am just going to stick some pictures on here before going to bed.


Faith, Hope and Charity awaiting a breeze at the Raasay WTW Smile


Bonk’s tractor having just finished work at Clachan, and by the way ‘get well soon’ you old devil Smile


More ‘resting’ tractors, this time at Oskaig



Heading home down ‘Calum’s road’



which, even after a quarter of a century of commuting never ceases to amaze  me Smile


Well it was a bit of a mad rush and I never even got chance to mow the lawn but it was a bonny day and I did manage to get a third coat of paint on the generator shed floor and wire up the hour meter.


The ammeter will have to wait until I get  a charger connected up to the generator but the hour meter is fed from a 12v power supply that runs directly from Harry. The power supply is only live when the Lister HR2 is running, so basically it has only done 3016 hours since 1978 and 2940 of those have been since I bought him 10 years ago!!!


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Accompanying the bellowing stags was this twisted, broken and stripped willow tree. I’m not sure if it’s the antlers teeth or both that do this to the willows every autumn but it’s never the birch or rowan!!

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Raasay Outdoor Centre on ‘Calum’s crag’ and our new broadband mast on ‘Meall Dearg Arnish’.


Eilean Donan castle on the way south

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and Loch Cluanie and its environs.



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Well, it was back on the Hallaig which was having a few last minute alterations whilst the crews had familiarization with the fire fighting and life saving equipment.


It was a very busy and interesting day indeed Smile



and I’d left my hard hat in the canteen Smile

September 27, 2013

The fastest broadband on Raasay :-)

Filed under: daily doings, life off grid — Tags: , , — lifeattheendoftheroad @ 11:35 pm

Well, it has been a busy couple of days that’s for sure, and you’ll have to forgive me if it gets a little ‘wonky’ later on for I plan on getting hammered, or at least moderately inebriated. I’ve had very little in the way of ‘medicine’ recently and have much to celebrate, for we now have the fastest broadband on the island, in fact, at the moment I probably have the fastest internet connection on Skye but that won’t last once more subscribers are added. Still it will be a far better service than is available on the rest of Raasay for years to come.

Getting internet ‘at the end of the road’ has been an epic from the word go, right from purchasing my first computer it has been a long tale of woe. I was late in joining the ‘digital revolution’ and even now I struggle with most things ‘IT’ and only embrace ‘progress’ reluctantly. Still, you can’t do anything without the internet these days so, around the time I fitted my wind turbine we applied for a connection. Being 10 miles from the exchange it was right on the limit of even ‘dial up’ so the best we ever saw was 31.2kbps and that was using a separate modem. Internal laptop ones are carp and Fujitsu were absolutely hopeless at assisting me get ‘online’, after many fruitless hours on the phone one of there technical team told me ‘off the record’ to try a certain brand of external modem. So, some two weeks after signing up to the equally hopeless BT I got an iffy connection.

Of course it didn’t end there, we had another line installed because it was impossible to use the phone or even know if someone was trying to phone you. The Raasay exchange didn’t support ‘call waiting’ or whatever it was called that let you know someone was on the phone whilst you were online. Not that that bothered me but wifey like to ‘keep in touch’ and in those days the ferry was the first in line for evacuating medical emergencies. Now due to legislation and lunacy we are way down the list but that’s another story.

It was far from plain sailing even with the extra line, after really heavy rain it wouldn’t work, if I swapped the lines over the internet worked fine on our old line with the regular phone number but not on the new one!!!! Now that was a saga indeed, BT refused to admit there was a fault on the line, no amount of bombarding Mumbai with the logic of “the internet worked fine for three months on that line, it works fine on the old line and works fine in my neighbours chalet, now it does not work, how can it be fine”.   The reply was always the same “I’m sorry Mr Camilli we’ve tested the line and there is no fault”, talk about banging your head against a brick wall. The worst of it was that they would then ‘close out’ the fault so you couldn’t even report it again.

