View across the Outer Harbour of Stornoway

Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Wednesday 30 June

Closing the first half of the year on a positive note, with bright and sunny weather and fairly warm for this part of the world. We once more managed 19C, which is warm enough for me. Went out for a drive to Bayble, 5 miles east of Stornoway, for a stroll on the small beach by the pier there. The tide was out and the plovers were scurrying amongst the rocks looking for tidbits. I haven't uploaded the pictures yet, as I've been installing a wireless printer after coming back from Bayble. Very nice piece of kit.

I won't bore you with another rant about windfarms. We're threatened with another one, this time south of Stornoway. Wonderful. That coming on the day that the Isle of Eigg did not have power because there was no wind and there hasn't been rain there for a while - and most of their electricity is generated using hydro- and windpower. OK, they have generator back-up, but that's not the point, is it. Worse than that, last March, there was a day that all the windfarms in the whole of Scotland managed sufficient power to boil 1,000 kettles. Not much use in a nation of 5 million, is it?!

Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Lewismen in Canadian service

Lewismen serving in the Canadian Expeditionary Force 1914-1918

Total found: 678
112 do not feature in the Rolls of Honour
200 cannot be traced on Veteran Affairs Canada (with any degree of reliability), in spite of being quoted as serving with the Canadians

130 were killed

37 were called up under the Army Act from 1917 onwards, 3 were defaulters, and were arrested after not answering their summons

445 volunteered for service

Marital status
53 were married
414 were single

1 was a Seventh Day Adventist
1 was United Free Church
11 were Church of England
451 were Presbyterian
6 had no religion recorded

Location of enlistment
Calgary 21
Edmonton 21
Valcartier 41
Vancouver 38
Victoria 31
Winnipeg 96
amongst others

Trades / occupations
Carpenter 35
Farmer, farmworker 50
Labourer 110
Miner 22
Sailor 15
Stonemason, -cutter 16
Teamster 21
amongst others
Dark 141
Fair 150
Fresh 40
Ruddy 45

Blue 243
Brown 99
Grey 97
Hazel 25

Black 77
Brown, dark or light 289
Dark 31
Light / fair 60

Less than 5 feet - 2
5 ft 0 to 5 ft 3.75 - 20
5 ft 4 to 5 ft 4.75 - 31
5 ft 5 to 5 ft 5.75 - 45
5 ft 6 to 5 ft 6.75 - 57
5 ft 7 to 5 ft 7.75 - 82
5 ft 8 to 5 ft 8.875 - 41
5 ft 9 to 5 ft 9.75 - 64
5 ft 10 to 5 ft 10.75 - 40
5 ft 11 to 5 ft 11.75 - 25
6 ft and taller - 19

Tuesday 29 June

Quite a nice day, even if there was some cloud about. Managed to sit outside for lunch, as there was far less wind than yesterday. Nothing noteworthy in football land - Paraguay and Spain are through to the next round. I went to the library to find copies of the Stornoway Gazette from 1918. This was printed on poor quality paper, meaning it has had to be transferred to microfiche. Being quoted the wrong date did not help, but the quality of the film was mediocre.

I ended up photographing the screen of the microfiche reader to get the best result.

Monday, 28 June 2010

Monday 28 June

Tropical storm Alex is getting its act together for a hit on the Rio Grande later this week: around 90 knots (105 mph) of wind and a heck of a lot of rain. Take care if you're down there. Here in Stornoway, it may be mild (16C) but not sunny and quite windy. That does not stop the visitors from flocking to these islands - it is as busy as ever.

Football? Holland went through against Slovakia, beating the East Europeans 2-1. They will now face Brazil, who are beating Chile 3-0. Never thought I'd be reduced to blogging about football. Oh well, swept away in the general excitement (not), I suppose.

I've spent the day looking up details of Canadian combatants in the First World War, who originated in the Isle of Lewis. It was more a case of double-checking, as I found myself correcting quite a few minor transcription errors.

