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16 October 2014

Arnish Lighthouse - may 2006

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I have named my blog Arnish Lighthouse, and quite deliberately use the pseudonym. As I point out in the entry about the actual lighthouse, it looks out over the sea, the town and the island. The same goes for this blog. As one of the remits of Island Blogging is to "report" news from the on-island perspective, I have gone out of my way to do so.

I have worked in the Health Service for 7 years, prior to coming to Lewis for a lengthy break. My admittedly acerbic reporting of the problems in NHS Western Isles is born of the conviction that you can mismanage until the cows come home, but there are two things you don't do: allow patient care to suffer and upset the staff. It's the staff that keep the creaking old NHS going, and when you lose them, you lose everything.

My standpoint on the windfarms is a reflection of public opinion, and I continue to be dumbfounded by the attitude of politicians who fail to take heed of sentiments in the community. At the end of the day, they pay the price at the ballot box.

I am not a British national; I came to work in the UK in 1997. My involvement with the Scottish islands goes back to the late eighties, early nineties. Although I initially came, and continued to return, on account of the stunning scenery, I was also attracted by the nature of the island people. In the mid nineties, I caught wind of the problems surrounding the ownership of the Isle of Eigg. The lid on the cesspit of private landownership was lifted, and I saw at first hand the effects this had on people in the islands. I therefore supported the eventually successful buy-out on Eigg. And am amazed at the progress that's been made in the 9 years that the Eiggeach have owned their own place. I hope that the same will happen in Galson and eventually South Lochs.

As part of my break, I have taken on board a few projects related to local history. The Iolaire list of names and the Groningen internees are two of them. In the early days of my Lewis stint, I also walked hundreds of miles, coming to know the topography of Lewis and North Harris pretty well.

Lewis is a fascinating place, in great part of the world.
Posted on Arnish Lighthouse at 12:55

Money matters

NHS Western Isles are a truly generous contractor towards their GPs. For being on-call for one night can earn the doctor £1,000. This is before any call-outs have happened. Do they get a lot of call-outs in this corner of Scotland? Not a lot, by all accounts. Some nights, none at all.

A few days ago, I had a swipe at the situation down in Barra, where one GP practice earns £300k per annum. Apparently, all these figures are government policy. I seem to remember that the Prime Minister was going to pour £91bn into the NHS some time ago. This is one heck of a way of spending it. It will be one contributory factor towards the mountainous deficit that NHS Western Isles faces.

I am NOT saying that doctors do not deserve a decent pay packet. At the end of the day, everyone may find their life depending on the doctor. He or she can be called out at all hours to deal with emergencies. But I do think that a good hard look needs to be taken at this situation. Spending £30,000 a month for a doctor being on call at night is excessive.
Posted on Arnish Lighthouse at 23:22

Sunday ferries

Free Church, Kenneth Street, Stornoway
I was taken with a dose of the incredulities yesterday when I heard that the Free Church in the Western Isles has contacted the Scottish Executive, asking them to reverse Caledonian MacBrayne's decision to operate a ferry on Sunday between Harris and Uist. The argument that the Church uses is that the company rode roughshod over the population of Harris, who had objected to the Sunday sailings.

In previous postings on this issue, I have made clear that I respect everybody's religious convictions. I just feel that the Free Church is being unrealistic in their request. Calmac have an obligation to provide life line ferry services, within a framework of local requirement and operational possibilities. A request was tabled with the company, by a North Uist councillor, for a ferry on Sunday. This would enable Uisteachs to visit relatives in hospital in Stornoway, and generally afford people the freedom to travel on any day of the week.
On top of that, ferries have operated in and out of the Southern Isles on a Sunday for years, within the Western Isles area. And planes have been flying out of Stornoway airport for a number of years now. From a legal point of view, the Church hasn't got a leg to stand on.

Posted on Arnish Lighthouse at 12:02

Calling the Western Isles

Calling all island bloggers in the Western Isles - I'm very flattered that you're prepared to let me carry the can for the area. Nonetheless, I'm sure that other people have things to report, stories to tell that don't reach my ears and eyes.

Calumannabel, isn't there going to be a Half Marathon in Lewis this month? The object is that runners are sent on a course which leads from Tolsta (on the eastcoast) to Borve (on the West Side) across the moors. The object is not to come first, but for at least half the competitors of each team to finish the race. It is anticipated that a number of athletes will not finish the race as they are likely to get lost, get stuck in a bog or possibly lured away by the will o' the wisps that haunt the moors west of Muirneag.
Your average Lewis bog

Posted on Arnish Lighthouse at 18:14

Thunder & lightning

A very unusual occurrence last night: a thunderstorm. The last one I can remember to any degree of certainty happened in January 2005. It was in the middle of a hail, snow, sleet and kitchensink shower on the road near Leurbost, 7 miles south of Stornoway. It left a layer of ice on the road about 2 inches thick, and traffic was slowed to a 10 mph crawl.

