Tuesday, 31 January 2006

Sacrifice

<![CDATA[ Lewis War Memorial. A crowd has gathered for the 2005 Remembrance Sunday
So another two British soldiers have lain down their lives in the service of Queen and country in Iraq. You may well think "What on earth does that have anything to do with a Scottish island??" I'll explain.

In the First World War, 1,000 men from the Isle of Lewis alone perished. From a population of about 25,000, six thousand joined up for the armed forces. That's about HALF of all menfolk. Of those, 1 out of every 6 never came home again. 200 drowned within sight of home at the sinking of HMY Iolaire, on the Beasts of Holm, 2 miles south of Stornoway.
The First World War was a politicians' war, a conflict that had been brewing for a long time before the fuse was lit in Sarajevo, in 1914, when an Austro-Hungarian archduke was shot and killed in the street. A long litany of alliances between various European states then rolled into action, with war being declared in August 1914. I am convinced (personal opinion) that the man in the street at the time wasn't that fussed with a nobleman being assassinated in the street of some Balkan town. There had just been a bloody conflict there, again, only a year or so before. The story of the Christmas truce has surfaced increasingly frequently in recent years. It was touch and go whether the war would have fizzled out at that point. It was very, very near. But it didn't, and after a year of atrocities there was no truce at Christmas 1915.
Scotland generally and the islands in particular have always loyally provided cannon fodder for the forces. The economic situation in the islands was so dire that the honour, glory and payment associated with the colours was a powerful lure. Others joined the merchant navy, which suffered harshly under the U-boat campaign in the Atlantic. Naval reservists were called up and were transformed into foot soldiers under Winston Churchill, a pretty bad decision by all accounts. They were sent to defend Antwerp against the Germans, to no avail. I've described in a previous post that 100 Lewismen ended up in a Dutch internment camp for the rest of the war.
In 1914-18, people did not openly question the politicians' decisions about going to war. These days, we do. ]]>

Monday, 30 January 2006

Cinema and art, and a small town's problems

<![CDATA[ One of the Shetland blogs mentioned problems with getting access to films. This is no longer an issue in Stornoway. Since October 1st, 2005, we have a brand new arts centre, called An Lanntair - The Lantern. Previously, this was located in the Town Hall.
An Lanntair, from South Beach Street
It is a purpose built venue, which has already hosted a theatre performance, movie showings and has a rolling exhibition of artworks, which change every couple of weeks or months.
Bar in An Lanntair
It is great to have a restaurant and a bar, and open performances in the auditorium can be watched from both areas. Screens can be raised to allow an unimpeded view of proceedings. Whatever I may think of the lay-out, it is a great improvement on what was not there before. I have heard that before the construction of the new building, a temporary carpark was there. Now that that is no longer available, Stornoway appears to have joined other towns and cities up and down the land with a parking problem.
Proposed solution to the carparking problems in SY
Last year's Carnival procession included the above suggestion - multi storey carparking, but not as you may know it. Carparking charges are in the offing (all of 50p, what a rip-off), as well as a park-and-ride all the way from the Council Offices to Cromwell Street. OK, handy if you got many bags. I have previously advocated the use of the island's busservices, which are perfectly adequate.
Lewis Sports Centre
Another amenity is the above Sports Centre, which is not as austere as the exterior may suggest
Cafe at Sports Centre, overlooking the swimming pool
It has a swimming pool, climbing wall, sports hall, play area for the little ones and much more. The Centre only opened in 2004, and has also hosted the Royal National Mod last October, and had the Local Mod in February 2005. Although Stornoway is not a large town (pop about 8,000), we've got an increasing list of amenities, of which many a larger town could be proud.One of things that I really like about the town, is the absence of many of the brands that splatter every single town and city on mainland Scotland and Britain. Ain't I glad we haven't got a MacDonalds, Burger King or some such fast food (and fast litter) outlet? Spare us! ]]>

Saturday, 28 January 2006

Sunday - 2

<![CDATA[
After my first post on this subject, I was actually pleased to see the number of comments - many thanks to all. I have distilled a couple of conclusions from this. Each island has its own character and traditions. Lewis's Sunday is proverbial, and in some quarters the object of ridicule. The latter is just disrespectful. As an observer (in which capacity I write this blog), I respect the Sunday - or locally Sabbath - because when you're in Rome, you do as the Romans do. I spoke to someone the other day who sneaks out of the house to go loch fishing on Sunday, although it is heavily frowned upon in the community.

I agree with those that say that in some parts of the UK, the Sunday has become another working day. There is no day of the week when the hubbub of daily life comes to rest anymore. Here in Lewis, it still happens, on the basis of religious conviction. Some argue that it is an infringement on your human right that you cannot travel on Sunday. A North Uist councillor quoted the problems of weekend visiting at Western Isles Hospital for residents of the Uist.

Another point was the apparent rivalry between Orkney and the Western Isles, of which I was not aware - so much for being an observer! Rather than being rivals, I would like to advocate cooperation. Until last year, the Scottish Islands Network was very active in sharing out information across the Western and Northern Isles. Its activities were severely curtailed because of a lack of interest from local authorities, who didn't even bother to reply to letters. Behind the above link hides a number of newsletters, which I found very useful.

Coming back to Sunday observance, a middle way could surely be found, which satisfies the need for transport & services and does not completely obliterate Sunday observance in Lewis and Harris.

