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). ]]>

Tuesday, 8 August 2006

NHS Western Isles - Health Minister's Visit (1)

Monument to the Park Raiders of 1887

<![CDATA[ On my trip to Harris on Sunday, I passed the monument to the Park Raiders on the western end of Balallan. The text below is taken from the explanatory plaques in and below the monument.

This monument was erected in memory of the people of Lochs who challenged the authority of the state in order to focus public attention on the poverty and injustice they suffered under the oppression of heartless landlords who dispossessed their forebears from over thirty villages in Park.

Their inspiration was Donald MacRae, schoolmaster at Balallan, who committed his life to the Higland Land Law Reform movement and to the emancipation of the oppressed crofters and landless cottars.

Over a long period of time, Lady Matheson, the proprietrix of Lewis, ignored numerous pleas from landless families throughout Lochs for permission to return to some of the former villages in Park from which their forefathers had been evicted. Instead she converted the former 42,000 acre Park sheepfarm into a sporting deer forest in 1886.

On 22 November 1887, crofters and cottars from Lochs, having made their intentions public, marched into the Park deer forest, led by pipers and carrying flags. They confront Mrs Platt, the lessee, and her gamekeeper at Seaforth Head and continued past them into the deer forest.

The authorities reacted quickly, sending to Lewis a detachment of the Royal Scots and some Naval ships carrying marines. The raiders made their camp at Airidh Dhomhnaill Chaim by the shore of Loch Seaforth, where they assuaged their hunger on roasted and boiled venison.

Sheriff Fraser read the Riot Act at Ruadh Chleit, explaining its significance in Gaelic. By then the raiders felt that they had made their point and they began to disperse, having killed a large number of deer.

Six of the leaders of the raid were committed for trial at the High Court in Edinburgh. They were:

Donald MacRae, school master in Balallan
Roderick MacKenzie, 46 Balallan
Murdo MacDonald, 61 Balallan
John Matheson, 13 Gravir
Malcolm MacKenzie, 26 Crossbost
Donald MacMillan, 6 Crossbost

In January 1888, they were all acquitted of charges of mobbing, rioting and break the law of trespass.

The three entranes to this memorial Cairn symbolise the three communities that participated in the Deer Raid, Kinloch, North Lochs and Pairc.

The three projecting stones around the top of the memorial symbolise the three prominent events in the Pairc Deer Raid.

The eight points of the compass were taken from the homes of the six land raiders who were acquitted in the High Court in Edinburgh in 1888 as well as a stone from both the site of the reading of the Riot Act at RUADH CHLEIT and the raiders

Monday, 7 August 2006

Health Board - politics

Trip to Harris

<![CDATA[ On Sunday, I undertook a journey of about 95 miles return to the other part of the semi-detached that doubles as the Long Island. I live in Lewis; on the far side of the Clisham it is Harris. Not been there for a while, and I did notice a fair few changes.

Memorial Cairn for the Park RaidersWhat had not changed was the memorial for the Park Raiders, which commemorates the raid of the Eishken district in November 1887. It was a mass trespass, where 8 men had ventured into the derilict hills of Eishken and had helped themselves to some venison. The sheriff came down and read them the Riot Act. The raiders were arrested and committed for trial, but they were not convicted of any offense. The cairn stands just south of Balallan.

After proceeding further south, the Lewis / Harris border (as was) just outside Ath Linne [Aline] was the starting point for a renovated stretch of road, which stretches all the way to Scaladale. I was stunned to see this two-lane super highway passing Bogha Glas [Grey Cow], Vigadale and Scaladale. I mean, this has now become the M25 of the Western Isles, where a very nasty single-track road once held sway. Beware of the corners though; there were complaints about the new bridge by Bogha Glas, but I can foresee accidents on the corner between Vigadale and Scaladale. This is sharper than you might anticipate.

Toddun towering over MaraigThe ascent of the mountains towards the Maraig turnoff is always an exhilerating experience, although I felt sorry for the poor cyclists, heading north, who had to negotiate the 630 ft ascent and descent. The sheep were the usual blinking nuisance. The viewpoint above Maraig shows the crazy road to Reinigeadal in all its glory. You descend 400 ft to sealevel at Maraig, then you ascend 550 ft to the pass underneath Toddun, only to descend another 550 ft into Reinigeadal. Said village boasts a youth hostel and it's a favourite with cyclists. Until 1987, you could only reach Reinigeadal by boat from Loch Seaforth or on foot over the mountains from Tarbert, a gruelling 5 mile trip.

