View across the Outer Harbour of Stornoway

Saturday, 30 April 2011

Saturday 30 April

A brilliantly sunny and warm day, with the mercury at a very enjoyable 18C / 64F. Those are summer values, to be absolutely clear. Awoke at 6.45 to the sight of the Athena cruiseliner anchored off the Arnish lighthouse.

A few hours later, it became clear that another cruiseliner was in port; the Ocean Nova was tied up on the near side of the ferry pier.

In the afternoon, we headed west for a visit to the beach at Bosta, Great Bernera. Absolutely stunning, in a word. I'll let the images speak for themselves. Oh, the Time & Tide Bell is (still) not working; it has to be tuned (thought you tuned bells immediately after casting, before putting them out) and the clapper is not there.

 Bernera Road
 Bosta Beach
 Bosta Beach
 Iron Age House, Bosta Beach
 Bosta Beach - Time & Tide Bell
 Bosta Beach

Friday, 29 April 2011

Friday 29 April

Today saw the wedding between Prince William and Miss Catherine Middleton at Westminster Abbey in London. The happy couple are now known as the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge in England and Wales, and the Earl and Countess of Strathearn in Scotland. About a million people lined the streets of London to wish the bridal couple well. I have expressed my cynicism about the hype surrounding royal wedding in previous weeks, but will go so far as to wish them well for the future.

It has been a bright and sunny day in Stornoway, with the mercury up to 17C / 63F. The streets were quiet on a Sunday scale. Although shops were open, there were not many people about when I was on a walk around the harbour. A cement boat was unloading its cargo, and fishermen seeing to their boats.

Last night's rush hour in Stornoway was exacerbated by a carfire on Macaulay Road, the main thoroughfare into town from the north. The vehicle's engine compartment caught light at the Manor Roundabout, causing lengthy tailbacks on all the routes into town (minus the one from the airport which comes in from the east).  Nobody was injured in the incident.

Thursday 28 April

The day started misty with low cloud over the Arnish hills. As the hours went by, the cloud lifted and the weather brightened up a little. There is much talk about the Scottish elections (due next week), with debates involving local candidates on TV, radio and the Internet. There is so much sitting going on on that fence, it's a miracle it hasn't collapsed yet. But then, their calibre does not warrant much concern in that direction. Tomorrow is Royal Wedding day, and I've already had enough. It's not likely I'll watch much of it - I watched the 1981 wedding between Charles and Diana, and we all know what tragedies ensued from that. Yes, the result of that match is now getting wed himself, 30 years later. No, I'm not British, as you all know. But neither did I watch the Dutch Royal Wedding in 2002, which was fraught with controversy, after the bride's dad was found to be involved with the infamous Argentinian junta under which people kept disappearing.

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Wednesday 27 April

A day of changing fortunes in terms of weather. Although the morning was bright and sunny, the afternoon brought increasing cloud, followed by rain after 4pm.



The Scottish Parliament elections will be held in 8 days' time, and I duly watched one of the most boring election debates ever on TV. It was three of the five candidates for the Western Isles, and it was short on substance and commitment. As I said on Twitter, it's a miracle the fence didn't collapse with the sitting that was done on it.

I'll just leave you with a selection of pictures of the past few days, as I don't have an awful lot to write about tonight.

At 10.20pm

Industrial Stornoway on Sunday: not very industrious

Reflections of a boat

404 message

We are all familiar with the dreaded 404-error on the Internet, which means "Page not found". I came across one website, which shall remain unnamed, which had a unique error message when I tried to access a page using my Google Reader.

You 404’d it. Gnarly, dude.

Surfin’ ain’t easy, and right now, you’re lost at sea. But don’t worry; simply pick an option from the list below, and you’ll be back out riding the waves of the Internet in no time.
  • Hit the “back” button on your browser. It’s perfect for situations like this!
  • Head on over to the home page.
  • Punt.

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Tuesday 26 April

A beautiful sunny day, with a bit of a breeze going. The temperature was a respectable 14C, and it was possible to sit out in the sun (and out of the wind). Which I did, whilst reading 80 pages of Victor Hugo's Les Miserables. I have had some problems putting a Windows Update on this PC, but thanks to the folks at Microsoft, I was able to get the machine to swallow it. Took a couple of hours, but it was worth it. In the middle of that, I also looked at the youngest casualty from Lewis in WW1 at the request of the people administering Lijssenthoek Cemetery in Belgium - where he lies buried.

