Friday, 22 December 2006

Notes from a largish island

<![CDATA[ Compared to the rest of the country, we're getting off lightly. Today sees some mist and drizzle, but no fog. Temperatures at time of typing a very respectable 11C / 52F, which are on a par with Kirkwall and Lerwick. The ferry appears to be sailing normally, leaving the half hour delay this afternoon to one side. Makes a change from all the disruption earlier in the month due to high winds.

One of our weekly publications, the Hebridean, has had its last copy printed this week. It will be amalgamated into the Stornoway Gazette. This writer sits here puzzled, as I wasn't aware the Gazette was overly interested in matters in Skye. If I want to read Skye-related news I'll read the West Highland Free Press, as I've done for more than 10 years.

I will give my considered opinion that the Free Press is a wee bit too much pro-windfarm, and not writing in tandem with local opinion. Of course I'm on about the Lewis windfarm that nobody wants. The Free Press know my stance on this and even had the guts to publish a nasty letter from me some time back, berating them for abandoning their motto "The Land, The People, The Culture". In their own homeground (Skye), they have taken sides (pro-windfarm) in the saga surrounding the Edinbane windfarm. I'll leave it to blogger Skyemartyn to fill us in on that one.

I would like to take this opportunity to wish everybody in the Scottish Islands a very happy Christmas and best wishes for 2007. Similar wishes go out to readers in parts near and far.

Below image courtesy ]]>

Tuesday, 19 December 2006

Delivery charges - continued

<![CDATA[ It goes back 11 months - January this year - when I wrote about excessive delivery charges to the Highlands and Islands.

Today, five MPs are reported as expressing outrage over this practice. In principle, any item below 25 kg in weight can be dispatched using Royal Mail (Parcelforce) at a flatrate fee, related to weight, not destination.

I am fed up with reading terms and conditions from companies, stating delivery "Mainland UK" only. Our counterparts in the Channel Islands have the same problem. As I said above, there is NO justification for surcharging. It shouldn't matter whether you live in SE.1 or HS.1 - the Royal Mail will deliver.

In January, I appealed for people to contact their local trading standards office with examples of his practice. I am glad that this is now being taken on board by MP's, and look forward to a speedy change. ]]>

Tuesday, 12 December 2006

Industrial Lewis

<![CDATA[ Lewis Windpower has announced that it has downsized the proposed North Lewis Windfarm to 181 turbines. This is a further reduction from the original size, as mooted in 2004, of 234 turbines. Consultation is presently scheduled to take place over the Christmas and New Year holidays. The public buildings where the documents pertaining to the proposals are located will be closed for much of the time. An extension to the consultation period is being sought.

Above map is taken from the BBC Scotland newsreport. and shows (in blue) the turbines that have now been deleted from the LWP plans.

I was shocked to hear the MSP for the Western Isles taking a stance in favour of this major development, whereas there is a sizeable proportion of islanders who are opposed. This percentage runs at anywhere between 50 and 80% The MSP has claimed that a certain number of turbines are needed to justify the inter- connector, a big word for subsea electricity transmission cable to the mainland. It sounds as if the islands are not properly represented at Holyrood, if the MSP is not prepared to stand up for the majority of his constituents in Lewis, who don't want this windfarm.

Secondly, the Keighley, Yorkshire, based businessman John Haggas has taken over the Harris Tweed industry, or at least 95% of it, with a view to reinvigorate it. The Shawbost mill, part of the KM Group, is earmarked for closure. The Parkend mill is also part of the deal, reportedly.
Harris Tweed can only be called such if its manufacturing processes wholly take place in the Outer Hebrides, and are subject to the Orb trademark requirements.
The industry has been in the doldrums for ten years, following its implosion in the 1990s. I sincerely hope that Mr Haggas will put the Harris Tweed industry back where it belongs: as a major industry for the Outer Hebrides, with a firm, community backed weaving base. ]]>

Monday, 4 December 2006

Arnish Fabrication Yard

Tables Turned

<![CDATA[ At last we were the navel of the universe. A low-pressure system sitting directly overhead, so the sun was out and little wind yesterday. Mind you, 100 miles away at Tiree, they were holding on to their ferry terminal. And 250 miles away our poor tanker, the Border Heather, found the power was no longer with her. She had to be towed into port after her engine failed.

