Wednesday, 31 October 2007

Maritime Building no more

The Maritime Building on Pier no 1 in Stornoway is being demolished at the moment. Following a council proposal to take the listed building down, no objections were filed, so the demolition is going ahead.

I would imagine that expats around the country and around the world will be a bit sad at the disappearance of this Stornoway landmark.

The Maritime Building used to house the Caledonian MacBrayne offices, ticket office for the ferry and latterly an insurance business. It was erected in the 1930s, and saw islanders leave for World War II as well as pastures new in many cases. It was the scene for many a fond welcome home, and for many a tearful farewell. In many cases, the farewell was for good.

After the ferry terminal located to its present position, at no 3 pier, the terminal on pier no 1 fell into disuse. At the moment, the freight ferry, Muirneag, docks there through the day.

The picture at the top of this post shows the current state of affairs. The picture below was taken earlier in the year.

Lewis Windfarms

I've made my opposition to the proposed windfarms in Lewis clear on more than one occasion. In a recent entry, I have stated my case for that.

First Minister Alex Salmond appears to think that the Highlands and Islands should become the powerhouse of Europe, with a cable-link to Scandinavia rather than the rest of the UK. The Highlands and Islands will be the crown of Scotland in that respect, with energy generated from marine-based technology and other sources.

I just hope this crown doesn't become a crown of thorns, with windfarms at every corner, just for the sake of convenience and to line the pockets of the developers.

Tuesday, 30 October 2007


Found a very disconcerting piece of news this evening about the new search-and-rescue helicopter.

The new aircraft, pictured above on its first introduction to Stornoway on 17 September, carries a defibrillator. This piece of kit is used to administer an electric shock to the hearts of patients whose heart has stopped.

The Civil Aviation Authority has not granted approval for the defibrillators to be used, as their electronic safety is not guaranteed. By that is meant that the electronic impulses from the machine may interfere with the electronics on board the aircraft.
Concerns have also been expressed over the lack of a track record in SAR with this new machine.

The uselessness of the defibrillators is something of grave concern. Wonder how they're going to sort that one out.

Wednesday, 24 October 2007

Stornoway notes

In recent weeks, I was pleased to notice a few changes around town. The area around the Nicolson clocktower has been turned into a public amenity, focused on skate boarders. A few seating benches are provided as well, for those less inclined to chance life and limb on the jumps.

Museum nan Eilean, on Francis Street, reopened at the end of September with a new exhibition, entitled Fonn is Duthchas. This now stretches across both floors of the museum building. It is a focus on all aspects of the Highlands and Islands. A good preview can be had on this website. The exhibition, which has toured several major venues in Scotland, closes on 1 December.

The accommodation block for Lews Castle College, on Bayhead, appears to be in use, although it is by no means complete. I have no information on progress, so comments on that welcome. The building has taken the place of the old YM building, which was demolished a year ago. Although largely hidden from view by trees, it does look quite smart and appears to fit in well with surroundings.

The view along Newton Street has been substantially altered, following the demolition of the four fuel tanks in front of the powerstation at the Battery over the past couple of weeks. This should also be obvious from the ferry.

Finally, Stornoway's collection of fine cast-iron railings will be photographed in the weeks to come. Unlike most towns in the UK, Stornoway's railings were not ripped out during World War II to assist in the war effort. A largely futile effort, as you cannot melt down cast iron.

Monday, 22 October 2007


On my travels I visited the Isle of Rum and the Castle at Kinloch. Among other oddities, it contains a fully functional orchestrion. Basically, a mechanised orchestra. The sound is phenomenal and can be heard across the castle. To think it all fits under the stairs...


Thursday, 18 October 2007

Returned to post

After a couple of days on the mainland, yours truly is back on post to post, if you'll forgive the twisted grammar. Had the pleasure to travel to Glasgow the scenic route, of which I'll publish a selection of pictures later.

Here in Lewis, the summer has long gone, and now the winter timetable for public transport is set to come into force on Monday, 22 October. The Stornoway to Ullapool ferry does not alter its schedule, but other ferries do. Please check the Calmac timetables before you set off. And don't forget they're printed using the 24 hour clock. I won't easily forget the poor folk from a place that will remain unnamed who were enjoying their picknick on a hillside overlooking a certain ferryport at 2pm (1400 hours) one day. They enjoyed the beautiful vista of the ferry leaving port. Next one due at 4pm. Really? Nope, not until the next morning.

