View across the Outer Harbour of Stornoway

Friday, 30 July 2010

Friday 30 July

In spite of the unfavourable weatherforecast, we did set out on a bustrip to Leverburgh in Harris, 55 miles to the south. Promptly, upon setting out at 9.15, did the rain start. And it never stopped all day. Nonetheless, we paid our £8.80 for the return ticket, sat on the bus and relaxed. Visibility was poor all the way to Tarbert, 37 miles to the south, but sufficient to get your bearings. Arrived into Tarbert at 10.40, but our usual coffee place was shut for a wedding. So we went nextdoors to the hotel for a cuppa with a scone. We had a browse in the tourist office before jumping on the bus to Leverburgh - the one going along the eastern shores of the island of Harris. It is a 19 mile journey along switchbacks, humps, tight corners, blind bends - in driving rain. When I say 'rain', I should actually call it drizzle. Taking pictures was virtually impossible. Arrived at Leverburgh at 1pm sharp, and according to the schedule. Nipped into the Anchorage restaurant for some fish & chips, whilst watching a helicopter at work from the Pharos, the lighthouse service vessel. The weather briefly improved, allowing us a view of Boreray in the distance, but when the round hump of that island disappeared behind Ensay, the game was up again. The return bus departed at 2.40pm along the westside of Harris, where conditions were slightly better than in the east. I was able to take pictures, but they are still not brilliant. After a brief stop at Tarbert, we were taken back to Stornoway. To my great surprise, the sun came out on the pass below the Clisham (the highest hill in Harris at 799 metres or 2640 feet), but it was soon back to dreich & drizzle. Nonetheless, in spite of the poor weather, a nice day out.

Photos in reverse chronological order

On the bus

Loch Seaforth from the Lewis / Harris border

Loch Seaforth at Ardvourlie

The ferry to Skye at Tarbert.

One of the beaches on the westside of Harris

Sound of Harris ferry at Leverburgh

Helicopter and the Pharos

The Bays of Harris on a very wet day


Driving in the clouds below the Clisham

Thursday 29 July

Today, I was observing how two tugs with a large barge in tow each were maneuvering around Glumag Harbour all day. In the end, the Fairplay 31 left its barge (presumably at Glumag) and docked at no 1 pier in the town centre. The Pegasus docked alongside Glumag, with barge and all, in preparation for the loading of I don't know what. The weather was non-descript, a bit of light rain, temperature about 15C.

Fairplay 31 and barge

At dusk

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Pictures post - 28 July

The tug (Pegasus) + barge, approaching Stornoway Harbour

Tug Pegasus

Cruiseliner Marco Polo

Yachts passing the Fabrication Yard

Wednesday 28 July

Summer is supposed to be at its peak, but we in the Hebrides only catch fleeting glimpses of it. All we can espy on an average day is a lot of mist and driving rain. With the odd sunny spell, but then the midgies (no-see-ums) make it less than pleasant. Meanwhile, I've been keeping myself occupied with ships and boats of every description today. The day started with the tug Pegasus heaving into view with a large, bright orange barge behind it. This is presently maneuvered alongside the Arnish quay, presumably for loading with renewable energy paraphernalia. Not long after, the cruiseliner Marco Polo dropped anchor in Sandwick Bay, just round the corner from me. Today is Wednesday, which means we have three sailings instead of two on our ferry, and as per usual this summer, it is running more than an hour late. During the afternoon, the oil products tanker Sarnia Liberty came in to deliver petrol, diesel and kerosine to the island. It is really strange to find that this ship also delivers petrol to Scrabster and Inverness, where fuel prices are several pence lower than here. Finally, there was some sort of yacht rally, with bright white sails moving out of port. To close on a maritime note, sailing girl Laura Dekker, who is a 14-year old from Holland, has been given consent to start a round-the-world solo trip on board her craft Guppy. Last year, Laura was denied permission by her mother and concerned child welfare agencies. Yesterday, she was given the go ahead, and the youngest round-the-world solo sailor could be en-route within a fortnight. A previous attempt, by 16-year old Abby Sunderland from the USA, failed when her yacht was dismasted in the Indian Ocean.

PS: I do have pictures, but not yet uploaded. Will post them tomorrow.

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Tuesday 27 July

A pretty horrible day, weatherwise, with spells of drizzle and no sun to speak of. And the temperature was nothing worth writing about either - 14C. To continue the moan, we had  a lengthy powercut this morning. I am a late riser, so I was not inconvenienced by the fact that the Waternish substation in Skye decided to throw a wobbler at 7.30 am. The result was a blanket black-out, from Barra all the way up to the Butt of Lewis. The power company switched on its anxillary generating stations to get people back on supply, but some were without electric for 3 hours. This meant no cooked breakfast for the tourists in the B&Bs, no coffee or tea for the office workers and the Town Hall clock firmly stopped at 5.40. Do I have anything positive to report?

