Friday, 30 June 2006

Harris Tweed Industry to shrink further

<![CDATA[ It was announced on Friday afternoon that the Harris Tweed mill at Shawbost, on the West Side of Lewis, is to close. The KM (Kenneth Macleod) Group, which owns the mill in North Shawbost, has announced that efforts will be made to employ the 30 workers elsewhere within the organisation. KM Group has another mill in Stornoway. The company was involved with an order from sportswear giant Nike to produce Harris Tweed based women's trainers in 2004.

This follows hard on the heels of a decision to scale back operations at another Harris Tweed mill in Lewis, this one based at Gearrannan, just outside Carloway, 6 miles west of Shawbost. The Carloway mill is reported to be operating 3 days a week now. It is not part of the KM Group, and has been at the centre of a bitter legal battle with KM over the application of the Orb, the Harris Tweed trademark, to its products.

The councillor for Shawbost has described the decision to close the Shawbost mill as a terrible blow, and has urged KM to do its utmost to salvage the situation.

Harris Tweed is a trademark, which cannot be used unless the tweed meets certain criteria. These include requirements on the methods of production, amongst others. It is not restricted to the isle of Harris; the entire island chain from Lewis to Barra falls within its remit.

Postscript - Sunday 2 July
I happened to watch the Countryfile programme on BBC1 this morning, and was very surprised to hear presenter Ben Fogle confidently declaring that the future is bright, the future is Tweed. If this is the case, then why is the Shawbost mill being shut down? If there verily was an order for 6 miles of Harris Tweed from Nike, why is the capacity being shrunk? It should also be borne in mind, that the job losses are not restricted to the 30 at the Shawbost plant. The production of Harris Tweed also involves weavers, and under the Harris Tweed "Orb" trademark, these are home weavers, who have previously invested heavily in new looms etcetera, only to see their investment going to waste.

Two questions need answering on the Harris Tweed industry question.
1 - Why have industry leaders in the Hebrides allowed the industry to shrink to the vanishing point? Even if the American market, encompassing a 60% marketshare, fell away, this still leaves a 40% market segment. By all accounts, there is far less than this percentage left in terms of production capacity.

2 - Why did Ben Fogle (or more to the point: BBC Countryfile) not address this issue with a touch of investigative journalism, rather than paint the image that the industry wants the world to see - which does not appear to be an accurate reflection of the situation on the ground.

Pertinent questions have been asked about awkward issues in these islands before (NHS Western Isles and the windfarms), and the reactions to those questions have left me in despair. Rather than providing an answer, those in the know prefer to shoot the messenger. I do not expect much better on this issue. ]]>

Wednesday, 28 June 2006


<![CDATA[ Awoke this morning to the sight of a 200 ft section of white piping being loaded onto a barge at the Arnish Fabrication Yard.

The shed is 80 ft high, so it gives a sense of proportion. I do not have definite information on the destination of this pipe, but I am aware of Arnish Yard currently working on projects for an off-shore windfarm east of Caithness and for a windfarm in the Netherlands. It is good to see the yard back in full flow, after months and years of stagnation.

News also come through this morning, that the electricity company, Scottish and Southern Energy, have told the Stornoway Trust that they will NOT pay for the infrastructure, needed for the six-windturbine development along the Pentland Road, west of Stornoway. This infrastructure includes the construction of roadways, six transformer stations and a wind measuring mast. The announcement has increased the cost of construction by 2 to 3 million pounds, giving the Stornoway Trust, who has commissioned the project, a bit of a headache.

And I thought it required an interconnector for this whole scheme to work as well. An interconnector being the subsea electricity cable that carries the power across to the mainland. Last time I was on Beinn Mholach, a wind measuring mast was there, but lying on the ground. The nearby hill of Beinn Thulabaigh does have a mast on it, which looks like wind monitoring. Well, proposed finishing date for the Beinn Mholach project is 2013, if memory serves - the North Lewis windfarm is projected to be constructed very close by, its range of turbines march south from Bragar, via Roiseal Mor past the eastern foot of the Barvas Hills (of which Beinn Mholach is one) towards Stornoway. Another windfarm for Stornoway is due to start construction in the Arnish area by the end of the summer.

