Wednesday, 27 June 2007

Illegal dam and former health board chairman

Cliasmol School in Harris, which stands in splendid isolation along the Huisinis road, has been without water because its watersupply has been usurped by the home of the previous chairman of the Western Isles Health Board. He built a dam, without permission, to divert water from a stream to his home rather than to the school. Bowsers are now supplying the school with water for taps and toilets, and the Council has written to the ex-chairman to remove the dam.

No further comment necessary, I think.

Monday, 25 June 2007

Lunar Standstill and Callanish

On Thursday night of this week, a lunar standstill will occur as seen from the Callanish Stones. When viewed from the northern end of the Stones, the moon will appear to rise from behind the Sleeping Beauty range of hills (located in Eishken, south of Airidh a'Bhruaich), pass behind one other hill and set in the southwest. It is a rare phenomenon, only properly seen every 18.6 years. Victor Reijs, who used to operate a webcam at Callanish (blown over in last winter's gales) has an extensive webpage.

A call was made by local archeologist Ian McHardy for people to gather at Callanish at sunset on Thursday evening (10.30pm) to observe the lunar standstill. If the Eishken windfarm is built, the next standstill (in 2026) will be spoiled by the turbines. To quote Mr McHardy: you'd be looking at a windfarm, not a Sleeping Beauty. And for the first time in 5,000 years, the purpose of the Callanish Stones will be spoiled. So, pass word round, and try to be there this Thursday.

Friday, 22 June 2007

Stationary turbines

Yesterday, the Stornoway Gazette cast some light on the enigmatic windturbines down at Grimshader, although they needed the Battery Point powerstation to generate the power for that light. You see, the turbines on the Arnish Moor are notorious for not turning. Don't think that we haven't got the wind to make them go. We do. But, it was found that the local electricity grid was unable to cope with the variable output that you get from a wind turbine. It needs upgrading, and that's something planned somewhere in the next 5 to 10 years.

The point behind the stationary turbines is that the wind does not blow at a constant speed. With the changes in the weather, which happen fast and furious up here, windspeeds vary wildly. At higher windspeeds, the turbines obviously generate more power - but when the wind drops, so does your output. And your average electrical appliance does not work terribly well when your power supply fluctuates. It wreaks havoc with the lifespan of a lightbulb, and can cause serious damage. So, in recent times, the eastern part of Stornoway has been going to sleep to the dulcet roar of the Battery Point powerstation, going at full blast to supply the island with electricity. Of course, we do have a mainland link-up through Skye. But it would appear that this is not too reliable either.

Point I am making is that at best, those turbines have been installed 5 to 10 years early, because they will only be able to operate when the local grid can cope with their vagaries. The other thing is a general point, which is being made on account of these problems, that once the three windfarms come on stream (if they ever do), the same problem will apply on a much larger scale. And, you'll always need a back-up from another source to supply power when there is too little or too much wind.

As I am writing about wind energy, I might as well chip in on the Pairc Windfarm. The planning application is avaiable for perusal in Stornoway Library, and objections can be raised until (I think) mid July. It is going to be an absolute eyesore. The hills of South Lochs are low, and these 500 ft monstrosities will be dominating the skyline for dozens of miles around.

Canoe tragedy

A member of the public spotted a body floating in the sea off Bragar at 6.50 am today. He alerted the emergency services, who recovered it to dry land. Identification confirmed it was that of Daniel McTaggart, the 12-year old boy from Arnol who has been missing since earlier this month.

He went out for a canoeing trip with his father, when something went wrong. The father, Joe, was found shortly after the incident floating in the sea, and was taken to hospital in Stornoway where he died. Search parties were mounted for Daniel in the aftermath of the tragedy, but yielded no results - until today.

However tragic this case, at least there is now closure for the family. I wish them strength at this difficult time.

Wednesday, 20 June 2007

Solstice sunsets

A few images of sunsets of the last few days, which have been quite magnificent. Also to show how light it still is late in the evening. Yes, I know, those in the Northern Isles have even lighter nights.

19 June 2007

Tuesday, 19 June 2007

St Kilda week

A series of events takes place in Lewis and Harris this week surrounding St Kilda and its culture. Street theatre will feature on the streets of Stornoway on Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 12 and 12.30pm. The mainstay of the event is St Kilda, a European Opera. This will be performed on Friday evening at 20.10 GMT, which is 21.10 BST, and can be viewed LIVE on-line on This link will not be operational until the night of the performance.

The week's events are highlighted on a dedicated website, which has all the latest information.

Monday, 18 June 2007

Solstice - irrelevant?

This Thursday will see the summer solstice 2007, and I'm quietly relieved that the forecast isn't too good. As per usual, the Callanish Stones will be a focal point for sun worshippers (not for tanning purposes, mind), druids and the like. All of whom I wish a thoroughly enjoyable and spiritually enhancing time, but I really wonder what they are doing at Callanish.

This monument, one of the oldest in the British Isles, appears to have been laid out to capture various LUNAR events. Related to the moon, just to press the point home. A few weeks ago, the moon was very low in the sky, I think only 4° above the horizon at its highest point. This is the juncture where it appears to set behind a hill in Lochs, rise on its other side and finally set behind the Clisham.

