Thursday, November 20, 2008


Summer was drawing to a close and autumn was coming on - the end of our first year in Coigach. Time again for the last dipping before the fall sheep sales in Dingwall. The young ewe lambs were taken back out to the islands and the government issue rams were ready to be brought into the parks to start the sheep cycle over again.

And it was time for the annual influx of the Klondykers - large factory ships from all over Europe who would come every year to anchor in Loch Broom and buy fish that they would process right there on the boats. Other large fishing boats would come into Loch Broom and the Minche to net and dredge and sell their catch to the factory ships. This could pose a problem for local fishermen who would sometimes have their prawn fleets dragged and damaged by the bigger boats. There were a lot of complaints about the dredgers because the locals thought they dug up and ruined the bottom - damage that could take years to repair itself. We could see the results of overfishing - population declines of herring and mackerel were obvious even in the short time we were there. And the advent of the EU with its regulations putting the Scottish fisheries at a disadvantage has made it even harder for local fisherman to make a go of it.

Russian and East German ships would lie at anchor for weeks but not let their men off the boats - just in case they'd decide not to come back. There was one East German captain that did come ashore, caught a bus to Inverness and then a ship to West Germany - his way to get across the wall. However, there was one Eastern European gang that was allowed to come into town - the Bulgarians evidently weren't unhappy with their lot and could be trusted to return to the boat. We were in the Ceilidh Place one night for dinner when about 10 Bulgarians decended on the place - all square, mustachioed, dressed in black leather and looking like trouble. But they sat and talked quietly like gentlemen - then went off to the stores to buy them out of coffee, nylons, and other stuff hard to get in the East.

From our front windows we could see the boats anchored in Loch Broom - they were all lit up at night and looked like a floating city. It was really quite pretty and made the scene festive while they were anchored there.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Music and friends

Throughout the summer and for the rest of our stay in Scotland we were incredibly lucky to meet many wonderful musicians who became close friends and made our lives joyful. They came with their families and friends to stay with us and play in the pubs and village hall - and we stayed with them on their home ground and went to concerts and pub sessions and generally had a great time.

Wendy Stewart and Alan James came with harp, concertina, whistle and guitar. I'll always remember one particular morning sitting in the sun outside Castlehill listening to the two of them play and gazing out at the islands and the sea - and when the wind blew it would play its own fairy music on the harp strings. It was magical!

Jimmy and Ruth Philp would come with their kids from the east coast, sometimes alone and sometimes with friends who, along with Pete Taylor (our local musical phenomenon), had a band that played gigs together around the area. Each had their signature songs - called for over and over again on ceilidh nights. And as the whisky went around we would lapse into old gospel songs or just plain silly stuff. We made a wonderful tape called "The Last Castlehill Ceilidh" which has some great music recorded at our house - and some incredibly awful but very funny attempts - obviously recorded very late in the evening.

Dik Banovich, who sang Fats Waller-type songs and played a mean jazz guitar, came with his friend Tiny (who was way over 6 feet tall - must have been imposing in a kilt) - to visit us when they were in between busking forays on the Continent. We had a great trip with them to a music festival and highland games weekend on Skye. This was when we were introduced to the dreaded call by those well-oiled folks in any pub audience who always called out - ad nauseum - "Play 'Flower of Scotland'". Cringe. But Dick always handled it very well and patiently - and actually - I like the song.

And so they filled our home with music - flute, recorder, harp, squeezebox, bodhran, mandolin, guitar, pennywhistle, violin - and always singing. What could be better?