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16 October 2014

Arnish Lighthouse - December 2005

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First Post

Stornoway Town Centre on Sunday afternoon
Hello everyone, this is my first blog entry on Island Blogging. My blog is called Arnish Lighthouse, and I hope to shed some light on issues that I am following in the Island of Lewis, the Western Isles generally and its capital - Stornoway. Oh, a note of warning: I am an avid weather observer, and record my observations on Metcheck.
As I am typing this, the Friday afternoon is turning into a dreich affair with occasional rain. I am located just across the water from the lighthouse. My view extends down the Minch, and on a clear day I can see right down the Little Minch as far as the Applecross Forest. Earlier this week, the snow covered all the mainland hills; Skye was shrouded in snowshowers, but I'm reliably informed that they had a lot of snow as well.
Events in the island are currently focused on the Western Isles Health Board (WIHB). Two meetings have taken place in Stornoway this Wednesday and Thursday, at which sparks flew. On Wednesday, nearly 1000 packed into the old Town Hall to air grievances against the Health Board. It would appear that relations between management and staff have deteriorated to such an extent that normal channels of communication have broken down. Staff have voiced grievances to local councillors, as the internal procedures for airing these are found to have led to reciprocal disciplinary action. Questions were asked at the meeting, which the local councillors (who chaired the meeting) promised to relay to the Health Board. I think it's a serious indictment of management when things go down to this sort of level.
The second meeting, last night, consisted of a presentation by WIHB of their plans for the future, followed by a question and answer session. The same questions were asked of the Chief Executive, who passed the job for replying on to one of his officials. The grievances uttered were not addressed.
Changes are needed all the time, particularly in the NHS (I have worked in the NHS for 7 years myself). Changemanagement is one of the most difficult things to do, and it would not appear that NHS Western Isles have done a terribly good job, so far.
I wish everybody good luck and wisdom, because it's everybody's health that's at stake.

I have made notes of both meetings in my other blog Northern Trip at the following locations:

Town Hall Meeting 30/11/05
WIHB Meeting 1/12/05

Posted on Arnish Lighthouse at 14:46


MV Celtic Spirit at Bekkeri (Tallinn), Estonia
Last Tuesday, I was walking near the Iolaire Monument, at Holm, when I noted a ship with a pronounced list to starboard. The coastguard tug was alongside, and escorted her into port, with the services of a pilot. It turned out that the MV Celtic Spirit was on its way from Bekkeri, Estonia to Warren Point in Northern Ireland with a cargo of timber. During the passage to the north of the Scottish mainland this cargo had shifted, which caused a 10° list. This was reported to the Coastguard, who ordered the boat to put into Stornoway to retrim its cargo. This took them 3 days; yesterday morning (Friday 2nd December) the Celtic Spirit had left.

The boat was detained before, in France, in November 2003. Reasons quoted ( were deficiencies in machinery and general safety.

Celtic Spirit measures 2978 tonnes, is 29 years old and is employed with the Willie Group, but registered in the Bahamas with the Germanische Lloyd. According to the work schedule, she should have been at Warren Point on December 1st to discharge, but she is quoted as delayed due to bad weather according to the Willie Group website. (
Posted on Arnish Lighthouse at 13:14

Pictures of the storms

I took these pictures around Stornoway at the time of the severe gales on November 11th. Quality is not very good due to the amount of spray flying around, and the low light.

Posted on Arnish Lighthouse at 22:53

Christmas Lights in Stornoway

Just a few piccies to show the Christmas decorations in Stornoway.

Posted on Arnish Lighthouse at 17:08


This name is liable to send some people's bloodpressure soaring. It used to be problematic if you wanted to have free access to the countryside. Or if you were the crofter at the top of the road. It is actually the portal to some pretty impressive countryside in the island. Until recently, walkers were not made to feel particularly welcome. Signs like"private" do not exactly convey an image of open arms and all that. However, after I spoke to the owner in early March and following a letter in the Stornoway Gazette, there seems to be a mute understanding that everybody is welcome to walk, provided they don't interfere with the workings of the estate. Which is normal practice.
If you manage to make your way through some pretty impressive bogs under Scalabhal, you'll eventually arrive at the famous beehive dwellings. How anyone ever managed to live in them is a complete mystery to me. I've been in them, cripes, they're cramped to say the least. Other beehive dwellings are situated on the other side of Scalabhal.
A few miles of boggy moorland further on, the ruins of Kinloch Resort (stress first syllable) are reached. A very sad place. Two or three houses, inaccessible, stand on either side of the river, with the long, narrow loch stretching out towards the sea. A stunted rowan tree stands by one of the houses, and reminds me of the story of the rowans.
In the old days, people would plant a rowan tree by their house to ward off evil. However, thousands of people emigrated (sometimes against their will), and the house would remain behind. With the rowan tree standing beside. It would remember all the joys and the sorrows that happened around the house. The births, the deaths. The marriages, and the departures. Once the family had left for good, the tree would lament in the wind. Calling for the people to return - but that will never happen at Kinloch Resort. Or so many places in the West.
Click here to listen to Rowan Tree, the Burns song
One story originates from this area, that of a carpenter who went to Kinloch Resort to do some work. He was going back to Harris, and he was told to take all the wood that had not been used. As he made his way over the mountains, he heard the sound of a hammer on wood. He thought it was the village children playing tricks on him, but when he whipped round, there was nobody about. This continued all the way home. When the carpenter arrived home with all his wood, he found his wife had fallen ill in his absence. He tended to her in the following days, but she passed away. Being a carpenter, he made the coffin himself. And as he sat hammering at the wood, a chill ran down his spine. The tapping noise was exactly the same as what he had heard that day out on the moor, as he was coming back from Kinloch Resort.

Posted on Arnish Lighthouse at 14:04

World War 1 - Internment in Holland

The English Camp at Groningen, Holland
It is little known that during the First World War, just over a hundred islanders were interned in The Netherlands. They were men of the First Royal Naval Brigade, who had been drafted in to assist in the defence of Antwerp, in October 1914. When the order came to retreat, they literally missed the train. To avoid detention in a German PoW camp, the 1,500 men were ordered to march into Holland, only a few miles away. As The Netherlands were neutral in that conflict, they were taken into internment, for the duration of the conflict.
Amongst them were about 105 people from Lewis. Click on this link for a list of names. This webpage has a link to the full story of the Lewismen in Holland, and about the camp itself.

Not many stories appear to have been handed down. It would seem that quite a few men found it difficult to come to terms with the fact that they had had a relatively 'cushy' life in the camp, whilst their friends and family were dying at the Western Front. Life in the camp was not cushy. There were severe food shortages in Holland during that war, and at times people were reduced to eating horsemeat or rats. Although several men undertook training courses (one person obtained a second mate's ticket, and another became a minister), the general picture was one of excruciating boredom. By 1916, arrangements were made for some people from Lewis to be allowed home for harvest leave. Although the temptation was great to abscond, the men always came back. Absconding would mean that everybody else would be denied leave. A few men died at the camp, through ill health. When the Armistice came in November 1918, everybody was released and sent home.
In Calum Ferguson's book "Children of the Blackhouse", reference is made to "men who had just returned from internment in Holland ... celebrating noisily", just before Christmas 1918.

Celebrations for the end of the war and the homecoming of the men were abandoned in Lewis on New Year's Day 1919. Early that morning, HMY Iolaire ran aground on the Beasts of Holm, just outside Stornoway Harbour, and sank. 205 men drowned, 75 survived. All were survivors of the Great War, only to die within sight of home. None of the internees were thought to have been on the Iolaire. The story is well-documented, but hardly known outside the Hebrides. Check out this account on CultureHebrides
Posted on Arnish Lighthouse at 15:29


Island bloggers and islanders the world over will be looking at the title of this blog entry and think: "We've all got our stories on that, don't we." I haven't set foot on a ferry for a little while, but in the three months before I came to Lewis in November 2004, I spent more time on the high seas than off it. A slight exaggeration, but not far off the mark.

This autumn has seen a seemingly never-ending litany of gales. Very interesting from a meteorologistical point of view, but a nuisance if it means your ferry is cancelled. That doesn't just upset travelplans, but also means that no food gets into the shops. In the Western Isles, everything has to be shipped in across the Minch; Western Isles meaning the chain of islands from Lewis to Barra. Here in Lewis, we have a dedicated ferry for freight. Until a few years ago, the Isle of Lewis (the regular Calmac ferry out of Ullapool) would be block-booked by the local hauliers for transporting goods onto the islands. Very necessary, but also taking up space that could otherwise be used by visitors. Since 2002, MV Muirneag sails from Ullapool to Stornoway and vice versa overnight with lorries. She is a bit of a tub, only one engine and no auxiliary thrusters. Last January, she had difficulty manoeuvring in strong winds and ran aground off Cuddy Point in Stornoway Harbour.

