Sunday, 31 May 2009

South Harris

Another photo compilation, this time from a bustour of South Harris. Started out by going down the West Side of Harris to Leverburgh, and returning through the Bays area (on the east side).


Of an evening in Stornoway

Visit to Uig - 28 May 2009

Last Thursday, I went to Uig and called into the museum at Erista / Timsgarry - well worth a visit. Afterwards, I crossed the moors to Cliff and the cemetery on the road to Valtos. Although the weather was very wet, grey, misty, overcast, windy and cold, the walk was in places quite spectacular. The below video is a compilation of most of the pictures I took that day. Enjoy!


Monday, 25 May 2009


Before we lose more blogs from this site (after X333XXX, Breasclete Mick and now Gravirlife), can I just appeal for some perspective on this deplorable situation? I appreciate that people sometimes don't get on, for whatever reason. I decline to become involved in that debate / discussion / row. I would like to share my take on blogging and the Internet, having been involved in the former for nearly five years and the latter for more than nine. This is not directed against anyone involved in IB at present or in the past.

When you're reading and writing on-line, conducting discussions and what not, you have to bear in mind that it is a real person you are talking to. Reading words on a screen tends to make you lose sight of that, quite literally. You don't hear their voice, or the inflection in the voice; you don't see their facial expression or general body language. It is ever so easy to take things the wrong way. Or to write in words and phrases that are disproportionate to the discussion in hand.

When someone leaves a nasty comment out of the blue - just delete it. Particularly if they have not commented before.

Let's not lose what has been built up over the past five months, since the BBC pulled the plug on the original Island Blogging site.

A boatful day

Two cruiseliners, two fishingboats, one tanker and two ferries. That is today's harvest in terms of boats at Stornoway. Just before 8 am, the cruiseliner Spirit of Adventure came into port, passing the much smaller Quest which was at anchor in Glumag Harbour.

In the meantime, the ferry (MV Isle of Lewis) was not going anywhere for most of the day. Its problems with the bowdoor continued to plague it. After staying shut all week last week, the visor was now open since at least yesterday afternoon. By 4pm, it finally sailed for Ullapool for the first time today. With some mighty fed up passengers on board, judging by what was hanging around the ferry terminal two hours previously. The second ferry, incidentally, is MV Muirneag, our cargo ferry.

A restored fishing boat, the Reaper, arrived in Stornoway yesterday evening at 6pm, after a rough voyage up from Grimsay (in the Uists). Today, the museumship had an open day, and all who were interested could come aboard and have a look. Knowing my luck, I came at low tide, so the gangway was quite a steep step down. The boat, 107 years old, was in great condition and a pride to those who maintain and crew her.

The other fishingboat, the Jean Claude Coulomb, was in such a blazing hurry to get in and out for a crew change that I could not get a picture of her.

As I type, the tanker Border Heather is approaching the port, which completes our boatful day.

Thursday, 21 May 2009


The Maritime and Coastguard Agency has started a campaign to warn against the danger of Tombstoning. This is a craze that has been around for some years, and involves (young) people jumping off cliffs or other high points into the water below. If you don't know what lies below the water's surface, you are literally playing with your life.

Mike Bill from Humber Coastguard said,

This sad loss [of a 17-year old on the coast near Humberside, AL] highlights the dangers of tombstoning and pier-jumping and our sympathies are with the family. Coastguard figures show this is the ninth coastal death in just two years but hundreds of incidents happen every year and many end in severe permanent injuries.

We advise people never to tombstone or pier-jump. Jumping from height into water is dangerous because water depth alters with the tide and it might be shallower than it appears, submerged objects like rocks and structures may not be visible, the shock of cold water can make it difficult to swim, plus strong currents can sweep people away.

This activity is becoming increasingly popular and although we realise we cant stop everyone who wants to participate in this activity, we urge people to use common sense and consider the advice on offer:

Think before you jump:

• Be aware of the depth of the water. Remember tides go in and out very quickly – it may start off deep enough but can quickly become shallower
• Be aware of hazards in the water. Rocks, groynes or debris under the sea may not be visible through the surface
• Never jump from any object into the sea while under the influence of alcohol or peer pressure
• Consider the risk to others. Young children may be easily influenced by the behaviour they witness.

(End of quote).

Further advice can be obtained from this page on the MCA website.

Please relay.

Can't resist

This poem, by Donald S. Murray, was originally published in the Glasgow Herald. I have to put it up, as it is so evocative of life in Lewis.

We do not need road-maps
to be sure of our direction.

No green lights gee us up to go
No red lights halt our progress

Only the passing-places where we greet
stranger and neighbour with a wave

Yet there are times we long to be snared
in a snarl of streets and bye-roads

Caught in a confusion of choices
Bewildered by the breadth of highways

To drive in the knowledge our journey
will not end on a pierhead

Or terminate on a sandblown track
Leading to a rusty cemetery gate.