Let's talk, rather than dig into entrenched positions. ]]>

Friday, 27 January 2006

Housing

<![CDATA[ Yesterday's Stornoway Gazette carried adverts for about 15 plots of land within Lewis and Harris which were available for building a house on. Recently, I spoke to someone who went house hunting in the island, and his experiences were an eye opener. It only reinforces my personal quote "You don't know what goes on behind closed doors". One house in Lewis had lain vacant for 14 years, after the previous occupant passed away at an advanced age. When my contact entered the property with a view to buy, he felt as if time had stood still - 70 years ago. Newspapers from the 1930s. The gentleman's hats and caps still in the place where he left them last time he touched them. Personal effects and papers, some probably of historical value, in chests and around the house. Because of the period of non-habitation, the condition of the property had deteriorated markedly, and the house would probably have to be gutted and reconstructed. Another property, on the other side of the island, had been abandoned 3 years previously. It too had suffered from neglect, but by the look of it, and according to local stories, the previous owners had been in the process of doing it up. Sadly, one of the couple died suddenly, and the other partner never came back.

Anyone who would be buying a plot of land in Lewis and Harris should be aware of the proposed windfarms on the island. Most media attention has been focused on the Barvas Moor project, which is bad enough - 234 turbines over 40 miles of moorland. The other windfarm, 133 turbines on the Eishken mountains, nearly got torpedoed by Comhairle nan Eilean Siar last summer. However, as things stand at the moment, both projects have been submitted to the Scottish Executive for approval or otherwise. Only one property on the list of 15 would not be directly affected by the turbines - at Bunabhainneadar, down the road from Ardhasaig in North Harris. The Eishken windfarm overlooks glorious Loch Seaforth, from Kinloch Seaforth to Aline, Scaladale, Maraig, Rhenigadale, Molinginish (...), Scalpay as well as Lemreway and Orinsay in South Lochs.
View down Loch Seaforth from Aline
I have written about this before on here, but I cannot imagine why some of the most glorious scenery stands to be desecrated by a windfarm. You may argue that you can't live off the view, but in actual fact, scenery is a contributary factor for the tourism industry in these islands.
Seaforth Head, 3
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Thursday, 26 January 2006

Western Isles Renal Dialysis Unit

<![CDATA[
This evening, BBC2 Alba's excellent Eorpa [Europe] programme started by highlighting the continuing problems surrounding the proposed renal dialysis unit at the Western Isles Hospital here in Stornoway.
Early in December, I reported from two meetings which had been convened after serious concerns had been expressed about service redesign for the Western Isles NHS. One aspect was the renal unit, which had been on the cards for a long time.

Patients whose kidneys do not work properly need to undergo regular dialysis (filtration) of the blood. This is necessary to get rid of the normal breakdown products of the body which the kidneys normally filter out. When they accumulate, the patient will be feeling increasingly unwell and could eventually die if dialysis is not performed. Dialysis patients in the Western Isles fly out to Inverness two or three times a week. If a unit were to be established at Stornoway, this very exhausting journey could be eliminated. An example: a gentleman from Uig, 40 miles outside Stornoway, has to travel twice a week, and is usually away from home for 14 hours, from 10 a.m. till midnight. The journey times for places in other islands may well be longer.

During the meeting early in December 2005, it was announced that the renal unit at WIH would be up and running by April 2006. A specialist nurse had been appointed, and would be in post by February '06. Many were confused to subsequently learn that the implementation of the unit was delayed by another 12 months. Reasons given were that the unit, in physical terms, would not be ready for another year.

In tonight's (26/01/06) Eorpa, the example was quoted of a Glasgow renal unit, which had been established in just 2-3 months, rather than the 4 year long drawn-out affair up in the Western Isles. In terms of a location for the unit, NHS Western Isles has recently closed a ward in the hospital, which could perfectly well be converted into a renal unit. Does not take ages to do so.

Come on, NHS Western Isles, get your skates on and get it going by Easter. ]]>

Sunday

<![CDATA[ Stornoway Town Centre on Sunday afternoonIn Lewis, the Sunday is still very much the way it used to be: nothing moves. After 10 a.m., those going to church move around the town, and after lunch people go for a walk in the Castle Grounds. Until about 10 years ago, the swings and roundabouts in the playpark at Bayhead were chained on Saturday night, to be unlocked on Monday morning.
It is not possible to leave the island by any other means but by plane. Ferries do not go on Sunday. Not to Ullapool nor to Uig in Skye (from Tarbert, Harris) or to Berneray, North Uist. Strangely enough, it is possible to sail from Lochmaddy (North Uist) to Skye on a Sunday. Other islands off the West Coast also have a Sunday service from Caledonian MacBrayne. Notices abound requesting people to respect the Sabbath, which is fair enough. The issue of transport is likely to see some changes coming in fairly shortly, I would imagine. One of the local councillors is going to work to have some Sunday ferry services going, if only to give islanders the opportunity to move about any day of the week.
In the 1980s, when CalMac wanted to start a Sunday service from Tarbert to Uig, the local fishermen threatened to blockade the Harris port. But I think that now that there are flights from Stornoway Airport, and ferry services from North Uist to Skye (i.e. the mainland, by virtue of the toll-free bridge), the advent of Sunday ferry services is not far off.
Whilst fully respecting local sentiments to keep Sunday quiet, it is no longer possible to completely ignore developments elsewhere. There is already one small shop open in Stornoway on Sunday, doing a brisk trade by all accounts. I can foresee one of the supermarkets opening on Sunday in the near future. Are there also going to be Sunday bus services - if only during the summer? ]]>

Wednesday, 25 January 2006

Burns Night 2006

<![CDATA[ I'm printing the below poem by Robert Burns in celebration of Burns Night 2006

Is there for honest poverty

Is there for honest povery
That hings his head, an' a' that?
The coward slave, we pass him by -
We dare be poor for a' that!
For a' that, an' a' that,
Our toils obscure, an' a' that,
The rank is but the guinea's stamp,
The man's the gowd for a' that.

