View across the Outer Harbour of Stornoway

Wednesday, 30 September 2009

One year on

On 30 September 2008, AOL gave us a month's notice to quit and abandon our journals. Yes, it's a year ago. Tomorrow will be the first anniversary of this blog, Atlantic Lines. As I said a few days ago, much has changed. Not always for the better, but not necessarily wholly for the worse either.

On 30 September 2004, I was in the process of relocating from the Northern Isles to the Western Isles. I'll post that day's diary entry below.

For the first time in weeks, I had a room (or more accurately: a cabin) to myself. At 7 a.m., I found myself in a rain- and windswept Aberdeen. Delayed my departure from the ferry until the latest possible hour. Slouched off into the city at 10 a.m.. First thing needed: a townplan. Second: a post office, to send off maps and other stuff related to Orkney that was no longer required. A dark-coloured lady tried to chat me up in the PO, what a laff. Spent the rest of the morning sloping round the soaking-wet streets, with that bloody big pack on my back.Want to find the library, but Aberdeen, the Granite City, is very grey and even greyer in this rain. After I buy a pastry in a shop, and miserably eat it on a bench, I locate the library. I walked past it several times during 40 minutes, just past the Robert Gordon University. No, the library wasn't that great either. Few terminals, very limited time, and the terminal I was on crashed. Went to the station and found there was a train to Inverness at around 3pm. I was on it. Aberdeen I just do not like. Folk are friendly enough. Train departed at 3.25 and it was pretty full. As we went east, the rain relented although it stayed overcast right the way through. I can't say I'm riveted by the Moray or Aberdeenshire countryside - sorry, was in a foul mood all day today. Arrived in Inverness at 5pm, and booked into the Youth Hostel on Millburn Drive. Then went back to the Safeway for shopping. Had a lot of bother finding my way round, I had become quite used to the Co-op and Safeway stores in Kirkwall. Cooked supper,did the laundry, went on the Internet using vouchers. Fairly good deal: £1 for 20 minutes, or 24 minutes if you join the club. As membership was free, I gladly joined back in Kirkwall. Show a couple of young hostellers how to use the laundry machines. There is a group of disabled kids in who are on a trip out of Shetland. In Inverness, you can only get into the rooms using a swipe card. Some strange characters in my room tonight. Typical Mediterraneans, don't like them.

From the archives: Wednesday 29 September 2004

In the morning, I jump on the bus to the Houton Ferry, to go to Hoy. Crossing was rendered uninteresting, because we were required to stay below decks all the way to Lyness. On arrival, I have to time my walk carefully. Lyness itself is just plain unsightly. It used to be part of the Scapa Flow naval base, and after the war the Royal Navy just pulled out and sailed off into the sunset. The base was just left to fall to ruin. Worst are all the buildings, also scattered over the hillside beside the village. I walk north along the B9048, in the general direction of Moaness, at the northern end of Hoy. After about 45 minutes, I have left the village and am in the farming area of the island. Workmen are laying long stretches of blue piping, which I later learn are water mains. At 12.45, I reach a picnic site by Pegal Bay.This abuts a small, fenced-off nature reserve. All along this road you'll encounter milestones, totting up the distance between Lyness and Moaness. After Pegal Bay, the road veers inland to cross over the shoulder of Pegal Hill to Lyrawa Bay. Below Lyrawa Hill, 5½ miles / 9km outside Lyness, I encounter Betty Corrigal's grave. This is a recent feature, a fibre-glass tombstone dedicated to the memory of a young woman who committed suicide after falling pregnant out of wedlock in the 18th century. She fell for the charms of a sailor, who afterwards disappeared. She was buried in an unmarked grave, because suicides are not buried in consecrated ground. She lay undisturbed for 160 years, until her coffin was found by peat cutters in 1930. Her body had remained virtually intact, only the noose beside her had turned to dust. She was reburied, but during WW2, sailors frequently got her out. Finally, in 1949, she was buried for the last time. An American minister asked for the current headstone to be erected, but this was not done for another 27 years. After a moment or two, I squelched my way back to the road. I walked up the track, onto the nearby Lyrawa Hill, to view the gun emplacements that lie abandoned there. Nice views east, towards Wideford Hill near Kirkwall, and the hills above Houton. At 2pm, I went back towards Lyness. Forty minutes later, I was very kindly offered a lift back to Lyness by an elderly Australian couple who were here to trace ancestors by looking round graveyards. Their car made short shrift of the remaining 4 miles, and I was left with 1½ hours to kill around Lyness. Wandered up the hill to an ugly, derilict, concrete building that looked as if it had been some sort of HQ. Everything covered in layers of dirt, electrical wiring hanging all over. To escape the chilly north wind, I sat down in the lee of the building for a cuppa. Then ambled down to the ferry terminal. Ferry arrived at 4pm, but they raised the ramp again. It's not due to sail until 4.40. Have a look round the Scapa Flow museum, and the hazardous dockside. Ferry leaves on time, and I'm having a pleasant chat with a nice couple in their mid 50's. They offer me a lift back to Kirkwall once at Houton. One other person joins me in the car, but not before somebody returns me a glove I had dropped somewhere. I'm dropped off outside Safeways for shopping at 7pm. On return to the hostel, I decide to take the late ferry to Aberdeen. A quick taxiride at 10.30 duly delivers me to Hatston, where the ferry lies docked. After about 10 minutes, I'm allowed on board. Am shown to my cabin, where I take a shower, then retire for the night. The ferry sails at midnight, and exactly 4 weeks after arriving in Orkney, I'm leaving the islands. The swell rocks me to sleep.

Postscript: I'd be back in Orkney in October 2008 - will post pictures in a later entry

Train crash

Image courtesy Press and Journal

Yesterday afternoon, just after 2pm, the 1038 Inverness to Thurso train collided with a car on a level crossing at the village of Halkirk in the far north of Scotland. Its 3 occupants were killed, one of them was flung from the vehicle. The train came to a halt about a quarter of a mile down the track. It had been travelling at 50 mph when the collision happened. Investigations into the cause of the accident are on-going, and the names of the deceased have not yet been released, such pending the outcome of a post-mortem. None of the 18 passengers and 4 crew was hurt on the train. They were transferred to a nearby hotel. The train was taken to nearby Georgemas Junction railway station.

Services to Thurso and Wick remain suspended; trains from Inverness terminate at Forsinard Station, from where buses are put on. Travellers are advised to allow an extra 60 minutes for their journeys. More details here.

My sympathies are with the relatives and friends of the victims, who are reported to be elderly.

The Sun

Logo courtesy

The Sun is a tabloid newspaper here in the UK with the highest readership, put at over 3 million copies sold each day. It is (in)famous for page three girls (who show off their assets). I usually glance at the paper when I'm buying my daily rag, the Press and Journal. I have very little time for The Sun, as it contains very little news (IMHO). I'll leave it at that.

Political Britain was all afluster today when The Sun announced it was no longer backing the Labour party (who have been in government since 1997), and instead switched its allegiance to the Conservatives. Only in Scotland did the Sun shift from Labour to nobody else. That's a piece of non-news if ever I heard one. The Sun, as I stated above, does not carry news (of note), and its editorial stance looks as if it is written on a sheet of lavatory paper. Yet it has delusions of grandeur, saying it backs winners in general elections.

This shift in political allegiance is very nice for the Conservative Party, as much as it was not nice for them in 1997, when the Sun started backing Tony Blair's Labour Party. It does show that The Sun has not got an opinion of its own, it does not stand for anything. The paper's editor has said that it backs the party that best appears to serve the interests of its readers.

Some people think that the Sun is for those who cannot be bothered to engage their brain. That's not true. You have to think very hard to read the Sun. Because you DO have to think for yourself - is what the Sun thinks is good for you really good for you?

Wednesday 30 September

September goes out with a bang, several bangs in fact. Typhoons, earthquakes, tsunamis and flooding. It almost sounds like the four horsemen of the apocalypse. Typhoon Ketsana started off by causing severe flooding in Manila on Saturday, dumping more than 16 inches of rain on the Philippino capital in 12 hours. More than 100 people lost their lives, and they are still cleaning up. Three days later, Ketsana had blown up into a fully fledged, category II typhoon and slammed into Vietnam. A similar deathtoll, and a similar number of people homeless - 730,000 in the Philippines and Vietnam combined. Even northern Cambodia was affected, and 11 lives were lost there.