Sunday, 27 June 2010

Sunday 27 June

Quite a breezy day with some sunshine, but this evening has seen some downpours. It's half an hour from sunset, but the lights are on as the rain lashes down. Spent the day compiling a new website, about a Naval Cemetery in Orkney that I visited in 2008. I entered pictures and data on a forum, but have now stuck it on another Blogger-based site - works quite well.

A lot of wailing and gnashing of teeth going on this afternoon after England lost to Germany in the football worldcup by 4 goals to 1. My mainly Scottish Twitter contacts were gloating, and the air was thick with puns. The match between Argentina and Mexico was a lot better, even if Mexico went down 1-3.

The plans for an internal refurbishment of the 1929-built Town Hall in Stornoway have been approved by the Scottish Government. I like the plans, as they appear to make the building more useable - and compliant with disabled access legislation to boot. Others don't like them, and another exchange on Twitter turned the air fairly blue. It's not just the plans themselves that are at issue, the planning process is also alleged to have been flawed.

Saturday, 26 June 2010

Saturday 26 June

A day with quite variable weather here in Stornoway. It was mainly overcast, but the sun came out just after 3pm, which pushed the mercury to 19C / 66F. A couple of showers passed over during early evening. I went for a walk round Stornoway harbour this pm to see if anything had changed - not.

I've been compiling some information for the wargraves I found in the cemetery on the island of Vlieland where I was just over a week ago- have a look here. Tomorrow and next week I shall resume my transcriptions of the Napier Commission reports for the Outer Hebrides, and looking into the Canadian Lewismen who fought in WW1.

Hurricane update - 26 June

Tropical storm Alex is currently approaching the Yucatan peninsula and Belize. The system will pass over the peninsula and reemerge into the Gulf of Mexico, continuing to head westnorthwest. It is expected to strengthen into a hurricane by the time it makes landfall near the Texas / Mexican border. If you're in that area: please monitor the 3-hourly advisories from the NHC.

1152 days at sea

Intrepid record breaking sailor Reid Stowe returned to Terra Firma on June 18th, after being at sea continuously for 1,152 days. Initially, he was joined by a female companion, but she needed to return to land within a year or so. Three years after setting forth from New York, Reid berthed the schooner Anne there once more. The dedicated website contains dozens of links to the news on this story. I have enjoyed following Reid on his at times slow progress across the oceans of the world, and wish him well for the future.

Friday, 25 June 2010


Friday is in its last hour and the light is slowly fading. Yep, it's past 11 at night and it's only just getting dark here. Fantastic sunset tonight, with many bright colours. Will share pics later, when I upload them. Spent the day writing blogposts on the Shell Gallery about the holiday on Vlieland, also tracing two Scottish casualties from the Second World War who lie buried in the cemetery on that isle. They were mostly aircrew of planes downed by the German anti-aircraft battery (FLAK).

Friday 25 June

First day back in Stornoway after my fortnight's holiday in Holland, and trying to get myself organised. It is a grey, overcast day, with some spots of rain. Felt cold earlier on, but the mercury is at 15C / 59F, so no real complaints. I am still putting pics and blogposts on the Shell Gallery, which will take me a wee while yet.

Today is the 60th anniversary of the start of the Korean War, which was to claim 4 million lives.Of the UN personnel deployed across the Korean peninsula, at least 4 came from Lewis. The war memorial at Carloway mentions:

K Macarthur, 42 Park Carloway (USMA)
M Macaskill, 6 Doune Carloway (US Marines)
A Mackay, 4 Kirivick (US airforce)
M Macleod, 8 Kirivick (US airforce)

I am not able to ascertain at this stage if other men from Lewis also fell in Korea.

