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16 October 2014

Arnish Lighthouse - August 2006

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Health Board Chairman resigns

The Chairman of the Western Isles Health Board has resigned from his position. The Scottish Executive Health Minister is sending a management team to Stornoway to take over the running of the Board.

It should be noted that the Chairman was already off sick with work related stress for a fortnight.

I am not in the habit of getting personal, and have persistently refrained from doing so in my reporting of the troubles at the Health Board. Suffice to say that the Chairman has done the honourable thing and quit. The latest episode, with a Trades Union threat of strike action, was the final nail in the coffin.

In accepting the resignation of the chairman and sending the management team over, the Health Minister has FINALLY, at long last, acted in this sordid saga. I sincerely hope that the Chairman is followed by other members of the senior management team who are equally implicated in the current crisis.

Local councillors who were at the forefront of a campaign to support staff in their difficult relationship with the management have welcomed the decisions taken by the Health Minister. The Minister has stated that he does not intend to run NHS Western Isles from outwith the islands, but has declined to go into details. He intends to visit Stornoway shortly to review the Health Board.
Posted on Arnish Lighthouse at 13:02


Yesterday, Thursday, a cruiseliner came into port and anchored in Glumag Harbour. All cruiseships should be able to do that, and they make a magnificent sight. Some anchor off the Lighthouse, others all the way down the coast at Holm Point. I'm glad the Astoria came right in. Everybody came to have a look, and as she stayed until 11.30 pm, the look-by-night was even more spectacular.

MV Astoria by day

MV Astoria by night

These canoeists got the closest look of all, apart from the passengers

Canoeists under the stern of the boat
Posted on Arnish Lighthouse at 12:21

NHS Western Isles - Press Officer resigns

Following the resignation of the Chairman of the Western Isles Health Board earlier this week, news has just come through that its controversial press officer has also quit his post. This came just 4 weeks after he came into it.

The Press Officer provoked a storm of outrage after making partizan comments against the sitting (Labour) Western Isles MSP, and saying that modern women expected a pain-free labour. This morning, the MSP issued a statement, saying that the appointment of the now-departed press officer had been an act of lunacy, which should be followed by more resignations. The press officer on departing his job said that the former Chairman, and the still present Chief Executive and Medical Director had achieved much. Apparently, the job of press officer had been converted into a full-time one and he would not be going for it.

Judging by the storms of protest that have been raging through these islands for the past few years against the aforementioned three, not many will agree with that assertion.
Posted on Arnish Lighthouse at 13:02

Kinloch Castle - Isle of Rum

As there is currently no resident blogger from Rum on Island Blogging, I would like to take it upon myself to report on the visit to Kinloch Castle by the Duke and Duchess of Rothesay on June 1st.

The Duke and Duchess with officials at the Castle Main Entrance.

Prince Charles took a personal interest in the Castle when it featured on the Restoration programme on BBC TV in 2003. He directed the Phoenix Trust, which he patronises, to draw up plans for the restoration of both the castle and its contents.

The following is taken from the Kinloch Castle Friends Association website, which I recommend for a visit.

The proposals for the castle which are still being developed propose that there will be major restoration, maintenance and repair works carried out. This will include the majority of the contents. The front of house rooms will be converted with minimal alterations to the fabric into a lodge type hotel with 6 or 7 en-suite letting rooms. There will be limited public access to the principal ground floor rooms with tours timed to fit in with visiting ferries and cruise ships, roughly similar to that at present. At the back of house rooms, currently occupied by the hostel, 8 apartments are proposed ranging from 1 - 6 bedrooms. They will be used for short-term holiday lets. Before work can commence, a new hostel and education centre will have to be built. It will be on the site of, and cover the same footplate as the former greenhouses at the north-east corner of the walled garden. Work on the castle will not commence until the new hostel is open. That is likely to take at least 2 years before the new hostel goes through the planning process, and is built. The design of this building has not yet been finalised.

Estimated costs of the works are £8,000,000 in total, £6,000,000 for building work, and £2,000,000 for restoration of contents.

Those wishing to contribute towards the restoration of Kinloch Castle and its unique collections can do so by joining the KCFA. The Association organises working parties for volunteers to help out in maintenance several times a year.
Posted on Arnish Lighthouse at 18:36

Trip to Harris

On Sunday, I undertook a journey of about 95 miles return to the other part of the semi-detached that doubles as the Long Island. I live in Lewis; on the far side of the Clisham it is Harris. Not been there for a while, and I did notice a fair few changes.

