View across the Outer Harbour of Stornoway

Sunday, 31 July 2011

Sunday 31 July

July is going out on a dreich (wet, grey and breezy) note. A fine drizzle punctuated the afternoon. As I type this (9.40pm), it has dried up, but it remains very overcast and dull. A cargoship, the Bondenau, came into port, this afternoon, when conditions looked like this. Bear in mind that the ship is less than a mile away from where I took the pic. And it's not the small boat I'm referring to!

The ferry was once again delayed by technical problems this afternoon; a mooring rope had gotten into the ship's propellor, and a diver had to go down to get it off. The Isle of Lewis finally departed at 5pm, and she won't be back much before midnight tonight. That's a bit better than the 5 am she turned up last Monday morning, instead of the scheduled 9pm on Sunday.

I was asked to look into someone's connection to the Isle of Lewis, only to discover that the ancestor they had referred to was in fact an illegitimate child. In other words, not born out of a marriage. We are talking early 20th century here, when there was a different attitude to these events. The relevant page on the birth register showed two illegitimate births. The question is of course: how do you broach that subject to the person asking the question? Knowing a little about springing bad news on people, I'll just find out how much they do know. But sometimes it's better to let sleeping dogs lie.

Saturday, 30 July 2011

Saturday 30 July

Another bright day with some spells of sunshine, which lifted the mercury to 18C. By evening, cloud increased but it stayed dry. Midges are beginning to be a right pain at the moment. We had another cruiseliner in, the Spirit of Adventure, which left in the early evening. I went for an amble round the back streets, and discovered a petrol station where you can fuel up 24/7 - presumably using pumps which take bank cards for payment. The shop remains shut on Sunday, unlike its competitor a quarter of a mile away on the main road into town.

 Hello puss - Battery Road
 Bee busy on ragwort blooms
MV Spirit of Adventure

Hurricane update - 30 July

Tropical storm Don is no more, as it literally evaporated over southern Texas after making landfall late last night.

Supertyphoon Muifa is one to watch. Yesterday, it was a tropical storm with winds of 55 knots (65 mph), but tonight I could hardly believe my eyes when I read warning #23 from the Joint Typhoon Warning Center. It quoted the maximum sustained windspeeds at 140 knots (160 mph), gusting to 170 knots (200 mph) near the centre. This equates to a category V hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson scale. Muifa is more than 600 miles from land, but its trajectory looks set to take it straight into Okinawa, south of Japan - with sustained winds of 120 knots (135 mph) on August 4th. The satellite image does not show it, but galeforce winds extend for 130 to 160 miles from Muifa's centre, with hurricane force winds as much as 60 miles from the centre. Image courtesy NOAA.

Friday 29 July

Overcast  but fairly bright today. The cruiseliner Saga Ruby is anchored off Sandwick Bay, but after lunchtime relocates to a position to the south of the Arnish Lighthouse. Her passengers are, as per usual, ferried ashore in tenders and taken round the island on coach tours. It may be of interest to know that these cruise-related coach tours cost £60 per person ($100). However, if you jump on a Maclennan's bus and ask for a round-trip with three stops (Callanish Stones, Carloway Broch and Arnol or Gearrannan) you'll be looking for about £7 ($11). And the bus station is just behind the ferry terminal, where the tenders dock. Just saying.

I have continued the transcription of WW2 tributes for the Fallen from the Isle of Lewis. Their number is one-third of the losses which the island incurred in the First World War. The year 1939 ended with 19 casualties from Lewis, 8 of whom were lost in the Rawalpindi and four on the James Ludford.

Friday, 29 July 2011

Thursday 28 July

It is a busy time on the tropical cyclones front. Tropical storm Don is headed for southern Texas, and two other tropical storms are lurking in the Western Pacific; Nock-ten is headed for Hainan Island in China and Vietnam after that. Muifa is slowly getting its act together more than 1,000 miles south of Japan, which may yet get more of this storm.

I spent an hour or two in the library, copying tributes from the Stornoway Gazette for 1939, the first year of the Second World War. The most prominent losses were those incurred through the sinking of HMS Rawalpindi on 23 November 1939 (see this tribute). As in the First World War, the majority of casualties were serving with the Royal Navy, or the Royal Naval Reserve.

As I was walking into town, just after 2pm, the ferry was getting up steam for its afternoon sail to Ullapool. You could have fooled me that this was SS Isle of Lewis, rather than MV Isle of Lewis.