What though on hamely fare we dine
Wear hoddin' grey, an' a' that?
Gie fools their silks, and knaves their wine-
A man's a man for a' that.
For a' that, an' a' that,
Their tinsel show, an' a' that,
The honest man, tho' e'er sae poor,
Is king o' men for a' that.

Ye see yon birkie ca'd 'a lord'
Wha struts, an' stares, an' a' that?
Tho' hundreds worship at his word,
He's but a cuif for a' that
For a' that, an' a' that,
His ribband, star, an' a' that,
The man o'independent mind,
He looks an' laughs at a' that

A prince can mak a belted knight,
A marquis, duke, an' a' that!
But an honest man's aboon his might -
Guid faith, he mauna fa' that!
For a' that, an' a' that,
Their dignities, an' a' that,
The pith o' sense an' pride o' worth
Are higher rank than a' that

Then let us pray that come it may
(As come it will for a' that)
That Sense and Worth o'er a' the earth
Shall bear the gree an' a' that
For a' that, an' a' that,
It's comin yet for a' that
That man to man the world o'er
Shall brithers be for a' that

And I cannot resist putting this poem in as well

On hearing a thrush sing in a morning walk in January

Sing on, sweet thrush, upon the leafless bough,
Sing on, sweet bird, I listen to thy strain:
See aged Winter, 'mid his surly reign,
At thy blythe carol clears his furrowed brow.
So in lone Poverty's dominion drear
Sits meek Content with light, unanxious heart,
Welcomes the rapid moments, bids them part,
Nor asks if they bring ought to hope or fear.
I thank Thee, Author of this opening day,
Thou whose bright sun now gilds yon orient skies!
Riches denied, Thy boon was purer joys:
What wealth could never give nor take away!
Yet come, thou child of Poverty and Care,
The mite high Heav'n bestowed, that mite with thee I'll share. ]]>

Tuesday, 24 January 2006

The Dutch connection

<![CDATA[ Stornoway has got historical links with Holland. Its history as fishing port was given a boost when the Dutch discovered in 1637 that the herring were plentiful in these waters. The Earl of Seaforth, in charge of the island at that time, was more than happy to encourage them. Unfortunately, the King was not happy to see his rivals from across the North Sea gaining a foothold on his back doorstep, so he sent some armed men across to boot them out. Contrarily, at one stage, there was a possibility that the islands could have been ceded to Holland. However, one of the many wars between England and Holland, in 1652, put paid to any further cooperation. The herring fishery was firmly established though and Stornoway never looked back after that.

If you have a look round Stornoway, particularly along Cromwell Street, you'll see evidence of architecture that would not look out of place in Amsterdam. The pink facade of DD Morrison's shop (above), as well as the old Town House (below), now a Chinese restaurant, are both firmly reminiscent.

Further afield, Dutch fishermen were also involved in Lerwick (Shetland), and perhaps a Shetland blogger could pick up on that connection. Another Dutch connection, going back many many years can be found in a small island in Orkney. Papa Westray, famous for having the shortest scheduled airservice in the world (2 minutes to and from Westray) has a very ancient little church dedicated to St Boniface. He was an Englishman, who was charged with spreading Christianity round Northern Europe in the 8th century. He was murdered by robbers at the city of Dokkum, in northern Holland in 754. But not before he had established churches and missionaries all over northern Europe.

I'm aware that my comments about Orkney and Shetland are outside my remit as Lewis blogger, but I spent a month in Orkney and Shetland in September 2004, and found the wee kirk on Papay singularly appealing. Again, perhaps someone in Papa Westray itself could comment further. ]]>

Monday, 23 January 2006

Isles FM

<![CDATA[ Isles FM is our local radio station, which broadcasts from a studio in Stornoway. The studio used to be an old boatshed. The station has been going for some years, I think it's getting on for 9 years now, and it's run entirely by volunteers. Some people regard it as a bit of a joke, but in actual fact the station came into its own at the time of the hurricane in January 2005. The power was off in many parts of Lewis, including at Eitsal, where the transmitters for radio and TV are located. The only radio station operating in the island was Isles FM, which remained on air although its aerial was damaged. The information it relayed included warnings from the council, for instance not to venture into the Castle Grounds due to large numbers of fallen trees, or trees that were perched in a precarious position. Closure notices of schools were broadcast, and also updates on the power situation. The workers from Scottish and Southern Electricity, who supply power up here, listened to the station to know where there were still outages. In that way, they were able to focus their attentions on specific lines and areas. As a mark of appreciation, they donated