Memorial Cairn for the Park Raiders
What had not changed was the memorial for the Park Raiders, which commemorates the raid of the Eishken district in November 1887. It was a mass trespass, where 8 men had ventured into the derilict hills of Eishken and had helped themselves to some venison. The sheriff came down and read them the Riot Act. The raiders were arrested and committed for trial, but they were not convicted of any offense. The cairn stands just south of Balallan.

After proceeding further south, the Lewis / Harris border (as was) just outside Ath Linne [Aline] was the starting point for a renovated stretch of road, which stretches all the way to Scaladale. I was stunned to see this two-lane super highway passing Bogha Glas [Grey Cow], Vigadale and Scaladale. I mean, this has now become the M25 of the Western Isles, where a very nasty single-track road once held sway. Beware of the corners though; there were complaints about the new bridge by Bogha Glas, but I can foresee accidents on the corner between Vigadale and Scaladale. This is sharper than you might anticipate.

Toddun towering over Maraig
The ascent of the mountains towards the Maraig turnoff is always an exhilerating experience, although I felt sorry for the poor cyclists, heading north, who had to negotiate the 630 ft ascent and descent. The sheep were the usual blinking nuisance. The viewpoint above Maraig shows the crazy road to Reinigeadal in all its glory. You descend 400 ft to sealevel at Maraig, then you ascend 550 ft to the pass underneath Toddun, only to descend another 550 ft into Reinigeadal. Said village boasts a youth hostel and it's a favourite with cyclists. Until 1987, you could only reach Reinigeadal by boat from Loch Seaforth or on foot over the mountains from Tarbert, a gruelling 5 mile trip.

The frowning face of Iosal
The passage from Maraig to Ard Asaig has been vastly improved, with another stretch of super highway taking the place of the single-track horror under the frowning precipices of Iosal. It's a miracle that the buses plying this route never ended up in the lochans. The descent into Ard Asaig is a very, very steep one. Beyond Tarbert, capital of Harris, you start to encounter single-track roads with a vengeance. I also started to encounter campervans and motorhomes by the dozen. Having negotiated the empire of stone that is South Harris, the gleaming yellow sands of Luskentyre beckoned, my destination for the afternoon.
View of Luskentyre Sands with Taransay on the horizon

Dozens of campervans had taken up temporary residence along the foreshore. More permanent residence had been taken by a pod from Taransay, where the participants of Castaway 2000 had once bickered, brawled and boozed their way to infamy six years ago. The edifice, which I last viewed 16 months ago, had deteriorated and was in danger of disappearing into the undergrowth. If anybody knows whether this thing is still in use, I'd appreciate a comment.
Castaway Pod - now castaway itself

Finally, after about 75 minutes' driving, we pulled into the carpark by the cemetery. In common with most graveyards in the Western Isles, Luskentyre's is situated on a sandy foreshore. The beach was busy - Blackpool of the North would be an appropriate subtitle, with no fewer than 30 people flitting about. Flying kites, building sand castles, walking dogs - but not venturing into the sea. The beach slopes steeply into the sea and you very quickly go out of your depth. Towering over the beach is the mountain of Beinn Losgaintir.

The views from Luskentyre are stunning. To the north, the mountains of Harris march right up to the Clisham. The steep-sided one is called Sron Scourst and is located in Glen Miavaig. The wee building you can see to the left of Glen Miavaig is Cliasmol School, which serves the communities between Huisinis and Bun Abhainn Eadar along the B887.
To the west rise the hills on Taransay, a mile or so across the sea. Two buildings and a wind generator can be discerned on the horizon. When you walk further down the beach, the double hump of Ceapabhal hoves into view and the hills and beaches of Seilebost, Horgabost and Scarista on the road to Leverburgh. Some islands in the Sound of Harris can also be made out on a clear day.

Harris is very different from Lewis, it's so much more rocky and austere. The communities stick tenaciously to the foreshore, both on the east and the western side of it.
Posted on Arnish Lighthouse at 12:59

Health Board - politics

I thought I could put my cast-iron quill to one side, now that changes are finally afoot in the Western Isles Health Board, but no. As I reported last week, the Chairman has stepped aside, and an interim Chairman has been put in his place as of today (Monday 7th).

The new Chairman was working for a recruitment company at one stage which in turn is said to have been involved with the recruitment of two senior Board members and other senior officials within the Board. Said company had been involved in drawing up a shortlist of candidates for the Board to consider prior to starting the normal recruitment procedures. The company was not involved in that.