The picture below shows what a 450 ft high windturbine could look like, if built on the quayside at the Arnish Yard. It is an "artist impression", worked on the assumption that the shed at Arnish is 80 ft high, which I used as bench mark for working the picture.


Castle Grounds

<![CDATA[ Just thought I'd share some pics I took on a recent walk "round the Creed", which is a good 90 minute amble from the Bayhead Bridge.

Inner Harbour
Yachts moored in Harbour
Stornoway Town Centre from the Castle Grounds
Mouth of the River Creed
Iron Fountain - don't drink the water! ]]>

Sunday, 25 June 2006

Blue sky

<![CDATA[ Just one picture - of a (virtually) cloudless, deep blue sky, as captured this evening at 6.23pm. Very rare.


Emergency Services Open Day

<![CDATA[ On Saturday, the Emergency Services held an Open Day at the Coastguard Station on Battery Point here in Stornoway. It was very well attended, lots of interest from children being brought along by their parents. One or two ambulances, a fire engine and an airport firetender were there, as was the Coastguard helicopter Hotel Lima. An air ambulance called in for a little while as well. A Royal Navy bomb disposal squad had a stand, and did a demonstration of their skills, which literally went off with a bang. The lifeboat performed a "rescue" of two men who had gone "overboard". The police were in attendance, as were representatives of the SSPCA. A member of a cliff rescue team gave a demonstration on a climbing wall, and the Coastguard Station itself was open for viewing, including the ops room upstairs. Twenty minutes before the bomb was let off in the water, a warning was broadcast to all shipping to avoid Stornoway Harbour. A coastguard vessel blocked the entrance to the harbour and the lifeboat stood by off Goat Island to stop anyone sailing into the danger zone from the town.

Also open for viewing was the coastguard tug Anglian Prince.
An RAF Nimrod performed a fly-past just before 4pm.

Very interesting afternoon with good weather, which I think was enjoyed by all.

Coastguard helicopter Hotel Lima
Fire appliances
Bomb disposal team with gear and ordnance
Cliff rescue demonstration
Breeches buoy - rescue apparatus of yester-year
Ops Room in the Coastguard Station
Air ambulance
Coastguard tug Anglian Prince
Wheelhouse of the Anglian Prince


Wednesday, 21 June 2006

Is this summer?

<![CDATA[ When I read the weather reports I find it very hard to believe it's actually summer. This morning saw some relatively benign conditions in Lewis - it's called being in the eye of the storm.

Further south though, all hell had broken loose with a force 9 gale and the lashing rain we had yesterday. Stornoway Coastguard has been very busy over the last 24 hours, with four yachts getting into difficulties near Barra. Fortunately, all were safe and either sheltering at Castlebay (Barra) or able to proceed with the race they were participating in. Fifty miles to the west, a group of people were ringing birds on the islet of Dun, south of Village Bay in St Kilda. Their tent had blown down in the gales and had spent the past two days without food or water. The lifeboat is unable to negotiate the seas around Dun in those conditions (which says enough), so the helicopter flew out to pick them up for a quick transfer to mainland St Kilda. Again, all were safe and well.
Map of St Kilda ]]>

Tuesday, 20 June 2006

Solstice - 2

Forms of energy


<![CDATA[ In one or two days from now we're on the Summer Solstice. Sunrise 04.19, sunset 22.36 in Stornoway. Went out for a walk tonight and took the following pictures around the 23.30 mark.

Stornoway Town Centre at 11.39pm
Newton Basin from Goat Island
Green Island and Arnish hills
Looking towards the Minch
MV Muirneag leaving for Ullapool

Taken at around 1 a.m. from the Coastguard Station

Arnish Yard


Monday, 19 June 2006


<![CDATA[ Just west of Lewis lies the island of Great Bernera, not to be confused with the island of Berneray off North Uist. On its northern end lies the beach of Bostadh [Bosta]. This area is uninhabited, but in years gone by people did live there. Nowadays, there is only a cemetery.