Four weeks ago, she nearly sank.
On Friday 11th November, a hurricane lashed the west coast of Scotland, moving on northeast later in the day. During the seven days beforehand, three other gales had prevented ferry sailings, and there was a backlog of freight and vehicles waiting on either side of the Minch. Although strong winds were forecast for the day, both ferries left Ullapool in late morning, between 10 and 11 a.m.. The gale strengthened quickly through lunchtime, and the Isle of Lewis sought shelter off the east coast of Lewis. Muirneag ran with the wind, north, in appalling conditions. The passenger ferry managed to come in during a lull in the storm, just before 6 pm. The freight ferry was driven 60 miles off course, to the north of the Butt of Lewis, being pounded by 50 foot high waves. Vehicles on board began to slide about, passengers lost their footing and one was hurt. He was airlifted to hospital in Stornoway. Footage shot from the Coastguard helicopter can be viewed on this link.
For several hours, the captain found it impossible to turn into the wind, but finally managed to make a turn. He came into port at 3 a.m., about 15 hours after setting forth. There was a lot of damage to freight, containers and vehicles on board - a vintage Rolls-Royce for instance was very badly dented. Caledonian MacBrayne, the regional ferry operator, has conducted an investigation, the results of which will be published next week. The central question of which was why the ferry set sail in the first place, knowing a storm was forecast.
I have compiled a separate weblog about events on the day, which you can view on St Martin's Storm Blog. I have published pictures of the conditions on the day in an earlier entry.
Posted on Arnish Lighthouse at 16:56

Interior of the island

I would like to show some images from the interior of Lewis, where not many people go. Where not many can go due to the conditions underfoot. It is a boggy area, with a lot of water, in the shape of lakes, streams and marshes. Fascinating, but potentially dangerous. Enjoy.

Posted on Arnish Lighthouse at 14:29


Pollution is not a word commonly associated with the Hebrides. Certainly not when I mention that I'm referring to St Kilda. It would appear that pollution was one of the factors that led to the demise of that community. Strange, but true.

The two main pollutants were heavy metals and dioxins. Heavy metals are present in fatty deposits in seabirds. The elements concerned are zinc, cadmium, platinum and many others. The people on St Kilda lived off seabirds, which were culled from the islands' cliffs. After eating the birds, the remains were disposed off by plouging into the earth for the purpose of fertilisation. Once crops were harvested, the heavy metals would come back to the islanders. Heavy metals are toxic.

Dioxins are the products of combustion of carbon-based fuels in the presence of chlorine. They are very toxic at low concentrations. The islanders on St Kilda used peat for fuel. As the islands are only small, the soil is impregnated with salt, which (chemically) is sodium chloride. When the peats are burned, dioxins are formed. These are present in the smoke and the ashes. In the original blackhouse, there is no such thing as a chimney stack; smoke would dissipate through the thatch. After the peat had burned out, the ashes were scattered on the floor. Behold an environment rich in dioxins.

One of the more poignant aspects of life on St Kilda was its incredible infant mortality rate: 50%. Only 1 out of every 2 babies born would survive the first year of life. It was thought that the deaths were caused by infant tetanus (tetanus is commonly known as lockjaw). When a child was born on St Kilda, some fulmar oil would be applied to the umbilical stump after the umbilical cord was cut. Fulmar oil was kept in a dedicated bottle, but not at all in sterile conditions.
Recent research has suggested that the tetanus bacterium was not present in the oil at all, but in the soil.
The 8-day illness was thought to be the result of unhygienic living conditions, pollution by heavy metals and dioxins. It was eradicated after 1891 following the introduction of hygienic nursing practices.

Postscript: I do want to stress that many factors contributed to the decline and death of the community of St Kilda, but it would appear that health related problems were one of the main causes.
Posted on Arnish Lighthouse at 15:26


The western seaboard of the Western Isles is world renowned for a habitat called the 'machair'. I'm no biologist and know only the very basics about it.
The bedrock of the islands is Lewisian gneiss, the oldest rock to be found on the surface of the earth. It is 3,000 million years old, and can be found open and exposed at the Butt of Lewis. It breaks down into very poor soil, where precious little will grow. Added to that the preponderance of peat, which creates an acidic environment, and you have a situation where not a lot will grow.
Until recently, the islanders would take their cattle to a shieling inland during the summer for them to gain strength. It was not unheard of for cattle to die of starvation during the winter, whilst grazing the very poor grass by the seashore.
What happens on the seashore is that sand gets blown in, to cover the soil. Sand from the sea contains calcium, more precisely calcium carbonate. This compound is found in seashells. It is also an alkaline, which will neutralise the acid from the peat. And now a very fertile environment is created. During a few short weeks in summer, the machair will come alive in a dazzling display of flowers. Orchids galore, it's a sea of yellows, whites and all colours. I've included a few images I shot during the past summer, to give an indication.

Posted on Arnish Lighthouse at 22:06

Buncefield Oil Fire and Stornoway

Under normal circumstances, I do not refer to news from outside these islands, or not pertaining to the Hebrides. You'd think that the oil fire at Buncefield, Herts, would fall into that category.


Anyone who's ever been to Stornoway, and certainly that come off the ferry and drive into the town will be familiar with the clutter of oil tanks just past the Somerfields supermarket, facing the shrimp factory and the Western Isles Health Board offices. Now, I could be faucetious and say that recent events surrounding the WIHB have been decidedly heated and people have been kicking up a stink, but it's actually deadly serious.

Those tanks stand in the middle of the town, and if anything were to happen on a Buncefield scale, well, it doesn't bear thinking about, does it. Another few oiltanks stand outside the auxiliary powerstation at Battery Point, at the far end of Newton Street. In the middle of a residential area as well.

From my vantage point, I look across to the Fabrication Yard at Arnish. Hidden by Green Island is the auxiliary powerstation for Arnish, which has a few fueltanks standing nearby. Begs the question why that entire lot at the corner of James Street and Shell Street couldn't be located at Arnish, at a greatly reduced risk to the general population.

Another place in Lewis where large amounts of fuel are kept is the airport. Until recently, this was a major naval base with huge fueldepots underground. A jetty is available at Holm, where fuel supplies can be shipped in.

Why aren't either locations used for storing the fuel supplies, required for the island? What happened to the plans, drawn up in 1998 (Comhairle plans for airport), for the use of the airport for bulk fuel storage?

Posted on Arnish Lighthouse at 15:00

Muirneag - update

MV Muirneag
Yesterday, Caledonian MacBrayne published the results of their investigation into the 'incident' surrounding the sailing of MV Muirneag on November 11th.
She took 16 hours to make the 4 hour crossing from Ullapool to Stornoway in atrocious conditions. The forecast storms started earlier than forecast (the Met Office warning was issued too late), and Muirneag could only run with the wind. After ending up 28 miles north of Lewis, she finally managed to turn into the wind and gained the port at 3.35 a.m. the next morning. The vehicles on board Muirneag were thrown about, and suffered considerable damage. One passenger had to be airlifted off with head injuries. Nonetheless, the company did not feel that the captain had a case to answer. He had managed to bring the vessel into port, which was a commendation to the professionalism of himself and the crew.

Posted on Arnish Lighthouse at 15:32


Callanish I

The Standing Stones at Callanish. The world renowned Stone Age site, dug out of the peat at Calanais during the last century. Looking out to the Sleeping Beauty mountain (near Airidh a'Bhruaich in Lochs), and also looking out over Linsiadar, just across the water. I was already aware that there were 2 or 3 other stone circles nearby. Two along the road, just as you come into Callanish from Gearraidh na h-Aibhne / Garynahine. And another one as you go down the Uig road (B8011) from the latter village.

