View across the Outer Harbour of Stornoway

Monday, 3 May 2010

Monday 3 May

A cool day, but no complaints - at least it stayed dry and the sun put in an extensive appearance. Out of the wind, it felt quite warm. In the wind, it was cold.

The election circus is rollicking on and I'm heartily sick of it. I can't wait for Thursday to come along. To my mind, this election is all for the benefit of the media and the politicians. That is an over-simplification, but I hardly dare switch on the telly for fear of seeing more of the three prime culprits, not to mention the shouting champion of Scotland, otherwise known as its First Minister, Alex Salmond.

The volcanic ash cloud is back to haunt us. The Irish are closing their airspace, and the Western Isles are keeping a close eye on the ash, which is hovering just to the west of us. If I detect a sulphurous smell, it's either the Eyjafjallajoekull or I've had beans for supper.

Finally, I spent the afternoon mapping the villages of Pairc, which were cleared in 1821. Using an old map and modern satellite imagery, I could locate Brunigil, Stromos, Airigh Dhomhnuill Chaim, Rias, Scaladale Beag and Mor, Gilvicphaic, Ceannmore, Bagh Ciarach and Bagh Reimsabhaigh, Bunchorcabhig, Glenclaidh, Smosivig, Caolas an Eilean, Valamus and Valamus Beag, Ceann Chrionaig, Brollum, Hamascro, Mol Truisg, Molhagearraidh, Ailtenish, Buhanish, Gearraidh Righsaidh, Ceann Tigh Shealag, Gearraidh Reastail and Stiomrabhagh.

These foreign sounding names once meant home to small groups of people, scattered on the periphery of an area of mountainous moorland, whose highest peak, Beinn Mor, crests 1,700 feet. You can access the map on this link to find out which village each marker represents. Looking at the linked map, you can switch over to satellite view and zoom right into the marker. It will show a ruined house, homestead or even farmhouse. Kinloch Shell (Ceann Tigh Shealag) used to host an inn where the men from the district would come to drink. The ribbed appearance of the land is an indication of the runrig (or lazybed) system of agriculture. A lazybed is a ridge of ground generally used for growing potatoes and sometimes also for raising corn, the seed being laid on the surface and covered with earth dug out of trenches along both sides.

It is nearly 190 years ago since those villages were cleared, and its occupants packed off elsewhere. Not necessarily overseas, but certainly to elsewhere. To date, the evidence of their toil remains visible, even from as far away as outer space. The Eishken Estate, on which these tiny hamlets lie, is now the domain of the toffs, the shooting and fishing fraternity. In a few years, the hills will be desecrated by 33 wind turbines, each standing a third of the height of Beinn Mor, with attendant electricity transmission infrastructure.

Trying to read up on the history of the district pre-1821 yields practically nothing. It is heavily focused on the trials and tribulations of the Clan Mackenzie and the Earl of Seaforth. Nothing on the people who lived off the land. In a way, a distant echo came back from those days in the year 2005. The fifty folk living on the shores of Loch Seaforth objected to the Eishken Windfarm. But they were drowned out by the roar of big business.

I close with an image by BBC Islandblogger Molinginish showing Reimsabhagh.