The SNP has asked the Health Minister whether there is a conflict of interest. The Minister has replied that such is not the case.

It is the role of the opposition to scrutinise government policies, and particularly in a case of the Western Isles Health Board, dogged by controversy and mismanagement government ministers need to be more than ordinarily careful. It also refocuses the need for each Board member to be scrutinised following the debacle that is only now starting to get sorted. On the other hand, I do feel that the Health Minister has acted decisively; also, the current Chairman is an interim appointment, pending the recruitment of a permanent one. The Minister is due in Stornoway tomorrow, Tuesday, to discuss the way forward. I am looking forward to more decisive action.
Posted on Arnish Lighthouse at 15:25

Monument to the Park Raiders of 1887

On my trip to Harris on Sunday, I passed the monument to the Park Raiders on the western end of Balallan. The text below is taken from the explanatory plaques in and below the monument.

This monument was erected in memory of the people of Lochs who challenged the authority of the state in order to focus public attention on the poverty and injustice they suffered under the oppression of heartless landlords who dispossessed their forebears from over thirty villages in Park.

Their inspiration was Donald MacRae, schoolmaster at Balallan, who committed his life to the Higland Land Law Reform movement and to the emancipation of the oppressed crofters and landless cottars.

Over a long period of time, Lady Matheson, the proprietrix of Lewis, ignored numerous pleas from landless families throughout Lochs for permission to return to some of the former villages in Park from which their forefathers had been evicted. Instead she converted the former 42,000 acre Park sheepfarm into a sporting deer forest in 1886.

On 22 November 1887, crofters and cottars from Lochs, having made their intentions public, marched into the Park deer forest, led by pipers and carrying flags. They confront Mrs Platt, the lessee, and her gamekeeper at Seaforth Head and continued past them into the deer forest.

The authorities reacted quickly, sending to Lewis a detachment of the Royal Scots and some Naval ships carrying marines. The raiders made their camp at Airidh Dhomhnaill Chaim by the shore of Loch Seaforth, where they assuaged their hunger on roasted and boiled venison.

Sheriff Fraser read the Riot Act at Ruadh Chleit, explaining its significance in Gaelic. By then the raiders felt that they had made their point and they began to disperse, having killed a large number of deer.

Six of the leaders of the raid were committed for trial at the High Court in Edinburgh. They were:

Donald MacRae, school master in Balallan
Roderick MacKenzie, 46 Balallan
Murdo MacDonald, 61 Balallan
John Matheson, 13 Gravir
Malcolm MacKenzie, 26 Crossbost
Donald MacMillan, 6 Crossbost

In January 1888, they were all acquitted of charges of mobbing, rioting and break the law of trespass.

The three entranes to this memorial Cairn symbolise the three communities that participated in the Deer Raid, Kinloch, North Lochs and Pairc.

The three projecting stones around the top of the memorial symbolise the three prominent events in the Pairc Deer Raid.

The eight points of the compass were taken from the homes of the six land raiders who were acquitted in the High Court in Edinburgh in 1888 as well as a stone from both the site of the reading of the Riot Act at RUADH CHLEIT and the raiders’ camp site at AIRIDH DHOMHNAILL CHAIM.

That so the race which was to come
Might well them learn and know
And sons unborn who should arise
Might to their sons them show
(Psalm 78)
Posted on Arnish Lighthouse at 00:27

NHS Western Isles - Health Minister's Visit (1)

Health Minister Andy Kerr is coming to Stornoway this evening to do some straight talking to the Health Board. I hope this straight talking includes directions to the door for the majority of Board members. After yesterday's revelations regarding the recruitment company, my sacklist has grown so long that a wholesale clear-out is probably the easiest option.

A Finance Director who claimed £13,000 for relocation expenses. From where - just North Wales. Great show, particularly at a time when the Board's financial deficit stood at £3m. And who also received £77k for setting up a B&B. Well, that would set up quite a few here in Lewis.

A Medical Director whose commitment to geriatric medicine goes so deep that it means people are discharged prematurely, under his personal injunction.

A Chief Executive who continues to reside on the mainland, although the job advert did specify that he should come to the isles. He continues to claim weekend commuting expenses - by plane.

A Nursing Director who is so amenable to the Medical Director, in allowing patients to be discharged too early, that her policy could yet invoke strike action by the nursing unions.

Do I need to continue?