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Batten down the hatches

The big fight has started. The Lord's Day Observance Society have now instructed a sollicitor to argue their case against the introduction of a Sunday ferry service, rubbishing all the arguments put forward by ferry operators Calmac. They are accused of naked commercial greed.

I am bemused by the assertion that Calmac's legal advice has not been published. I have seen it printed out on several local blogs, which to me means it has been published, if not by Calmac. The letter, which I'm checking on as I type, is pretty clear.

I am considering relocating to the Arnish Gun Emplacements, getting food in from Tesco's by special tender to Downie's Harbour and chartering MV Lochnevis to bring me guns and ammo. This is High Noon at the Ferry Corral, and it's every man for himself. Where's my helmet?

Sunday, 17 May 2009

IB matters

It's been a drastic few days in the world of Island Blogging, born out by a fairly heated discussion on View from the Helm. I would like to take this opportunity to express my sadness at the manner of departure of X333XXX, formerly of Achmore, presently of southern England. I wish him well in his recovery from the health problems which necessitated his departure from Lewis. I do hope it will be possible for him to return to the Hebrides at some point in the future, and resume blogging on this forum, should he so wish. A similar wish is extended to Flying Cat of Stromness, soon to be the mainland.

Saturday, 16 May 2009

Google Earth

Those of you who have this application installed on your computers may be interested to know that imagery of the Scottish islands has been vastly improved; Orkney looks as if new images are still being added, but it does look nice. Below image shows the Clisham from Mullach bho Thuath; a place I'm not likely to venture to.


Is a game this blog tends to stay out of, but with the expenses row down in Westminster mushrooming, it was pointed out that the MP for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (in other words, the Western Isles) has also had his expenses scrutinised. All I can say is - Toblerone?!

Friday, 15 May 2009

Gun emplacements

On the Arnish peninsula, just behind the lighthouse from which this blog derives its name, stand a couple of gun emplacements. They look out over the Minch south and east of Stornoway Harbour, and have stood idle since World War II came to an end in 1945. Below is the view from Charlie's Monument, and in line with the gun emplacements in showing the ferry passing the Arnish Lighthouse.

It worries me to read that the Lord's Day Observance Society are applying for planning permission to restore the gun emplacements. Particularly following Calmac's announcement that they will institute Sunday sailings. Is this what is meant by gunboat diplomacy?

Hidden corner

Over the past three years or so, I have frequented all the island's cemeteries to photograph war (-related) graves. These can be seen on the Scottish War Graves Project's Western Isles page. The total is nearly 400. Today, I added the lone wargrave from a hidden cemetery at Galson to the collection. I had to ask around before I was able to locate it on the ground. The Explorer 460 map, which covers Galson, has the name printed right over the location in Gothic lettering. The Old Churchyard at Galson is still in current usage, judging by the recent dates on some of the graves.

Thursday, 14 May 2009

We will get a Sunday ferry

We are getting a ferry on Sunday. Question is now not if, but when. Calmac has said it would be unlawful to withhold a service on Sunday on account of human rights consideration. Consultation is to start shortly, but until this is complete no timetables will be published. The Lord's Day Observance Society has promised Calmac a fight, for putting the law of money over the law of God.

Source: BBC Highlands & Islands

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

Sunday Ferry

Rumours are once again flying around this week that our ferry company, Caledonian MacBrayne, are considering instituting a ferry service from Stornoway to and from Ullapool on Sundays. Which we currently do not have. This is a contentious issue; my last posting on the subject attracted more than 50 comments in a few days.

Apparently, before Calmac can start Sunday sailings, they have to consult with the community in this island to weigh up opposing views. Tomorrow, senior personnel from the company are to meet the local council in Stornoway. They will, according to reports, also meet with the Lord's Day Observance Society, who are opposed to sailings on a Sunday as it interferes (in their perspective) with the Sabbath.

I gather that following the halving of fares after the implementation of Road Equivalent Tarriff last year, demand for the service has increased dramatically, leading to capacity problems. Another reason could well be the current economic recession and the unfavourable exchange rate between the Euro and pound sterling, which make overseas holidays in Europe expensive for Britons. Therefore, holidays at home are becoming more attractive.

The full story is on Hebrides News, to which I would like to refer for detailed information.

Saturday, 9 May 2009

The missing link

I was amazed to read that windfarm applications in the Western Isles could not be fast tracked, because they were not linked to the mainland national electricity grid. That is to say, by a cable with sufficient capacity to take all that power across. There is a big long article on Hebrides News on that subject, and I'll leave it to my readers to peruse it at their leisure. I just wonder why this tiny inconvenience was overlooked. I mean, if the entire link-up to the National Grid fails to materialise - and that is possible - the Western Isles windfarms will also fail to materialise. I have previously pointed out that there is a public inquiry into the Beauly to Denny powerline upgrade, with no guarantee of a positive outcome. Oh yes, we could lay a cable all the way down to Hunterston in Ayrshire. Dream on, Macduff.