Bosta Beach, looking north towards Old HillIn 1992, a violent storm shifted the sands on the beach and the adjacent hillside to reveal the remains of an iron-age house. Little is known about it or the people that lived there some 2,000 years ago, but a valiant effort has been made to recreate the Iron Age House.

The Iron Age House, as seen from the approach path

Below is copied the information from the plaque at the house:

This house is a reconstruction based upon the late Iron Age "jelly baby" houses excavated nearby. It was built using the techniques that were available at that time. No physical evidence of roofing survived on the archeological site; the design of this roof was dictated by the shape and strength of the walls; the dividing walls between the two cells are too weak to support a superstructure. The ridged roof is a major departure from the circular roofs of the wheelhouses and brochs of the earlier Iron Age, and a precursor of the traditional blackhouse roof.

The entrance passage was curved to break the strength of any high winds and sloped from ground level to the interior floor level. The purpose of the small chamber in this passage is unknown. The main room may have been subdivided into living and sleeping areas. The use of the space in the roof is conjectural, we have indicated a sleeping area. The small chamber was possibly used by the women for their work. The artefacts represent those discovered on the original site. The central hearth is aligned north to south. This may have been for
practical of ritual reason. We do not know if there was any artificial or indeed natural lighting. Perhaps a piece of the thatch was removed when practicable.

Many questions that arose from the excavations were answered by a practical exercise such as this, and much has been learnt that aids interpretation of future excavations at similar sites. It is hoped that the reconstruction will also help visitors to the site to have a more complex and realistic experience of the reality of living in this type of dwelling.


Friday, 16 June 2006

Windfarm application approved

<![CDATA[ The revised planning application for the windfarm on the Eishken Estate, submitted by development consortium Beinn Mhor Power has been approved by Comhairle nan Eilean Siar on Thursday, June 15th. In a meeting of the full council, the scheme was voted through at 15 votes for, 5 against.

The original planning application involved the construction of 133 turbines on the west of the Eishken estate, around the hills of Beinn Mhor and Muaitheabhal. This would also necessitate the construction of 77 km / 48 miles of roads and subsidiary infrastructure. Following objections from SNH and other conservation bodies, concerned about the resident population of eagles and other creatures, Eishken owner Nick Oppenheim decided to scale the project down. There will now only be 53 turbines and 41 km / 26 miles of road. It should be born in mind that the Eishken estate is uninhabited, except for Eishken Lodge, 7 miles southeast of Balallan. Its original inhabitants were cleared out of 36 villages in the 19th century.

Like the proposed North Lewis windfarm, this project is controversial. Kinloch Community council, the district which encompasses Eishken, was in favour, although 130 residents lodged objections against the revised application. As I have explained in earlier posts on the Eishken Windfarm, the residents of Kinloch stand to gain financially by this project. Residents of Kinloch could join the Muaitheabhal trust, the community section of the Eishken project. As things stand at the moment, they have a share in 6 turbines (a substantial reduction from the original figure).

Objections have also been put forward against the original planning application by residents of Loch Seaforth-side, from Ath Linne (on the Lewis/Harris border) to Maraig. The 50 people that live there will have the benefit of the view of 53 turbines whirring away on the hills on the other side of the loch, whilst reaping none of the financial benefits that the Kinloch people get. I recently noticed that the restored Ardvourlie Castle (at Scaladale) has been placed on the market, and its outgoing residents were the most vociferous letter writers in the Stornoway Gazette - against the Eishken windfarm.

The planning application will now go in front of the Scottish Executive, and if my reading of the current political climate is correct, they will rubberstamp this project. Fantastic prospect.

Seaforth Head, 3
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Monday, 12 June 2006

West Side tour

<![CDATA[ Last week, I went on a bustour of the West Side. If you work the timetable, it is actually possible to do a whistlestop tour of the five main tourist sites - Callanish, Dun Carloway Broch, Gearrannan Black House Village, Shawbost Norse Mill and Arnol Blackhouse Museum - within 10 hours. A

Light nights

<![CDATA[ I just wanted to share these images. We are within a fortnight of the summer solstice, so the nights are no longer dark. These images were taken at 1 am this morning:
The Arnish Lighthouse, the midsummer full moon, and Arnish Fabrication Yard

Looking north over Stornoway

On Friday, summer came to the islands. Since then, we have had nothing but bright sunshine and very high temperatures - Saturday saw the mercury rise to 25C or 77F in Stornoway. On Friday and Saturday there was not much wind, but Sunday and Monday saw a strong southerly breeze. Temperatures are still very acceptable, 18C at time of writing.
This was the view of Arnish Lighthouse early on Friday morning - note the reflection in the sea. That is quite rare indeed.