Thursday, 28 July 2011

Hurricane update - 28 July

Tropical storm Don is moving across the southern Gulf of Mexico and will make landfall in central Texas in the early hours of Saturday. The exact location where it will come ashore is as yet uncertain. Don is not expected to be at hurricane strength, due to unfavourable atmospheric conditions, but the winds near the centre could be up to 55 knots, which equates to force 10 to 11 on the Beaufort scale.

This is a summary of warnings and watches, which are being updated every 3 hours on the NHC website. Please refer to that source for up-to-date information - this post is only a heads-up.

A tropical storm warning is in force for the Texas coast from Port Mansfield to San Luis Pass.
A tropical storm watch is in force for the Texas coast from south of Port Mansfield to the mouth of the Rio Grande

A storm surge of 1 to 2 feet above normal tidal levels will occur near and to the east of the point of landfall. This is likely to be accompanied by large and damaging waves.

Rainfall totals of 3 to 5 inches, locally up to 7 inches are possible from central Texas into south central Texas.

Wednesday 27 July

A nice warm, sunny day, which saw the mercury up at 21C / 70F at 2pm. We were even able to sit outside in the sun and have lunch, after which I cut off bits of a tree which were impinging on the suntrap where we sit. By late afternoon, cloud moved across from the west and rain followed in the evening. It remained dreich and wet all evening.

I finished the transcription of the Napier Report for Poolewe in Wester Ross, and as of tomorrow, I'll be heading south in the transcripts, to Shieldaig. After that, only Balmacara and Dingwall remain in the Ross-shire transcripts.

There were a number of unusual boats in today, such as the survey vessel James Clark Ross, which hovered just south of the Arnish Lighthouse before heading away again. The yacht Northern Spirit is anchored in the shipping channel off Goat Island. A vessel with brown sails also put in an appearance. Although Stornoway is not a busy port, there is sufficient traffic in summer to keep the interest going.

James Clark Ross

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Tuesday 26 July

A bright and sunny day, but that northeasterly wind made it feel quite cold. Sitting out of the wind and in the sun - brought out the midges. So, it was a no-win situation. I went over to Sandwick to take pictures of previously unnoticed war-related gravestones, which did not take me very long. There were quite a few people out and about, walking through the cemetery and along the 'community path' that links Lower Sandwick to the Battery area of Stornoway.

The Norwegian authorities have named the 76 victims of the twin attacks in and around Oslo last Friday. Meanwhile, the lawyer for the mass murderer Anders Breivik has suggested his client is insane. Sounds plausible.

It is a favourite pastime in this country to let off Chinese lanterns into the night sky. When you do that near the coast, it could be mistaken for an emergency flare from a vessel in distress. And when they come down into fields, a farmer could mow up the grass and the metal frame could end up in animal fodder - causing serious injury to lifestock. The Coastguard and the farmers would be pleased to see an end to this practice.

Monday, 25 July 2011

Monday 25 July

A nice day with high cloud and some reasonable temperatures; we managed 16C / 60F this afternoon. It is enormously busy with visitors at the moment, as shown by the multitude of languages overheard in the supermarket. There were quite a few boats coming in and out of the port, with a large cruiseliner passing on the horizon. It is high summer, in spite of the moderate temperatures. Last night's excitement with the ferry ended when our poor boat chugged into port at 5 am this morning. Only to go out just two hours later. I'm just finishing processing the pictures of previously unnoticed war-related gravestones that I found in Sandwick Cemetery yesterday. I went down twice, as I discovered from old notes that I had overlooked 5 gravestones. Only one I was unable to find, as I had apparently recorded its position incorrectly. I also found a walled enclosure belonging to a family called Ryrie. It had a gate, but the gate had rusted shut. Tomorrow, I'll look into their history and post it on the Pentland Road blog.

Oslo and Utoeya

This is a translation of a blogpost on a Dutch-language blog which I published today.

I am writing to express my horror at the attacks in Norway. Anders Breivik has admitted responsibility and has stated that his political views have prompted his actions. Breivik has also described Dutch politician Geert Wilders as a "good guy". I am going to discuss that in this blogpost.

Over the past few years I have watched in revulsion at what has been produced by Mr Wilders. His movie Fitna has underscored his hatred of Islam and the attendant intolerance. The Netherlands has a problem with immigrants, integration and ethnic minorities. In the years after the Second World War, these subjects were practically taboo, as you would immediately be accused of discrimination. The late politician Pim Fortuyn brought the subject into the open. Geert Wilders' party PVV has made major gains in last year's parliamentary elections for the same reasons.