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Picture post - 9 June

The suntrap

Oiltanker Greta seen from Stornoway

Roadsign for Newton Street in Stornoway, Sraid Einicleit in Gaelic

Roadsign for Inaclete Road in Stornoway, Rathad Einicleit in Gaelic

Newton Street was built in 1833 and was always known by its English name. The area is known as Einicleit; the Coastguard Station (in so many of my weather pictures) stands at Einicleit Point. The word Sraid means street, the word Rathad means road.

This bonfire threw a pall of smoke over areas of the town

Wednesday afternoon

Although it is sunny today, the strong northeasterly wind keeps it quite cold. We managed only 14C, and the mercury is presently going down again. Went into town for a few purchases, including some reading fodder. I got myself Les Miserables by Victor Hugo (in English) in two volumes for £4.

Tomorrow, I shall be travelling to Holland for a week's break on one of the country's northern islands, followed by a number of days with my father for the purpose of visiting family. I will not have Internet access until June 18th; blog postings from me will be made on The Shell Gallery after that date until my return to Stornoway on June 24th. In a minute, I'll be putting on another picture post.

Beyond that, Atlantic Lines will resume on Friday 25 June.

Wednesday 9 June

A nice bright morning, with a stiff northeasterly breeze going. Although a max of 17C is forecast, I think we'll be hard pressed to reach that.

I'll have another post later today, but just wanted to share this slightly disconcerting image which was circulated on Twitter this morning.

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Monday 8 June

Today started bright and early, with some excitement to boot in the morning. Someone decided to light a bonfire just outside Stornoway, and the thick smoke billowed into town on the easterly breeze. It was visible from Swordale, 4 miles to the east. If the wind had been in the west, I doubt that the airport would have been very happy about it.

I managed to complete the initial transcription of the 700-odd Canadian servicemen whose roots lie in the Isle of Lewis. The majority volunteered, and mostly before 1917. In 1917, following various bloody battles, military draft (National Service) was introduced, under which 27 Lewismen were called up. Two defaulted (did not turn up) and were dragged in by the military police. I came across one gent, not from Lewis, who had defaulted - because he was a trapper and probably never got his papers in the first place. He died in hospital before any details could be taken.

Tomorrow, I intend to go through the blogs for the first time in many weeks. My Google Reader is shamefully full, although I have kept up with those of you who merit special attention.

As I close this post, the sky is coloured a nice pink colour - sunset at 10.20pm tonight. We had the best weather in the country, with downpours in Balallan (15 miles away) and heavy rain in the Highlands.

Monday, 7 June 2010

The Vatican

No offence intended
The Roman Catholic Church has taken a battering in recent months, particularly after priests in the Irish Republic were found to have been involved in child sexual abuse over many years. And not just in Ireland either. So it will not come as a major surprise that the authority of the Church has suffered a decline.

However, rather than indulging in a spot of introspection and recognising that there is some truth in the phrase "mea culpa", the Vatican has decided that investigators need to be sent to Ireland to reassert its authority and reestablish the standing of the Church in everyday life. Liberalism is to be stamped out at every cost. See this article in the Irish Times.

In 1984, I was invited to a lecture by some followers of the strict Jesuite order Opus Dei, with the object of converting me to Roman Catholicism. It managed to convince me that Roman Catholicism is not for me. I cannot accept that the Pope is infallible, for a start. He is a man, very much like every other of the 3 billion males of the species. As are each and everyone of his priests, as shown with the child sex abuse scandals - I condemn the sexual abuse of children in the strongest possible terms by the way. I feel that Pope Benedict XVI has made a serious error of judgment in slapping down on "liberals", rather than acknowledging that the Church made mistakes and working towards change.

Not being prepared to embrace change places the Vatican in the same league as the dinosaurs. Heading headlong for extinction.

Monday 7 June

A brilliantly sunny day, with a cool northeasterly breeze. The mercury topped at 15C, but the sun kept it nice and warm. Apart from sitting in the sun, I also made good progress with my transcription of Canadian servicemen who originated from the Isle of Lewis. Their total has now crept above 700. I have about 40 left to do, and hope to complete the listing by the middle of the week.