Ketsana had barely disappeared from the weather charts when the Earth had an itch and jolted 3 inches under the Pacific. Six and a half miles of water were bumped upward and outward, and swamped the Samoan islands with a 25 feet tsunami. Even Hawaii, thousands of miles away to the northeast, saw 5 feet of tsunami running by. The devastation in Western and American Samoa is huge, and the deathtoll as yet incomplete. Yesterday evening, as the wave rolled round the Pacific, I (and hundreds with me) spent several hours relaying warning messages on Twitter.

Twelve hours after the Samoan quake, which measured 8.3 on the Richter scale, the earth moved again, and this time it was Sumatra that bore the brunt. Although no sizeable tsunami was generated, the devastation in western Sumatra was once more huge. The death toll at time of posting was quoted as at least 1,000, and probably much higher.

More natural disasters loom for the Pacific in the next few days. Two typhoons, one actual and one in the making, are shunting up Typhoon Alley to the east of the Philippines. Melor will slam into Guam on Saturday with winds near 110 mph, whilst Parma (further west) could cause problems in Luzon Island, Philippines before making for Taiwan.

The Atlantic hurricane season? What's that?? There have so far been 6 named storms, of which 2 in September, which is supposed to be the peak of the hurricane season. I am pleased for those in Hurricane Alley who (so far) have been spared the worst, although you should never count your chickens before they're hatched - and there is two months of the season left. The reason for the quietude of the Atlantic this year is an abnormal temperature pattern in the eastern Pacific, which is warmer than usual - it is called El Nino. As a result, atmospheric conditions are unfavourable for tropical cyclones to form in the Atlantic. Long range forecasts state that a tropical cyclone could form in a week or so from now. I'm keeping an eye on developments on my TC blog.

Western Isles residents wanted for study

A PhD student from Lancaster is looking for residents of the Western Isles who are willing to give an hour or so of their time to talk about the use of language. Α project is being run across the UK and Ireland about the difference between how older and younger people speak and how they feel about it.

If you are interested to participate, or know people who want to take part, please leave a brief note in comments. I’ll relay the email address (which will show up in the comment notification) to the academic concerned, and you can then make arrangements direct. Confidentiality will be upheld by this blogger, and for anyone participating in the study.

Please relay.
Thank you.

Tuesday, 29 September 2009


The PTWC is currently under heavy demand, and it is best to put their link into your feedreader, and keep abreast of developments that way. Waves of 5 feet in height have washed ashore in nearby islands at intervals of 8 minutes (which can be up to 1 hours apart). Over the next 5 to 6 hours, waves are expected to propagate across the Pacific. Warnings and watches remain in force until further notice.

 --------------------------------    ------------    ------------
 AMERICAN SAMOA   PAGO PAGO          14.3S 170.7W    1759Z 29 SEP
 SAMOA            APIA               13.8S 171.8W    1810Z 29 SEP
 NIUE             NIUE IS.           19.0S 170.0W    1822Z 29 SEP
 WALLIS-FUTUNA    WALLIS IS.         13.2S 176.2W    1835Z 29 SEP
 TOKELAU          NUKUNONU IS.        9.2S 171.8W    1844Z 29 SEP
 COOK ISLANDS     PUKAPUKA IS.       10.8S 165.9W    1846Z 29 SEP
                  RAROTONGA          21.2S 159.8W    1929Z 29 SEP
                  PENRYN IS.          8.9S 157.8W    1954Z 29 SEP
 TONGA            NUKUALOFA          21.0S 175.2W    1851Z 29 SEP
 TUVALU           FUNAFUTI IS.        7.9S 178.5E    1932Z 29 SEP
 KIRIBATI         KANTON IS.          2.8S 171.7W    1935Z 29 SEP
                  FLINT IS.          11.4S 151.8W    2025Z 29 SEP
                  MALDEN IS.          3.9S 154.9W    2037Z 29 SEP
                  CHRISTMAS IS.       2.0N 157.5W    2100Z 29 SEP
                  TARAWA IS.          1.5N 173.0E    2104Z 29 SEP
 KERMADEC IS      RAOUL IS.          29.2S 177.9W    1938Z 29 SEP
 FIJI             SUVA               18.1S 178.4E    2003Z 29 SEP
 HOWLAND-BAKER    HOWLAND IS.         0.6N 176.6W    2008Z 29 SEP
 JARVIS IS.       JARVIS IS.          0.4S 160.1W    2028Z 29 SEP
 NEW ZEALAND      EAST CAPE          37.7S 178.5E    2044Z 29 SEP
                  GISBORNE           38.7S 178.0E    2100Z 29 SEP
                  NORTH CAPE         34.4S 173.3E    2112Z 29 SEP
                  NAPIER             39.5S 176.9E    2140Z 29 SEP
                  WELLINGTON         41.3S 174.8E    2150Z 29 SEP
                  AUCKLAND(E)        36.7S 175.0E    2212Z 29 SEP
                  AUCKLAND(W)        37.1S 174.2E    2239Z 29 SEP
                  LYTTELTON          43.6S 172.7E    2255Z 29 SEP
                  NEW PLYMOUTH       39.1S 174.1E    2317Z 29 SEP
                  NELSON             41.3S 173.3E    2323Z 29 SEP
                  DUNEDIN            45.9S 170.5E    2331Z 29 SEP
                  MILFORD SOUND      44.6S 167.9E    2358Z 29 SEP
                  WESTPORT           41.8S 171.6E    2359Z 29 SEP
                  BLUFF              46.6S 168.3E    0044Z 30 SEP
 FR. POLYNESIA    PAPEETE            17.5S 149.6W    2045Z 29 SEP
                  HIVA OA            10.0S 139.0W    2214Z 29 SEP
                  RIKITEA            23.1S 135.0W    2247Z 29 SEP
 PALMYRA IS.      PALMYRA IS.         6.3N 162.4W    2102Z 29 SEP
 VANUATU          ANATOM IS.         20.2S 169.9E    2117Z 29 SEP
                  ESPERITU SANTO     15.1S 167.3E    2123Z 29 SEP
 NAURU            NAURU               0.5S 166.9E    2138Z 29 SEP
 MARSHALL IS.     MAJURO              7.1N 171.4E    2147Z 29 SEP
                  KWAJALEIN           8.7N 167.7E    2220Z 29 SEP
                  ENIWETOK           11.4N 162.3E    2309Z 29 SEP
 SOLOMON IS.      KIRAKIRA           10.4S 161.9E    2155Z 29 SEP
                  GHATERE             7.8S 159.2E    2227Z 29 SEP
                  AUKI                8.8S 160.6E    2244Z 29 SEP
                  HONIARA             9.3S 160.0E    2244Z 29 SEP
                  PANGGOE             6.9S 157.2E    2245Z 29 SEP
                  MUNDA               8.4S 157.2E    2248Z 29 SEP
                  FALAMAE             7.4S 155.6E    2304Z 29 SEP
 JOHNSTON IS.     JOHNSTON IS.       16.7N 169.5W    2212Z 29 SEP
 NEW CALEDONIA    NOUMEA             22.3S 166.5E    2216Z 29 SEP
 KOSRAE           KOSRAE IS.          5.5N 163.0E    2233Z 29 SEP
 PAPUA NEW GUINE  KIETA               6.1S 155.6E    2303Z 29 SEP
                  AMUN                6.0S 154.7E    2323Z 29 SEP
                  RABAUL              4.2S 152.3E    2349Z 29 SEP
                  LAE                 6.8S 147.0E    0015Z 30 SEP
                  KAVIENG             2.5S 150.7E    0016Z 30 SEP
                  PORT MORESBY        9.3S 146.9E    0039Z 30 SEP
                  MADANG              5.2S 145.8E    0041Z 30 SEP
                  MANUS IS.           2.0S 147.5E    0050Z 30 SEP
 HAWAII           NAWILIWILI         22.0N 159.4W    2311Z 29 SEP
                  HILO               19.7N 155.1W    2314Z 29 SEP
                  HONOLULU           21.3N 157.9W    2315Z 29 SEP
 POHNPEI          POHNPEI IS.         7.0N 158.2E    2318Z 29 SEP
 WAKE IS.         WAKE IS.           19.3N 166.6E    2322Z 29 SEP
 PITCAIRN         PITCAIRN IS.       25.1S 130.1W    2329Z 29 SEP
 MIDWAY IS.       MIDWAY IS.         28.2N 177.4W    2349Z 29 SEP
 CHUUK            CHUUK IS.           7.4N 151.8E    0020Z 30 SEP
 AUSTRALIA        BRISBANE           27.2S 153.3E    0036Z 30 SEP
                  SYDNEY             33.9S 151.4E    0038Z 30 SEP