The TV news is getting taken over by the imminent wedding of Prince William and his bride Catherine Middleton. And I'm already quite fed up with it. Whatever I'm doing on Friday, it won't be done in front of a television screen. The forecast is good for the rest of the week, so I might do something out of doors. Sorry if I offend anyone, but I'm decidedly underwhelmed by all the hype.

Monday, 25 April 2011

Monday 25 April

Easter Monday, but the shops are open and it doesn't feel any different to a normal working day. The lorries full of heavy gear still come flying round the corner - I really hope nothing will go wrong while the diversion from the Sandwick Road works remains in place, until mid July.

A fuel tanker (a relatively small craft) came in this lunchtime, but was unable to dock due to strong westerly winds. Its sheer size acts like a sail, making it difficult and dangerous to manoeuver into pier no 2. The Solway Fisher is presently at anchor, just south of the Arnish Lighthouse.

Today is ANZAC Day, when the people of Australia and New Zealand remember their war dead. Today is 96 years ago since the ill-fated operation at Gallipoli, Turkey, was started. It was wholesale slaughter on both sides, which changed nothing. But that description fitted the bill of the whole of the First World War. Pointless, and sowing the seeds of even more bloodshed in the 1930s and 1940s.

Sunday, 24 April 2011

Sunday 24 April

Easter Sunday, and not too bad a day, in terms of weather. Quite bright and at times sunny, a breeze going and the mercury at around 13C. Finished a piece of research, which will publish on 1 May, the 114th anniversary of an island tragedy, some 130 miles south of here near Barra. Watch Pentland Road next Sunday.

The fun bit came when I was looking for a news paper article from 1897. Having trawled through the Highland News for that year, I was finally pointed to the Aberdeen Weekly Journal, now the Press & Journal (my daily rag). A website did show part of the article, but wanted me to cross its palms with silver to show the whole thing. A bit of clever use of search terms finally gave me the complete article. Although the Procurator Fiscal (District Attorney) was made aware of the loss of life, no Fatal Accident Inquiry was conducted (as far as I could tell). I looked at the National Archives for Scotland for the FAIs for Inverness and Lochmaddy (the nearest courthouse), but nothing came out. Just people falling off roofs, under carriages and down mines. Not very cheerful reading at 11.30 at night.

That's me done blogging for Easter Sunday 2011 - more tomorrow.

Easter Sunday 2011

Saturday, 23 April 2011

Saturday 23 April

Quite a contrast to yesterday, with the mercury a full 8 degrees down - at 13C / 55F. The wind picked up to force 7 in the morning, although it abated a little later in the day. A few light showers peppered the morning, but the sun managed to get the upper hand in the afternoon.

I completed the mapping of cemeteries and memorials to island casualties from both World Wars. By 'island' casualties I refer to all islands from Lewis to Barra. Some of the cemeteries were difficult to locate, particularly the ones outside France. The most difficult ones were located in Greece, where, in one instance, the reference was 'near Kilo [metre] 71'.

Yesterday, the postcrossing site was off-line, but I found it back up and running this morning. It had problems with the hosting provider, which fortunately got resolved just after midnight last night. I had to register three new cards, from Holland, Finland and the USA. On Postcrossing, you get allocated a random address of another Postcrosser, whom you have to send a postcard. I print my own, using my collection of pictures.

Friday, 22 April 2011

Call for Support

Most of my readers are familiar with the Call for Support blog, which I initiated several years ago to muster moral support for bloggers in distress. Its use was demonstrated this week, when one blogger wrote an entry, saying they had been feeling suicidal and requiring hospital admission. Upon discharge, they came across the post on Call for Support, and expressed their gratitude for people's support. I'm not flying my own flag here by the way. It is the support that is given by those who respond that counts. I'm only a conduit.