Thunderstorms occur if the difference between the top of a cloud and the bottom is more than 40 degrees C. This usually happens when a layer of cold air moves over a layer of warm air. The rising air from the surface cools as it goes up, and condenses into a cloud. It develops an electrical charge, and in the right circumstances the difference between the negatively charged cloud and the positively charged earth results in a spark, which we know as lightning. As I say, those in more southern latitudes associate thunder with the aftermath of a hot day. This was actually the case last night. Although the temperature in Stornoway did not exceed 15 degrees C (59 F), further south, the mercury had soared to the upper 20s C, in excess of 80 F. Cold air is flowing down from the north, and its collision with the warm air moving up from France resulted in a spectacular electrical storm over Glasgow. Reports from there speak of flash flooding and one bus passenger left stranded at a busstop up to his waist in water.

Here in Stornoway there were three lightning discharges, two peals of thunder and one powercut. This lasted less than a minute, and had been preceded by a dip and a surge in power. That is about par for the course, and it results in a shorter than average lifespan for electrical equipment, such as lightbulbs. People in the islands are recommended to install surge breakers to protect sensitive electronics such as computers and hifi equipment.
Posted on Arnish Lighthouse at 14:09


This evening, I glanced out of a northfacing window at 23.16, and it was still light on the horizon. Took a picture of it with a very long exposure (about 3 seconds), and this was the result.

Yes, folk in the Northern Isles, you have even more light in the evening. I just want to share this marvel of the spring, which never ceases to amaze me.

Posted on Arnish Lighthouse at 23:37

Out for a duck

Today, I took the bus to Borve (on the West Side of Lewis) to participate in a duck race. The aim was to raise funds for the building of the Clan MacQuarrie Centre in the village. This is to be a multi-purpose community hall, where a diversity of events could be hosted. Incidentally, the name Clan MacQuarrie is derived from a ship that ran aground on rocks outside the village in a hurricane in February 1953. This was the same storm that sank a ferry in the Irish Sea, caused flooding in East Anglia and drowned 1850 people in Holland when the dykes broke. The whole crew of the Clan MacQuarrie was rescued using a breecher's buoy. One officer reputedly married a local girl.
The Lottery Fund has provided a nice contribution towards the cost of the centre, but as per normal, the sum has fallen short of the total required.

The villagers of Borve organised a charitable event to raise further funds. The event came in the shape of a duck race on the local river. The format is simple. You buy 260 plastic ducks, normally for use in baths, write a number on each one. Then you sell the numbers for a pound each. Judging by the fact that by the time I arrived, only 9 ducks were left, they must have gone like hot cakes.

Just after 1 pm, a sack containing 260 numbered ducks were chucked into the Borve River, and amidst much hilarity and laughter the poor wee things were helped down the river. The awful weather of the past few days had one benefit, in that it raised the level of the river. After a few minutes, the yellow ducks appeared from under the two bridges and the winner was announced. A small prize was awarded to whoever had subscribed to that number. All the ducks were retrieved from the river, using a barrier that had been erected across, nets and scoops. A second race was also held, but this had to be delayed for a second or two, as a lost duckling came drifting down the river all on its own. Once all the ducks had been retrieved and the barriers removed from the river, all participants were invited to the nearby Borve Pottery for a cuppa and some titbits.

After a convivial hour or so, I took myself off for a walk downriver, punctuated by a lot of mud. The day was glorious, wall-to-wall sunshine, only little wind and a temperature of about 15 C / 60 F. Very nice.

Posted on Arnish Lighthouse at 23:05


Gorgeous day today, except for this keen wind. So, we're having summery weather, leaving the lowish temps to one side. The other sign of summer is the first cruiseship of the season, the Black Prince, which docked this morning. A number of passengers disembarked for a tour of town and country. About 20 minutes ago, it left port, heading north for Norway by all accounts. I'm not sure how many will turn up this summer, but 15 might be a reasonable guess.

Posted on Arnish Lighthouse at 17:41


Well, summer is here. For as long as it lasts obviously. Looking out at the third sunsplashed day in a row, with temperatures into the decent range.

Yesterday, I went out for a walk on the Westside of the island. The villagers of Tolsta Chaolais were treated to the sight of a gradually melting Lighthouse tramping down their road. The sheep were grazing contentedly, with their wee lambs at their side. Very soon, those lambs won't be so wee any more, and become a hazard to traffic. For the moment, they're very cute. As ever at this time of the year.
Tolsta Chaolais from the north

Tolsta Chaolais is tucked away in a corner of Lewis between the Callanish Stones and the Broch of Carloway. As I passed through it, people went about their daily business, tending to vegetable patches, animals and machinery. The village is situated on a brae above a nice loch, and it's actually a very scenic little corner.

The Carloway Broch is one of the "must see" sights on the tourist trail. If only because it's set in a commanding position, overlooking the nearby lochs, moors and the sea. Aird Uig, the high promontory to the west, can just be made out. It's only about 9 miles in a direct line, but as much as 27 by road. Closer by stands the steepsided island, known as Old Hill, north of Great Bernera.