Mr Wilders is now supporting the Dutch government, as any legislation that the government wants to introduce has to be sanctioned by the PVV. It means that the views of Mr Wilders and his PVV are shared by the government of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. Even before the last elections, in June 2010, Geert Wilders had the tacit support of the previous government, led by Mr Balkenende.

Back in February 2009, Geert Wilders was refused entry to the United Kingdom as his views could cause civil unrest. Following the bomb attacks in London in 2005, a lot of work has gone into improving relations between the various ethnic groups (including native Britons). The revulsion against Islam, as expressed by Mr Wilders, could have undermined all that has been achieved since 7/7. Upon his return to Holland, after being refused entry to the UK, Mr Wilders was afforded a hero's welcome, with the Dutch government expressing its disapproval of the British government's decision to refuse entry to a prominent politician from a friendly nation.

Geert Wilders has spoken out to condemn the attacks in Norway, which was good to hear. He has given the impression that the extreme-rightwing views, as held by Anders Breivik, are supported and condoned up to government level. That's why Geert Wilders was described as a "good guy" by Anders Breivik.. That's why I express my sharp condemnation of Geert Wilders in what he has done in his political career, both before and during his indirect involvement with the Dutch government.

Sunday, 24 July 2011


Our ferry left on its customary Sunday run to Ullapool at 10.20pm tonight. That was a mere eight hours late. Yes, eight hours. This means that it will be in Ullapool just after 1 am, and back in Stornoway at 4.30 am. I don't think I would like to be on either crossing. The ferry had developed two faults, and it took them all that time to fix the problem. Just as well - it is extremely busy at the moment, and the cancellation of the crossing would have led to colossal backlogs that would never have cleared.

Sunday 24 July

The day started with the most upsetting scenes from Oslo, as the Norwegian nation mourned its nearly 100 dead. The focus was on the cathedral in Oslo, and when the mourners filed out, even the most hardened TV reporters were upset by the scenes of weeping and wailing youngsters. The perpetrator was clear of mind, but evil in purpose and intent. I am extremely angry with politicians like Holland's Geert Wilders who, in promoting their hatred of Islam, gave Anders Breivik the notion that he had support in the world at large.

This afternoon, I headed for Sandwick Cemetery, a 20-minute walk away, and started to log all the 80-odd wargraves with my GPS. This will allow anyone who is looking for a specific wargrave to pinpoint its location within 5 metres (or 15 feet). I intend to do the same for the Eye Cemetery, 4 miles away, which has even more wargraves. I also discovered four more graves, dedicated to the memory of those lost in the two world wars.

Lower Sandwick from the cemetery

Hello puss - this one was very skittish

Saturday, 23 July 2011

Saturday 23 July

A cold day, with the mercury only in the mid 50s Fahrenheit (lower teens Celsius). Nonetheless, I was able to sit outside for a while to read a book - with my coat on.

Norway continues to come to terms with the loss of more than 90 lives yesterday, in two apparently linked attacks in and near Oslo. Seven people died in a massive bomb blast near the government headquarters in the capital. 85 people, mainly teenagers, are known to have lost their lives as the culprit went to an island in a lake outside Oslo and started shooting them on sight. The total death toll is still uncertain, and there is talk of a second gunman. No motive has been established, but initial investigations seem to point to right-wing extremism. The suspect, a 32-year old man, is said to have referred to the right-wing Dutch politician Geert Wilders as "a good guy". Mr Wilders, to his credit, has denounced the atrocities in Norway as utterly repugnant to all decent people. I don't have a lot of time for Mr Wilders, but feel he has reacted appropriately to this revelation.

A tragedy of a different kind and scale was enacted in the Kyle of Durness yesterday. This is a river estuary some 12 miles east of Cape Wrath [the most northwesterly point of the British mainland]. Sixty-five pilot whales became stranded at low tide; the Kyle virtually runs dry as the tide ebbs. Fifteen of the animals died, the others were helped out to sea by Coastguard and Royal Navy personnel who happened to be on exercise in the area.

Kyle of Durness, 29 August 2004

Cat claws at dawn

One of my local Twitter contacts is rueing the moment they decided to step in to break up a catfight. Doing that is like having a wrestling match with a roll of barbed wire. Both cats went for either forearm, and wounds inflicted by both claws and teeth of a cat tend to get very nastily infected.

