Thursday, 30 May 2013

Strawberry Hill

A new path has been made up in the Castle Grounds, linking Strawberry Hill with the Marybank Lodge. I have been exploring Strawberry Hill for a wee while now, and it’s not an easy area to access. However, the new path skirts the hill to its south, then veers north to join the path that leads from the Marybank Lodge to the Castle College. At time of posting, there are still signs out asking walkers not to use the path as heaving machinery is in use, but all the work (on culverts) seems to have been completed, and no heavy plant was in evidence along the route.
Starting at the gates of the Castle College, a driveway leads up into the woods. A path is signposted heading uphill to the right, marked as “Strawberry Hill”. As the path crests the hill, clearances appear to the right, where rhodondendrons have been removed. Just as the route starts a steep descent, another track branches to the right, which skirts Strawberry Hill proper. After a couple of hundred yards, a very rough track angles off to the left, leading to a gate - this goes into the Marybank Quarry and is off-limits. Our track now hairpins downhill, to continue in the direction of the houses of Marybank, some distance ahead. It describes a long curve to the north, approaching the main road (from Tarbert), once more hairpinning down hill through an area of woodland, before finally ending up outside the Marybank Lodge.
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Thursday, 16 May 2013

Interconnector disconnected

Another posting on the subject of the interconnector. This morning, I grabbed a copy of the Press and Journal and was pleased to read that the interconnector will not now be built until 2017, if at all. It became grimly amusing when I subsequently picked up a copy of the Stornoway Gazette, which was still highlighting a report, which promised 3,500 jobs in the Western Isles out of the renewables industry - provided problems like the interconnector are addressed. The problem will not be addressed in favour of the renewables industry, as the economical case is too weak, in a nutshell.

A decade has been spent by (amongst others) Comhairle nan Eilean Siar trying to get large, shore-based windfarms to these islands. The writing was already on the wall as far back as 2008, when the 180-turbine Barvas Moor windfarm was torpedoed. This was to have been the salvation of the Western Isles economy, with the diaspora flocking home to the 400 jobs at the Arnish Fabrication Yard.

The Eishken windfarm was rubberstamped in a much reduced form, with beads and mirrors being dangled in front of us in the shape of the community benefit - which although fairly substantial, was in no proportion to the profits to be generated by developers and landowners. This too is now dead in the water, as its output requires the interconnector.
I am not going to sit here being accused of wanting to keep these islands back. Far from it. I fully back the Comhairle in its attempts to attract sustainable, long-term and large-scale employment to the Outer Hebrides. Embracing the renewables industry in the way that the Comhairle has done thus far has turned out to be a non-starter. I acknowledge that the geography has proved to be a major stumbling block. But a single focus, rather than taking a diversified approach, did not help either.

Wednesday, 8 May 2013


Once more, our esteemed MSP is busy trying to push Scottish & Southern Energy into committing themselves to building the interconnector. The interconnector is the subsea electricity cable that is supposed to take the electricity, generated by Western Isles renewable energy schemes, to the National Grid. It is pencilled in to run from Gravir (South Lochs) to Dundonnell on Little Loch Broom on the mainland, and on to Beauly. There it will connect with the Beauly to Denny high-voltage powerline into the National Grid.
SSE are reportedly reluctant to invest £700 million in the interconnector, uncertain that this investment will yield a return equal to it or greater. Associated problems are the transmission charges, which tend to increase the further away from the Scottish Central Belt or England you are.

The reason for all this political pressure have become very clear in recent months. This blogger has been disgusted with the appearance of several windfarms around Stornoway. One now defiles the gentle slopes of Meannan, a southern foothill of the Barvas Hills. If the interconnector is never built, this windfarm will remain idle, practically useless. Its output would outstrip local demand and overpower the local grid infrastructure.

It will become a monument to the folly of putting up windturbines before the requisite electricity infrastructure is in place. Should our MSP fail in his bid to get the interconnector built, there will be quite a few people with egg on their faces - himself, the Leader of the Council and many others. The mere fact that the help of senior members of the Scottish Government is being enlisted says enough.