Describe my consternation to discover that there are about 19 associated neolithic sites within about 3 miles. Have a look here.
Posted on Arnish Lighthouse at 22:05

NHS reforms in the Western Isles

The issue of service reforms in the NHS in the Western Isles has dominated the news over the past few weeks. Without boring readers to tears, there are a few issues that influence the NHS in the Western Isles. First of all, only 26,500 people live between Ness and Mingulay. There has to be a fully equipped health service on the islands, in order to cope with any immediate emergency. We have a largish hospital in Stornoway, a medium sized one on Benbecula and a small unit in Barra.
It is common practice for complicated cases to be flown out to major centres like Inverness and Glasgow. Health professionals, such as doctors, have to maintain and expand their skills, and to that end usually rotate through different hospitals over a period of years. Because complicated cases are not normally treated at Stornoway (or Benbecula or Barra), there is little professional incentive for doctors to come here. In other words, it is desperately difficult to attract professional staff. The same applies to other health professionals, like nurses.

The Health Board has therefore been forced to get the necessary staff in as locums. These can cost as much as £70 an hour, and if they are on call (i.e. available to work, but not necessarily on the job), that can mount up.
At the moment, there is a vacancy for a psychiatrist after the previous consultant retired on December 6th. He announced his retirement in July, but the Board never took action until much later than that. The result is that no-one has as yet been found to replace the consultant in question, and another locum is probably going to be employed. At a considerable cost.

So, the NHS Board in the Western Isles decided on service reform to address this problem. In consultation with staff, the Board reached the conclusion that closing a ward, to release nurses for duties elsewhere in the NHS (not necessarily in hospital), would be a good idea. And that skills and responsibilities would be shared out to lower grades of professional staff than before. Training would be provided where necessary. An example: a general surgeon can be expected to perform a caesarian section. Psychiatric emergencies are expected to be dealt with (out of hours) by a community psychiatric nurse and a GP. Still with me?

Second problem is a serious breakdown in communication between management and staff. Allegations of bullying and harassment have been flying around, and are currently being investigated. People felt so intimidated and brow-beaten that they did not feel able to speak to their manager about any concerns or misgivings regarding the current round of reorganisations. They felt able to speak to anyone, apart from the management of NHS Western Isles. As a result, local councillors organised a meeting on November 30 for staff to air their grievances. And air they did. It was a damning indictment of the Health Board, which has been widely reported in the press. The Health Board itself put its case to the public the next day. When the opportunity arose for questions, several people voiced their concerns over service cuts and the problem of staff morale. The Chief Executive himself did not acknowledge or respond to the criticism - he mutely passed it on to one of his medical directors to answer. It was this same Medical Director who has gone on record today (16th December) as saying that any more criticism of the health board may well lead to its abolition. In other words, criticism is not allowed. That is also bullying. The Scottish Health Minister, Andy Kerr, has said that he is not interested in the bullying allegations. Whilst these in themselves may justly be seen as a purely internal matter, they very seriously undermine the credibility of the health board when it states that the proposed service changes were made in proper consultation with staff. It is speaking volumes that grievances can only be aired in public meetings, at the instigation of local councillors. Under normal circumstances, this should be thrashed out internally without the need to hang out all the dirty washing.

The third problem that surfaced were the facilities offered to Health Board managers not to have to live in the islands, but being able to commute from and to the mainland at the tax payers' expense. They were held not to contribute to the island's economy in a direct sense. Unfortunately, it would appear that (unlike e.g. elected representatives, such as councillors) Health Board managers are appointed, and are not accountable to the public they serve.

The hospital in Stornoway has always been 'of the people', built with the money of the people of Lewis and Harris. People are very proud of their hospital, and feel strongly about cutbacks in services.

To me, as onlooker, this smacks of an old attitude that used to be around in these islands. It reminds me of "A Shilling for your Scowl" i.e. do not criticise the man in the Big House - Laird knows best. It is an attitude I've never understood, yet it does keep rearing its ugly head.

I thought we had gone into the 21st century, not still stuck in the 19th.
Posted on Arnish Lighthouse at 17:39

Callanish - 2

Callanish is not just world famous for the Stone Circle, but also for its associated connotations. Every June, people flock to the Stones at the time of the Solstice, although I don't see the point. Archeologists have formulated the opinion that the Callanish Stones were linked to the moon, not the sun. Nonetheless, I won't begrudge anyone a good soaking at dawn, as happened this year on June 21st.
On one of the pictures, shown on the link on the first entry on Callanish, mention is made of Callanish Air. Although it shows the Callanish Stones, I have found evidence of airport runways already in place in the village. See the picture below.
Posted on Arnish Lighthouse at 12:48

Geography and History - 2

Lewis / Harris is one of those curious places where the distances between two places are not what a cursory glance at the map might suggest they are. Did I mention yesterday that it's 40 miles by road from Tolsta to Skigersta?

I was reminded of another example two weeks ago when the Rocket Post movie was shown in An Lanntair, in Stornoway. This story is set in Scarp (although the movie was shot on Taransay), which lies just off the coast at Huisinis, in North Harris. If you want to go there, you'll have to go there by private transport. Nobody lives on Scarp these days. When I visited Huisinish, back in late April, it was alive to the sound of bleating sheep. The slipway is there for going to Scarp, but like Taransay, the island is deserted. At Huisinish, you can go for a lovely walk to Cravadale and even Kinloch Resort if you're feeling energetic. That is, if you're not suffering from vertigo. When looking north, you'll see Mealista Island, scene of the Great Sheep Robbery of 2003, when 60 of the resident flock of 117 were rustled off. Mealista itself, in Uig, is only 7 miles as the fish swims from Huisinish.

Driving from one to the other is a matter of a mere 70 miles. Yes, seventy. 14 to the junction at Bun Abhainn Eadar, then it's 27 to Leurbost, 8 to Garynahine and 26 to Mealista. That's the end of the road. Go any further and you either need that boat, or strong hiking boots to walk round the corner to Hamnaway. The district of Uig has been the scene of many clearances and removals. According to one local source, quite a few people were shunted across Loch Roag to the West Side, between Carloway and Shawbost. Going back to the road journey, take your time on the B887 from Bun Abhainn Eadar to Huisinish. It's only 14 miles, but should take at least 40 minutes, as it's rated as the worst road in Scotland. One person of my acquaintance nearly had a heart attack by the time he reached Amhuinnsuidhe Castle, 9 miles in. Blind corners, blind summits, grit on the road, not to mention other drivers...

A few lines ago, I did mention Taransay, scene of the infamous Castaway 2000 project. Someone asked me about it the other day, and referred to it as Outcast 2000. After stifling a huge guffaw, I patiently explained that yon project was actually a travesty of the Western Isles, and the only good it ever did was raising the profile from a tourist's point of view. The scenery from there is gorgeous, with the backdrop of the Harris mountains. Otherwise, it was an absolute non-community. What do you expect, people aren't prepared to put their backs into something that they know is going to end in 12 months' time. Last week, I went on the BBC's website and found a clip from that program, which contained a lot of screaming and shouting. All the pods, that the participants lived in, have been removed from Taransay. One is sitting along the road in Luskentyre, but when I was there in April, it looked uninhabited and rundown.

Posted on Arnish Lighthouse at 13:12

Geography and History - 1

Lewis / Harris is one of those curious places where the distances between two places are not what a cursory glance at the map might suggest they are.

If you want to go from Tolsta to Skigersta, the distance as the crow flies is about 8 miles. It's a very nice journey, along some pretty spectacular coastal scenery. Traigh Mor and Garry Beach at Tolsta, Dun Othail, Dibidil, the long valley at Maoim. The forlorn ruined chapel at Filiscleitir, with the demure shielings at Cuidhsiadar. And then the metalled road is reached at Skigersta.