The West Side of Lewis, stretching from Carloway all the way to Ness, 30 miles to the northeast, was populated partly as a result of evictions from Uig. For those unfamiliar with Lewis, Uig is the far west of the island. It lies due north of Harris, which in a direct line is as close as 7 miles. The distance by road can be as much as 78 miles. Uig is also sparsely populated, and I learned this week that the farthest village (Breanais) was only connected to the telephone service in the 1970s. Before that, people had to go to Islivig, 1 mile to the north, to make a telephone call. Returning to the subject of evictions, people were summarily cast adrift from Uig in the 19th century, and told to go anywhere, as long as it was away. They loaded up their belongings and sailed east, up the coast of the island, and came ashore in any of the villages along the coast. To places like Gearrannan, Shawbost and even as far north as Borve.

The eastern side of Lewis has been at the receiving end of evictees as well. I have previously posted about the derilict villages of Eishken. People were removed from there in the 1820s and later, to be resettled in townships such as Lemreway, Balallan, Leurbost and furthern north, e.g. North Tolsta. Migration appears to be a recurring theme in the history of the island, whether within Lewis or overseas.
Posted on Arnish Lighthouse at 11:45


I am writing about two separate issue in the Kinloch area (southeast Lewis), which have a link - windfarms. Yup. Them again.

The Pairc buy-out. The people in South Lochs have submitted a hostile buy-out bid against sitting landowner Barry Lomas. Basically, they want to invoke the right to buy their land against the wishes of the landowner, as enshrined in law since 2003. The Pairc Trust want to use some of their land for energy purposes (read: windturbines), something that Mr Lomas also wants to do. This may well be the reason why he has raised formidable obstacles in the way of the Pairc Trust's attempts at buy-outs. Pairc Crofters Ltd, the company that the landowner has in place to look after his affairs in the district, has leased out the land to a third party. This is called an interposed lease. The third party, incidentally, is another of Mr Lomas's enterprises.

The 2003 law I referred to earlier is subject to review (read my post Crofting Reform) because its application on the ground has thrown up difficulties. The instrument of the interposed lease is one of them, and the Pairc Trust is very unhappy with them. They are going to challenge it in the Land Court (which has been set up to deal with disputes like this). That may take a year. It is very likely, bearing in mind the huge sums of money that are to be made with wind energy, that Mr Lomas will appeal to the European Court of Human Rights. This could delay the process by anything of 3 to 5 years.

A minor problem (by comparison) is the mapping of South Lochs. There is no definitive register of land in the area - crofts are referred to by description. E.g., "the land to the southwest of the road to Stornoway on the outskirts of the village". There is no map showing which pieces of land belong to who.

The view from South Lochs towards Laxay (courtesy

Last night, a meeting was held at Balallan to explain the changes in the Eishken windfarm planning application. (I wasn't able to go, as buses stop running in and out of Kinloch after 6pm). As reported before, landowner Nick Oppenheim has proposed to reduce the number of turbines from 133 to 53. This reduces the share of the community in the windfarm proportionally.
Posted on Arnish Lighthouse at 13:14


Readers may remember the eventful crossing of the Minch by MV Muirneag on 11 November 2005. (see this blog entry). Today, the Maritime and Coastguard Agency published its findings on the case. Basically, the captain was told to pay more heed to the weather forecasts, and ensure that cargo is lashed down sufficiently in the face of bad weather.

MV Muirneag is the vessel, chartered by Caledonian MacBrayne to take cargo from Ullapool to Stornoway. She left Ullapool on the morning of 11 November, because the master was convinced he could make the crossing before the onset of bad weather. Unfortunately for him, the weather broke earlier than expected. Also, a gale warning had not yet been issued by the Met Office for the Minches when Muirneag set sail. The result was that the vessel was storm tossed 60 miles off course, cargo was damaged and one person had to be airlifted off the ship as a result of injuries sustained in the atrocious conditions.
Posted on Arnish Lighthouse at 18:28


I was told (as I don't watch Channel 4) that a program called Wife Swap featured someone from Lewis swapping places with her counterpart from Lancashire. The program was repeated on one of C4's subsidiary channels. Four-letter-word television is the best description. The lady from the island stating she had made a hermit's existence up here with her family didn't help proceedings, neither did the erroneous statements about the proximity of shops. Within Lewis, you're never further than 25 miles from Stornoway. And never further than a few miles from a shop, even if it's only one with the bare necessities. I don't want to waste space on this blog on her counterpart from further south. Suffice to say I was so appalled I turned off the TV after 20 minutes.

I would expect this level of depravity from Channel 4, but I feel sure that the Castaway program (from 2000) is still unfondly remembered in the islands. The only positive spin-off from that series was publicity for the fantastic scenery in this part of the world. Castaway was a misconception from the start. Does anyone expect people to show any real commitment to a project to build a community, knowing it's going to end in 12 months' time? The on-screen rows pulled the whole scene down, and in a way badly reflected on the Hebrides as a whole.

