Title picture: Loch a'Chrotaich, Airinis, 28 April 2014

Sunday, 20 July 2014


I am profoundly saddened by the loss of life in the crash of MH17 over Ukraine. I am horrified that a surface-to-air missile was used to down a civilian airliner, one that, using the right technology, was easily identifiable as such. I am thoroughly disgusted at the behaviour of so-called separatists in eastern Ukraine, who are doing all they can to cover up any Russian involvement - like rocket debris.

However, I am prepared to accept that no Russian government would have sanctioned any such attack in advance. It would have been better for the Moscow government to have publicly distanced itself from the rebels for the time being - yet they continue to back them, by implicating the Ukrainian government in Kiev. The latter is not in control of the area around Donetsk where the plane came down, and can therefore not be responsible.

We have seen the line taken by Vladimir Putin since last March, when he engineered the annexation of Crimea, and his subsequent efforts to destabilise Ukraine. His plans have not gone as he might have anticipated, because he is applying 1980s tactics to the 2010s. The world has changed, and this will change the world a little further. Putin may afford to ignore the anger of the Dutch PM, Mark Rutte. He will, however, not be able to ignore the anger of other European governments, nor that of Australia.

At this time, my thoughts remain with the 298 people who died near Grabovo, Ukraine, their family and friends.

Thursday, 17 July 2014

Tuesday 15 July

Although a shower was falling over Eriskay at 9 am, the day turned out to be absolutely glorious and warm. My camera was giving me grief, but I was given the loan of another camera, which allowed me to continue to take pics. The bus for Eriskay came at around 10, and we were on the ferry not long after. The boat was packed to the gunwhales, and there was a huge queue for tickets. The Loch Alainn is not as comfortable as the Loch Portain, which plies the Sound of Harris. However, the sun was shining and it was getting quite warm. At Ardmhor, Barra, there was confusion over the bus. A group of disabled people had been chartered a bus, which was vastly late turning up. Another group of people had to be taken to the airport, before we could head down the road for Castlebay along the west side of the island. We arrived in town half an hour late. Timetable, what’s that?! Once in Castlebay, we had some lunch in the hotel of the same name, after which we ambled round town for a bit. The village is very quiet, and the only sounds came from the sea. The boat plying back and forth to Kishmul Castle, a group of youngsters out in sailing boats. The sun was warm. By 2.45, we went to wait for the bus north, and we were taking back along the east side of the island. The ferry departed at 3.45, and we were able to watch the plane land on the sandy beach at Eoligarry. Forty minutes later, we landed at Eriskay and the bus took us the mile or so to the shop. The community shop in Eriskay, like the one at Ness in Lewis, is well-stocked. To close proceedings, we had dinner in Am Politician, the bar dedicated to the story of the freighter Politician, which ran aground in the narrows between South Uist and Eriskay in February 1941 - with its famous cargo of thousands of cases of whisky. A postbus took us back to Polochar - right to the door. The sun set in a blaze of glory, just like yesterday.


Monday 14 July

Off to South Uist with two others, whom I cannot name on the open WWW.

Upon departing Stornoway, I discovered I had left my GPS behind. Well, it’s not essential, but I won’t be able to get a reminder where I took my photographs. Never mind. Bus left Stornoway at 9.35, and covered the 37 miles to Tarbert in about an hour. There were roadworks south of Arivruaich, to do with the laying of fibre-optic cables. They were digging a trench by the roadside, which yielded a lot of rocks. Traffic was regulated by temporary traffic lights, which had an unusual effect on our bus. The driver stopped at Scaladale, to check his boot and to reset his electronics. The signal, controlling the lights, had served to open the boot, and stop the windscreen wipers! We arrived in Tarbert to change buses. The rain was falling steadily, and turned increasingly heavy as we proceeded south. Upon arrival at Leverburgh, traffic was backed up near the ferry, forcing the driver to ignore the one-way system. Walking the hundred yards to the ferry left us soaked. The crossing was reasonably lively, and some of the children on board said they felt queasy. When I went to the ticket office, I asked for a “foot passenger”, upon which the man in the office told he had no more foot passengers going spare. Ha ha. At Berneray, it was still raining, so we dived into the shelter on the pier. Several cyclists were sheltering there too, and they had an unpleasant surprise. The lunchtime departure, at 1.25pm, had been cancelled due to low tides, so they had to wait 4 hours for the next sailing. Meantime, they toddled off to the Lobster Pot restaurant in Berneray. Our bus arrived on time, and it only cost me £6.20 for the 50 miles to the bottom of South Uist. The rain lashed down all the way through North Uist, Benbecula and part of South Uist. I had trouble taking pictures of the journey due to the conditions, but still managed a sizeable collection. On passing the Kildonnan Centre, the driver spotted an unusual flag, which he did not recognise. I was able to tell him that that was the flag of the Hebrides, which had been adopted some years previous. Finally, the sun came out as we passed through the machair lands near Stoneybridge, and it remained reasonable. The bus very kindly took us to the door of the Polochar Inn, 5 miles south of Daliburgh, where we will be staying. It is located right on the south coast of South Uist, near a lovely beach and shoreline, looking out towards Barra and Eriskay. After dinner (nice steak), I toddled off for a short walk in the machair at South Smerclete, to what looks like an abandoned house called Tipperton. I proceeded to the beach, which is the start of the miles and miles of South Uist beaches. The sun set at 10.15 in a blaze of red.


