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7 November 2014

Arnish Lighthouse - March 2007

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Fank '07

Calumannabel made a timely reminder that it is indeed that time of the year again. Time for friskyness at the South Dell fank!

The arrangements are already beginning as I type. A one-way system will be in operation across the island, with only clockwise movement allowed on the roads. That is to say, from Stornoway to Barvas up to South Dell; those leaving the fank will have to continue round to Skigersta and make their way south across the moor to Tolsta. I thought the council had allocated £80 million for those 10 miles of road years ago, so there should be a road by now. Or did I hear someone say BCCI?

Public transport arrangements are also being trialled, in the shape of the minirail system that is envisaged for the Castle Grounds. Tracks will be laid over the Barvas Moor over a distance of about 20 miles to Dell, and the carriages will be fully wind- and waterproof. I don't know about windproof, but perhaps Somerfields and the Coop could stop selling baked beans in the last week of this month.

In order to get female participants across the Minch, a cruiseliner has been chartered - the one that called here on a Sunday last May. The chaps will have to row it across the Minch in a hollowed log, although a refreshment stop will be provided on Eilean Tighe, on the Shiants, before the last leg into Stornoway. Men arriving by any other means but a carved-out log will not be allowed to proceed to the Fank.

Further updates from Calumannabel.
Posted on Arnish Lighthouse at 22:53

Monday notes

I was worried just now, when I clicked on the AIS website. This shows movements of shipping around Stornoway harbour. The Isle of Lewis ferry had just left, and the Automatic Information System told me that it was due in Ullapool on May 3rd.

I'm sure that's a mistake.

Last Saturday's lunar eclipse was eminently visible from Stornoway, so here are a few snaps I took between 9.30pm and 12.30am.






Posted on Arnish Lighthouse at 14:36

Eishken Windfarm

I think everybody was so busy blustering about the North Lewis windfarm that they forgot about another windpower project in the island. Eishken.

The initial project was for 133 turbines in the north and west of the estate, which the estate owner magnanimously agreed to reduce to the puny number of 53. The towers are as tall as the proposed North Lewis ones, 460 feet. The project is also referred to as the Muaitheabhal windfarm, after one of the hills it'll be desecrating.

I am as opposed to this as I am to the North Lewis project. However, because nobody lives in Eishken, apart from those at the lodge, and only about 200 in South Lochs and 50 along Loch Seaforth, opposition has been very sketchy and ineffectual. There are three things wrong with the Muaitheabhal project, to lay the finger on just those amongst many others.

1 - The scenery will be spoiled, and not just that of the Eishken Hills. The Harris Hills, a hop and a step across Loch Seaforth, will also be overshadowed by the turbine towers.

2 - The population of wildlife, which includes eagles, stands to be harmed by the turbines. Even with a 60% reduction. Here, as well as in North Lewis, peat will be disturbed on steep hillsides, with no real indication about the impact that will have.

3 - Does the community benefit? Kinloch residents could join the Muaitheabhal Trust, and 6 turbines would be community owned. Those not joining the Trust would not benefit. Nice one. But does the community want the project? Methinks not, according to an unofficial, house-to-house poll. A secret ballot has never been conducted - here not either.

Scotland's First Minister, Jack McConnell, can't wait to give planning consent for the Eishken project. He stated today that there had been enough talk locally, and that it is time for action. Action being the economic regeneration of the Western Isles through renewable energy projects. He hinted that announcement on granting planning consent for the Eishken windfarm is imminent.

This stance by the First Minister augurs very ill for those who do not want the North Lewis project. Like local politicians, Mr McConnell seems to think wind energy will be the economic salvation of the Western Isles in general and the Isle of Lewis in particular. With all respect to Mr McConnell, that assumption is ill founded. If my reading of public opinion is correct, his stance on this issue generally is at loggerheads with sentiments in the island and could cost him dearly at the forthcoming Scottish Parliamentary elections on May 3rd.
Posted on Arnish Lighthouse at 23:26

First Minister

Jack McConnell paid a visit to Lewis on Monday, as I reported in my last post. He experienced the airtraffic control problems at first hand, suffering a half hour (or so) delay, as the one controller had to take a break.

Mr McConnell also brought a drugs dog to Lewis, which will be used to sniff illicit substances on people and in goods coming to the island. Roxy will be deployed at the airport and in the ferry terminals. A handler, a local police constable, has also been trained.