I just do not understand why the islands at the fringes of the United Kingdom always have to be shown off as backwards and stuck in the dark ages. We are not. You have to work with the circumstances you are confronted with. You're on an island. You are in a remote location.

Let's have some television that shows the islands in a positive light. And that is eminently possible. For instance, tonight I spoke to someone who remarked on the number of smart new houses being built in the island. At the positive developments flowing from community ownership. When, BBC, are we going to see a program on that aspect of life in the island?
Posted on Arnish Lighthouse at 23:37

Shortening nights

Just two images from this evening I'd like to share

Reflected moonrise

View north at 23.23 tonight
Posted on Arnish Lighthouse at 23:49

Where did you say you were from?

Living as I do on the fringes of the country has its disadvantages. Not everybody knows where Stornoway is. Not all folk are aware that Scotland actually has islands. First time visitors from "down south" tend to have this warped idea that the Western Isles are a group of small islands off Scotland. Small?

Just to disavow everybody of that misconception: to reach Tarbert from Stornoway, you need to drive 37 miles. Takes an hour. The longest distance within the islands of Lewis and Harris is 80 miles, from Ness to Leverburgh.

Another wrong idea is that Lewis and Harris are two separate islands. Nope. They are the one landmass, and someone drew a line saying that one bit was Lewis and the other Harris. Until the regionalisation of the 1970s, this distinction was important, as Lewis was part of the county of Ross & Cromarty and Harris belonged to Inverness-shire. I have been told that the boundary, between the hamlets of Ath Linne and Bogha Ghlas was quite distinct. The half decent road in Lewis gave way to something that bore more resemblance to a track in Harris. These days, Lewis and Harris are all part of Na h-Eileanan Siar. Until 1974, Seaforth Island was disputed territory - it belonged to both Lewis AND Harris. Recently, the boundary was redrawn and shifted northwards by a good few miles. As a result, the village of Airidh a'Bhruaich became part of Harris. Local people protested vehemently, stating that they belonged to Kinloch in Lewis, not North Harris. Airidh a'Bhruaich is 2.5 miles south of Balallan and about 6 miles north of Bogha Ghlas in Harris. Further west, the boundary line is irrelevant, as nobody lives there.

Distances within the Western Isles are quite substantial. Castlebay is 125 miles by road (incorporating ferries) from Stornoway. By public transport, the two are 8 to 10 hours apart. The idea also appears to have taken hold that we don't have shops here. I got a query some months ago whether you could get multi-journey tickets on the Lochboisdale to Oban ferry. Of course you can, but the reason was that the person concerned needed to go shopping in Oban every week. Now, I don't know Uist very well, but on my travels I have come across at least 4 supermarkets down that way. Creagorry, Balivanich, Daliburgh, Eriskay.

Folk in the Northern Isles should be able to sympathise.
Posted on Arnish Lighthouse at 16:03

Where did you say you were from - 2

Heard a story just this morning which made the point I made in my original post.

A friend of mine had to make a payment by telephone to a highstreet store, which shall remain anonymous. Because the banks are being obstreperous, the operator invited the person concerned to go to the nearest branch and make the payment in person.
"Well," said my friend, "it will take me 6 hours to get to the nearest branch." Silence on the line. Finally: "Are you teling there is no branch in your area?"
Answer: "No. If I want to visit your store, I have to go on a ferry for 3 hours, then on a bus for an hour and a half, and in order to be on time for the ferry I have to leave home half an hour before it's due to sail. I am in the Western Isles. Do you know where that is?"
The operator professed ignorance.
"It's at the very edge of Scotland. Get yourself an atlas and look it up. You'll see a group of islands to the far northwest. That's where I am. Where are you?"
The operator said she was in the office of the store. A bit more pushing revealed she was in India.

I think people in India are excused, although I have been told that they are trained to know all about the weather, the football etcetera in order to be able to relate to folk in the UK. Pity they are not taught the geography of the place.
Mind you, many's the time I've had to explain to UK residents where the Western Isles are...
Posted on Arnish Lighthouse at 11:48

14 days in Great Britain

This evening I attended the showing of the first cut of 14 days in Great Britain, in An Lanntair here in Stornoway. This is a massive project, which David W. Gibbons has undertaken to picture ordinary people in 14 towns and cities across the UK in 14 days. Stornoway was town n° 1, followed by Glasgow, Inverness, Newry, Newcastle on Tyne, Bradford, Liverpool, Colwyn Bay, Newport, Telford, Plymouth, Swindon, Cambridge and London.

Mr Gibbons came to Stornoway (and the other places) in August 2005, interviewing people on film and taking their pictures. Either on the street, or (as in the case of Stornoway) in the town hall. He asked them about life, what was good, what was bad and what would they say to the next generation. A common theme was good health, peace, no drugs, respect. Do what you want to do, and you'll achieve it. Mutual respect to all.

