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7 November 2014

Arnish Lighthouse - June 2006


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Kinloch Castle

Kinloch Castle from the ferry. Picture courtesy KCFA
Once again, I'm blogging out of area, but there is a link with Lewis, which I'll explain.

The Duke of Rothesay, Prince Charles. is visiting the Isle of Rum, south of Skye, today, to see what needs to be done to preserve Kinloch Castle. This red sandstone edifice, erected in 1897, was put up with no expenses spared by an industrialist from Accrington, Lancashire. George Bullough had accumulated great wealth through the Globe textile works. These have since closed.

Kinloch Castle in its heyday, before the First World War, was built and fitted out to make your jaw drop. It had heated conservatories and heated pools, in which tropical creatures swam. When guests were shown into the place, the first room, the ballroom, was an image of opulence. A grand piano stands on a tigerskin. Vases from Japan, up to 8 feet tall, stand in the gallery upstairs. A monkey eagle, capable of taking apes, rears up in a frightening pose. A huge orchestrian can blast out any tune that is available on the requisite roll, much like a piano roll. A bathroom with (I think) 14 different types of showers and douches.

Kinloch Castle, picture courtesy KCFA
After the First World War, the Castle fell into decline. The heating was switched off, and the tropical creatures died or were released into the chilly Hebridean waters. The castle was a private residence until 1957, when the last surviving Bullough, Lady Monica, died. She, and other members of her family, are interred in the family mausoleum at Harris, 8 miles away on the southwestern face of the island. It takes 3 hours to walk there, and it takes almost as long to drive there. Doing up the road is virtually impossible, as the vehicles needed for the job cannot negotiate the "road".

Kinloch Castle was handed over, with the rest of the island, to (what is now) Scottish Natural Heritage. In 1996, Kinloch Castle Friends Association was formed to help preserve the castle in its former glory. Dampness and the harsh Hebridean climate are doing their worst. In 2003, the BBC's Restoration programme featured Kinloch, and it nearly won the £3m top prize. Fortunately, the Phoenix Trust (patronized by the Duke of Rothesay, Prince Charles) has taken an interest, and the Prince's visit is to underline his interest and see for himself the magnitude of the work required. A sum of £5 million has been mooted.

Lews Castle
In Lewis, we have a castle too. Lews Castle. Please note there is NO letter i in the name of the place. This was built by Sir James Matheson in the 19th century, allegedly on the riches of the opium trade. After the Stornoway Trust took over management of this section of the island, the castle was in use as a college (among other things), until its deterioration made it no longer possible to be used for anything. I have seen the original plans, as drawn up by the Glasgow architect Wilson, and they show an equally magnificent building. Lews Castle too needs a lot of money investing in it. Although the background may be resented by some, it is an integral part of Lewis history. Plans are continually drawn up - and continually put in the drawer.

Perhaps the Duke of Rothesay could wind his way to the heart of the Hebrides and take a look round Lews Castle. It would be a huge shame if the building just fell down.

Note: I am NOT begrudging Kinloch Castle the attentions of its royal visitor, on the contrary. It is a magnificent place and a folly if ever I saw one. It deserves all the attention it can get; as does Lews Castle.
Posted on Arnish Lighthouse at 14:15



Missing at sea

Search area for FV The Brothers. Image reproduced with permission of Ordnance Survey and Ordnance Survey of Northern Ireland
Reports came through this morning that a fishing boat had gone missing in the Minch. The Banff-registered boat The Brothers, which operated out of Gairloch, had left that port at 2.30 on Thursday morning, and was not heard of after 4 a.m. the same day.

A shore search is being carried out around Gairloch, with 20 fishing vessels, coastguard boats and a helicopter searching 100 square miles of the Minch. Conditions today are reasonable, with good visibility and moderate to fresh breezes. An oilslick sighted off Gairloch has been ruled out as having any connection with the fishing boats.

In the 18 months that I have been in the isles, incidents with fishing boats are a regular if depressing feature of the news. The fishing industry is recognised as the most dangerous occupation in the UK. Men fall overboard, and do not stand much chance of survival. The temperature of the Atlantic varies between 9 and 14 C, which gives about 45 minutes of survival time. Fisherman are commonly dressed in heavy oilskins, which will drag them down in the water.