After some six weeks of complaining, several visits from engineers, some of which they tried to charge me for and much aggro the fault was fixed, by me Smile Well not me in person but by a suggestion I made, I asked them to swap the lines and phone numbers over, this cured the fault (which didn’t exist according to them) but it left me with another headache not made apparent until I got my first bill. BT sent me a phone bill for a line that I was actually renting off Toucan (now Talk Talk), I was frigging furious. More aggro, the customary 40 minute conversation to Mumbai did eventually bear fruit and a real person with a real UK phone number phoned me to apologize and eventually paid me some compo.

Imagine my joy when literally days after this saga I received a letter ‘out of the blue’ saying that I’d been accepted on the ‘Scottish Broadband Reach’ program. Having filled in an online questionnaire some months earlier regarding access to broadband and then having someone phoning from the Scottish Office a month or two later, I thought that would be the end of it. Not so a little while later I had a satellite link courtesy of . All was peachy for a little while but as more customers got connected and websites filled with carp the service went down the toilet and I only stuck with it because they promised another satellite launch would improve things. Eventually, two years late HYLAS 1 did go into orbit and all was rosy for a year or two.


Then, after a trouble free and relatively reliable year or two I was ‘migrated’ to Q-Sat, an Irish company run by an ex footballer, Niall Quinn. I’d no say in the matter and the service was carp, my 15gb monthly allowance vanishes in a couple of weeks despite both my son and I being away from home and wifey never switching on her computer. I was without internet for weeks just before Christmas and once my 15gb is used up I cannot receive emails, it is in short ‘pants’ Sad smile

The Applecross Community Broadband project

I’ve not even touched on my attempts at ‘mobile internet’, which was actually better than BT’s but involved me hanging my dongle out of the bedroom window. However with no prospect of 3g from the Staffin mast in the foreseeable future I gave up on that when HYLAS went into orbit and have been bumbling along with ever since.

The problem with ‘satellite broadband’ is latency and contention, the former you can do nothing about and the latter will only get worse as more people subscribe and websites fill with carp. Latency is the time it takes for your signal to get to the satellite and back and contention is the amount of users sharing your connection.

Now believe it or not, I am not the only person with such problems, many remote communities and islands have hundreds of people with similar tales, only they are doing something about it. Not by investing more time effort and money in things that orbit the earth and provide a service that can only get worse, but by using land based wireless technology with next to no latency (46 milllieseconds  as opposed to 800ms!!) and the capacity to be as fast as the exchange that provides it.

Such a community is Applecross on the Scottish mainland to the east of Raasay, whilst not an island like us, it is in many ways far more remote, and the good folk of Applecross have been doing something about it. Not wishing to be left behind in the ‘internet revolution’ they’ve found funding for getting a fast and reliable service to their shores via technology like this and small company called ‘Rural Broadband Networks’ has stepped in to sort it out. Not actually having a website yet I can’t link to it but Simon and Ian have been so busy of late with various projects on Eigg and Locheil that they’ve not around to building one Smile

I had heard of the Tegola project when I got my satellite system but realized there was little chance of it being an option for just one family, however when Alison MacLeod from Applecross approached me almost a year ago to the day regarding powering a transmitter for them I was most interested. Applecross has many links to Raasay and one of them is my old boat, MV Conqueror, which at one time belonged to her husband Smile who bought it from a cousin of the man who skippered it for me, you couldn’t make this up Smile

Re forging old links

Until the 1970’s the only way into Applecross was by steamer to Toscaig from Kyle or over Bealach na Ba by road. Consequently this part of the world has an old and long standing connection with Raasay in general and the north end in particular, it’s only a short hop by boat from Applecross to Brochel. Visits to Raasay and vice versa would have been quite the norm up until forty years ago and many families are related.  So when Alison contacted me again recently I thought it quite fitting that Raasay and Applecross should once more be linked together, especially if I was going to get a free internet connection Smile

I say ‘free’ but I will of course be maintaining power to it and the boys and I did lay over 1000m of cable, but we’re used to that anyway Smile

So, several glasses of Chilean red later I’m probably a little disjointed, but just as promised, on Thursday Simon Helliwell of ‘Rural Broadband Solutions’ arrived at Clachan in his beautiful green vintage ketch? I picked him up in the ‘Old Girl’ and off we went up the hill.



Not this hill of course, this will be the Storr on Skye that I just couldn’t help but photograph this on the way down to pick him and his tools up.