What did send my temperature soaring today, was to read the threat that NHS Western Isles could yet be abolished and merged with NHS Highland and NHS Argyll & Bute. I will levy the accusation against the Health Minister that he may well be working towards that. He has allowed this intolerable situation to fester for way, way too long. The managerial malpractices at NHS WI were known for several years before the current showdown, and were repeatedly brought to the Scottish Executive's attention. Giving this lot a chance was the wrong thing to do. I sincerely hope I am wrong in my assessment.

Am awaiting the outcome of tonight's review with bated breath.
Posted on Arnish Lighthouse at 16:44

NHS Western Isles - Health Minister's Visit (2)

Well, that was a good start wasn't it. A Minister to the Scottish Executive comes to visit the Health Board, and the offices are locked - against him? So, finally, the Minister is granted access and tells everybody that he will tolerate no more nonsense. Thought he had told them that 11 months ago at their annual review, and look what happened. So, no heads rolled, another chance for this discredited lot to show they can act like a corporate body and in a professional manner.

Do they deserve a third chance? Methinks not, but who am I to question the Minister's judgement. I wouldn't dare; see above paragraph. Heads may yet roll. Western Isles NHS may yet be merged with Highland, current top of the Minister's pops. I have seen very little of the qualities demanded by the Minister in the period that I've monitored this story. Further action may be taken within 1, 3 or 12 months. The Minister says he has already seen a change. I shall await reactions from staff on the shopfloor, and from the trades unions on this matter. My cast-iron quill remains in use, unfortunately.
Posted on Arnish Lighthouse at 14:31


Lewis is full of ancient monuments, some older than others. I have visited the majority of the better known ones, such as Calanais. Everybody that visits Lewis * HAS * to visit Callanish. As I've explained quite some time ago, Callanish does not just consist of the one large monument on the top of the hill; there are about 20 associated sites within a 3 mile radius, some on the other side of the water to the west.
Callanish Stones
Another stone circle is at Garynahine / Gearraidh na h-Aibhne along the B8011 road to Uig and Bernera. What puzzles me is a stone circle east of Achamor, because I find it extremely hard to tell the difference between stones making up the monument and stray boulders.
Carloway Broch
Second on the list is the Carloway Broch, 7 miles north of Callanish, conspicuous to all who drive up from the south as that broken-off tooth on the skyline above Doune Carloway. It is an impressive monument and a tribute to those that built it, 2,100 years ago. The nearby visitor centre deserve a mention as well, because a valiant effort has been made to recreate life in the Broch as it happened all those centuries ago.
Gearrannan Blackhouse Village
Four miles to the north stands the Blackhouse Village of Gearrannan, which was restored about 10 years ago. One of the houses was reinstated in the way it was in the 1950s; others have been kitted out to modern day specifications for self-catering lets.
Norse Mill and Kiln
Moving round the coast the Norse Mill is quite a demure affair, sitting in the valley of a river, flowing down to Loch na Muilne just outside Shawbost. The mill, powered by water, was in use not that long ago; 1950s I believe. People would come from nearby Shawbost to grind their corn &c. Nowadays, the mill is not in working order, but you can go into the building (bring a torch) to view its workings.

The next village, Bragar, has what's called Dun in the loch at South Bragar. These are fairly common in Northern Scotland. A Dun is a fort, sitting on an island in the loch, linked to the shore by means of a causeway, which is partially submerged and not lying in a straight line. Strangers would have great difficulty negotiated this wobbly path.

I nearly omitted the Arnol Blackhouse, north of Arnol proper, which shows life in the blackhouse as it used to be, quite some time ago. The peat fire smoking in the centre of the living area makes it a rather smokey experience.

Shooting through Barvas, the next village is Baile an Truseil, Village of the Stone. It is a monolith, standing totally isolated on the southern edge of the village, all of 20 ft high.
Steinacleit Homestead
One river further up lies Shader, which also has a monument, the Steinacleit homestead. This is very ancient, going back 1,500 to 1,800 years BC. It is thought to be a burial mound, surrounded by a large oval ring of stones. In common with the Carloway Broch, it has a commanding position on a hilltop, overlooking Loch an Duine (like Bragar, it has a Dun in it).
Posted on Arnish Lighthouse at 12:42

Arnish Fabrication Yard

News came through late on Friday afternoon that the windturbines being produced at the Arnish Yard are being shipped over to Denmark for completion. Although Comhairle nan Eilean Siar [Western Isles Council] has bailed the Yard out with an injection of cash earlier this summer, confidence by clients must have suffered a blow nonetheless. It is thought that another 16 turbines, in production for a windfarm in Holland, will be removed this Saturday.