Others have had to be rescued off their boats after sustaining injury; on occasions the Coastguard helicopter has had to fly 200 miles west of the Western Isles to pick a man up. One of the saddest incidents took place in December 2004, when a local boat left Stornoway harbour and inexplicably ran aground about 100 yards south of Arnish Lighthouse. The skipper died of drowning, with his two crewmembers coming out with hypothermia.
Last winter, a Buckie boat went down 75 miles southeast of Sumburgh Head (Shetland). The man who perished on that occasion was the son of a skipper who went down in the same area in 1979.
Posted on Arnish Lighthouse at 13:15



Gardens

An Garadh, image courtesy Tern TVWatched a program on BBC 2 Scotland, which showed the admirable efforts of the community at Shawbost (West Side, 18 miles west of Stornoway) to establish a community garden around their old school, near the bridge. The project would cost somewhere in the region of £50,000, for which the people of Shawbost required funding from Western Isles Enterprise and Comhairle nan Eilean Siar (Western Isles Council). Official channels tend to be sluggish, but persistence paid off and the work could be commenced. Unfortunately, I was unable to watch the second program (the TV being otherwise engaged), but I'll nip over to the West Side to have a look for myself.

The villagers of Shawbost took their inspiration from their neighbours in Carloway. In that village, they have an open garden project, where people are invited to visit private gardens. If memory serves me, Upper Carloway in particular (being sheltered) has some beauties. The Western Isles has a reputation for being barren and bare, but with a bit of encouragement, it is amazing what the soil can come up with. Other sources of inspiration included a German lady in Uig (15 miles to the west as the crow flies). The entire program (as the captioning image suggests) was in Gaelic, including a creditable effort from the Uig lady.
Posted on Arnish Lighthouse at 12:11



Saturday

After last Saturday's excitement around the Binfight at the Creed Park Corral (where people went non compost mentis over composting bins), the first Saturday in June is a little more sedate. Ness community paper Fios reported that the distribution of compost bins in north Lewis had been properly organised, with a steady flow of traffic at the venue and a special constable on hand just in case. The weather today is decidedly dreich, with a fine drizzle. So, I kept my activities restricted to an indoor venue: An Lanntair. Grinneas nan Eilean ended on May 27th, and two new exhibitions have taken its place.

The first is a show of pictures, painted by the Ness artist Angus Morrison. He died in 1942. His pictures have a strong maritime flavour, but also show some aspects of Lewis life, particularly around Ness. One of the images showed the Doune Chapel at Filiscleitir, which now stands ruined and roofless. The seas around it, in the picture full of boats, are now empty.

The second exhibition, which is by Joanne Breen, shows paintings and artworks which were woven. Joanne died in 2002. She was of Irish origin, but made Lewis her second home. Her works are inspired by the moorland, its shapes and colours. The tapestries are made with discarded odds and ends from Harris Tweed looms.

Information on the artists courtesy An Lanntair.


Posted on Arnish Lighthouse at 16:44



Missing at sea (update)

The wreck of FV Brothers has been located underwater just off Eilean Trodday, north of Skye, late on Saturday afternoon. According to latest reports, two of her liferings were found 35 miles to the north in Loch Broom, northwest of Ullapool. There was no sign of the crewmen as the search was called off on Sunday afternoon. Police divers are expected to go down to the wreck on Monday to investigate further. The likelihood of the men, from Burghead in Moray, being found alive is diminishingly small.

The Coastguard extends its thanks to all who assisted in the search over the last few days.

I have mentioned this incident in other on-line journals, and would like to relay the good wishes of several readers to those affected by this sinking. These readers are from the UK, the USA as well as Norway.
Posted on Arnish Lighthouse at 20:23



Freedom of speech

Reactions to my post of 30 May 2006, regarding yet another (alleged) disaster within NHS Western Isles have left me less than pleased. In the 6 months of the Island Blogging project for the Western Isles, I have consistently flagged up failings within the organisation of the NHS in these isles; threats with legal action by people who cannot be held to account (there is no traceability in the Comments section, or is there, Graham?) would be entirely the sort of reaction that employees of NHS Western Isles can expect if they raise concerns. Stating that the lack of communication CAUSED the unfortunate deaths I referred to in the earlier version of the 30 May piece is an inaccuracy on my part, which I have now corrected.

If the relatives of the deceased were to raise a complaint, this matter would be looked into and at worst, the documented systems failure could be held to be a contributary factor. That has, by law, not been ascertained. Hence my rewriting of the piece. Nonetheless, the breakdown of communications remains a systems failure and a very serious matter. Rather than shooting a messenger, those that shout so loudly would do better to hold those that do not act on the systems failure to account.