Well, I managed to get through my check on the Lewismen who served in the Canadian forces during WW1 - a list of about 300 (out of 678). More checks to follow. Right, it's 9.20 pm, here's the last couple of hours of the day.

Monday, 26 July 2010

Monday 26 July

After a very wet start, the sun is beginning to come out. I've just been going through the blogs on my Google Reader for the first time in what looks like a month. I'm not promising, but will make an effort to check round a bit more frequently than that.

This weekend, 19 people were crushed to death in the German city of Duisburg. They were headed for a music festival which had attracted a million people. Crowd management had failed, meaning that too many people were trying to push through an entrance tunnel. I remember vividly the 50th anniversary of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 2002. A crowd of 1 or 2 million had gathered outside Buckingham Palace to hear a concert by various pop bands and singers. I moved to the front of the throng, but the atmosphere there was aggressive, with people insisting on moving to the very front, being excessively nationalistic - and this poor old couple being led away by police. I don't like big crowds.

Sunday, 25 July 2010

Sunday 25 July

The day started off wet, but dried off later in the morning. The sun came out during the afternoon, although a few light showers kept popping up. Another one is just moving in as I type. Not much doing today, as it's Sunday. Hardly any traffic on the road, and when I went for an amble round my area of Stornoway, I didn't meet more than half a dozen vehicles in the 40 minutes I was out and about. I'll close with some pics I took on the way.

Seaforth Road

View from the Battery

"I see you"

Saturday, 24 July 2010

Clearances: Rodel, Harris

Donald Macdonald, an man of 74, was called to give evidence to the Napier Commission of Inquiry into the conditions of crofters and cottars in the Highlands and Islands when it came to Tarbert, Harris. He represented the village of Grosebay, corrupted to Grosaway in the Napier Report. In response to question 18122, this story emerges of the clearance of Rodel.

I saw my mother with her youngest child taken out of the house in a blanket and laid down by the side of a dyke, and the place pulled down. My mother was in child-bed at the time. The child was only born the previous night, and my father asked M'Leod, who was proprietor at the time, whether he would not allow them to remain in the house for a few days, but permission was not given, only he came to the dykeside where she lay and asked what this was, and when he was told he asked him to lift her up and remove her to an empty barn, and it was there she was put. 


The Napier Commission is sitting in Tarbert, Harris, in June 1883. Another excerpt from the submission by Ardhasaig crofter John Mcleod. He describes the consequences of the clearances in Harris. 

The end of it was that my family, when they grew up, scattered into all parts of the earth; and some ot them are dead in a foreign land, and others I know not where they are,—and I am alone. Hundreds suffered equally with myself. There are at least twice as many both in North and South Harris without lands as there are that have land. I think it is a sad condition of affairs in this place. There is not a family in the whole of Harris where there are two sons but one of them at least is in the service of the Queen, perhaps two, and neither they nor their fathers can obtain a foot of the soil upon which they could live. It would appear that, when Britain becomes involved in a struggle with another nation in the future, they must send for the deer and sheep of Harris as well as its young men, and then they can see which is the best bargain.

Saturday 24 July

A very wet start to the day, but the rain appears to be moving away into the Minch. I'm processing the Napier Report into the conditions of the crofters of the Highlands and Islands from 1883. The excerpt, presented in the previous post, is an example of the arbitrary nature of the some of the clearances.

The Scottish Government has turned down an invitation from a US Senate Committee to answer questions on the release of the Lockerbie bomber, Megrahi, in August 2009. The United States government was unhappy with that decision, taken on humanitarian grounds. There are suspicions that the release was linked to an oil deal between BP (yes, them) and Libya. However, the Scottish Government is independent of the UK government as regards justice matters. Neither Justice Secretary, Kenny Macaskill, nor First Minister Alex Salmond, are prepared to go to Washington, saying it is an autonomous matter for Scotland, on which they are solely answerable to the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh.

I do understand that the USA has a vested interest in the Lockerbie disaster, bearing in mind that most of the casualties were US citizens. However, 11 of the dead were citizens of the town of Lockerbie, and the crime took place on Scottish soil.

I just want to make one closing remark on the issue of immigration, which I raised this week. I understand that illegal immigrants are treated as if they are legal immigrants. That is patently wrong, and an issue sorely neglected by successive administrations (both Republican and Democrat). I will go so far as to commend the current administration for at least addressing the issue. Please bear in mind that the number of illegal immigrants in the US is 11 million, and just kicking the 6 million Mexicans among them back across the Rio Grande is not practicable. I don't think it is up to me to be in favour or against the currently proposed measures, bearing in mind the strength of feeling on the issue that I have detected in comments on preceding blog posts.