I recall having a similar experience some 25 years ago, when my sister had left her two kitties at my parents' house for a week or so. Bear in mind that at the time we had our own cat, an un-neutered tomcat called Thomas (above), in the house. Territorial was the name of his game, so when someone left a door open I found myself with Thomas to the right and the guestcat (whose name I cannot reveal on here) to the left. Thomas went into fighting mode, ears back, crouching into attack pose, whilst the guestcat ambled in, tail up and almost saying "C'mon, let's have it out then". I stepped in and put out a hand to push each cat away. Thomas thought the other cat had jumped out at him and lunged into my forearm - only to immediately recognise his mistake. He disappeared. I bundled the other cat behind the door where he should have been all along. I found Thomas sitting in the window of the nearby sitting room and he rubbed his head against my hand, almost as if to say: "Sorry about that, boss, didn't realise it was you. You could have fooled me it was another effing cat". I had a deep wound of one of his claws, but it was only a fleshwound, nothing serious.

Thomas has made me ill on one occasion, but again, not his fault. He tended to be infested with fleas, and one day I was given the job of powdering the cat. Neither of us liked it, and I used rather too much powder. Thomas looked white, rather than his normal black and within a few hours I started to feel feverish and quite unwell. Anyone who has ever dipped sheep with the old organo-phosphate sheepdips will know the feeling.

Friday, 22 July 2011

Friday 22 July

Quite a nice day, during which I completed another batch of transcriptions from the Napier Report. I am currently looking at the submissions, heard at Ullapool, on 30 July 1883. The next locations will be Poolewe, Shieldaig, Balmacara and the Ross-shire hometown of Dingwall. The Napier Report is an important document in the history of the Highlands and Islands, documenting the conditions in which crofters and cottars had to live during the latter years of the 19th century. The Commission also heard from landowners and interested parties, such as church ministers and fish curers.

I was shocked by the double attack on Norway this afternoon, with a carbomb in Oslo and a gun-attack on a youth camp in Oslo Fjord later. The city centre attack claimed 7 lives, and more than a dozen in the island attack. One man has been arrested on the island. He was dressed as a police officer. 22nd July 2011 will go down as a dark day in Norway's history, but the country's leaders have vowed that they will not be beaten down. I am posting the Norwegian flag on this blogpost as a mark of respect to the victims of this attack.

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Thursday 21 July

Can't really say that today stood out in any fashion. The weather was not too bad, with bright and occasionally sunny spells. Did some work on the transcriptions of the Napier Report, finding the quote of the week: "My house would be none the worse for being better". And the Lochinver lifeboat, which was coming to Stornoway for its bi-annual refit and repainting, had to divert to the cruiseliner Crown Princess to take a sick passenger off the boat. I later saw the vessel passing in the distance, as a fata morgana, floating above the horizon.

Hurricane update - 21 July

There are four active tropical cyclones around the world, but none of them are directly threatening land.

The Western Pacific is hosting the decaying remains of typhoon Ma-on, with winds of no more than 30 knots (force 7), to the south of Japan.

The Eastern Pacific shows a category IV hurricane, Dora, off Cabo Corrientes in Mexico, headed for Baja California. The storm will not directly impact the peninsula, but its outliers may bring high winds, rain and high swells.

The Atlantic has two tropical storms, Bret and Cindy. Bret is located between Bermuda and the Carolinas, but poses no threat to mainland USA; Cindy is 1200 miles west of the Azores and 900 miles east of Bermuda.

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Development aid

I am going to use a blogpost as a rebuttal to a Facebook post that is doing the rounds at the moment. I am very fond of my American Facebook friends, so am not prepared to offend anyone by posting this rebuttal on their Facebook wall.

This is the post I take exception to:
BREAKING NEWS: We need to send money to the following country: USA. There are many without food, shelter, and clean drinking water (...and without jobs). Residents are going without heat for the winter, health care for the sick, and proper education for children. Stop sending money overseas. We have people here that lack… basic human needs. Do you have the guts to re-post this?? I just did, AMERICA FIRST!!

How about the victims of the famine in Somalia? Would you not send aid for the more than 4 out of every 10,000 children that die every day of starvation? For the innocent that suffer because of a war that they did not want, start or willingly participate in, and because of the cruelty of mother nature who has denied them growing rains?