Another problem was flagged up by the Western Isles MP at the end of last week. Endoscopies requested by doctors to be carried out at Uist & Barra Hospital were delayed by up to 6 months. Apparently because the requisite equipment was not on site, according to the MP. Endoscopy involves inserting a tube with a camera into the oesophagus (the tube linking the mouth to the stomach) and the stomach. It is a common procedure, used for diagnosing peptic ulcers of the stomach or the duodenum (the first bit of gut after the stomach) as well as cancer of those organs. Delaying these diagnostic procedures mean that treatment would be delayed, and (as the MP highlighted) time is of the essence in treatment of (not just ulcers but particularly) cancer.

I take the liberty, afforded to me and everybody else by law, to highlight systems failures within NHS Western Isles as they come to light. I think I have adequately attributed the information in this post, and not drawn any conclusions that are non-substantiable.

Can we please have an open discussion, rather than slamming each other with the threat of lawyers? They earn quite enough already.

Moran taing.
Posted on Arnish Lighthouse at 17:21



Compost bins

The compost bin fiasco has had the local wags going, by all accounts. The blogger behind Digital Sands pointed me towards the Stornoway Chat site, which had links to the following two songs which a local band recorded. It takes a second or two to load:

Mr Compost
The Mighty Bin

Make sure you're properly seated, I was weak laughing.
Posted on Arnish Lighthouse at 12:22



Boats, boats, boats

MV Isle of Lewis docked at Stornoway in April 2006
The ferry Isle of Lewis did not sail on Wednesday, because 8 members of staff and an unknown number of passengers were struck down by a virus. This problem arose on Monday, but the ferry sailed normally on Tuesday. According to passengers coming off the ferry at Stornoway, the bar, the small cafeteria were both closed, but the main restaurant was open and serving food.

Today's cancellations meant massive inconvenience for travellers to the isles. Alternative sailings were laid on between Skye and Harris, but I know of at least one person who had to cancel their trip altogether, as it is impossible to travel from Inverness to Uig (Skye) within 3 hours. The two places are 130 miles apart. I don't understand why the replacement ferry Lord of the Isles couldn't sail the extra 40 miles to Stornoway, but I'm sure Calmac had their reasons.

The causative virus has not been formally identified, but a prime candidate is the novovirus, commonly known as the winter vomiting bug. The ship is being deep cleaned today, and a fresh crew will join her Thursday morning to resume normal service.

News came through via the MCA website that the fishing vessel Dunan, operating out of Carloway, had struck rocks some 15 miles outside this small port on the westcoast of Lewis. A mayday call was put out, and rescue teams from Miavaig and Breasclete were despatched to the scene. Other vessels also responded to the mayday call and made their way to the site of the incident. The coastguard helicopter dropped pumps to assist in pumping out water. No further news was forthcoming at time of writing (8pm on Wednesday)

MV Hebridean Princess (left) and MV Normand Master (right) at no 3 pier at 4pm on Tuesday
Yesterday, Tuesday, saw a procession of ships in and out of Stornoway. The Hebridean Princess, a luxury cruiseliner, made an afternoon & evening call; the Norwegian registered Normand Master, a tug and supply vessel, docked at no 3 pier, and a vessel working for the Northern Lighthouse Board carried out maintenance on the buoy off Arnish Point.
Posted on Arnish Lighthouse at 20:00



Light nights

I just wanted to share these images. We are within a fortnight of the summer solstice, so the nights are no longer dark. These images were taken at 1 am this morning:
The Arnish Lighthouse, the midsummer full moon, and Arnish Fabrication Yard


Looking north over Stornoway


On Friday, summer came to the islands. Since then, we have had nothing but bright sunshine and very high temperatures - Saturday saw the mercury rise to 25C or 77F in Stornoway. On Friday and Saturday there was not much wind, but Sunday and Monday saw a strong southerly breeze. Temperatures are still very acceptable, 18C at time of writing.
This was the view of Arnish Lighthouse early on Friday morning - note the reflection in the sea. That is quite rare indeed.