Yep. There is no metalled road from Tolsta to Skigersta. It's an 5 mile bogslog between the Bridge to Nowhere and Cuidhsiadar, with an additional 3 miles along a reasonable track.The Bridge to Nowhere is a relic from the era of Lord Leverhulme, who owned Lewis and Harris between 1918 and 1923. He was a visionary man, who wanted to bring progress to the Long Island. Unfortunately, he came in at the wrong time. In 1918, survivors returned from the carnage and atrocities at the Western Front, and the only thing they wanted was the land they were promised before they left for war. They weren't interested in Leverhulme's grand schemes, such as the whaling factory at Bun Abhainn Eadar (near Tarbert), or the road to be built between Tolsta and Ness. The road only got as far as the Bridge to Nowhere. The men who had returned from war went so far as to occupy land at Back; a monument for them has been erected at the Gress Bridge. It signifies Lord Leverhulme trying to stand in division between the crofters. I don't agree with that view of the Wee Soap Mannie. He was the right man - at the wrong time. People were not ready for his ideas, certainly not after more than 200 men were lost within sight of Stornoway Harbour on New Year's Day 1919.
The story of the Iolaire disaster is well known in the Western Isles, but not much beyond these islands. It was one of the greatest losses of life at sea in peacetime, after sinkings such as the Titanic in 1912 and the Norge in 1904. In brief, 280 survivors of the Great War were on their way back to Lewis from Kyle of Lochalsh. At about 1.55 a.m. on 1st January 1919, the Iolaire struck rocks at Holm, within sight of the lights of Stornoway. The seastate was quite rough, so although the ship was within yards of shore, anyone trying to swim to shore drowned. Some men managed to make it ashore, with a rope round themselves, and in this fashion 75 survived. Just over an hour after the grounding, the boilers of the ship exploded, which sent it to the bottom. 205 drowned. No village, no family in the island was left untouched by this tragedy. The bodies of the dead continued to wash up for several days. The celebratory beacons which had been piled up in anticipation of a new year of peace, and for the homecoming of the men, were never lit.
Calum Ferguson, in his excellent book Children of the Black House tells the story of the woman who had prepared food and a fire for the return of her husband. Her daughter fell asleep shortly after midnight, to awake six hours later. The fire was out, and the food was cold on the stove. The mother was in a great state of distress, and she said "I am a widow", although no one had as yet arrived to break the news. Church elders were seen in the village at daybreak, to bring just that tiding.
Posted on Arnish Lighthouse at 13:12

Geography and History - 3

Moving back to the eastern side of Lewis, I'm going to focus on the district of Lochs. Apart from sea lochs there is a myriad of fresh-water lochs. Loch Grimshader could almost pass for a fjord, with its steep-sided entrance. The small inlet of Tob Leireabhat, just south of the Arnish Lighthouse, is similarly encased in a steep valley. Going further south, the villages of South Lochs, on the southern shore of Loch Erisort, used to be poorly served by roads. I read a book the other day deploring the advent of the South Lochs Highway (better known as the B8060). Until that road was improved, the mails were delivered from Crosbost to Cromor by boat. And in fact everything in the old days came in by boat. When the doctor had to come in an emergency, he came across the water. In a direct line, it's 12 miles from Stornoway to Cromor. Go by road, via Balallan, and you're looking at 30 miles. The people of South Lochs launched a buy-out of their estate a year ago. Their current landlord has not seen fit to lavish the district with his financial attentions, but is only too keen to cash in on the proposed windfarm development. The same applies to the owner of the adjacent Eishken Estate, to the south. Of both subjects: more later. The southernmost villages in South Lochs are Lemreway and Orinsay. There used to be a third village on the shores of Loch Sealg, Steimreway, but that was cleared in the 1920s. Not for the first time, and actually not for the last time either. The excellent Angus MacLeod archive in the Ravenspoint Centre in Kershader has published a booklet with the history of the village. These days, Steimreway is only a set of ruins in a delightful setting. Like the 30 villages in Eishken, Steimreway was cleared during the 19th century to make way for sheep. Steimreway can only be reached on foot across the open moor. I tried to reach it back in July, but atrocious weather conditions put paid to that enterprise. The village was located along a tidal inlet, the Loden, which linked to an inland water system of lochs. This makes it impossible to reach Steimreway from any other point but Orinsay. Except by boat of course. The village was repopulated between 1921 and 1945. The resettlement got off to a bad start, when a boat containing a flitting went down. And it foundered completely when the government was not interested in putting in a road or any other facilities. Familiar story?
Across Loch Sealg lie the deserted mountains of Eishken. As I stated above, until the 1820s, there used to be some 30 villages in that district. None now remain. It is a private estate, used for deerstalking. In 1887, a group of men, led by a Balallan schoolteacher, mounted a 'raid' on the estate. They shot a few deer and feasted on venison. They only wanted land. However, the estate owner would not hear of it, and engaged the sheriff to evict the intruders from her land. They were read the riot act at Kinloch Sealg, and the men departed. A monument to their endeavours stands at the junction of the Eishken road on the A859 Stornoway to Tarbert road. It is closely associated with the landraid at Aignish, Point, in 1888 where force had to be used to evict crofters. It is all about land, which is so important to the islanders. Because that's where you make your livelihood from.
Planned for the mountains of Eishken is a windfarm project. One hundred and thirty-three turbines are to be erected across the tops of the hills. Each turbine will measure 450 feet in height. This image will give some idea of scale.

Landowner Mr Oppenheimer, currently a multimillionaire, stands to become a multibillionaire if the plans come to fruition. Comhairle nan Eilean Siar nearly rejected the planning application back in June. In his generosity, the land owner has set up the Muaitheabhal Trust, named after one of the hills on which the windfarm is to be built. A year ago, letters were sent round the Kinloch district (which stretches from Lacasaidh to Airidh a'Bhruaich) and the hamlets on Loch Seaforth. The people were invited to join the MT, which would entitle them to a share in the profits. Not joining the MT would mean no share in the profit, although Mr Oppenheimer did say he wanted the community to share in the proceeds of the windfarm. The 50 people on Loch Seaforth, who live in settlements such as Ath Linne, Bogha Ghlas, Scaladal and Maraig, scorned the idea. If memory serves, about half the people in Kinloch were agreeable. Press reports at the time mentioned £16m annually for South Lochs. Aye, fancy what you can do with that. Sports facilities and all that were mentioned. My plea, aired in the local press, for the Comhairle to come up with a development plan with all that money in the kitty went unanswered.

There is another windfarm development planned, for North Lewis, which I'll discuss in the next entry in this series.
Posted on Arnish Lighthouse at 12:44

Geography and History - 4

As I promised in part 3 of this series, I'll now touch on the greatest controversy to hit Lewis in recent times. A few of these:

Over the past couple of years, plans started to appear out of the haze for a windfarm development in the Western Isles. Late in 2004, the planning application was lodged with Comhairle nan Eilean Siar for 233 windturbines, to be built across the Isle of Lewis. How many? Two hundred and thirty-three. [This is a separate project from the Eishken Windfarm]. Now, Lewis is not a small island, but 233? They are to be built across 50 miles of territory, stretching from Ness all the way down to Bragar, and across down to Stornoway. A simple exercise in arithmatic learns that if built in a straight line, it's one turbine for every 1/5 mile. Now, it's not just any old turbine. The machines that Lewis Windpower wishes to build reach 135 metres, 450 feet, in height.

When a planning application is launched, objections can be raised. Various organisations and individuals did lodge objections.

The RSPB objected on the grounds that it could adversely affect bird populations in the island. After all, Lewis is in the flightpath of migrating birds. This was actually cited as a reason for not granting planning permission for a windpark in Caithness. The RSPB has been attacked for its stance by Comhairle nan Eilean Siar. Why the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds is attacked for standing up for birds is completely beyond me. One argument left me speechless. The windturbines would be beneficial to grouse on the moor. Why? Because their predators would suffer by the presence of the turbines. Groan.

Other objections were raised on the grounds that an important habitat would be destroyed; Lewis is covered in a layer of peat up to 6 m / 20 feet thick. It carries a unique tapistry of animal and plant life.

To be honest: there seems to be a certain element of literal NIMBY attitude about as well. But I wonder. Would anyone want a litany of towers in their backyard that stand up to 4 times as tall as the Butt of Lewis Lighthouse? Has anyone got any idea how HUGE these things are going to be? That they'll be visible from the Scottish mainland, as well as from a large part of the Western Isles island chain?

What has been a recurring theme appears to be councillors voting for the project, whilst their constituents are against. Fierce rows have raged in community council chambers, such as Ness, Airidhantuim, Laxdale and Kinloch. In the first two councils, half the council members have resigned in protest. The councillors on CnES appear not to be representing the views of the people of their wards.

The arguments in favour of the scheme revolve around money. I have seen a presentation in which the £153m trade deficit that the Western Isles carry would be wiped out at a stroke by the income generated by the windfarm. As I wrote in article 3 in this series, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar would wallow in money. By the sound of it, they're silly with the idea of practically swimming in it and haven't got a clue what needs doing with all that income.
Another argument is that of employment. It is said that the construction of the towers would take place at the Arnish Fabrication Yard, next to the lighthouse whose name I emulate in this blog. It would generate 400 jobs in the short term. Not just at the yard, but also driving trucks and doing the jobs on the ground. As far as the Arnish Yard is concerned, during a recent project, labour had to be attracted from outside the United Kingdom. Because there was insufficient interest from within the island. Granted, it was for wavegenerators for Portugal. But people would come flocking back out of diaspora to help the economy of their island, as is suggested in a discussion forum on a different website. Oh aye. People want to come back to admire a forest of huge towers? The effects of which on tourism are very uncertain. And tourism is one of the pillars of the island's economy.