The US has a disgraceful record in caring for its needy. During my years in J-land, and since, I have seen dozens of examples of that. Being resident in the UK, I am privileged that I don't have to pay much for medical care. In the States, you are required to make large contributions, and even then you may not get all the services you require - without forking out an awful lot more. If you can't pay, you don't get the care. Your credit card is more important than your medical condition.

The United States of America is rich enough to provide all its citizens with the basic necessities of life. It is a disgrace if anyone goes without food, shelter, and clean drinking water. Residents are going without heat for the winter, health care for the sick, and proper education for children. Even after sorting out all those problems, there is still enough to spare to send aid to every developing country around the globe. 0.1% of its Gross Domestic Product is a colossal amount. Uncle Sam can afford it, and still look after its own people.

Don't deny the innocent the right to life, just because your own government has its priorities wrong - and has had for decades.

Wednesday 20 July

A cold day, with the mercury only up to 12C / 54F. Yes, it's a northerly wind that's blowing. I pity those in the States that are sighing under a heatwave at the moment. This afternoon, we went on a trip round the West Side of Lewis, starting out along the Pentland Road to Carloway and having lunch at the Gearrannan Blackhouse Village. The hostel there closed down last May, see previous post. Afterwards, we headed east to Shawbost to visit the beach. No, you don't go swimming in the sea here - it's even colder than the weather.

Machair flowers at Shawbost

Shawbost beach

Purple seaweed

North Shawbost


Inside the museum at Gearrannan

Along the Pentland Road

Gearrannan hostel closed

I visited the Gearrannan Blackhouse Village today, but was sad to see the notice in the window, advising all that the hostel there has closed permanently. The proprietors, the Gatliff Hebridean Hostels Trust have posted the following message on their website, which I copy below. If you are asked about hostel accommodation in Lewis, please do NOT refer anyone to Gearrannan.

The Isle of Lewis has, to my knowledge, four hostels, namely at:
Stornoway (Heb Hostel and Fairhaven)
Kershader (Ravenspoint)
Galson (Galson Farm, South Galson)

Please use a search engine to find further details - I do not (as a rule) promote commercial enterprises.


It is with regret that the Gatliff Hebridean Hostels Trust announces that the hostel at Garenin is permanently closed.  It will not reopen.

We apologise for any inconvenience and disappointment this will cause.

Our lease on the building expires on 31 March 2012 and we have to vacate the building on that date, leaving the building as it was when first leased to us.  This closure will allow us to fulfil our lease obligations.
If you should hear from any other source that the building is open, please inform us immediately so that all sources may be made aware of the correct position.

Please note that the SYHA hostel handbook for 2011, which states that Garenin hostel is opening from 1 April 2011, is not the current information in respect of the hostel.  (The SYHA handbook was printed before the heating issues arose.)  The SYHA is aware that the hostel is closed.

Please also note that Garenin village continues to operate normally.  Details are to be found at the Gearrannan website.

This notice was issued on Monday 23 May 2011.

Ich habe es nicht gewusst

This expression in German can be translated as "I didn't know about it". It was often used in the aftermath of the Second World War, when certain people in the former Nazi empire were held to account over the slaughter of Jews and others in concentration camps.

Rupert and James Murdoch also claimed not to know about anything, because they were not told. I have reached the conclusion that top-level management that does not know about such serious issues as blackmail, bribery, phone-hacking and corruption is unfit to be at such level. It displays a disturbingly cavalier attitude from the Murdochs, to the effect that they did not care how the stories were got as long as it generated newspaper sales. It points to a culture of complacency and indifference, which no expression of regret can exponge. It shows not an ounce of compassion with those whose lives were ruined or made hell by the actions of employees of the Murdoch empire.

It has also become clear that the Murdochs were overtly manipulating the political scene in this country, by switching their allegiance to whichever party took their fancy. And what is even worse, the leaders of the two main political parties at Westminster pandered to their game. Rupert Murdoch was invited to (enter through the backdoor) 10 Downing Street to receive the personal thanks of David Cameron when the latter became prime minister. Cameron's appointment of Andy Coulson, a former editor of the now defunct newspaper News of the World, is today reported to have alarmed senior officials at Buckingham Palace.

The motive of the Murdochs is clear: make money - which in itself is not something I will fault anybody on. But their methods were morally and legally wrong, and I hope they and their malodorous empire will go under post haste. We can all do without them. As for our politicians, they will be held accountable at the ballot box. I hope the opportunity to do so comes soon.