Why did John Mcleod lose his lands?

Wednesday, June 13th, 1883. The Napier Commission is sitting in Tarbert, the main village in Harris and is interrogating 62-year old John Mcleod, a crofter and fisherman from Ardhasaig, a few miles west of Tarbert. Commissioner Sheriff Nicolson asked him how he lost his land thirty years ago.

Thereby hangs a tale. There was a lady in Uist and a gentleman in Skye, and my brother had a vessel, and he came in the vessel with Donald Macdonald from Monkstadt [Isle of Skye], and he went to Balranald [North Uist] in order to remove from thence the young lady, whose parents were not willing that she should marry the young gentleman in the ordinary way. They wished her to marry the man who was at the time factor upon the estate; but this man took her away. The factor, Macdonald, had his revenge upon me and my two brothers for this act, though we were quite innocent of it. One of my brothers was at the time in Borv, and another in Scalpa, and I had a sister in West Tarbert. The four of us had lands at the time, and he deprived us of them all. One of my brothers went to Australia, where he is still. That is how I lost my land—the sole cause. I did not get lands since.

Friday, 23 July 2010

Pictures post - 23 July

The Jack Abry II with the RNLI lifeboat Tom Sanderson in attendance.

The Queen passed through Stornoway today, to join her holiday yacht Hebridean Princess. 

Ferry passengers, awaiting the 12.40 departure to Ullapool, had a grandstand view of the Queen as she embarked the Hebridean Princess

Moon at midnight

A few notes

One of the murderer of Jamie Bulger, the man formerly known as Jon Venables, has been jailed for two years for possessing child ponography on his computer. His release will be determined by the Parole Board, unlike most prisoners who may become eligible for early release after serving half their sentence. Jamie Bulger, aged 2 years and 9 months, was lured out of a shopping centre in Bootle, Merseyside, in 1993 by Venables (aged 10) and his pal Robert Thompson. Jamie's battered body was found some time later along a railway line nearby. The child's mother has said that justice has not been done, but the judge commented that he could not impose a longer sentence simply because of what Venables had done before.

Tropical storm Bonnie isn't a very bonny cyclone, as it traverses Florida at present. Maximum sustained winds are about galeforce or just above, and the rain is falling mainly to the west and north of the centre. If the system holds together (and that's not certain), it will pass through the Gulf of Mexico. Maximum winds will be 45 knots (that's top-end force 9 on the Beaufort scale).

Trawler troubles

The trawler Jack Abry II was seen off the Goat Island jetty this afternoon, with the RNLI lifeboat in attendance. I am not sure what happened, but it seems the trawler had some steering or engine trouble. It managed to get underway again, did a full about turn in the harbour waters, and docked safely alongside pier number 3. I'll post some pictures of today's maritime excitements in a bit.

Friday 23 July

Nice sunny morning here in the Western Isles, with a bit of a southerly breeze going. Last night got very still and very cold very quickly. The mercury shivered down to 5C / 41F at midnight. Fortunately, the sun got to work quickly after it rose at 5 am and we're now basking in 17C / 63F.

The big news item in Stornoway this morning is the fact that Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II is passing through the town on her way to board her holiday yacht, the MV Hebridean Princess. The image below showed the boat almost exactly 4 years ago, on 29 July 2006, when the HP took HM on her 80th anniversary cruise round the islands, to deposit her at Stornoway to be flown away from the airport. Her route now goes in reverse. This year, there's a slightly sour taste to proceedings. Apparently, the Hebridean Princess was chartered for a cruise, which was cancelled - requisitioning I call it. Is that what you call HP sauce? Meanwhile, I wish HM a pleasant holiday.

Thursday, 22 July 2010

Hurricane update - 22 July

The National Hurricane Center is advising that a new tropical cyclone has formed in the southern Bahamas, and advisories will be initiated at 11 am EDT (1500 GMT). Tropical storm watches and warnings can be expected for the Bahamas and southern Florida. Please monitor progress through the NHC website.

Immigration - part 2

Many thanks to those who responded to my first post on this subject yesterday. It struck me that opinions diverged sharply. Connie and Frances, as American citizens, disagreed with my take, whereas Carol, Sybil and Yasmin (Europeans) did agree. In the UK, there is a natural barrier against illegal immigration, commonly referred to as the English Channel or the North Sea. Illegal immigration still takes place, but they need to go to a lot of bother to make the crossing. Those in the southeast of England are familiar with the sight of illegals jumping from the backs of trucks on the M2 and M20 motorways. In terms of numbers however, we're talking about a few hundred a day - not the thousands that flood across between Brownsville and San Diego.

