Life at the end of the road

October 26, 2013

Everyone’s loss


Couldn’t actually get it together last night to do any posting for our good friend John ‘the Caley’ Nicolson passed away on Thursday morning.

Saturday now, I’ll have another go.

John was born just a stones throw from here at Arnish in 1923, the last thatched roof house on Raasay in fact. Whilst he lived most of his long interesting and adventurous life in Portree, Raasay, and Torran in particular was where his heart lay I’m sure. Certainly after retiring as janitor from Portree high around the time I moved to Arnish he spent much time at Torran with his elder brother Murdo  his family and the many dogs.

Me as a ‘greenhorn’ crofter/fisherman would always be seeking their freely given help and advice, be it mending a creel or butchering a sheep. I guess John must have been in his late sixties then but he didn’t look any different in his late eighties when I last saw him walking his dog in Portree. John walked everywhere, and that’s how I first met him in 1989, walking his dog, a beautiful red setter named Bracken.

Always an early riser when at Torran you would often see him on the skyline of the Arnish and Torran peaks scanning the hill for sheep, John always carried his binoculars when here at the ‘north end’. You’d also be hard pushed to go shopping in Portree without bumping into John, who would always have time to chat, want to hear the news from Raasay and inevitably say ‘I’ll be over soon’.

Taking his nickname from the ‘Caledonian Hotel’ where he was head barman for years John was deeply involved with his adopted home in Portree. He sat on the community council, was involved with the court and of course was a stalwart of the local shinty club.

John The Caley Nicolson  Logo : Skye Camanachd

16 February 2009

Skye Camanachd has awarded the Angus Murchison Cup to Vice President John "The Caley" Nicolson.

The Angus Murchison Cup is awarded to the person who has done most for the club during the season. Skye Camanachd had decided to award John the trophy at the end of last season and made the presentation at their recent Annual Dinner Dance.

John has been involved with Skye Camanachd since the 1970s and has filled most posts at the club. He is an honourary Vice President, and a former Chieftain, Chairman and Committee member and has looked after pitch maintenance for many years.

John was presented with a silver mounted caman by Skye Camanachd in 2000 for his sterling efforts over many seasons for the club.

He still plays a very important role fixing shinty sticks. John will often repair several camans each week for first and second team players, youth players and even primary school players. Shinty sticks cost in the region of £35 each so this is a great saving to Skye Camanachd.

The Highland Council held a Civic Reception in January 2009 to mark the granting of the Freedom of Skye and Raasay to John.

“John The Caley” as he is better known followed Sorley MacLean, David Noble, Dr John Ball and Dame Ellen MacArthur in receiving this great honour.

He was also made a ‘Freeman’ of the Isle of Skye in 2009

in recognition of his outstanding service to the community.

Mr John Nicolson from Portree was granted the Freedom of Skye at a special ceremony held on Friday evening in the Skye Camanachd Social Club.  Mr Nicolson, (85),  known locally by his nick-name, “The Caley”, was joined at the presentation by his family, friends and representatives from local charities, clubs and organisations he has been involved in over the years.

Sadly, Johns wife of 65 years, Mavis had not been keeping too well herself these last few years and we saw less and less of him.

john and mavis


Somewhere I have a piece of paper with the names of five ships written on it, they are the names of the five merchant ships that John Nicolson served on as a gunner in WWII. John was in the army but as merchantmen usually had a  gun of around 4” calibre mounted on the stern it was manned by members of the army. I always meant to look up the names of the five cargo ships that help keep Britain and Russia supplied during the war but never got around to it. I have literally dozens of books and official publications on shipping during both world wars but it’s all packed away and has been since we decided to put the house on the market. Apparently it’s much easier to sell a house that’s not cluttered with personal possessions.

  From a little ‘Googling’,some vivid memories of his, kept alive in Gaelic with English transcripts

and fantastic old  pictures.


Exhibition Image One

In this photograph taken after the war the Nicolson brothers, John (left), Murdo (right) seated, and Alick standing, pose with their sister, Chrissie, at the gable end of the family home in Torran at the north end of Raasay. Their parents can be seen on the edge of the picture walking towards the end of the house.

You really should read that last link, it’s where I found the name of his first ship, The SS Fremantle and how he got there, priceless.

PORT FREMANTLE was built in 1927 by Workman, Clark & Co. at Belfast with a tonnage of 8072grt, a length of 477ft 5in, a beam of 63ft 5in and a service speed of 15 knots. The first of a class of five ships she was completed in April 1927. In 1932 a fire broke out in one of the holds while she was at Wanganui and, with battened down hatches, she quickly sailed to Wellington where superior fire fighting equipment could deal with the problem. During 1939-45 she remained on the ‘Food for Britain’ trade and was finally broken up at Osaka in Japan during September 1960. 







John’s funeral is in Portree on Monday at 14:00,  It’s at the Church of Scotland in the square and I’m sure it will be very busy indeed, everyone knew ‘John the Caley’.

Regular stuff

Whilst I’ve not had the heart to write, I’ve certainly been busy, trying to cram as much in the short day as possible before the clock changing lunacy. OK, OK, I know the days are the same length but I’d rather start something in the dark when it’s getting lighter than try and finish something as light fails.



