View across the Outer Harbour of Stornoway

Monday, 31 May 2010

Monday 31 May

Another beautifully sunny day, which saw the mercury at a very pleasant 18C / 64F this afternoon. Went on a stroll round the Castle Grounds earlier on, about 5 miles once more, which took me an hour and a half. The shore path between the Bridge Centre and the Woodlands Centre was closed due to repairs to the seawall, which means you have to divert to Lews Castle - up the hill. As a result, my planned walk round the Creed went counter-clockwise - first to the Iron Fountain, then down the Creed and back along the shorepath. Quite a few other folk out and about who had had the same idea.

Sunday, 30 May 2010

Afternoon stroll

Did a 5 mile walk this afternoon, through the villages of Sandwick and Steinish, and taking in parts of Stornoway. The weather was fabulous, even if the mercury did not exceed 13C.

I am quite familiar with the 15 minute walk to Sandwick, having often trodden that path on my way to the cemetery there. Only on one occasion did my plans founder - on a sheet of ice. Not so today.

Lower Sandwick

Walked up the street in Lower Sandwick, crossed the main road and continued up North Street.

This picture shows the view down North Street towards Lower Sandwick and the outer reaches of Stornoway harbour.

At the top of North Street, Constable Road turns right and winds its way through the Carse of Melbost towards Steinish. I heard a cuckoo calling, and promptly saw the bird fly off towards Plasterfield. Along the road here, you have a nice view of the airport, and one plane took off and one landed whilst I walked north.

Steinish is a one-horse town with perhaps a dozen or little more houses. Pleasant enough place, very quiet on a Sunday afternoon. It borders the Cockle Ebb, the tidal estuary to the River Laxdale.

And yes, that's my feet again. You have to wade across some shallow waters in order to gain the Cockle Ebb.You leave the estuary at Sand Street, where I heard (but not saw) a corncrake.

And finally, a twenty-minute walk through the town, north to south, leading past two remarkable gates. One to the football pitch, the other leading to the site of the old hospital.

Jane / A journey of another kind

J-land has lost another of its number, to cancer. Jane Thompson, who kept the journal "A journey of another kind", passed away this afternoon after a long battle against renal cell carcinoma.

On her blog, she described the slow deterioration in her condition, in spite of new drugs, new treatments and the valiant efforts of various parts of the NHS. She campaigned for the admission of expensive medications for use within the NHS. After a holiday in Brazil last year, Jane's condition took a sharp turn for the worse, which ended with the final result today.

Sunday 30 May

Sunny and breezy today, a welcome change from the mist and rain of recent days. Last night was the Eurovision Song Contest, which has been going for more than 50 years. The UK entry came last, and the Dutch entry never made it to the final. The voting went as per usual, less on merit, more on neighbourliness. I'll have more later today, but will close this post with a breathtaking quote from the Napier Commission Report on South Uist.

Due to sheer poverty, the people of that island were reduced to feeding their children tea, rather than milk in the 1880s. A translator, acting for the Gaelic speaking witnesses at the inquiry, had this to say on the subject.

11529. Do you find that the children are properly clothed generally 1
—Well, upon the whole they are. You meet with exceptions, but upon the whole, they are fairly well clad. Of course there are cases where clothing is pretty scanty.

11530. You don't think they are so badly clothed that it has any generally injurious effect upon their growth or health ?
—I don't think so. It is insufficient feeding that has to do with their health, as I find, especially tea-drinking.

11531. A man to-day spoke about giving tea to the children. Is it common ?
—Quite prevalent.

11532. I suppose you don't consider that good for children ?
—I think it most injurious.

11533. In the absence of milk, what would you recommend them to drink?
—Beer, if they had cheap beer; certainly anything but tea. I think it is doing a great deal of harm to the people, especially to the rising generation.

11534. [...] At what age would you begin to give beer to the children ?
—At a year or two or three years of age. I think if there was cheap beer made it would be much healthier than living upon tea.