Maybe someone could procure a tin of this stuff for the Murdochs and our esteemed political leaders (image courtesy Flickr user Popdoctor.

Hurricane update - 20 July

Typhoon Ma-on has been downgraded to tropical storm strength as it passes just to the south of Japan. One village was deluged with 850 mm of rain (that's a puny 34 inches) in just 24 hours. The storm will move out to sea and not be a further threat to Japan.

Hurricane Dora is paralleling the Pacific coast of Mexico and will blow up into a category III storm. At present, it is more than 200 miles offshore, but its course will bring it closer to the Mexican coastline and later to Baja California. By that time, conditions will become unfavourable for the hurricane and it will weaken.

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Tuesday 19 July

An overcast day with occasional drizzle. I spent the afternoon watching the Murdochs being grilled by MPs in London about the phone hacking scandal. A model of contrition and of hands-off management. "But we ain't done nothing wrong", seems to have been the buzz word, and "we didn't know what was going on in our own company". Don't know if it was a three hours well spent, and the incident with the shaving foam distracted rather than anything else.

Don't think I'll be watching that much TV again tomorrow, as I'm now having to shift a headache. Also because it was so boring. 

Monday, 18 July 2011

Monday 18 July

Today started with dense fog blanketing the harbour; I could not even see Goat Island at 10 am. The cloud lifted to an overcast, wet and misty day. It was not particularly warm when I ventured into town to buy more stamps for Postcrossing. Having suspended that for my Swiss holiday, I am now back into full swing with it. One card going to Finland, and another to Germany.There were still some ships in port who had been there for the Tall Ships event over the weekend.

The news is ruled by the ongoing phone-hacking saga, which is beginning to lap at the door of 10 Downing Street. Two senior police officers at Scotland Yard have resigned, and tomorrow, Rupert and James Murdoch face a parliamentary committee. I somehow don't see David Cameron in office by this time next year. And I hope this will be the end of tabloid journalism as we know it. I can't stomach it.

Sunday 17 July

Rain, rain and more rain today. The festival goers piled on board the two sailings to Ullapool (as opposed to the normal single one at 2.30pm) to go home. The last of the Tall Ships left port and headed for their next destination, Kirkwall in Orkney or Lerwick in Shetland. The busiest week of the year is over, although there will be a similarly busy week in October, when the Royal National Mod descends on Stornoway.


You don't need to understand the Dutch to appreciate the dramatic scenes as this 1,000 ft high transmitter collapses to the ground. On Friday afternoon, a fire broke out in the upper reaches of the structure as rewiring work was in process. The cause of the blaze is not yet known. Together with technical problems at the main transmitter at Lopik, 120 miles to the south, this has left large areas of Holland without radio or television reception.

Sunday, 17 July 2011

Hurricane update - 17 July

Typhoon Ma-on, currently some 700 miles south of Tokyo, is beginning to head towards Japan. The storm will peak at 120 knots by this time tomorrow. Ma-on will then veer northeast and slowly pass just to the south of Japan. There is considerable uncertainty over its proximity to land, and any weakening which will result from passage over land. The storm will be well above 65 knots (the lower threshold for typhoon strength), and is expected to be between 90 and 110 knots as it passes near or to the south of Honshu, Japan. Below image courtesy

Saturday 16 July - picture post

South of Arnish


RNLI Lifeboat "Tom Sandersen" between Arnish and Sandwick

Outside the Keepers' Cottage, Arnish

Two replica Sgoths, traditional fishing craft

Sailing ship Prolific

Pelican of London

Coastguard tug Anglian Sovereign

Coastguard helicopter

Arnish Lighthouse

Saturday, 16 July 2011

Saturday 16 July

Quite a nice, sunny and at times warm day. When I say warm, I mean that the mercury was in the high 60s. Today, the Tall Ships left Stornoway. The first, the Dar Mlodziezy sneaked out of port at 7.30 am. Her sistership, the Mir went just before five. She had been due to depart at 3.30, leaving large numbers of people waiting and waiting along the seafront in Stornoway and at Arnish Point, as well as Holm Point (on the other side of the water). It was all a bit of a damp squib, with only one other Tall Ship, the Pelican of London departing before the Mir. However, the sun was out, it was nice and warm, and I had ensconsed myself at Arnish, with another dozen people or so. The contingent at Holm Point was even larger, as that is much easier to access. Arnish Point requires a 5 mile drive from Stornoway, followed by a 15 minute walk - or a sump-bashing drive down a rough track.