This sounds to me, a layman in business, like extremely bad news. Removal of assets by clients usually precedes the relevant business being placed under administration or worse, bankruptcy. I can justifiably be accused of being a cynic, but I do find my cynicism borne out by events as they unfold after my postings. As I commented on my previous posting on the Yard, the only thing that is being fabricated at Arnish is unsubstantiated promises of continuity.

By all accounts, this is yet another chapter in the boom and bust saga that is Arnish. The place had a decent orderbook by the start of the summer, with three projects (Denmark, Holland and a small project in the Arnish Moor). If the two overseas projects are being withdrawn, then the future looks not just bleak, but positively black. I understand that companies who previously registered an positive interest in the Yard are reconsidering their positions.

If the Arnish Yard closes down altogether, after completing the windturbine towers for the local project, then one of the pillars under the Lewis Wind Power project (I'm talking about the 190 turbines between Port Nis and Stornoway) as well as the Beinn Mhor Power project has collapsed. These two windfarms, totalling 243 turbines, were to be produced at Arnish, generating hundreds of jobs.

I think this is a screaming disgrace.

Being produced at Arnish aren't just windturbines, but also the Pelamis wavepower units. These were designed, trialled and initially produced in Scotland. The latter at Arnish. Not for Scotland - for Portugal. The Scottish Executive has not shown an ounce of interest in these developments, it appears to be solely interested in slavishly following the line from Westminster. This line is that the future is bright, the future is windturbines. Never mind other renewable energy sources, such as solar energy (for streetlights, come and have a look in Cromor and Ranish), tidal energy (being developed at Shader and already working in Islay) and wavepower. Why can't Scotland be the testing ground for all these other sources of energy? There is only so much the local council can do; this is something the Executive should be supporting. Plenty of reasons why; the most important being supporting the local economy.
Posted on Arnish Lighthouse at 17:42

Ferries galore - or are there?

I'm blogging out of area again. Sorry. It is actually quite a large issue, and would like to hear from other island bloggers (Coll, Tiree, Colonsay and further down the Western Isles chain) about the below issue.

Councillors from Argyll and from South Uist had it out this week over the ferry services between the mainland and South Uist. People in South Uist prefer their ferry to go to Mallaig rather than Oban. The journey from Lochboisdale to Oban takes nearly 5½ hours, but from Lochboisdale to Mallaig is only 3 hours. In the 1990s, there was a summer service between the two ports, which was discontinued by operators Caledonian MacBraynes.

The Argyll councillor did not want another ferrylink to the Western Isles as they are already plentifully served with ferries. The South Uist councillor protested vehemently against his Argyll counterpart, as the introduction of the Mallaig ferry is seen as a potential boost of the Uist economy as a whole.

Central to this argument lies the fact that Eriskay, South Uist, Benbecula, North Uist and Berneray are all linked by causeways. A ferry also plies between Lochmaddy (North Uist) and Skye. The assertion by the Argyll councillor that the Western Isles are ALL linked by causeway is deplorably incorrect. Barra is linked to Eriskay by ferry, and Harris can only be reached by ferry from Berneray, Skye or (after a 40 mile roadjourney) Ullapool through Stornoway.
Another argument against the alleged (sic) supplementary ferrylink is that Colonsay, Coll and Tiree only have 3 sailings a week in the wintertime.

I think there are a few things not being made clear here. I would think (my idea) that on introduction of the Mallaig - Uist ferry, the Oban - Uist ferry link would be withdrawn. It would stand to reason that the Barra ferry would follow suit, or even be discontinued altogether. You can go from Barra to South Uist by inter-island ferry after all. Although the Argyll councillor does not say as much, Oban stands to lose a lot of traffic, trade and tourism if the Outer Isles ferry were to stop using it as its mainland terminus.

The Outer Isles are fairly well served by ferries, but the Skye to North Uist service is at best inconsistent, as its ferry has to be shared with the Skye to Harris route, both operating out of Uig, Skye.

Colonsay, Coll and Tiree are going to have air services in the near future. That is not as expensive as it may sound; I have done a 40 mile return air journey in Orkney return for £12.

As the Calmac routes are currently out for tender, I suggest (who am I) that a healthy debate be conducted over ferries, routes and frequencies on the West Coast. There is a lot of room for improvement.
Posted on Arnish Lighthouse at 19:57

Pigeons relocated from St Kilda

About 9 pigeons were rescued from St Kilda by the National Trust for Scotland, who own the archipelago, 45 miles west of North Uist. The homing pigeons, some of them from as far away as France, had been blown off course by bad weather over the southern UK. They were rescued and taken to Harris, 45 miles to the northeast. Had they stayed on St Kilda, the birds would have died of starvation. One of them had already been taken by a skua.
Posted on Arnish Lighthouse at 13:03

North Rona

I often look on the BBC Weather website at times of high winds to get even more extreme readings from this windswept outpost.

