Life at the end of the road

September 11, 2013

A step closer :-)

When I received the call and message on the blog last year about an alternative to our satellite broadband from Alison Macleod, local development officer of the Applecross Community Company I was quite excited at the prospect of a faster, more reliable and cheaper alternative to . We did have pretty reliable and usable service before from but without any consultation we were ‘migrated’ to Niall Quinn’s company without choice and the service went down the toilet.

Most issues have since been resolved and we get a reasonable 15gB monthly allowance, acceptable upload and download speeds and a pretty reliable service. However a teenager in the house has meant that once or twice we’ve gone over the 15gb and been ‘throttled’. This would not be a problem if the service was just slow, that I can cope with, but apart from the ‘internet like treacle’ it is impossible to access email, and that I cannot cope with.

The service that was being mooted for Applecross, who like me had little alternative other than satellite was wireless based and had its roots in the ‘Tegola project’ that I’d read about some years ago . Pioneered by professor Peter Buneman of Edinburgh University it used a network of powered antennas and relay stations to give reliable and fast broadband via ‘line of site’. The ‘Master’ would be at a place which already had acceptable broadband and the ‘slaves’ anywhere that was wirelessly visible from the directional dish placed on the ‘backhaul’ master station. In effect the system could attain speeds of up to 18meg but few exchanges up here are capable of half that.


The Tegola Project

At the same time that Avanti were rolling out their network, trials of a much faster and more reliable wireless distribution system were taking place a little further north in Loch Hourn.  Prof. Peter Buneman of Edinburgh University was demonstrating that if fast ‘backhaul’ (trunk-line broadband access) were available, it was perfectly possible, using the more reliable and advanced equipment that was by now on the market,  to distribute this round rural communities.  His project is fully described at . In early 2010 Peter heard that folk on Eigg were dissatisfied with the cost and speed of the Avanti scheme, and were keen to find an improvement.

A quote from who’s site gives a far better explanation than I



Anyway, a long time passed, Applecross got their first ‘backhaul’ set up at Broadford village hall and phase one (the pilot phase to 9 or 10 properties) was by all accounts a great success. However this only delivered broadband to subscribers that could ‘see’ Broadford or any of the other slave stations and I believe the funding had run out. However, twelve months on, thanks to the Big lottery fund, ‘phase two’ is going ahead and this is where ‘yours truly’ comes in Smile Phase two needs a powered station at the north end of Raasay to use the Aros centre in Portree as the ‘backhaul’ . Now I may not know anything about computers or the internet but what I do have is a power supply more reliable than the National Grid and years of experience in laying cables and pipe over the north end of Raasay Smile

Fast forward

Anyway, I’d kind of forgotten about all this and ‘put it on the backburner’ until recently when I was contacted again by Alison, Simon Helliwell  and Ian Bolas who are all heavily involved in the project. A site for a mast was chosen, the various permissions granted and before I knew it I’d 1000m of 1.5mm square SWA cable in my trailer.


Map picture

The original plan being for me to lay the first 500m from my power supply (bottom left) to North Arnish (centre), the bits for the small mast and second 500m drum being dropped by helicopter on top of the hill top right. However, despite PDG  reasonable quote of £1600 for doing a ‘lift’ from Arnish to the top of that hill it was a lot of money Sad smile Fair enough I suppose with our ‘risk averse’ culture in these hard times, helicopters are exceedingly expensive things to keep in the air and must earn their keep. Anyway it was felt that a few strong bodies could do the job and leave more in the budget for other stuff.

So, this morning, on a day that can only be described as ‘perfect midge’ weather I doused myself in Smidge and ‘set forth’ not initially on a cable laying mission but to grease up the opposite wheel bearing on my trailer to the one that failed yesterday Smile



Then I removed the 1250lt fuel tank given me by the Quarryman and cleaned it out, this is going to be Harry’s new tank up at the barn site.

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Once the trailer was back on its wheels and the tank removed I made a ramp up to the Honda’s rear carrier using one of the trailer sides with some ratchet straps to hold it in place. Each 500m reel weighs 150kg so it needed careful manoeuvring up there.


and once securely lashed to the ‘50kg max’ rear carrier


I blew up the tyre Smile

The Honda TRX quad and its derivatives have to be the best on the planet, I’ve owned and used them all, Kawasaki’s, Suzuki’s, Yamaha’s and of course that piece of Chinese carp the Quadzilla. They are all good apart from the Chinese offering which biodegrades faster than a cow pat, the Honda however is in a league of its own when it comes to taking abuse.