I shall post the pictures tomorrow, as I am uploading them at the moment, and there are 140 of them.

Friday, 15 July 2011

Friday 15 July

Apart from the Mir, (see previous post), we also had the Pelican of London and the Lord Nelson in port - together with a collection of smaller craft. The Pelican was tied up alongside pier no 2, which is an area of the port that is normally off-limits - it is the point where oil- and gastankers are discharged. The weather, like yesterday, is not very pleasant: it is overcast, dull, with a penetrating breeze and low temperatures (for July). At the moment, we're only in the mid-teens celsius. The Hebridean Celtic Festival is also in full swing, but I am giving that a wholesale miss this year - nothing tickling my fancy.

Pelican of London

I am very pleased with developments in the phone-hacking saga. The Murdochs have conceded to giving evidence to a committee of MPs, the Americans are hopping mad at allegations that 9/11-victims' phones may have been hacked by News Corp employees, not to mention Australians and other nationals. News International CEO Rebekah Brooks has finally decided to fall onto her sword and resigned - and it just gets worse and worse. For them, that is.

On board a Tall Ship

This morning, we were greeted with the magnificent sight of the Russian tallship Mir (peace) on the near side of the ferry pier. The vessel was open for the public, so I went on board and had a walk round its decks. I am posting some pictures of that visit below.

Thursday 14 July

The day started early, with the arrival of the first of the more than a dozen Tall Ships which are due into Stornoway over the next three days. The Eendracht (a Dutch vessel, its name means Unity) passed the Arnish Lighthouse at 7.15 am, followed by the British vessel The Swan a little later. The majestic Polish three-master Dar Mlodziezy pulled in just after 10 o'clock to anchor in Glumag Harbour, right across from my position. A number of smaller vessels also arrived, but they were more difficult for me to track. I monitor shipping traffic around here on AIS, and vessels of 350 tons or less are not required to carry a transponder. In the afternoon, I went into town for a snapping spree. It was decidedly cold and at times wet, so I did not stay long. Later in the evening, it cleared up, providing me with some stunning images of the Polish vessel contrasting against dark skies.


Dar Mlodziezy

The Swan (R) and Alba Endeavour (L)

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Tall Ships

Today sees the arrival of several Tall Ships in Stornoway, and the first turned up at 7.15 this morning. The Dutch Eendracht was first on the scene, followed by the British Swan and the Polish Dar Mlodziezy, which now lies anchored in Glumag Harbour, right opposite my position. A fourth ship, the Alba Endeavour, sneaked past my position and tied up at Esplanade Quay a little while ago. At the end of today, I shall post pictures. Meanwhile, the Polish vessel is attracting a lot of attention from sight-seers in cars on the causeway to Goat Island.

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Wednesday 13 July

Another nice day, and quite warm (for these parts), with the mercury reaching 20C / 68F at one point. The sun put in a good appearance, although the wind picked up through the afternoon. But a force 4 isn't worth mentioning in the Hebrides.

Went to the library after lunch, and heard the pipes playing in the Narrows. I also caught sight of some youngsters performing a dance by the Pyramid - which they will be doing every day this week. I did not go to take a picture, as I have previously been advised against taking photographs of minors without their parents' or responsible adults' consent.

The collapse of care home operator Southern Cross has also had repercussions in the Western Isles. I refer to the article on Hebrides News. It means uncertainty for vulnerable, elderly residents.


This is the name of the 8th tropical cyclone of the Northwestern Pacific season. The fact that it has a name shows it is at least at tropical storm strength, with winds currently blowing at 55 knots (that's force 10 to 11 on the Beaufort scale), but forecast to increase to 110 knots by next week. This strength would place Ma-on at category III on the Saffir-Simpson hurricane wind scale.

At the moment, Ma-on is more than 600 miles from any land and will not threaten any land, apart from Iwo Jima and Chi Chi Jima, for at least five days. JTWC (the Joint Typhoon Warning Center in Hawaii) specifically warns that the storm will not follow the most common scenario, namely of veering northeast and being swept away in a much weakened state by the mid-latitude airstream. Japan is currently experiencing a heatwave, with temperatures between 90 and 95F (32 to 35C). The set-up in the atmosphere which has brought this extreme heat will also permit Ma-on to approach Japan unrestrained, and don't be surprised to hear of a category III typhoon (if not worse) making landfall in mainland Japan next week.

