But has life in Knoydart really changed in the last two years? "Everybody is
a lot happier," reflected Mr Evemy. "There are more opportunities and
everything is gradually all coming together. It took old-style landowners
years to mess it up, so we have got years to put it back together again."
The imminent announcement of the sale of Inverie House by the Foundation was
to be welcomed, he said, as the neglected "big house" had acted as an
albatross in the estate's development. Cash from its sale would be
reinvested in the community.
Although its new owners will not be responsible for running the estate, as
in the past, it is hoped the sale will create opportunities for locals and
encourage more people to move there - for example, through house renovation
or encouraging more stalking.
Of community ownership, Mr Evemy said: "In a sense we had a revolution,
which seemed an impossible dream, and the press gave a lot of support to
make it a viable proposition. Everything came together at the right time.
Young people are not wondering where to get their next job - everyone is
much more confident and getting involved in the running of the place."
Angela Williams, who was appointed a couple of months ago as the first
development manager for the Knoydart Foundation, said another main priority
to be tackled was the lack of adequate housing.
"The whole estate has suffered from lack of investment," she said. "In a
recent housing and tourism survey, some of the population felt there was
scope for limited growth, but it has got to be carefully managed because of
the pressing accommodation issue. There are seven or eight people living in
temporary accommodation. That may seem a low number, but when you consider
the percentage of the population it is quite high."
Although the Foundation own five properties, she said they were all in need
of refurbishment and the Foundation were looking to convert the houses over
a period of time with assistance from Lochaber Housing Association, the
Highland Council and the Highland Small Communities Housing Trust.
Outline planning applications for four new houses have also been submitted
to the Highland Council. These units, which will cost around £25,000 each to
build, are expected to house temporary workers and to act as a stepping
stone for people before they buy their own houses.
Some 65 people live in around 25 houses in Knoydart, she calculated, and the
population rose every year with the arrival of holiday home owners.
"Unemployment is very low," she said. "Only around one or two people are out
of work. Most people are self-employed, for example, in tourism or
guiding-related work. Only one person has a croft, Davie Smith, who lives at
Airor - a six-mile drive away - and Iain Wilson is the main hill farmer."
An independent company, Knoydart Trading, has been set up by the Foundation
with responsibility for stalking activities and the basic youth hostel at
Home Farm, half-a-mile from Inverie.
Plans for deer management on Knoydart over the next four years include a
significant cull - from 722 hinds in 1999 to 450 by 2004. A similar
reduction in stag numbers is also planned to bring the average count of 665
stags down to 480.
Another significant project, Angela Williams said, is the refurbishment and
redevelopment of Home Farm and the restoration of a disused market garden
into a flagship project for the Foundation. It is hoped that storage areas
will be converted to around five or six workshops which could be made
available to self-employed residents.
Also in the pipeline is the refurbishment of the village hall, which it is
hoped will include a new library and enough space to allow a doctor from
Mallaig to hold a monthly surgery. Plans for a new pier to be built at
Inverie were recently unveiled to local residents in a presentation by the
Highland Council. At low tide the present passenger ferry, the 'Western
Isles', has to use a tender and in extremely wild weather it has to berth
further down the bay at Glaschoille.
Ms Williams said that when the new pier was completed - which, depending on
funding, could be in two to three years' time - Caledonian MacBrayne's ferry
'Loch Nevis' will still only carry residents' cars. Visitors will be asked
to leave their cars in Mallaig.
"As we have only a couple of miles of serviceable roads we couldn't justify
a regular service with vehicles," she said. "The 'Loch Nevis' will not
operate a scheduled service and as far as I know Knoydart will continue to
be regularly served by the 'Western Isles' on three days in winter and five
days in summer."
No one wanted Knoydart simply to be a place for visitors to come to, she
said. They were looking at stalking operations and land management to keep
some income level throughout the year and it is hoped the new hostel will
have a classroom for educational use. "Our fantastic resource is the land
and water," Angela Williams said, "so we must make more use of it, without
damaging it. But we have got to have a viable community too."
With the considerable media interest generated by the buy-out, were
starry-eyed romantics keen to move there? "Yes, we do get a number of
queries from people who want to live here," she said. "They are mostly
attracted by the remoteness, for example, artists or poets - people who are
interested in a disused croft on a remote part of the estate. But housing is
such a key issue, and there aren't any vacant crofts lying around."
Overall, she felt that the change from estate owners being in charge to
residents having part in the decision-making process had been a very
positive experience. A great deal of time had been devoted by local people
to a range of issues, some of them involving quite difficult decisions -
such as the sale of Inverie House.
Did Knoydart live up to her expectations? "I love the area, and it's a
really good community," Ms Williams said. "There is a real cross-section of
people here. Some have been here for 30 to 40 years and gone through all
different estate owners and experienced a difficult time, and others have
been here for a just a few years."
"You can't just nip down to Tesco's, but you can do without that, and I can
spend more time with one-year-old daughter. But, it's important not to get
too whimsical about it."
Eilidh Klemm, who has lived at Samadalan in Knoydart for the last 20 years
and has been teacher at Inverie Primary School for the last four years, is
optimistic that the school would undergo an essential extension and upgrade.
At present all school activities are held in just one room, including eating
lunch and office work.
"The idea is to extend into the schoolhouse, with part to be used for school
and part for accommodation," Mrs Klemm said. "We hope to get a nursery and a
staff office. It's really essential as nursery-age children up to primary
seven are all taught in just one room. It has been worked out that six boys
from Doune and three girls from Inverie will be joining the school in the
next five years and another two families are to join the community by next
term, so that's another three children. We will be losing two to high
Although the schoolroom has smart new gale-proof windows, Mrs Klemm said
that struggling with the intermittent power supply had meant a tough winter
"It's a big problem as electricity is essential. Computers are now used as a
tool like a pencil and chalk. We have four classroom computers for the six
pupils, as well as a video and a clavinova."
Another drawback of working in a single-teacher school, she said, was that
you had all the paperwork of a big school without the staff support. You
also had to keep all the children united - from primary two to seven - but
challenged in their work.
"But it has its advantages," she said. "You really get to know the children
and can really encourage them to develop. They have a great environment and
couldn't have a more child-centered curriculum."
The school was the first place in Knoydart to boast an Internet connection,
she said, and for the past four years they had been communicating with
island schools in Denmark and Norway.
Did she think the community had changed since the buy-out? "Although people
are bound to have problems," she said, "the meetings are very productive and
everyone - including younger members of the community - are trying really
hard to solve its problems. You have got to look at things with optimism."
© West Highland Free Press www.whfp.com
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