Wednesday, 29 July 2009


Nobody resident in the Western Isles can have failed to notice the numbers of campervans on the islands' roads this summer. So much so, that this has been raised as a concern with our Member of Parliament (in Westminster). Not all islands have facilities for motorhomes (like waste water disposal), meaning that a potential exists for environmental health problems, it is reported.

I cannot understand the reasoning behind the questions, posed by our MP to the management of Calmac. He asks for the numbers of campervans on ferries to the Western Isles, both on fully booked and not fully booked ferries. I can even less understand the contradiction in terms in stating that campervans are welcome, yet suggesting that the RET tarriff for campervans of between 5 and 8 metres in length cease to be equivalent to a car's. Motorhomes would be subject to the normal (higher) rate for vehicles of 5 metres and over.

It just so happens that I know that serviced accommodation in the islands (B&B, hotels, guest houses) is booked to the rafters this summer; numbers of visitors are apparently up by some 30% on last year. It is therefore to be welcomed that people come, carrying their own roof. It should be up to the local authority to provide service points for motorhomes in the islands (as has happened in Berneray, according to my own observations there 2 weeks ago). Rather than try to discourage people from coming with a motorhome, our MP should press the Comhairle to complete a network of service points, or encourage businesses to rent out motorhomes, negating the need to bring those vehicles on the ferries.

It should be borne in mind that tourism is a mainstay of the islands' economy, accounting for some £50m annually.

PLEASE NOTE: Comments on this post will be moderated closely.


Last night at around 9pm, the weather started to deteriorate markedly. Dark showerclouds moved up from the west, the wind (which had already been at force 5 all day) picked up further. The Eoropie private weather station recorded gusts of wind of 57 mph at one point. And just after 10pm, a tornado dropped in for a passing visit. It came ashore near the ferry terminal, overturned a car outside the Sea Angling Club, jumped to James Street to rip gates off a private driveway, then on to Garden Road where the lead flashings came loose on a house - presumably because the rooftiles were being lifted off. Trees had limbs taken off and shredded. Next on to Matheson Road, where two small trees were downed just off Smith Avenue. And Jamieson Drive, a little way further on, also incurred some damage. The twister disappeared in the darkness off Sand Street, 2 miles north of the original point of landfall.

On the Fujita scale, which measures the strength of a tornado, judging by the damage it leaves behind, this one was an F1 tornado. Overturning a car puts it at F1, as does roof damage. The Coastguard reported a sudden increase and decrease of windspeed as the phenomenon passed. The Met Office rainfall radar last night showed a small burst of intense rainfall, moving at high speed from the west coast of Uig to Stornoway between 9pm and 9.30pm.

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="450" caption="Path of tornado across Stornoway"]Path of tornado across Stornoway[/caption]

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Eishken Windfarm

A fourth planning application has been lodged with Comhairle nan Eilean Siar for a windfarm in the Eishken Hills. Apparently, half the originally proposed turbines have been lobbed off the scheme - as they were on the Sleeping Beauty Mountain and in the South Lewis / Harris / North Uist Scenic Area. Also, the type of turbines will be changed, namely to a variety that has a higher electricity output. Reading the article on Hebrides News (linked to above) requires a contents warning - have a waste paper bag ready.

It is to be expected that this will be rubberstamped by our local authority. There are only two more obstacles to clear: approval by Scottish Ministers and the outcome of a public inquiry into the Eishken Windfarm, which is already 6 months overdue. I wonder whose hands this hot potato will finally emerge from. It should also be noted that approval of this windfarm will also make the interconnector (mainland subsea powercable) an economically viable proposition. As I have noted before, the interconnector will not be able to be built if the Beauly to Denny high voltage power link is not upgraded. This too is subject of a public inquiry, whose result is equally eagerly awaited.

Perhaps I didn't read the small print at the time, but it transpires that the community part of the Eishken Windfarm requires the input of a mere twenty million pounds from said community. I have great difficulty keeping the sarcasm at bay here, but knowing Lochs, and more particularly South Lochs, I somehow don't really see that happening in a hurry.

I realise that Arnish Lighthouse could be accused of Comhairle-bashing in recent times, but I can only hope that the Eishken Windfarm (which nobody really wants) goes the same way as the ferry-not-on-Sunday stance from the local authority - out with the tide.