I could go on for quite a bit. A very impressive effort.

As I stated in the introductory line, this was the first cut. 139 hours of footage was taken in total, which was condensed into just over 90 minutes this evening. This is not the end. David Gibbons started by going round the USA in 14 days, and his next project is Russia in 14 days. The preliminary itinerary will stretch over 17,800 miles. After Russia comes China.

Anyone interested can visit
Posted on Arnish Lighthouse at 23:14


Fox (image courtesy have previously blogged about non-native animal species which have come to the Western Isles and have proved a nuisance. Two examples were hedgehogs, currently subject to a cull in the Uists, and mink.

Late today, SNH (Scottish Natural Heritage) issued an appeal for anyone sighting a fox in the islands of Lewis and Harris to contact them immediately. Area Manager (Western Isles) David MacLennan said on BBC Online that it is a mystery how the animals got to the Western Isles in the first place. Does anywhere dare owning up to bringing Reynard into Lewis?

Local info has it that a fox is lurking on the Gress side of Back, but this information is 5 months old.

The SNH Office in the Western Isles is located at 32 Francis Street, Stornoway, telephone 01851-705258. Please be as specific as possible in terms of location where and when the fox was sighted.
Posted on Arnish Lighthouse at 23:31

Bethesda Hospice

NHS Western Isles is in the news this morning in connection with the Bethesda Hospice in Stornoway. According to our MSP the Hospice could be deregistered at the end of May as it no longer conforms to the regulations for Hospices. These require a doctor, who specialises in palliative care, to be available.

Hospices care for people who are in the last stages of life, to give them as good a quality of life as care and their own physical condition allows. The Bethesda Hospice is privately run, with medical cover provided through the Western Isles Health Board.

The Board's medical director stated that the GP who previously provided cover had to withdraw service as the practice could no longer sustain her in that position. Furthermore, NHS Western Isles did not feel that a population of 25,000 merited a palliative care specialist in the islands.

I think that our MSP was absolutely justified in calling for the resignation of the Board's Chief Executive, Medical Director and Chairman. It is totally unacceptable that people in the last stages of their lives may be required to stay in an acute hospital (like Western Isles Hospital), which is already short of beds. Or worse, may be required a transfer to a mainland hospice. Furthermore, the Bethesda Hospice is strongly supported by the local community, receiving a large amount of charitable donations.

If the mismanagement was not already reason enough, this is another reason for the Board's management to be replaced. The Medical Director has shown himself to be totally out of touch with the community he is supposed to serve. The MSP will raise the issue in the Scottish Parliament at the next opportunity.
Posted on Arnish Lighthouse at 13:45


Muirneag in rough seas (courtesy, Chris Murray)
This afternoon, I went into the shops to purchase the Stornoway Gazette. Unfortunately, it was not yet available. All copies of our regional broadsheet were still on board MV Muirneag, bobbing out on the Minch, in the general vicinity of Benbecula. The problem is that the Gazette is printed on the mainland; in days of yore, it was printed in house, in Stornoway.

Now, I know that the weather today is rough and it's a southerly gale. But 60 miles off course AGAIN? At least she is in sheltered waters, and I'm keeping fingers crossed for her safe return.

UPDATE: It's just after 4pm, and Muirneag has just appeared outside the harbour. Phew, sigh of relief.
Posted on Arnish Lighthouse at 15:45

Scottish Islands Network

For several years, I was a subscriber to a newsletter from the Scottish Islands Network. The newsletter was discontinued in 2005 due to funding problems. Apparently, the Network was primarily supported by Argyll & Bute as well as Highland Council. Strangely enough, Western Isles Council, when asked for a contribution, didn't bother to reply. Neither Orkney Islands Council nor Shetland Islands Council are involved.

I find this mindboggling. If you have a look at their Aims and Objectives, you'll see that this organisation is supremely placed for sharing information between different islands and island-groups within Scotland. It basically helps to prevent duplication of effort, sharing information etc. Also, if you have a look through their newsletters (published between 2003 and 2005), you get a very good impression of the type of work the Network used to do, before a large part of their funding was pulled early in 2005.

I would like to appeal to readers in the Western Isles, Orkney and Shetland to lobby their respective Island Councils to allocate funding to the Scottish Islands Network. Contact details are available on their webpage.
Posted on Arnish Lighthouse at 19:17


I am not going to write about the proposals for the huge windfarms in North Lewis and Eishken. Rather, I would like to highlight two projects in the Hebrides which utilise renewable energy on a much smaller scale. Both of them are outside my remit as Lewis blogger, but I think it's important enough in a wider context.

For a while now, the new community hall at Leac a Li in the Bays area of Harris (East Harris) has been fulfilling part of its energy requirement through the use of a 600 kW windturbine. Those travelling the Golden Road in Harris will be familiar with it. It's a small turbine, which hardly intrudes in the landscape. It is one of dozens of similar projects, being supported by Highlands & Islands Enterprise. If you have a look at their website, a long, long list of projects all over Northern Scotland is featured.