Sunday, 22 January 2006

Genealogy

<![CDATA[ Ruin of Blackhouse at Borrowston, CarlowayLast spring, I visited the Seallam! (exclamation mark part of name) Centre at Northton, 50 miles south of Stornoway in South Harris. This is the place where Bill Lawson set up a centre for genealogy in the Western Isles. There is a definite market for this; in the centre hangs a world map which shows all the places in the world from where people have launched a query with Seallam! It includes unlikely spots such as Papua New Guinea. Here in Lewis, there is a strong seafaring tradition, and there is a saying that when a Lewisman goes ashore in any port in the world, he is likely to encounter a fellow islander.
As I've pointed out in previous posts, thousands of people have left Lewis over the centuries. Voluntarily, but more often than not, under duress. My list of deserted villages in Eishken, so beautifully pictured in Molinginish's blog, stands testimony to this. It does mean that there is a large pool of people in America, Australia and many other spots in the world, whose ancestors come from Lewis. In the summer of 2005, I encountered an Australian who happened to be in Ullapool and saw the Isle of Lewis ferry berthed. On the spur of the moment, he decided to jump on board and have a look in Stornoway. It turned out that he still had relatives in the island, who immediately came round and took him all over the place to meet a very elderly relative. Others come to the islands specifically to research their roots - by the dozen. Stornoway library is usually buzzing with people on that type of quest.
On one of the Internet message boards concerning the Hebrides is a specific page for genealogy queries. There is a page on the Rootshebrides website which gives very useful information for conducting this type of research. This does not just apply to the Hebrides (Islay to Lewis), but would also be useful for Orkney and Shetland queries.

If anyone has supplementary information, please leave comments. ]]>

Friday, 20 January 2006

Industry

Long Island Bottle Bank

Haggis

<![CDATA[ With a discussion on Haggis going on in the Argyll & Clyde boards, I thought I'd put the record straight on how to make an authentic haggis.

This is from a 1955 book, used in a Domestic Science Academy:

Ingredients
1 Sheep's bag and Pluck = stomach, heart, liver and lungs
1/2 lb pin-head oatmeal
1/4 lb suet
4 level table-spoonfuls of salt
2 level teaspoonfuls of pepper
4 medium-sized onions (blanched)
1 level teaspoonful powdered herbs

Wash the bag in cold water, scrape and clean it well, let it lie all night with a little salt. Wash the pluck, put it in a pan of boiling water and boil for two hours with wind-pipe hanging out. When cold, cut off the windpipe, grate the liver, chop the heart, lights [lungs], suet and onions, add the oatmeal (which should first be toasted not coloured), salt, pepper, herbs, and 1 pint liquid in which pluck was boiled. Mix well, fill the bag rather more than half full of the mixture, then sew up, place in boiling water, boil for 3 hours, pricking occasionally to keep from bursting.

NB - The bag may also be prepared in the following way:
Get the stomach-bag cleaned by the butcher, wash it thoroughly and put it on in cold water, bring to boiling point, which will cause the bag to contract. Take it out of the pot when needed. Take the stomach-bag, keep the fat or smooth side inside, and fill it, but not quite full; sew the opening, and put in boiling water to boil gently for 3 hours. ]]>

Strange walking routes

<![CDATA[ Looking out from the War Memorial towards the mouth of the Laxdale River
In the summer of 2005, I explored a route across what's locally known as the Cockle Strand. It's actually the mouth of the Laxdale River. This rises on the moors west of Newvalley, one of the northern suburbs of Stornoway.
Laxdale River at Horgaraid
If you should ever venture there, try to choose a day after a period of relative drought. It is one of the routes leading to the Barvas Hills (the line of four hills to the northwest of Stornoway). Terrain there is very difficult, even in dry conditions. I posted an image of the terrain in an earlier entry, but this is the view from the summit of Beinn Mholaich, hill number 2, counting from the east.
View west from Beinn Mholaich
My abiding memory of that trip is not so much the difficult terrain (used to that), but the swarms of zillions of midges as I gained the Pentland Road, 2

Thursday, 19 January 2006

Typing

<![CDATA[ I always try to read my posts before finally committing them to the web.
Having reread my post on buses it would appear I've not really done that properly - mistake upon mistake. Sorry!

]]>

Public transport

<![CDATA[ Stornoway bus station
I think I'll putting the cat amongst the pigeons, but here goes.

For various reasons, it might be an idea to take the bus rather than the car.
Obviously, this public transport should be there when you need it. Here in Lewis, I think we've got quite a reasonable network of bus services, by all accounts much better than it was years ago. At the very least, it is possible to travel from rural districts to Stornoway in the morning, to arrive there by 9 o'clock. Outward bound service depart in the afternoon (to take school children home) and early evening, for workers.

What happens during the daytime is quite variable. The service to the district of Uig is about the worst around. The first bus, a 16 seater postbus, leaves S'way at midday. Naturally, the demand should be there in the first place, but it does look very meagre. The postbus service is fine, but it takes 90 minutes to cover 35 miles, as it has to deliver mail along the way, starting at Scaliscro Lodge.
The West Side of the island is fairly well provided, although here too first buses after the school cum workers run do not appear until midday. Comhairle nan Eileanan Siar run buses from Point to Back at very regular intervals, at least hourly through the day. Ness is also fairly well served, roughly 2 hourly buses. The route to Tarbert is patchy; some days of the week there is a 12.30 service, but on others the first bus does not go until 14.20.

I have make extensive use of the bus network in Lewis, and am pretty satisfied, all things considered. This is a thinly populated area, with a good service. Earlier in 2005, someone stated that there was no bus service in Lewis to get into town in the morning, and out again at night, which is inaccurate. There is always room for improvement.

