Big plans for Portnaguran after PST’s grant for new slipway

The pier and slipway at Portnaguran has been brought into the 21st Century thanks to a £5,000 grant from us at Point and Sandwick Trust.

The pier, which dates back to the 1950s, is still a big draw and amenity down at the end of the Point peninsula, although it is used more by leisure boats than fishing boats nowadays.

However, it was in need of work, which has now been done, in time for the summer season. The slipway in particular has had a major revamp, with around £10,000 spent on lengthening it and easing its gradient. Previously so steep that a winch was needed, it can now be accessed by cars, making it much easier to launch and retrieve boats.

We gave £5,000 towards the cost of improving the slipway, with the other £5,000 coming from the Scottish Landfill Tax. We also gave £2,000 towards painting the pier and bridge walls, plus the former lighthouse store nearby, “to brighten the place up”.

There were a few other improvements, including the creating of ‘rock armour’ around the burn, to lessen the likelihood of it getting clogged up with seaweed and other debris. That was also funded by the Scottish Landfill Tax. A picnic area has also been created too — funded by a number of bodies including Scottish Natural Heritage.

The next part of the improvement works will hopefully be the creation of a hard standing, next to the slipway, although this is dependent on another funding application to the Landfill Tax. The outcome should be known within a couple of months.

The improvements around the pier have been driven forward by the Portnaguran Amenity Committee, who have even bigger plans for developing the village. They are currently in the process of applying to the Lottery for funding to allow them to carry out a community consultation to decide on the local priorities for the way ahead. The hope is to then use these findings in later funding applications.

Alasdair Nicholson has been giving consultancy support to the amenity committee and said the consultation would allow them to “do a much larger exercise in terms of seeing what other needs there are in the area”. He added: “These guys have got good ideas.”

These ideas include a small fishing history museum to display artefacts and memorabilia, a waiting room and cafe, a viewpoint and public toilets, as there currently are none in the area.

For the moment, though, the amenity committee are celebrating the completion of the slipway, which is now “hugely better”. Committee chair Murdo Findlay Campbell said: “The angle was reduced and the slipway was extended, making it easier for launching and retrieving boats.”

The work was also done in conjunction with Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, who improved the surface of the pier and also replaced the ladders.

Andrew Mackenzie, who is a PST board member as well as a member of the Portnaguran Amenity Committee, said the works at the pier had been “a cooperative venture”.

He added: “What we’re trying to do now is take a strategic look at the village and try and develop facilities in harmony with the residents. We want to do it in a thoughtful way.”

As you can see in the picture above, taken by Sandie Maciver who will now be doing press photos for us (welcome aboard Sandie), some representatives of the amenity committee and the trust braved the cold this week for a photoshoot at the new-and-improved pier and slip. The outing brought back some memories of how the busy the place used to be.

Committee member Iain Maclean said: “I remember when the pier was being built. They used to bring in around 20 boxes of fish every day and there would be between six and eight lorries taking the fish away. The lorries would go to Stornoway and transport the fish then to Billingsgate and all over the place. There were probably about eight boats fishing out of there. It was absolutely unbelievable, the herring. They used to string the fish right across the shoreline.

“Broadway was then hoaching with fish.”

Now, the pier is more likely to be used by leisure craft and kayakers, particularly in the summer. Seal and whale spotters too; even those looking for the Aurora — or just to get closer to nature.

Visitors come to Portnaguran from all over, whether that’s European countries such as France, Germany, Austria, Italy and Denmark, or closer to home.

It has that appeal, as Alasdair noted, of being “a place on the edge” – the type of location that human beings are naturally drawn to. Our general manager Donald John MacSween, who lives in Bayble, said Portnaguran was “the end of the line” and therefore a big attraction. “There’s always something happening, even on the wildest days,” he said.

Donald John spoke of that “very important” point of principle, when PST was being set up, to avoid creating a culture of dependency, so that even when voluntary groups were getting financial help and support, they would hold onto their own autonomy and ambition.

He spoke of the fear, ahead of the turbines beginning to generate money, that local groups would come to be too reliant on PST and lose their own ‘can do’ attitudes.

He said: “We were determined to avoid that at all costs and that’s where these groups are so important. We wanted to help them to realise their own ambitions. That’s why we set up our community consultancy, to help these groups, and it’s working really well.

“There was a danger that once we got these turbines built that people would say, ‘Point and Sandwick will look after everything for us’ but that is not the intention.

“At the last count there was between 40 and 50 voluntary groups in the Point and Sandwick area. That’s a huge amount of voluntary effort.

“It’s about helping that grow and and not smothering it in any way.”

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