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16 October 2014

Arnish Lighthouse - September 2006

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Faclan - Hebridean Book Festival / 30 August

Went to An Lanntair where I bought the book Calum's Road, and had it signed by the author, who was standing right behind me. A large collection of books was there for the buying, and it was just as well I only had £14 on me, or else I would have bought the lot. Faclan was opened by former Isles MP Calum MacDonald, who expressed hopes it might approximate the Edinburgh Book Festival. Islands Book Trust chairman John Randall proceeded to introduce Roger Hutchinson. Roger, himself a resident of the island of Raasay, just east of Skye, went on to tell the story of Calum MacLeod who was so fed up with submitted unsuccesful pleas to Inverness County Council for a road to his village of South Arnish, that he built it himself. Two hard miles. His aim, to prevent the depopulation of northern Raasay, was not achieved. Northern Raasay, ironically, was the precise area that previous owners of the island had cleared residents of the southern half to. Nowadays, everybody, bar one family, now lives in southern Raasay.

Mairi Hedderwick is best known for Katie Morag stories, although I think Mairi is a wee bit fed up with her. She told of her 6 months in a campervan, visiting 40 islands including a 6 week stint in Hiort [St Kilda]. The Katie Morag story of the Tiresome Ted stems from Mairi's own experience with a teddybear. Hers was thrown out with the rubbish - over a clifftop into the sea. The teddy promptly turned up on a beach a mile along the coast six months later. She took it back, but threw it back out again on moving house. Two years later, Mairi returned to a beach on the island of Coll, where all this was taking place - to find her teddybear on the beach. In a dreadful state - I saw it in her exhibition elsewherein An Lanntair. Mrs Hedderwick has drawn her own illustrations for Eye on the Hebrides and pocket diaries for 2006 and 2007.
Posted on Arnish Lighthouse at 12:16

Faclan - Hebridean Book Festival / 2 September

On Saturday, I went along to listen to David Craig, an excellent writer on the Highland Clearances. We start late, due to the very late finish to the previous session. Mr Craig tells some horror stories of the Clearances, the events in the 18th and 19th century in western and northern Scotland where thousands were forcibly evicted from home and land. They were shunted off somewhere else in Scotland or out to the Americas or Australia and New Zealand. The stories are heart rending. David's research took him right across Scotland, and it was very hard to pull the stories out of people. It's comparable to the trauma suffered through the Iolaire Disaster here in Lewis, which is not openly discussed.

A family from Kildonan, northwest of Helmsdale on the Sutherland coast, was kicked out and were ordered to march to the harbour at Portcawl. They brought their pet sheep with them. When they arrived at Portcawl, the landowner's agent (the factor) set his dog on the sheep, tearing it to pieces.

A family was expelled from Boreraig, Skye, and had to walk east along the shores of Loch Eishort, with their cattle in tow. At the end of the day, they camped out at Drumfearn, 5 miles away. Their tears were more prodigious than the milk, yielded by the cows, which were exhausted.

A family had been given notice to quit from their home at Sollas, North Uist. They had been deliberating whether to take the loom with them, or just to cut loose the tweed from it and take at least that along. When the factor turned up, he set fire to the roof thatch. This was so dry, that the sparks from the burning fell inside the loomshed and set fire to tweed and loom. Both were destroyed.
Posted on Arnish Lighthouse at 12:17

End of Summer

Summer is over, so much is clear. Although the heather is still blooming, as are the thistles, the dark mornings and short evenings are already here. When I went across the Barvas Moor yesterday morning, I noticed the grasses had turned yellow. Temperatures are dropping away and the ferry is back to its two-a-day-all-week-bar-Sunday sailings routine. Still a good complement of visitors about though, judging by what I saw congregating outside Somerfields on Saturday.

The Ferryloupers Blog pointed out that Kirkwall now has two-and-a-half supermarket. So has Stornoway. We have one-and-a-half Coop and one Somerfields. Like Kirkwall, the Somerfields used to be Safeways until nearly 2 years back, although our Somerfields has abandoned loyalty cards. The big Coop up Macaulay Road has expanded recently, and if they carry on like that they'll be able to join it up with their town centre branch on Cromwell Street. This is so wee that it doesn't have shopping trolleys, only baskets. On a busy day, you'll be joining the checkout queue at the frozen food department or (horror upon horror) at the Dairy section. On a quiet day you may only have to wait at the confectionery section.
Posted on Arnish Lighthouse at 11:43

Western Isles Archaeology Month

September is Western Isles Archaeology Month, and there are more than a dozen events to choose from. These vary from talks to walks, in places as far apart as Leverburgh and Ness; I have no information on events in the Uists or Barra, unfortunately.

The walks involve visiting ancient sites, like the Achmore Stone Circle, the middle age fortress at Dun Eistean, in Ness and the Galson shoreline.

The talks are on the results of field campaigns and surveys in the island of Lewis / Harris. There is also an open day at the Archaeology Centre in the Old School at Achmore, 9 miles southwest of Stornoway.