During last Wednesday's deadly shootings in Cumbria, police officers saw the man actually shooting people, but were powerless to act. Specialist fire arms constables were immediately summoned, but at no time did the unarmed officers have opportunity to stop Derrick Bird. 
> For the benefit of my American readers, British police are NOT routinely armed.

A train was derailed in the West Highlands last night, when the 6.20pm from Glasgow Queen Street to Oban hit boulders on the track near Falls of Cruachan station. The rocks are presumed to have come down in a landslip, but caused the train to leave the tracks. A fire broke out in the front carriage, but nobody was safely hurt. The driver led his passengers to safety as soon as the train had come to a halt, perched precariously 50 feet above the A85 road below. Picture courtesy BBC.

Picture post - 6 June

As promised, a few pictures of Sunday's foray to Uig.

The boundary between cloud and sun

The B8011(M) - Enaclete by-pass

Lonely house at Carishader


Kneep Beach campsite

Traigh Theinig (off Kneep Beach)

Valtos Beach from a hill above Kneep Beach

Church at Miavaig

Stonecircle at Garynahine

Sunday, 6 June 2010

Sunday 6 June

It is 66 years ago today that Allied forces landed on beaches in Normandy, France, heralding the beginning of the end of years of occupation by Nazi forces of large swathes of western Europe. The rapid advance through France, Belgium and southern Holland following D-day was only checked after the failed attempt to capture bridges at Arnhem, Holland, three months later. The Second World War closed in Europe in May 1945, but not after millions of people had been murdered on an industrial scale - because their religion courted displeasure with the German dictator, Adolf Hitler.

I went on a trip to Uig, western Lewis, this afternoon. It took 15 miles to emerge from under the blanket of cloud and showers that cloaked the eastern side of the island. We had a pleasant lunch at a stonecircle not far from Callanish, then proceeded to a beach in Uig. Beautiful area, particularly on a day like today. I have not yet finished uploading my 119 pictures, but will share a number of them in an entry tomorrow.

Saturday, 5 June 2010

Saturday 5 June

A very nice bright day, although not fully sunny. A bit of cloud about, a spot or two of rain as we went up the road through the village of Barvas. Temperature around 14C, with a high of 16C in late morning.

After lunch, it was up the road to Ness (North Lewis) to start with. A distance of 25 miles, which is commonly covered in an hour. The object of the trip, lunch at the Eoropie Tearoom, was thwarted as the Tearoom was closed whilst the owners find a buyer.

We duly diverted to Port of Ness, where a cup of tea and a couple of biscuits awaited. First though, we went to the Butt of Lewis, just over a mile from Eoropie (pronounce Yo-ropee).

Port of Ness

A drive of about 37 miles then took us to the Callanish Stones and attendant wildlife.

after which the Pentland Road was our route back to Stornoway. Some strange objects along there.

Friday, 4 June 2010

Friday 4 June

As my previous postings from today have indicated, I have now completed the transcription of the evidence from the 1883 Napier Commission Inquiry from the island of North Uist. In case you are wondering what it is all about, a brief summary.

In the 1880s, living conditions for crofters (subsistence farmer, who leases land from an estate owner) were atrocious. They could not expect to stay on their land for any length of time, had handkerchief-sized patches of land to raise crops on, and their livestock was usually starving to death as a result. A lack of milk meant they gave their children tea to drink. A riotous uprising in the Isle of Skye, 50 miles south of Lewis, opened the eyes of the government to the plight of its poorest residents, and Lord Napier of Ettrick was sent up to investigate.

Today saw a few light showers in Stornoway, but it is still reasonably warm. Tomorrow will see a trip out into the countryside in a car (not driven by me, I should hasten to add), and hope to have a picture or two to show.

Quote from the Napier Commission

This summarises what the Clearances were all about – for those who were on the receiving end of them. I quote the Reverend Alexander Davidson, aged 70, at Leverburgh in Harris.