Monday, 20 July 2009

Warped view

Last night, my attention was drawn to an article on Associated Press, dutifully carried by dozens of news outlets across the world. One paragraph went for me, as it did for quite a few people in these islands:

The majority of the 18,000 islanders strictly adhere to the books of Genesis and Exodus from the Old Testament, in which God declared the seventh day reserved for rest and worship. So after church services, they don’t use electricity, play games, shop or even hang out laundry to dry.

So we don't use electricity, eh? Your blogger has sent three stiff complaints, to the writer, AP and the Independent on Sunday. The fact that many people in Lewis go along with the wishes of a few, in order not to cause upset or offence, does not mean everybody subscribes to such practices. And the non-use of electrical power is blatantly incorrect.

Yesterday, when I was at the ferry terminal, I was annoyed by the expressions on the faces of the presspack, when they caught sound of the group of church goers, singing psalm 46 - nearly laughing their heads off. Whatever your views on Sabbaterians and their convictions, I believe them to be genuine and sincerely held. There is no call for ridicule and misrepresentation, and I think it's time the press stopped making us the laughing stock of the world.

Sunday, 19 July 2009

Reflections on a novelty

I hope that the novelty of the Sunday ferry will wear off soon, so that it will become as normal as the departures through the week. From my perspective, my day is punctuated by the vessel's appearance in and out of port, and I can add that routine to the Sunday. It is not my intention to demean the sincerely held beliefs of those who object to the Sunday sailings on religious grounds. Unfortunately, events have now caught up with them. I do believe that it is perfectly feasible to operate the ferry on Sundays without any fuss. As long as shops don't open, or buses start to run, the impact will be minimal.

Tourists will be able to come 7 days a week now, which is good for the local economy - in the summer months. Leaving that to one side, there will be one less reason for families to move away. Anyone working away will now be able to come home on Friday evening and return on Sunday evening, on time to go back to work on the mainland on Monday morning. Depopulation being a major demographic nightmare for the local authority, that is another plus for the Sunday ferry.

I was asked if there are any downsides to this Sunday sailing. It has been suggested that an upsurge in crime is to be expected. Well, the alcohol-fuelled disorder that is sometimes in evidence over the weekend is already there, thanks to the Sunday opening of pubs. If there was ever an ungodly decision made in these parts, it was the one to allow Sunday drinking in pubs. Not the one to sail the ferry on Sundays.

Ferry has sailed

A very unremarkable occasion on any island, but a hugely momentous occasion this afternoon in Stornoway. It is Sunday 19 July 2009, the time 2.31pm. A crowd of several hundred have gathered outside the Calmac terminal, six lines of traffic have just driven on board the MV Isle of Lewis for the journey to Ullapool, as per timetable. The ropes are cast off, and as the vessel backs away from the pier, cheering, whistling, waving and shouting erupts. It persists for a full minute. After five minutes, the Isle of Lewis halts, then assumes a forward motion to head for sea. Another protracted cheer erupts spontaneously.

Hebrides News refers to a noisy crowd being present at the terminal. It was only noisy when the ferry cast off. Otherwise, it was a well-behaved, large group, quietly talking among each other. A group of church-goers sang Psalm 46 (God is our refuge and our strength) as passengers boarded the ferry, according to Hebrides News. By 2.30pm, they had disappeared.

It was a momentous and moving occasion, showing the relief felt by many that an oppression had been lifted. We can now travel if we want, and should that be on Sunday, there is the option of the ferry now. If anyone doesn't want to travel on Sunday, they don't have to. The choice is there.

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="500" caption="Vehicles waiting to board the first Sunday ferry"]Vehicles waiting to board the first Sunday ferry[/caption]

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="500" caption="Placard held aloft by island church-goers"][/caption]

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="500" caption="Crowd of onlookers at the ferry terminal"]Crowd of onlookers at the ferry terminal[/caption]

This video shows the MV Isle of Lewis pulling away from the quayside amidst a prolongued cheer from the assembled crowd.

Saturday, 18 July 2009

Ferries galore

Well, that is a mad 36 hours we've just had here in Lewis. Yesterday, Friday, the MV Isle of Lewis, limped into port two hours late after developing a fault in her engine. She had only managed to complete one of her scheduled three return crossings to Ullapool. Whilst the engineers went to work to fix her exhaust system, passengers piled up at the ferry terminal only to be told there would be no ferry services at all on Friday. This was nothing short of a disaster. We're currently hosting the Hebridean Celtic Festival (with about 8,000 visitors in Stornoway & environs), and many of them will have been on their way here, or on their way back to the mainland. Some people managed to divert to Tarbert, Harris, to cross to Skye. Compounding the situation was the fact that the Isle of Lewis had carried 200 passengers on a daytrip to Stornoway, who had intended to return to the mainland on the scheduled 7pm crossing. They now had to be put up in Stornoway, whilst there was not a spare bed left due to the Hebridean Celtic Festival. Some unfortunates were reduced to sleeping in the ferry terminal, or in sleeping bags outside. Just as well it's summer, and not desperately cold at night.