If you're in the island over the next 3 weeks and would like to come along, check for details in the full list, which is taken from Events Monthly.
Posted on Arnish Lighthouse at 20:21

Tide and times

It would appear that this weekend will see some big tides. My tidetable for Stornoway tells me that the fun starts tonight with a 5.3m high tide at 7.30, with two tides at 5.5m on Friday and Saturday at the later times of about 8 and 9pm respectively. Fortunately, there will be little wind, or else there might well be a problem.

The residents of Mull have been issued with sandbags to keep out the salty main, I'll check the harbour-side streets of Stornoway tomorrow to see if the sandbags are out as well. The converse low tides will be lower as well, with two low tides (occurring at 3 am) right down to 0.1m. It's a pity it's in the dead of night, or else I'd go across to Tolsta and try to walk round from the Traigh Mhor to Garry Beach along the tideline. The tide at 3pm is a foot higher, so I don't think this trip will be possible then.

Hopefully the pictures will be back with Island Blogging after the weekend, when I'll post some images from Stornoway.
Posted on Arnish Lighthouse at 11:16

Arnish Fabrication Yard - update

Although I was criticised on my posting on this issue for getting facts wrong, I don't think I was that far out now that I can report that the Arnish Fabrication Yard has been put on a care and maintenance basis, with two employees left of the total workforce. It gives me no pleasure at all to see this outcome.

Potential buyers have failed to come forward to take over operations from Camcal, as a sole party which expressed an interest did not follow up on that. Current operators Camcal are in financial difficulties and need another company to take over from them.

I sustain my criticism of those in higher authority for failing to support the facility just outside Stornoway, which could be a source of employment for dozens if not hundreds in Lewis. I am not just talking about pouring in the millions, as this has proven not to work. Whether it be 9 million or 20 million, it appears to have gone down the plughole. Neither am I wholly blaming Camcal for that.

The Scottish Executive is implementing central government policy for renewable energy. So we have windfarms sprouting like mushrooms across the highlands and islands. One of the projects that Arnish was involved in was an offshore windfarm in the Beatrice oilfield in the northern North Sea.

But the focus should not be wholly on windpower, as I continue to argue. The Pelamis wavepower units, which were produced at Arnish, were for use in Portugal. Although a Scottish invention, trialled in Scotland and produced in Scotland, no effort was made on the part of the Scottish Executive to foster Pelamis for use in Scottish waters, and our waters a lot rougher than down in Portugal.

Another hot potato in the case of the viability of the Arnish yard is 6-day working. Other yards operate 7 days a week. With all respect to religious conviction, if you only operate 6/7, you lose 14% of your potential capacity.

When are we going to see more than just lipservice from the Executive, and get some action to support the Western Isles' economy?
Posted on Arnish Lighthouse at 11:41

Couple of bits and pieces

Last Friday, a mock-up accident was set up outside the Town Hall. One car on its side, the other on its roof. The emergency services attended, and a demonstration was given as to how police, ambulance, fire and coastguard services operate and co-operate. First priority is to make the casualties safe, and the scene safe for other road users. Anyone involved in the incident who couldn't liberate themselves from their cars was cut free. There was one "fatality", which was attributed to the "victim" not wearing seatbelts. Once the casualties were made safe and stabilised, they were transferred "to hospital" using the Coastguard helicopter. The object was to raise public awareness of the work of the emergency services, and to shock young drivers into sensible driving. The mock-up was well attended, and everything was cleared within about 40 minutes.
The scene of the mock-up
As promised some pictures of the high tides. Although the highest tides peaked at 5.5m above chart datum, nothing untoward has been reported. We were lucky that it was a very quiet weekend. Not so just now, as I am typing this (9pm on Wednesday), the wind is touching force 6 outside. The remnant of Hurricane Florence is due over the island on Sunday.
The island off Goat Island is normally linked to the latter - not that evening

I am pleased about the discussion surrounding the mothballing of the Arnish Fabrication Yard. The commitment of the Scottish Executive to wavepower, as reported by one commentator, is late in coming. I don't think opposition to windpower had anything to do with the closure of Arnish. It is just plain poor management on the part of ALL involved.
Posted on Arnish Lighthouse at 21:12

West Side

Last week, I was over on the West Side, showing an antipodean visitor round. Managed to visit three villages there, Gearrannan, Dalmore and Dalbeg.

Gearrannan Blackhouse VillageGearrannan contains the Blackhouse Village, the restored blackhouses at the end of the road by the beach. I hope they have by now shifted those containers by the gate at the bottom. They smelled as if they had recently contained dead sheep. Otherwise, I was pleased to note that the thatch on the houses has now been renewed. It looked worn in the spring. I always like Gearrannan; at one time I reached there, having walk from Borrowston round to the Lamishader lighthouse and coming in from the west. Some great views can be had when walking east over the clifftops towards Dalmore. Looking west, you see Old Hill (the 270 ft high hump of rock north of Great Bernera) and Gallan Head, the cape off Aird Uig.

