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7 November 2014

Arnish Lighthouse - July 2007

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Lunar Standstill

Went to view the Lunar Standstill at Callanish late on Friday evening, only to be met by a cloudy southeastern skyline. It took an hour, after sunset at 10.30, for the moon to appear, by which time it was just above the head of the Cailleach nam Mointeach (the hill of Roineabhal near Balallan). Light was obviously very low at that point, but here is a selection of pictures. There was a pretty large number of people out to watch, even if it was a chilly evening. I'd put the number at around 50.

The Callanish Stones at dusk

Moon shining through the Stones

Moon just past the Sleeping Beauty

The Stones at midnight
Posted on Arnish Lighthouse at 11:29

Gloup Disaster

Blogging out of area again, I was listening to a program on BBC Scotland about the Gloup Disaster. This occurred on 20 July 1881, and claimed the lives of 36 fishermen from the Isle of Yell in Shetland. As the 126th anniversary is coming up, I would like to dedicate this entry to their memory. Although I am obviously blogging from Lewis, the theme is common to many island communities.

Following a period of bad weather, a clearance prompted the fishermen of Gloup to take to the fishing grounds, 40 miles out to the west. Unbeknown to them, a summer storm raced towards Shetland and fell ont hem with hurricane force winds. Many boats were found overturned with no sign of life.

Fifty-eight fishermen drowned, 36 of whom came from Gloup. They left 34 widows and 85 orphans.

Source: Wikipedia On-line Encyclopedia

Posted on Arnish Lighthouse at 21:27

Harris Tweed order refused

The new owner of the largest producer of Harris Tweed in the Western Isles, Brian Haggas, has declined one of the largest orders for Harris Tweed in 20 years. The order originated from Germany. Initially, weavers and producers had been delighted at the prospect of this order. Mr Haggas declined to comment, saying it was an internal matter.

The new owner has previously announced he would severely restrict the number of patterns (from thousands to 5), and that he would also focus on men's jackets.

It would appear that the Harris Tweed industry is continuing its decades long decline into oblivion at a steady pace.
Posted on Arnish Lighthouse at 00:11

Harris Tweed problems

Weavers and millworkers in the Harris Tweed industry in Lewis have reacted with horror to the announcement that a large order has been refused by industry owner Mr Haggas, as I quoted in previous post. .

A cooperative may now be set up independently to safeguard the continuity of the industry. One mill remains outside the realm of formerly Mackenzie's mills, which is the wee place over at Carloway. Their current market segment has been put at around 5%, and they're only working 3 days a week. My info may be out of date.

I hope this venture does win through, otherwise the Harris Tweed industry is down the tubes.
Posted on Arnish Lighthouse at 11:18

Harris Tweed U-turn

The multi-million pound order for Harris Tweed, initially declined by Mackenzie's Mills in Stornoway is now apparently back on again. Mill owner, Yorkshireman Brian Haggas, has declared that a reduction in patterns will not take place until the end of the year. The order will provide work until next March. It was also announced that the Shawbost mill, closed by Mr Haggas' predecessor Mr Murray, will be reopened to operate in competition with the Stornoway enterprise.

I think it's a very good idea to have a bit of local competition, as this is likely to prevent the wholesale ditching of the thousands of patterns. It would also appear that the German company had a contract, which they felt to be enforceable. It is for 75,000 yards of tweed, containing 20 patterns.
Posted on Arnish Lighthouse at 13:10

Entry of the fleet

It's Festival Week in Stornoway, and apart from much music, it is also the time for Sail Hebrides. In spite of some dreich conditions, the entry of the little flotilla, shepherded by coastguard tug Anglian Prince, went smoothly. A few pics:

Posted on Arnish Lighthouse at 16:22

Ferry passengers beware

In mainland Scotland, the A830 Mallaig to Fort William road is being upgraded. It is the final phase of works to double the single-track carriageway between Arisaig and Lochailort, about 5 miles or so. How long is this going to take? Answer below.

For reference, the A830 is an important link road for ferries to Skye and the Small Isles, which depart from Mallaig. It is of relevance for travellers to the Western Isles, who want to take a ferry from Uig, Skye. They're strongly advised to use the A82 from Fort William, then go up the A87 from Invergarry right through to Uig.
Anyone using the road to catch a ferry should take possible delays into consideration. The length of works suggests that all will be complete by early 2009.