Contrarily, the tropical hurricane has started in the Caribbean, and the rainfall totals there are going off the scale. I'd rather be here with the weather we're having right now! ]]>

Thursday, 8 June 2006

Light nights

<![CDATA[ Just wanted to share a few images, taken in the last week or so. We're within a fortnight of the equinox, so the nights are no longer dark. These pictures were taken at around 1 am last night


Wednesday, 7 June 2006

Boats, boats, boats

<![CDATA[ MV Isle of Lewis docked at Stornoway in April 2006The ferry Isle of Lewis did not sail on Wednesday, because 8 members of staff and an unknown number of passengers were struck down by a virus. This problem arose on Monday, but the ferry sailed normally on Tuesday. According to passengers coming off the ferry at Stornoway, the bar, the small cafeteria were both closed, but the main restaurant was open and serving food.

Today's cancellations meant massive inconvenience for travellers to the isles. Alternative sailings were laid on between Skye and Harris, but I know of at least one person who had to cancel their trip altogether, as it is impossible to travel from Inverness to Uig (Skye) within 3 hours. The two places are 130 miles apart. I don't understand why the replacement ferry Lord of the Isles couldn't sail the extra 40 miles to Stornoway, but I'm sure Calmac had their reasons.

The causative virus has not been formally identified, but a prime candidate is the novovirus, commonly known as the winter vomiting bug. The ship is being deep cleaned today, and a fresh crew will join her Thursday morning to resume normal service.

News came through via the MCA website that the fishing vessel Dunan, operating out of Carloway, had struck rocks some 15 miles outside this small port on the westcoast of Lewis. A mayday call was put out, and rescue teams from Miavaig and Breasclete were despatched to the scene. Other vessels also responded to the mayday call and made their way to the site of the incident. The coastguard helicopter dropped pumps to assist in pumping out water. No further news was forthcoming at time of writing (8pm on Wednesday)

MV Hebridean Princess (left) and MV Normand Master (right) at no 3 pier at 4pm on TuesdayYesterday, Tuesday, saw a procession of ships in and out of Stornoway. The Hebridean Princess, a luxury cruiseliner, made an afternoon & evening call; the Norwegian registered Normand Master, a tug and supply vessel, docked at no 3 pier, and a vessel working for the Northern Lighthouse Board carried out maintenance on the buoy off Arnish Point. ]]>

Tuesday, 6 June 2006

Compost bins

<![CDATA[ The compost bin fiasco has had the local wags going, by all accounts. The blogger behind Digital Sands pointed me towards the Stornoway Chat site, which had links to the following two songs which a local band recorded. It takes a second or two to load:

Mr Compost
The Mighty Bin

Make sure you're properly seated, I was weak laughing. ]]>

Saturday, 3 June 2006


<![CDATA[ After last Saturday's excitement around the Binfight at the Creed Park Corral (where people went non compost mentis over composting bins), the first Saturday in June is a little more sedate. Ness community paper Fios reported that the distribution of compost bins in north Lewis had been properly organised, with a steady flow of traffic at the venue and a special constable on hand just in case. The weather today is decidedly dreich, with a fine drizzle. So, I kept my activities restricted to an indoor venue: An Lanntair. Grinneas nan Eilean ended on May 27th, and two new exhibitions have taken its place.

The first is a show of pictures, painted by the Ness artist Angus Morrison. He died in 1942. His pictures have a strong maritime flavour, but also show some aspects of Lewis life, particularly around Ness. One of the images showed the Doune Chapel at Filiscleitir, which now stands ruined and roofless. The seas around it, in the picture full of boats, are now empty.