Saturday, 29 May 2010

Land of the firey mountain and the flood

And that is a description that will fit Guatemala, in Central America. It is currently affected by two natural disasters at the same time. The volcano Pacaya, 20 miles from the country's capital Guatemala City, is erupting, sending thousands in flight. The city is covered in 3 inches of ash, and several people have died.

As if that isn't enough, tropical storm Agatha has brewed up some 170 miles south of the country in the Pacific. Agatha is too close to land to form any threat in terms of high wind, but it constitutes a major hazard in terms of rainfall. The projected rainfall total for the next few days is quoted as 10 to 20 inches (250 to 500 mm), with isolated totals of 30 inches (750 mm). The National Hurricane Center in Miami, which covers the Eastern Pacific region, is warning against life-threatening flash-floods and mudslides.

Late light

It is the same every year: when the nights grow short, or cease to be proper nights, I am out with my camera at all hours, showing the amount of light there still is at (e.g.) 1 am. These are both extended exposure (4s) pictures.

Moon behind clouds, 12.50 am

Looking northwest, 12.50 am

Stornoway Half Marathon 2010 - picture post

Saturday 29 May

An early post after a week of late ones. It is the Saturday of the Half Marathon here in Stornoway. As a result, it is raining and windy. There are two runs: the Half Marathon, 13 miles round Stornoway and environs, and a 10k (6 miles) fun run for the younger ones. The fastest runners did the 2 miles to near my position in 8 minutes. I'll post more about this as soon as I have my pictures and further info sorted.

Friday, 28 May 2010

Hurricane update - 28 May

The southern hemisphere is in the spotlight, 4 weeks after their tropical cyclone season closed. Subtropical cyclone Joel is currently located to the southwest of Madagascar and slowly moving south whilst weakening. Winds are at 35 to 40 knots (that's equivalent to a force 9 gale). Only the regional monitoring centre on nearby La Reunion is acknowledging Joel, but even that does not expect the storm to live much beyond tomorrow afternoon.

Here's to the 2009/2010 southern hemisphere season, finally signing off.

Don't forget: the Atlantic hurricane season commences next Tuesday, 1 June. They are forecasting a (hyper)active season, yeah sure. Seeing is believing - they were expecting something similar last year, but it all came to nothing thanks to El Nino and a shedload of dust from the Sahara desert. However, El Nino is gone, so keep abreast through the National Hurricane Center if you live in Hurricane Alley.

Clearances: South Uist

These quotes from the Napier Commission's report from South Uist, describe the clearances there. It starts with an excerpt from a statement of complaint from the township of Kilpheder in the far south of South Uist. The Commission then proceeds to quiz John Mackay from question 11143 onwards on the actual events. John is 75 years old at the time of the Commission's visit in May 1883.

[People were] compelled to emigrate to America; some of whom had been tied before our eyes, others hiding themselves in caves and crevices for fear of being caught by authorised officers.

11143. Will you relate what you heard and saw?
—I saw a policeman chasing a man down the macher towards Askernish, with a view to catch him, in order to send him on board an emigrant ship lying in Loch Boisdale. I saw a man who lay down on his face and nose on a little island, hiding himself from the policeman, and the policeman getting a dog to search for this missing man in order to get him on board the emigrant ship.

11144. What was the name of the man ?
—Lachlan Macdonald.

11145. What was the name of the previous person you referred to?
—Donald Smith.

11146. Did the dog find this unfortunate youth
—The dog did not discover him, but the man was afterwards discovered all the same. He had got into the trench of a lazy bed.

11147. What was done with him ?
—He was taken off.

11148. And really sent off like an animal that was going to the southern markets ?
—Just the same way.

11149. Did you hear that the same thing was done to others, although you did not see it ?
—A man named Angus Johnston, whose wife gave birth to three children, and another child was dead before, he was seized and tied upon the pier of Loch Boisdalc ; and it was by means of giving him a kick that he was put into the boat and knocked down. The old priest interfered, and said, ' What arc you doing to this man ? Let him alone. It is against the law.' The four children were dead in the house when he was caught and tied, and knocked down by a kick, and put on board.

11156. Were they in the habit of sending away husbands without their wives? —No. I never heard any instance of that kind, unless a man voluntarily left his wife when they would disagree.