Pacific Tsunami

Copied from PTWC:









ORIGIN TIME - 1748Z 29 SEP 2009

From the archives: Tuesday 28 September 2004

Houton Ferry Terminal, Orkney Mainland

The weather has quietened down since Sunday's gale, and there is now only a gentle greeze. I go into town to hire a pushbike. At 11, I paddle down the Old Scapa Road after a preliminary circuit of the town centre. This took me down Junction Road to the Orkney Ferries terminal, then along all sorts of back roads to the cathedral. At 11.10, I'm heading southwest along the A964 towards Orphir. It's a nice, sunny day and make good progress. Consider a shortcut at Kirbister to Finstown, but don't like the prospect of hills. Have an interchange with a tourist bus, all along the road to Scapa Garage. On arrival at Houton Terminal, it's 12.30. It's a steep descent from the main road. Nice view across to Hoy. There are two piers here, one of which is the terminal for the ferry to Lyness, Hoy. Watch the world go by behind the ferry office, then head off when the ferry comes in. By that time, I've finished lunch. Back up the hill to the main road, then left towards Brig o'Waithe. The view opens out to Graemsay and Stromness, but it's a long, long way to the A965, particularly with a headwind. Backside gets sorer and sorer as I go along, but ** finally ** I gain the main road.Turn right and am now running the gauntlet of all the traffic. Pass the sideroad to the monuments, then stop off at a petrol station to buy an icecream and a coke. As I progress further east, the weather decides it's warm enough for a shower. So, at the corner of the A986, I hide in the busshelter to don my waterproofs. Reach Finstown without further mishap. Here I decide to go to Kirkwall along the Old Finstown Road, if only to avoid the traffic. Well, I'm not very good at hills and there is a lot of traffic on this road as well. Decide on a break a little way west of Smerquoy Farm, but sitting in the verge of the road isn't that nice either. Get overtaken by a full schoolbus, and finally sail into Kirkwall at 5pm. Blimey, wasn't I knackered. Return the bike to the shop on Tankerness Lane, drop into the Internet Café across the road. This is part of an IT training enterprise, which also serves coffee and snacks. Return to the hostel after shopping at Safeways.


As I reported in my previous post, this typhoon has now made landfall in Vietnam. Initial local reports state that at least 23 people have been killed by the storm, with 170,000 evacuated. Windspeeds reached 90 mph.

Image courtesy NPR / AP

The storm surge, which accompanies tropical cyclones, has swept 1 km inland at Hoi An, threatening hotels and other buildings at the resort. 

Tuesday 29 September

Well, we have the sun back. In abundance. Brilliant day, after several days of rain and murk. I don't really mind the rain and / or wind, but several days in the row gets a bit depressing.

There is an alert concerning the cervical cancer vaccination Cervarix. A girl of 14 died on Monday after the jab was administered, and tests are currently on-going in the exact cause of death. Meanwhile, parents are being urged to be vigilant towards any adverse reactions, displayed by their daughters following administration of Cervarix. The programme of vaccinations is currently suspended, but will resume shortly. If this concerns any of your family (in the UK, or elsewhere), please read this BBC news article carefully.

The Pacific currently has 4 tropical cyclones on the go. Typhoon Ketsana, which wrought havoc in the Philippines over the weekend, is making landfall in Vietnam, 110 miles southeast of Hue, with winds of 110 mph. The city of Da Nang, some 80 miles from Hue, reported sustained winds of 48 mph over the past 24 hours. Tropical storm 18W is going through the northern Marianas with galeforce winds. Parma is on its way, about 400 miles in its wake, with 20W some 850 miles east of Guam.

Monday, 28 September 2009

Monday 28 September

Overcast and wet, as a frontal zone moves west to east over the islands - aligned west to east. We're in the middle of a 48-hour spell of rain. Quite uncommon actually. We get rain frequently, showers, rainbands, but they don't usually stop for such a long period of time. A local twitterer remarked that this was the time to view Stornoway Grey, a dig at a certain car manufacturer who is marketing one their models in that hue.

As I mentioned in the preceding post, the Philippines were deluged on Saturday by tropical storm Ondoy / Ketsana. Over the weekend, I was unable to access the islands' typhoon warning website. Far worse than that, dozens of people drowned and the emergency services are barely able to cope with the aftermath. The Philippines are affected by tropical cyclones every year, and rainfall tends to be causing more problems than actual winds. Ketsana carried winds that were barely above galeforce. But it did dump a month's rainfall in 12 hours on the Philippines capital, Manila.

Hurricane update - 28 September

More accurately: typhoon update. The news reports this weekend have been full of the names Ondoy and Ketsana, both referring to the same tropical cyclone. After drowning the Philippines on Saturday, Ketsana drifted into the South China Sea and blew up into a typhoon (which is the same as a hurricane). At the moment, the forecasters put this system as a category II typhoon, with winds of 90 to 110 mph. Ketsana is headed due west, along the parallel of 15.8 degrees North, and is currently lashing the Paracel Islands. Landfall will occur tomorrow morning local time, between the towns of Dà Nang and Quang Ngãi. Apart from the high winds and torrential rains, Ketsana can also be expected to bring a storm surge ashore of 15 to 20 feet.

The forecasters are tying themselves in knots over two nascent tropical cyclones, prosaically named 18W and 19W, which lie some 450 miles apart to the south and southeast of the Marianas Islands in the Pacific. Because they are so "close", it is a gamble as to which one will gain the upper hand. Either way, there'll be another typhoon to the east of the Philippines before the week is out.

Sunday, 27 September 2009

From the archives: Monday 27 September 2004

For the morning session, I walk out at 10 o'clock, heading east out of the town centre towards Inganess Bay. This takes me along the road to the B&B where I stayed nearly 3 weeks ago. Once past there, the road veers off right; the road to Berstane Farm carries on straight ahead. When I reach a wood, filled with junk, I am confronted with a sign saying "Private", and I have to backtrack a little way. Then I jump over a gate and head south along the perifery of the wood. Can continue along the fence for nearly a mile, with views opening up over the airport. To my left lies the Creag of Berstane. Also see a windturbine near Heatheryquoy Farm. Cannot go there in a direct line, but have to veer right along fencing to Inganess Farm. Once on the minor road, I head east, downhill, to the salmon farm. I can drop down to the sands of Wideford, but have to rejoin the top of the seawall after the salmon farm. From here, a new-looking signposted walk leads me back to Scapa. The route is punctuated by some horrendously steep stiles, but finally I arrive at the A960 road to the airport. Cross this with care and carry on along the path. With some difficulties in orienteering, I reach the A961 Burwick road at midday. Cross with care and head into the road that leads to and past Fea Farm. From here, the track winds itself down a messy looking slope to Scapa Pier. This is familiar territory and I easily walk back to the YH on Old Scapa Road. After lunch, I join the bus which will take me to the Bishop's Palace and nearby Brough of Birsay (on the far northwestern corner of Orkney Mainland). The bus goes past Finstown, then down the A986 along such places as Doune and Twatt. People alight at various places along the way, some of them quite jolly. Many have been into town to do their shopping, and are now lumbering it home. Reach Birsay at 2.30. A few people get off here, several joining the bus for the journey back to Kirkwall. First of all, I have a look inside the small church dedicated to St Magnus. A little bare - have a look at this link
Also have a look inside the ruined Earl's Palace, of which only a few feet now remain of its walls. In every room, a little note tells the story about it. Having walked through the ruins, I finally make my way to the Brough. This lies about a mile west of Birsay village and is a tidal island, only accessible at low tide. A concrete slabbed walkway provides a fairly safe if slippery access route. On arrival at the other side, I say hello to the warden and start by looking round theViking settlement, of which only foot-high walls remain. It included achurch. Then I go on a walk around the island, which has some pretty high seacliffs, up to 40 metres / 135 ft high. Like the views down the coast to Marwick Head, with cliffs up to 80 metres / 265 ft high. Pass the lighthouse, where a cleft, only a few inches wide, crashes down to sealevel. The coastline is eroding badly, and you have to be very cautious. I walk along, latterly with two other people in the distance. Cross the causeway back to the mainland at 4pm, and stay behind to watch the tide coming in. Have a little walk along the coastline to Skipi Geo, where people used to store their boats high up on the shore, in a shed. Sit down with two other walkers to enjoy the afternoon sun for a while. Then head back to the carpark to watch the tide creep in. At 4.30, the flag is taken down at the visitor centre on the Brough, and the warden crosses over. Shortly afterwards, the tide covers the middle section of the walkway. We had a cup of tea from a van selling sausage rolls, but when we looked round again, it had gone. Hop back to the village to wait for the 6pm bus. It's a long and chilly wait. The return journey goes along the north coast of Mainland to Evie and Loch of Swannay. Pick up ferry passengers at Tingwall and return to Kirkwall at 6.50