It also bugs me when a gale is forecast for our neck of the woods, because the BBC weathermen give it a cursory glance. The Met Office just about may issue a severe weather warning. Last year, on November 11, they didn't until the tiles were flying off the roofs here, and as a result the captains of the Muirneag and Isle of Lewis ferries thought they could just sneak across the Minch. Nope. Muirneag took 18 hours to complete the crossing, nearly putting into Torshavn on the way. The Isle of Lewis came close to discharging its passengers and cargo at Cromor I believe.

Going back to the point I was going to make, there was going to be a gale in England. Oh cor blimey. Stern-faced weathermen on the BBC. Weather warning splattered across the Met Office website a week in advance. OK, it was severe, I am led to believe. But can we have a bit of equality here, I mean we are just as equal as our cousins down south, thankyou.

959 mbar


Monday, 20 November 2006

Making the best of the weather

<![CDATA[ No ferry anywhere in the islands, rain belting down, dire forecasts for a week full of gales? Well, better enjoy the wild west while it lasts. Next thing, we'll be in the throes of snow and ice. I think I prefer the gales.

Just wanted to share some of the pictures I took at Battery Point on Sunday.


Thursday, 9 November 2006

Traffic calming measures

Remembrance Sunday 2006

<![CDATA[ 2005 Remembrance Sunday parade marches away from Lewis War Memorial
This Sunday is Remembrance Sunday, and in Stornoway there will be three services in separate churches. Each church accommodates different sections of veterans and services. All church services commence at 10.50 am, and participants should assemble at 10.45.

Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, Highlands & Islands Fire Brigade - St Columba's Church, Lewis Street

Royal Navy, Army - Stornoway High Church, Matheson Road

Lord Lieutenant, Royal British Legion, RAF Association, Air Training Corps, Merchant Navy, British Nuclear Testing Veterans Association - Martin's Memorial Church, Francis Street

A separate parade will be held at 10.30 from the Royal British Legion, with participants requested to be present at 10.15. The parade will conclude outside the County Hotel in Francis Street.

A wreath-laying service is to be held at the Lewis War Memorial at 12.30pm, and transport there will be arranged to start from the Royal British Legion at 12.15.

All medals should be worn at all occasions mentioned above.
Memorial outside TA Barracks ]]>

Friday, 27 October 2006

First gale of the season

<![CDATA[ Ferry Isle of Lewis tied up in the daytime, a sight normally reserved for Sundays only. The Western Isles got off relatively lightly in Thursday's bad weather. Throughout the morning and part of the afternoon, a northeasterly gale force 8 blew. It rained, but the effects of that were exacerbated by the force of the wind. Calmac had decided not to run any ferries at all to Ullapool. A northeasterly wind blows be directly across the path of the ferry, and would have made it very uncomfortable and risky.

Today, Friday, the weather is wet and windy, although the force 7 was less than yesterday and there is a ferry service. Needless to say, though, the ferry is running more than an hour late as a result of the conditions. There appeared to be a large degree of panic-buying going on in the supermarket, judging by the huge queues at the check-outs. Longest I've ever seen, outside the Christmas period.

I was surprised to note the extent of the flooding in Kirkwall, along Junction Road and other places in the town. I know Kirkwall fairly well, following a four-week sojourn there in September 2004. I wish all in that town and elsewhere in Orkney, Shetland and mainland Scotland luck with the clear-up of the mess. ]]>

Thursday, 26 October 2006

Turbine overboard!

<![CDATA[ The German registered vessel Lass Moon put into Stornoway this morning, carrying windturbines for a small project on the Arnish Moor. The only problem was that several parts of the three turbines destines for the site along the Lochs Road were lost overboard in adverse weather. The Lass Moon was transporting the turbine sections from a fabrication yard in Denmark.

These turbines have seen the North Sea twice over, as their fabrication was commenced at the Arnish Yard early this year. After the yard's operators, Camcal, got into financial difficulty, the partly finished turbines were transported to Denmark for completion. Gales in the North Sea and North Atlantic caused some of the turbines to wash overboard.

