Monday, 31 August 2009

Eishken Windfarm

The John Muir Trust, who objects to the current planning application for the Eishken Windfarm, has commissioned a report into the economic benefits of said windfarm. The developers state that more than 100 jobs will be created, but the JMT report puts that number at about 30. The visual impact of the Eishken and Pairc windfarms will be great, and it appears that according to the JMT report, little economic benefit will be had from a project that will impact the islands adversely in other ways.

However, it looks very likely that the planning application, currently before the Comhairle, will be rubberstamped for approval.

Sunday, 30 August 2009

29 August 1930

It was 79 years ago since the last few dozen people were evacuated from the archipelago of St Kilda (Hiort), 40 miles west of the Outer Hebrides. The move, requested by the people themselves, came in the wake of a decline in population and the increasing problems posed by their remoteness. St Kilda has remained without permanent habitation since, with only Ministry of Defense personnel monitoring the rocket range on Uist and National Trust for Scotland staff looking after the remains of the houses there. Upon departing their shores, the St Kildans left a handful of grain on their tables, alongside the family bible, opened at the chapter Exodus.

A few houses have been restored, and cruiseliners regularly call in the summer. Reaching the islands is still difficult, due to the weather and sea conditions found in the North Atlantic. Efforts have been made to retain the history and culture of the islands, and quite a few books have been written. Yesterday was the first-ever St Kilda day. It is a good thing to celebrate culture. Celebrating an extinct culture in 21st century fashion is something that doesn't sit very easy with me.

Thursday, 27 August 2009

Inter Island Ferries

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="500" caption="Sound of Harris ferry MV Loch Portain at Leverburgh"]Sound of Harris ferry MV Loch Portain at Leverburgh[/caption]

Ferry traffic across the Minch has boomed this summer. The customary three-sailings-a-day routine between Ullapool and Stornoway on Wednesdays and Fridays is coming to an end on the 28th, this coming Friday, and on not one day has the service run to timetable on those days, this summer. Reasons for this are the RET-scheme, which has seen fares slashed by half on some routes, and a favourable exchange rate for visitors from the Eurozone. Which in turn made it less attractive for British holidaymakers to go to Europe - so all flocked to the Western Isles.

RET does not apply to the ferry routes between islands in the Western Isles; more specifically, the Leverburgh to Berneray ferry (which links Harris and Uist), and Eriskay to Ardmhor (Barra). It was reported on Hebrides News tonight that fares, already much higher than on the cross-Minch routes, could be increased by another 40%, as a local subsidy scheme comes to a close on August 31st.

It appears that Comhairle nan Eilean Siar had put forward £75k, on the understanding that Highlands and Islands Enterprise would also pay out £75k. HIE have now announced that they will not honour that apparent promise, saying it is no longer part of its remit. The Scottish Government appear to have been less than helpful on their part.

Local businesses have complained that the increased transportation costs between islands could drive them to the wall. It is from my viewpoint rather unfair to have different fare-structures on different routes of the Calmac network. Yes, I know the RET is a pilot-scheme to see how it goes (roaring success), but I am also looking a bit further afield, to the Northern Isles. Orkney and Shetland are excluded from RET, and are complaining bitterly, justifiably so.

In my opinion, the Scottish Government should close the pilot for RET and implement it forthwith on all ferry routes in Scotland, if only for the sake of common fairness and equality to all islanders, irrespective of their location.

Monday, 17 August 2009

Roll of Honour

The Roll of Honour 1914-1919 for the Isle of Lewis has been published on-line on this link. It is a straight transcription, with some paraphrasing here and there to condense wordy descriptions. Otherwise, no information has been added that was not in the copy, residing in Stornoway Library.

More extensive information on men that died as a result of the war has been collected in the Faces from the War Memorial site.

Sunday, 16 August 2009

AIS gone wrong

AIS (Automatic Identification System) is a system which logs the location, course, destination and speed of most ships over 300 tons. I am an avid user of its reflection on the Internet,, particularly to find out about ships in my area. Stornoway is not a busy port, so any unknown vessel has my attention. This afternoon, nothing is coming or going (apart from the ferry), but AIS shows the following - the boat I'm on about is highlighted in yellow.

It looks like this:

My attention was on the large yacht, the Gundamain, which you can see against the backdrop of the hills. Its description as a 2,159 gross tonnage oil products tanker is patently wrong.

The IMO number refers to the tanker Janet C, pictures of which now feature on AIS in connection with this yacht.

Saturday, 15 August 2009

Cruiseliner Delphin

The weather here in Stornoway is pretty dismal this Saturday, with frequent heavy squalls, carrying rain and gusts up to 40 mph. Monitoring the output for Stornoway, I nearly needed that site to identify the Northern Lighthouse Board's Pharos, as it was barely visible from a few hundred yards away as it left port. ShipAIS also showed the cruiseliner Delphin approaching from the south, closely hugging the Lochs coast. About half an hour ago, it hove into view from my position but then it made a graceful turn from a northwesterly to a northeasterly course and went on its way again.