On the Lochs road, near the Grimshader turnoffBus drivers will drop you off outside your door if the route goes past.
There is a relaxed atmosphere on the buses. In town, you can board the bus, even if the driver isn't there yet. If you're a regular, and you only have a large denomination banknote to pay your fare, he may trust you to pay when you go back. At one time, a driver asked me what the fare was for the run I was doing regularly at the time, and I told him. Truthfully!

Mentioning fares, I don't feel there is reason for complaint. For a return journey from Stornoway to Ness (25 miles one way) you only pay

Wednesday, 18 January 2006

Emergency at sea

<![CDATA[ The image of a Lewis woman, waiting for menfolk to return from the sea - who never would
Today was dominated by the fate of a French fisherman, who was reported fallen overboard from his vessel, some 60 miles north of Lewis. This happened at 5.30 a.m., and an distress call was relayed through the French coastguard to their counterparts in Stornoway. A sea- and air rescue operation put into full swing immediately, with an RAF Nimrod aircraft and the Stornoway Coastguard helicopter searching the area of sea concerned. Although conditions were fair, with not much wind, visibility was poor. The other complicating factor was the temperature of the seawater (about 8 degrees Celsius / 46 Fahrenheit) and the clothing worn by the crewmember, which will have weighed him down. This made survival for any length of time unlikely. By nightfall, the search was abandoned. This is not the first such incident during the last 12 months, and neither will it be the last. Unluckily, this was the second incident involving a French fishingboat in the past year.

Monument for drowned fisherman at Arnish
A local boat was involved in a fatal incident towards the end of 2004, when the vessel ran onto rocks close to the Arnish Lighthouse. The three crewmembers were rescued, but one died of drowning. Apparently, the boat was running on autopilot at the time of the grounding. The exact circumstances surrounding the incident were never fully cleared up, as it was the skipper of the boat that perished. The monument pictured above was erected in his memory.

]]>

Tuesday, 17 January 2006

Royal National Mod 2005

<![CDATA[

Three months ago, in October 2005, the Royal National Mod took place in Stornoway. Or should I say "Mod Naiseanta Rioghail"? I am not a Gaelic speaker, but felt I could not miss this celebration of Gaelic culture now that it was taking place on my doorstep. So, on the 17th of October, I acquired a program book, which made my jaw drop. In it were listed hundreds of competitions, taking place over a six-day period in various locations in the Western Isles. Not just in the town of Stornoway, but also in Benbecula, where the shinty matches took place. Down the road in Lochs, the North Lochs Community centre hosted the Highland Dancing competitions. There were some grumblings that people had to travel 10 miles out of town to reach Leurbost. As I said, I do not speak Gaelic, neither do I understand the language to any useful extent. However, I have a keen interest in music, so went out of my way to select musical competitions. There was this nagging feeling that I was missing out on the spoken word side of things, but there is no point sitting in on a competition that you don't understand. Competitions took place in various locations around Stornoway, and sometimes choirs or individual competitors were required to be present at two or three different locations at the same time. This sometimes led to waits, or a reshuffling of the order of performance. Fortunately, the 5 days of the Mod were virtually dry and without much wind. If there had been gales and / or heavy rain, it would have been a disaster.
The first two or three days of competitions were devoted to children, as young as 5. As John Farquhar-Munro (Inverness MSP) said on the opening night, there is a battle going on to keep Gaelic alive. In order to do that, you have to start young. Children can go into Gaelic-medium education, and there is (e.g.) a Gaelic medium primary school in Glasgow. Unfortunately, there is also a battle going on at the moment in the Mallaig area about this issue, as those wishing English medium education for their children feel they are being disadvantaged. Leaving those issues to one side, I was stunned by the standards of singing. In the evening (Monday to Friday), there was a Prizewinners' concert. I only attended the first one. There was this wee girl, can't have been more than 5 or 6, singing in such a tiny voice that the whole auditorium fell silent. The only audible sounds were the girl's singing, and the air-conditioning system. Another girl sang a piece, and the audience began to applaud - although she had not yet finished. To make good for the interruption, the audience sang along with her for the final verse.
An Lanntair, one of the locations for competitions
Apart from solo singers, there were also the school choirs, recitation, action songs and much, much more. On the third day, the adults commenced their competitions. My interest in Gaelic culture stems from finding a book in the library with the songs collected by Marjorie Kennedy-Fraser and Rev Kenneth MacLeod around the start of the 20th century in the western isles of Scotland.
Five ladies sang a song each early on Wednesday morning, in the British Legion Club. I then proceeded to the Town Hall to listen to self-accompanying soloists. Another competition involved folkgroups. Later in the week, I attended the choir competitions for adults. I am a chorister myself, so sat in on proceedings with more than average interest. I should also add that the competitors were not all exclusively British. There were people from the USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand and many other places around the world. .
Clarsach (Gaelic harp)On Wednesday afternoon, I also went to the clarsach competitions. Competitors included school girls singing along whilst playing the Gaelic harp, which I found quite a feat. Apart from the girls, there were three groups of clarsach players, the largest comprising 14 harps!

On Saturday morning, all the choirs assembled in Percival Square in the town centre for a mass sing-along. After that, everybody went to their various modes of transport for going home. Whether it be the plane, or to the ferry. A piper played from the roof of the bridge on the Isle of Lewis, and it was quite a throng pushing itself on board. The ferry hugged close to the shore, as far as Battery Point, before resuming its normal course.

