An interesting day with the West Coast Coastguards at Mallaig.

Yesterday was an enjoyable day and I spent the morning travelling to Mallaig on the West Coast to speak to a group of Coastguards from many of the Islands and Fort William .

It was a long 3 hour drive in poor weather, very dreich with heavy mist and drizzle as I headed West.I stopped at Fort William to see a veteran of RAF Mountain Rescue Joss Gosling who was part of the RAF Kinloss Mountain Rescue Team that was on the Lancaster Crash on Beinn Eighe in 1951. Now on his 80’s Joss has not been keeping so well but still on great form. His lovely wife Annie made me tea and scones and we had a grand chat. What a man one of the most unassuming people you could ever meet. He has such knowledge of these early days of Rescue as a young National Serviceman. He took great photos in the 50’s that show how basic the gear was and the training and gave a rare insight into these early days of Rescue.

photo – My great pal Joss Gosling what a man and his pictures and tales of the early days of Mountain Rescue are incredible.

From Fort William it was a wet drive to Mallaig yet the clouds were moving about these forgotten hills. There are great Corbetts her and yet few visit, hard hills and even today they were looking magnificent with the mist at times clearing and the hills peaking out of the clouds. To me it is one of the best drives in the World and the amount of unclimbed rock about is spectacular and I remember a few new routes in the past with my mate Tom MacDonald.! The hills are golden brown  just with the dying grasses with the heavy mist still spectacular and the views as you head West even in a mixed day are stunning. The railway line weaves its way through incredible scenery and the train trip is one never to miss. I did this trip on the Jacobite train with my sister Eleanor and her late husband Fergus and have lovely memories of a special day.  How did they build this railway?  I was soon in Mallaig and got booked into the West Highland Hotel ready for my lecture at 1500.
The Coastguards Training weekend was in full swing and there was so much going on and it was busy their were several lectures going on on different areas of the hotel! I had a cup of tea and listened in for a while. The I had time for a freshen up and then a walk  to the sea and could just make Eigg and Rum out on the mist and a wander down to the busy harbour!

What a place Mallaig is it is a place of great memories of superb trips to the Islands and Knoydart!

As happend they were a bit behind time but on the West time stands still I was speaking to the whole group of Coastguards in the main Restaurant and it was quite daunting  It was a bespoke lecture on various incidents I had covered on the West Coast and though mainly aircraft incidents much of it I felt was relevant to the audience. These people will be first on scene especially in the remoter places and hopefully it opened their eyes and gave them some ideas before help arrives.  I had great feedback at the end later on in the evening so in my mind it was worth it and the days put in preparation. These are not easy as I try to open my heart when I speak and tell the story of the great leaders I worked with and the huge efforts of the teams and other Agencies and how we can improve after every incident. It can be hard going and even an hour can leave you pretty exhausted.

I have huge respect for our Coastguards few realise what skills they have and whilst in my 40 years of SAR I was only really aware in my last 10 years of their versatility. They have a huge capacity and their training is ongoing, current and impressive. It is hard but vital to ensure that regulations and Health and Safety though vital do not cause a huge admin burden that is so difficult to manage. This happend in my RAF Career and in the end we nearly had more administration than workers. I will continue to speak up for good Safety practices but in the end Rescue and SAR is a dangerous game and that is what leadership is all about/

Whilst working in the ARCC we regularly sent helicopters in to the Islands  to  recscue people/evacuate patients for hospital transfers. After arranging the helicopter the next call was to the Coastguards to ask for their assistance . Day or night they were there helping with the patients or casualties, they are part of the lifeblood of every community! I also worked with a Coastguard Pete who was with us in a long term liaison between the ARCC and the Coastguards and learned so much in my 4 years from him in the Centre about UK SAR.
Too me the Coastguards  are a huge resource all over the UK and at not a great cost to the Taxpayers for what they do and I was impressed by the skills taught yesterday in the different workshops of the training day.  After my chat they had another couple of training sessions and I managed a wander outside before dinner.They all had a busy day and it ended just before dinner at 1900.

Sadly there was no great sunset over these incredible views but the mist had cleared and the rays of the last of the sun poked through the clouds! How I love the West and its magic, it’s people and history.

After dinner I met a few in the bar  and we had some great tales of Island life and promises to come over and meet them.  What great stories of life on the Islands and remoter places on the West, what a variety of characters from all over the UK and all wanting to learn new skills.

I left them fairly early on just before midnight but had a few drams and as the clocks go back it was a later night than I wanted. I had enjoyed the night it was great “craic”k and so many good people.

It was interesting to hear many talk about what they do and how they make a living on the Islands .

The end of a very interesting day and great to meet so many people who want to help others! In these days of taking it is great to see that so many of all ages and various skills want to help their community and those in trouble!

Thanks for the invite it was a privileged to talk to you all!

I must get my Island book out so many places to go so little time!

When I was in the USA I was aware of what their Coastguard does and it was an eye opener how the have a huge brief over the Coast and sea. They also have all the means to do it like aircraft and ships.

Maybe it’s time to  re look at this expansion for their role ?
Any thoughts

I am available for lectures most can be bespoke and you can contact me through my website!


About heavywhalley.MBE

After dinner speaker Lecturer and Mountain Rescue Specialist. Environmentalist. Spent 36 years with RAF Mountain Rescue and 4 years with a civilian Team . Still an active Mountaineer and loves the wild places.
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