This means that the proposed date for commissioning the windfarm on the Arnish Moor will have to be put back from next month into 2007. Its operators, Forest Invest Management, have expressed disappointment at this setback.

Below picture shows the Lass Moon passing the Arnish Lighthouse on its way into port at 11 a.m. this morning.


Monday, 16 October 2006

Winter Timetable

<![CDATA[ A reminder for travellers in the Western Isles that buses and ferries revert to a winter schedule, starting on Monday, October 23rd. Bus services will be slightly less frequent than during the summer period, although the only major decrease in frequency (within Lewis and Harris) is noted on the Stornoway to Tarbert and Leverburgh route.

Passengers for the early ferries at Tarbert or Leverburgh will be required to book a taxibus service before 17.00 hours the previous day at Stornoway Bus Station. The fare has to be booked in person and paid for. The first scheduled bus to Harris will not leave Stornoway until 12.30 (p.m.) on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, this will be at 10.00 (a.m.).

Bus timetables are available free of charge from Stornoway Bus Station as well as Tourist Information Centres. The timetable can also be viewed at the Comhairle nan Eilean Siarwebsite, for both Lewis & Harris and the Uists.

Ferry timetables can be obtained from any ferry terminal, TIC or from the Calmacwebsite. ]]>

Friday, 13 October 2006

Sunset images



Poisonous playpark

<![CDATA[ A playpark on Bayhead in the centre of Stornoway was closed on Thursday after preliminary investigations found elevated levels of heavy metals like lead in the soil. Council official stressed that this was a precautionary measure and that the risk to users of the playpark, children up to age 6 and their parents, was minimal.

Apparently, the site of the playpark used to be a dump. Further investigations will have to reveal how serious the pollution is.


Tuesday, 3 October 2006


<![CDATA[ Just wanted to share some pictures of Ness, taken just over a week ago.

Cross Church

Port Sto, between Eoropie and Butt of Lewis Lighthouse

Rock formations off the Butt of Lewis

Dunes at Eoropie Beach ]]>

Wednesday, 27 September 2006

Matheson Memorial

<![CDATA[ Matheson MemorialToday, the renovated Matheson Memorial was officially inaugurated in the Stornoway Castle Grounds, following a major refurbishment. Those arriving into Stornoway by ferry may be familiar with the monument, which stands on a hill overlooking the harbour.

It was erected by the wife of Sir James Matheson (1796 - 1878) in his memory. The inaugural ceremony was attended by representatives of the Matheson Clan and from the Jardine-Matheson company, co-founded by James Matheson in the 1820s.

Sir James Matheson made his fortune in the opium trade, and could arguably be referred to as a drugsbaron. This may well elicit a few gasps of horror in certain circles, but it should be born in mind that Great Britain went to war to protect its interests in said opium trade. At the end of the Opium Wars, Hong Kong was occupied by Britain, only to be ceded back to the People's Republic of China in 1997.

Matheson meanwhile returned to Scotland in 1842 and purchased the Isle of Lewis. For his efforts to alleviate the effects of the potato famine (1846/7) in Lewis, he was awarded a baronetcy in 1851.

Matheson was also responsible for the clearance of the southern half of Park (Eishken), with the 36 villages I have blogged about before. Sheep being more profitable than people, I presume. ]]>

Monday, 25 September 2006

Arnish Fabrication Yard - 24 September 2006

<![CDATA[ Images speak louder than words
Sign at the entrance
The entrance

I have omitted a picture showing a misspelled claim to property on one of the pipes, stored in the yard. ]]>

Monday, 18 September 2006

West Side

<![CDATA[ Last week, I was over on the West Side, showing an antipodean visitor round. Managed to visit three villages there, Gearrannan, Dalmore and Dalbeg.

Gearrannan Blackhouse VillageGearrannan contains the Blackhouse Village, the restored blackhouses at the end of the road by the beach. I hope they have by now shifted those containers by the gate at the bottom. They smelled as if they had recently contained dead sheep. Otherwise, I was pleased to note that the thatch on the houses has now been renewed. It looked worn in the spring. I always like Gearrannan; at one time I reached there, having walk from Borrowston round to the Lamishader lighthouse and coming in from the west. Some great views can be had when walking east over the clifftops towards Dalmore. Looking west, you see Old Hill (the 270 ft high hump of rock north of Great Bernera) and Gallan Head, the cape off Aird Uig.