Brough of Birsay, image courtesy Flickr-user bugmonkey

Birsay Palace, image courtesy Flickr-user leguan001

Sunday evening

It hasn't stopped raining all day. Went out to Gress, which is 5 miles short of Tolsta, without said guests as they were being entertained. It was nice on the beach, although it was raining steadily. I spent a quiet afternoon finishing two books I was reading: one about the landraids on the island of Vatersay, off Barra, the other about cloudformations. Also watched television, a programme about Italian architecture, and another about unusual wildlife in Indonesia. Makes a difference from being glued to this wee screen ;-)

I'll close proceedings on here by posting an archive entry from 2004, when I was coming to the close of my stint in Orkney. Having arrived there on 1 September, I spent 4 weeks exploring virtually all the islands (with a few exceptions) in that archipelago.

Sunday 27 September

Dismal morning in Stornoway, wet and windy. Nonetheless, may end up taking out some overseas visitors to the delights of the beach at Tolsta

which obviously doesn't look like that this morning. Improvements in the weather are still some way off.

From the archives: Sunday 26 September 2004

It's a cloudy day today, and it does not look as if it's going to brighten up. Arrive at a derilict busstation to take the tourist bus to Skara Brae, with a view to walk across to Stromness. It's also quite blustery and cold. Alight at the neolithic village at 11, and now have the rest of the afternoon to cover the 6 miles to Stromness. I start off by merrily walking into the teeth of the gale, past Skaill Farm,along walls and through pastures. Past herds of bemused looking cows,but very quickly I find myself crossing barbed-wire fences without any stiles. Back I go, glad to have my face out of that very cold SW wind. Retrace my steps as far as Skaill Farm, then head southeast, along a farmtrack that runs roughly past Loch Skaill. Then it's due south, and I'm again diverted because of herds of cows. WIth difficulty, on account of an overgrown and boggy farmtrack, I gain the road which leads south to Stromness. Because of the force 8-9 wind, I decide to engage in a spot of roadwalking. This presents me with quite a challenge, because the severe gale strength wind is determined to blow me into the path of oncoming traffic. After 2 miles, I get the opportunity to leave the busy B9050/A967 to briefly head for quieter side-roads. Pass Kirbister and proceed over Redland Hill. Here,a minor disaster befalls me, in that one of my bootlaces breaks. I tie the two ends together and carry on. My mapcase is also giving me grief. This consists of a Morrisons bag, and is flapping furiously, not really affording much protection against the force 9 winds. Carry on along the A967, with the weather improving gradually. As I struggle past Newburgh and Millhouse, the sun comes out. Head into a country lane to enter Stromness by the backdoor. The ruinous farm buildings along here don't do much for the scenery. Take a break off Millhouse farm, then descend to the bridge cum ford across the Mill Burn and wearily trudge down the hill into Stromness proper. This is along HIllside Road, not the main Kirkwall Road. Past the Co-op and the firestation at 4pm, and up Franklin Road to gain the higher reaches of Stromness. Even go up Brinkies Brae with my purchases from the Co-op, then into the town for a cuppa before the bus comes back at 4.50. Julia's Cafe is a nice wee place opposite the ferry terminal. Kids are sliding along the tiled floors. Have a cup of tea and a pastry before I rejoin the bus back to Kirkwall. Sun is out on the way back, making it quite an acceptable late afternoon.

Stromness, October 2008

Skara Brae, October 2008

Saturday, 26 September 2009

A year on

On Tuesday, it will be a year ago that AOL gave us a month's notice to quit our journals before they would be deleted. The following 4 weeks were a mad scramble to move our blogs to another platform, mostly this one (Blogger). Many have since left blogging, either for Facebook / Twitter or altogether. AOL, well, they could at least have left the journals on their servers, even if we would not have been able to update them anymore. What galled me most was the cynical request for me to write a guest editor's post on September 25th, knowing (for 2 months) that five days later, the plug would be pulled. And the lack of cooperation from AOL Journals staff, who had not prepared anything, in spite of the 2 months' notice they had themselves.

On 1 October, I commenced a new blog, called Atlantic Lines. It became my main blog at the end of October, when its predecessor Northern Trip was deleted. Like for so many, NT had been a constant companion for years, three years in my case. I managed to transfer it to Blogger, and is now archived there. I set it up on 28 September 2004, when I was staying in Kirkwall, Orkney. I started using it as an internet diary ten days later, by which time I had transferred to the Isle of Skye, more specifically the village of Kyleakin (pronounce: ky-lakkin).

As a memory, I'll post a few entries from five years ago and add a map to show the places I'm talking about.


That is the Philippines designation for tropical storm Ketsana, which is currently moving west across the Philippines. It is dumping vast amounts of rain on the archipelago, leading to catastrophic flooding in the northern island of Luzon, and in the capital Manila. The website for the local weatherservice (PAGASA) has been inaccessible throughout today, probably due to high demand.

Ketsana is only a marginal tropical storm in terms of windspeed, but is carrying large amounts of water, as is typical of tropical systems. After leaving the Philippines later today (GMT), the system will move across the South China Sea, to make landfall in central Vietnam on Tuesday.

Image courtesy Xinhua

Saturday 26 September

Overcast with occasional sunny spells, so a slight improvement. Rain looks unlikely. This morning shows cruiseliner Marco Polo at anchor in Sandwick Bay and the Norwegian submarine S300 along the ferrypier. We've had submarines in before, but they did not moor. The Norwegian navy has put in appearances before, with four small destroyers in April 2007.

On a related theme, Ullapool registered fishing vessel Our Hazel was towed into Stornoway yesterday morning, after an 11 hour trip from the Butt of Lewis. The fishingboat put out an emergency call at 1 am on Friday, after she suffered a mechanical failure. The local lifeboat, (17-18) Tom Sandersen, went to her aid and towed her back to Stornoway.

FV Our Hazel and the lifeboat at Glumag Harbour, yesterday

Cruiseliner Marco Polo

War and Peace: S300 and a tender from the Marco Polo

Friday, 25 September 2009

Friday 25 September

Overcast and grey once more, although I have reason to believe the sun is still out there behind the clouds. Is it? If anyone has seen the sun in recent days, please tell it to show its face in Western Scotland. I've nearly forgotten what it looks like. Aeolus should take a vacation, and stop blowing so hard in the islands. I bet the fact that there isn't much of a hurricane season in the Atlantic accounts for our windy weather (joking).

The 'mole' who leaked details of MP's expenses, which ended up bringing down Mr Speaker (Michael Martin), did so out of disgust over the lack of proper equipment for army soldiers. Apparently, the soldiers did not get the right gear out in Afghanistan, whilst MPs were lapping up the dosh for their moats, duckhouses and what not. I'm glad it came out in the open, whilst being sad for the majority of Honourable Members who are hard working and only claim what they really need to claim for.

Thursday, 24 September 2009

Pulmonary Fibrosis

I received an email from former J-lander Jan [jan3145] who is battling with the debilitating condition of idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (UK site). She sends regards to all she used to know in J-land, as was. Atlantic Lines does not normally carry promotions, but I would like to make an exception for this charity.

Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis is a rare and terminal lung disease. Its' cause is unknown and there is no successful treatment or cure for it.  Once diagnosed a patient may have two to five years life expectancy.  Lung transplant may extend their lives for a few years, but not everyone qualifies, or can be a candidate, for this delicate surgery. Pulmonary Fibrosis takes the lives of more patients every year than Breast Cancer, yet no one hears about it. Every eleven minutes someone is diagnosed and every 13 minutes someone dies due to Pulmonary Fibrosis.  Symptoms may be shortness of breath on exertion, a dry cough, fatigue or exercise intolerance due to trouble breathing. 

Pulmonary Fibrosis Association of Texas, Inc., an approved 501c3 Nonprofit, strives to meet the needs of PF patients who do not have the funds or benefits to obtain medically prescribed and necessary oxygen or other medical supplies.  It is never OK for someone to be denied air to breathe because they cannot pay for it, yet someone right now is being deprived of oxygen for that very reason.  Help us to help them.

We cannot add days to their lives, but we can add life to their days with your help.

Help us to help others breathe a little easier.

Thursday 24 September

Good morning from an overcast Stornoway. Once more, the wind blows from the west at force 5 and the odd showers is possible. The 12C / 54F on the thermometer is a bit on the low side, but what do you expect.

I'm left bemused at the snub that wasn't a snub, when British PM Gordon Brown was denied a formal head-to-head with B'rack Obama at the UN last night. They could only talk in the kitchen at the UN, a formal meeting was not possible. 10 Downing Street was allegedly frenzied at this snub-that-wasn't-a-snub (which it was, don't fool yourself). I think Obama saw right through the charade around the release of the Lockerbie bomber - Mr Brown didn't speak up on the issue for quite a few days.

So there is this vaccine that gives you a 30% chance of not contracting HIV/AIDS. I wouldn't chance it. It's excellent news that progress is being made, but there is a long way to go. Since writing an essay on the subject of HIV/AIDS in 1985, treating actually infected patients has made a lot of headway, and life expectancies have extended. But developing a vaccine has remained static for a long while.

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Wednesday 23 September

Not too bad a day, but it's getting increasingly windy. The sun does come out, in amongst the odd shower. The radar and satellite imagery shows a squall line passing through, but the Atlantic further out is packed with more downpours.

It was the weather that appears to have contributed to a tragedy in the Torridon area of northwestern Scotland on Sunday. A family group was out walking the mountain range of Beinn Eighe [pronounce: Ben Eye] when the clouds came down. Rather than continue with the walk to the second of the range's two Munros (peaks of 3,000 feet or higher), they decided on an emergency descent into Glen Dubh, which separates Beinn Eighe from its southwestern neighbour, Liathach [omit the tha in the pronounciation]. On the way down, one person, a man aged 76, fell 10 metres, injuring his head. Although he continued with the descent, the group soon found themselves stuck on a ledge (cragfast was the term used in local news reports). One managed to get off the hill and summon the emergency services at 7 am on Monday morning. They found that the 76-year old had deceased. The two other members of the family were taken off the mountain and taken to a nearby hotel.
I would like to extend my sympathies towards the relatives of the deceased.

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Harris Tweed - the future

Tonight, the final programme in the series on Harris Tweed was aired on BBC4. The outlook remained at best a questionmark, and not much short of gloomy. Rather than get hot under the collar, I'll restrict myself to putting down the way I think the industry should move forward - a purely personal take, not unduly burdened by excess knowledge.

Harris Tweed is a product, unique to the Outer Hebrides, and therefore unique to Scotland. Its production, as laid down by the trademark description, has to take place in the Outer Hebrides - exclusively. This is such a narrow remit, that it merits intervention at Government level (Scottish Government) to take the industry in hand.

Brian Haggas's ownership of the Kenneth Mackenzie Mill in Stornoway should be bought out. He has a stock of men's jackets, which he is pandering off through newspaper competitions, saucy photoshoots and what not. At the rate he is going, it'll take nearly a decade to shift the 70,000 jackets that clog up his warehouse. The KM Mill's production capacity is needed, in conjunction with that of Shawbost and Carloway's mills, to make the volume, necessary to reinvigorate Harris Tweed. Rather than being in competition with each other, Stornoway, Shawbost and Carloway should work under an overseeing body which directs the work of the mills.

The BBC4 programme showed that there is demand for Harris Tweed. This should be channeled to be produced in the Outer Hebrides, using the abovementioned overseeing body. Who should this overseeing body consist of? Weavers as well as mills, combined with the Harris Tweed Authority. A cooperative? Well, I don't know enough about that sort of thing.

I'll repeat what I said at the end of my previous post on this subject. The Kenneth Mackenzie Mill in Stornoway is the keystone to Harris Tweed. Without this, the cloth will be relegated to handbags and seatcovers. And Brian Haggas's jackets.

Autumn 2009

Today sees the start of the northern hemisphere's autumn season, as the sun crosses the equator on its way south. The weather, as I already indicated in my previous post, is suitable for the time of year, at least here in the Western Isles. I am noticing the changing of the season also by the fact that the sun gets lower and lower in the sky. In my position, about 4 feet from the window, the sun does not reach me in the summer. It is beginning to do so now, and as the year progresses to its close, I'll have to close the curtains in the latter part of the morning - else I will not be able to read the screen.

Another sign of the changing of the seasons is seen in the behaviour of the starlings. Large groups of them are swirling around the town, but not nearly as large as the massive colonies of hundreds of thousands that are seen in southern England. One day, they'll all have gone south. To be replaced by individuals that have come in from higher latitudes to winter in the relatively mild climes of the Hebrides.

Winters here are not severe in terms of temperature. Your average daytime maximum will be around 7C / 45F, and frosts are not common. The lowest overnight temperature I've seen since 2005 is -6C, and that was in March. Snow too is not common either, with the deepest fall of 10 cm / 4 inches lasting exactly 24 hours on February 2nd, 2008.

What makes winters severe in the Western Isles is the wind. Last winter saw a storm with winds gusting to 110 mph, and January 2005 produced a hurricane with gusts to 135 mph. Even if these extremes are uncommon, gales are common: on average once a week will the wind blow at 40 mph or higher. High winds, and that need not necessarily be at galeforce, can persist for days on end, with low, grey clouds scudding by, with drizzle, rain and hail. Daylight hours are at a premium by December, with the sun rising at 9.15 am and setting at 3.35 pm.

Many people who see these islands in summer, under glorious blue skies see them at their best. Some may elect to come and live here. Not all can live through a Hebridean winter.

Tuesday 22 September

Changeable day in Stornoway, with frequent showers, a strong westerly wind and intermittent sunshine. Wind should abate after touching galeforce through the night and earlier this morning. Our freight ferry, the Muirneag, has not done its customary overnight crossing to and from Ullapool, leaving me thinking the shops will be empty today. The normal ferry is due in at 1.15pm, with supplies.

The River Clyde in Glasgow is the scene of a whale or dolphin rescue this morning. It was reported that a northern bottlenose whale of 5 metres / 17 feet in length had been spotted under a bridge a mile west of the city centre. Equipment is being brought it to aid with the rescue efforts.

The BBC reports that autism rates in children appear to be the same as those in adults, dispelling fears over the safety of the MMR vaccine. Ten years ago, a now discredited scientist published a report, linking MMR with autism in children. It led to a dramatic drop in the uptake of the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine, causing an upsurge in the incidence of those diseases. It is worth stressing that these 'childhood' illnesses can carry serious complications both in children and adults, and those can be life-threatening. Although the scientist behind the MMR scare has been discredited in his field, uptake of the vaccine continues to be below the rates what they were prior to 1998.

Monday, 21 September 2009

Monday 21 September

Autumn is nearly upon us according to the calendar, but it has been around in the Western Isles for the last two months or so. Apart from a brilliant June and first half of July, summer was not really ever here. It is a miserably wet afternoon with some strong winds about. We are under severe weather warning for heavy rain and high winds - gales are imminent. No improvement for tomorrow either.

Last Saturday, I scanned the first copy of the local Roll of Honour, which was published in 1915. The second edition, which was published in 1921, has formed the base for my research so far. Just transcribing the 1915 edition, and see where any discrepancies lie. I have already noticed a number of portraits that were not in the 1921 Roll, so a promising source. Currently on page 11 out of 109.