Drugs are not a major problem in the island, but they have not left it unaffected. Cocaine, cannabis and heroin have all been detected in small quantities. I hope the presence of Roxy and her handler will act as a deterrant - illicit drugs is something that everybody, the world over, can do without.
Posted on Arnish Lighthouse at 13:54

Park Windfarm

Read in a small article in the Press and Journal today, that Scottish and Southern Energy have discussed with the Park Trust proposals for siting a windfarm on their land. The turbine towers here will rear 500 feet above ground level, although their number was not disclosed. Total capacity would be around the 250 MW mark.

First of all, the Park Trust do NOT own the estateland in South Lochs just yet. They are currently entangled in a legal fight to wrest ownership from the sitting landlord and into community ownership.

Whether these turbines are part of the Eishken Windfarm, which is expected to gain planning consent from the Scottish Executive later this month, or a separate entity is not entirely clear to your writer. The 53-turbine Eishken Windfarm contains 6 turbines for the community of Kinloch, of which Pairc is a part.
Posted on Arnish Lighthouse at 16:55


The oil drilling rig Sedco 711 has been stationary off the east coast of Lewis, just within sight of Stornoway since early on Friday. According to AIS, which shows the positions of auxiliary vessels (like the tugs Far Sky and Far Fosna), it is located off Marvig, between Loch Erisort (Cromore) and Loch Ouirn (Gravir).

Either of the tugs have been alongside pier no 3 since Friday. A stand-by safety vessel, the Ocean Viscount is near the rig. I'm absolutely consumed with curiosity what is going on, as all vessels associated with the rig are said to be on their way to Killibegs (Co Donegal, Ireland), due there on March 9th. There is an air of deja-vu about this, as the sight of oilrigs was common in Stornoway in the 1980s.

The rig arrives at 6.30 a.m.

View in broad daylight

alt="Ominous clouds on Friday afternoon">
alt="Ocean-going tug Far Fosna returning to station">

This afternoon (Monday) I went over to the Battery to have a better look at the rig, but visibility got a bit impaired with a shower which decided to blow up.

Showery cloudscapes

Posted on Arnish Lighthouse at 23:06

Most dangerous job in the country

I'm once again going to blog out of area, but I think the topic is universal around our coasts.

A week or so back, a fisherman was retrieving his creels from the bottom of the sea near the Isle of Eigg (south of Skye), when he had a mishap with the hauler. This is a small winch, used for pulling the creels up. After stopping the hauler for disentangling some rope, loops of rope caught the controls of the machine and it started up unexpectedly. The fisherman's hand was caught in the hauler, and as a result he lost three fingers. These were put on ice whilst he was transferred to hospital in Glasgow. Efforts to sow them back on again were not successful.
The fisherman has returned home, blessing his luck.

The rope could have yanked him overboard, or he could have bled to death. Fishery is the most dangerous job in the country, according to some statistics, and it is a sadly recurring theme to hear of a fisherman lost overboard, never to be found again.
Posted on Arnish Lighthouse at 17:31

Oilrig update

The oilrig Sedco 711, which I reported on a few days ago, has now departed for its position off Co Donegal. Apart from being weatherbound in the Minch, the crew of the two anchor-handling vessels (Far Sky and Far Fosna) were changed at Stornoway. The port here has a facility for vessels to change crews, offering a 25% reduction in harbour dues, provided they depart within 24 hours. The third boat, Ocean Viscount, came into port at dusk last night, manoeuvering very gingerly as far as Glumag Harbour, before leaving at 9pm. Apparently, the two tug boats can handle anchors up to 22 tons.

Isles FM also reported that the Coastguard were offered the facilities of the AIS system (Automatic Information System), which I use daily to see which vessels come and go up and down the Minch. The link was previously featured by blogger Thewhitesettler; here are the updated links for points of interest to BBC Island Bloggers.

The Minch

Posted on Arnish Lighthouse at 13:48

Lewis Railways

Lewis did have railways, around the turn of the 19th/20th century. There was a railway from the quarry at Bennadrove to Stornoway. Posts related to this track can still be found in the Castle Grounds, opposite the Caberfeidh Hotel.

A trackbed was laid near Garrabost in Point, but a railway was never built. The same fate befell the track, linking Carloway to Stornoway along what is now the Pentland Road. It was a plan conceived by Lord Leverhulme, who also envisaged lines from Stornoway down to Lochs and Tarbert, as well as over to the West Side. None of these ever came to be.

In a recent revision of traffic movements in Stornoway, the Comhairle suggested the institution of a narrow gauge railway from the Waterwheel (off Willowglen) to the YM Bridge and on to Cuddy Point. A branch would lead down Cromwell Street. Carriages would be fully enclosed, and a train would carry 24 people.