You can walk from Gearrannan to Dalmore - please be very careful near clifftops if you do. It takes about an hour and a half, follow the posts. Dalmore has a great beach, if lined with large boulders and coastal defence works. Swimming here is dangerous, but it's great for windsurfing. The cemetery stands immediately above the beach. Dalmore village only contains a handful of houses; the ruins of others dot the hillsides.
Dalmore Beach Dalmore Village
Dalbeg is 40 minutes' walk further east, and a little gem of a place. The loch is filled with rushes and water lilies and a small flock geese swam around. The stack on the right hand side of the beach is quite distinctive. The river flowing into the beach is only 50 or 100 yards long, but in common with many rivers flowing into Lewis beaches, it meanders and changes its path on a regular basis.
Dalbeg Beach
The West Side walk carries on from here, all the way to Bragar. It passes to the north of Shawbost, with the Congested Districts Board Wall between Dalbeg and Shawbost presenting a bit of an obstacle. It's a beautiful coastline walk from Gearrannan to Bragar, which can be done on a day. Please be careful on a windy day; beware of the cliffs. ]]>

Wednesday, 13 September 2006

Couple of bits and pieces

<![CDATA[ Last Friday, a mock-up accident was set up outside the Town Hall. One car on its side, the other on its roof. The emergency services attended, and a demonstration was given as to how police, ambulance, fire and coastguard services operate and co-operate. First priority is to make the casualties safe, and the scene safe for other road users. Anyone involved in the incident who couldn't liberate themselves from their cars was cut free. There was one "fatality", which was attributed to the "victim" not wearing seatbelts. Once the casualties were made safe and stabilised, they were transferred "to hospital" using the Coastguard helicopter. The object was to raise public awareness of the work of the emergency services, and to shock young drivers into sensible driving. The mock-up was well attended, and everything was cleared within about 40 minutes.
The scene of the mock-up
As promised some pictures of the high tides. Although the highest tides peaked at 5.5m above chart datum, nothing untoward has been reported. We were lucky that it was a very quiet weekend. Not so just now, as I am typing this (9pm on Wednesday), the wind is touching force 6 outside. The remnant of Hurricane Florence is due over the island on Sunday.
The island off Goat Island is normally linked to the latter - not that evening

I am pleased about the discussion surrounding the mothballing of the Arnish Fabrication Yard. The commitment of the Scottish Executive to wavepower, as reported by one commentator, is late in coming. I don't think opposition to windpower had anything to do with the closure of Arnish. It is just plain poor management on the part of ALL involved. ]]>

Wednesday, 6 September 2006

Western Isles Archaeology Month

<![CDATA[ September is Western Isles Archaeology Month, and there are more than a dozen events to choose from. These vary from talks to walks, in places as far apart as Leverburgh and Ness; I have no information on events in the Uists or Barra, unfortunately.

The walks involve visiting ancient sites, like the Achmore Stone Circle, the middle age fortress at Dun Eistean, in Ness and the Galson shoreline.

The talks are on the results of field campaigns and surveys in the island of Lewis / Harris. There is also an open day at the Archaeology Centre in the Old School at Achmore, 9 miles southwest of Stornoway.

If you're in the island over the next 3 weeks and would like to come along, check for details in the full list, which is taken from Events Monthly. ]]>

End of Summer

Wednesday, 30 August 2006

Faclan - Hebridean Book Festival

<![CDATA[ Later today, I shall be attending the first contributions to the Hebridean Book Festival (Faclan - Gaelic for Words) at An Lanntair here in Stornoway.

It is a celebration of the Hebridean written culture, whether it be poetry or prose, in English, Scots or Gaelic. A line-up of the famous and not-so-famous in the world of writers and poets will discuss various topics. A specially commissioned play will be performed, and bands will play music.

Apart from the formal sessions, An Lanntair hopes that it will also forge a new network amongst writers in this part of the world, sharing ideas and views, forming new friendships and hopefully augmenting the culture of the Hebrides.

The Faclan website gives all the information on this major event, which starts today and ends of Saturday, 2nd September.