Tuesday 12 July

A reasonably nice day with some sunshine. Another cruiseliner, the Christopher Columbus, was in port today. It lay anchored in Glumag Harbour, right opposite my position, and departed for Greenock (near Glasgow) by late afternoon. I went into town to try the library again; this time it was open and I could trawl old copies of the local paper for WW1 tributes to Harris men. I only found 4 for the whole of 1917, and 1 for the island of Berneray. None for the Uists or Barra. The total number of Lewis tributes for 1917 and 1918 stands at 250. The reason may be that communications with the Southern Isles in those days were poor; also, Lewis was part of a different county (Ross & Cromarty) than Harris and the Southern Isles, which were part of Inverness-shire.

It is with grim satisfaction that I am watching the wheels coming off the Rupert Murdoch wagon; the main parties in the Westminster parliament have united to call for his takeover bid of broadcaster BSkyB to be abandoned. Even in the States, his News Corp business has come under scrutiny and criticism. As I have stated twice over the past week or so, I find it iniquitous that a media man should have such tight control over political figures. Who cares that a trash newspaper like the Sun can state it supports this party or that, and its dumb readership then votes for that party?

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Glorious Twelfth

In Scotland, the Glorious Twelfth refers to August 12th, when the grouse shooting season opens. It is as much a pointless exercise as July 12th, which is a date of note on the calendar of Northern Ireland. As one of my Twitter contacts put it tersely: "Northern Ireland's Festival of Sectarianism is well underway again. When you mix orange and green you end up with shitty brown". On 12 July, the Protestants in Northern Ireland celebrate the accession to the English throne of William III in 1688, as well as his victory at the battle of the Boyne in 1690.

In 1998, the Good Friday agreement was signed between the warring factions in Ulster, to put an end to the civil war there, euphemistically referred to as the Troubles. The IRA and its protestant counterparts decommissioned their weaponry, but small "dissident" extremist factions have remained active, and the confrontation between the two sides has flared up in recent weeks, culminating in today's Orange marches. I wish they would just ban them. It would also help if Northern Ireland's politics would cease to be demarkated along the lines of religious convictions, rather than that of political conviction.

I have to say, as a Dutchman, that I am deeply ashamed that there is a strong Dutch connection in this unholy saga. William III was William of Orange, the King of the Netherlands in the 17th century. His strongly anti-papal convictions continue to echo through the ages, and have contributed in no mean fashion to the civil strife in the north of Ireland. His role in Scottish history is equally ignominious, in that it was on his orders that the 78 Macdonalds were killed by the Campbells at Glencoe in 1692.

Monday, 11 July 2011

Monday 11 July

A day of varying fortunes in terms of sunshine. A cloudy start was followed by bright sunshine in the afternoon, although the boundary with the cloud lay only a matter of miles to the west of us. The cruisepassengers from the Marco Polo certainly had a chance to see the town smiling in the sunshine.

I was intending to go to the library this afternoon, but was confronted by a locked door and the notice CLOSED. For the past few months, the library has been closed on a Monday, apparently due to cutbacks in service. I have heard several people grumbling about this when I mentioned it on my Twitterfeed. Wish they had publicised these altered opening times a bit more prominently. The town centre is a mere 10 minute walk from my position, but others will be driving in for up to 40 miles to reach Stornoway.

The phone hacking saga, with News International papers allegedly hacking into people's phones, medical records and what not, continues to mushroom. It is with a degree of grim pleasure that I note the mounting discomfort of the likes of Rupert Murdoch and his ilk. His bid to take over BSkyB, to my mind, is dead in the water and his empire in the UK looks in peril. I hope this is the beginning of the end for garbage journalism in this country.

Sunday, 10 July 2011

Sunday 10 July

Those two pictures say it all for today. Wet and miserable. As I type the wind is getting up and it seems to be getting colder only 14C today. We're having a northerly wind, so no surprises there. This week, we are having the Hebridean Celtic Festival in town, and the rush will start by the middle of the week. Enjoying a short lull before mayhem breaks loose. Our wee town of 9,000 will have to cope with an influx of 15,000. The Tall Ships will entice more visitors, so the ferry will be bulging at the seams this week. Sorry if I seem to be moaning, but I wouldn't mind a ray of sunshine up here.