Angus Morrison's work

The second exhibition, which is by Joanne Breen, shows paintings and artworks which were woven. Joanne died in 2002. She was of Irish origin, but made Lewis her second home. Her works are inspired by the moorland, its shapes and colours. The tapestries are made with discarded odds and ends from Harris Tweed looms.

Joanne Breen's work

Information on the artists courtesy An Lanntair.



<![CDATA[ An Garadh, image courtesy Tern TVWatched a program on BBC 2 Scotland, which showed the admirable efforts of the community at Shawbost (West Side, 18 miles west of Stornoway) to establish a community garden around their old school, near the bridge. The project would cost somewhere in the region of

Friday, 2 June 2006

Missing at sea

<![CDATA[ Search area for FV The Brothers. Image reproduced with permission of Ordnance Survey and Ordnance Survey of Northern IrelandReports came through this morning that a fishing boat had gone missing in the Minch. The Banff-registered boat The Brothers, which operated out of Gairloch, had left that port at 2.30 on Thursday morning, and was not heard of after 4 a.m. the same day.

A shore search is being carried out around Gairloch, with 20 fishing vessels, coastguard boats and a helicopter searching 100 square miles of the Minch. Conditions today are reasonable, with good visibility and moderate to fresh breezes. An oilslick sighted off Gairloch has been ruled out as having any connection with the fishing boats.

In the 18 months that I have been in the isles, incidents with fishing boats are a regular if depressing feature of the news. The fishing industry is recognised as the most dangerous occupation in the UK. Men fall overboard, and do not stand much chance of survival. The temperature of the Atlantic varies between 9 and 14 C, which gives about 45 minutes of survival time. Fisherman are commonly dressed in heavy oilskins, which will drag them down in the water.

Others have had to be rescued off their boats after sustaining injury; on occasions the Coastguard helicopter has had to fly 200 miles west of the Western Isles to pick a man up. One of the saddest incidents took place in December 2004, when a local boat left Stornoway harbour and inexplicably ran aground about 100 yards south of Arnish Lighthouse. The skipper died of drowning, with his two crewmembers coming out with hypothermia.
Last winter, a Buckie boat went down 75 miles southeast of Sumburgh Head (Shetland). The man who perished on that occasion was the son of a skipper who went down in the same area in 1979. ]]>

Thursday, 1 June 2006

Kinloch Castle

<![CDATA[ Kinloch Castle from the ferry. Picture courtesy KCFAOnce again, I'm blogging out of area, but there is a link with Lewis, which I'll explain.

The Duke of Rothesay, Prince Charles. is visiting the Isle of Rum, south of Skye, today, to see what needs to be done to preserve Kinloch Castle. This red sandstone edifice, erected in 1897, was put up with no expenses spared by an industrialist from Accrington, Lancashire. George Bullough had accumulated great wealth through the Globe textile works. These have since closed.

Kinloch Castle in its heyday, before the First World War, was built and fitted out to make your jaw drop. It had heated conservatories and heated pools, in which tropical creatures swam. When guests were shown into the place, the first room, the ballroom, was an image of opulence. A grand piano stands on a tigerskin. Vases from Japan, up to 8 feet tall, stand in the gallery upstairs. A monkey eagle, capable of taking apes, rears up in a frightening pose. A huge orchestrian can blast out any tune that is available on the requisite roll, much like a piano roll. A bathroom with (I think) 14 different types of showers and douches.

Kinloch Castle, picture courtesy KCFAAfter the First World War, the Castle fell into decline. The heating was switched off, and the tropical creatures died or were released into the chilly Hebridean waters. The castle was a private residence until 1957, when the last surviving Bullough, Lady Monica, died. She, and other members of her family, are interred in the family mausoleum at Harris, 8 miles away on the southwestern face of the island. It takes 3 hours to walk there, and it takes almost as long to drive there. Doing up the road is virtually impossible, as the vehicles needed for the job cannot negotiate the "road".

Kinloch Castle was handed over, with the rest of the island, to (what is now) Scottish Natural Heritage. In 1996, Kinloch Castle Friends Association was formed to help preserve the castle in its former glory. Dampness and the harsh Hebridean climate are doing their worst. In 2003, the BBC's Restoration programme featured Kinloch, and it nearly won the