Sunday, 28 November 2010

It has been a beautiful cold and dry week. Ice on the puddles. Sun in the sky. Sharp outlines of silhouetted Mull hills against clear sunset skies, as the sun drops and darkness falls. The time of year when the island is even more of a haven - free from the mainland Christmas frenzy (as we discovered in a mobbed Fort William yesterday). Owl box 2 is in position in the Black Park, easy for everyone going past to Haunn to watch through binoculars without having to go too close.

waiting for 5pm ferry to tie up at Craignure

Out and about this week... The dreaded Council meeting took place on Thursday at Lochgilphead where Argyll and Bute Councillors voted 19 - 17 for the flawed school closures Proposals to go out to Consultation. The flaws in the papers and the way the Council has handled them give no one any confidence how the council officers will handle the consultation process.

The end of the Consultation period is 24th February so it feels at the moment like we have a long haul ahead. So if anyone reading this can pull a road safety expert out of their hat (or a writer or a pet journalist on a national newspaper or the author of a thesis on the benefits of small schools or an authority on the social and economic impacts of closing schools in remote isolated areas) please get in touch.

I have to admit having been to the inaugural meeting of the Argyll Rural Schools Network (ARSN) the night before in Lochgilphead, I felt (naively) confident that morality would win the day and that the Proposals would be thrown out, so when the result came and it was so close, I was fairly gutted.

ARSN is open to any 'closing' and any 'receiving' school. There is power in a united voice, and in pooling knowledge and information. There is a website. Locally in Argyll there is a community orientated website called For Argyll which has been running stories since the Proposals were made public. They blogged from the Council meeting, a sort of twitter I guess, so that the many folk who were not allowed into the Council Chamber could pick up the gist of what was going on. Only one representative from each meeting was allowed in, despite calls to move the meeting to a venue suitable of accommodating all those who wanted to attend what was after all a public meeting.

Behind the scenes support from the Scottish Rural Schools Network (SRSN) has been excellent. In the run up to Thursday's meeting they quickly hosted a website to hold useful information relevant to Argyll and Bute school closures, and worked away in the background to look into the facts and figures. SRSN has been invited by the Scottish Government (Mike Russell) to contribute to a working group to strengthen the statutory guidance for rural schools under threat of closure which is a good measure of the respect they deserve.

On the farm, the hoggs are all the cattle shed learning that there is more to food than grass - every year at this time, Farmer brings the hoggs in and lays out a snaking line of sheep troughs. To begin with the troughs are trodden on, upturned, and the sheep nuts scattered on the earth floor of the shed as they don't know what the food is. If there are animals in the shed who know how delicious the nuts are - like the pet lambs (Brownie etc) - they have the troughs to themselves to begin with, until the others begin to copy them and once that happens they have 'got it'! Soon they are all waiting for the sound of the shed door opening, and running in a big wave towards the man with the bag. Once they all understand, Farmer can let them out again into the fields and know that they will all come to the trough. When we first moved here in 1994, the sheep weren't fed supplementarily. What this meant was that the older ewes didn't know to come to the trough so you couldn't supplementarily feed any of them carrying twins or who were ill. It took 4 or 5 years to get the whole flock feeding, by teaching the new ewe lambs each winter to feed. Having done this now for years, it means if Farmer brings a ewe in to the shed at lambing time, he knows she will know to eat the food on offer in the shed.

Farmer tying old duvet on to lid of water tank to reduce chance of freezing.

I can see snow on Macleod's Tables (Skye) this morning gleaming in the far distance beyond Canna and on Canna and Rum too, those distinctive mountains rising above Calaich Point, dusted with a freezing covering of snow. There isn't any here, just ice on the puddles.

We had a night away visiting friends in Lochaber, and had a whirlwind trip to Fort William. Good ferry related signs caught my eye yesterday. Corran jetty is being upgraded so the wee ferry is on, and they are using a floating jetty, so no lorries - as a consequence the Harbro lorry which delivered feed to us before we left on Friday afternoon has to detour from Lochaline to Salen, Acharacle, up to Lochailort and back to Fort William that way, as there is a low bridge on the Loch Eil alternative route round to Fort William from Ardgour - Corran ferry! An extra 2 hours drive for him. Once he had been unloaded at Treshnish, we leapt in the car and drove like a snail through the ungritted Glen road at sub zero temperatures to get to Fishnish for the extra late sailing. People complain about Calmac but it is a pretty good service to be able to ring up and book an extra ferry. The only passengers were us and the Harbro lorry.

And yesterday on our way back, at Lochaline. 4 o'clock.

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