I shall personally attend a handful of events and will endeavour to report back on this blog. ]]>

Monday, 28 August 2006

Child abduction

<![CDATA[ Police in Stornoway are investigating the possible abduction of a 12-year old girl from the town on Friday of last week. Molly Campbell, also known as Misbah Iram Ahmed Rana, was collected from the Nicolson Institute just before 11 am on Friday by her sister and taken to the airport for a flight to Glasgow.

At 1455, another flight left Glasgow, bound for Lahore, Pakistan, via Dubai. The plane landed at Dubai at 2120 GMT on Friday, before proceeding to Pakistan. Molly could be with her father in Lahore or with relatives in Karachi. However, it is her mother, Louise Campbell, who has the legal custody of the child.

Western Isles Police are working closely with Comhairle nan Eilean Siar (Western Isles Council), the Procurator Fiscal Service as well as Interpol to trace the youngster. Her welfare is paramount for the police, and they wish to see Molly reunited with her mother as soon as possible.

Anyone who saw Molly on her journey (portrait on this webpage) to Glasgow, Dubai or beyond is requested to contact police. In the UK the phonenumbers to use are Crimestoppers (anonymously) 0800-555111 or the Stornoway Police Station on 01851-702222. ]]>

Friday, 25 August 2006

Update - Restoration Village

<![CDATA[ This morning, it was announced that the Scottish finalist in the Restoration Village programme was the Dennis Head Lighthouse on North Ronaldsay, Orkney.

The final vote, in the UK wide competition, will take place in September, and will set the old lighthouse against eight other contenders from other regions. The winner will gain

Update - Arnish Fabrication Yard

Thursday, 24 August 2006

Clach an Truiseil

<![CDATA[ Clach an TruiseilThis is the Truiseal stone, a 18'10" [5.7 m] high monolith in the small village of Baile an Truiseil [Ballantrushal], some 2 miles north of Upper Barvas, here in Lewis. Pronounce the CH as you would the CH in LOCH.

It's not terribly well sign-posted on the tourist trail, although it does boast of a picknick table. Was not tempted to use it this afternoon, in the midst of a steady procession of rain showers marching north.

The Truiseal stone is reputed to have been a man in by-gone days, who had been turned to stone. A passer-by had heard the stone proclaim in sepulchral tones:

A Truisealach am I after the Fiann;
Long is my journey behind the others;
My elbow points to the west
And I am embedded to my oxters.

Some 20 miles to the southwest stand the much better known Callanish Stones. When you visit the site, there are a number of explanatory plaques, conjecturing about possible use of the Stones. But what I have to make of their by-name in Gaelic - Na Fir Bhreige [The Deceitful Men], I can only guess.

[Source: Lewis - A History of the Island, Donald MacDonald, 1978] ]]>

Transport Issues

Monday, 21 August 2006

Restoration Village

I was very pleased to note all the islands engaging in a blogging frenzy this weekend, particularly Orkney. What I did miss was a reference to North Ronaldsay's efforts to get its Dennis Head Lighthouse restored to a semblance of its former glory. So, I'll pick up the can - it doesn't appear that anyone from North Ron is blogging on here, I think.

Like with so many islands in Orkney, I have fond memories of North Ronaldsay, having spend one afternoon plus one weekend on it two years ago. I had intended to take the early Friday ferry at the tim e, but when I turned up on the quayside in Kirkwall, the boat had left. Its scheduled departure time, 9 am, was still 45 minutes away, but the skipper decided he could leave as he wasn't expecting anything or anybody else. To jollification with the timetable. So I had to fly. Ach,

Thursday, 17 August 2006

Of mice and men

<![CDATA[ Canna mouseIn the early days of Island Blogging Western Isles, I reported on the campaign to relieve Canna of its rat problem. Although we briefly enjoyed the presence of Cannablog, this seems to be on holiday, so I'll just finish the story, seeing as I started it.

Canna was plagued by an infestation of 5,000 rats. They predated on ground nesting birds, by eating eggs and chicks. Rather than just dosing the island with a load of rat poison, special precautions had to be taken first. Canna is home to a species of mouse not found elsewhere, and the rat poison would have wiped them out as well. So all the wee mice were caught and transported to Edinburgh for safe keeping. After all the rats were poisoned, back in February, a check was kept on Canna for 6 months, to verify that they really had all bitten the dust.

