View across the Outer Harbour of Stornoway

Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Wednesday 29 February

It's :Leap Year Day today, and the babies born today will only be able to celebrate their birthday properly once every 4 years. It reminds me of the Gilbert & Sullivan operetta Pirates of Penzance, where the hero can leave his apprenticeship with the pirates on his 21st birthday. Only to find out it was February 29th, so he can't leave until he is 84.

It felt very cold today, as a strong wind blew over Stornoway. Quite a contrast to the summery scenes over in Aberdeen, particularly yesterday. Went into town for a few bits and bobs, but it felt bitterly cold in the southerly breeze. We are set for a colder spell as March comes in, but just a dip in temperatures, no return to winter imminent.

Quite a few schools in the Western Isles are closing this year, among them the ones at Sandwickhill and Bragar. A Facebook page, organised by Tasglann nan Eilean [Hebridean Archives] has been set up for each of the schools, and the one at Airidhantuim seems to be particularly popular. Wanna try pronouncing that last name? Unless you're a local person here in Lewis, you will never get it right.

Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Tuesday 28 February

An overcast day, but fairly mild. However, the mercury at Aberdeen crested 17C / 63F, which is 11 degrees above the long-term average. The high temperatures were caused by the föhn over the Cairngorms.

Ferry company Calmac have made a hash of their brochure for their services. On a map of the islands to the west of the mainland, several hotels and guesthouses have been pinpointed to the wrong location. And not just a little; a hotel in Barra has been placed in Skye, 50 miles to the east, and a guesthouse north of Stornoway is placed 50 miles away in Uig. They have apologised for the error.

I spent about 40 minutes in the library scanning pages from the Dewar Report of 1912, which reviewed the provision of medical services in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland at the start of the 20th century. As I outlined last week, this report led to the establishment of the Medical Service for the Highlands and Islands, and ultimately the NHS in 1948. Some of those pages I have forwarded to my friend and fellow researcher Direcleit, who covers Harris, Berneray and adjacent areas of North Uist.

Monday, 27 February 2012

Monday 27 February

A very mild day, with the mercury easily reaching 12C under cloudy skies. It was also quite breezy, but nothing dramatic.

Went to the optician's for an eye-test and the selection of a new pair of spectacles. Should be ready within one or two weeks. The prescription will have to be faxed to a place on the mainland, which will produce the lenses. The optician's will then insert the lenses into the frame, and get in touch with me to come and collect them. Like everybody else, I'm not getting any younger, so I'm joining the ranks of the varifocal brigade. A certain person, well-known to me, decided to wear their varifocals for the first time when going on a train journey. On alighting from the train, they misjudged the distance between carriage floor and station platform (2½ feet), so they ended up prostrate on the platform.

Our Post Office, on Francis Street, has had to shut unexpectedly due to security concerns. People with car tax applications have been panicking, because they faced a round trip of 50 miles to Ness or 75 miles to Tarbert to have their forms processed. Fortunately, Royal Mail have seen sense and deployed their staff to the sub-postoffice on Bayhead.

Sunday, 26 February 2012

Sunday 26 February

Yesterday, it was reported that a pedestrian had been knocked down in the road between Carloway and Callanish. The man was taken to hospital in Stornoway, and has undergone an operation. Following an appeal in local media, the driver of the car, which had driven off following the incident, has come forward.

An overcast day, with plenty of wind and rain, although the wind appears to have subsided somewhat.
Kept another quiet day, watching an episode of Columbo in the afternoon. More tomorrow.

Saturday, 25 February 2012

Saturday 25 February

A pretty bright day with good periods of sunshine. We managed 10C / 50F, but the mercury is going down fast as I type, 9.20pm. Tomorrow will not be as good a day, as the Met Office is warning of rain and wind. What's new, it's the Hebrides.

Have completed the second set of transcriptions of the Napier Commission's report from Inverness, dated October 1883. This document is pivotal in the history of the Highlands and Islands, and amongst today's gem was an exercise in polite jibing between the commissioners and a less than pleasant witness. The subject was the clearance of Strathnaver, in the far north of Scotland, which the witness played down.

Otherwise, I kept a quiet day on account of a very disturbed night.