ShipAIS shows a vessel's destination, which was marked as Stornoway until about 12.30pm; now, with the Delphin moving away into the Minch again, it is due into Invergordon at 6 am tomorrow morning.

I can understand why the ship chose to abandon its date with Stornoway. The southerly wind, blowing at a steady force 6 with higher gusts, has already whipped up the sea to choppy state, making transfer by tender a hazardous undertaking. The Delphin has a draught of 6.3 metres (21 feet), which is only 1 metre / 3 feet below the maximum draught that Stornoway harbour can take.

I hope the passengers on the Delphin have a comfortable crossing to Invergordon today, and that they will one day return on a better day to see what the Isle of Lewis has to offer.


I was very pleased to read that a so-called "wave farm" has been proposed for installation off Great Bernera, west of Lewis. A wave farm (terrible description) consists of several units of Pelamis, which convert the energy of wave action into electricity. How this works in practice, off Portugal, can be read here.

A tidal generator is to be built off Shader (Barvas), and should this new installation become reality, it would place the Western Isles at the forefront of renewable energy usage. Pelamis was designed in Scotland, trialed off Orkney and initially produced in the Arnish Fabrication Yard. I sincerely hope that any orders for Pelamis will be placed at Arnish, bearing in mind it is only some 30 miles from Great Bernera (by road). Whilst the Fabrication Yard has proven to be temperamental in terms of its viability, I support any projects that would put some sustainability in that plant's future. Should the Great Bernera project prove a success (and I think it will be), other wavepower projects may ensue elsewhere in Scotland or indeed the UK. From there on, the sea is the limit.

Sunday, 9 August 2009

Lewis Carnival 2009

Today saw the Lewis Carnival procession wind its way through the town. There were five floats, two on large lorry trailers, and three on smaller vehicles. The Lewis Pipe Band did them proud, marching on ahead. Just a few pics to give you a taster of the atmosphere near the Coop roundabout.

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="500" caption="Sunday ferries --- erm --- fairies"]Sunday ferries --- erm --- fairies[/caption]

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="500" caption="Lewis Peatcutters"]Lewis Peatcutters[/caption]

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="500" caption="Pampered pooches"]Pampered pooches[/caption]

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="500" caption="Homecoming"]Homecoming[/caption]

Click: Footage of the Pipeband

Friday, 7 August 2009

Eishken Public Inquiry reports

The Reporter to the public inquiry into the Eishken Windfarm has published the report - a year after it was written. Hebrides News is giving two conflicting slants to the report. The first states that a maximum of 53 turbines can be built. Unfortunately, Eishken estate owner Nick Oppenheim has resubmitted a new plan with fewer if taller turbines, which stand outside the National Scenic area.

The John Muir Trust, according to another report on Heb News, is claiming victory, saying it creates a legal precedent against windfarm developments in similar surroundings. The problem is, as I stated a line or two back, that another plan has been drawn up for a windfarm in Eishken, making the findings of the public enquiry irrelevant to the current situation.

I have said before that this development will always be rubberstamped by the planning authority, being the Comhairle nan Eilean Siar. Only the torpedoing of the Beauly to Denny powerline upgrade is likely to scupper the project. And that public inquiry is similarly overdue.

Thursday, 6 August 2009

Exodus from the Outer Hebrides to Canada

Lucille H. Campey spoke at Stornoway Town Hall last night on the above subject. She took a novel angle on what is a central theme in the history of the Highlands and Islands, namely with a focus on Canada rather than Scotland. It is not easy to summarise a 60 minute discourse within the confines of a blog, but will go so far as to describe Ms Campey's stance as controversial.

The exodus to Canada from the Outer Hebrides as well as other parts of Scotland is well documented. Nova Scotia, Cape Breton and Prince Edward Island in the far east of Canada are littered with pointers to the settlement of people from western Scotland, in placenames, culture and traditions. The mechanism of this migration is the underlying issue, and focuses on the landlords and his tenants.

I'll focus on the town of Helmsdale in Sutherland to make my point. Two years ago, a statue was erected there to celebrate the achievements of the Highlanders in Canada. I'll be the last to deny that the Scottish diaspora has achieved great things in their new homelands, whether they be Canada, the USA, Australia or New Zealand - or wherever. Why weren't the people of the Highlands and Islands not put into a position where great things could be done at home?

Reference was made to the 1886 crofting reforms, prompted by overcrowding and poor soil (according to last night's speaker). Having read some of Lord Napier's reports, there was good soil to be had in the Highlands and Islands, access to which was denied to the tenants of the local lairds. Ms Campey denied that coercion played a major part in the drive to emigration, something that I do not believe will go down well with those that are intimately familiar with the history of this region - I do not claim to be. There are some who will say that government, rather than assist in the emigration, should have assisted people to remain. That was not the spirit of the time. If people were unable to afford their rent, set arbitrarily by lairds or his agents, they could be evicted. Conditions at the time, particularly after the potato famine of 1846, were undeniably dire for both tenants and landlords. But a landlord, committed to his tenants, would have worked with them - as was asserted as early as the 1880s, see the Napier report.

