View across the Outer Harbour of Stornoway

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

From the archives: Sunday 10 October 2004

From October 9 to 12, 2004, I stayed in the Isle of Eigg. I have a long-standing acquaintance with that small island, which goes back to 1989. My abiding memory of that first visit was a stunningly beautiful island, littered with wrecked and cannibalised cars, generators throbbing in the night, and conking out just as you're having your supper (leaving you in the dark).

Sunday 10th October dawned overcast but clear. The visibility was going to be the dominant feature. After breakfast, I left Kildonan at about 10.30, I really should not be keeping my host from her work by yakking so much lol. My progress up Eigg's main road keeps being impeded by ripe blackberries. Which obviously, I have to go and pick. Anyway, the piece de resistance of the road north through the island comes when you descend Bealach Clithe [pronounced Byalach Cleey] and first the towering mountains on the neighbouring island of Rum (seriously, the place is called that) hove into view. At 2,800 feet, they are impressive at 4.5 miles distance. The next corner reveals the green swathe of Cleadale, the crofting community, over which the 1,000 foot high cliffs of Beinn Bhuidhe [Ben Vooy] tower to the east. I slowly ambled down the road, past the houses of Cuagach, the terrible sideroad to Laig Farm and the old folks houses. Then you arrive at a T-junction, at which I went left, towards Seaview. This house was occupied by Angus MacKinnon, one of the island's elders until his death, a few years ago. It appears to be empty now. The blackberries distracted me. You can walk to Camus Sgiotaig, the Beach of Singing Sands from Seaview, but don't fall off the cliffs. You've got a bit of a job finding the way down. Don't chase the sheep over the cliffs either. Please. Once on the beach, the white sands, if dry, produce a shrill shriek if you rub your shoes over it. Or just walk over it. The streams cut a deep channel right through the sands, and you've got to be careful not to fall through the layer of sands if the water has undercut it. Otters have been seen playing in the kelp on the tideline. Towards the south, there are caves and natural arches to explore. It should be possible to walk back to Laig Beach, a mile to the south, but do watch the tides. I climbed up the hill at the north end of Camus Sgiotaig and ploughed through some dead bracken towards the pass of Bealach Thuilm. If you want to you can cross the stile and descend into Talm, which is overlooked by an 1,100 foot high cliff, Dunan Thalasgair. I climbed up the green hill behind the Dunan right to the top of the cliffs. Took me 15 minutes, but left me well out of breath. On the top, I got a signal on the mobile. Transmitter is located at Mallaig, 10 miles distant to the northeast. I went through the gate and proceeded to walk south. The views were phenomenal. I could see the Outer Hebrides from Barra Head north to South Uist, then again North Uist to Berneray and possibly Harris. To the south, I saw Tiree, the Treshnish Isles and Staffa and Mull. Having gorged myself on this panorama, I went south. Right by the edge of this cliff, only inches away from it. Not for those suffering from vertigo. Met a lady with her children, who had climbed up to the ridge from a point a few miles south. Then it's a case of following the cliff edge south, and choosing a route. Those heading for Kildonan just take aim for the farmhouse and make your way across. Beware of barbed wire fencing, and beware not to underestimate the distance.

Along the top of Beinn Bhuidhe, south of Dunan Thalasgair

Singing Sands Beach

Rum, seen across Laig



I'm not that much of a political animal, although I can get a bit hot under the collar over local issues. Windfarms is one of them. But that's not what this post will be about. It will be on quite a contentious issue: Scottish independence.

At the moment, the devolved government in Edinburgh is run by the Scottish National Party, headed by its leader Alex Salmond. The stated aim and objective of the SNP is to gain full independence for Scotland, and to leave the United Kingdom. During the elections for the Scottish Parliament in 2007, the SNP promised it would organise a referendum on independence within its first term in office. The party scraped into office by the margin of 1 seat, leaving it in a minority government. It needs the cooperation of other political parties to get any major legislation passed. The other main parties at Holyrood (the seat of the Scottish Parliament) are opposed to full independence for Scotland.

As matters stand, the SNP will not be able to organise a referendum, as they do not hold the necessary mandate in parliament. It is therefore necessary for them to persuade other parties to agree to a referendum. And that's where it gets interesting. Independence comes in shapes and sizes, it is not as black and white as it may appear to be on first sight. The Scottish Government could be granted powers to levy its own income tax, in other words, that more powers be devolved to it from the UK Government in London. Full independence would mean that Scotland would organise its own defence, and have its own foreign policy. And there are all sorts of shades of grey in between.

Which brings the focus on the referendum, and the questions to be asked therein. If the SNP wants to get its referendum off the ground, it would appear likely that concessions need to be made at this stage - in terms of how far any increase in devolved powers would go as a result of said referendum. It is, however, not a wholly Scottish affair. It is a United Kingdom matter. Will this referendum, and its outcome, lead to the break-up of the Union?

My perception of this situation is that it could, potentially, lead to the break-up of the UK. The way politicking is going at the moment in Scotland, I cannot see a referendum coming off the ground. If anything, bearing in mind the SNP's stated objective (the break-up of the United Kingdom), I would be opposed to having it.

Tuesday 13 October

Overcast and windy this morning, but as yet dry. The rainfall radar suggests the odd spot of rain is possible.

I am sad to report the death of my aunt at the age of 70. She was the youngest sister of my mother who passed away nearly 18 months ago.

Inverness could lose a landmark building to the wrecking ball, if councillors vote to demolish Viewhill House, the city's former youth hostel. I remember staying there in 1996, before the new hostel was built on the eastern outskirts of the city centre. Viewhill House was built 170 years ago by an engineer who constructed the Caledonian Canal alongside Thomas Telford. The below picture, from July 1996, shows the view from the building.