Contrarily, the tropical hurricane has started in the Caribbean, and the rainfall totals there are going off the scale. I'd rather be here with the weather we're having right now!
Posted on Arnish Lighthouse at 13:18



West Side tour

Last week, I went on a bustour of the West Side. If you work the timetable, it is actually possible to do a whistlestop tour of the five main tourist sites - Callanish, Dun Carloway Broch, Gearrannan Black House Village, Shawbost Norse Mill and Arnol Blackhouse Museum - within 10 hours. A £6 busticket will serve all the way. You leave Stornoway at 9.10 am and return at 7.10pm. The trick is to go to the Broch first, double back to Callanish and carry on from there to Gearrannan and points east. Don't forget some of the places are up to 10 minutes walking time from the drop-off point for the bus. A few pictures to whet the appetite.

Callanish Stones

Callanish is going to be busy on the day of the summer solstice with sun worshippers. Pity they are not aware that the Stones and associated 20 other megalithic monuments (all within a 3 mile radius) are reckoned to be a lunar monument, rather than a solar one. Oh dearie me. Last night (Sunday 11/6/06), the moon could be seen skirting the tops of the "Sleeping Beauty Mountain" at 12.30 a.m. (courtesy Callanish webcam)

Skylark

This skylark was so busy singing its heart out on the post, that I could approach it to within 20 feet to take this picture.
Carloway

The bridges at Carloway. You see the Pentland Road snaking across the Carloway River, to join said river passing under the bridge carrying the main A858 road through Carloway.
Gearrannan

The Blackhouse Village at Gearrannan [Garenin], seen from the bottom of the village. Most of the houses are in use as self-catering units for visitors; there is a youth hostel, a museum plus interpretative centre and a toilet block. The entry to the Village is free, the museum carries an admission charge.
Norse Mill and Kiln

These two small buildings were in use as a watermill and a kiln until recently. A lade was diverted off a small stream to power the watermill.
The interior of the mill

Posted on Arnish Lighthouse at 13:38



Local Mod

Last week, between June 7th and 9th, the Lewis Local Mod took place in Stornoway. Pupils from primary and secondary schools across the island competed in various aspects of Gaelic culture, much along the lines of the National Mod. This, incidentally, will be taking place at Dunoon later in the year.

I attended three competitions (and caught the tail-end of a fourth), focusing on the musical aspects, as Gaelic is (as yet) beyond me. I recorded the efforts of folk groups, school choirs and instrumentalists. I would like to commend all competitors for the standards displayed, the courage to stand on a stage in front of a (large) audience and the commitment to the culture of the island and the region as a whole. It is heartening to see children as young as 5 or 6 taking part in an event like this, which hopefully bodes well for the future of Gaelic culture. As Inverness MSP John Farquhar Munro said at the formal opening of the new An Lanntair arts centre, back in September 2005: It is an opportunity, an opening to be grasped. We have to work hard to make it blossom and grow. At any rate, that was the gist of what he said.

Recordings of the Local Mod are available on http://modmusic.bravehost.com/localmod.html
Posted on Arnish Lighthouse at 12:50



NHS Western Isles

I just want to make something clear with reference to the problems experienced by NHS Western Isles. I have never doubted the professionalism of the staff in the three hospitals in the islands (at Stornoway, Balivanich and Castlebay), or at large in the community, and my postings are NOT intended to be critical of the staff. The purpose behind my criticism is to highlight the consequences of the current management culture, which allows no criticism at all, even when it is necessary. Normally, any problems that staff experience in their area of work are discussed with management, who then take action. There have been allegations that any such criticism within NHS W.I. lead to bullying and harassment. As a result, staff feel they can not speak to management, and instead turn to their councillors on Comhairle nan Eilean Siar. Two public meetings have taken place in the last 7 months, in which people have vented their frustration, anger and what not. That is not really the forum in which this should take place, but the situation has evolved into that.

I feel that my postings are now being used to divert attention away from the real problems that exist within the Western Isles Health Board. I think the focus should be on addressing the problems that do exist within the organisation. Rather than shoot the messengers, I would suggest everyone that is actively involved to look for a solution, and do so in a constructive fashion. And if the feeling continues to persist that senior management needs to be replaced, I would suggest to those at the top to bow out gracefully. The Health Minister is reported to be coming up to Stornoway in September to carry out an annual review of NHS Western Isles. Maybe a good time to start taking action within the NHS here.
Posted on Arnish Lighthouse at 13:09



Windfarm application approved

The revised planning application for the windfarm on the Eishken Estate, submitted by development consortium Beinn Mhor Power has been approved by Comhairle nan Eilean Siar on Thursday, June 15th. In a meeting of the full council, the scheme was voted through at 15 votes for, 5 against.