11157. But you understand that one man was put on board a vessel by force with four dead children in the house, where was the wife at that time ?
—She followed him on board.

11158. The dead children would be buried before that ?
—The four dead bodies were buried before the mother went on board.

Friday 28 May

A day without much sunshine, but plenty of rain and showers. It is very busy in Stornoway nonetheless, as tomorrow is the day of the half-marathon, an annual event on the last Saturday in May. Apart from the 13 miles of the Half Marathon, there is also a 10 km (6.2 miles) funrun for the younger ones. By about 10.20 tomorrow morning, I expect the first runners to come past.

In my historical researches, I have found the attestation of a Canadian man who was discharged from the service a week after being drafted in on the grounds of being undesirable. I wonder what this poor chap had done. But we shall never fully know what the reasons for that were.

Thursday, 27 May 2010


If you want to read a description of what poverty was like in the Isle of Barra in 1883, read this account by Allan McIntyre, aged nearly 60 at the time. Contrast that with the condescending attitude of one of the major farmers in the island, Dr McGillivray of Eoligarry comes out with this beauty of a statement in his interrogation by the Commission, only a few minutes before McIntyre's questioning.
10803. [...] Do you think there is more disinclination to emigrate now than there was at that time?
—Well, I think that if the people saw they were to be assisted they would go. The general impression now is that the population is getting thronged again.

10804. How is it getting thronged ?
—In the way I have mentioned, by their intermarrying, and not leaving the country.
It was perceived by some of the ruling classes that the sovereign remedy against overcrowding and poverty in their landed property was to get the people to emigrate. As the Commission correctly highlights elsewhere in Dr McGillivray's quizzing, many of the emigrants arrived in Canada in a state of destitution.

Don't forget to collect your jaw from the floor before you leave this blogpost. 

Thursday 27 May

Fairly bright day, but with occasional downpours - which include hail. That is not uncommon in Lewis at this time of year, and no surprise given the low temperatures (10C / 50F) at the moment. The rainfall radar shows a rash over mainland Scotland, so we're not doing too badly. Temperatures are set to rise into next week.

A few years ago, I came across a map of central Lewis, showing the division of an uninhabited area for the purposes of shooting and fishing in 1874. Shown on the periphery is the village of Callanish. As I continue my transcription of the 1883 Napier Report, this again demonstrates the gulf that existed between the ordinary islanders and the wealthy landowners. The former were scraping a living off some poor land, whilst the latter diverted themselves with the bullet and the rod.

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Views of a dead industry

In the late 19th and early 20th century, the herring industry was a cornerstone of the island economy, here in Lewis. The same applied up and down the coasts of the United Kingdom as a whole. In my transcription of the findings of the Napier Commission, I came across the testimony of a fish-curer from Burghead, on the east coast of Scotland. Thomas Jenkins had been plying his trade at Castlebay, Barra, for 13 years when he was quizzed by Lord Napier and his commission. It makes faintly sad reading to see the earnest and detailed outlining of the problems afflicting the herring trade in 1883 - and knowing that within a hundred years, there would be hardly any herring left. The only tangible memory of the herring trade in the Western Isles is in the statues of the herring girls along the harbour front in Stornoway, as shown on the left.

In the early years of the 20th century, young women would flock to the fishing ports of the UK to gut herring at a rate of 60 a minute, packing them into barrels, with copious amounts of salt. The barrels would go as far afield as Russia, where they were considered a delicacy by the ruling classes. Like the herringtrade, the ruling classes in Russia would be swept away within fifty years.

Wednesday 26 May

It started so nice this morning, blue skies and all that. But showers bubbled up pretty quickly, and some nice cumulonimbus clouds marched up and down the horizon. One brought hailstones to the north of Lewis, and another drenched the town - fortunately, just as I was in the library.

On June 12th, it will be 70 years ago since the 51st Highland Division, part of the British Expeditionary Force, was captured at St Valery-en-Caux in northern France. Many were taken prisoner of war for the duration of WW2, a few managed to escape. I was in the library to dig out the names from the WW2 rolls of honour, which took me an hour and a half.