Well out of area for me, the Isle of Eigg Trust today managed to secure complete funding for its new electricity grid. This is a combination of hydro power, windpower and solar power. Until now, most of the residents had to rely on expensive diesel generators (have a look on this link).

Although both projects serve small communities (Eigg for instance houses 80 people), they are setting a good example how some of the demands for energy could be met at a local level. Here in Lewis, streetlights in Cromor and Ranish are powered by solar energy. I have previously made the point in a comment on one my windfarms posts that a broader approach needs to be taken to address the energy question. Eigg provides a good example how it can work.

Apologies to the Eiggeach for shooting amongst your pigeons.
Posted on Arnish Lighthouse at 19:18

South Uist buy-out

I know that this puts me well out of area (sorry), but as I've made clear that I support the move towards community ownership of the land in the isles, I could not pass this by without comment. I apologise to anyone in South Uist who would rather blog about it themselves, but all publicity is needed.

Over the weekend, it became clear that the people on the South Uist Estates (encompassing part of Benbecula, and the islands of South Uist and Eriskay) had to find £4.5m to buy their land (see this page on BBC News ). Although £4m would be available through government grants, another £600k needs to be raised by private subscription. When I look back 10 years to the Isle of Eigg buy-out, they managed to raise £2m within 8 months. Nearly half of that sum came from one donor whose name was not publicised.

This blog is being read world wide. An appeal is made to any descendants from people who were cleared from South Uist and immediate environs during the time of the Clanranald MacDonalds (18th and 19th centuries) to donate any sums they can afford to the appeal, in order that the land can be bought back to be managed and utilised by those that live on it. Until now, a syndicate of 9 families owned the estate, but they have offered it to the residents to buy.

The appeal was launched yesterday (May 21st) at the Boisdale Restaurant in London, which is owned by a descendant of the Clanranalds, who owned the estate until 1834.

As soon as contact details for payments are known, I shall put them on the blog.
Posted on Arnish Lighthouse at 12:18


It was reported today that the number of patients at the Western Isles Hospital in Stornoway, found to be colonised with the MRSA bacterium, has risen by 30%. Previously, the hospital held the position with the lowest number of MRSA patients. The Medical Director to the Western Isles NHS Board has declared that this should be viewed in the context of an increased number of patients.

MRSA stands for Multi Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus. It is a bug which occurs naturally in the community at large, living primarily on people's skin. In healthy people it does not pose a threat. It becomes a definite threat in those of frail health, reduce immunity or with open wounds. Any infection with this bug is very difficult to treat. As the abbreviation implies, the organism is resistant to virtually all antibiotics.

It is common practice to take swab tests of everybody in hospital to check whether MRSA is present on the skin. A positive test for MRSA is no cause for immediate concern, it merely indicates that measures need to be taken. The bacterium can be eradicated from the skin with disinfectant washes, which the hospital doctor will prescribe.

The worsened MRSA situation at Western Isles Hospital has arisen as a result of increased patient through-put, according to the Medical Director. He will want to cast a critical look at the whole picture. If patients are shunted from ward to ward several times during their admission there is every chance that MRSA gets transferred along with them. If precautions, like washing hands between patients by doctors, nurses and other professionals, are not adhered to, then this also increases the risk. Standards in nursing care are set to have fallen as a result of the comprehensive breakdown of staff-management relations. Pressure to discharge patients because their beds are needed will inevitably result in patients being discharged before they are really fit to go home. As a result, they'll come straight back in again.

It is disappointing to see the result of the mismanagement at NHS Western Isles borne out in these poor statistics. It is a cause of grave concern that standards of care have now demonstrably fallen, affecting patient care and health.

A few days ago, I reported that the Board's Medical Director did not think it necessary to have a hospice in the Western Isles, a grossly insensitive statement. Now we have the same medical director not being prepared to face up to the consequences of the Health Board's actions. It's one thing having a deficit of £3m. It's quite another to allow patient care to suffer. Cutbacks could be made elsewhere. Like in the remuneration of GP out-of-hours services, in giving financial perks to senior managers (free flights home every weekend, top-of-the-range relocation expenses).

I am pleased to note that the Western Isles MSP is asking questions.
The Health Minister should act; this problem is beyond local resolution.
Posted on Arnish Lighthouse at 17:28

Resignations called for

The NHS saga has suddenly gathered pace over the last week. After the scandal surrounding medical cover for the Bethesda hospice (clock is ticking, 8 days left) came the disgrace of the rocketing rates of MRSA colonisation at Western Isles Hospital.

Six consultants at the hospital have now declared that patient care is affected by the current problems, which relate to a £3m financial shortfall and an adverse managerial culture. Priority within any health service is the patients. You can lose your money, mismanage until the pips squeak, emulate senior ministers in the Westminster Government (can't be more specific). BUT: when the patients start to suffer, if their already frail health is put into unnecessary jeopardy: you take action.