Above map courtesy Ordnance Survey.
I am grateful to Westword for bringing this to my and their readers' attention.
Posted on Arnish Lighthouse at 17:56

Midnight gloaming

This image was taken at 1.10 am last night, and is a panorama. It comprises of several individual pictures, which were stitched together with a special program. Although we're 3 weeks past the solstice, it's still quite light. However, the nights are beginning to draw in, sunset time being 20 minutes earlier than in late June.

Posted on Arnish Lighthouse at 12:11

New helicopter

This morning, coastguard helicopter Mike Uniform touched down outside the Coastguard Station in Stornoway. It is a new aircraft, costing a trifling £16 million, which will come into full operation on 1 September. The helicopter will relocate to Stornoway Airport, 3 miles away, shortly. A number of people went over to have a look round the new machine. The crew is being trained to use the S-92 Sikorsky helicopter in its normal deployments for Search and Rescue. The old machines, designed 46 years ago, will be phased out this autumn.

Tomorrow, the aircraft will be on show at Sumburgh Airport in Shetland. Helicopters are based at Stornoway, Sumburgh, Portland (Dorset) and Lee-on-Solent (Hampshire). There was initially some misgivings about the Sikorsky, as it has no track record in SAR.
Posted on Arnish Lighthouse at 13:49

South Lochs

Explored the district of South Lochs yesterday afternoon. I know it quite well, having stayed in the area for 3 months in the winter of 2004/5. Managed to see all the villages there, and re-acquaint myself with its scenic beauty.

South Lochs is also the district which will be directly affected by a windfarm development by Scottish and Southern Energy (SSE), who intend to erect 500 ft turbines on the moors there. In my opinion that would destroy the visual and tourist amenity of the area. The hills there are not very high, I think the highest ones reach below 600 ft. Below image shows the central area where turbines are planned to be.

Glen Ouirn, west of Gravir

Garyvard, seen from Caversta

Currently, South Lochs' development is being stymied by non-cooperation from the sitting landlord. He is also frustrating efforts by the local community to mount a buy-out bid. The Scottish Land Courts are sitting in judgment on the instrument of interposed leases, which allow the landowner to scatter his land amongst a number of companies - which he himself has set up.

I am a strong supporter of community buy-out, and have been for more than a decade. I am also a strong opponent of the major windfarm developments in Lewis. South Lochs is not just going to be affected by the 57 turbines within the boundaries of the Pairc Estate, but will also have the turbines in the neighbouring Eishken Estate frowning over it.

South Lochs could do worse than exploit its tourism potential a lot further, rather than destroying it with vast turbine towers.
Posted on Arnish Lighthouse at 12:04


This statue, entitled Exiles, was unveiled by First Minister Alex Salmond yesterday, at Helmsdale on the east Sutherland coast. It shows a family, leaving their homes for a new life overseas. Helmsdale lies at the mouth of the Strath of Kildonan, one of many valleys in Sutherland cleared of their residents in the 19th century. The full background story can be read here.

Whilst I applaud the efforts of Mr Macleod (who initiated the project) to keep the memory of the Clearances alive, I somehow find the positive gloss being cast on this appalling episode in Scotland's history very, very difficult to stomach. Particularly, bearing in mind Mr Salmond's political hue, I would have expected to hear rather stronger language than "deplorable".

Thousands of people were forced by means fair and foul to leave their homes - the practice of burning the thatch over people's heads is well documented. The Isle of Skye, 35 miles south of here, has been the scene of some atrocious evictions. Late last year, the assertion was being made that the Isle of Lewis had suffered relatively lightly under the Clearances. Well, I couldn't disagree more.

Early in 2006, I published the below map on this blog, showing the district of Eishken and 27 villages which used to be there until 1820.

They were all cleared, mostly to other places within Lewis. But still a forcible eviction.

I agree that the people who were cleared out of northern Scotland did make a contribution in the areas where they settled. But I think it is a stinging indictment that their contribution was not appreciated in their homecountry, and I am waiting for the First Minister to say something about that too.
Posted on Arnish Lighthouse at 12:00

Hebridean Celtic Festival - service complaints

My eyebrows hit the ceiling this morning, when the newsfeed for the Highlands and Islands coughed up this story that people attending the HCF two weeks ago complained about the level of service.