For all intents and purposes, the summer had come to a close. Stornoway hunkered down for winter.

During the competitions, I recorded about 70 entries, which I have placed on the Internet, free to download for anyone interested. Click here to go to the recordings ]]>

Monday, 16 January 2006

Sheep

<![CDATA[ As an avid walker in the wilds of Lewis and Harris, my sole companions tend not to be fellow walkers, but sheep. Or at least, those tend to be the most numerous four-legged creatures alongside the path. They are not normally very taken with my (or anybody's) presence, so they scuttle off helter-skelter out of the way. There have been exceptions, as the accompanying gallery will show. Sheep have this unfortunate reputation of being stupid. Tend not to agree. They're not the brightest card in the pack of creation, but then which creature would be able to find the spot in the moor where they themselves were born to give birth themselves? It is only bettered by the salmon, which manages to find the very river where it spawned after a journey of thousands of miles and of many years. Sheep are also said to know their farmer. Don't believe that. Look at the reception I got at Dalbeg - picture in gallery. As winter progresses, the condition of the sheep deteriorates, and by the end of the 2004/5 winter, I came across a sorry procession of animals that had not survived. The look on the face of the Tolsta crofter who had piled up another two carcases at the bottom of his croft said it all. I still wonder what happened to the sheep that panicked to such an extent that it jumped clean into a fast-running and deep river north of Tolsta. It was carried downstream, and managed climb on to the riverbank. It was a freezing cold day, and that can't have been healthy. The track from Bogha Glas to Langadale, just across the Lewis / Harris border has seen me quite a few times at the beginning of 2005. I also became quite acquainted with the location of the dead sheep. Even not seeing them did not prevent me from knowing they were there - the smell said it all. In April, I discovered this dead sheep that was lying in the ditch beside the Marybank cattlegrid. As the days and weeks progressed, it was not moved, and deteriorated gradually. By August, only the fleece was left, and by October, even this had disappeared. Worse than that were the few unfortunate creatures whose eyes had been pecked out by a hooded crow, a corvine I have come to dislike. The poor animal was pedalling its legs, but could not get up. When I approached, I could see its eye was missing. I retreated as there was nothing I could do. Even more painful was the sight of the little lamb near Kinloch Seaforth in late April, standing uncomprehending near its prostrate mother, which was dying after losing its eyes. I was able to help the dumb animal that I found stuck in a bog a mile north of Laxay (Lochs). Managed to pull it out single-handed, and as soon as the animal realised it was free, the sheep started to feed like mad. To compensate, there was this ewe near Bragar who gingerly approached me with its lamb at foot, almost as if to say "isn't he beautiful?" And the twin lambs at Huisinis, Harris, which lay together in the bright sunshine.

Not one of my most pleasant entries, I agree, but it's all part of island life.


Ram at Eorodal, Ness
Lambs at Huisinis, Harris
Sheep at Huisinis, Harris
Sheep at Dalbeg
Sheep with lamb at foot, Bragar
Lambing field at Breascleit

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Saturday, 14 January 2006

Preparedness

<![CDATA[ This week has been dominated by the four gales. It almost reads like the four horsemen of the apocalypse, doesn't it. Molinginish laid low with flu, Calumannabel losing the phone and the electric up in Ness - only a short while after they actually got it. Fortunately, Ness has now been reconnected to the rest of the world and Molinginish has managed to conquer the bugs by drowning them in ethanol. I once exterminated a plague of wasps with an alcohol spray.


Seriously though, I have noted a degree of panic creeping in when the ferry is cancelled. Yesterday afternoon, I ventured into Somerfields to be greeted by empty shelves for fresh vegetables.You would think that people would be prepared for this sort of eventuality. After all, virtually everything comes here by ferry, and that cannot sail in all conditions. So you have to be prepared for the eventuality that the ferry doesn't sail, sometimes for days on end. Nope. It would appear that a mainland mentality is creeping in that everything should be available 365/24/7 - 365 days of the year, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. And it can't be. In an entry earlier this week, I relayed police advice about severe weather. Have an emergency pack ready. I'll add to that. Put stuff in the freezer, in case the ferry is off for days at a stretch. It happens! Canned food, whatever. Have food ready that you can eat if the electric goes off, and you're cooking on electricity. Buy packs of candles for that same eventuality. Be prepared to forgo the fancy foods. Makes sense, I would think?
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Friday, 13 January 2006

Stormy conditions

<![CDATA[ A few shots from Stornoway during the storms this week. They may look familiar; I've taken similar shots during the November 2005 storms.


The access road to the Coastguard Station and Goat Island
Spume flying over the causeway
Spume flying over the causeway - much more dramatic
The sea behind the Coastguard Station and the Causeway
Ferry cancelled

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More wind

<![CDATA[
Awoke this morning to more strong winds, following an overnight lull. Yesterday's gale caused some damage in the island, which (amongst other things) resulted in a loss of electricity and telephone services to Ness, in the north of the island. These have all been restored now. Fortunately our ferry sailed, so the shops should be restocked later this afternoon. Over the past few days, a number of fishing boats from Sligo in Ireland have sheltered in Stornoway Harbour. The last one sailed about an hour ago, but blimey, wasn't she thrown about at the harbour bar. Everybody went down to have a look, but she managed to round the beacon without mishap, and is presently heading down the Minch, bound for Ireland (I presume). On the way to the Coastguard Station I had to dodge all the bins that were being blown about - it's binday in town. It is actually quite a nice morning, good sunny breaks, in spite of the near galeforce winds. The next line of showers is already on its way in, judging by the satellite and rainfall radar images on the Met Office website. However, that should be the last of this week's gales, and tomorrow (Saturday) is expected to be a nice, sunny, windless day. We'll have to make the most of it, because the Atlantic has decided to throw a few more low pressure systems at us. In my opinion, one of the storms we had this week had the remnants of Tropical Depression Zeta in it.