The focus in last night's discourse was on the opportunities afforded in Canada to those who emigrated there. A more egalitarian society, as opposed to the class society to be had in Great Britain. Start a new life in a wilderness, away from materialism and an unjust society. Many people did very well indeed, achieving a wealth that would not have been possible in Scotland. Others did not do very well at all. Some could not afford the crossing, and ended up owing the fare to the ship's captain. And when he came to claim his debt, the emigrants would once again be left with nothing.

I'll be the first to acknowledge and celebrate the achievements of Scots overseas. But I'll also be the first to assert that a lot of emigration, even bearing in mind society in the 19th century, would not have been necessary.

Wednesday, 5 August 2009

Roll of Honour - II

Some sobering statistics were extracted from the transcript of the Roll of Honour.

Out of the 6,030 names, more than 500 were recorded as serving in the Canadian forces.

Each year of the war, from 1915 until 1919, saw the loss of 200 island men. The year 1914 is an exception, as the war did not start until August; 1919 is also an exception, because the war was over. The sinking of HMY Iolaire brought about that year's total.

The majority of the 1,150 fatalities mentioned in the Roll of Honour are quoted as "killed in action". This includes battles at sea as well as on land. They were mainly men under the age of 30, with the largest number in the age group under 25.

Naval forces accounted for half the Lewis contingent, with the land army in the other half. The RAF (and its predecessor Royal Flying Corps) had 28 Lewismen serving in it.

Outside Stornoway, the villages of Habost (Ness), Coll, Back, Knock (Point), Leurbost, Ranish and North Tolsta contributed each more than 100 men. The largest loss was suffered by North Tolsta, to where 50 did not return, out of 216 who enlisted. Men (and nearly 30 women) enlisted from virtually every village in the island, including the distant hamlet of Hamnaway in Uig - nowadays 8 miles from the nearest road, in those days 30 miles from any decent road.

Finally, the most common family names were Graham, Macaulay, Campbell, Smith, Murray, Maclean, Mackay, Morrison, Maciver, Mackenzie, Macdonald and Macleod - the latter surname contributing more than 1,270.

Roll of Honour - I

Currently in the process of transcribing and publishing the Roll of Honour for the First World War for the Isle of Lewis. The transcription is actually complete (a 6030-row Excel file is the result), and the current task is to transform it into a decent HMTL-file, suitable for uploading to the web. A trial-page, for the village of Aird in Point, can be viewed here. Feedback welcome.

This is the intended preface:

In 1921, the Stornoway Gazette published this listing of all men from the island of Lewis who were known to have joined the Armed Forces of the United Kingdom or its overseas dependencies in the battles of the First World War.
This book, now nearly 90 years old, contains mostly very summary information on the approximately 6,000 men and women who joined up. At times, only a name is given. Mostly, a service, regiment or division is also given. When a man did not survive, the date, month or year of death is usually given, sometimes with his age and circumstances how he met his death. Any medals awarded, where applicable with a quotation from the commendation, are also mentioned.

Quite unique is the collection of portrait photographs contained in the Roll of Honour. It brings the drab listings to life – and elicits great poignancy. Some 400 portraits show the faces of the Fallen. Young men, hardly out of boyhood in some instances. Hardened veterans of the mud and horrors of the Western Front, of the searing heat of the deserts of Mesopotamia. Experienced sailors, lost in the cold waters of the North Sea in the Battle of Jutland in 1916. As it includes many of those lost when H.M.Y. Iolaire ran aground and sank a mile or two outside Stornoway. The death toll of that tragedy on New Year’s Day 1919 now stands at 205. The Roll of Honour lists 172. All were returning home after the war had effectively ended in November 1918. Sixty of those lost were never recovered.

The loss of life is greater than shown in the Roll of Honour. Personal research has pushed the total up to nearly 1,300, meaning that 150 names of the Fallen are not recorded in the Roll of Honour. In the aftermath of the slaughter of the Great War, it is a miracle that so many names were retrieved within those two years. Another source of uncertainty lies in the huge diaspora that already existed in the years before 1914. Nearly a dozen men are recorded in the Roll of Honour as coming back to the “Old Country” at their own expense to do their bit. From places as far apart as Alaska, Patagonia and Malaya. How many of the more than a million who died at the Western Front had ancestors from Lewis, or were even born there? If there was no family left in the island, and no record of such was ever made, the link is irretrievably lost.

These days, there is a heightened interest in the history of the Great War. Its centenary is approaching (2014), and in January 2009, the 90th anniversary of the sinking of the Iolaire was commemorated in Stornoway. Many people around the world are researching their ancestry, and in view of the continual migration from the island over the decades, the Internet is proving to be an invaluable tool.

Copies from the Lewis Roll of Honour from 1921 are in very short supply. One lies in the library at Stornoway, but not everybody is able to make the journey to the Hebrides. It is for this reason that the listings from the Roll of Honour were copied and will be uploaded to the Internet soon.