Anyway, I don't want to deprive people of a nice time. I'll be out late one of these evenings to capture the 'late light'.

Tuesday, 12 June 2007

Eigg's 10th anniversary

I apologise for blogging out of area again, but I can't just let the 10th anniversary of the Isle of Eigg buy-out go past without a mention on here. Also, bearing in mind that there are, as yet, no island bloggers from the island.

Eigg was privately owned until 1997, and successive owners did not do much for the island's economic prosperity. In fact, wanton neglect was the order of the day after 1966, when the Runciman family sold up. A series of maverick owners moved into the Lodge (the proprietor's residence), and the last two were the last straw. Keith Schellenberg took over in 1975, and appeared to come in with new ideas.

Unfortunately, a string of incidents soured things irrevocably and Mr Schellenberg sold to a crackpot German artist, known as Marlin Eckhardt Maruma. He shot paint at a canvas, set it on fire, and called it art. He bought Eigg as a security against a £3m loan - which was based on thin air. When this was found out, the island was put on the market again. The islanders now had their act together, and managed to gather up the £2m asking price.

I have visited Eigg on and off since 1989, and on my last visit in 2004, things had improved beyond recognition. By the end of this year, Eiggachs will have their own mains electricity, generated from hydro, solar and windpower. Previously, they had to rely on capricious diesel generators.

I once again salute the people of Eigg for their enterprise and wish them every piece of good luck in the years ahead.

Monday, 11 June 2007

Dolphins at Lower Sandwick

I was told this morning that dolphins were stuck in the bay by Lower Sandwick, so I duly went down the road to have a look. A Coastguard team was in attendance, as was the local vet. The dolphins, both measuring about 8 feet in length, were separately hauled up to the shore on a tarpaulin. The vet assessed their state of health, which was found to be quite poor. Neither animal was able to maintain their natural posture in the water, and had other injuries. How they sustained their injuries will never be known. The decision was taken to euthanise both dolphins, a duty carried out by the vet.

I was very sad at the demise of these two creatures, but it was unavoidable. Their carcases are likely to be taken away from Lower Sandwick for disposal at the Bennadrove dump.

I would like to thank the representatives from the Coastguard for taking the time to fill me in on the situation at the scene.

UPDATE: There were 5 dolphins trapped in the bay, but the other three managed to free themselves on the rising tide at 1 pm.

Friday, 8 June 2007

Hebridean Celtic Festival

It would appear that the Hebridean Celtic Festival, billed for 11-14 July this year, looks set to attract record numbers of visitors. The previous years were equally record breaking, and the HebCelt office on Cromwell Street says that 2007 looks to be no exception. This in spite of the close proximity (in terms of time) of the festival to Elton John's gig over in Inverness.

The main challenge is to accommodate everybody that wants to come. The festival website has more information on this issue, including contact points for people who have a room to spare.

In addition, I strongly suggest that anyone as yet without accommodation consider staying outside Stornoway, and organise a vehicle to get to the gigs and back again. Public transport ceases at 8pm on weekdays, and 11pm on Friday and Saturday. The concerts commonly finish after midnight. For those unfamiliar with Lewis it may be benificial to know that distances to the town are never more than about 25 miles, with the district of Uig the sole exception at 35 miles distance.

Thursday, 7 June 2007

Local Mod

The Lewis Local Mod is on this week, between 5th and 8th June. I have attended a handful of the competitions; yesterday and today, I sat in on the Folk Groups from Primary and Secondary Schools from across the island. Recorded some of the performances, which can be listened to by accessing this webpage. I was unable to keep tabs on performances by the secondary schools, but the primary schools performed as per order.

Tuesday, 5 June 2007

Canoe tragedy

There has been extensive media coverage in the north of Scotland about the canoeing tragedy off Arnol and Bragar, on the West Side of Lewis. Image above shows the coastline near Bragar.

Sixty-year old Joe McTaggart and his 12-year old son Daniel set out in a canoe from their home village of Arnol yesterday (Monday) afternoon. It would appear that they got into difficulties fairly soon after setting forth. A woman out on the shore near the neighbouring village of Bragar noticed a canoe with two people on the water. When she found the canoe washed up on the beach at Bragar 15 minutes later, she raised the alarm with the Coastguard.

Yesterday evening, five coastguard teams from across Lewis combed 5 miles of coastline between Shawbost and Barvas, assisted by the coastguard helicopter and the Stornoway lifeboat. Joe McTaggart was found in the water, and was transported to Western Isles Hospital in Stornoway, where he was pronounced dead. His son was still missing, but the search continued until light started to fail at 10.30pm.

This morning at 3.30 am, at first light, the search was resumed, but after several sweeps of the coastline the lifeboat and helicopter were stood down. A shoreline search will continue through today and beyond. A large number of local people have assisted police and coastguard in looking for Daniel.

Mrs McTaggart, speaking on regional television this evening, said that although a slim chance remained for her son to be found alive, she was resigned to her loss, and was convinced that she would meet up with her loved ones in a better place.

I would like to express my sympathies to the family at this sad time.

Friday, 1 June 2007

Midnight light

We're in the season of light nights again, and when I popped outside half an hour ago, I was treated to the below spectacle

Looking north

Looking south