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7 November 2014

Arnish Lighthouse - August 2007

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Sunday sailings

The Hebridean Celtic Festival was expected to have been the stage for a trial run for Sunday sailings on the route between Stornoway and Ullapool, but Calmac said they weren't asked properly. Did someone forget the magic word? PLEASE.

I have posted about this before, and in my opinion we could do with Sunday sailings (even one return crossing) during the summer season. Planes have been flying in and out of the airport for a number of years, the Sunday ferry to Berneray has crossed the Sound of Harris for 16 months now and other islands in Na h-Eileanan Siar are served by CalMac on Sunday. Legally, therefore, opponents to Sunday sailings haven't got a leg to stand on.

I do appreciate, in two senses of that word, the special nature of Sunday on Lewis. It is good to have at least one day when the cars aren't flying round your ears, and you're not compelled to file through the aisles in a supermarket in a forlorn quest for consumer valhalla. I'd like it to stay that way. It is ominous though that the one shop in Stornoway that does open on Sundays is doing a roaring trade.

I hope someone in the Comhairle manages to use the words: "Can we have a ferry sailing on Sunday PLEASE" in correspondence with Calmac one of these days, if only to anticipate the 2008 summer season.
Posted on Arnish Lighthouse at 00:34


Just wanted to share a couple of shots from the Lewis Carnival last Saturday. Not as many as I should have taken - but trying to take pictures on South Beach Street was well-nigh impossible. Nonetheless, I have focused on the float which lampooned the airtraffic controller fiasco, reported on on this blog as well.

Posted on Arnish Lighthouse at 16:25


A new item in the link list: Videos from Lewis. These are either photo compilations, thrown together with Windows Movie Maker or short clips of live footage. An example is provided below, with footage from the Carnival.

Posted on Arnish Lighthouse at 16:30

Road Equivalent Tariff

Right, I've decided to stick my neck out on this contentious subject. The Executive in Edinburgh wants to run a pilot project on the Ullapool to Stornoway ferry route, which would see fares slashed by 30%. RET means that ferry fares will be equivalent to the cost of a similar journey by road.

It is suggested that RET could see the cost of taking a car back and forth to Lewis reduced from about £200 to £140, if the 30% is correct. Some figures even quote a fare of £30 for a car. RET would bring hundreds of jobs and millions of pounds of investment. The current cost of Calmac's fares is said to be a stranglehold on the island's economy. A study into the fare structures is to be carried out this year, with the actual pilot running in 2008.

This morning's 6.54am Highlands and Islands news bulletin had an Argyll politician complaining that his area, which is also rich in islands, peninsulas and ferries, was now being deprived of the RET pilot. It would draw tourism away from Argyll to the Western Isles. What utter rubbish. RET is supposed to be for the benefit of the islanders, not primarily for the tourists, although lower fares are bound to attract more people onto the ferries.

I am not 100% convinced of the benefits of RET. I agree that Calmac charges high fares, but it should be born in mind that the company still runs the Ullapool to Stornoway route at a loss. The total subsidy for Calmac is about £30m per annum, which will have to increase if RET is introduced. Subsidies are paid for by the tax payer, including residents of the islands. Calmac is the only company interested in running these life line services; the recent tendering exercise has shown that much. They are running 12 months of the year, including in winter, when hardly anybody is on board. That is something that the man in Argyll has to bear in mind.
Posted on Arnish Lighthouse at 15:27

Community buy-out : Park Estate

The community buy-out in the Park District of Lewis has hit a snag. Although the first community in Lewis to launch a bid, the Park Trust has met with determined opposition from the landlord in the shape of legal wrangles.

The territory of the Park Estate has been leased to Park Crofters, who in turn have subleased it to Park Renewables - for electricity company SSE to use for erecting 57 windturbines on common grazings. Basically, the moorland south and west of the B8060 Balallan to Lemreway road. It should be stressed that Park Crofters is a company controlled by the sitting landowner. The use of this instrument of interposed leases has been contested in the Scottish Land Court by the Scottish Executive and the Park Trust, who have launched the community buy-out bid. The Court has ruled that this is LEGAL under the 2003 Scottish Landreform Act. Legislation introduced since has closed this loophole, and it remains to be seen whether the new clauses can be made to be enforcible retrospectively.

I have previously made clear my strong support to the various community buy-outs across the Highlands and Islands. Although I am not happy with the proposed windfarm, I will say that if it has to go ahead let it at least be to the economic benefit of the Park residents.
Posted on Arnish Lighthouse at 13:42


I recently found an old, linen-backed map of central Lewis, showing the Grimersta Estate. This stretches between Loch Roag (south of Great Bernera) and Loch Langabhat. The map was part of an arrangement between James Matheson and others over shooting and fishing rights on the estate. The map is annotated with coloured sections, stretching from the northern shores of Loch Langabhat, from Loch Coire Geurad to the current B8011 Uig road (marked in blue) and north from the road to the shores of Loch Barraglom, south of Great Bernera (marked in red). Other sections, demarkated in dotted blue, stretch from the Grimersta River westward, and include the island of Great Bernera.