The Hebrides are justifiably famous for hospitality, and this sort of feedback comes as an unpleasant surprise. Basically, people grumble at the length of time they had to wait to be served, either in shops or in restaurants and the like.

I have to say that this is the first time in the 12 years of the HCF that such complaints have surfaced, to my knowledge at any rate. The Festival is enjoying a continuing surge of interest, with close to 15,000 people coming to Lewis to attend. It should born in mind though that the total resident population in this island is about 20,000, so such a large influx puts a strain on human resources.

Lessons should be learned for the 2008 festival, so that adequate staff are hired in good time by various establishments. There is talk of a staffbank being set up. The only problem is that the summer season is short, and for the rest of the year (between October and Easter), alternative employment would have to be found for these folk; unless they are drafted in from elsewhere in Scotland or beyond.

I sincerely hope that those who experienced a level of service below their expectation during the Festival are not put off revisiting, and are willing to bear in mind that this was an extremely busy time for the island.
Posted on Arnish Lighthouse at 13:00

Find an air-traffic controller

With thanks to Annie B for the reminder.

In recent times, Stornoway Airport has suffered a shortage of air-traffic controllers. If one went off sick, it would leave the airport unmanned and therefore shut. One afternoon, last winter, it closed at 3.20pm and left a number of high-profile individuals high and dry. Or should that be low and dry, as they could not get airborne. Oh the inconvenience. Distracted our MP from cash for honours for a day. Perhaps that contributed to the scuppering of that inquiry. Wheesht.

Anyway, the other day, the same situation threatened to develop, and there was this beautiful new helicopter sitting on the tarmac, doing nothing. And wasn't the other air-traffic controller out fishing on Loch Langavat? What a nice exercise, send the chopper off to Langavat to find said ATC and airlift him to work.

The only problem is that Langavat is the largest loch on Lewis, 8 miles long, and it's quite easy to hide under the heather along its shores. So, Mike Uniform returned without ATC - I cannot remember how many if any flights were cancelled, I think it was three at most. And shock horror, if an emergency had arisen whilst Mike Uniform was fishing for trout on Langavat, it would have led to unacceptable delays in response times - or would it? Langavat is 25 miles southwest of Stornoway, which is about 10 minutes flying time.

Yes it's daft to send a helicopter out to look for a replacement member of staff. It just showed up, once again, that staffing crisis at the airport, and the ridiculous pressure being brought to bear to avoid closure of the airport as a result. C'mon folks, where are those brandnew airtraffic controllers?
Posted on Arnish Lighthouse at 15:41

Face from the War Memorial

This is Private MURDO MACKAY

Murdo last lived in Lewis at 2 Achmore,

He was the son of Norman and Catherine Mackay

He served in 1st Battallion, Cameron Highlanders
Service no: 3/5432
He died on 22 December 1914

He is remembered on the memorial at Le Touret, on panels 41 and 42
His name is mentioned on the Lewis War Memorial, under Lochs on plaque 1

Murdo Mackay is a casualty of the First World War. His name ranks amongst about 1,200 on the Lewis War Memorial, which stands just north of Stornoway, on a prominent hill - you can't miss it when you enter the town from another part of the island.

When the Great War broke out, some 6,000 islanders entered service with His Majesty's Armed Forces. That is every second man.

One out of every five or six who joined up made the ultimate sacrifice. They were lost in the mud of the trenches, to the U-boats or in the heat of the Arabian desert of what is now Iraq. Another two hundred were lost at a stroke when the Admiralty Yacht "Iolaire" foundered on the Beasts of Holm on 1 January 1919, the third worst maritime disaster in peacetime in the 20th century.

In the links section of this blog, there has been for a few weeks a link to "Faces from the War Memorial". It shows the casualties from the Great War, who originated from Lewis, with a portrait where available. Work is still in progress, and about half of the 400 portraits currently available still need to be incorporated. Additional details are also still being compiled. A claim to completeness cannot be made. A list of maritime casualties is available until the end of this week at the Maritime Exhibition in Stornoway Town Hall. I have been advised that army casualties are not possible to totally verify, as some have fallen unbeknown but unto God.

The "Faces" project was compiled from Loyal Lewis, Roll of Honour 1914-18, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and with help from Stornoway Historical Society and allied researchers.
Posted on Arnish Lighthouse at 12:13

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