This was the last tropical storm of the 2005 hurricane season, and is shown on the above satellite picture from last week. It disintegrated and was absorbed into an Atlantic low pressure system last weekend. Zeta is the 6th letter of the Greek alphabet. The Atlantic spawned 27 named storms last year, and there were only 21 names allocated. Once those ran out, the storm chasers had to resort to the Greek alphabet. It is anticipated that the coming decade is going to be as bad as last year was. ]]>

Thursday, 12 January 2006

Gale n

<![CDATA[ As I'm writing this, the worst of Thursday's gale appears to be over. Mind you, a force 9 gale with hurricane force gusts is quite severe. But the previous 2 gales were just as bad. Driving rain, treacherous gusts around buildings in the town, and on exposed routes. Spoke to a visitor in the town this morning who said he was heading for Harris. My response was to be careful in Balallan as it's binday there on a Thursday. Just over a year ago, I was heading down through the village on a bus in the middle of a gale on a Thursday. We had to slow right down and dodge all the bins that had been strewn all over the road.
I am, amongst other things, an amateur weather man and find this severe weather very interesting indeed. I post my observations on an internet site called Metcheck. Anyone can post there, you don't need instruments although it is helpful. So, there I am, relaying observations and readings to everybody in the country (and beyond) that wants to know. Judging by the number of hits on the webcam this week, people are interested in our lively weather. It's not nice to be out and about, it disrupts transport etc.

In the spring of 2005, I went out walking often to Glen Langadale, 3 miles west of the Stornoway - Tarbert road on the Lewis / Harris border. Having forded the Langadale river, I climbed the path which leads west towards Loch Bhoisimid. Instead of carrying on to the loch, I went north, up the slopes of a hill called Rapaire. It's not terribly high, about 1,500 feet, but offers some very good views of the Langadale mountains, as well as Loch Langabhat. On the day, a force 6 southwesterly wind was carrying showers in from the Atlantic. The clouds were scurrying along at about 2,000 feet, not far above my head. It was absolutely stunning to sit in a high place and see the weather passing by, only half a mile away. It's something you can't describe - you have to experience it. The mountain hare that lolloped away on my approached topped the bill.

The image below shows Glen Langadale from Mullach an Langa. Rapaire is the hill to the left of centre. Loch Langabhat lies below to the right.


Glen Langadale has some very nice mountain scenery. I believe the path from Bogha Glas has been improved recently, and there is talk that the bridge across the Langadale River is to be rebuilt. You can access some pretty high mountains from that valley, without too great an exertion. In April 2005, I climbed Teileasbhal, 697 m or 2300 feet above sealevel. You scramble up Gil Slipir - there is supposed to be a path. From the pass below Stulabhal, you can walk up the hill to the left and carry on along a high ridge to Teileasbhal. From Teileasbhal, it should be possible to proceed to the next summit, Uisgneabhal Mor, but that is along a very exposed ridge. Have a look at this sequence of pictures:


Near the summit of Teileasbhal
Looking back along the high ridge
Approaching the summit of Teileasbhal (left). Uisgneabhal to right.
Looking west at Sron Scourst


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Wednesday, 11 January 2006

Windy week

<![CDATA[ Tuesday's storm systemWriting this on Wednesday morning, which appears to be fairly calm. If look at the diary entries for yesterday and Monday, they are full of references to high winds. The strongest winds experienced yesterday was a hurricane force gust, 70 mph, towards midnight. That was nothing compared to the winds out on North Rona, some 60 miles to the north. At 9pm, they had sustained winds of 75 mph and gusts up to 111 mph. Still, not as serius as last year's hurricane when gusts went up to 134 mph. In the Western Isles, this sort of thing is not as rare as elsewhere in the UK. Yesterday evening, police relayed a warning through local radio for severe weather.

The advice was for people to take care.
Not undertake journeys or go outside unless absolutely essential
Keep an emergency pack ready containing a torch, a battery powered radio, candles, matches, canned food (in case of powercuts).
Continue to listen to local radio for further advice

The danger in high winds is not just being blown over, but also flying debris. During the hurricane last year, police stopped traffic after a lorry driver reported a sheep flying past his windscreen. A resident of Stornoway contacted the local radiostation, Isles FM, to ask an appeal for the owner of the gardenpond that was sitting in his yard - and it wasn't his! More seriously, the hurricane struck late afternoon, and people in the town had a job keeping their footing.
The worst incident took place further south, on the causeway linking South Uist to Benbecula. Five people drowned, when their cars were swept off the causeway by a stormsurge. They had fled their homes, which were pelted by pebbles from the sea, to shelter with relatives on Benbecula. Two of the casualties were young children; their parents and grandfather also perished. The funerals were attended by 1,500. Five hundred packed in the church, a further 1,000 listened outside to the service being relayed on loudspeakers. To put this figure in perspective, the total population of the area is 5,000. Damage as a result of the January 2005 hurricane was estimated between