The original planning application involved the construction of 133 turbines on the west of the Eishken estate, around the hills of Beinn Mhor and Muaitheabhal. This would also necessitate the construction of 77 km / 48 miles of roads and subsidiary infrastructure. Following objections from SNH and other conservation bodies, concerned about the resident population of eagles and other creatures, Eishken owner Nick Oppenheim decided to scale the project down. There will now only be 53 turbines and 41 km / 26 miles of road. It should be born in mind that the Eishken estate is uninhabited, except for Eishken Lodge, 7 miles southeast of Balallan. Its original inhabitants were cleared out of 36 villages in the 19th century.

Like the proposed North Lewis windfarm, this project is controversial. Kinloch Community council, the district which encompasses Eishken, was in favour, although 130 residents lodged objections against the revised application. As I have explained in earlier posts on the Eishken Windfarm, the residents of Kinloch stand to gain financially by this project. Residents of Kinloch could join the Muaitheabhal trust, the community section of the Eishken project. As things stand at the moment, they have a share in 6 turbines (a substantial reduction from the original figure).

Objections have also been put forward against the original planning application by residents of Loch Seaforth-side, from Ath Linne (on the Lewis/Harris border) to Maraig. The 50 people that live there will have the benefit of the view of 53 turbines whirring away on the hills on the other side of the loch, whilst reaping none of the financial benefits that the Kinloch people get. I recently noticed that the restored Ardvourlie Castle (at Scaladale) has been placed on the market, and its outgoing residents were the most vociferous letter writers in the Stornoway Gazette - against the Eishken windfarm.

The planning application will now go in front of the Scottish Executive, and if my reading of the current political climate is correct, they will rubberstamp this project. Fantastic prospect.

Seaforth Head, 3½ miles southeast of Balallan
Loch Seaforth desecrated, the untouched wilderness of Eishken ruined, the silence of Loch Sgiobacleit broken and the Harris mountains overshadowed by windturbines. At one time there was a plot of land for sale on the Eishken road, about 3 miles out of Balallan. Glad I didn't buy it; whoever bought it will now have his view improved no end.
View down Loch Seaforth from Aline
Posted on Arnish Lighthouse at 01:15



Bostadh

Just west of Lewis lies the island of Great Bernera, not to be confused with the island of Berneray off North Uist. On its northern end lies the beach of Bostadh [Bosta]. This area is uninhabited, but in years gone by people did live there. Nowadays, there is only a cemetery.

Bosta Beach, looking north towards Old Hill
In 1992, a violent storm shifted the sands on the beach and the adjacent hillside to reveal the remains of an iron-age house. Little is known about it or the people that lived there some 2,000 years ago, but a valiant effort has been made to recreate the Iron Age House.

The Iron Age House, as seen from the approach path

Below is copied the information from the plaque at the house:

This house is a reconstruction based upon the late Iron Age "jelly baby" houses excavated nearby. It was built using the techniques that were available at that time. No physical evidence of roofing survived on the archeological site; the design of this roof was dictated by the shape and strength of the walls; the dividing walls between the two cells are too weak to support a superstructure. The ridged roof is a major departure from the circular roofs of the wheelhouses and brochs of the earlier Iron Age, and a precursor of the traditional blackhouse roof.

The entrance passage was curved to break the strength of any high winds and sloped from ground level to the interior floor level. The purpose of the small chamber in this passage is unknown. The main room may have been subdivided into living and sleeping areas. The use of the space in the roof is conjectural, we have indicated a sleeping area. The small chamber was possibly used by the women for their work. The artefacts represent those discovered on the original site. The central hearth is aligned north to south. This may have been for
practical of ritual reason. We do not know if there was any artificial or indeed natural lighting. Perhaps a piece of the thatch was removed when practicable.

Many questions that arose from the excavations were answered by a practical exercise such as this, and much has been learnt that aids interpretation of future excavations at similar sites. It is hoped that the reconstruction will also help visitors to the site to have a more complex and realistic experience of the reality of living in this type of dwelling.


Posted on Arnish Lighthouse at 18:27



Solstice

In one or two days from now we're on the Summer Solstice. Sunrise 04.19, sunset 22.36 in Stornoway. Went out for a walk tonight and took the following pictures around the 23.30 mark.



Taken at around 1 a.m. from the Coastguard Station


Posted on Arnish Lighthouse at 00:18



Forms of energy

Last Thursday's decision by Comhairle nan Eilean Siar to give the go-ahead for the building of the Eishken windfarms has given rise to an unholy row in Kinloch about the level of support, or perhaps lack of it, for the project.