Sunday, 20 September 2009

Sunday 20 September

After a sunny spell just before midday, the weather has clouded over, the wind picked up and a drizzle commenced. Autumn continues, as it has done for a while. The Sunday sailing left Stornoway at 2.30pm, and will be back at 9 tonight. It remains very busy with visitors, although the main tourist season ended a month ago. The road-equivalent tariff, which was introduced on the ferries a year ago, continues to favour the Western Isles. It has slashed the fares across the Minch by half. It's not quite fair on other islands, excluded from the RET pilot study.

Veterans of the airborne landings at Arnhem in 1944 have laid wreaths at the graves of their comrades in the cemetery at Oosterbeek. It could be the last time they'll hold this commemoration.

Image courtesy BBC

Cycling in Scotland

It has come to my attention that the Scottish Government is reviewing its policy on cycling. As part of this, they have raised the possibility that cyclists could be taxed. I have never heard such a ludicrous idea in all my life. In a consultation on the subject, question 10 reads: Should all road users pay road tax? If so, how much should it be for cyclists and how could it be enforced?

It is generally held that cycling, if practicable in terms of distance, is a very good alternative to car use. It causes no pollution, no traffic jams and is good for your health. If anything, the Scottish Government should promote the use of the bicycle by making the purchase or use of cycles tax-deductible (happens in Holland), making roads safer for cyclists (by provision of a cycle-lane or widening the roads. Not taxing them, for goodness' sakes.

If you read this in the UK, please take part in the consultation. As I said, this is the most ridiculous idea I've heard on this issue.

Saturday, 19 September 2009

Operation Market Garden

Sixty-five years ago last Thursday, the airborne landings commenced just west of the city of Arnhem in eastern Holland. On 17 September 1944, the Allied forces had been on campaign through western Europe for 3 months, after the successful landings in Normandy on 6 June. Airborne troops were parachuted into the area between Ede and Arnhem to engage the German forces, which were occupying Holland at the time. Although the Allies managed to penetrate into Arnhem, they failed to seize the Rhine bridge there. Fierce fighting in the city dislodged them from forward positions. Poor communications as well as a stronger resistance than anticipated forced a withdrawal south across the River Rhine.

Arnhem and Oosterbeek were evacuated, and looted by the Germans. Holland north of the Rhine remained occupied until the early spring of 1945. In the wake of the failed action at Arnhem, the Netherlands' railway network in the occupied sectors went on indefinite strike. This caused major problems for the Nazi forces, but also for food supplies - by the spring of 1945, thousands of people in the major conurbations in western Holland had starved to death. Others survived by eating flower bulbs. The Allies finally managed to cross the river at Remagen, between Cologne and Koblenz, in February 1945.

Picture courtesy, credits Pouw Jongbloed

Today, veterans gathered on the Ginkelse Hei [Ginkel Heathland], some 15 miles west of Arnhem, to watch another parachute jump. Others laid wreaths at the War Cemetery at Oosterbeek. The German ambassador to the Netherlands also laid a wreath.

Saturday 19 September

A cold, cold Saturday, in spite of the intermittent glimpses of the sun. A paltry 12C / 54F shows on the thermometer, a strong southerly wind blows. Hope it'll warm up a bit later on. Another ship is in port: the Hanseatic Sailor, which was in before. It is here to collect products from the Fabrication Yard. She has visited Stornoway before: this picture shows Hanseatic Sailor on 30 July, coming in past the Arnish Lighthouse.

Talking of pictures, I have changed the front pic again to a more recent one. Two weeks ago, I went down to Harris, which is the mountainous end of the Long Island. The pic shows the hamlet of Maaruig / Maraig, situated some 6 miles north of Harris's main town, Tarbert. The road to Rhenigidale is new, it was only built in 1987. It is a crazy rollercoaster - starting at 500 feet above sealevel, it plunges down to sealevel in a mile, then rises steeply back up to 500 feet under the hill known as Toddun, only to dive back down to sealevel at the village of Rhenigidale. That's 2,000 feet of descent and ascent within about 4 miles. Before 1987, you'd take a boat out of Tarbert or Scalpay and take yourself to Rhenigidale across the water. If you felt fit, you'd walk from Tarbert (it's about 5 miles), but involves an equal amount of going up-and-down.

Yesterday, I completed the on-line memorial for Harris, and this includes references to two places that are no longer inhabited. The island of Scarp, located some 20 miles northwest of Tarbert, was abandoned in 1971. It is the final resting place of two casualties of the First World War. The village of Molinginish was abandoned in 1963, when the final two residents died. The remains of the township include two cottages which are still in use; Molinginish can be reached on foot by branching off from the track that links Rhenigidale to Tarbert. The Arnish Lighthouse blog did a write-up on this village in December 2005.

On the subject of abandoned villages, the district of Eishken in southeast Lewis was cleared in 1820. It is a large area, with some large mountains on it (by Hebridean standards). Beinn Mhor rears up to more than 1,700 feet. Eishken had 36 townships in it at the start of the 19th century. I've managed to trace 27:

1 Bhalamos Beag
2 Bhalamos Mor
3 Caolas an Eilean
4 Bagh Ciarach
5 Ceannamhor
6 Scaladale Beag
7 Scaladale Mor
8 Stromas
9 Brinigil
10 Bagh Reimsabhaigh
11 Smosivig
12 Glean Claidh
13 Brollum
14 Ceann Chrionaig
15 Mol Truis
16 Mol Chadha Ghearraidh
17 Ailtenish
18 Budhanais
19 Ceann Loch Shealg
20 Eilean Iubhard
21 Isginn [Eishken]
22 Steimreway
23 Cuiriseal
24 Gearraidh Riasaidh
25 Bun Chorcabhig
26 Gilmhicphaic
27 Ceann Sifiord

Friday, 18 September 2009

Friday 18 September

An autumnal day, cool and quite breezy. Feel sorry for the wedding party who are going to have pictures taken on a beach this afternoon. Meanwhile here in Stornoway, the 'successor' to Woolworths, which folded at the end of 2008, is opening at midday. Same range of products, including pick-n-mix. The company, WeeW, has conducted a weeks-long publicity campaign, with a formal opening last night. The shop will open for sales within an hour of this post going live.

It remains quiet on the hurricane front, with one typhoon in the open Pacific and a tropical storm (Marty) fading rapidly near Mexico. The Atlantic has only had 6 named storms, and the way things are going that isn't set to increase rapidly. I'm sure it's a reassurance for those in Hurricane Alley, but bear in mind what hurricanes &c are for: dispersing heat from the tropics to higher latitudes. It is reported that sea surface temperatures are approaching all time highs.

Thursday, 17 September 2009

Blog reading

Gone through my Google Reader, and visited quite a few blogs. For the first time this month in fact. It was like coming home again - yes, I realise I'm repeating myself. Will try to make a routine to read blogs, rather than play inane games on Facebook. I do note that many people have the same problem. It will be exactly a year ago at the end of this month that we were notified of AOL's decision to axe their journals functionality. It's been AOL's loss, but much worse, our loss. Quite a few bloggers have disappeared from the blogging scene, unfortunately. AOL?

Thursday 17 September

A cold day today, with the mercury down at 13C and what is called a thin wind, of the variety that blows straight through you. Not very nice.

TV channel BBC4 has been showing a documentary about the present state of the Harris Tweed industry in these islands. I was asked to comment on this, something that I am a bit reluctant to do, knowing more about the history of the industry than I can post on an open internet blog. The documentary gave a factual account of the dire straights that the Clo Mor is finding itself in. I'll try to summarise in a few lines.

Harris Tweed is a trademarked product. Only cloth that has been handwoven and produced in the Outer Hebrides can be called Harris Tweed. Wool is turned into weaving yarn by a factory, who then delivers the bobbins with yarn to the weavers. These are commonly crofters, who have a weaving loom set up around their home. In amongst the one thousand and one other jobs, they'll weave the yarn into the tweed that the factory has ordered. Said mill will then collect the finished tweed and process it into cloth that can be turned into whatever final product is required.