Tuesday 25 May

Been very busy today, in spite of the nice-ish weather we had, with the research projects - Canadian soldiers from Lewis and the Napier Commission report. On the latter subject, I am currently going through the report for Barra, which shows outright theft, wilful neglect and capricious evictions "because the policeman wants the land" being the order of the day in the 1880s.

A cruiseliner, the Braemar, came to call today and discharged its passengers ashore using tenders. By evening, it set sail in the direction of Kirkwall, 150 miles to the northeast, for a visit to Orkney. Apparently, the town centre here was heaving with the folks off the liner. This first month of the cruiseliner season is proving to be a very busy one.

Monday, 24 May 2010

Monday 24 May

It's ten past nine in the evening, and it's about forty minutes from sunset. The Arctic terns are wheeling around the basin, splashing into the water every now and again to scoop up some small fish.

The ferry came in an hour ago, amidst the second shower of the day. After a cloudy start, the afternoon brightened up, but just as you start to praise the nice weather, here come the showers. It is noticeably cooler today, witih a nippy northerly wind. Just as well the Icelandic volcano has (temporarily) stopped spewing out ash. Only if this is sustained for three months is it considered dormant.

I've continued my look-up of Canadian soldiers originating from Lewis. I have also completed the transcript of the Napier Commission regarding St Kilda, June 1883. If you're interested, have a look here.

Sunday 23 May

Although the rest of the country is basking in hot sunshine, the Outer Hebrides are under a cover of cloud and rather lower temps. I cannot complain about 15C / 59F, which I prefer to the near 30s that the south of England is currently afflicted with.

I have been busy today looking up the attestation papers of Canadians who fought in the First World War and who originated from the Isle of Lewis. I have also been updating an old blog, that was transferred from the BBC Island Blogging service to a new server last year. This process takes a long time, even more so because some of the pictures were hosted on AOL - and they pulled the plug on all our pics in December 2008.

And finally, I am transcribing the Napier Commission Report from 1886 on the circumstances of the people in the Highlands and Islands - in particular the entries related to St Kilda. Those islands were evacuated in 1930 at the request of its inhabitants, even though the authorities were aware of their deprived state fifty years previous, as highlighted by the Napier report. I shall open a new blog to display the transcription.

What was for dinner? A stroganoff with rice, and a strawberry gateau for afters.

Saturday, 22 May 2010

Saturday 22 May

The day started with dense fog, which lifted shortly after 8am. After that, it stayed bright (if not overtly sunny) and quite mild today, with the mercury once again at 18C / 64F. No coat required for walk to shop (which was very busy, and the inevitable screaming mites adding to the fun). Cruiseliner Polar Star (1st pic) was docked alongside the ferry pier, but it has now left for the Shiants (20 miles south of here). Better make the best of the nice weather (like sitting outside under the tree), because on Monday we'll lose the "1" on the temperature and go right down to 8C / 46F. It is still May, and we're not having a good spring. Those low temperatures will signal a return of the northerly winds and the Icelandic ash.


Dandelion puffball

Early morning fog lifting from the Castle Grounds

Friday 21 May

What a strange day. It rained like I've not seen rain for ages. We certainly get more than our fair share of rain in these islands, but we rarely get vertical rain of monsoonal proportions as we had for hours yesterday. The total rainfall amount is quoted as 0.6" (15 mm).

Tropical cyclone Bandu is moving just north of the Horn of Africa, Somalia, and has claimed a ship. The Dubai Moon, a vehicle transporter, went down in rough seas today. The vessel had been battling heavy seas and high winds of Socotra Island and later sank. The British Royal Navy, in the shape of HMS Chatham, saved the crew. Tropical cyclones are rare but not unheard of in the Arabian Sea; Bandu is moving west into the Gulf of Aden and will dissipate in the next day or so.

After the rain stopped, the fog moved in. By the end of the evening, the lights on Goat Island, across the water from me, had nearly faded from sight.