I kid you not, these machines are ‘bombproof’, even before I was given this machine some years ago it had had nine years of abuse, been stuck in bogs the sea, used with three wheels and struck by lightning!!!!!!

Anyway, this ‘incident’ convinced me that I should reverse all the way up the steep hill to North Arnish, 150kg plus driver makes them a little light on the front end.



Once I’d turned around, found a smaller ditch and approached it obliquely the rest of the journey upwards past ‘Donald’s barn’ and the old Post Office was quite uneventful and I stopped the quad at what I thought would be the 500m mark from the chalet.


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Tipping the reel off the carrier I took note of the marking on the cable and tied it off on the back of the quad.

Laying SWA cable

Now with all my renewable energy projects I’ve learnt a thing or two about laying cable and the general rule is, there are no hard and fast rules, well there are but every job is different depending on the terrain and cable length.  Fifty and even one hundred meter lengths are child’s play, you simply make up a holder and pull it off the drum, however as the lengths increase so does the weight and its problems. Sure you can still pull it off the drum with a quad or winch but as the tension increases the cable starts to twist due to the way the SWA (steel wire armour) is wound and this leads to kinks. You can lay very long lengths by pulling it off the drum 40 or 50m at a time and flaking it out flat on the ground but this is impossible amongst trees and undergrowth.

As this first section from North Arnish to the chalet power cable was nearly all down hill I opted for the ‘rolling method’ but this is done in the opposite direction to what you would think. A reel this size and weight cannot be rolled out ‘yo yo’ fashion so to speak as it is too heavy to ‘slip’, not only that but it could run away with you and end up in a tangled heap. The drum must be rolled the ‘wrong way’ as in the picture with each turn being taken off opposite sides to stop it kinking. You can do say six one way and six the other as you would with fence wire but my counting is rubbish so I just do it alternately ‘left and right’


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Downhill it’s a ‘piece of cake’ and you know you’re not going to have the drum run away on you, here it is at 100, 200 and 300m respectively as I sweated like a pig in my waterproofs surrounded by flies Sad smile



The 400m mark came just by the ruins of 2 and 4 South Arnish but by now it was lunch time, I was soaked to the skin, hungry and sweating so heavily that my Smidge was starting to come off.



After a cup of tea, some chocolate and a change of clothes I enlisted some help


and got the last 100m laid, including some ducting over the burn.


And that is all the cable that was left on the drum!!! literally 2m to spare, skill or luck I’ve not got a clue Smile


All I had to do was walk back up to North Arnish for the Honda and start again Smile



This time things didn’t go quite so smoothly


and I ended up stuck in the drain. I could have easily extricated myself by removing the 150kg roll of SWA but then I’d have had to lift it back on the Honda. Much easier to get Wifey, the Yamaha and a block & tackle.

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Once she’d pulled me out of the ditch I reversed the Honda all the way up to the other end of the cable and left it there. The plan being to enlist the Dude on Saturday, take up the Yamaha, strap a scaffolding bar between the two quads and pull the cable off by hand, I guess about 100m at a time then cut it. One hundred metres of cable is 30kg so probably easy enough to drag through wet heather, watch this space to find out Smile


That’s it really, we’re a step closer to superfast broadband, I changed my underwear three times today, due to sweat and not ‘brown trousers’ I hasten to add and now I’m off to bed. This is the life, I’m pure wrecked and feel like I’ve actually lost a few pounds and achieved something at the same time.

A ‘tale of two switches’ :-)

Filed under: daily doings, New hybrid ferry — Tags: , , — lifeattheendoftheroad @ 6:55 am

Home once more, and a little earlier than usual thanks to me joining the MV Hallaig a day early last week.


Monday morning in Port Glasgow, Greenock and Gourock was a holiday and that was evident fro the moment I awoke at 6:30, it was far quieter on the roads than usual. It was also a holiday for most of the staff at Ferguson’s shipbuilders though not for the electrical and insulation contractors who were working seven days a week to get our new ferry ready for Raasay.