In a broader perspective, windfarms are cropping up all over Northern Scotland. Let me make clear that I am not opposed to renewable energy sources, such as wind turbines. But whether they should be placed in locations where the population is not happy to have them is a question of democracy. By the sound of it, the people of Lewis are asserting their democratic rights to be heard. Against a council who is making decisions over their heads. Against a weak Scottish Executive, who is towing the Westminster line on this matter. Against central government which is crashing headfirst into windpower, without giving other forms of renewable energy a chance or even a thought.

Posted on Arnish Lighthouse at 13:02

Geography and History - 5

The fifth instalment in this series will bring together elements from previous articles. I am going to focus on the below stretch of road

The Pentland Road is not very well known to non-islanders, and takes a bit of finding. Residents of Carloway and Breascleit use it as a shortcut into town; it's only 16 miles to Carloway along the Pentland Road, but as much as 26 along the main road through Leurbost and Callanish. Its origins go back to Lord Leverhulme's years of ownership of Lewis. As I mentioned in a previous article, he had contrived plans to industrialise the island, and one of the projects was to establish a fishery station at Carlabhagh / Carloway. Fishermen from the West Side would land their catches at the pier there, which would save them the trip round the Butt of Lewis to Stornoway. They would refuel at Carloway and set out again. Their catches would be transferred to Stornoway by railway.

To find the Pentland Road in Stornoway, you need to follow the signs for the Council Dump at Bennadrove. Just after the garage, a broad road branches off to the left with big signs for Carlabhagh and Breascleit. After about half a mile, it leaves the houses of Marybank behind and heads out into the open moor. I have walked the length of the Pentland Road, all the way into Carloway in 4½ hours. That was pushing it a bit, as I had to catch a bus back to town from Carloway at 5 pm, and I didn't start until midday. It's a fascinating trip, particularly when travelling west, with great views. The road is level, because it was to be the trackbed for the railway. If my information is correct, a railway did exist at one time, out to the Marybank Quarry, starting at the Patent Slip in Stornoway. The Patent Slip no longer exists. It was the place where ships were launched, but these days the fuel depot and an engineering business are in its location.
The Carloway Railway never came into existence. New information suggests that Lord Leverhulme abandoned his industrial revolution for Lewis, because the Stornoway merchants were opposed to them. They saw those industries as competition and a threat to their businesses and interests. So, they agitated amongst the crofters with whom they traded, telling them that Leverhulme was out to get them off their land. With the Crofting Act barely 35 years in existence, and the memories of the land struggle of the 1880s still within living memory, they did rise up.
The Pentland Road was left as a dug out trackbed, barely passable in a motor vehicle. A branch was created to Breascleit Pier, where until very recently a small pharmaceutical plant operated. It was used for extracting a compound which was used in the treatment of cancer. Its uptake was limited, for the simple reason that its efficacy was not adequately proven. Nonetheless, the loss of 11 jobs is a blow for a small community like Breascleit. I am not aware that anyone has taken over the enterprise.
Along the Pentland Road are countless peatbeds. Peat is still used extensively for fuel in the island, but it's hard graft getting it. In April and May (when the picture in the above gallery was taken), people go out to cut the peats. The slabs you can see are quite heavy when they're freshly cut. They are left to dry, and you'd be surprised how dry they become, in spite of the climate. During the summer, they are bagged up and taken home. You need a license from CnES to cut peats, and if you buy a house in Lewis (even in Stornoway), there may be a peatbank allocated to you. The second branch from the Pentland Road, 4 miles west of Stornoway, leads to Achamor. The road reaches a height of nearly 500 feet above sealevel. The views are spectacular, as you head southwest. The hills of Lochs open out, with the dark slopes of Roineabhal set off against the backdrop of the distant Harris Hills. In winter, the latter may well be covered in snow. One of the most memorable images of the 2004/5 winter, which I did not capture on camera, was walking along a road in South Lochs at 4.10 pm, 40 minutes after sunset. The Harris Hills were set off white against the dark grey backdrop of an approaching snowshower - they were lit up by light from the east - remember, the time is after sunset, so you'd expect the light to come from the southwest.
Achamore is a singular village in Lewis, in that it is the only one not anywhere near salt water. It is about 5 miles from the sea. Plenty of fresh water lochs about though. Above Achamore rises the hill of Eitsal, on which transmitters for radio, TV and mobile telephony have been built. If I cannot see Eitsal, I don't have reception on the mobile, unless I'm in Stornoway. Before the transmitter was built, back in 1976, TV reception was poor. There was a transmitter somewhere in Sutherland. A Stornoway company had established a reception station at Bennadrove, from which the signal was fed into town by cable.
Back on the Pentland Road, it leads right up to Carloway Pier. This is still in use by fishermen. Barely. On one visit in July, I encountered a gentleman who told me he was the sole fisherman left operating out of Carloway. I believe you can still refuel there. A barometer and thermometer is set in the wall of the building of the pier. The instruments are quite old, I believe more than a hundred years. They were paid for by girls from the island who had gone to the mainland to work, and had collected their savings to pay for the barometer, to help the fishermen to predict the weather.

It's only a short distance from Carloway to Gearrannan, just over a mile. But I'll dedicate a separate entry to that.
Posted on Arnish Lighthouse at 11:01


Rather than continue to boringly number my essays (or ramblings, whichever way you want), I think I'll just revert to names. At least you know what it's going to be about. In this case, the small village just outside Carloway on the West Side of Lewis.

First of all, it used to be in a different place - just to the south of the current black house village.
The blackhouses were inhabited until the mid 1970s, after which they fell into decay. The inhabitants moved into the modern council houses, just up the road. Blackhouses weren't all they are sometimes cranked up to be. I've already devoted an entry to conditions on St Kilda, and I'd think people were only too glad to move to more comfortable surroundings. The blackhouses you see in the picture were reconstructed in the 1990s, and apart from one, bear no resemblance internally to the original edifices. Several of them are actually holiday cottages with all mod cons; one is in use as a budget hostel under the auspices of the SYHA; one is a restaurant and the one at the entrance is the visitor centre. The museum is a blackhouse as it would have looked at the time of the calendar on the wall, 1955. The pictures in the gallery above show what the interior looks like. I would imagine readers like Calumannabel would be able to comment further. Another house has an exhibition about aspects of life in a blackhouse. It revolved around the cycle of the year, whether it be with crops, fishing or animal husbandry.
One of the pictures shows a slightly blurred image of a Hattersley Loom. This piece of machinery was in widespread use across the island until fairly recently. No longer so. There used to be nearly a dozen Harris Tweed mills [factories] in Lewis, mainly concentrated in the Newton area of Stornoway, but also at Sandwick, Shawbost and Carloway / Gearrannan. Information from within the industry has told me that a good exercise of squeezing out competition, bad banking and shortsightedness on the part of various authorities reduced the number of mills in Lewis to 4; the one at Carloway appears to be on the verge of going out of business. Net result is, that there is nowhere near the amount of work for the crofters to do on their looms. The majority of them have thrown them out (as I have noticed in Dalmore) and cursed their decision to invest in buildings and machinery. Or cursed those involved in the decline in the industry. It was the perfect industry for Lewis. Wool would be processed at the mills and yarn brought to the crofters to be woven into tweed. Once that was done, the lorry from the mill would pick up the raw tweed and take it back for processing into a final product. There is a standard for tweed to meet in order for it to be called Harris Tweed: it's the Orb.
copyright Harris Tweed Authority The Harris Tweed Authority () keeps a close eye on anything that is being marketed as Harris Tweed. As I stated above, the industry shrank about 10 years ago and nowhere near the volume of tweed is produced in Lewis as was before. Nowadays, the tweed produced is used by Nike to put into trainers and caps. Or purchased by private producers to make garments themselves. It's just as well I don't have the Gaelic, because I would have heard a few choice words in that loomshed last May, I'm sure.
From Gearrannan it is possible to walk round the coast to Carloway, via the lighthouse at Lamishader. Be careful around the cliffs, particularly near the lighthouse. In the other direction, you can walk all the way to Bragar, via Dalmore, Dalbeg, Shawbost and Labost. In 2005, it was impossible to proceed to Arnol along the coast, as the outflow of the Arnol River was too deep and fast to cross. It is actually a very scenic walk, but please, please take care along those cliffs, particularly in wet and/or windy conditions. Earlier this year, a Frenchman lost his life after losing his footing on the tops of the cliffs at Gearrannan, possibly at the location where I took the last picture in the gallery, at the start of this entry.
Posted on Arnish Lighthouse at 12:15


Having read all the applications that Calumannabel has received for the position of head matchmaker, I'm a bit disappointed. Particularly as no Hearachs have replied. Calumannabel, I'm bound to say, sending all your pictures to Molinginish isn't going to help one bit. For goodness' sakes man, you'll be receiving a solicitor's letter for all your trouble. No, if you should have difficulty with Dell Fank, have you considered the Shiants? Anyone that can run up Eilean Garbh in 5 minutes will have first choice of the winning line-up, and will be entered into the rat race at the cottage on Eilean Tighe.