Whilst this mayhem was going on, Calmac organised a relief vessel (in the shape of the Isle of Arran) to take over on the Stornoway to Ullapool run. On Friday evening, it was still doing the Kennacraig to Islay run; by 11 o'clock on Saturday morning, she was up here. Also on Friday evening, the Hebrides (which normally plies from Uig in Skye to Tarbert or Lochmaddy) sailed to Ullapool to help clear a backlog of vehicles which had built up on the mainland.

Loaded to the gunwhales, the Isle of Arran bravely sailed to Ullapool shortly before midday. Passengers were reported sitting on the ground, as there was no seating left for some. Checking a minute ago, I was pleasantly surprised to see the Isle of Lewis steaming into the Minch, headed for Ullapool. It is due back at 4.30 this morning, preceded at 3.00 am by the Isle of Arran.

The Sunday sailings are certainly getting off with a bang, with no fewer than two ferries coming in first thing on a Sunday - the first scheduled Sunday service will depart as billed at 2.30pm tomorrow afternoon.

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Sunday Sailings starting on 19 July

This coming Sunday, 19 July 2009, will see a momentous occasion in recent history of the Isle of Lewis.

Caledonian MacBrayne have announced that with immediate effect, every Sunday, a ferry will depart Stornoway at 14.30, arriving in Ullapool at 17.15 and departing there at 18.15. The sailing will return to Stornoway at 21.00. In spite of a vociferous campaign on the part of opponents of the Sabbath sailings, Calmac have now gone ahead, apparently with the green light from the Scottish Government.

It would appear that a flood of emails arising from the Hebridean Celtic Festival have precipitated events. The decision has caused upset amongst the Lords Day Observance Society as well as to Comhairle nan Eilean Siar. Their outcry will have no effect - the decision looks made and set in stone.

Wednesday, 8 July 2009


This magnificent three-masted schooner is currently moored in Stornoway, but is due to leave for Skye, the Small Isles and Oban shortly. The Dutch-registered Oosterschelde was built in 1918 and offers opportunities for hands-on sailing on trips of up to 2 weeks at a time. [Edit: the English language version of the site can be accessed by clicking on the link marked English]

For those who missed seeing the ship at Stornoway, she will be back at the end of next week - presumably for Sail Hebrides. Own imagery is not currently available, but will be posted once I've caught up with the ship myself.

Oosterschelde will be at Oban next weekend and around the southern Isles and St Kilda on passage to Stornoway.

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="450" caption="Oosterschelde in Gulf of Finland in 2003, courtesy Pieter Nijdeken"]Oosterschelde in Gulf of Finland in 2003, courtesy Pieter Nijdeken[/caption]

Second half of 2009

The much vaunted debate on Isles FM about the Sunday ferries was missed by this blogger. Both live, and repeat, and on-line reruns. I am told it was a balanced debate, which is more than can be said for the megaphone discussion on this subject taking place elsewhere on the Net. It is currently rumoured that a ferry could be sailing on Sunday 19 July, to take away all the revellers attending the Hebridean Celtic Festival.

The Uist Rocket Range and its intended depletion of staff has also had the feathers flying in the political arena. Once more, Arnish Lighthouse does not profess a political allegiance. Having said that, it would appear that our parliamentary representatives are currently flying over the horizon at the end of a rope holding the bolting horse that is going to take the jobs away from Uist. Yes, a dreadful metaphor. The MP is talking to all political parties, except for the one currently in government in Westminster. They are the ones pulling the strings at the moment, and even if there is a general election much before the current latest date of June 2010, I cannot see how the savings of £28m are going to be by-passed by either Labour or Conservative at this stage in an economic downturn.The laudable efforts by the MP are coming way too late.

It is worth stressing that Defense is solely the prerogative of the Westminster Parliament and Government. I will not pass comment on the party-political game playing that is going on over the heads of the Uisteachs.