I agree that those wishing to enter any country should do so legally. At worst, illegal aliens could be terrorist recruits, seeking to carry out an atrocity. However, the problem that is confronting the US at this time (and has been for the past couple of years) is here to stay. Building a barrier stretching the length of the US / Mexican border is not working. I cannot imagine that any decent person would condone shooting illegal aliens on sight. For the rest of this post, I'll focus on those that are present in the US at the moment.

What to do with the illegal immigrants currently already in the United States? Well, some say that illegals should not receive any state support, food, healthcare, housing etc. Really? Would you be prepared for the sight of the homeless multitudes thronging the sidewalks of your cities, starving, dying, left to rot? I don't think so either. An extreme option, but one worth flagging up.

Sending them back will present huge problems on account of the sheer numbers we're talking about. I remember an idea mooted by President Obama of an amnesty for all illegals, and start from scratch. It's what I call pragmatism, but probably politically not palatable. Those subject to the amnesty will be offered support, but on certain conditions - a programme of integration in American society could be considered. Those who do not adhere to the conditions will be expelled. Anyone found crossing the border illegally after the amnesty is ended will be sent straight back - irrespective of circumstances.

Where I come from, there is a saying: "The best ship's captains stand ashore", meaning that it's very easy to pontificate from the sidelines. I'm in Europe, where the problem of illegal migrants is of a far lesser scale than what the Americans are facing. I hope the American administration is able to formulate a policy that mixes compassion with firmness, satisfactory to old and new residents alike.

Thursday 22 July

A nice sunny day, with a northerly breeze. That keeps the temperature down, but I'm not complaining.

Yesterday, British prime minister David Cameron dropped quite a clanger, when he referred to the United Kingdom as the junior partner in the early years of the Second World War - implying that the US was taking the lead. Far from it. The US did not get actively involved in WW2 until Germany and Japan declared war in December 1941.

A yachtsman and his family were rescued from their yacht near Rubha Reidh [pronounce: Roowa Ray] lighthouse on the Scottish mainland, near Gairloch. When their steering failed, the strong winds were threatening to send the yacht onto the rocks. The yacht let off distress flares and sent out a mayday call to Stornoway Coastguard. Their helicopter flew across the Minch and winched the occupants of the yacht to safety. Stornoway Coastguard praised the yachtsman for his prompt call for help and knowledge of correct procedures in case of an emergency.

The night before, Stornoway Coastguard could practically walk to a casualty yacht, which had grounded itself on rocks at the Sgeir Mhor - which lies behind the Coastguard Station. The RNLI lifeboat went out and helped the yacht back into deep water.

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Wednesday 21 July

Not a very nice day today. Although it is dry, there is this grey cloud cover and strong wind and the mercury at a very mediocre 12C / 54F. It should get better on Thursday and Friday.

Last night at midnight, the analogue signals from the television transmitter at Achmore were switched off permanently. They were replaced by digital signals, which can only be viewed using a Freeview decoder. Modern tv's come with an in-built decoder, older sets need a separate box. At midnight, I switched on an old TV without decoder and watched BBC1, until the signal disappeared a few minutes later. Don't worry, I'm not deprived of TV. Not that I watch it that much; the 550 channels on Sky are mainly full of the brown stuff.

Achmore and the transmitters on the top of Eitsal; 27 May 2005.


There is a lot of discussion going on these days about immigrants, legal or otherwise. I'd like to say a few words about the amount of hot air going up in the States on this subject. From the pages of the blogs I read, I pick up a deal of resentment about Mexicans sneaking across the border illegally, and subsequently given all the perks that many Americans lack: housing, healthcare, social security and so on. Without speaking a word of English.

Call me a bloody-minded European, but I'm allergic to this manner of talk. First of all, virtually nobody in the United States has any right to moan about immigration. Why? Each and everyone of you is descended of immigrant stock. Whether that's going back to the times of Christopher Columbus or to last week, that is the simple truth of the matter.

The only people in the US who have a genuine right to complain about illegal immigration are the native Americans, often referred to by that misnomer "Indians". They reached the American continent 30,000 years ago, across the Bering Sea landbridge, which linked Asia to America. The native Americans lived in their vast continent without hassle until about 1500 AD, when the Spaniards, Portuguese, English, French, Dutch and many others thought they had a god (sic) given right to invade, occupy, murder, slaughter, pillage and rape for all they could.

However, we should not live in the past, and I genuinely do not bear any ill will to the America of 2010. Even as recently as 1995, we could see what happens if you do hark back to events from centuries ago - the Balkan wars of 1991-1995 were justified by referring to a battle in 1389. I would suggest however that the USA should continue to welcome immigrants as it always has. I appreciate that the world continues to change, as it always has, and that there are groups of people about that you can do without.