Map courtesy
Rona (or Rònaidh in Gaelic) is a remote Scottish island in the North Atlantic. Rona is often referred to as North Rona in order to distinguish it from South Rona, which lies north of Raasay, off Skye.

The island lies 71 km (44 miles) north north east of Butt of Lewis and 16 km (10 miles) east of Sula Sgeir at Grid reference HW812324. More isolated than St Kilda, it is the remotest island in the British Isles to have ever been permanently inhabited.

Rona is said to have been the residence of Saint Ronan in the eighth century. The island continued to be inhabited for many hundreds of years. However the entire population died in 1680 after rats reached the island, and a ship raided their food stocks. It was resettled, but again depopulated by around 1695 in some sort of boating tragedy, after which it remained home to a shepherd and family until 1844 when it was deserted.

Sir James Matheson, who bought Lewis in 1844, once offered the island to the Government for use as a penal settlement. The offer was refused.

The island still boasts the Celtic ruins of St Ronan's Chapel. It is owned by Scottish Natural Heritage, and managed as a nature reserve, for its important grey seal and seabird colonies.

Image courtesy

(Information: Wikipedia Online)
Posted on Arnish Lighthouse at 15:13

Of mice and men

Canna mouseIn the early days of Island Blogging Western Isles, I reported on the campaign to relieve Canna of its rat problem. Although we briefly enjoyed the presence of Cannablog, this seems to be on holiday, so I'll just finish the story, seeing as I started it.

Canna was plagued by an infestation of 5,000 rats. They predated on ground nesting birds, by eating eggs and chicks. Rather than just dosing the island with a load of rat poison, special precautions had to be taken first. Canna is home to a species of mouse not found elsewhere, and the rat poison would have wiped them out as well. So all the wee mice were caught and transported to Edinburgh for safe keeping. After all the rats were poisoned, back in February, a check was kept on Canna for 6 months, to verify that they really had all bitten the dust.

The National Trust for Scotland, who own Canna, are delighted to announce that the eradication of the rats was a success. Numbers of nesting birds have risen dramatically, with numbers of razorbills up tenfold and shags up 50%.

Manx Shearwater in flight (pic from RSPB website)A colony of Manx Shearwaters, which at one time numbered 1,500 breeding pairs, had been reduced to a pitiful 1 pair in 2002. NTS staff used a recording of the shearwater's call to lure the birds back to Canna, and it seems to have worked. Shearwaters also nest on the neighbouring island of Rum, 4 miles to the east. They use abandoned rabbit burrows for breeding, but otherwise spend their lives at sea.
Posted on Arnish Lighthouse at 17:51

Restoration Village

I was very pleased to note all the islands engaging in a blogging frenzy this weekend, particularly Orkney. What I did miss was a reference to North Ronaldsay's efforts to get its Dennis Head Lighthouse restored to a semblance of its former glory. So, I'll pick up the can - it doesn't appear that anyone from North Ron is blogging on here, I think.

Like with so many islands in Orkney, I have fond memories of North Ronaldsay, having spend one afternoon plus one weekend on it two years ago. I had intended to take the early Friday ferry at the tim e, but when I turned up on the quayside in Kirkwall, the boat had left. Its scheduled departure time, 9 am, was still 45 minutes away, but the skipper decided he could leave as he wasn't expecting anything or anybody else. To jollification with the timetable. So I had to fly. Ach, £12 return is probably even cheaper than the ferry fare.

To return to the subject of my entry: Dennis Head Lighthouse was built in 1788 on the eastern tip of North Ron. It was decommissioned 20 years later, after its unblinking light was found to be confused with a ship's light. I believe that 3 ships stranded near the tower on one occasion. The whale-oil lights were replaced with a stone ball, and another blinking lighthouse was erected half a mile to the north in the 1840s. This one is still in working order to this day.

The islanders want to restore the Dennis Head light (of 1788) to its former glory. A modern metal spiral staircase will be installed, and access given to the top of the tower. The keeper's cottages will be rebuilt and turned into period style self catering units. At present, the wee house is a ruin and the tower a guano filled shell. North Ronaldsay doesn't just want to restore the tower, the islanders also want to reinvigorate their aging and dwindling population. Cost of the project: £1.7 million.