Friday 22 April

A beautiful day, which can only be described as the first day of summer. The mercury reached 21C / 70F, which is quite high for this part of the world at any rate. The highest temperature I have experienced here is 25C / 77F. Had morning coffee outside, and sat outside for a while reading Les Miserables by Victor Hugo. It was very hazy as well, and some high- and medium-level cloud slowly edged across the sky in the afternoon and evening. This is obviously the Easter weekend, and as I type this (at 9.20pm) the 8.20pm ferry is still to arrive, full of holiday traffic. The weather is expected to cool down, with some rain in the night, but more sunshine tomorrow. Expected maxima on Saturday: 13C, which is still not bad going for Lewis in April.

The shellfish processing plant, which has sat off South Beach since the 90s has been taken apart bit by bit, and coming down the street into town there is now an unobstructed view of the buildings on the seafront. One other reason why I'm not loth to see the plant go was its terrible smell. Situated by the ferry terminal and the bus station, it created a poor sensory introduction for visitors to the island.

Good Friday 2011

I would like to take this opportunity to wish all my friends and readers, far and wide, a happy Easter this year.

Thursday, 21 April 2011

Thursday 21 April - picture post

Thursday 21 April

A brilliantly sunny day which has been feeling quite warm. The northeasterly breeze did make it feel a bit cool, but the sun was very warm indeed. I duly went out for a stroll, after enjoying a cup of coffee outside in the sun (and out of the wind). This took me to Steinish, then via the farm Carse of Steinish to North Street in Sandwick. A shortcut through the Old Cemetery returned me to base. I'll share some of today's pictures in the next post.

I would like to share his image, one that I obtained through Google Earth. This shows Loch Tallasvay on the southwest coast of Lewis. It lies about 7 miles southeast of the nearest habitation, the village of Brenish, and 12 miles from the nearest road-end. I came across this location whilst browsing through the 1851 census for the district of Uig. It shows two households; one has family, the other contains "labourers-on-the-road", meaning itinerant labourers.

A second image, also through Google Earth shows Lamadale, located a mile south of Tallasvay on Loch Resort. The hill on the left of the image can be seen from the village of Achmore in the centre of Lewis - it is called Taran Mor. Lamadale does not feature in the 1851 census, because it had been deserted since then.

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Wednesday evening, 20 April

A suspected letter bomb has been isolated at the Harris Tweed mill at Shawbost, 18 miles north of Stornoway. The letter had been directed at the mill's director, Brian Wilson, a prominent politician. He is also a supporter of Celtic FC, one of the two main Glasgow soccer football clubs. Celtic's manager, Neil Lennon, has also been the object of a letter bomb, as have two other prominent figures associated with the club. The rivalry between Celtic and Rangers is proverbial, and spills over to high passions, if not outright violence, both on and off the football pitch. The rivalry is rooted in religious divisions; Celtic is associated with Roman Catholics, and Rangers with Protestants. Moreover, there is also a strong link with Northern Ireland. Need I say more? I just wished they all took a cold shower and got on with playing football and supporting their team, rather than this sort of baloney.

I took a walk around town this afternoon, and collected a handful of pics.

Blossoms on Smith Avenue

Goathill Crescent

Stornoway Town Hall clock is red-faced

Wednesday 20 April

After yesterday's boring grey skies, Wednesday dawned bright and sunny. The sun is partially shrouded by a layer of high level cloud, but otherwise it's not a bad day. Apart from the temperature, which is a mediocre 10C.

Checking Twitter just now, I was appalled to find Adolf Hitler to be a top topic of conversation. Granted, it is 122 years ago since he was born. In ten days' time, it will be 66 years since he ended his own life, surrounded by the ruin of all he stood for. Ruin is the deserved fate of Hitler's philosophies, leading as they did to the deaths of tens of millions, the destruction of thousands of towns, cities and villages across Europe - and the purposeful eradication of six million people, just because they professed to be of the Judaic faith.It is therefore entirely appropriate that Hitler's death occurred on April 30th, Walpurgis Night, the night that ends winter and sees the exorcism of all evil spirits, according to certain folklore. The following day, May 1st, is Beltane, the start of summer and the advent of light. I do not expect Twitter to be trending Adolf Hitler on April 30th, though.