Posted on Arnish Lighthouse at 12:16

Of mice and men

I am based in the Isle of Lewis and am supposed to restrict myself to the Long Island. However, it has been observed that the Small Isles have as yet not got their act together. Inside information would suggest that they're establishing a committee on who is going to be blogger in chief, who is in charge of the rum, the eggs and the muck, and who canna do anything at all.
The Isle of Canna has been suffering from an infestation of rats. Nobody likes them, and apart from being an outright nuisance, they are a threat to ground nesting birds in the island. Unfortunately, the National Trust for Scotland, who are looking after Canna, could not just dose the island with warfarin (rat poison). Because Canna is home to a unique species of mouse, which is slightly larger than your average mouse. Last autumn, a team from Edinburgh University spent some time on the island setting traps to capture the mice live and take them to Edinburgh for safekeeping. Whilst the mice were away, it wasn't the cats that were dancing, and certainly not the rats. They were going to be treated to a dose of poison. So, the dapper ship MV Spanish John II was chartered to transport canisters of rat poison to Canna, one day in October this year. As she was chugging round the Isle of Rum, a call came on the VHF radio. An American warship, on manoeuvres in the area, was warning a vessel on its portside to move away, as it was in its safety zone. The skipper of the Spanish John didn't take notice, because he was on the starboard side of the American vessel. However, he was the only one there. The warnings were repeated six times, with increasing urgency. The master of the Spanish John now began to panic, and he tried shouting at the USS Klakring, to no avail. Another message came through on the VHF, ordering the black vessel with the white superstructure to pull away. The Spanish John hasn't got a white superstructure, but the white drums with poison could be misinterpreted as such. Then another four verbal warnings came to the Spanish John to pull away, or else the Klakring would open fire. The skipper did pull away, but not sufficiently. Four loud bangs, followed by four red glowing dots moving at speed from the Klakring would indicate that four rounds had been fired. The Spanish John was not hit, and a Navy spokesman insisted that the American vessel was not authorised to fire live weapons. The manoeuvres had been widely broadcast and advertised, but may not have got through to the crew of the Spanish John. The latter vessel continued on its innocent passage to Canna, where the rats are currently being exterminated.
As soon as they're all gone, the mice will be returned. Let's hope there are no more manoeuvres in the Sea of the Hebrides for a little while.

Further information on the vessels involved (thanks to Sunday Mail):
THE Spanish John II was built in 2003 by Nobles of Girvan.
The ship - powered by twin 230hp Daewoo engines - is 18metres long by 6.5metres wide and carries a deck cargo of 40 tons. Its main use is as a cargo vessel and it transports vehicles, plants and livestock which are essential supplies in the Inner Hebrides and Knoydart. Fuel cargo is a speciality of the boat, which can carry 26,000 litres of diesel in tanks below deck. One of the strangest tasks the crew has undertaken was transporting an alligator to the isle of Rhum

USS Klakring is a guided missile frigate which escorts and protects carrier battle groups, amphibious landing groups and convoys. The 4100-tonne ship was commissioned in August 20, 1983, and built in Maine. It is 138 metres long and can travel at up to 28 knots and is capable of carrying two Sea Hawk aircraft. It is also fitted with two triple mount torpedo tubes and a rapid firing gun. It would normally house a crew of around 215 men. It is named after war hero Admiral Thomas B Klakring, who sunk eight Japanese ships during the Pacific war. He was awarded the Navy Cross with two gold stars
Posted on Arnish Lighthouse at 12:16

Loch Langabhat

Loch Langabhat from Glen Langadale
During the first part of my stay here, I have covered a lot of mileage on foot in the island. That is actually how I built up my fairly large collection of pictures. My favourite area is broadly Loch Langabhat [Note: pronounce BH as V]. I first clapped eyes on it in December last year, when I walked up the 4½ mile track from Ath Linne (Aline), just off the Harris border. The views in reverse, down Loch Seaforth, are quite spectacular.

Loch Langabhat is an 8 mile long body of water, which stretches from Glen Langadale in Harris to the slopes of Roineabhal near Balallan. Its southern end is set amidst the dramatic mountain scenery of North Harris, surrounded by giants such as Stulabhal (a mere 579 metres or 1900 feet high), Mullach an Langa (611 m / 2000 feet) and Teileasbhal (697 metres / 2300 feet). Its northern end is under the shadow of Roineabhal. The waters from the loch, at that point about 130 feet above sealevel, flow down to the sea near Linsiadar through a series of channels to the Grimersta River. It is possible to walk from the B8011 Garynahine - Uig road, from a gate about half a mile west of the Bernera (B8059) junction. There is a reasonable track, until you reach the stepping stones to a shooting hut, which sits in the middle of the river. You can't reach the hut if the river is in spate, obviously. When the track peters out, you have to make your own way, using an Ordnance Survey Landranger or (preferable) Explorer map. Further passage is only possible if the stepping stones across the outflow of Loch Easa an Ghil is possible. As stated above, if waterlevels in the loch are high, you cannot proceed. I had a scary experience half a mile south of there this spring.
It was a warm, sunny day. I was enjoying the slight winds and the sound of the water bubbling through its channel when I became aware of a novel sound. A swishing noise appeared to come from the water. As I looked on, a whirling circle moved through the water to the land and suddenly the heather on shore started to thrash about savagely. The dustdevil quickly moved off, over the nearby hill. I was barely 30 feet away from it.
The journey along the shore of the river is uneventful, but if you want to go to Balallan, you do need to cross it. This is only possible at Eilean Mor, close to Loch Langabhat. And although the river levels were low at the time, I had huge trouble fording both rivers. You need to circle Roineabhal, which towers above, in order to reach civilisation at Balallan. The most spectacular route will show the view below, which answers the question why this district is called Lochs.
Loch Roineabhal from the hill with the same name. Ciorabhal far left.
Another track comes close to the loch from Bogha Ghlas, on Loch Seaforth side. At Bealach na h-Uamha, the path branches. The southern branch leads to the Langadale River under Mullach an Langa. You can ford it, which is not difficult. The riverbed is fairly smooth. The other branch leads steeply down to the Langadale River under Stulabhal. The ford here is more difficult to negotiate, as the river bottom is covered in stones. A steep path leads up to the pass under Stulabhal. Last March, I was going downhill when I came across a mouse. It was sitting in the path. Although it flitted into grass, I was able to approach it and even touch it.
Stulabhal, with Rapaire far right
From the pass under Stulabhal, it is possible to climb Stulabhal (which I haven't tried, it's very, very steep and craggy) and Rapaire, to the northwest. I reached the summit of the latter hill in the teeth of a force 9 gale. It was mid April and cold, but it was a fantastic experience. Rapaire stands 1500 feet high, and on the day, the clouds were racing along not far overhead. A shower came up from the Atlantic and passed me barely half a mile away. The towering crags of Mullach bho Dheas & Thuath rear up to the southeast. A white hare lolloped away when I explored further northeast. If you decide to venture out there, please be careful: the hill ends on a 1,000 feet high cliff above Loch Langabhat. The trail continues to Loch Bhoisimid and Miabhaig (Harris). There is a route from Kinloch Reasort to this point, but it will require some good orienteering, although it's only 3 miles away.
Across the valley, Mullach an Langa can also be climbed from the head of Glen Scaladale. From its summit, you can proceed south to Mullach bho Thuath (North End), Mullach bho Dheas (South End), An t-Isean and Clisham. A massive expedition, which needs a good head for heights, confidence in scrambling and long daylight hours.
View southeast from Mullach an Langa
So far this post (if you're still reading at this stage), I've stuck to the eastern shore. The western shore is equally impressive, if more difficult to access. You need to start from the B8011 near Sgealiscro Lodge, and follow the stalking tracks towards Loch Coire Geurad. You can walk right up to Loch Langabhat, 4 miles from the road, where you'll be rewarded with great views up and down the loch.
Loch Coire Geurad and Loch Langabhat behind the dam

There are hardly any defined tracks on the ground, and what is marked on the map may not be in evidence on the ground. Follow the map, your eyes and your feet.