Tuesday, 10 January 2006

Lighthouses

<![CDATA[ On the day we're having the second gale this week (two more forecast after this one), I thought I'd give some space to navigational aids. Arnish Lighthouse is featured in the header of this blog, but there are a few more round the island.
This is Tiumpan Head Lighthouse, at the northeastern extremity of Point

Everyone that has ever sailed between Ullapool and Stornoway will be familiar with it, and (if journeyed after dark) its two flashes every 20 seconds. Nice view from the hilltop behind it, over Portnaguran, Port Mholair, Aird and the villages across Broadbay. The buildings associated with the lighthouses in the UK are no longer required for keepers, as all lighthouses are now automated. A lighthouse keeper's cottage at Eshaness in Shetland is a summer home to an excentric American writer. The cottage at Tiumpan is home to a kennels and cattery.
The most famous lighthouse in Lewis is the Butt of Lewis lighthouse.

Very interesting place actually. The rocks that appear on the surface here are a mere 3,000,000,000 years old. Lewisian gneiss. The formations you see in the offshore skerries (off which I have not got a picture - yet) show the folding of the very earth itself under forces we cannot begin to imagine. Be very careful here. Before you know it, you stand on the edge of a 120 feet high precipice. The little cairn CANNOT be reached. It's a magnificent place in a gale

but don't venture near the edge of a precipice in those conditions. People are known to come to grief - a little way west of the lighthouse stands the demure memorial cross to someone who went over the edge, apparently during a ballgame. ]]>

Shipping charges - 2

Monday, 9 January 2006

The Weather

<![CDATA[ Today, 9 January, is another red letter day for weather watchers in the Western Isles. A severe gale is howling through Stornoway as I type (midday), with gusts approaching force 11. There is heavy rain, the ferry didn't sail at 7.15 this morning and all manner of vessel is coming into port for shelter. What I do on a day like that is submit frequent reports on Metcheck, using data from the Met Office and my own eyes. The webcam showed this image just now:
Unfortunately, it does not adequately show the crests on the waves in the Newton basin.
Mind you, it could be worse. Just now I found this stunning image of Hurricane Emily, which battered the Caribbean in the summer of 2005, taken from space.

What annoys me at a time like this is the lack of interest from south of the border. Shortly after Christmas, there was a bit of snow in southern England. Hundreds of people on the Internet messageboards (like Metcheck) yapping on about the time "their" snow would appear. The moment it did appear, there were howls of despair over the disruption it caused. Similarly with the gales. Yep, the 1987 hurricane in southern England was severe. But so was the one in January 2005 in the Western Isles. It barely got a mention on the national news bulletins, even though 5 people lost their lives and there was a lot of damage.
OK, end of wail. I'll continue to enjoy the wild weather for now. ]]>

Sunday, 8 January 2006

Lewis Interior

<![CDATA[ After my recent post on deserted villages, it's somehow logical that I now progress to an area of the island where positively nobody lives, and I don't think ever has. Central Lewis is waterlogged. Those islanders and visitors that have ever ventured off the beaten track can confirm that it's a pretty soggy business. A few examples. In my last post I showed a picture of Eitsal, the hill at Achamor, 9 miles southwest of Stornoway. From its summit, I walked to the Pentland Road, some 3 miles further north. The terrain you encounter along the way looks something like this:

Pretty wet and featureless, isn't it. Suffice to say that I ended up about 2 miles off course, as I found to have gone northeast rather than north. The excuse of a heavy shower is invalid. The other problem you encounter on the moors further north, on the Barvas Hills is quite adequately demonstrated by this picture:

Nice for walking through. And that was after a dry spell. In a wet period, it's a nightmare, where it is perfectly feasible to sink into a bog, without leaving a trace. The interior of Lewis is covered in a layer of peat, some 20 ft / 6 metres thick. This is not a continuous layer, there are some massive crevices in it. Over time, these fill up with water, mosses and other growths. There is a specific type of moss, spaghnum moss, which grows in bogs. The first picture in this post shows some of it, the bright green stuff. As you walk through the moors, it's the vegetation that shows where you can stand - and where you cannot stand.

Another problem, as I already hinted above, is the presence of water. I'm not referring to bogs, but rivers and lochs (lakes). The image above shows Lewis from space - Loch Langavat bottom left, Upper Loch Seaforth bottom right. As well as a myriad of waterways and lochs. There are several ways of coping with those. Bridges would be an obvious solution, you might think. No. Not in the back country. If you want to cross a waterway, you can count yourself very lucky indeed to find a bridge. Stepping stones may be present but more often than not you'll just have to ford. Ford?

Aye, take your boots and socks off and wade through the water. Be very careful though. The water is usually cold, can be fast flowing and deeper than you think. The bottom may be muddy, covered in sharp stones or (worse) slippery boulders.

I took the picture above some 4 miles west of Balallan, just after fording about the most difficult and dangerous river crossing of my walking career. It is the outflow of Loch Langabhat, and you can see the horrendous boulders. It does not show the depth of the water, the speed of its flow or the slipperiness of the submerged stones.

But treat your environment with the respect it deserves, and you should come out the other end in one piece and none the worse but for a pair of filthy boots and soiled trousers.

I've compiled some safety hints for walking, check them out on my Walks page. ]]>