The National Trust for Scotland, who own Canna, are delighted to announce that the eradication of the rats was a success. Numbers of nesting birds have risen dramatically, with numbers of razorbills up tenfold and shags up 50%.

Manx Shearwater in flight (pic from RSPB website)A colony of Manx Shearwaters, which at one time numbered 1,500 breeding pairs, had been reduced to a pitiful 1 pair in 2002. NTS staff used a recording of the shearwater's call to lure the birds back to Canna, and it seems to have worked. Shearwaters also nest on the neighbouring island of Rum, 4 miles to the east. They use abandoned rabbit burrows for breeding, but otherwise spend their lives at sea. ]]>

North Rona

<![CDATA[ I often look on the BBC Weather website at times of high winds to get even more extreme readings from this windswept outpost.

// (or R

Tuesday, 15 August 2006

Ferries galore - or are there?

<![CDATA[ I'm blogging out of area again. Sorry. It is actually quite a large issue, and would like to hear from other island bloggers (Coll, Tiree, Colonsay and further down the Western Isles chain) about the below issue.

Councillors from Argyll and from South Uist had it out this week over the ferry services between the mainland and South Uist. People in South Uist prefer their ferry to go to Mallaig rather than Oban. The journey from Lochboisdale to Oban takes nearly 5

Friday, 11 August 2006

Arnish Fabrication Yard


<![CDATA[ Lewis is full of ancient monuments, some older than others. I have visited the majority of the better known ones, such as Calanais. Everybody that visits Lewis * HAS * to visit Callanish. As I've explained quite some time ago, Callanish does not just consist of the one large monument on the top of the hill; there are about 20 associated sites within a 3 mile radius, some on the other side of the water to the west.
Callanish Stones
Another stone circle is at Garynahine / Gearraidh na h-Aibhne along the B8011 road to Uig and Bernera. What puzzles me is a stone circle east of Achamor, because I find it extremely hard to tell the difference between stones making up the monument and stray boulders.
Carloway Broch
Second on the list is the Carloway Broch, 7 miles north of Callanish, conspicuous to all who drive up from the south as that broken-off tooth on the skyline above Doune Carloway. It is an impressive monument and a tribute to those that built it, 2,100 years ago. The nearby visitor centre deserve a mention as well, because a valiant effort has been made to recreate life in the Broch as it happened all those centuries ago.
Gearrannan Blackhouse Village
Four miles to the north stands the Blackhouse Village of Gearrannan, which was restored about 10 years ago. One of the houses was reinstated in the way it was in the 1950s; others have been kitted out to modern day specifications for self-catering lets.
Norse Mill and Kiln
Moving round the coast the Norse Mill is quite a demure affair, sitting in the valley of a river, flowing down to Loch na Muilne just outside Shawbost. The mill, powered by water, was in use not that long ago; 1950s I believe. People would come from nearby Shawbost to grind their corn &c. Nowadays, the mill is not in working order, but you can go into the building (bring a torch) to view its workings.

The next village, Bragar, has what's called Dun in the loch at South Bragar. These are fairly common in Northern Scotland. A Dun is a fort, sitting on an island in the loch, linked to the shore by means of a causeway, which is partially submerged and not lying in a straight line. Strangers would have great difficulty negotiated this wobbly path.

I nearly omitted the Arnol Blackhouse, north of Arnol proper, which shows life in the blackhouse as it used to be, quite some time ago. The peat fire smoking in the centre of the living area makes it a rather smokey experience.

Shooting through Barvas, the next village is Baile an Truseil, Village of the Stone. It is a monolith, standing totally isolated on the southern edge of the village, all of 20 ft high.
Steinacleit Homestead
One river further up lies Shader, which also has a monument, the Steinacleit homestead. This is very ancient, going back 1,500 to 1,800 years BC. It is thought to be a burial mound, surrounded by a large oval ring of stones. In common with the Carloway Broch, it has a commanding position on a hilltop, overlooking Loch an Duine (like Bragar, it has a Dun in it). ]]>