North Ronaldsay is a singular island, where a 7 ft high wall runs along the entire foreshore. Sheep graze on the seaward side of the wall - on seaweed. They often meet groups of seals in the tidal area. The island gives a slightly delapidated appearance, due to the many abandoned buildings. I think it deserves a chance.

For fairness' sake, last Friday's programme also featured a magnificent former town hall in the Scottish Borders, which would look great if restored to its former glory. There was also a church in Cromarty, on the Black Isle north of Inverness, which had lain idle for about 8 years. It suffered badly from water ingress, but on restoration could become a new focal point for the community.
Posted on Arnish Lighthouse at 11:55

Transport Issues

A couple of things caught my eye in the local press this week which made me say "Did I really read that?". Yes, I did.

The Freight Transport Association has stated that speedlimits should be reviewed. In a letter to the Stornoway Gazette, it says (among other things) that the 40 mph speedlimit in some parts of the isles is too low. It does not allow engines to run at maximum efficiency, and says that 50 mph is a better limit, if stringently enforced. I rather think that road safety is more important than fuel efficiency. The assertion that the 40 mph limit was introduced to help curb greenhouse gas emissions made me say "What??". To its credit, the FTA also states that limits may have to be reviewed down.

Another "OMG [oh my goodness]" moment came a few pages further in the Gazette. Councillors and hauliers are unhappy with the MV Muirneag. This is the freight ferry, which takes lorries across to and from Ullapool in the middle of the night. Reliability is an issue, apparently. The councillors and hauliers want to replace the Muirneag as well as the Isle of Lewis ferry with one boat.

Well, to my knowledge (and from my position overlooking Stornoway Harbour I've got a fair idea what comes and goes), the Muirneag last had a major problem back in November 2005, during a week punctuated by high winds and technical problems with the normal ferry, MV Isle of Lewis. She has been sailing pretty much on schedule ever since, apart from a few episodes with storms in January.
The Muirneag (and its predecessor, colloquially referred to as "the white elephant") was laid on for the benefit of the hauliers, as well as indirectly for the other users of the Ullapool to Stornoway service. Previously, block bookings meant that space was reserved for lorries on the MV Isle of Lewis, irrespective of whether there were actually vehicles needing to cross. At times of high demand (mid summer), private vehicles had to be turned away, although there might have been physical space on the ferry. To alleviate this problem, the Muirneag was introduced to transfer heavy goods vehicles away from the main ferry service.

I have a better idea than to make a major capital investment like building a new boat. The Skye Bridge was made toll-free early in 2005. The A82 Glasgow to Crianlarich route is being upgraded as we speak. So, why doesn't the haulage for the isles not come up through the A82 / A87 corridor to Uig (Skye) and take the ferry to Harris? The A859 Tarbert to Stornoway is now a two-lane super highway, so there is no real reason not to redirect part of the freight traffic that way. OK, the people down in Skye might not appreciate having heavy lorries trundle down the A87. But if Calmac upgraded the crossing between Uig and Tarbert, or used the MV Hebrides to transfer freight by night, pressure on the Ullapool to Stornoway route might be relieved.
Posted on Arnish Lighthouse at 18:03

Clach an Truiseil

Clach an Truiseil
This is the Truiseal stone, a 18'10" [5.7 m] high monolith in the small village of Baile an Truiseil [Ballantrushal], some 2 miles north of Upper Barvas, here in Lewis. Pronounce the CH as you would the CH in LOCH.

It's not terribly well sign-posted on the tourist trail, although it does boast of a picknick table. Was not tempted to use it this afternoon, in the midst of a steady procession of rain showers marching north.

The Truiseal stone is reputed to have been a man in by-gone days, who had been turned to stone. A passer-by had heard the stone proclaim in sepulchral tones:

A Truisealach am I after the Fiann;
Long is my journey behind the others;
My elbow points to the west
And I am embedded to my oxters.

Some 20 miles to the southwest stand the much better known Callanish Stones. When you visit the site, there are a number of explanatory plaques, conjecturing about possible use of the Stones. But what I have to make of their by-name in Gaelic - Na Fir Bhreige [The Deceitful Men], I can only guess.

[Source: Lewis - A History of the Island, Donald MacDonald, 1978]
Posted on Arnish Lighthouse at 19:59

Update - Arnish Fabrication Yard

Today didn't start very well, with the announcement that the Arnish Fabrication Yard is to close as of next Monday. One month ago, the yard still employed 100 people and had a good orderbook. The last 13 workers will be laid off and the Yard will be closed, but on a care-and-maintenance basis. The operators Camcal are to be placed into administration, as no suitable successor has been found to take over. The yard will be mothballed, until another company is willing to come in.