If there are folk in the States who feel hard done by, because the illegals get things that they themselves are entitled to, but not getting, well - speak to your Congressman.

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Hurricane update - 20 July

A tropical disturbance is moving over Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic, leaving very large amounts of rainfall behind. The Virgin Islands and surrounding islands report rainfall totals of up to 8 inches (200 mm). The National Hurricane Center in Miami is warning that there is a high (60%) likelihood that this could turn into tropical storm Bonnie by Thursday. The projected path could take the system into Florida in a couple of days' time.

Just to reiterate: no tropical cyclone has formed and it is not certain that one will actually form. 

Please monitor the NHC's output for further updates.

Tuesday 20 July

Quite a nice day, with a lot of brightness and even sunshine about. The mercury once more topped 18C / 64F, which is an acceptable maximum for this part of the world. Here in Stornoway, the Hebridean Celtic Festival organisers are offering money back to those who purchased drinks tokens for the concert on Saturday, but were unable to buy drinks due to the 90 minute waiting time.

Those who have been reading my blog output for a long time may remember that there was a fire at the mail distribution centre on Sandwick Road in November 2007. It gutted the place, and the ruin has been sitting there ever since. The mail is since being distributed from a site on nearby Rigs Road. A final solution could now be on the card, if a local company can organise a swap of sites with the Royal Mail.

The burned-out mail centre immediately after the fire in November 2007

In August last year, the Scottish Justice Secretary, Kenny Macaskill, released the Lockerbie bomber Megrahi to "go home to die". At the time, Megrahi was thought to have a life expectancy of 3 months. We're now 11 months down the line, and Megrahi is still alive. The American government has never been happy with that decision, and US senators want to discuss the issue with the UK prime minister David Cameron. Kenny Macaskill has said that the issue was one for the British government. I think Mr Macaskill is trying to dodge his responsibility. It was (and I quote him): his decision alone. No pressure from the Foreign Secretary (then David Miliband), who was quite happy to leave it all to the Scottish Government.

Monday 19 July

After watching the ceremony at Fromelles, I went on the bus to Ness, in the north of Lewis to visit an acquaintance in the village of Eoropie, near the Butt of Lewis. It was a nice, sunny afternoon with a gentle breeze and quite acceptable temperatures of around 18C / 64F. I had wanted to go to Ness to see the machair flowers, for which the Outer Hebrides are famous in July. Unfortunately, the recent spell of high winds appears to have blown them all to bits, as there were only buttercups and bog cotton in evidence. On the way back, two llamas were spotted in the village of Skigersta.


Road to the Butt of Lewis at Eoropie (pronounce: Yoropee)

Butt of Lewis lighthouse as seen from Eoropie

West of Eoropie on the coast: Cunndal

Village main street, Eoropie

5 July 2006 - machair flowers

Monday, 19 July 2010


Today, it is 94 years ago that a battle was fought during the First World War at the French village of Fromelles. A burial pit containing the remains of the dead was discovered in 2008, and the task of identifying them is still on-going. This morning, a service is conducted at Fromelles for the reburial of the remains of an unknown soldier. Watching the ceremony live on BBC News, most impressive. I link to the BBC News website for background information.

Sunday, 18 July 2010

Sunday 18 July

More of the same weatherwise: rain in the morning, clearing to sunny spells and windy conditions. Temperature rather better than of late, with the mercury rising to 18C / 64F in the sun. The force 5 winds made it not attractive to sit outside.

With regards to yesterday's concert, the general tenure of reactions is that people were less than impressed for the same reasons that I quoted. It is a shame, because the band is one of my favourites, and the Heb Celt Fest is a great occasion. Today's two ferry sailings were packed with revellers returning to the Scottish mainland.

My position overlooks the Newton Basin in Stornoway, and the causeway which links Goat Island to the rest of the town. The causeway was built in the late 1940s, but was already being discussed in the 1880s, according to this evidence from Donald Smith, a 49-year old fish-curer who spoke at the hearings of the Napier Commission at Stornoway on 11 June 1883. The island he refers to is Goat Island; curing stations are the locations where the herring girls would gut and pack herring at the rate of 60 per minute.

I believe we would need [...] to remove the curing stations on the south beach, which should not be there, and [...] connect the island with the street that runs along the shore. If that was connected, the curing stations on the south beach could be removed there. If the Harbour Commissioners of Stornoway could get from £6000 to £10,000 at a cheap rate of interest, it would be a great boon to the town, and would give great facilities to boats in landing their fish. At present there are only a few boats that come to our wharves to land fish. They are obliged to come to anchor in the harbour, and employ small boats at a cost to the fishermen of £600 or £700. They have to pay £ 2 or £ 3 each boat per season for landing their fish, whereas if we had this additional breakwater, that would extend from the island to Newtown, all the fishermen could land their fish there, and save a good deal of money, as well as remove these from the south beach. We had no less than three serious accidents to children, who were run over during the last fortnight, from the want of accommodation for the traffic, and we do not see any way to get rid of it unless we can secure some place for the stations.