The bus timetable will be slightly reduced, but on the whole not a marked deterioration. I've said in the past that the Lewis buses provide a good service, except if you want to go to Uig (West Lewis).

I hope that outdated timetables are removed from shelters around the area, unlike Uig in Skye where the winter timetables from the previous winter were still posted on the ferry terminal last week. Come on, Skye, you can do a heck of a lot better than that.

Whilst travelling from Uig to Portree, the bus was briefly halted at the Skeabost junction to allow three trailers with massive turbine sections to pass in the opposite direction. These are due to be installed at the Ben Aketil windfarm near Dunvegan.

I also visited the Isle of Rum and Kinloch Castle, which should be renovated with support from the Phoenix Trust (a charity patronised by Prince Charles) at the cost of 10 to 15 million pounds, a three-fold increase as compared to the cost quoted in 2004. I hope this work will actually be carried out. Kinloch Castle is a unique but fading look back in time, set in the most incongruous of settings.

Wednesday, 10 October 2007

Southwest 5

That about sums up our average wind forecast. It doesn't mention the once a week gales (don't you just love the way you can make statistics look so bonny). It is one of the reasons why the Western Isles was earmarked as a prime site for a windfarm. Or three.

Following my previous post, I think I'd better summarise the reasons for my opposition to the turbines, of which 300 are planned to be dotted across the island of Lewis.

1. Oil and gas are finite sources of energy, and alternatives will have to be found within a matter of years or decades. Nuclear energy is something I'm opposed to, so long as a safe method of disposing of the waste is not found. Sandside Beach at Dounreay, nor Fuday nor Sandray count as safe.

2. The wind blows free for all, and I'm not opposed to windpower persé. However, the question of energy provision should be answered using all sources of renewable or non-carbon based energy.

3. A wavepower plant was commissioned off Eday, Orkney Isles, the other day. A tidal power generator has been providing Islay with electricity for about 15 years now. Another tidal generator is being built at Shader, Barvas (Lewis). Wave and tidal generators on a small scale are unobtrusive. The barrage that was mooted for the Severn estuary has an enormous environmental impact. Street- lights at Cromor and Ranais in Lewis are powered by solar energy. The panels aren't much to look at, but they're only small.

4. Large windpower developments across the UK come in for strong local opposition, because of the impact on the view - and yes, you can make a living off the view, it's called tourism - and the quality of life. Windturbines are NOT silent. Their presence can also put off prospective homebuyers, making properties unsellable.

5. The three Lewis windfarms, in Eisgein, Pairc and North Lewis, will have a major environmental impact. Wildlife, disturbance of the peatlayer (up to 20 feet thick in places), and destruction of one of the last wildernesses in the UK, which people come specifically to visit. The compensation offered to local communities is derisory. When hundreds of millions if not billions of pounds are being made, I think £5 million a year for the North Lewis windfarm is an insult, like offering the natives beads and mirrors.

6. The promises of employment, arising from the construction of the windfarm and associated infrastructure, are overstated. The Arnish Fabrication Yard has shown to be fickle in its economic stability, and that's where all the turbines are to be manufactured? 400 jobs for the construction phase, and 25 for the maintenance phase. I strongly doubt whether Lewisians in exile will come flocking back to take that up.

In brief, the question of our energy provision needs to be addressed in a wider perspective. It's never a good idea to put all your eggs in the one basket, marked windpower in this case.

Thursday, 4 October 2007


The southern aspect of the Arnish Lighthouse is a red sector, and today that was true in more than one sense.

The owner of the Eishken estate announced he was going to submit a planning application for 16 turbines to be constructed on his estate. According to planning rules, windfarms with an output below 50 MW do not require Scottish Government approval. The local authority can give final go-ahead.

Isn't that clever, said he through gritted teeth. This comes ON TOP of the 53 turbine Muaitheabhal Windfarm, so magnanimously reduced from an original 133. Bearing in mind the rubberstamp attitude that the Comhairle has to large windfarm projects (and don't be fooled, this one is more than likely to be 16 turbines each standing 500 feet tall) we can expect 16 turbines on the Eishken Estate in short order.

In the nearly three years that I have been in Lewis, there was always this plot of land for sale along the Eishken Road, near Seaforth Head - 4 miles southeast of Balallan. I have always found it to have a special lure. Remote, nearest neighbour half a mile away, no facilities, back to basics. The antidote was the prospect of an Eishken Windfarm - which will stand directly across the water. Worse than spoiling the view of a solitary house, it will impact the visual aspect of the Harris Hills.