Sunday, 6 July 2014

Saturday 5 July

Morning all from Stornoway, where the day started so promising - only for the cloud to bubble up into downpours. Already had three since 10 o'clock. All in a Hebridean summer's day's work.

The showers disappeared to the north, and we are left with a sunsoaked and breezy afternoon. It is pleasantly warm, about 17C / 63F (which is warm by Outer Hebrides standards), so I went for an amble in the Castle Grounds, to discover another path that has been (re)opened around Strawberry Hill. My previous forays in the area were punctuated by much bog slogging, back breaking and knee wrenching, but that is all now replaced by a good path, which joins onto the other path, coming from Marybank, near the quarry. Very good.

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Friday 4 July

Very wet and windy this morning. There is a delay on the ferry from Tarbert to Uig today, 90 minutes which are likely to continue through the day. That route has been particularly busy, with delays due to volume of traffic common. Our service is on the "three a day" schedule today, which sees a final arrival at 2.45 am.

There are now regular warnings about elevated levels of algal toxins in some of our lochs. Today, it's Loch Erisort. Shellfish taken from Loch Erisort could make you quite ill.

In the afternoon, went on a brief visit to the Ravenspoint Centre at Kershader, 22 miles from Stornoway by road (12 miles as the crow flies). It plays host to a small museum, cafe, shop and hostel. I stayed there for a number of weeks during the 2004/05 winter. The museum is small but lovely, full of the gadgets of yesteryear. A portable pulpit, anyone?

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Thursday 3 July

Force 6 from the south today, with occasional spots of rain. Cruiseliner Discovery is in for another visit, anchored off Sandwick. The tenders taking the passengers ashore are fair bucking in the swell, can't be nice for them.

In response to this letter on Heb News: I know this is a problem, and there are discussions on-going to increase capacity on Calmac routes. What this lady is arguing for is an "Air Discount Scheme" for islanders using Calmac ferries. The down-side of any increase in capacity is what to do during the winter months. It is not economical for any company to have assets lying unusued (i.e. just sitting there costing money). Tourism, finally, is a mainstay of island economy, and needs to be encouraged. Without the £50m it brings into the coffers of the islands, we would be in very dire straits indeed.

Wednesday 2 July

Strong winds today, with quite a bit of rain blown along. A complete turn-around from yesterday, also with regards to the temperatures, which have gone down to 13C / 57F. But after 2pm, the sun came out. The wind dropped somewhat and the mercury is back up to 16C / 61F. Quite nice, really!

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Tuesday 1 July

Afternoon all, it's bright and sunny in Stornoway, with the mercury already at an impressive 17C / 63F. We could well see 20C later. Better take advantage of it; tomorrow will see a change in the weather, more wet and windy conditions. It must be hot when shoppers in the supermarket comment that "it's nice to come into a bit of cool".

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Monday 30 June

The St Kilda swim has had to be abandoned, when the swimmers started to encounter 5-7 feet of swell. They could handle it, but the support kayak could not be launched from the support boat, so for safety reasons, the swimmers took to the boat and proceeded to St Kilda to rest up, before returning to Harris on Wednesday.

Another celebrity has bitten the dust: Rolf Harris was found guilty on a number of charges of indecent assault. Like Jimmy Savile, he took gross advantage of his young admirers, and on Friday he will learn his fate. At 84 and in failing health, he will most likely die in jail.