Saturday 17 July

Another rather autumnal day, weatherwise, with temperatures only at 13C / 55F, and frequent spells of rain or drizzle. The main event of the day was a concert by folk-rock band Runrig, which was the star attraction for the Hebridean Celtic Festival. There appear to have been 5,000 people in the big blue tent (this picture from 2007)

What was not very well organised was the provision of refreshments. Runrig last played in Stornoway in 2005, and at the time, the concert lasted until 1 am. Bearing that in mind, I purchased a token for a beverage  in advance, and joined the queue upon arriving at the tent. It took 90 minutes for me to reach the bar. I am kicking myself for the stupidity of waiting, because I missed half the concert as a result. However, it should not take all that time to serve drinks at a concert like this, and it was poorly organised. The band Runrig played only for two hours, running off an easy run of old ditties, and only three Gaelic songs (Stornoway is the centre of Gaelic culture). It left me very disappointed and disgruntled.

What has not affected me directly, but is another major gripe, is the lack of accommodation. The whole of the HCF, which ran from Wednesday until last night, has probably attracted 20,000 people. The problem of beds becomes apparent if I tell you that the total population of Greater Stornoway is 7,500, and that of the whole island of Lewis 20,000. A lot of people ended up camping, but, as my blogposts have intimated, the weather has been singularly inclement this week. Camping isn't really enjoyable - and in addition, the terrain around the big tent was quite muddy. One acquaintance of mine was injured in a fall, resulting from the bogginess.

I'm beginning to reach the conclusion that it is fantastic to have an event like HCF here in Lewis, but the number of people it attracts is too big for this island and this town to cope with.

Saturday, 17 July 2010

Friday 16 July

Not a very good day weatherwise, feeling cold in the wind and there is occasional light rain. Went into town, which is quite busy. The Hebridean Celtic Festival is now in full swing, and the big blue tent is up. Last night, I could hear some of the music wafting across from the Castle Grounds, a mile away.

Sailing ship Oosterschelde alongside pier no 1

International flags along South Beach Street

Hebridean Celtic Festival signs by the ferry terminal

Thursday, 15 July 2010

Thursday 15 July

Pouring with rain today, and a cold northerly wind. The forecast is for the rain to persist for the rest of the afternoon and possibly the evening. The adverse weather is exacerbating the disruption on ferry routes to Lochboisdale and Castlebay (in the south of this island chain). The usual boat, MV Clansman, is out for repairs and its replacements rather smaller. Apparently, people ran out of space, sickbags and everything else, alleging that cattle were treated better than they.

From Holland, a story of trees blown down, steeples lifted off churches and trees blown over railway tracks. After a heatwave, with temperatures into the mid 90s, a thundery breakdown moved over the east of the country, wreaking havoc.

Wednesday, 14 July 2010


At the hearings of the Napier Commission in Stornoway, in June 1883, the following discussion developed between the witness, Donald Martin from the village of Back and the Commissioners. It illustrates graphically the attitude towards Gaelic speakers by English speakers - including their own clergymen.

16138. Sheriff Nicolson.
—Are there no Gaelic words for 'compensation' and ' improvements ' ?
—Well, I would endeavour to express it in Gaelic.

16139. Is there not a good Gaelic word for improvement ?

16140. Why did you not put it in Gaelic when you were writing the Gaelic paper? Why did you choose English ?
—Because I was not certain that the Gaelic phraseology would express the same thing.

16141. If you never heard the people speaking, or if you had never spoken yourself about compensation for improvements in Gaelic, what first put it into your head ? Was it English-speaking people ?
—I knew very well what the English phrase meant, but I was not sure that I could express it quite accurately in Gaelic—that my Gaelic expression would be a quite accurate rendering.

16142. I asked that question because Lowlanders and English people will be apt to think that Gaelic people have no idea of improvement, and that they have no word for it. You understand what I mean ?
—I knew myself the meaning of the phraseology quite well.

16143. Is it not a pity that strangers should think that Gaelic people have no idea of improvement and no word for expressing it ? Is it not likely to put it into their head that the ideas of the people were got from outside, and not out of their own heads ?
—Perhaps it is.


[Rev. Mr Cameron, Free Church, Back.
—I wish to explain that the delegate or witness is in the habit of reading the newspapers for himself, and it is there he saw the words 'compensation' and 'improvement.']