The map itself is endorsed with the text:
This is the plan referred to in the Minute of Agreement annexed to the Lease of Grimersta shootings and fishings, dated twenty second, twenty sixth and twenty ninth days of November Eighteen hundred and seventy two and is subscribed by us of even date therewith.
Signed by James Matheson, Alex D. MacLeay and a signature I cannot decipher.

If anyone has any further information about this map, please leave a comment.

Posted on Arnish Lighthouse at 13:20

Environmental vandalism

Yesterday, the news in the north of Scotland was dominated by protests against five windfarms on the Dava Moor, south of Inverness. This is an area of pristine wilderness, on which five lots of windturbines, each standing 500 feet tall, will be built. A Member of the European Parliament has branded these proposals environmental vandalism, and has promised to pull out all the stops to stop these schemes in their tracks.

Heard this before?

Lewis is threatened with three windfarms, with nearly 300 turbines, each standing 500 feet tall in areas of pristine wilderness, in the shape of the Barvas Moor, Eishken and Pairc. Methinks that's also environmental vandalism, industrialisation at an unmentionable scale and flagrant flouting of public opinion.
Posted on Arnish Lighthouse at 16:47

A story of internment

1 March 1916 - Groningen, Holland
The 1,500 men of the Royal Naval Division have been interned in this northern city since late 1914. Among them are just over 100 men from the Isle of Lewis. Donald Macleod is one of them. He was born in the village of Gearrannan near Carloway in December 1891. Donald was in the 1st Royal Naval Division, Benbow Battallion. His former schoolmaster at the Nicolson Institute, Mr Gibson, wrote him a Christmas card at the camp in December 1915. Donald replied on 2nd January 1916, extending best wishes to teachers and pupils at his school. He also expressed the wish that Holland would go to war, which would release his companions in Benbow Battallion and himself back into service for Great Britain.

On 1 March 1916, Donald was lying ill in the University Hospital. He died of pleurisy that day. A collection is held among the burghers of Groningen to buy a huge Celtic cross, out of sympathy with this lad of only 24, who died so far away from home. His mates from D company, Benbow Battallion have organised a huge wreath, in the shape of an anchor.

On passing along Groningen's main street, people stop and bare their heads. Shopworkers stand outside their premises, residents outside their doors, including maids and servants. The cortege finally pulls up at the Southern Cemetery, where Donald is laid to rest.

Donald's wish was not to be granted. Benbow,Drake, Collingwood and Hawke Battallions were to remain interned until the Armistice, in November 1918. Those that returned to the island after the war would not readily speak of their experiences. They felt it a matter of shame that they had led the 'cushy life' of an internment camp, where their fathers, brothers and sons had fought and died in the trenches or in the North Atlantic.

Two more Lewismen would not return home, but lie buried at Groningen: John MacLeay, of Shader, Barvas and John Smith of Lower Bayble. A fourth, Angus MacLeod of Portnaguran, was discharged home for being unserviceable - suffering from pulmonary tuberculosis. He died at Plymouth.

There are suggestions that four internees from Lewis perished in the Iolaire disaster of 1919, when the ship returning them to the island foundered outside Stornoway Harbour.

Posted on Arnish Lighthouse at 17:05

Faclan - Book Festival

The second Hebridean Book Festival Faclan is being held in Stornoway's arts centre An Lanntair this week. Unlike last year, I am not attending any of the lectures, as I am unfamiliar with the names. I did have a look round the books on sale in the foyer of the centre, but only came away with a transcription of a lecture, given by genealogist Bill Lawson 10 months ago in Gravir, South Lochs. He asserted that Lewis was not as badly affected by the Clearances as other parts of northern Scotland. I was glad to be able to read his well reasoned account, but that doesn't mean I agree with him.

It is immaterial whether a clearance leads to resettlement elsewhere in the island, elsewhere in Scotland or over in Nova Scotia, Canada. It remains a major upheaval. Whether the clearance was voluntary, engineered (through the tried and tested method of bumping up the rent deliberately to beyond the tenants' means), facilitated (passage paid for) - it cannot and should not be negated and belittled the way Mr Lawson does.

I am not a native of these parts, and perhaps can only sense from afar the distress and pain felt by those who were kicked out. I am currently reading a book I bought at last year's Faclan called The Crofters' Trail, which is about clearances all over Scotland.

The link to the present jumped out at me as I was reading a chapter about a clearance in North Uist. In 1987, the author, David Craig, visited the island just as many small island schools were being closed down. One islander complained to him: "It's just like the evictions, this closing of the schools over the children's heads".

There was talk earlier in the week of another round of school closures. I was baffled by the attitude of some councillors, oblivious to their own islands' history, and the sensitivities involved. I was pleased that others were not so blinkered, and voted for consultation on the matter.
Posted on Arnish Lighthouse at 16:44

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