Posted on Arnish Lighthouse at 13:18


Today is actually quite a nice day in the island, in spite of the showers that are sweeping across. Much better than yesterday, when my namesake across the water was on all day. I keep the webcam trained on the lighthouse and the coastguard station. I am also able to check who is watching it, and who visit the associated website. As most people in the island will be aware, there are a couple of beacons along the channel into Stornoway Harbour. Apart from Arnish Lighthouse, there is a small red buoy, just offshore the lighthouse, to keep vessels from going too closely in to shore. There used to be a light stand, but this was destroyed in a violent storm in 1983. Across the water, there is a green light, situated just below Stoneyfields Farm. The little red buoy flashes red at night, which is picked up by the webcam. I refer to it in the little guide that can be seen on the website.
The other day, someone Googled his way to my little webcam using the search terms: "red light webcam". I won't say where this person was from, but he found his red light. Possibly not the variety he was looking for though.

The weblink to the cam can be found in the column to the right of the entry.
Posted on Arnish Lighthouse at 11:36


Horses at the Arnish Lighthouse.
Arnish is the area to the west of Stornoway Harbour. Virtually nobody lives there, apart from one person in the old lighthouse keeper's cottage, behind the lighthouse from which I've borrowed the name for this blog. It is an industrial area. For the last thirty years, it has been dominated by the huge sheds of the Arnish Fabrication Yard.
Arnish from Sandwick
At the time of the oilboom in the 1980s, it used to fabricate oilrigs. When that subsided, the site was taken over by a company who, by all accounts, engaged in a good old exercise in asset stripping and left it derilict. In recent years, there have been repeated attempts to reinvigorate the yard. I mentioned in a previous post that they were making wave generators for use in Portugal there this autumn. And latest news is that a contract has been won for parts of the windfarm on the Beatrice oil installation in the North Sea, east of Caithness. It's good news - any employment is welcome. The unfortunate thing is that the Portuguese contract had to be finished using Polish labour, as no local staff could be attracted. Of course the Arnish Yard has been earmarked for making the wind turbines for the Lewis windfarms, if they ever come to fruition. The same problem is likely to apply at that time - insufficient local interest for the jobs associated with the project. But that bridge will be crossed when we come to it.
There is a single-track road that leads to Arnish from the A859 Stornoway to Tarbert road, from just south of the quarry at Marybank. On foot, Arnish can be reached from Stornoway through the Castle Grounds. Before the Fabrication Yard was built, the site had to be cleared. Of a hill or two, and of a cottage. In 1975, the cottage was torched. Not that it didn't have historical interest, Bonny Prince Charlie is reputed to have stayed there during his post-Culloden 'pelerinage' (deliberately using the French here) of the Western Isles. A few hundred yards south of Arnish stands a monument on the top of a hill, which commemorates BPC's arrival at Arnish, in June 1746. He had spent the night at Eilean Iubhair, off Lemreway, and had ploughed his way across Lochs to stay at Arnish. It was made clear to Charlie that although he would not be betrayed to Cumberland's forces, it certainly wouldn't be a wise decision to stay at Stornoway. So off he went, to the next corner of Scotland. Personally, I haven't got a second of time for BPC. His exploits have been extensively romanticised. However he actually had only very little backing, as the clan chiefs knew a mile off what was going to happen with him in charge. It caused untold damage, and the repercussions still reverberate round Scotland to this day.
I'll get off my high horse and continue.
Beyond this monument, you can continue down the coast for a short distance, until you reach 'the Tob', more fully known as Tob Leireabhat [pronounce: Lairyavat]. It's a very pretty inlet, only marginally spoiled by a dam at the outflow of the river. You can cross the river there, or walk the hundred yards through the heather and cross at the dam which blocks the outflow from the loch. A little cabin stands by the bottom dam. From here, the river can be followed upstream for a long distance, as far as the Grimshader road in fact. It is the start of a moorland walk to Leurbost, 7 miles away.
Leireabhat River
The Leireabhat River walk (not signposted, marked or even visible) is quite pretty in summer, with flowers in the river and on its banks. It is advisable to stick to higher ground above the river.
If you stick to the coastal headlands, you'll come out of Grimshader village. I did that walk (in reverse) in March, when they were burning the heather. Unfortunately, the wind was southwest, so I had to divert right out to the coast to avoid being reduced to a crisp. Grimshader is a spectacular little place, set above its own loch, which looks for all intentions like a Norwegian fjord.

Posted on Arnish Lighthouse at 11:39


First of all, Happy Christmas and season's greetings.
It's a very calm day in Stornoway, hardly a breath of wind although it is cloudy.
In years gone by, Christmas was not even recognised as a public holiday in the island.

I have found evidence that business was conducted in Lewis on December 25th in the 1950s.

Last night, I attended a Watch Night service in St Columba's in Lewis Street here in Stornoway. Although it started at 11.20pm, the church was packed out, and people continued to arrive until well after the advertised starting time for the service. We went through a varied selection of carols from the Church of Scotland Hymnal, and were treated to the almost compulsory reading of chapter 2 from St Luke's Gospel. As the congregation was singing another carol, the lights were switched off. The last 3 lines of the relevant carol were sung in virtual darkness, it was too dark to read the lines in the hymnal. Then the minister announced that a child was born and light returned. We were invited to wish each other Merry Christmas, and not just to those on either side of us. There are also people behind and in front of you. So, the handshakes and the kisses flew round. It took a fair few minutes for the church to file out into the street at 12.15 a.m.
Posted on Arnish Lighthouse at 13:53


Beachlife, in the Outer Hebrides? Oh yes, most certainly. We have some of the most stupendous beaches in the United Kingdom, and really, I don't think that's an exaggeration. Some years ago, the world surfing championships came to Lewis. Although at the time I was not here, I am told that Stornoway twanged to the sound of Aussies. Fancy t-shirts and shorts filing through Somerfields with the summer temperatures we get here. Last summer's heatwave culminated in a roasting 22°C / 72°F. Phew, I won't easily forget that day in July. Was able to take my scarf off, would you believe. More seriously, the beaches at Tolsta and Dalmore (pictures of Tolsta were published in one of my previous entries) are perfect for windsurfing. Swimming is a definite no-no at Dalmore, on account of the treacherous cross currents that occur there. The water temperatures aren't that brill either, 14°C / 57°F in summer. Dalmore was the scene for a filmshoot this Spring, when pictures were shot for a film about the Iolaire disaster in 1919.

The next beach to the east, 40 minutes' walk over the hills, is at Dalbeg. This is a stunning little place. Dalbeg itself is a small cluster of houses which stand along a road leading steeply down from the main A858 road. Today I found that someone had had a disagreement with the busshelter, which left one of the wings of the busshelter smashed up. It's a concrete shelter by the way. At the bottom of the road, you'll find a beautiful loch with reeds. In summer, it is choked with waterlillies. A short outflow leads the water to the beach. This is surrounded by high hills and a dun (fortification) on the top of an outlying rock.

To the west of Dalmore is the village of Gearrannan, which I discussed in an earlier post. There is a walk, which leads from Gearrannan all the way along the coast to Bragar. It is waymarked with posts, sporting a yellow bead, but it is always a good idea to bring a map (Ordnance Survey publish the excellent Explorer series, scale 1:25000) and please be careful along the cliffs, particularly in wet and or windy weather. The picture below gives but one reason: it is a blowhole, just outside Shawbost, and you don't see it until you're practically on top of it.

Now I quite agree that I don't readily anticipate deckchairs and windshelters popping up on the beaches in Lewis. Most of the time, the weather is way too inclement for that. In common with many coasts around the world, Lewis has seen its fair share of shipwrecks. One of the more spectacular ones occurred in 1953, at the time of the great storm on January 31/February 1. This was a hurricane, which wreaked havoc across northwestern Europe. It caused flooding in low lying areas of Essex and Cambridgeshire, sent a carferry to the bottom in the Irish Sea, and broke the dykes in southwestern Holland, drowning 1,850. In the course of that same storm, the SS Clan Macquarrie ran aground at Borve on the westside of Lewis. 66 were saved from the vessel in 100 mph winds, the largest number ever rescued using the breechers buoy. Further north lie the great beaches of Ness. Eoropaidh (pronounce Yoropee) sports another great surfers' beach. In high winds, it gets covered in thick layers of foam. In calm, sunny weather, it can easily pass itself off for a Mediterranean beach. The colours are just incredible, the turquoise, blue and yellow. It is actually perfect for kids, as there is a play area nearby.