Wednesday 14 July

The French are celebrating their national holiday, Bastille Day today. In French, it is "Quatorze Juillet", which is the day in 1789 that the infamous Bastille prison was stormed in Paris, which sparked off the French Revolution.

Here in Stornoway, a warm wind is blowing today as the ferry comes in on the first of its three calls today. It will bring another load of festival goers. This week will see the Hebridean Celtic Festival, with an (eye-watering) 20,000 revellers expected to pack the streets of Stornoway - which is a town of barely 8,000. On the water, this week sees Sail Hebrides, with an action packed programme on water and ashore. I'm attending a concert by folkrock band Runrig, which has been going since the late 1970s. They last played in Stornoway in 2005, a concert that I went to as well.

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Tuesday 13 July

A fairly bright day with a lot of high cloud, but also pleasant sunshine. The amount of flies around signifies that high summer is here. The mercury is at 17C / 63F, which is quite pleasant and average for this part of the world. Tomorrow will probably be broadly the same, as a frontal zone passes far to our east.

Spent the morning resolving the query that I reported in my previous query. By the way, anyone for some parsnip cake?


Genealogy is a subject that I have brushed against during my researches into the military history of the Isle of Lewis. I recently received a genealogy query that I could resolve with sources that I have at my disposal.

Someone was looking for a Canadian soldier, surname Murray, who had died in the First World War, leaving behind a widow, Christina, and three young children. Christina died not long after the end of the war, and the children were adopted.

The question was: is there a Canadian soldier from WW1, who died in the conflict and was married to a Christina.

I looked up the listings for anyone called Murray on the website for Veteran Affairs Canada, which displayed all that were killed in WW1. I then cross-referenced those against attestation papers, which are displayed on the website for Library & Archives Canada, using the service numbers. And after more than 100 searches, I finally found the man I was looking for:

On the website of Veteran Affairs Canada, James Watson Murray is quoted as being the husband of a Christina Murray. His attestation paper does not mention the name of his wife, but he is marked down as married. James Watson lies buried at Contay; further details on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website.

I summarise the information:

James Watson Murray
Son of Robert Murray, of Aberdeen, Scotland, born on 18th April 1882.
Trade or calling: Decorator
Last address: 15 Markham Place, Toronto (attestation)
Last address: 2903 Lafontaine St., Maisonneuve, Montreal.(CWGC)
Name of spouse: Christina

Signed up to the Canadian Overseas Expeditionary Force on 5 April 1915 in Toronto.
He was assigned to 3rd Canadian Infantry (Central Ontario Regiment) with registration number 172080.

Upon medical examination, on 30 March 1915, James Watson was found to have the following characteristics:
Height 5 ft 4 in (1.62 m)
Chest girth when fully expanded 34 in (85 cm)
Range of expansion 1¼ (3 cm)
Complexion: dark
Eyes: blue
Hair: dark brown
Religious denomination: presbyterian
Has 10 tattoo marks on forearm
A scar on left hip

James Watson lost his life on 9th October 1916 at the age of 34.
This newspaper article reports his death.
He lies buried at Contay British Cemetery, grave IV. A. 9.
This picture shows his gravestone.

Monday, 12 July 2010

Cordoba House

That is the name of a mosque, which could be built in the proximity of Ground Zero, the site where the World Trade Center stood in New York until 11 September 2001. It appears to have divided New Yorkers down the middle and has even led to a Facebook page with more than 44,000 followers. An article on the Voice of America news-site gives a balanced view of the issues at play. Cordoba, a city in Spain, was once a centre of Islamic learning. A lot of that culture is still on display in the Spain of the 21st century.

I will restate my oft repeated opinion on the issue of Al Qa'eda, Islam and 9/11. Al Qa'eda abuses Islam to justifies its political and terrorist campaign. It uses brainwashing techniques, playing on frustrations and anger amidst disaffected Muslims, to recruit new operatives. It has nothing to do with Islam.

I totally understand the pain, anguish and anger that was brought about by the horrendous events of 9/11, and condemn in the strongest possible terms anyone who seeks to justify mass murder by whichever means. And on whichever pretext. I deplore the confusion of issues, as outlined in the VOA piece, and hope that folk in NYC will see the Cordoba Initiative as a start of reconciliation, to show that Muslim culture is not about violence. And in fact condemns it.

Monday 12 July

A changeable day weatherwise; the intermittent light rain that dogged the morning and afternoon has now given way to a flat calm and bright skies. The sun is setting in about 10 minutes' time, with the cloudscapes and the reflections on the sea making it quite a spectacle. The current temperature of 12C is not warm, but quite acceptable in the calm conditions at the moment. We never made it above 15C today.