Battle of the Atlantic

This month sees the 70th anniversary of Black May, the height of the Battle of the Atlantic (BOA) during the Second World War. The Royal Navy is commemorating the event with a series of events in London, Liverpool and Derry-Londonderry. More than 30,000 Naval personnel were lost during the BOA, a good many originating from the Western Isles; some 400 from the Isle of Lewis, and most of those served in the Royal Naval Reserve.
Today is also the 68th anniversary of VE-day, when the fighting in Europe ceased towards the end of WW2. The fighting against Japan continued for a little over 3 months, until two atomic bombs convinced the Japanese empire that surrender was the best option.

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Flights take flight

Just a commentary after the event on the recent saga surrounding the axing of flights in and out of Benbecula.

Comhairle nan Eilean Siar decided to axe flights between Benbecula and Barra, saving £148,000. This has had certain consequences, and in my opinion not all of them were foreseen by our local authority. Although the flights were poorly subscribed, they fulfilled a lifeline function. Transporting urgent medical supplies, and patients back and forth to the Uist & Barra hospital is but one that came to mind. Yes, there is the ferry from Eriskay to Barra, but I can’t imagine that many recently discharged patients from the U&B relish the prospect of a potentially bumpy 40 minutes on the high seas.
However, I really do wonder if CNES foresaw the logistical consequences - I doubt it. Withdrawing the Barra flights from Benbecula also resulted in a reduction in flights from Benbecula to Stornoway (to just 3 days a week) as well as in flights from Stornoway to Inverness and Edinburgh. I found it wryly comical when our MSP started to squawk at the prospect of his Friday flight from Edinburgh being axed so he couldn’t go home for the weekend. Cutting the Benbecula - Stornoway flights means that consultants coming from Stornoway can only do so on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, unless they are prepared to drive 75 miles (in total) and sit on a ferry for a whole hour to get themselves to the U&B in Balivanich, Benbecula. And do the process in reverse at the end of the day.
I am not convinced that CNES consulted with Loganair prior to implementing the decision to cut the flights. Reading the media reports at the time, everybody seems to have been caught out by the consequences. Another consequence is the loss of a subsidy from the Scottish Government for this lifeline service.

Cutting costs, which CNES has had to do to the tune of £6m, is a necessary evil in this time of economic stagnation. But cutting costs without due regard for the consequences is not good local government.

Angus Macleod memorial lecture

The Cabinet Secretary for Justice, Mr Kenny Macaskill, is to give the 10th Angus “Ease” Macleod memorial lecture on 25 October 2013 at Gravir. The lecture, entitled “Opportunities of Independence for Island Communities”.

Without prejudging Mr Macaskill’s speech, I want to log a few observations. I have previously disagreed with one of the lecturers; if memory serves, Mr Bill Lawson postulated in 2006 that Lewis had not been very badly affected by the Clearances. Putting forward that opinion in South Lochs of all places grated with me. The extreme south of South Lochs (Eishken) was wholly cleared of permanent residents in the 1820s, resulting in gross overcrowding in parts of Lochs further north; also, the cruel way in which people from this island were selected for “encouraged emigration” by the chamberlain of James Matheson in 1851 puts Mr Lawson’s opinion in a strange light to say the least.

Although I appreciate that Kenny Macaskill has family connections to South Lochs, I find it equally grating to have a Minister of the current Scottish Government lecturing in South Lochs on opportunities for island communities under independence. For the last 10 years, the residents of the Pairc Estate have been frustrated in their efforts to mount a community buy-out of the land. It is my opinion that the Scottish Government has done very little to expedite the process in favour of the residents, particularly as the landowner has deployed each and every trick in the book to delay the process, and divide the community. Legislative powers should have been created or invoked to counter these methods. It is even worse now that the MSP for the islands is a junior minister in the Scottish Government.
What puts a wry slant on it for me is the recent idea that Orkney, Shetland and the Western Isles could break away from an independent Scotland to become a crown dependency, like the Isle of Man. A poll, however, did demonstrate that the idea only carried the support of about 10% of all islanders involved.