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Tuesday 19 April

As brilliant as yesterday was, so boring today was - in terms of weather. Over the past few days, big lorries carrying huge amounts of stone slabs, and colossal parts of cranes have come whizzing down my road - and it's given rise to a few hairy moments on some of the corners.

I spent part of the morning and afternoon looking into more census results from remote areas of Lewis, to be precise: around Hamnaway. The villages of Tallavay, Ardbeag and Ceann Ruisle - none of those inhabited since that census 160 years ago, in 1851. When there such a phenomenon as a labourer-on-the-road.

This evening, I had an interesting conversation with a family, whose origins lie in Latin America, who were very interested in these islands after a two day visit. They were all into geology, and with the oldest rocks on the face of the Earth occurring at the Butt of Lewis, 25 miles away, they had a great time. Similarly during their visit to Skye, yesterday, which has some interesting geology as well - I but name the Trotternish peninsula.

Monday 18 April

A bright and sunny day, with the mercury rising to the mid-teens. Although it started a bit cloudy, the thin high clouds gradually burned away. The dandelions were celebrating the bright conditions, coming out in large numbers. I struggled with a listing of wargraves in Sandwick (New) Cemetery, finally managing to find a way to present it in a useful format.

I could not get over the news this weekend that the M1 motorway in north London has been closed since last Friday, after a scrapyard caught fire under the carriageways. It appears that this fire is now regarded as suspicious and the Metropolitan Police is investigating. The fire has eaten the concrete away to the metal reinforcing rods.

North Uist was in the news this weekend, with people stranded by the tide at Vallay, and again this evening near Loch Eport on the eastern side of the island. There are springtides at the moment, with a tidal difference of about 16 feet. It is always advisable to check the tides before setting out along the seashore. On the west side of that island, a dead whale has washed up on the shore, and it is hoped that the high tides will help to wash the remains back out to sea. If that fails, it will either be carted off to the dump here in Stornoway (hold your noses) or allowed to decompose in situ (phew...).

Sunday, 17 April 2011

Sunday 17 April

Cloudy, but with occasional sunny spells, is the best description of today's weather. About an hour or two ago, the fishing vessel Symphonie, hailing from Bayonne in France, finally left port after an unintended stay that started on March 4th. The Symphonie broke down twice around that date, and had been tied up on the eastern side of pier no 1, awaiting repairs. This morning, her colleague, the fishing vessel Jiminy came in and took the Symphonie in tow at around 4pm. The conditions were not easy, with a force 5 southerly wind putting a strain on the tow. The two vessels have about 1,000 miles to go. and are crawling south at 5 knots. As a result, they are currently only as far as Loch Erisort, 10 miles south of Stornoway. If they are going all the way to Bayonne, it will take them about 10 days to reach there. I wish them well.

I was very sorry to hear about the devastating tornadoes that have rampaged through the southeastern USA over the past few days. At the latest count, the death toll stood at around 35. Tornadoes are a 'normal' phenomenon in the American spring, but these twisters have been particularly severe.

The upheaval in North Africa is having repercussions in Europe, with France stopping trains from Italy crossing its border between Ventimiglia and Menton. On board are refugees from Tunisia, who have been given temporary permits by Italy, which allow them to roam freely across Europe.

Saturday, 16 April 2011

Saturday 16 April

Thirty of the famous Lewis Chessmen are currently on display in the Museum of the Isles on Francis Street in Stornoway. The figurines, cut from ivory in the 12th century, were unearthed in 1831 at Ardroil; a competing school of thought places the original location of the find at Mealista, 6 miles to the southwest. The exhibition will remain at the Museum until September 12th. On the 13th of that month, a small number of figurines will be on display at Uig Museum in Timsgarry. The most noteworthy feature of the Chessmen for me was their size. Only a smidgen over 3 inches tall. I sought permission from Museum staff before taking some of the below pictures.

5 years ago today

I found myself drawn into the world of social networking by blog on Easter Sunday 2006, when blogger Pamela Hilger, AOL screenname his1desire, passed away after a 9 month battle against cancer. She had been logging her fight on her blog "One Girls Head Noise", until 7 April. The outpouring of grief that followed her death was quite breathtaking, and showed that a community on the Internet could care as much as a group of people who knew each other face to face. Two years later, I received a comparable level of support at the time when my mother passed away unexpectedly.