Roadworks will be affecting traffic in Stornoway in the coming weeks. The traffic lights on Matheson Road will be out of action, meaning that traffic coming out of Church Street and Goathill Road will have to give way to traffic on Matheson Road itself.

Similarly, the pedestrian crossing on Cromwell Street is to be restored following the upheaval on the adjacent Perceval Square. Trying to cross Cromwell Street without the lights is like taking your life into your own hands. This image dates back to July 2005 and shows a bit of street theatre in progress.

I'll make a separate posting of today's pictures tomorrow.

Sunday, 11 July 2010

Sunday evening

Well, that's the Football World Cup gone to Spain, who beat Holland 1-0 in the last twenty minutes. Disappointing game, in which about 8 yellow cards were doled out and one player sent off after a second yellow. The game was pretty physical, as demonstrated by the number of bookings. I did not really enjoy it, and am naturally a bit sad that Holland did not get it - again. However, in all fairness, the Spaniards played better and got that all deciding goal after 116 minutes of play.

In the early hours of Saturday, the discharge from a sawn-off shotgun ended the troubled life of Northumberland man Raoul Moat. This 37-year old had previously shot his former girlfriend, killed her new partner and shot a police constable in his patrol car. Moat then went into hiding near the village of Rothbury, 30 miles north of Newcastle-upon-Tyne. He issued threats against the police, the media and the general public. Moat had serious psychological problems, and the police appeared to have been aware of that, judging by the way they addressed him through the media, and through letters. On Friday evening, he was spotted on the bank of a river at Rothbury, and quickly surrounded. After a six-hour stand-off, with police within 20 feet of him, Moat received two shots from a Taser-gun. He then shot himself in the head.
Leaving the over-exposure in the media to one side (which did not help the situation), the family are claiming that the police declined offers of help from them. It's always easy to see the (perceived) right path with the benefit of hindsight. But questions are being asked from more impartial quarters as well with regards to the handling by police.

Sunday 11 July

A cold and wet start to the day, but the weather appears to be brightening up at the moment. What a luxury, to complain about cold weather, when elsewhere the birds drop down dead from the roofs due to excessive heat.

Four days ago, it was 15 years ago since Srebrenica was overrun by Bosnian Serb forces, in spite of the fact that it was a UN protected enclave in Bosnian Serb territory. The Dutch UN battalion was unable to halt the Bosnian Serb advance. Once they had established supremacy, the Serbs gathered up the male population of Srebrenica and took them into nearby woodlands. Some 8,000 were murdered; 6,000 have to date been buried at a cemetery in nearby Potocari. An interesting article on Dutch news site states that reconciliation appears to be in progress, with both sides recognising that continuing anger over events in the 1990s serves no constructive purpose. The military commandant of the Bosnian Serbs, Ratko Mladic remains at large; their former president, Radovan Karadzic, is facing the War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague on multiple counts of genocide.

Saturday, 10 July 2010

Saturday 10 July

Today started sunny but ended cloudy. The rainfall radar shows an area of rain moving north across the country, with heavy falls over mainland Scotland. We'll get some rain during the night, I expect. Winds are forecast to increase during Sunday.

Not much else to report on, due to a spot of headache during the day. Worst of it is gone, thanks.

Friday, 9 July 2010

From the Napier Commission, 1883

Bosta Beach, 2006

In June 1883, the Napier Commission into the condition of the crofters and cottars in the Highlands and Islands visited the village of Breasclete, a mile from the famous Callanish Stones. They were hearing from a villager from Great Bernera, just across the water from Breasclete. The people of Bernera found themselves prevented from properly entering their cemetery, just off the beach at Bosta. I relay that part of the discussion. Today, in 2010, there are TWO gates into Bosta Cemetery.

14849. Lord Napier, Commission Chairman: With regard to the dyke which prevents you getting into the burial ground, why was there not a gate left in it through which you could carry the bodies ?
Murdo Macdonald, Tobson, Gt Bernera: When the dyke was being made I was working at it, and we made a gate for the purpose of access to the churchyard, and it was shut up and filled with stones, and notice was sent to us by the farmer of Linshader that we must fill it up.

14850. Did you make any remonstrance to the authorities at Stornoway ?
—I don't think so.

14851. Are you aware that it is not lawful by the law of Scotland to shut up a road to a burial ground?
—I did think so.

14852. Then why did you not apply to the authorities ?
—Because the local government was stronger than we.

14853. In consequence of the shutting up of the wall, are you, in point of fact, to this day, obliged to lift the bier over the wall when you come to it ?
—Yes, we are obliged at this time to lift the coffin up on to the wall, and men to stand there, with others on the other side.

14854. Do you know whether the proprietor or those in authority were aware of that fact ?
—I don't know.