Until the beginning of this year, there were 3 mills in the islands, based in Stornoway, Shawbost and Carloway. The Stornoway mill had been taken over by a Yorkshire textile magnate, Brian Haggas, who wanted to reduce the number of tweed patterns from 8,000+ to 4. Yes, four. After the weavers had finished weaving the tweeds, 70,000 jackets were made and put into storage. Where they lie to this day. As there is no demand for production of more jackets, the Stornoway mill was mothballed in March. Harris Tweed, in its thousands of different guises, remains in demand, demand that the much smaller mills in Shawbost and Carloway (covering 20% of islandwide production capacity pre-closure-of-Stornoway) are struggling to meet.

Unless the Stornoway mill comes back into operation, the glory days of Harris Tweed are over. Nike shoes, Alfa Romeo carseat covers and funny dolls will not generate the work that used to exist for the weavers.

Wednesday, 16 September 2009


Supertyphoon Choi-wan has passed the Northern Marianas islands as a category V storm, with winds of 160 mph. The island of Alamagan received a direct hit yesterday, with winds of 145 to 150 mph. The 15 residents there are all safe, including an infant aged 4 days. Although there appears to have been some damage to homes and infrastructure, nobody is reported hurt across the island chain.

Choi-wan is continuing on its west-northwesterly course, maintaining its category V status for the next day or so. The storm will curve away north and northeast, losing its strength in the face of the mid-latitude jetstreams.

Wednesday 16 September

Quite a bright day with good sunny intervals, but with a cool northwesterly breeze. Yesterday, there was good news when the rocket testing range in South Uist, 80 miles south of here, was saved from closure. Proposals had been put forward to reduce the site, with the potential loss of 125 jobs. That would have been a hammerblow for a community of only a few thousand, where jobs are already at a premium. When the range was opened in the 1950s, people protested against its coming. It's slightly strange to note the bruhaha against its possible closure. The initial plans would have saved the Ministry of Defense some £50m ($30m); but the redundancy payments and potential jobless benefits would have outweighed that. The politics surrounding this issue are interesting on a local level, but I won't bore you with that just now.

I couldn't help noticing that the Australian navy has intercepted a boat full of migrants some 400 miles north of its western coasts. The 60 potential asylum seekers were duly taken to Christmas Island, 1500 miles northwest of Australia. I am noting this event, as there have been 4 such incidents in just the past week; and there has been an outburst of overt racism down under against immigrants of any sort, legal, illegal, long in the country or not. Local media carry an assessment of the political situation that has arisen as a result.

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Tuesday 15 September

A quiet morning in the islands, with some brightness in amongst the scattered light showers.
It's not quiet around Guam, where supertyphoon Chon-wan has passed over Alamagan Island with winds of 130 knots. Yep, that's 145 mph. Gusts up to 180 mph. A supertyphoon is equivalent to a category V hurricane, so it's no use going out with an umbrella. People are advised to stay in their shelters. I'm trying to monitor events from the other side of the globe, but the Saipan Blog has not been updated since yesterday. I'm not too concerned though, apart from Alamagan Island.

On the theme of "everything can make you ill", it is now suggested that it's not healthy to take a shower. Disease-causing bacteria congregate in the showerhead, and when you turn on the shower, you're bombarded with a barrage of Mycobacterium avium, which can give you pneumonia. Doctors have found that as people move out of their baths to take showers, incidence of such disease has increased. Mind you, taking a bath isn't healthy either. You end up soaking in the filth that has soaked off your body. As you step out, it gleefully sticks to your skin again.

Monday, 14 September 2009

Monday 14 September

Overcast and misty, with clouds down to a few dozen feet above sealevel. There is a breeze, but not enough to lift the clouds.

There will be more than just a breeze around Guam, where typhoon Chon-wan is poised to come trundling through with winds of 90 mph and more around its centre. The storm will strengthen further after passing through the Northern Marianas Islands, but its future course beyond the middle of the coming week is uncertain.

One of the local producers of Harris Tweed has denied it was seeking to de-scottishify its products. What?? It was suggested that the released of the Lockerbie bomber would taint Scottish products in the American market, hence moves to de-scottishify. You can't remove any reference to the Scottish origins of Harris Tweed from the product. That's ludicrous. And whoever thought up that gut-wrenching neologism probably been de-brained beforehand.

Sunday, 13 September 2009

Cloudscapes and sunsets

Sunset at Stornoway, 11 September
Lowly cumuli on a grey sky at Stornoway, 11 September
Cloudscape at Stornoway, 9 September
Mountain-related clouds over the hills near Reinigeadal, Harris, 6 September
Cloudscape at Stornoway, 6 September
Sunset at Grimshader, 5 September
Moon over Stornoway Harbour, 5 September

Sunday 13 September

Overcast this morning, and what looks like a very fine drizzle. No wind - probably hordes of midges out.

Been hearing a lot about a Tea Party in Washington DC (on Twitter), and what is called 9/12 - although the implied connection with 9/11, the day before, is being attacked by some in the States. Apparently, many people attended a rally in DC to protest against plans by the Obama administration to spend nearly a trillion dollars on healthcare. The BBC put their number at 15,000, the organisers at 2 million. Anyway, Mr Obama (in my humble opinion from across the pond) should be applauded for wishing to extend health care cover to those 20% in the US who currently don't have that. Having read several on-line journals written by people who rank among that 20%, I am positively shocked at that situation.

The UK is unique, in that the NHS is in principle free to its users (apart from contributions for medicines, dental work &c). In continental Europe, healthcare provision is paid for through national insurance contributions mixed with private healthcare insurance. There is nothing wrong with private healthcare, but a state should always look to support those that can genuinely not afford to go private. The scare tactics being used, like quoting illegal aliens receiving kidney dialysis on the US government, are false and reprehensible. A doctor is compelled by his Hyppocratic oath to minister to all who need his services, irrespective of who they are. Or, more to the point, how much money they have. It is in that respect where the US healthcare system has gone off the rails.

Here in the UK, to continue on that theme, there is a shortage of dentists for tending to NHS patients. They prefer to do private work, exclusively. Pays better. IMHO any doctor or dentist working in the UK should be forced, by law, to take a set percentage of NHS patients as part of his workload.

Saturday, 12 September 2009

The Falling Man

Watched a documentary tonight about the Falling Man, the undescribably image of one of the people who fell from the WTC in New York on 9/11. As my tribute on this blog indicates, people tried to identify the man pictured, and initially concluded it was Norberto Hernandez. This was disproved. It then turned out to be Jonathan Briley, who worked in the Windows of the World restaurant, where Norberto Hernandez was employed as a chef. But, does it really matter who was captured, falling hundreds of feet to his death?


It matters more what the image stands for. And that transcends identity, ethnicity or nationality. It surmounts the politics, security and other implications that the dreadful events of 9/11 had. It brings it back down to the individual. Like the tombs to the unknown soldier that are scattered across the world. For it is the not knowing of the identity that gives the image its power.

9/11 will be remembered through the years, its acute pain lessened as time passes. If I can, I'll continue posting Norberto Hernandez' tribute on 11 September each year. Whether under the auspices of Project 2996, or under my own steam. Norberto's memory will live on. As will the memory of the several thousand others who died that day, 8 years ago.

Saturday 12 September

Equinox approaching rapidly, and it's getting dark by 8pm now. Nice sunset last night, will post pictures at a later stage. The island's shores are plagued by jellyfish, which are not just a nuisance. If they get into fishfarms, they are capable of killing the salmon - in 2002, £3m worth of farmed fish were killed in a fishfarm south of Stornoway.

Image courtesy Hebrides News

J-landers are reminded that Lisa Arthur's Facebook site was hacked, and is now closed down. She has reopened a new account. I am glad, in a way, that the hackers chose the wrong person. Everyone who knows Lisa is aware she's housebound, if not bedbound, due to her ill health. So it was pretty obvious it wasn't her over in London, asking for money.

Hurricane update - 12 September

While Fred, Linda and Mujigae fade into the history books, a flurry of new systems take over. Mujigae will have brought heavy rains to southern China and northern Vietnam - keep an eye on the news feeds for that.

Further east, along the 152nd degree longitude east, we find tropical depression 15W. This will strengthen rapidly and come barging through the Northern Marianas Islands on Tuesday as a 65 knots typhoon. Guam and surrounding islands are on typhoon or tropical storm watch. A previous tropical cyclone elicited the response from there that they'd crack open a beer and see what's doing on the beach.