The Board Medical Director should extract his head from the sand, stop making excuses and resign his position . Any doctor that does not have patient care as his top priority should not be in post.
The other senior members of the Western Isles NHS Board should do likewise. Not just for this reason, my reading of the current situation is that the Chairman, Chief Exec and Finance Director have lost the confidence of the local population in the island. The jibes on Island Blogging regarding B&B's for NHS managers speak volumes, to quote but one example.

If these managers are too wrapped up in protecting their little empires, the Health Minister to the Scottish Executive should sack the lot of them. However, he has allowed this situation to go on for months if not years, and so far, 24 hours after the announcement of the MRSA figures, no action has been taken. The Councillor for Gress (see my comment to my post MRSA) has called for the resignation or the sacking of the Health Minister.

I have called for these resignations or sackings for weeks and months. I appreciate that it is very easy to sound off on an Internet Blog, with a degree of anonimity and nobody to account to. But I am very pleased to note that a senior councillor in the Comhairle is actually saying what I've been saying for weeks.
Posted on Arnish Lighthouse at 11:35

Iolaire Disaster

A few months ago, I wrote about a list of names of people who were involved in the Iolaire Disaster of New Year's Day 1919. In that incident, 205 island men drowned within sight of Stornoway on their return from the Great War. The exact circumstances have never really been cleared up; a formal inquiry did not take place until 1972. It is one of the worst maritime disasters of peacetime, but hardly known outside the islands. It is as little known as the sinking of the Norge, a Norwegian emigrant ship that foundered at Rockall in 1904, leaving hundreds dead.

Since publishing the names on the web (visit this link), I have had a trickle of feedback, which gives a window of insight to some of the underlying stories.

(1) A gentleman emailed me from southwest Scotland, saying: "I knew nothing of the Iolaire Disaster [...]. Very moving but tragic that more people don't know more about a large group of young men taken in such tragic circumstances. To have survived a war and then die within sight of home is beyond belief." Others expressed similar sadness.

(2) One lady contacted me from Ontario, Canada. Her ancestors came from Marvig (South Lochs). She gave me permission to reproduce their story.
"My grampa's younger brother, Donald MacLeod (7 Marbhig, then Stornoway),
died coming into harbour on the Iolaire. From the memorial in South Lochs
I think two of my greatgrandparents' brothers were killed in the war, as
well as losing Donald. My grandfather Alasdair was forbidden from fishing
anymore for fear he'd drown too, after his family's losses. A torment for
him, as he loved the sea and fishing. He drove for Lord Leverhulme then
went to the shipyards in Glasgow to make some money. Her returned to
Stornoway for a short time then came to Canada on one of the two ships
for which there were no passenger lists. Settled in our praries for a
time (no water at all) then went west to Vancouver Island for the
remainder of his lifetime... built himself a little boat and enjoyed it
to the end in 1980. So fortunate I visited Stornoway last summer and saw
for myself why Alaisdair chose looked so like Stornoway...
His mother I think suffered too much heartbreak for it all and was a lost
soul in the sanatorium for the rest of her life. And oddly, when I've
written lyrics all through my life they have been laden with images of
water, and the sea...long before I knew of this event in my family's
history. Funny how these things can follow you. I'd not be at all if it
weren't for the Iolaire disaster...a ponderous thought, that."

(3) One correspondent mentioned that her ancestors came from Harris, but wondered whether any had been on the Iolaire.

(4) Another reaction bears out the extreme distress that the Iolaire Disaster caused within the islands: "I only found that my grandfather's first cousin [...] was lost on the Iolaire when I looked up his death certificate. The family had never mentioned or talked of him. I go to Harris and will post a photo of his headstone after my next visit. I only learned of how he died after my last trip to the island."

Posted on Arnish Lighthouse at 10:59

South Uist buy-out 2

A few days ago I mentioned the community buy-out for the South Uist estates. Further details of the fundraising appeal, which aims to raise £600,000, can be found here. A membership form is available for download from the site, which can be used for making donations.

Information on the logo can be found here
Posted on Arnish Lighthouse at 17:02

Iolaire Disaster - 2

Last Thursday, I was invited on a brief trip by boat around Stornoway's Outer Harbour. It was a beautiful evening, cool but brilliant. It took me around Glumaig Harbour, which is being dredged for hawsers, nets and other pieces of discarded gear. After a circle of Arnish Point (with Arnish Lighthouse looking out over proceedings), we crossed over to Holm Point and the beacon on the Beasts of Holm. This is the point where HMY Iolaire foundered on New Year's morning 1919. A twenty minute sail returned us safely to Goat Island.

Posted on Arnish Lighthouse at 14:43

Stornoway Half Marathon

Today, the Stornoway Half Marathon was run. At time of submission, I do not have the final results. Nonetheless, I'll print the map of the course and some pictures I took just after the race got underway, and one towards the end.
Further info about this annual event can be obtained by visiting this link.
Route of the Half Marathon

Posted on Arnish Lighthouse at 15:04


The phrase "poorly organised" pops up when I think of this weekend.