Since then, a number of other bloggers have left us, leaving their keyboards silent. This post is dedicated to their memory, as well as to the spirit of J-land which has survived the upheaval of October 2008, when AOL closed down their blogging service. Many have left the land of blog, but the advent of new social networking services like Facebook and Twitter have ensured that we can keep in touch.

J-land lives!

Friday, 15 April 2011

Friday 15 April

Today is a day of remembrance for several reasons. It was 99 years ago today that RMS Titanic sank after colliding with an iceberg. More than 1,500 passengers perished. Whilst not belittling the loss incurred in that tragedy, I never hear a word about other shipping disasters in peacetime, which claimed a heavy toll.

Nearest to my location was the sinking of the Norge, on 28 June 1904. The Norge was an emigrant ship which went down within 20 minutes of hitting Hazelwood Rock, just east of Rockall - 250 miles west of Scotland. The passengers were dirt poor migrants from eastern Europe, Russia and Scandinavia. Refugees from the persecution of the Jews in Poland and Russia, which nobody else wanted. The Norge was a workhorse of the Thingvalla shipping company for the previous 15 years, not a glamour boat with boastful claims of unsinkability. The death toll was 635, among them 225 Norwegians. The 160 survivors spent up to eight days in open lifeboats before rescue. Not all the lifeboats were finally accounted for. Some of the survivors were taken ashore at Stornoway, with 9 succumbing to the effects of their ordeal. An inquiry into the circumstances of the sinking revealed that there was insufficient life-saving apparatus on board for all the passengers and crew on the ship. If the recommendations of this Danish inquiry had been acted upon, the loss of life on the Titanic could have been much less.

Twenty-two years ago today, the English Football Association's Cup Final was taking place at Hillsborough Stadium in Sheffield. Liverpool FC were due to play Nottingham Forest. A crush of supporters occurred, resulted in 96 dead and 766 injured fans - all Liverpool fans. Twitter is full of references to this tragedy today, using the hashtag #YNWA [You'll Never Walk Alone, the Liverpool FC song].

Thursday, 14 April 2011


I would imagine that you can all do without pictures of roadworks, but they're very unusual in this town, let alone this island. So, here goes.

Sandwick pictures - 14 April

Thursday 14 April

A bright if breezy day today, feeling warmer than yesterday. Went to Sandwick Cemetery, 15 minutes' walk away, to record the approximate locations of the 56 wargraves in that graveyard. The breeze was persistent, but not really a nuisance. It helps to wear a woolly hat, even if it is 14C / 59F.

Today, it will be 99 years ago since the Titanic hit an iceberg. At 11.55 pm local time, RMS Titanic struck a berg some 380 miles south southeast of Newfoundland. Two hours later, she sank, taking 1500 to the bottom with her. The last survivor died last year. A museum in Newfoundland will be tweeting the radio messages that the Titanic sent in real time, 99 years on, through the night from 11.55 pm AST (that's 4 hours behind BST or 2 hour ahead of EDT). You can follow it by searching for the hashtag #ns_mma on

A number of the famous Lewis Chessmen will feature in an exhibition at the Museum of the Isles at Stornoway from today. The ivory figurines were found at Ardroil in 1831, but are being kept at the British Museum. Some islanders want to have the Chessmen returned to Lewis permanently.

Wednesday 13 April

An overcast and breezy day, with a cold wind blowing. I have continued the work on the Napier witnesses and a few other bits and pieces. The royal wedding is beginning to dominate the news; William Wales (or should that be Windsor) and Catherine Middleton will wed in Westminster Abbey on 29 April. On all the commemorative crockery &c, their initials are marked CW; not WC. You do detect the slight sarcasm, don't you? I wish them well, but wish the hype were a little less.

Two young people have been found dead in a small cottage south of Tomintoul in Morayshire. It appears now (Thursday) that an 18-year old trainee gamekeeper was cleaning his gun, when it went off by accident. The bullet hit his girlfriend, killing her instantly. Upon seeing that, he took the gun, took it outside and shot himself dead. The Press and Journal newspaper devoted four whole pages to the tragedy on Thursday.