You can walk from Gearrannan to Dalmore - please be very careful near clifftops if you do. It takes about an hour and a half, follow the posts. Dalmore has a great beach, if lined with large boulders and coastal defence works. Swimming here is dangerous, but it's great for windsurfing. The cemetery stands immediately above the beach. Dalmore village only contains a handful of houses; the ruins of others dot the hillsides.
Dalmore Beach
Dalmore Village
Dalbeg is 40 minutes' walk further east, and a little gem of a place. The loch is filled with rushes and water lilies and a small flock geese swam around. The stack on the right hand side of the beach is quite distinctive. The river flowing into the beach is only 50 or 100 yards long, but in common with many rivers flowing into Lewis beaches, it meanders and changes its path on a regular basis.
Dalbeg Beach
The West Side walk carries on from here, all the way to Bragar. It passes to the north of Shawbost, with the Congested Districts Board Wall between Dalbeg and Shawbost presenting a bit of an obstacle. It's a beautiful coastline walk from Gearrannan to Bragar, which can be done on a day. Please be careful on a windy day; beware of the cliffs.
Posted on Arnish Lighthouse at 11:31


Was very pleased to note that the Galson Trust managed to gain the sum total of money to acquire the Galson Estate. One of the parties involved is the John Muir Trust, well known for managing Ben Nevis, Britain's highest mountain. JMT has put £10,000 towards the funds and will work with the Galson Trust to develop the estate.

It should be noted that the JMT is a leading opponent to the proposed windfarm for North Lewis; 70 of the 190 proposed turbines will stand on Galson Trust land, should the windfarm be built. The John Muir Trust has also stated that it will withdraw support, including money, from the Galson Trust if the windfarm is actually constructed.

A few weeks ago, a document was published by the Scottish Executive to the effect that marine renewable energy sources should be utilised, as well as those from wind. This is a development I applaud, but I am burying my head in my hands as it appears to be late, if not almost too late for the Arnish Fabrication Yard. At time of writing, an announcement is imminent on the future of said yard which is currently staffed by 2 people on a care-and-maintenance basis. Negotiations have been on-going between Camcal, the current operator, and a potential new operator. I sincerely hope this comes to a successful conclusion. Earlier this year, the Arnish Yard manufactured units for the Pelamis Wavepower generator units. These float on the surface of the sea, with the motion of the waves being used to generate power. The Pelamis units were for use in Portugal. If Arnish can stay open, they could yet become a centre for wave- and possibly tidal power generator units.
Posted on Arnish Lighthouse at 12:38

Coastal Marine Park

Last year, the Scottish Executive conceived the idea of establishing a Coastal Marine Park along the Scottish West Coast, from the Solway Firth north to the Outer Hebrides, including the coastlines of Argyll, Lochaber, Wester Ross and the Western Isles.

Scottish Natural Heritage, as the consultative agency for the Executive, has been asked by the Environment Minister to provide advice on the aims, structures and running costs of said park. Without engaging in a formal consultation process, SNH submitted the advice in March. Scottish Ministers then embarked on their own round of consultation.

A marine park would have the following aims:
- conserve and enhance natural and cultural heritage
- encourage sustainable use of resources
- promote tourism
- promote sustainable economic development

The groundswell of opinion appears to be strongly AGAINST the marine park, as it is perceived that it could strangulate the fishing industry, impose tourism on an industrial scale on the area and drive people away.

A second reason for opposition is that another layer of bureaucracy would be imposed, another quango [quasi non-governmental organisation], accountable to no one, introducing more and more regulation.

I have heard very little about it, and only this weekend managed to lay my hands on a decent article on this matter. It doesn't sound like good news to the Isles - putting it bluntly, the Western Isles could soon be reduced to a themepark. Anybody got an opinion?
Posted on Arnish Lighthouse at 22:45

Arnish Fabrication Yard - 24 September 2006

Images speak louder than words
Sign at the entrance

The entrance

I have omitted a picture showing a misspelled claim to property on one of the pipes, stored in the yard.
Posted on Arnish Lighthouse at 22:21

Matheson Memorial

Matheson Memorial
Today, the renovated Matheson Memorial was officially inaugurated in the Stornoway Castle Grounds, following a major refurbishment. Those arriving into Stornoway by ferry may be familiar with the monument, which stands on a hill overlooking the harbour.

It was erected by the wife of Sir James Matheson (1796 - 1878) in his memory. The inaugural ceremony was attended by representatives of the Matheson Clan and from the Jardine-Matheson company, co-founded by James Matheson in the 1820s.

Sir James Matheson made his fortune in the opium trade, and could arguably be referred to as a drugsbaron. This may well elicit a few gasps of horror in certain circles, but it should be born in mind that Great Britain went to war to protect its interests in said opium trade. At the end of the Opium Wars, Hong Kong was occupied by Britain, only to be ceded back to the People's Republic of China in 1997.

Matheson meanwhile returned to Scotland in 1842 and purchased the Isle of Lewis. For his efforts to alleviate the effects of the potato famine (1846/7) in Lewis, he was awarded a baronetcy in 1851.

Matheson was also responsible for the clearance of the southern half of Park (Eishken), with the 36 villages I have blogged about before. Sheep being more profitable than people, I presume.
Posted on Arnish Lighthouse at 16:46

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