Then of course there was these three elegant and slender looking ‘babes’ at the water treatment plant, better than porn if you ask me. Faith Hope and Charity is what I’ll call them, by gum this wine is good Smile



After some fresh coffee at Arnish Simon, Molly and I set off up Meall Dearg Arnish with some of the kit required to set up the various dishes. Ian was at the Aros in Portree setting up the ‘backhaul’ and Ali on his way over form Applecross in his fishing boat with Sean. After a long trek up the hill with Simon I left him sorting out the cabinet and mounts whilst I connected up the power over 1km away, meanwhile Ian had arrived and we started to assemble the three 30cm 5ghz dishes and their RF armour.


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It wasn’t a difficult job but it did take longer than expected,



the kit is all American, the best of quality but with annoyingly odd threads Sad smile



Anyway, by Thursday evening we’d managed to get two of the 30cm dishes up past the old Post Office at North Arnish


and up to the top of Meall Dearg Arnish. I say we but I only went half way up before heading back to finish assembling dish three whilst Simon and Ian got on with building up the mast assembly. Quite ingeniously they’d used a 240v SDS drill to pin the scaffolding poles into the rock once I’d connected up the power supply. I’d been a little dubious about this due to the ‘volt drop’ over 1000m of 1.5mm square cable but it had worked just fine.


Ian and Simon continued until ‘light stopped play’ then headed back to to Arnish where I’d finished assembling the last 30cm dish. They spent the night on Simon’s lovely wooden yacht and returned this morning after I’d managed to take dish number three halfway up the hill.



That would be the easy half by quad, Ian took it the last 500m by hand, and that’ll be him photographed from over 1km away just after he lugged it over the fence.



Eventually, after Simon had sorted out a couple of  faults at my end Molly, Simon and I went up to join Ian at the top of the hill.



A more perfect spot for an aerial you could not find, good solid rock, a clear view of all aspects and mainly below the skyline.




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After all the ‘donkey work’ had been done I left them to it and got on with other stuff, but by 15:00 Simon and Ian had finished and came down to configure our new connection.



What can I say, a genuine 10Mbps Smile and pages that load instantly, bloody amazing, wifey has been watching iplayer, Dude’s been gaming and I’ve been blogging, welcome to the 21st century Smile Simon (the man with Molly) of ‘Rural Broadband Solutions’ can be contacted on if you or your community need fast and reliable internet.

On a sad note

A truly immense couple of days have been tempered by the passing away of Annie Maclean at 6:00am on Wednesday morning. Annie had not been well for a while and had slipped into a comma recently from which she never recovered, born in 1928 she was a friend and acquaintance of many and will be sorely missed by all who knew her.

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Here she is just a year ago at the Inverarish  village 100 year party last year, courtesy of George Rankine.

A great character and a member of Raasay’s dwindling ‘old guard’ she was a cornerstone of the Inverarish Terrace  and our hearts go out to all her family.

And thankfully due to that miracle that is the internet we’ll always be able to hear her near the bottom of the page


Annie MacLean of Raasay remembers the dismantling of the old Raasay iron mine installations at Suisnish and the scrap iron and remaining ore being taken away from the mine workings to be used in the war effort.


Annie MacLean was born in Raasay in 1928 and raised on a croft near the pier. The family moved to Inverarish in 1939. She was the only girl in the family and had an older brother in the Royal Artillery and another in the Driver’s Corps. After her mother died Annie remained at home on Raasay and has many recollections of the changes that occurred there during the war.


They were taking away the scrap iron. See, the kilns there, they were iron kilns and all this iron. And the railway going up to the mine. And they even took away the rails the bogies were running on. They took away all the scrap iron. That was a power house and engines and that, they took all that away. And I remember when they were taking away the scrap iron. I still remember the noise of the wagons running through that railway which was leading onto the pier. And there was a puffer and it’s the noise of them putting the scrap iron and all that onto the puffer. Terrible noise! When the mines stopped, the bogies were still lying along with the ore in them. And they took that away first. They emptied all those iron bogies they had and they took that away, and then took all the scrap iron.

Annie’s funeral is tomorrow at 11:30

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