It is most unnatural that man should be chased away to make room for sheep and deer ; that the land should lie uncultivated when men are perishing for lack of food. It is very unnatural that old or young should not be allowed to cast a hook into a standing lake or stream to catch a trout without being pursued by an officer of the law.

Attitudes to Gaelic - 1883

The estate factor in North Uist gave a good insight into why the Gaelic language continued on its long, slow decline in the latter years of the 19th century. I quote the relevant parts of his submission to the Napier Commission, sitting at Loch Eport on 30 May 1883.

12793. There was a statement made by some of the people here with respect to teaching the children Gaelic. Has the school board any educational views on that question? Other things being equal, would they consider that an advantage in the education of the children?
—I do not think they would.

12794. The great object is to endeavour to get as much English as possible ?
—As much English as possible.

12795. And the belief of the board is that anything done in the way of teaching the children Gaelic rather stands in the way of teaching English ?
—Well, if the teacher had plenty of time it would not do the children any harm to be taught their native language.

* and *

12854. You said something which I consider very heterodox about Gaelic. You speak Gaelic yourself?

12855. And have done so all your life?

12856. You read it?

12857. And write it ?
—I cannot say I can write it well

12858. You would not wish that you never had Gaelic?
—No, I would not.

12859. Then why is it that you discourage the teaching of it in schools, and therefore prevent Gaelic scholars from having that proper knowledge of the language which could be so easily given ?
—Without an additional staff of teachers, it could not be done. It would take up too much of their time.

12860. It is only a question of expense ?
—It is only a question of expense.

12861. You would not go to the length of saying that Gaelic is of no importance in the Highlands ?
—I believe the importance is getting less every day.


Boreray is a small island in the Sound of Harris (between Harris and North Uist), which was home to 150 people in the 1880s, as testified in this submission to the Napier Commission. Nowadays, only one person lives there – as a crofter. The complaint in 1883 was overcrowding. The below map shows how small the island is.

Thursday, 3 June 2010

Thursday 3 June

A beautiful summer's day, with a veil of high cloud slowly moving up from the south. I'm expecting rain some time through tomorrow. Spent most of the day out in the garden, assisting in various improvements.

An emergency was declared at Stornoway Airport just after 3pm, after a small plane left the runway. I could hear the sirens blaring away down Sandwick Road. Nobody was hurt, and the plane did not catch fire.

The police are continuing their investigations into the gunman who killed 12 people in western Cumbria yesterday, before turning the gun on himself. ITV television is not showing an episode of a popular soap, as it features a storyline involving gunfire. I cannot be bothered to relay the various scenarios being debated, I just want to express my sympathies to the families and friends of the dead and injured. I have never visited that area of the country myself, but my parents have in the early 1990s, at the start of the Coast to Coast walk.

Wednesday, 2 June 2010

North Uist, 1883

My transcription of the Napier Commission, which I have been doing over the past week or so, is slowly progressing and we are presently in North Uist. Once more the issue appears to be the size (or lack of it) of the land that each crofter holds. Malcolm Mcinnes, a crofter from the township of Tigharry, summarises it in his reply to question 12298.

12298. Then what I understand is that though you are not dissatisfied with your present holdings, you wish to have such large holdings as would enable you to live as farmers on a farm, and not be dependent upon labour
to maintain your families?
—That is it exactly—the very thing we want—that we could make a living out of our crofts by our own labour. We don't want to be gentlemen.

Gentlemen, in his perspective (I remind you of the date, 1883), were people who made a living out of other people's labours. It appears to have been a matter of pride to Malcolm that he be able to make a living by his own hard graft. 

Hurricane update - 2 June

Tropical cyclone Phet (pronounce: pet, Thai for diamond) is currently strenghtening very rapidly in the Arabian Sea, west of India. The storm is currently equivalent in strength to a category IV hurricane, and will reach a maximum strength of category V, with winds of 140 knots or 160 mph by tomorrow. In the early hours of Friday, Phet will make landfall in Oman at that intensity and track overland to reemerge over the Arabian Sea on a northeasterly bearing and a lot weaker.