Well, Thursday got off to a good start

002 003

with me once more working on the ‘mega hen shed’. I was expecting a visitor off the 9:25 ferry so restricted myself to the never ending tasl of removing nails from 6 x 2s.



Once my visitor had arrived I gave her a guided tour of both my and my mates renewable energy systems.



I suppose it must have been raining to keep making these rainbows, but I don’t actually remember getting wet.



After that we went to visit a good mate at Oscaig who also has a head full of turbines Smile Whilst down there we watched this trawler skirting a very shallow rock, but then he appears to have some creels on board ??


Rather a large lump of boat for fishing velvet crab Smile



The ‘wee dog’ was in a bit of a funny mood too and would not enter my mates house, or at least only very reluctantly.


Not sure if this Thursday evening or Friday morning, actually it must have been Thursday, for Friday was rubbish Sad smile



That’s the last of the ten ‘uprights’ in position on Friday morning,

013 015

and this is a very fine ‘marag dubh’ from Tarbert butcher A.D. Munro. Lovely for it’s plainness and texture, yes this is a black pudding for one who doesn’t like spices. Me I love spicy puddings but this wee beauty tastes very much like a real home made one, in fact similar to ‘Calum Don’s’ or Jessie Nicolson’s Smile 


Eventually the rain drove me into the shed so I finished off my Battery shelf, now complete with rubber base.


That was the ‘state of play’ at dusk on Friday,



today the Dude and I fitted the floor beams.


Changing a carburettor needle valve on a Honda TRX 350

The trusty old Honda quad has been pishing out fuel from the carburettor on and off now for months, a quick tap with a hammer usually stops it, at least it used to. This last few weeks however no amount of carb cleaning or bashing seemed to stop the fuel leaking out, even with the fuel tap turned off Sad smile The usual culprit in these cases is a punctured float or leaky needle valve which I’ve checked a dozen times. However despite the valve looking perfect it must have been faulty for today I fitted a new one and it’s fixed.

019 020

Anyway, if you do have to do any work on the pesky carburettor you can actually do it without removing it, which saves much hassle removing the cables, though you will still have to remove the fuel line. You just undo the air filter box and remove it. loosen off the clamps holding the carb, pull it back then turn it over having first removed the fuel supply and drain pipes.

Back to the shed


With me on the saw and my son on the cordless drill we managed to get all of the 6 x 2 floor beams fitted


before the heavens opened.


Of course it was at its worst as I had to back out and feed the pigs



and whilst I was out and well wrapped up I went up to the shed once more to make the most of the last hour



when it finally dried up Smile


This is going to be a serious hen hoose Smile


  1. When told the reason for ‘daylight saving’, the old Indian said ‘Only the government would believe that ou could cut a foot off the top of a blanket, sew it to the bottom and have a longer blanket. How true!!

    Comment by Irena Krasinska-Lobban — October 27, 2013 @ 12:35 am

    • When told the reason for ‘daylight saving’, the old Indian said ‘Only the government would believe that you could cut a foot off the top of a blanket, sew it to the bottom and have a longer blanket.

      That had me in stitches Irena and I’ve been quoting it since you posted it 🙂

      Comment by lifeattheendoftheroad — October 28, 2013 @ 6:18 pm

  2. Sorry for the loss of your friend.

    Comment by mimi — October 27, 2013 @ 3:35 am

    • Thanks Mimi.

      Comment by lifeattheendoftheroad — October 28, 2013 @ 6:19 pm

  3. Sad to hear about John Nicolson’s passing. What a life, though – and a long one, as with many others on the island.


    Comment by Sue — October 27, 2013 @ 8:35 am

    • Aye Sue, he had a long, good and healthy life right enough.

      Comment by lifeattheendoftheroad — October 28, 2013 @ 6:21 pm

  4. In the last pictures you can actually see the stair rods of rain coming down!!

    Comment by Lloyd — October 27, 2013 @ 9:37 am

  5. Sorry to hear of your friend’s death Paul. That generation were real warriors.

    Comment by mi — October 27, 2013 @ 5:22 pm

  6. I will wear the poppy proudly for your good friend. ..Please forward my regards

    Comment by The Peoples Republic of Northumbria — October 27, 2013 @ 10:39 pm

  7. I will wear the poppy proudly for your good friend. ..Please forward my regards

    Comment by The Peoples Republic of Northumbria — October 27, 2013 @ 10:39 pm

  8. Dogs and pick up on strange things in places we as humans have tuned out over the years, My old dog would not go near a flat once that someone had been murdered in, in fact he used to get ” Funny ” just walking past the door.

    Comment by v8mbov — October 28, 2013 @ 12:18 pm

    • Aye dogs certainly do sense much Robin, my last one knew when I was on my way home long before it was possible that she could hear me.

      Comment by lifeattheendoftheroad — October 28, 2013 @ 6:27 pm

  9. Belated regrets upon learning of John Nicholson’ s passing.

    Comment by Drgeo — October 29, 2013 @ 3:07 am

  10. This is going to be a serious hen hoose … there will be NO cackling upon the laying of eggs!! 😉

    Comment by Caadfael — October 30, 2013 @ 3:29 pm

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