At the same time as the Stornoway Half Marathon (130 participants) there was the Great Give-Away. There were up to 3 compost bins per household up for grabs for each household in Lewis. There is a great drive towards recycling in the Western Isles, with big blue bottle banks in various locations, taking glass, aluminium and plastic together with separate ones for paper. This weekend, the compost bins were going to be given away for free from the Creed Park Industrial Estate, a couple of miles south of Stornoway along the main A859 Stornoway to Tarbert road.

The result was total mayhem. Everybody turned up for their bin, everybody wanted their full entitlement of 3 bins and everybody wanted it there and then. Miles and miles of tailbacks, people deciding that the Highway Code is the first item in their compost bin. Police very quickly closed the road and the council closed the give-away early. The A859 was closed at Willowglen, and not a mouse could get through, until the entire lockjam was cleared.

What a contrast on Sunday.
View from the Costa Classica webcam
As announced in the Stornoway Gazette, the cruiseliner Costa Classica turned up off Holm Point. She went at anchor at 1pm and proceeded to ferry the passengers ashore using tenders. According to the website, this ship can carry up to 1300 passengers. I went into town to see what had been laid on for these poor folk. The answer is a big, round


The passengers came ashore at the linkspan for the ferry, and were let loose in the town. Stornoway echoed to the excited talk of the Italian passengers, but not a shop was open, perhaps the odd bar. The place was derilict. Only a handful of enterprising taxi drivers hanging around the busstation, hoping to get a fare to take some people over to Callanish.

I will say that the cruise company got it wrong to put their Stornoway visit on a Sunday. It is well-known that nothing moves here on Sunday. But for these folk, the abiding image of Stornoway will be the resounding silence.

The only shop open is the one incorporated in the petrol station on the roundabout at the Sandwick Road / Island Road junction. And people were queueing out the door at 3.30 on Sunday afternoon, by all accounts. Sounds like there is a demand for a shop on Sundays after all.
Posted on Arnish Lighthouse at 15:27


I was quite surprised to read last week about a novel use for new technologies. When visiting major attractions elsewhere in the UK, one can often hire a hand-held device, which carries recorded information on various aspects of the attraction. Five years ago, I visited the Roman Baths in Bath and was issued with a device on which I had to type in a number, displayed at one part of the building to get further information on it.

Uig Beach on a wet day
The community at Uig, West Lewis, has gone one better. They have commissioned so-called IPAQ devices, which work on GPS. In other words, if you walk to a "magic circle", the device will play music and information. The information includes historical background, going back to the Iron Age. Local musicians will sing and perform the music. There are 6 magic circles on Traigh Uige [Uig Beach] at Timsgarry, 35 miles west of Stornoway. This beach, one of the largest in the island, was the place where the famous Lewis Chessmen were found during the 19th century. All 90-odd pieces have been removed from Lewis; about a dozen are in a museum in Edinburgh, the others are in the British Museum in London. A replica chessman was recently erected at Ardroil, to the south of the beach, and other replicas stand outside the Woodlands Centre in the Castle Grounds at Stornoway.
Replica chessmen outside the Woodlands Centre
The IPAQs will be available to visitors later this summer through Proiseact nan Eilean (PNE). Although this info is not definite, it stands to reason that they are likely to be issued from the Community Shop at Timsgarry.
Posted on Arnish Lighthouse at 12:27


I have, on consideration, revamped this entry.

I have had some critical comments in recent days about my stance regarding NHS Western Isles. Implicit in the criticism was the assertion that I blindly copy reports that slam the NHS Board.

The current senior management team in NHS Western Isles have allowed a culture of bullying and harassment to fester, making it impossible for people to air constructive criticism. This is necessary, in order to improve the running of any organisation. A report in the regional press (West Highland Free Press, 26 May 2006) left me therefore deeply concerned.

Three people have died of cancer-related illnesses, allegedly because crucial information about hospital investigations did not reach their GP, either on time or at all. It is suggested that as a result, further tests were not carried out and the patients basically did not receive the care that their condition warranted. In one instance, the discharge summary from the hospital took 8 weeks to reach the GP surgery. NHS Western Isles have replied to this report, saying that it is aware of its findings.

These are press reports, pertaining to an extremely serious matter, if substantiated. Any Health Board will have the health and wellbeing of patients under its care as a top priority. A breakdown of communication of the magnitude as alleged in the WHFP report would warrant immediate investigation and more importantly, resolution. The incidents of alleged bullying and harassment of staff, who are critical of higher management leave me deeply concerned. In the past, criticism of the Health Board Management by staff has been met with an icy disregard. Now that allegations have surfaced which, if true, would suggest that patient care is in jeopardy as a result of systems failures. I would call on the management of the Western Isles Health Board to act constructively and regain some of the confidence lost. Failing that, resignation is the only other option.
Posted on Arnish Lighthouse at 20:46

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