The idea is nice and the underlying philosophy laudable. It is a good idea to reduce the number of car journeys into the town centre. The Manor Roundabout in rush hour is (apparently) a bottleneck.

However. I do not see how car drivers can be tempted to veer up Willowglen Road, park up around Ardshellach (a residential area), dive down a very steep muddy track to jump on a wee train. Which can only take 24 people, and how about luggage? I've dubbed it the Castle Grounds Express, but cannot see it taking off.
Posted on Arnish Lighthouse at 23:32


The controversy surrounding the three windfarms on Lewis took on a new slant on Wednesday. Apart from having some 300 turbines on the island (181 in North Lewis, 53 in Eishken and 65 in Pairc], standing 450 to 500 feet tall, there is also the associated infrastructure. I am talking powerlines, substations and the line to the mainland, referred to as the interconnector.

Having generated all that power, it obviously has to go to the National Grid, which is envisaged to be via the interconnector (a 60 mile long subsea cable) to Little Loch Broom, south of Ullapool. From there, a line will be built to Beauly, west of Inverness. The existing powerline from Beauly to Denny (near Stirling) is due to be upgraded.

Restricting this post to the island side of this infrastructure, the residents of Gravir (10 miles east of Balallan) were unpleasantly surprised to learn that their tiny township had been selected as the site for the interconnector from Lewis to the mainland. Gravir sits at the head of Loch Odhairn, surrounded by moorland, linked by road to Lemreway in the south, Marvig in the northeast and Balallan (on the main A859 Stornoway to Tarbert road) in the west. I happen to know the area very well indeed.

In order to house the interconnector, powerlines will be marching across the moors from Stornoway to Grimshader, Crossbost / Leurbost and Keose, then under Loch Erisort to Garyvard and over the moors to Gravir. A huge substation will be built near the village, the size of 20 houses. Pylons will also feed in from the Eishken windfarm, as well as from the Pairc turbines on the adjacent estate. Basically, Glen Odhairn stands to be industrialised, where at present it is a wilderness, backing on to the Eishken estate.

This map (opens in separate window) shows my personal interpretation of the information at hand. I do NOT make any claims to accuracy.

Local residents have expressed outrage at the prospect of having huge pylons and infrastructure right outside their front doors. Concerns have also been aired about the possible harmful effects of high-voltage powerlines; some research suggests that the electromagnetic fields surrounding these transmission lines is a contributary factor in the development of childhood leukaemia.

It was stressed by developers SSE that this is only a voluntary exercise, with more formal sessions to follow later. A planning application is yet to be submitted, and construction is a long way off. A public exhibition is due to be held at Stornoway, Kershader and Ullapool by SSE in mid-April.

I have so far refrained from passing comment on the Pairc windfarm, bearing in mind the efforts to buy out the estate, but I sometimes wonder if those in favour of these schemes have properly visualised the impact a windfarm with associated infrastructure has.
Posted on Arnish Lighthouse at 18:19

Petition against on-shore windfarms

On February 14th, I posted a link to a petition to the Prime Minister. He has now responded, and I'll copy the petition and Tony Blair's reply below. I found the third paragraph very interesting.

Details of petition:
"We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to withdraw all subsidies and support to on-shore wind farms in valued landscapes."

"We agree with the need to find methods to prevent climate change affecting our environment but this must be done with the full support of the public. No attempt can be successful if it destroys the very environment that we hope to save. We call for support for renewable energy projects that are NOT divisive in nature. We call for greater subsidies to small/personal micro-generation schemes such as solar heating. The major mechanism for reduction in CO2 and other greenhouse gasses must be responsible cooperation with the public, NOT imposition of unwanted areas of policy that threaten many households. On-shore wind farms may (when subsidised with public funds) provide large profits to multi-national corporations but their contribution to CO2 reduction is small when weighed against the savings that are possible IF the public feel that they are part of the solution and not having to fight against it!"

PM's reply
The onshore wind industry does not receive any direct grant subsidy or support above that available under the Renewables Obligation (RO). The RO is a mechanism that allows for renewable energy generators to receive a premium for every Megawatt of electricity generated. The UK has one of the best wind profiles in Europe, with the potential to supply a significant portion of our energy needs. Wind energy currently offers the best, and most cost-effective, potential in the short to medium term for the expansion of renewables. However, all proposed wind developments must take place within the formal planning procedure, which allows all relevant stakeholders to have their view and assess all relevant impacts on the environment, local community etc.