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Tuesday 12 April

Nice and sunny, if a tad on the breezy side. After putting a parcel in the post, I diverted to Sandwick Road in order to view the roadworks, which are now well and truly in progress. The eastbound lane is closed, and diversions are signposted. This will remain in place for the next three months. However, it does not appear to be causing major problems in traffic around the town.

I have continued one or two of my current projects, including building a Google map of cemeteries and memorials to islanders from the Outer Hebrides around the world. This is in relation to those who fell in the First and Second World Wars. I am also still trying to piece together some information on the witnesses to the Napier Inquiry of 1883.

Monday, 11 April 2011

Monday 11 April

Quite a nice sunny day, interspersed however with the occasional shower. Went into town this afternoon, via Sandwick Road. That is a diversion, but I took the walk to check out a diversion. As of today, the east-bound lane on this road, the A866 Stornoway to Point road, is supposed to be closed for works. Nothing appeared to have changed though.

I went into the library to look at a newspaper from 1897, to check for the mention of a tragedy that happened near Mingulay that year. No word of it at all. To think that all the fencible men of nearby Pabbay were lost - and not a beep in the Highland News for May 1897. I also looked in the Stornoway Gazette of 1 May 1997, but the only thing of note in that paper was a word processing devil. Someone had taken a picture of the comet Hale-Bopp, which (to quote the Gazette): "was visible to the naked above Scotland". I wonder how many people undressed in the skies above Scotland in order to behold that comet.

By 6pm, a new roadsign appeared across the street from me.

It looks as if the roadworks will start in earnest tomorrow, so the diversions are now being signposted. It's a pity though that someone took the wrong sign out, which appears to direct drivers to turn right - into the Newton Basin. Putting two strips of black tape on to rectify the error doesn't really alleviate the confusion, so by 8pm another crew was there to put up a left-pointing sign.

It is really feeling like spring today, in spite of the lowish temperatures (10C / 50F). And the nights are really beginning to shorten: this was the northwestern sky at 9.30pm.

Sunday 10 April

A quiet Sunday, overcast and grey. It was a bit breezy and not terribly warm. Quite a contrast to points south, where the mercury rose to the mid 20s celsius. I think I prefer our lower teens. My activities were focused on preparing the garden chairs for putting out on the grass. And I also researched a little more on the witnesses to the Napier Commission, back in 1883.

As I said, a quiet Sunday.

Sunday, 10 April 2011

Bloodbath in Holland

A 25-year old man, Tristan van der Vlis, has caused a bloodbath at a shopping centre in the town of Alphen-aan-den-Rijn in western Holland yesterday. He walked into the mall just after midday and opened fire with an automatic weapon. Having killed six people, he turned the gun on himself. In a suicide note, the culprit had said that he had left bombs in the mall and elsewhere in Alphen, but that turned out to be a hoax. had faced police enquiries about weapons 8 years ago, but had not been convicted of any crime.

As much a hoax was the tweet from a youngster who had threatened to emulate Alphen in the town of Hoogvliet, west of Rotterdam. The teenager has been arrested by police and is being interrogated.

Mass shootings like this are virtually unheard of in Holland, where gun possession is strictly regulated, and automatic weapons banned.

Saturday, 9 April 2011

Saturday 9 April

Today started as shown in the picture above. People in and around Stornoway were awoken at around 7 am by the foghorns of the ferry, the cruiseliner Marco Polo, the pilot boat and the freight ferry Muirneag blasting away at regular intervals.

A few hours later, the fog was lifting, giving way to a bright and sunny day. The mercury rose to a respectable 16C / 61F, although the air felt cold due to the lingering high humidity. The passengers on the Marco Polo trooped through the town, and went on bustrips around the island.

I carried on with my piece of research on the Bishops Islands, posting about the smaller island of Sandray. Pabbay will follow later tonight or tomorrow. The biggest island, Mingulay, will take me a wee while to process. It had a population of between 120 and 160. The last person left in 1912.
The second subject, which is a long-running project, concerns the witnesses to the Napier Commission. I have now moved to those giving evidence at Miavaig here in Lewis.