The question needs asking what went wrong. After pocketing £20 million and another top-up by the local council, Camcal still went under. Do not think I put the blame squarely at Camcal's door. There is supposed to be a boom in the renewables industry, with windfarms sprouting like mushrooms all over Scotland. Unfortunately, it would appear that the boom was only a bubble. Another firm, involved in the construction of the nacelle [the turbine which converts the rotation of the blades into power], based at Machrihanish near Campbeltown in Kintyre is also reported in difficulty.

As I've said before, Arnish was supposed to bring hundreds of jobs to Lewis with the construction of the two windfarm projects in the island, if and when they are approved by the Executive. Even if another operator is found, willing to start up again, I very much doubt whether any island workers are prepared to chance their luck. Not after yet another fiasco at Arnish.
Posted on Arnish Lighthouse at 11:40

Update - Restoration Village

This morning, it was announced that the Scottish finalist in the Restoration Village programme was the Dennis Head Lighthouse on North Ronaldsay, Orkney.

The final vote, in the UK wide competition, will take place in September, and will set the old lighthouse against eight other contenders from other regions. The winner will gain £1.9million towards its restoration. This money would more than cover the projected cost of renovating the Lighthouse and keeper's cottage. It would also mean a much needed boost in the flagging fortunes of North Ronaldsay, as I reported in my initial piece.

I would like to join with the Scottish manager for the Heritage Lottery Fund [who back Restoration Village] in calling for people not just in the islands but in the whole of Scotland and beyond to back Dennis Head in the forthcoming final vote.
Posted on Arnish Lighthouse at 11:47

Child abduction

Police in Stornoway are investigating the possible abduction of a 12-year old girl from the town on Friday of last week. Molly Campbell, also known as Misbah Iram Ahmed Rana, was collected from the Nicolson Institute just before 11 am on Friday by her sister and taken to the airport for a flight to Glasgow.

At 1455, another flight left Glasgow, bound for Lahore, Pakistan, via Dubai. The plane landed at Dubai at 2120 GMT on Friday, before proceeding to Pakistan. Molly could be with her father in Lahore or with relatives in Karachi. However, it is her mother, Louise Campbell, who has the legal custody of the child.

Western Isles Police are working closely with Comhairle nan Eilean Siar (Western Isles Council), the Procurator Fiscal Service as well as Interpol to trace the youngster. Her welfare is paramount for the police, and they wish to see Molly reunited with her mother as soon as possible.

Anyone who saw Molly on her journey (portrait on this webpage) to Glasgow, Dubai or beyond is requested to contact police. In the UK the phonenumbers to use are Crimestoppers (anonymously) 0800-555111 or the Stornoway Police Station on 01851-702222.
Posted on Arnish Lighthouse at 18:25

Faclan - Hebridean Book Festival

Later today, I shall be attending the first contributions to the Hebridean Book Festival (Faclan - Gaelic for Words) at An Lanntair here in Stornoway.

It is a celebration of the Hebridean written culture, whether it be poetry or prose, in English, Scots or Gaelic. A line-up of the famous and not-so-famous in the world of writers and poets will discuss various topics. A specially commissioned play will be performed, and bands will play music.

Apart from the formal sessions, An Lanntair hopes that it will also forge a new network amongst writers in this part of the world, sharing ideas and views, forming new friendships and hopefully augmenting the culture of the Hebrides.

The Faclan website gives all the information on this major event, which starts today and ends of Saturday, 2nd September.

I shall personally attend a handful of events and will endeavour to report back on this blog.
Posted on Arnish Lighthouse at 11:43

NHS Western Isles

The chief executive of the Western Isles Health Board announced his resignation this morning. This follows the departure of the troubled Board's chairman earlier this month. I agree with statements from local politicians that the CEO was part of the problem at the Health Board, not part of a solution.

The Chief Executive was alleged to be central to allegations of bullying and harassment within the organisation. His departure was welcomed by the MSP, who said that he was pleased to see CEO's expertise would be retained within the NHS as long as it wasn't in the Isles.

With this second departure, the ongoing resolution of problems at the Board has taken another step forward. I am looking forward to the day that this has reached conclusion, and that excellence in patient care will be a headline related to the board, not the managerial malpractices of the recent past.
Posted on Arnish Lighthouse at 13:05

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