An unofficial poll suggested that 87% of people canvassed in a door-to-door survey, were opposed to the Eishken windfarm being built. Since the Sunday sailing row down in Harris, my faith in door-to-door surveys has reduced somewhat. After all, it won't do not to sign, where it is blatantly obvious that everybody else has signed, and it is also blatantly obvious that (if you don't want to sign) that you haven't. The Councillor for Kinloch has rejected the results, calling the methodology [door-to-door survey] rubbish. Not quite rubbish, but the validity leaves something to be desired. Why not a secret ballot all over the island? The Electoral Reform Society should be able to help, and what's a few thousand quid in a multi-million pound project? In the months leading up to the original decision there were repeated accusations that local councillors' voting at the Comhairle did not represent the opinion of their population. I know of at least 3 wards, Ness, Airidhantuim and Laxdale, where this has happened.

Returning south to Kinloch, it is more onerous that 133 objections were raised by residents of the area, which is a large percentage of the population. I think it's most deplorable that Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, being fully aware of the controversial nature of the windfarms project, can't be bothered to organise a secret ballot.

On a more positive note: trials were scheduled to start this week at Shader, on the West Side of Lewis, north of Barvas, on a wavepower project. Wavepower units are planned to be built there, linked to the shore by a causeway. This would lead to the formation of a sheltered harbour. There are only two other sheltered ports on the exposed Atlantic coast of Lewis: Port of Ness and Carloway, about 10 to 15 miles in either direction.
Posted on Arnish Lighthouse at 16:54



Solstice - 2

Summer 2006 starts at 13.26 hours on June 21st, hopefully the day this post gets published. Bearing today's [20th] awful weather in mind, it's unlikely any punters over at Callanish will be able to see the sun rise through the stones. Even in clear weather, that is actually not what the monument is designed to be used for.

Although we cannot be certain, there is a school of thought which states that the Callanish Stones are a lunar monument. At a certain point in an 18 year cycle, the moon, when viewed from the Stones, will appear to skim a mountain range about 10 miles to the southeast. It will then drift between tops, disappear behind the next one - and magically reappear. The mountain range is colloquially referred to as the Sleeping Beauty Mountain, part of a range of hills in the far north of Eishken, about 3 miles east of Airidh a'Bhruaich. From Callanish, they resemble the form of a reclining woman.

Leaving that to one side, the Callanish Stones are one of the wonders of the ancient world, wrested from the peat, dating back 5,000 years. We can but marvel at the ingenuity of those that built it.
Posted on Arnish Lighthouse at 20:48



Is this summer?

When I read the weather reports I find it very hard to believe it's actually summer. This morning saw some relatively benign conditions in Lewis - it's called being in the eye of the storm.


Further south though, all hell had broken loose with a force 9 gale and the lashing rain we had yesterday. Stornoway Coastguard has been very busy over the last 24 hours, with four yachts getting into difficulties near Barra. Fortunately, all were safe and either sheltering at Castlebay (Barra) or able to proceed with the race they were participating in. Fifty miles to the west, a group of people were ringing birds on the islet of Dun, south of Village Bay in St Kilda. Their tent had blown down in the gales and had spent the past two days without food or water. The lifeboat is unable to negotiate the seas around Dun in those conditions (which says enough), so the helicopter flew out to pick them up for a quick transfer to mainland St Kilda. Again, all were safe and well.
Map of St Kilda
Posted on Arnish Lighthouse at 14:53



Barra to Butt

Last year, I realised the tourist season had started when I met the first cyclist coming up the A859 at Airidh a'Bhruaich, heading north. It's an annual ritual - the Barra to Butt trek. It starts in early spring, and goes on until winter commences. The steady stream of hardy (or not so hardy) walkers, cyclists and users of motorised transport who do Castlebay to Ness in a couple of days. I admire them.

Most of them, as the heading of this entry indicates, head south to north. Unfortunately, during the time that I've been in Lewis (19 months), the prevailing wind appears to have been northeasterly. Although the law of averages dictates the opposite direction, our climate has decided to be contrary in 2005 and 2006. The other problem is the copious amounts of precipitation that can fall in these parts. I won't easily forget the group of Aberdeenshire pedallers who came to a Stornoway establishment, water oozing out of their biking shoes - only to realise that their dry clothing was still in the support vehicle, which had gone off. They had cycled 55 miles that day, from Gearrannan up to the Butt, then back down to Stornoway.

