Life after oil: Former oil worker has a loch more fun on the water

CR0007006 Stuart Johnston with his kelpie at Loirston Loch, Aberdeen. 
Picture by Jim Irvine  13-3-19
CR0007006 Stuart Johnston with his kelpie at Loirston Loch, Aberdeen. Picture by Jim Irvine 13-3-19

Passers by often stop and stare in fascination as Stuart Johnstone goes about his work, but then it’s not every day you see a floating tank chug its way across a loch, complete with a Jack Russell on board.

Stuart and his dog, Pink, always spend the working day together and Pink has her very own life jacket to keep her safe during the nine to five.

She normally opts to go for a swim while Stuart gets on with the job in hand, cleaning bodies of water across the region with his remarkable contraption.

Part boat, part digger, Stuart describes the machine as an “amphibious tool carrier”.

He manoeuvres a rake through the water and clears it of weeds, rubbish and foul-smelling silt.

Having grown up in a fishing community, he has always loved open water and has a fascination for what lies beneath the surface.

From unearthing rotting furniture to removing entire tree trunks, the former oil worker has even come across more grizzly finds, including a skeleton in a sunken car at a quarry.

He is also in demand when it comes to clearing lakes at country houses, of which there are plenty tucked away in Aberdeenshire.

Clients have included Viscountess Candida Bond, a former Chanel model who is married to William Stanhope, otherwise known as the Viscount Petersham.

But whilst Stuart is stunned with who he has been rubbing shoulders with, he’s at his happiest out on the water and doesn’t mind the unpredictable weather.

Kelpie Services has now been running for one year after Stuart and his partner Jenifer, took a gamble and ordered a machine from Europe.

“Jenifer was running a fishery and I remember saying to her that we should clean it out,” said Stuart.

“But our first attempt at buying the machine went a bit wrong – it arrived without a trailer, meaning we couldn’t transport it to different places.

“Thankfully everything went well second time round and I still can’t get over how clever the technology is.

“It’s almost impossible to sink, despite the fact that it looks a bit like a tank.

“There are two big aluminium hulls and two pontoons.

“The cab slides back and forth to help with leverage and it works via three buttons and two levers.”

Stuart can use a variety of tools depending on what needs to be removed from the water and normally cuts weeds before raking away the debris.

Strict rules govern the removal of weeds and he must leave plant debris on the waterside to enable any creatures to return safely to their habitat.

“The rake is just like a hoover in the water and it can easily clear about one quarter of a tonne at a time,” said Stuart.

“There are so many different types of weed, but the main problem at the moment is Canadian weed because it spreads.

“Everybody used to put chemicals in the water but that is obviously banned now. That’s where I come in and I can’t believe the grandeur of some of the places I’ve been to.

“I arrived to do some work at a country house one time, when a woman came round the corner wearing a boiler suit.

“She was actually Viscountess Petersham of Crimonmogate Estate and House.

“She was very pleasant and offered me a key to the house, I couldn’t believe it.

“There I was chatting to a Viscountess, and she used to model for Chanel.

“I think she came to Scotland to get away from all of that and she was just strolling round the estate.

“Her sister-in-law is married to a nephew of the Queen; I didn’t like going near the house because it felt very grand.

“It was the same when I worked at Gleneagles Hotel and I was put up in this gorgeous room.

“I ended up booking myself into a little guest house. I felt out of place with my mucky boots.

“I really enjoyed working at Cairnbulg Castle in Fraserburgh, though.

“I like to get started in early morning and when I can see the reflection of the castle in the water, that’s pretty special.

“It can be quite eerie when the mist is rising – you never get experiences like that working in an office.”

Stuart works across Scotland but lives in Collieston, where he can look out across the water to his heart’s content.

He believes people need to be more educated about water pollution.

“I once pulled out an entire bed frame from the water – you’ve got to wonder how it got there in the first place,” he said.

“Then there was the time we found a car and there were human bones inside.

“The police were involved in that case but thankfully it has only happened the once.

“There are still lovely moments, like the family of otters who were pretty inquisitive as I went about my work.

“I wouldn’t change my job for the world. I think deep down we’d all like to know what lies beneath the water’s surface.

“If I had to choose between working in Dubai in the oil industry or a lonely loch, I’d choose the loch every time.”

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