This is the second cat V storm in the Arabian Sea in three years; Gonu devastated Oman in 2007. The waters of the sea are very warm, not surprising if you know that Pakistan is suffering an extreme heatwave, with temperatures reported at 53.6C (128F) in the south. The monsoon will move in during July, but it is common for extremely high temperatures to occur ahead of its coming.

My tropical cyclones blog, which copies advisories from various hurricane agencies around the world, has suddenly become very popular, with nearly 1,400 hits in the past 16 hours. The Indian TC agency's website is inaccessible, and people in the area are very concerned.

The first tropical cyclone in the Eastern Pacific has exacted a fearful toll in human life, with more than 100 people reported killed in Guatemala, El Salvador and southern Mexico. Tropical storm Agatha unleashed 30 inches of rain on the mountainous terrain there, causing flashfloods and mudslides.

Wednesday 2 June

The news in the UK is dominated today by a shooting spree, conducted by a taxi-driver in the west of Cumbria, northwestern England. The man has taken his own life, after shooting at people in 11 different location in Whitehaven, Egremont and Seascale. Five people are presently known to have died. A police operation is still on-going to establish what happened and make sure that not more casualties are found along the route taken by the man on his way. He shot himself in woods at Boot in Eskdale, southeast of Whitehaven. People had been ordered to stay indoors and out of sight, but have now been allowed to resume normal daily activities.

Here in Stornoway, the weather is windy and with a fine drizzle blowing along. A controversy is on-going at the moment with regards to the provision of public conveniences. Due to the refurbishment works on Perceval Square, at the very centre of the town, the public toilets there have been closed. The intention is not to reopen the loos and refer the needy to the library (where they can read for a pee) and the bus station, which is not open all hours. Councillors are now beginning to veer towards reopening the public toilets, providing someone is prepared to spend 30,000,000 pennies. And that's a lot of wee-wees.

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Tuesday 1 June

The day started wet, but the rain soon moved away. We had a brief spell of sunshine in the second half of the afternoon, but it did not last. It should be better tomorrow.

I have continued the transcription of a 19th century document, which details the conditions in which crofters and cottars were living in the Western Isles. Lord Napier spent the summer of 1883 going all over northern and western Scotland, mainland and islands, hearing the grievances of the people - about forced evictions, lack of land, no security of tenure - and the platitudes being bandied about by the landlords and their agents. Today's entries focus on the island of Benbecula.

I was horrified to hear yesterday about the attack by Israeli forces on a convoy of ships, which were bringing aid to the Gaza strip. It appears a botched affair, which is backfiring on the Israeli government. It has also brought home to many Israelis that their perception of their own nation is sharply different from the perception of Israel in the outside world. The hostility from the Arab nations is well known, but the way the Gaza strip has been blockaded has not earned them any brownie points in the "western" world either.

The Israeli government, headed up by Benjamin Netanyahu, has justified the blockade saying it is there to prevent armaments reaching the militant Hamas faction, whose stated aim is to destroy the state of Israel. However, the blockade has been so "successful", that it has choked off humanitarian supplies to ordinary residents in Gaza. It would appear likely that the Israeli blockade of Gaza will be relaxed in days and weeks to come.

I am casting my mind back four months, to 27 January, when Mr Netanyahu delivered a speech at the 65th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz deathcamp in Poland. It was a speech characterised by strident zionism - the God given right of the people of present-day Israel to hold the land they do, and defend themselves by any measure, and under any pretext whatsoever.

I recognise that Israel is under threat from militant Palestinian groups, and other "terrorist" organisations, some sponsored by other states, seeking its destruction. But the world of 2010 is different from the world of the late 20th century. Israel will gain more support through being seen to work towards a diplomatic solution of the Middle East problems, rather than bombing their way towards such a resolution.