The Government remains committed to renewable energy, and has put in place a substantial framework to encourage its development. The Energy White Paper Our energy future - creating a low carbon economy sets out a clear strategy to reduce harmful emissions over the next 50 years with a major expansion of renewable energy and energy efficiency at its heart. It sets out four goals for the Government's energy policy: to work towards cutting emissions of carbon dioxide by some 60 per cent by around 2050; to maintain the reliability of energy supplies; to promote competitive energy markets in the UK and beyond; and to ensure that every home is adequately and affordably heated. It is within this wider context that the development of renewables takes place.

In March 2006 Government published the microgeneration strategy which contains a number of measures to address some of the wider barriers preventing the development of a sustainable market in microgeneration. These include measures to tackle upfront costs, including to help microgenerators gain better access to the rewards for generating electricity e.g. easier access to Renewable Obligation Certificates and improved rewards for electricity exported to the grid. In last weeks Budget a 50% increase in funding for householders to install small scale renewables such as micro wind turbines and solar panels was announced. This will take the total available under the Low Carbon Building Programme to more than £18million. At the same time the scheme is to be re-shaped to make best use of the extra funding. Proposals will be brought forward in May.

The Government has also committed over £500m to help develop emerging renewables and low carbon technologies in the period 2002 - 2008. Beyond that, a new joint Defra/DTI Fund, the Environmental Development Fund, has been set up that will provide a boost to investment in renewable energies and other green technologies aimed at reducing carbon emissions. Final details of the scale and scope of the Fund will be announced in the Spending Review.

Posted on Arnish Lighthouse at 20:55

Health Board news

I am pleased to report that the Renal Dialysis unit has opened at the Western Isles Hospital. It has taken a sustained campaign to get this very necessary amenity to Stornoway. Before now, patients had to travel to Raigmore Hospital in Inverness several times a week for renal dialysis.

The GP and practice manager at The GP practice in Gravir, serving 360 residents in South Lochs, have both announced their retirement. They are a husband and wife, who have served the community for 24 years. The Health Board now aims to either find a new doctor to take the practice on, or convert it into a satellite surgery to incorporate South Lochs.
Posted on Arnish Lighthouse at 17:08

Peat bogs should be preserved - National Trust

Found this article on the BBC News website, featuring the opinion of the National Trust. They state that the government should aim to preserve peatbogs.

Apparently, the British bogs store 20 years' worth of carbon emissions by the UK as a whole. However, changes in the environment mean that the bogs dry out in certain areas, leading to a release of the carbon into the atmosphere as CO2 - one of the so-called greenhouse gases.

Now, this has huge relevance here in Lewis as well as across the Highlands. Lewis is covered by a blanket of peat, up to 6 metres (20 ft) thick. When the windfarms, proposed for North Lewis, Pairc and Eishken are built, a large amount of peat stands to be disturbed.

This scientific statement is NOT new, it has been brought up in objections raised against the windfarms. Bearing in mind the shift in government stance on renewable energy (see two posts back), I think it is very important that this be taken into account. I am aware that this is the National Trust (not for Scotland), but the implications are most certainly there for this island.
Posted on Arnish Lighthouse at 17:22

Renewables, windfarms, cabling

First of all, some good news. The Arnish Fabrication Yard is set to reopen, offering 10 jobs from the start, which may increase to 40 jobs later on. The operators are a Dutch / Swiss consortium Altissimo, who aim to preserve the Camcal name. Camcal went into receivership in the last quarter of 2006, leading to dozens of job losses and severe financial hardship for several island business.

Although it is good to see this heavy industry raised from the ashes (again), I wonder who will be prepared to stake his long-term future on Camcal as is now. This is the third reinvigoration of the Yard, after two failures, the last in the face of a boom market for renewables. IF the windfarms in Lewis come to be, this might be the place for the turbines to be built.

The controversy surrounding the windfarms continues to rage. A very interesting letter caught my eye in the Stornoway Gazette last Thursday, in which the correspondent suggested that the landfall for the interconnector be put in one of the sealochs on the Eishken Estate. The most logical choice would be Loch Shell. Kinlochshell is uninhabited, miles from anywhere and will not sully anybody's surroundings with pylons, substations and the like.

I have drawn another map, suggesting a different infrastructure.

Kinlochshell is marked on the map. P denotes the approximate position of the Pairc windfarm, M the approximate position of the Eishken project and X, just southwest of Balallan, is the link-up with the existing high-voltage network in the island. Very few people indeed will be inconvenienced by the cabling if done this way. I think it's the grand total of two houses - one near Kinloch Seaforth, the other half a mile further west at Sideabhal.

Probably too simple...
Posted on Arnish Lighthouse at 19:17

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