A lot of folk cross the Minch from Uig (Skye) to Tarbert, and merrily ride up the A859, until they round the corner at Ardhasaig - to be confronted by the Harris mountains. Now, the road does not go all the way to the summit of the Clisham (799 m), but it still reaches a respectable 190 m above sealevel, and sealevel is only a few miles away. I believe the incline near the quarry is not far off 1:4. Coming down the other side is equally steep, and whenever I tackle the route on the W10 servicebus, there is always this herd of sheep above Scaladale who are determined to soak up the warmth from the tarmac by lying on it. The other tricky bit is the 5 mile run up from Balallan to Laxay, which is a continual climb.

Good luck to anyone yet to enter on that challenge - don't forget to admire the scenery, but please avoid riding into it.
Posted on Arnish Lighthouse at 12:59



Meetings

The next public meeting by the Western Isles Health Board has been scheduled for next Thursday, 29 June, at 10 am at the hospital in Stornoway.

Local press is reporting that a meeting allegedly took place a week ago, which was attended by only certain members of the Board. Those who were not invited were disappointed to have been deprived of traditional Barvas Kaffee und Kuchen. The subject is reported to have been internal staff issues. The personnel director was however not invited. Neither were three other senior board members, among them the representative of the council. The NHS Board has issued a statement to the effect that the meeting was part of a normal set of meetings between individual Board members, which did not require the presence of the full Board.

This is reported by both the Stornoway Gazette and the West Highland Free Press today; I'm just relaying on a continuing story.
Posted on Arnish Lighthouse at 21:13



Missing fishermen

At the beginning of June, the fishing vessel Brothers left Gairloch, on the mainland. She never returned. After a two-day search, her wreck was found under 40 feet of water at Eilean Trodday, north of Skye. The liferings were recovered from Loch Broom, 35 miles to the northeast, but the two crewmen were missing. Last night came the news that the body of one of them has been recovered from the shore at Mellon Udridge, on Gruinard Bay. The other man remains missing.

Although this is strictly speaking a mainland story, it happened in waters facing Lewis and all fishermen in the island and beyond will have been following this sad tale. Speaking bluntly, it could happen to any of them, at any time.

Today, I was thinking of another mysterious disappearance at sea, one which was never cleared up. The boat of a Muck fisherman was found going round in circles north of the island, with nobody on board. Her single crewman had gone out that September evening in 2003, as the weather was good. He never returned to port. A severe blow for the tiny community on Muck. A memorial for him was erected at Arisaig later in that year.
Posted on Arnish Lighthouse at 21:44



Emergency Services Open Day

On Saturday, the Emergency Services held an Open Day at the Coastguard Station on Battery Point here in Stornoway. It was very well attended, lots of interest from children being brought along by their parents. One or two ambulances, a fire engine and an airport firetender were there, as was the Coastguard helicopter Hotel Lima. An air ambulance called in for a little while as well. A Royal Navy bomb disposal squad had a stand, and did a demonstration of their skills, which literally went off with a bang. The lifeboat performed a "rescue" of two men who had gone "overboard". The police were in attendance, as were representatives of the SSPCA. A member of a cliff rescue team gave a demonstration on a climbing wall, and the Coastguard Station itself was open for viewing, including the ops room upstairs. Twenty minutes before the bomb was let off in the water, a warning was broadcast to all shipping to avoid Stornoway Harbour. A coastguard vessel blocked the entrance to the harbour and the lifeboat stood by off Goat Island to stop anyone sailing into the danger zone from the town.

Also open for viewing was the coastguard tug "Anglian Prince".
An RAF Nimrod performed a fly-past just before 4pm.

Very interesting afternoon with good weather, which I think was enjoyed by all.




Posted on Arnish Lighthouse at 13:13



Blue sky

Just one picture - of a (virtually) cloudless, deep blue sky, as captured this evening at 6.23pm. Very rare.


Posted on Arnish Lighthouse at 18:35



Castle Grounds

Just thought I'd share some pics I took on a recent walk "round the Creed", which is a good 90 minute amble from the Bayhead Bridge.

Inner Harbour
Yachts moored in Harbour
Rhodondendron
Stornoway Town Centre from the Castle Grounds
Mouth of the River Creed
Iron Fountain - don't drink the water!
Posted on Arnish Lighthouse at 00:08



Renewables

Awoke this morning to the sight of a 200 ft section of white piping being loaded onto a barge at the Arnish Fabrication Yard.


