Access implications around plans for a battery energy storage site near Helensburgh and the part the town played in the story of a pioneering Clyde steamship feature in this week's crop of letters to the Advertiser.

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Following representations from a member of the public, I recently made some enquiries about how it might be possible to improve access to the countryside on both sides of the railway near the proposed YLEM battery installation.

In the past, Ardencaple Farm was accessed by the farm track beside Glenoran, a level crossing being provided when the West Highland Railway was built in 1901. Until recently there was an accepted walking route over the level crossing and up through the farmyard to the Highlandman’s Road, but it seems that the owner of the farm now discourages people from going that way.

South of the railway, Luss Estates expressed support for a path along their boundary with the line, provided it was fenced, as there have been serious issues with loose dogs worrying sheep in the field there.

Preliminary discussion with YLEM about the possibility of YLEM assisting with the funding of better walking and equestrian access to the whole area was positive, although of course it would all depend on them being successful with their planning application.

Battery energy storage site

Battery energy storage site

Coincidentally, another member of the public, a resident of Portincaple, has also contacted me, looking for the Access Trust’s help in resolving the long running dispute there which exists over the closure of the historical Ferry Road public access to Loch Long from Fueins Road.

Sadly I had to inform the gentleman that there was little the Trust could do when Argyll and Bute Council seemed so reluctant to apply the powers it has under the Land Reform Act.

I also pointed out that, a couple of years ago, had the Portincaple community been more welcoming to Pelham Olive when he applied for a fairly modest housing development on vacant ground in the township, the community would by now most likely have had modern road access to the water as well as a car park, slipway and jetty!

For those thinking of manning the YLEM Battery NIMBY barricades, my advice is this: “Be careful what you wish for.”

John Urquhart (Convener, Helensburgh and District Access Trust), 64B Colquhoun Street, Helensburgh

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Further to the recent article in the Advertiser about Henry Bell, his steamship Comet and the decision to give its wreck protected status: readers may have wondered why only the bow section of the wreck of the Comet has been discovered, and so here is the explanation – which has a close link with Helensburgh.

Henry Bell (who was Helensburgh’s first provost, as well as the owner and builder of the Baths Inn on the seafront) introduced the Comet in 1812 to bring guests more speedily and comfortably to his hotel.

It was the first commercial steamship in Europe, but not the first in the world – so Bell was not the inventor of the steamship.

However within a few years the Comet had quite a number of competitors which were bigger, more powerful and faster, and so it was losing business to the newer vessels.

Henry Bell decided that the way to reverse this decline was to lengthen the Comet, and then to put it on a new route up through the Crinan Canal to Oban and Fort William. It became the first steamship to sail on these waters.

Consequently in 1819 the Comet was beached at Helensburgh, cut in two, and a new section was inserted in the middle.

A scale replica of the pioneering steamship Comet outside Helensburghs Morrisons supermarket

A scale replica of the pioneering steamship Comet outside Helensburgh's Morrisons supermarket

It has sometimes been suggested that Bell did not take his steamship back to its builders in Port Glasgow simply because he had never paid them in full for it!

When the Comet was wrecked on Craignish Point, not far from Crinan, it split in two where it had been lengthened, and the stern section was last seen floating off towards the notorious Corryvreckan whirlpool. This is why only the bow section has been discovered, and now given much deserved protected status.

Henry Bell was not just a steamship pioneer but, by putting the Comet on the route to Oban and Fort William, he was also a tourism pioneer.

James Watt had advised Bell that he would be wasting his time by trying to put a steam engine into a ship, but Bell persevered.

And it can of course be argued that without his perseverance, Clydeside shipbuilding would never have reached the pre-eminence which it did in the 19th century.

We in Helensburgh should never forget Henry Bell and his Comet.

Stewart Noble, 28 East Abercromby Street, Helensburgh

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I RECENTLY visited north-west Turkana, an extremely remote and vulnerable region of Kenya. Malnutrition is all too common here. Drought has been killing livestock – people’s main source of income – and forcing them to depend on others for their basic needs.

I work for Mary’s Meals, the school feeding charity with its headquarters in Argyll that provides meals for 2.4 million children every school day, across 18 countries. The promise of a nutritious meal brings children into the classroom and gives them the energy to participate in lessons and work towards a better future.

We provide training, equipment, ingredients and support so communities can run the school feeding programme themselves, with volunteers turning up every school day to cook and serve the meals. In Kenya, our programme reaches more than 100,000 children living in poverty and facing food insecurity.

My visit took me to Akalaliot pre-school in Turkana, where around 300 children receive Mary’s Meals every school day, and it was a hive of activity. I wondered where everyone had come from, since for several miles there were no buildings or dwellings in sight.

I was told Akalaliot is situated between a few small villages, roughly two to three miles away. And for those living on the other side of the mountains, it’s a five or six-mile walk. Despite these vast distances, the children had come for the nutritious meal of maize and beans. As they cleared their plates and bounced to their feet with renewed energy, it was amazing to see the difference these meals are clearly making.

Being able to offer a meal to children, consistently, at school and equipping them to learn and gain skills for their future has a transformative effect on communities made vulnerable by poverty, conflict, and climate change.

It costs just £19.15 to feed a child for a school year with Mary’s Meals, so even small donations can have a big impact. Until 29 September, if you’re able to set up a regular gift to Mary’s Meals, your first three donations will be tripled (by a group of generous donors, up to £150,000).

I’d like to invite your readers to visit to find out more about our work – and help to bring hope to more hungry children like those I met in Kenya.

Alex Keay (Director of Programme Affiliates and Partners, Mary’s Meals International)

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On the morning of August 21 2023, a Sarin gas attack in the rebel held town of Ghouta killed 1,144 people including hundreds of children. 5,935 survivors suffered severe respiratory problems.

It was a defining moment in our response to the Syrian revolution.

A group of 9 Conservative MPs who voted against intervention or abstained from the vote had enjoyed Assad’s hospitality. David Davies and Crispin Blunt were among them.

They have claimed that they visited Syria to see for themselves what life was like there. Did they visit Hama, where 20,000 were massacred in 1982? Perhaps they went to the prisons where 130,000 detainees have disappeared?

The British Syrian Society helped to organise some of the MPs’ visits. It was created by Fawaz Akhras, Assad’s father in law and London resident. Former directors include Michael Portillo and Lord Steel.

There were other players of course. Soon-to-be Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s appearances on Russia Today stand out.

Having promised his support to David Cameron, Ed Miliband demanded further evidence of Assad’s involvement in the atrocity in the interest of party unity.

The Syrian Network of Human Rights has recorded 222 chemical weapons attacks since the first case was documented in December 2012. Ninety-eight per cent of the attacks were by regime forces. Islamic State were responsible for the other 2 per cent. Mr Miliband’s response is not recorded.

Our failure to challenge Assad for these crimes allowed Russia and Iran to save the regime. Russia and Iran are now engaged in Ukraine. President Zelensky acknowledges that our inaction encouraged Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.

Please remember the lies that told in betraying the children of Ghouta. They could have consequences for all of us.

Brian Devlin, 4 Manse Lane, Galashiels