The Philippines, more specifically Luzon, are feeling the effects of tropical disturbance 91W, which is referred to as Nando locally. This could develop into a formal tropical cyclone, but the Philippines will find the rains from 91W already more than enough to cope with. By the end of this week, 15W will come to haunt them as a powerful typhoon, although that is far from certain, actually. The latter system is still 30 degrees in longitude away to the east.

Missing - body found

Last weekend, a 17-year old jumped into the Falls of Foyers off Loch Ness and disappeared. Yesterday afternoon, search teams found the body of a man, thought to be that of Laurence Parrott. Formal identification is yet to take place (at time of typing, 5pm on Friday).

It reinforces the call, made by HM Coastguard yesterday to refrain from tombstoning. This teen-craze, which has risen in popularity, involves people jumping off high cliffs or piers without knowing what lies at the bottom. Assuming it is deep water, many have come to grief in shallow pools, having not taken into account the tides. Some have lost their lives. Videos of youngsters from the Isle of Lewis engaging in similar acts of lunacy were / are on Youtube, but some of the videos have been taken down by the website following complaints.

Late posting out of respect for the victims of 9/11

Friday, 11 September 2009

9/11 - eight years on

When this post is published, it will be exactly eight years to the minute that the first aircraft hit the World Trade Center in New York. The events of what is now referred to as 9/11 are only too well known.

My thoughts are with all victims, whether identified afterwards, or not. In New York, Washington and Pennsylvania.

My thoughts are with the passengers and crew on the four flights destroyed. My thoughts are with the victims killed in the World Trade Center. My thoughts are with those emergency workers who lost their lives trying to save others'.

My thoughts today are with the families of those who perpetrated these atrocities, for they lost too. Even before the events of September 2001, they lost their loved ones to a delusion of hate that is not of the religion they claimed to be faithful to. Hatred leads to destruction - as shown seven years ago. Forgiveness is a pillar of Christian faith, as it is one of the Islamic faith. Whether those that lost a loved one in 9/11 can find it in themselves to forgive is beyond my scope.

But first and foremost, my thoughts are with Norberto Hernandez, whose tribute I filed on Northern Trip, the predecessor to Atlantic Lines, in 2006 and 2007. The searches for Norberto on Google are contaminated with references to the Falling Man, who was in fact another victim, Jonathan Briley. This confusion has led to much anger and anguish, something the families of both men could do well without.

Norberto, rest in peace.

This entry, as stated above is dedicated to the memory of

Norberto was a pastry chef from Elmhurst, working in the restaurant Windows on the World on the 106th and 107th floor of the North Tower of the World Trade Center in New York. After the attacks, he was reported missing for a week until parts of a torso and an arm were found in a collapsed stairwell. DNA testing and finger printing reveiled that these were the remains of Norberto. It also invalidated claims that the image of the Falling Man was that of Norberto; this was another victim of 9/11 who will be the subject of a different tribute.

At the time of the attacks on the WTC, Norberto was aged 42 and had been married for 25 years. He was the fourth of ten children by his parents’ marriage, and also had six half-siblings through his father. His parents separated when he was young. Norberto himself had three daughters, three grandchildren and 37 nephews. He was a man of Puerto Rican origins, and had hoped to spend his final days there. Instead, after 9/11, a funeral service was held and his remains cremated in Puerto Rico.

His sister Luz described Norberto. “He was quiet, kind”, she said. “He was a handsome man. Everybody loved him, you know. Everybody.” Norberto’s nickname was Bible, as he was very dependable. Together Forever was his motto.

Norberto started work in Windows on the World at the age of 17, washing dishes. He was interested in cooking, so a manager paid for his tuition at cooking school. Norberto became pastry chef and worked up to 10 hours a day. His sister Luz said that he made cakes, desserts, cookies and bread. His cakes were fabulous.

Outside work, Norberto loved sports, and was a fan of a Puerto Rican boxer, Felix Trinidad Jr. Four days before the attacks, he rang his mother and asked her to play “I would cry but I have no more tears” four times.

In the immediate aftermath of the plane striking the North Tower, Norberto called his sister Luz. “He said: ‘Yeah, don’t worry, I’m OK”.They were disconnected, and when Luz tried to call back she could not get through. Other accounts from Windows on the World tell that smoke and dust filled the restaurant after the strike, and that people lay on the floor to escape the worst of it. Air was beginning to run out at the time of the last contact.

These are the facts that I have managed to pull together from the Internet.

From the little that I have learned of Norberto, he came through as a gentle giant. Although 6’2” (1.84m) tall, he was always listening, and talked later. His family suffered a double loss, as Claribel Hernandez (his sister-in-law), a secretary working elsewhere in the North Tower, was also killed in the attacks. Norberto was close in the family and responsible, which earned him the nickname Bible. He loved his work, and by the look of one of the images, loved to impart that knowledge to others around him.

September 11th, 2001, dawned as a brilliantly sunny morning in New York. Two planes were flown into the two towers of the World Trade Center, leading to their collapse within 2 hours. The destruction of so many lives was brought about by mindless hatred and madness, fuelled by religious zealotry which was not based on any writing in any scriptures in any religion.

Norberto may have heard of that on news reports, but it was probably quite far from him. He was a man that lived for his family, always there for them. A diligent worker, putting in up to 10 hours a day, loving his creations from the oven. Travelling to the WTC on the Subway every morning, his thoughts were probably far from what was to happen not that much later on that fateful Tuesday.

Two thousand nine hundred and ninety-six are known to have died that day, or in its immediate aftermath. Norberto’s ashes were scattered in his homeland of Puerto Rico. His memory lives on in his family, and in the memory of those that read this. He is deeply missed by those close to him.

To Norberto Hernandez

Rest In Peace

This link is no longer operational

I have attempted to contact the University of Columbia to use the material in this link, but have not received a reply. As it is central to the tribute, I have used it, and acknowledge the writer, Sarah Clemence.

This is a poem by Barbara Phillips, from which I have used some factual references to Norberto. It refers to him being the Falling Man though.

I have been granted permission by UIM to reproduce the commemorative quilt for Norberto.

The poster, pictured above, proclaiming Norberto as missing after the attacks, hung on a walkway of Manhattan for more than a week

Thursday, 10 September 2009

Lochs galore

The eastern part of the island of Lewis, south of Stornoway, is referred to as Lochs. For obvious reasons. Driving down the minor sideroad to Grimshader, Ranish and Crossbost, you encounter nothing but lochs (Scots for lakes). The sea is never far away either, with several sealochs (obviously connected to the sea, in this case the Minch) penetrating deep inland. Loch Erisort, 10 miles south of Stornoway, reaches 15 miles from the sea to the village of Balallan. These are the site for several fish and musselfarms. Setting the scene for a scenic drive this afternoon, with the sun out.

Coming down the B897 (which branches off the main road south from Stornoway to Tarbert), first popped into Ranish, which overlooks Grimshader on the far side of the loch. Incidentally, the sideroad within Ranish takes you to the Loch Erisort side of the peninsula. It is fronted by a 360 foot high hill, which I once traversed in pouring rain, in my footloose days back in 2005. Beinn Mhor - to the Gaelic speakers among you, this name will not come as a surprise. The big hill. Doubling back into Crossbost, the road plunges down to the little bay at the end of the road. The churchyard, at the Leurbost side of the village, has seen me several times for war graves business.

We then continued through Leurbost to the junction at Cameron Terrace, then on to Achmore. The map above is incorrect, by the way. The main road is not the A858, which veers northeast out of Achmore. This is a narrow, single-track, road to Stornoway. Although it cuts the distance to town from 12 to 9 miles, it is by no means faster. It rises to 500 feet above sealevel at Beinn a'Bhuinne, past shieling huts and peat cuts. Pity that my camera battery gave out at that point, after sustaining me through about 250 pictures. Here are some of the 50 I took today.


Fidigarry, entering Ranish

Shack at Ranish


At the end of the road in Crossbost


Lochs at Achmore


Tuesday's storm

So we had a 50 mph storm on Tuesday. Someone's dustbin was emptied by the gale; bin on its side, contents blown away. A sailor got into difficulties after he had to give up his anchorage in Glumag Harbour, for a vessel that was due in. Said vessel rode out the storm outside the harbour until Wednesday morning. He was towed into port by the lifeboat. A heavy gale always generates interesting images, see below.

Lifeboat to the rescue

Heavy seas at the Coastguard Station