Friday, 21 May 2010

Picture post - 18 May

Cruiseliner Spirit of Adventure as seen through the Narrows

Cromwell Street Quay

Little and large: cruiseliners Spirit of Adventure and Quest

Thursday 20 May

Today came the news that the Lewis Chessmen will be touring Scotland this year. The figurines, thought to have been carved from walrus ivory at the beginning of the last milennium, were found in dunes at Ardroil, 35 miles west of Stornoway in Lewis. Most of them were sold to the British Museum, about a dozen are kept in a museum in Edinburgh. For the first time in 170 years, the Chessmen will be together again. In September, they will be on display at the Western Isles Museum here in Stornoway, where, some argue, they should be kept permanently. Or even at the wee Uig Museum, across the bay from their original finding place.

It was supposed to be a warm day, but far from it. It has been overcast and not very sunny. Last night, the cloud descended to sealevel, temporarily shrouding the lighthouse from view. It stands just a mile away from my position.

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Wednesday 19 May

Rather more cloud today, although it appears to have been quite localised. There were reports of sun at Bosta (Great Bernera), but fog in Uig - just a couple of miles to the west. Although I tend not to complain about 12C, it is rather lower than the 18C of yesterday.

I spent today putting the finishing touches to a new website, which displays all the wargraves in Lewis. It is now live on this link.

Monty Halls Great Hebridean Escape is all about hammering posts into the ground. I feel like hammering my head against the wall when I watch that man behaving like an idiot. Bonny Prince Charlie has been to every blinking island, Benbecula not excluded, and he came there and went - as he did in every place on the map. Argh. I felt sorry for the poor fisherman whose boat Monty Halls used to demonstrate how to leave an island. Although he did some good things, like marking out trails and cleaning beaches of flotsam and jetsam, MH is making an ass of himself.

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Tuesday 18 May - PM

A stunning day today, which had the mercury soaring to 18C / 64F, something that is our average in summer. As I type this, it is still not fully dark (10.45pm). There were two cruiseliners in, and the passengers of the Spirit of Adventure were apparently (bag)piped into town. Nice welcome. I went round the Inner Harbour between 5 and 6pm to have a wee look.

A friend of mine here in Lewis, who sits on committees, reported  the subjects under discussion this evening.
1. golliwogs 
2. state of crofting 
3. peeing on socks 
4. embalming 
5. cost of curing sheepskins

In my opinion, there isn't that much wrong in the world if that is all that concerns the citizens of this island. 

Hurricane update - 18 May

We have a new tropical cyclone in the world, Laila. This one is located in the Bay of  Bengal, some 350 miles east of Chennai (Madras) in India. It is at tropical storm strength and will impact the coast as a minor hurricane in a few days' time. This is the first system since 25 April, one of the longest cyclone-free intervals in the four years that I've been following these phenomena.

Tuesday 18 May

Bright and sunny, with a breeze and temperatures likely to soar into the 60s Fahrenheit for the first time this year. The forecast is for 19C on the mainland, but we will not get that high due to the surrounding cold waters of the Atlantic. It is once more cruiseliner time, with the Spirit of Adventure coming in at 8 this morning, and the Quest on its way in from the north.

Spirit of Adventure, 25 May 2009

Have joined a site which collates websites of interest for the Western Isles, and it is gradually filling up with interesting links. And I'm continuing to build a website which shows all war(-related) graves in Lewis.

Monday 17 May

Today was one of those strange days, where I found myself fattening the coffers of the local supermarket no fewer than three times. Apart from that, it was quite a nice day, which started with the appearance of another cruiseliner, the Fram. The below picture dates back to last September, at the time of her previous visit.

The Fram is quite a new vessel, only 3 years old. As I type this, the next morning, she is docked at Aberdeen.

Air travel is once more disrupted due to volcanic ash floating around British airspace. Watched an alarmist programme about the volcano involved, what would happen if its big brother blows, what will happen when the 30 volcanoes on the Kamchatka peninsula in the far east of Russia all go off. Wish people would get things into perspective, and not personalise natural phenomena.

Sunday, 16 May 2010

Picture post - last week

11.48 pm, looking northwest

Thursday sunset

Wednesday, visit to Ness

Picture post - 14 May

A walk across the Golfcourse and to the Waterwheel