Wednesday, 27 June 2012

The Big Minch Swim

A team of nine swimmers have taken it in turn to swim across the Minch in 34 hours. Starting at midday on Monday, the team set off from Ullapool and splashed ashore on the wee bit of beach between piers no 1 and 2 in the centre of Stornoway at 10pm yesterday, Tuesday. Keeping a steady pace of 1½ mph, and accompanied by support vessel Cuma (normally doing tourist trips out of Miavaig, Uig) and a canoeist, the team made good progress. They encountered seals, porpoises, dolphins, a giant whale and a killer whale en-route.

Upon arriving off Holm Point yesterday evening, the incoming ferry tooted the team and the local RNLI lifeboat came out to join them for the last leg of the journey. At 10pm, the swimmers finally reached dry land in the town centre, and were afforded a rousing welcome by the ferry’s horn, the sirens on the emergency vehicles and a crowd of several hundred on pier no 1 and South Beach Street.

The Big Minch Swim was performed to raise funds for the RNLI. Up to the moment of posting, the fundraising effort has collected nearly £9,000. Anyone wishing to contribute can continue to do so through this link.

The swimmers on South Beach at 10pm on June 26th

The team passing Arnish Lighthouse

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Revolving doors (continuing)

And with another twist in the turning doors of the schools closure muddle, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar has decided to close Carloway and Seilebost primaries as well as the secondary section of Shawbost, but to keep open the secondary section of Lionel school in Ness. The closures are to take effect as of June 2013. If memory serves, the Scottish Government is still minded to lodge an appeal against the legal ruling that the Comhairle could close all four schools. I don’t think we’re any the wiser tonight, because we still do not know where we stand. Will those three schools actually close, or not?

Both the Scottish Government and the local council should hang their heads in shame over this disgraceful mess.

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Revolving doors

Your blogger is experiencing some digital vertigo, with yet another revolving door in operation in these islands. The closure of the two primary schools in Seilebost (Harris) and Carloway (Lewis), as well as the junior secondary departments at Shawbost and Lionel (both in Lewis).

In 2010, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar decided to shut these four schools, but their decision was overturned by the Scottish Education Secretary. The Comhairle appealed in a court of law, and the closure was upheld very recently.

Now, the Scottish Education Secretary will appeal again, pleading that the judge erred in law.

Leaving the legal arguments to one side, all this to-ing and fro-ing leaves parents and children in a great deal of uncertainty. Will they be bussing to Stornoway (as in the case of the S1/S2 departments in Ness and the West Side), or move to schools in Tarbert (as in the case of Seilebost) or Shawbost (as for Carloway).

Another point is that the latest date for closure, without causing even more rumpus, is June 28th, a fortnight away (at time of posting). Schools that were closed at an earlier stage had the opportunity to collate their history and mount a community event. That will not be possible for the 4 schools currently under threat.
I’m not impressed.

Sunday, 10 June 2012

New boat

Caledonian Maritime Assets Limited has announced that a new ferry is to be commissioned for the run between Stornoway and Ullapool. The boat is to replace the MV Muirneag (which is to be scrapped in October 2013) and the MV Isle of Lewis. The new vessel can carry 700 passengers, 270 fewer than the current Isle of Lewis, 143 cars (20 more than the current boat) and / or 20 commercial vehicles.

This will be a single vessel for the route, although the old IoL will remain as a stand-by; the new boat will be running 24/7.

Whilst welcoming a new ferry on a route where the old vessels continue to be plagued by breakdowns, I feel that the reduction in passenger capacity is to be deplored. The IoL can be packed out (think of the Hebridean Celtic Festival, or the Mod).
Veteran island blogger Calumannabel has suggested we call the new ferry the Isle of Lewis Continuing.

In the cells

The Olympic Flame is spending the night in the cells at Stornoway Police Station tonight. I wonder whether the Flame is being suspected of any crime. Will it be released on bail, and has it been cautioned? I somehow don’t think so. Reports indicate that it is due to be carried around the streets of the town tomorrow morning at the heathenly hour of 6.32 am, before flying off to Inverness. One of the few places in this country that will see the Flame twice.

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Schools to be closed

Comhairle nan Eilean Siar have won a court battle against the Scottish Government to close four rural schools, two primaries (Seilebost and Carloway) and the secondary sections of the schools at Lionel (Ness) and Shawbost (West Side). Although the Council appears to be happy, I don’t think the folks in the affected areas are happy.

I know for a fact that particularly the people of Carloway and Seilebost (and environs) fought very hard to keep their wee schools open. A school is very much a focal point of the community, and particularly the Seilebost school was seen as a way to reverse the fortunes of the community of West Harris.They will now receive their education in Tarbert, 10 miles away.

Whilst acknowledging the financial constraints, and the costs involved in maintaining aging school buildings, I do question whether the economics of closing the schools tally with the demographics of losing a school. Aren’t we heading for further depopulation of rural Harris and Lewis, with more homes turning into self-catering houses, standing empty in winter?