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

Comments and spam

It is sad that the number of genuine comments is eclipsed by the number of spam comments. It is a cause of joy that Akismet has eliminated more than 1100 spams - 500 genuine comments did make it to this site so far. What strikes me that there are hundreds of sites, using gmail addresses, trying to pander (probably fake) medicines, some quite illegal in some countries. Others try to lure you to their (probably boobytrapped) sites with fake compliments. And several abuse the trackback feature. I leaf through the dozens of spam that get cleaned up each day, just in case. But never was there anything that could be rated as a genuine comment.

Switch on Akismet if you haven't already done so.

Algal toxins

Comhairle nan Eilean Siar's Social and Community Department has issued a warning that elevated levels of algal toxins have been found on Traigh Mhor, Barra. It is advisable not to eat razorfish, cockles or other shellfish from that area due to the raised danger of paralytic shellfish poisoning. Further details on telephone 01851-709396.

Tuesday, 5 May 2009

Switch off all clothes

That is apparently the injunction given in Gaelic by a well-intentioned Comhairle councillor the other day. According to this P&J columnist, council proceedings descended into disarray, when a severe case of lost in translation affected proceedings. The councillor in question had in fact requested members to switch off their phones, but the Gaelic he enunciated instructed elected members to remove their clothes. The lady translator, present for members who do not have mastery of the Gaelic language, refused to translate. It took a while for things to get back on the straight and narrow.

Sunday, 3 May 2009

Which islands do we live in?

What's in a name? After I posted on the health service in these islands, a discussion blew up on the comment thread about the formal name for the island chain, stretching from Lewis to Barra Head. I quote IB head honcho Les:

The islands are referred to as The Outer Hebrides by the Ordnance Survey (and you would be right in thinking that’s where you live)

As a UK Parliamentary constituency it is referred to as Na h-Eileanan an Iar - however as a Scottish Parliamentary constituency it is The Western Isles - however for Local Government purposes it is referred to as Na h-Eileanan Siar.

This I find ridiculous. Why, in the name of the wee man, can't this muddle be brought into line. Gaelic, English, and even in the Gaelic there is disagreement. So, I am going to be bold here by asking our MP, MSP and Council Leader to join forces and push for a change in the law that will give our beautiful islands one name for all occasions. Which one, I don't care.

Saturday, 2 May 2009

Pairc Windfarm

It would appear that Western Isles Council is intent on saddling us with giant windfarm developments that we don't want. The Pairc Windfarm is a case in point. I fully realise that a local authority is not in the business of being popular, it should make decisions based on facts (sic), weighing up arguments for and against to come to a conclusion that will serve the good of community to the greatest extent. I highlighted the word facts.

It is reported by local news website Hebrides News that there is a point of disagreement between community body Pairc Trust and the council. The argument centres on the amount of compensation to be paid to the community by developers SSE for constructing the windfarm. The Trust states it has not reached agreement with SSE, whereas the council has gone forth and published figures on the distribution of £7.6m that SSE have put on the table for community benefit.

It is most deplorable that such appears to be the case. Before a decision is taken on approving the windfarm or not, the amount of community benefit should be clearly defined, on order that a proper balance can be drawn up. If it isn't, any such decision is not on terribly firm ground. It confirms my impression that Comhairle nan Eilean Siar will have its windfarms at any cost. Apart from the measly compensation, the job prospects (one other possible pro for any such development) do not exactly rank at the top of the scale. We were promised 400 jobs at Arnish in 2005, when the Lewis Windfarm Project was still on the cards.

The Scottish Government have the final say on the Pairc Windfarm.

Below picture is courtesy Flickr-user yobrokkin; it shows the western end of the area of South Lochs where the Pairc Windfarm is projected to be built.

Friday, 1 May 2009


Relaying a warning from Hebrides News:

There is a blue-green algal bloomnow occurring in Loch An Tuimpan, Point (at Portvoller). Swallowing the water or algal scum can cause stomach upsets or more serious health effects.  Contact with the water or algal scum can cause skin problems. It is a sensible precaution for you, your children and your animals to avoid contact with the scum and the water close to it. For further information, contact the Social and Community Services Department, Comhairle Nan Eilean Siar, Stornoway, Tel No. (01851) 709396

NHS Western Isles

I hope this is the last posting on this previously vexed subject. The Health Service in the islands has run up a deficit of more than £3 million in the earlier years of this decade, resulting from poor management practices. Those responsible have since left the organisation, after a vociferous campaign to oust them.

The Scottish Government has given the Health Board a loan of 3.1 million pounds to wipe clean the slate. NHS WI has managed to break even in recent times. The money is due to be repaid over six years, starting in 3 years from now.

I sincerely hope this is the closure of a dark chapter in the island's health service history, and that we can now move forward, without having to look back too much.

Source: BBC Highlands and Islands