This ship is so quiet and well insulated that it has ‘ears’, four microphones on the ‘monkey island’, that will be the deck above the bridge where the ‘brass monkey’ lived, maybe Smile These four microphones are linked into a device than can give you a bearing on any sounds like a fog horn, ships bell or whistle, this is a seriously sophisticated ship Smile 

Back to chaos

I managed to catch the last ferry home on Monday


and seeing the Portree lifeboat out in the sound just assumed she was on exercise, as Monday night is when they drill. However they were actually ‘on a shout’ as it turned out with coxswain Hamish and the crew of the relief Trent class lifeboat ‘Macquarie’. Normally the ‘Stanley Watson Barker’ is relieved by the ‘Corrine Whitely’, this is the first time (to my knowledge) that I’ve seen the Macquarie out on a shout.

Coxswain Hamish

They  were going to Rona to evacuate a holiday maker with a broken finger. I had to laugh when Bill from Rona phoned NHS direct for advice Smile you can just imagine the conversation ‘what’s your post code’ followed by ‘who’s your doctor’ and then ‘just take her into casualty in Broadford’ Smile Smile


You may get nice sunsets in Gourock but I prefer the ones at home.

It was only after I’d arrived home that wifey broke the news to me that both quads had died, mine along the Torran path due to lack of fuel and my mates on the croft with a duff ‘kill switch’. As my mates was needed for the ‘changeover’ at and mine for the multitude of tasks around the croft I thought I’d better get ‘on the case’ first thing this morning. Of course my quad was not just ‘down the track’ as indicated by wifey but almost a mile away, and when I did find it and fill it with petrol it wouldn’t start ‘off the button’, I had to use the ‘pull start’.

Testing with a ‘meter’ once home I discovered a blown fuse but still she wouldn’t start, no amount of pressing on the horn switch would get the starter to engage. Horn switch I hear you say, you’re pressing the wrong button. Well many years ago when this quad resided on Rona the original starter button failed. As a horn is much less useful on Rona than a functioning starter motor it’s switch was used instead.


Removing it, prising back the retaining tags and carefully removing its spring I just cleaned up the contacts and ‘Bob’s your uncle’, job sorted.

Switching my attention from the Honda TRX350 to the Yamaha Bruin 350 I found a similar state of affairs when pressing the horn button,Horn switch I hear you say, you’re pressing the wrong button. Well many years ago when this quad resided on Rona the original starter button failed. As a horn is much less useful on Rona than a functioning starter motor it’s switch was used instead. OK, it wasn’t Rona but Raasay, you get my drift though Smile

This time it wasn’t the horn switch that was faulty but the stop switch which also interlocks the starter.


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The problem here wasn’t so much burnt contacts but a rusted spring that was preventing that copper strip making contact.



A ball point pen provided a suitable replacement and the job was soon sorted.

Out to lunch

Having fixed two quads before breakfast under the watchful eye of a hind


I got my trailer ready and hitched it up to the ‘Old girl’ as we were all going on a mission. All being wifey, m in l, Jessie and me, we’d an oil tank to collect, several meters of scaffolding and 1km of armoured cable. The ladies weren’t actually required but it was a case of ‘killing two birds with one stone’ as my mum had booked us a table at the Kintail Lodge for lunch. Not that you actually need to book but there would be six of us so it seemed wise just to reserve a corner of the cosy pub.

With the 300kg of SWA on its two drums loaded up at Sconser I went off to meet the ‘Quarryman’ and sit the 1250lt oil tank on top and securely lashed down with ratchet straps. Next it was to Broadford for the scaffolding which went on the roof then onto Kintail to meet mum and ex Raasay resident Heather.

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I didn’t do the excellent menu justice and went for plain old haddock and chips, it’s almost six weeks since I’ve eaten a chip and I was desperate Smile Wifey had something off the ‘special’ a parmesan, garlic bread and chicken affair which looked and tasted delicious.



Feral goats at Kintail Lodge Hotel though there was no sign of feral goats or Brad Pit when we were there Smile

Seriously though great food, great service and a stunning location, well worth a look.



Collecting my trailer on the way back we managed to catch the 16:15 ferry then gingerly drove up the road, I’d noticed a duff bearing on the trailer and had to sort it once home.



The inner one had collapsed, no doubt assisted by carrying a generator that was double the rated weight of the trailer last week Sad smile Still, it’s an easy job and I had spares.

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