The shed is 80 ft high, so it gives a sense of proportion. I do not have definite information on the destination of this pipe, but I am aware of Arnish Yard currently working on projects for an off-shore windfarm east of Caithness and for a windfarm in the Netherlands. It is good to see the yard back in full flow, after months and years of stagnation.

News also come through this morning, that the electricity company, Scottish and Southern Energy, have told the Stornoway Trust that they will NOT pay for the infrastructure, needed for the six-windturbine development along the Pentland Road, west of Stornoway. This infrastructure includes the construction of roadways, six transformer stations and a wind measuring mast. The announcement has increased the cost of construction by 2 to 3 million pounds, giving the Stornoway Trust, who has commissioned the project, a bit of a headache.

And I thought it required an interconnector for this whole scheme to work as well. An interconnector being the subsea electricity cable that carries the power across to the mainland. Last time I was on Beinn Mholach, a wind measuring mast was there, but lying on the ground. The nearby hill of Beinn Thulabaigh does have a mast on it, which looks like wind monitoring. Well, proposed finishing date for the Beinn Mholach project is 2013, if memory serves - the North Lewis windfarm is projected to be constructed very close by, its range of turbines march south from Bragar, via Roiseal Mor past the eastern foot of the Barvas Hills (of which Beinn Mholach is one) towards Stornoway. Another windfarm for Stornoway is due to start construction in the Arnish area by the end of the summer.

The picture below shows what a 450 ft high windturbine could look like, if built on the quayside at the Arnish Yard. It is an "artist impression", worked on the assumption that the shed at Arnish is 80 ft high, which I used as bench mark for working the picture.


Posted on Arnish Lighthouse at 14:11



Harris Tweed Industry to shrink further

It was announced on Friday afternoon that the Harris Tweed mill at Shawbost, on the West Side of Lewis, is to close. The KM (Kenneth Macleod) Group, which owns the mill in North Shawbost, has announced that efforts will be made to employ the 30 workers elsewhere within the organisation. KM Group has another mill in Stornoway. The company was involved with an order from sportswear giant Nike to produce Harris Tweed based women's trainers in 2004.

This follows hard on the heels of a decision to scale back operations at another Harris Tweed mill in Lewis, this one based at Gearrannan, just outside Carloway, 6 miles west of Shawbost. The Carloway mill is reported to be operating 3 days a week now. It is not part of the KM Group, and has been at the centre of a bitter legal battle with KM over the application of the Orb, the Harris Tweed trademark, to its products.

The councillor for Shawbost has described the decision to close the Shawbost mill as a terrible blow, and has urged KM to do its utmost to salvage the situation.

Harris Tweed is a trademark, which cannot be used unless the tweed meets certain criteria. These include requirements on the methods of production, amongst others. It is not restricted to the isle of Harris; the entire island chain from Lewis to Barra falls within its remit.

Postscript - Sunday 2 July
I happened to watch the Countryfile programme on BBC1 this morning, and was very surprised to hear presenter Ben Fogle confidently declaring that the future is bright, the future is Tweed. If this is the case, then why is the Shawbost mill being shut down? If there verily was an order for 6 miles of Harris Tweed from Nike, why is the capacity being shrunk? It should also be borne in mind, that the job losses are not restricted to the 30 at the Shawbost plant. The production of Harris Tweed also involves weavers, and under the Harris Tweed "Orb" trademark, these are home weavers, who have previously invested heavily in new looms etcetera, only to see their investment going to waste.

Two questions need answering on the Harris Tweed industry question.
1 - Why have industry leaders in the Hebrides allowed the industry to shrink to the vanishing point? Even if the American market, encompassing a 60% marketshare, fell away, this still leaves a 40% market segment. By all accounts, there is far less than this percentage left in terms of production capacity.

2 - Why did Ben Fogle (or more to the point: BBC Countryfile) not address this issue with a touch of investigative journalism, rather than paint the image that the industry wants the world to see - which does not appear to be an accurate reflection of the situation on the ground.

Pertinent questions have been asked about awkward issues in these islands before (NHS Western Isles and the windfarms), and the reactions to those questions have left me in despair. Rather than providing an answer, those in the know prefer to shoot the messenger. I do not expect much better on this issue.
Posted on Arnish Lighthouse at 17:55





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