In the afternoon, I was watching the lifeboat hurrying to the aid of a small fishing boat that had suffered engine failure off the lighthouse. The lifeboat took the craft safely back into port; later in the evening the Tom Sandersen  was back out again.

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Sunday 29 June

Isles FM, our local radiostation, has been off air since last Tuesday, after a powersurge or lightning strike. However, I still get the carrier on the 103.0 MHz. Engineers are due round on Monday to sort out the problem.

At lunchtime, the St Kilda swimmers took the plunge from Huisinis, Harris, to commence their 60 mile swim to St Kilda. They hope to arrive there on Tuesday, weather, waves and creatures permitting.

A tragic road traffic accident at Strombane, North Uist, killed the local manager of a haulage firm last night. Everybody in Uist knew William K. Morrison. RIP.

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Sunday, 29 June 2014

Saturday 28 June

It's Armed Forces Day in the United Kingdom, and I would find it slightly more palatable if they had toned down the celebrations a bit. As I stated earlier today, it is a hundred years ago today since the events took place that precipitated the First World War. I am the first to salute the efforts and sacrifices made by our military in today's world, but an acknowledgement of the historical significance of today's date would be appreciated.

At 6pm sharp, one of the two vessels docked in Glumag Harbour repeatedly sounded their foghorn in remembrance of the start of events leading up to WW1, 100 years ago that moment.

Visited Museum nan Eilean for the Stornoway Historical Society's exhibition on WW1 casualties from Stornoway and environs (as far afield as Berneray. Had a brief discussion with the Society's chair about WW1 and WW2 casualties who were missed off the CWGC's registers.

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Friday 27 June

Bright but not sunny, as there is a fair amount of mid-level cloud around. 12C / 54F (at 10.30 am) is rather cooler than of late. The summer is here though, as monitoring has revealed increased levels of algal toxins, in West Loch Roag and in Loch Stranndabhat.

Interesting. Isles FM (on-line) report that there are already questions over the capacity of the new ferry, MV Loch Seaforth, which will come on to the Ullapool route in September. I would have expected an assessment of required capacity to be carried out before the boat was even designed. Although there is no point going back over done deeds, there was a question whether TWO boats should be doing the run. I can sort of envisage the good ole Isle of Lewis kept on stream to double up on the route.

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Thursday 26 June

Brilliantly sunny in Stornoway, but with a very keen northeasterly breeze. Once again 15C / 59F at the moment.

Local radiostation Isles FM 103 put out the following statement: We remain off air. Isles FM continues to work at identifying the damage to our transmission network, which we believe was caused by an unknown surge or lightning strike. We are hoping to be back with you next week, if not earlier, and will continue to prepare excellent, local, volunteer-led programmes for your listening enjoyment.

Ships, ferries, and fishing boats are to fly their flags at half-mast between sunrise and sunset on Saturday to mark the anniversary of the first event which triggered the First World War. In addition, vessels berthed in port are encouraged to sound a remembrance signal by giving a blast on their fog horns at 6pm (5pm GMT) that day - to mark the hour of the first shot fired in the war.

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Wednesday 25 June

Discovered a newly reopened path in the Castle Grounds, leading off from the path to Strawberry Hill. Another new path branches off in the opposite direction, so will have to go back to explore that. However, I have a good idea where that leads: to the top of Strawberry Hill and on to the quarry and Marybank. Why do I keep going on about Strawberry Hill? It was previously inaccessible.

My camera came back from the repair place, unrepaired. However, it is back in a semblance of working order. Maybe taking it to bits and reassembling it did something. Fingers crossed - next time it conks out it'll have to be replaced.

Today was a glorious day, after a slow start in terms of sunshine. At 9pm, I'm watching the ferry going OUT on its final crossing to Ullapool. It is due back into Stornoway at 2.45 am tomorrow morning, and is due to depart on its Thursday schedule by 7 am.We had a cruiseliner in as well: the Louis Aura.

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Tuesday 24 June

Quite a nice day here in Stornoway, a pleasant 15C on the thermometer and the sun is slowly sweeping the clouds away. We have an easterly breeze, which usually brings us fair weather.

Went on a walk to Sandwick in the afternoon, in blazing sunshine and this easterly breeze. I recently found an old picture of one of the gravestones in the cemetery there, and revisited the site. Only to find the inscription badly faded, 5 years after being touched up. Sandwick Cemetery gets blasted by sand, wind and rain. 

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