The frowning face of Iosal The passage from Maraig to Ard Asaig has been vastly improved, with another stretch of super highway taking the place of the single-track horror under the frowning precipices of Iosal. It's a miracle that the buses plying this route never ended up in the lochans. The descent into Ard Asaig is a very, very steep one. Beyond Tarbert, capital of Harris, you start to encounter single-track roads with a vengeance. I also started to encounter campervans and motorhomes by the dozen. Having negotiated the empire of stone that is South Harris, the gleaming yellow sands of Luskentyre beckoned, my destination for the afternoon.
View of Luskentyre Sands with Taransay on the horizon
Dozens of campervans had taken up temporary residence along the foreshore. More permanent residence had been taken by a pod from Taransay, where the participants of Castaway 2000 had once bickered, brawled and boozed their way to infamy six years ago. The edifice, which I last viewed 16 months ago, had deteriorated and was in danger of disappearing into the undergrowth. If anybody knows whether this thing is still in use, I'd appreciate a comment.
Castaway Pod - now castaway itself
Finally, after about 75 minutes' driving, we pulled into the carpark by the cemetery. In common with most graveyards in the Western Isles, Luskentyre's is situated on a sandy foreshore. The beach was busy - Blackpool of the North would be an appropriate subtitle, with no fewer than 30 people flitting about. Flying kites, building sand castles, walking dogs - but not venturing into the sea. The beach slopes steeply into the sea and you very quickly go out of your depth. Towering over the beach is the mountain of Beinn Losgaintir.

A day on the beach
Beinn Losgaintir
North Harris mountains

The views from Luskentyre are stunning. To the north, the mountains of Harris march right up to the Clisham. The steep-sided one is called Sron Scourst and is located in Glen Miavaig. The wee building you can see to the left of Glen Miavaig is Cliasmol School, which serves the communities between Huisinis and Bun Abhainn Eadar along the B887.
To the west rise the hills on Taransay, a mile or so across the sea. Two buildings and a wind generator can be discerned on the horizon. When you walk further down the beach, the double hump of Ceapabhal hoves into view and the hills and beaches of Seilebost, Horgabost and Scarista on the road to Leverburgh. Some islands in the Sound of Harris can also be made out on a clear day.

Harris is very different from Lewis, it's so much more rocky and austere. The communities stick tenaciously to the foreshore, both on the east and the western side of it. ]]>

Saturday, 5 August 2006

Kinloch Castle - Isle of Rum

<![CDATA[ As there is currently no resident blogger from Rum on Island Blogging, I would like to take it upon myself to report on the visit to Kinloch Castle by the Duke and Duchess of Rothesay on June 1st.

The Duke and Duchess with officials at the Castle Main Entrance.

Prince Charles took a personal interest in the Castle when it featured on the Restoration programme on BBC TV in 2003. He directed the Phoenix Trust, which he patronises, to draw up plans for the restoration of both the castle and its contents.

The following is taken from the Kinloch Castle Friends Association website, which I recommend for a visit.

The proposals for the castle which are still being developed propose that there will be major restoration, maintenance and repair works carried out. This will include the majority of the contents. The front of house rooms will be converted with minimal alterations to the fabric into a lodge type hotel with 6 or 7 en-suite letting rooms. There will be limited public access to the principal ground floor rooms with tours timed to fit in with visiting ferries and cruise ships, roughly similar to that at present. At the back of house rooms, currently occupied by the hostel, 8 apartments are proposed ranging from 1 - 6 bedrooms. They will be used for short-term holiday lets. Before work can commence, a new hostel and education centre will have to be built. It will be on the site of, and cover the same footplate as the former greenhouses at the north-east corner of the walled garden. Work on the castle will not commence until the new hostel is open. That is likely to take at least 2 years before the new hostel goes through the planning process, and is built. The design of this building has not yet been finalised.

Estimated costs of the works are

Friday, 4 August 2006

NHS Western Isles - Press Officer resigns


<![CDATA[ Yesterday, Thursday, a cruiseliner came into port and anchored in Glumag Harbour. All cruiseships should be able to do that, and they make a magnificent sight. Some anchor off the Lighthouse, others all the way down the coast at Holm Point. I'm glad the Astoria came right in. Everybody came to have a look, and as she stayed until 11.30 pm, the look-by-night was even more spectacular.

MV Astoria by day
MV Astoria by night

These canoeists got the closest look of all, apart from the passengers

Canoeists under the stern of the boat ]]>