During the winter and spring of 2005, I walked all the way down the West Side of Lewis, from Ness to Callanish. Admittedly not in the same day. But the initial few miles south from the Butt of Lewis to Dell offer some very spectacular scenery. The beach shown below is not accessible.

The last picture, below, does not show a beach, but shows one of the many small rivers that issue into the sea on the West Side. In this instance, it's the Dell River. The river at Galson proved to be a difficult proposition to cross back in February. It was a perishingly cold day, but there was nothing for it but to take boots and socks off and wade across.

It was at South Dell that I had a word with two elder residents. I had to speak to one of them, as I was barging through his croft. Not intentionally, but my onward route was barred by barbed wire and a broken stile, so I found myself in someone's backyard. Had a wee word with this very interesting gentleman, before proceeding through the village to the end of the road, where another gentleman accosted me. After a few minutes of pleasant conversation, I went on my way, to catch the bus at Galson. One mile west of South Dell, I once came across a dead whale. I smelled it first - absolutely horrendous. I found it on February 25th. Three months later I was back there, and it was still there. Smell worse than ever, so I decided to contact the Coastguard, and I hope they took care of it. It was located in a small stream on a remote area of coastline, but needed to be removed for health reasons.
Posted on Arnish Lighthouse at 20:21

Some day...

I'm writing this on Boxing Day, after a day with the most stupendous weather. Brilliant sunshine from the word go, absolutely dazzling. Went for a spin in a car with acquaintances of mine here in the town. I had intended to go to Ness, for the reasons I set out in the previous post "Beachlife". As we were heading down the A857 from Stornoway to Barvas, we noticed a number of emergency vehicles blocking the road ahead. As we came to a halt, a car could be seen sitting in the verge. After a minute, fire service personnel went round it and pulled a yellow tarpaulin over the vehicle. Two fire engines and an ambulance were in the road with flashing lights. It was clear that a very serious accident had taken place, and the road would be closed for a while. A change of plan was in order, and we doubled back to Stornoway and went to Carloway, Dalmore and Dalbeag along the Pentland Road. The low sunlight, later the setting sun painted everything in the most dazzling of colours. After sunset, we visited the Callanish Stones, but it was sufficiently light to appreciate the beauty of the windless scene. It wasn't until we passed Achamor that the light failed completely.

On return to Stornoway, we learned that two people had died in the two vehicle crash at Barvas, and one person had been taken to hospital. As is the norm in a small community like Lewis, the casualties were well known characters.
Posted on Arnish Lighthouse at 00:39


Molinginish is one of many villages in Lewis and Harris that lie abandoned. This settlement, which had about 9 houses or homesteads in it, stands on the souther shores of Loch Trollamaraig, about 5 miles east of Tarbert in Harris. It can only be reached on foot or by boat. At the time of writing, late December 2005, there were 3 buildings still in use. One looked like a house, with beds, a stove and all the trimmings of relative civilisation. A second was full of tools, barrow and general junk. These two still had windows and a locked door in them. The third house was in use as a byre, and had neither doors nor windows. Molinginish can be reached by walking up from the Lacasdail Lochs on the road from Tarbert to Scalpay. A sign points to Reinigeadal / Rhenigidale. It is a rough path, slippery on stones in wet conditions. Just over a mile from the road, a large cairn is passed, which is positioned at the highest point of the trail. A small side track leads gently down to the site of Molinginish. A seat is provided above the village; the last stretch is a steep descent into the small valley.
Molinginish means the 'shingley beach by the heathery knoll', which is exactly what the place is. You cannot see any inhabited place from there; only the Shiant Isles on the eastern horizon. Reinigeadal is the nearest village, but this can only be reached by retracing your steps to the top of the hill, and turning east, down an extremely steep track.

From little Moliniginish, on the shores of Loch Seaforth - a tiny, roadless community - five lads went to fight Hitler. Two were lost at sea. Another spent most of the war as a prisoner of the Germans. This broke Moliniginish, and about 1950 the place and its memories were quit by its families. No-one has revived Moliniginish. Its lovely waterfall sings unheard; one house has been restored as a holiday cottage for the factor (with thanks for Dr James Lachlan Macleod and his Internet article on the effects of the two World Wars). The factor is currently a Stornoway solicitor (sic).

If anyone has further information on Molinginish and its residents, do feel free to leave a comment.
Posted on Arnish Lighthouse at 14:38

Weather, colours and sunsets

Just posting some pictures I took during the Christmas Bank Holiday.

I was amazed at the colours at sunset these past days. And at sunrise as well. Normally, I expect light to start to fail 25 minutes after sunset, but at this latitude this is extended to 40 minutes. I am not a native of the islands, but one of the reasons I have come here is the natural beauty. Whether it is in the images shown above, at a time of good weather - or in bad weather, as I showed in a much earlier posting about the November 11th hurricane.
Being caught up in a thunder, hail, snow, sleet (and kitchensink) shower back in January, whilst going down the Lochs Road at Leurbost, with the bus driver being forced to reduce speed to a crawl. No snow or ice at the next village, Keose.
The many rainbows in the spring.
The joy at seeing the first green shoots, in April.
Hearing the first bleating of lambs in a pasture at Breascleit late in March. Walking the island in the bitter winds of February, and seeing the sad remains of the sheep that did not make it through the winter. Or the sheep that was knocked down at the Marybank cattlegrid in April, and was slowly decomposing in peace in the ditch that it was dumped in over a period of 6 months.
Seeing the days lengthen to an incredible extent, sunset at 22.30, with the light lingering to the nadir of the night at 01.30, then returning fully at 03.30. But also shortening of the days, with the present daylight hours of 09.15 to 15.35.
The howling of the gales, 4 in one week in November. Clattering of hail and thumping of the wind against the window at night - waking up in the middle of the night because there is no noise.
Watching the breathtaking coastal scenery at Filiscleitir, or the stunning mountain scenery from Rapaire, Teileasbhal, Mullach an Langa. Or beautiful Glen Langadale, where I'm forever fording that river under frown of Stulabhal. The little mouse on the slopes of that mountain, the one that allowed me to stroke it. The yellow grasses on the moors of South Lochs, finding your way in amongst a myriad of lochs, streams and bogs. Loch nan Eilean, south of Garyvard.

Place seems to have gotten under my skin.

Posted on Arnish Lighthouse at 00:21

Glen Skeaudale

As regular readers of my blog will have gathered by now, I like to go to remote corners of the island. The place which I mention in the heading is not that remote, anybody travelling between Harris and Lewis passes it. But does anyone know it's there? This glen is located opposite the turn-off for Huisinish. Since the re-alignment of the road, some years back, it has become more difficult to gain access to the valley. But it's worth a visit. When I went there, in May, it was pouring with rain. Consequently, the pictures are a bit dreich. Nonetheless, it's a spectacular place, surrounded by mountains up to 1,700 feet high on both sides (Iosal being the highest), and a little pass high up at the eastern end, which leads to the valley of the Lacasdail Lochs. I found evidence of habitation there, although I have not been able to find out anything about this. Back in June, I spoke to the islands' archeologist, and she was unfamiliar with it. Mind you, it could just have been a sheepfold.
When you go in, gain some altitude and head up towards the head of the valley. Don't get entangled with the Skeaudale River. The return can be made on the northern slopes, but do not attempt to recross the main river. Admittedly, it was in spate when I was there, but it's a tricky one to cross. You have some work regaining the level of the A859.

Beyond the Skeaudale Glen lies the valley containing the Lacasdail Lochs. This has a walking route on it, that used to be the mail route from Tarbert to Stornoway. It regains the main road at Maraig (Maaruig), after a very steep climb. Another shortcut, leading past a relay station, brings the route round to Glen Scaladale, with great views of the Clisham Range. Unfortunately, I do not have pictures of that route available.
Posted on Arnish Lighthouse at 12:38

New Year - 2006

Happy New Year to all, bloggers and readers alike, in prosperity and good health. Best wishes from Arnish Lighthouse in Stornoway.

Posted on Arnish Lighthouse at 12:41

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