Friday, 24 February 2012

Ferry woes

After the problems surrounding the ferry Isle of Lewis, which decided to dispute passage with the town of Birkenhead, the lifeline service between Stornoway and Ullapool has gone back to normal. Fellow blogger Tony has highlighted the issues surrounding the freight ferry Muirneag, which was out of action this week either because of bad weather (what bad weather?) or on account of its steering gear being faulty. The Muirneag carries our freight, varying from roofbeams to cans of catfood. However, she is an old lady of the seas, starting life in 1979 and plying various routes in northern Europe before coming to Stornoway in 2002. Muirneag will be scrapped in 2013.

The reason for the cancelled sailings are two-fold. First of all, her manoeuverability is poor, and the fact that she carries light loads means she is high out of the water, making her susceptible to high winds. The second reason goes back just over 6 years, to events on 11 November 2005. Muirneag ventured out to sea, hoping to beat the forecast storm. Unfortunately, the Met Office was late issuing its storm warning, meaning that she was forced to go with the force 12 winds and ended up 60 miles north of the Butt of Lewis, well on her way to the Faeroes. Since that hairy episode, Calmac have been justifiably cautious with her sailings. And I'd rather have Muirneag stuck in port than stuck on the bottom of the Minch.

Muirneag is named after this hill in the north of the island, 4 miles west of North Tolsta.

Friday 24 February

A fairly bright and sunny day, but quite a bit cooler than yesterday. The mercury only just about reached 8C / 46F. The weather in the Southern Hemisphere tropics is calm, with no hurricanes worth mentioning. The two disturbances that the Joint Typhoon Warning Center has detected have little chance (less than 30%) of developing into anything serious.

Dutch prince Friso, second son of Queen Beatrix, is in coma and unlikely to ever waken up again. Last Friday he was buried under an avalanche for 20 minutes, after which he was resuscitated for 50 minutes. Doctors in Austria today revealed he had sustained massive brain damage. The mood in Holland has shifted from quiet hope to gloom. Several public engagements by Queen Beatrix have been cancelled. Prince Friso will be transferred to a neurological rehab unit elsewhere in due course.

I am continuing with my transcription of the Napier Report, a 4,000 page document relating the conditions under which crofters and cottars were living in the third quarter of the 19th century. Having reached evidence that was taken at Inverness in October 1883, I found contrasting witnesses. One decried the crofters in western Scotland as lazy and indolent; the very next witness listed the achievements of his fellow residents in a glen, some 20 miles west of Inverness. Several had become bishops, and quite a few had achieved high ranks in the Army.
In 2007, a statue was unveiled at Helmsdale, 40 miles north of Inverness. Strath Kildonan, just north of Helmsdale, was the scene of clearances in the early 19th century. The statue depicted a Highlander, boldly striding forth to a new life in the New World, ready to achieve great things. And many did so. My point is, however: why were they not allowed to achieve great things on their home soil?

Thursday, 23 February 2012

The Italian Chapel

It is 70 years ago today that the first Italian prisoners of war (POW) arrived on the Orkney island of Lamb Holm. They would spend the next two years reinforcing the Churchill Barriers, which protect the then naval base at Scapa Flow. In between, they also converted two old Nissen huts into a church. In addition to these picture slides on the BBC, I am posting some of my own pics, which I took during a visit in October 2008.

Thursday 23 February

After a slight mishap with my spectacles, I had to attend the optician's first thing this morning. Only to be told that repairs were not really possible. So, I'm going to have an eye test next week and hopefully a new pair of specs soon. I have made a temporary fix on the old ones, but it is a tad annoying.

Today's highest temperature in the UK has been 18.7C (65.7F) in Warwickshire, central England. Here in Stornoway, it has been slightly less warm at 13C / 55F. Still far above normal for the time of year. Everybody will revert back to normal by the weekend. The weather here has otherwise been rather damp and quite windy, with force 7 being the rule.

I have been asked about the condition of Prince Johan Friso of the Netherlands, who was severely injured in an avalanche in the Austrian Alps last Friday. He remains in coma, with apparently a body core temperature of around 34C / 93F, and no change in condition since the accident. Doctors will now not declare when they expect to make a prognosis. Johan Friso's mother, Queen Beatrix, and his wife Mabel are never far from his side; the Queen has even cancelled an engagement to accept papers of accreditation from new foreign ambassadors to The Hague.

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Wednesday 22 February

Although the day started out wet, it did clear up and we had a decent amount of sunshine. It felt slightly colder than of late, but I'm still happy with 9C / 48F. Two hundred miles away in Aberdeenshire, they are expecting the mercury to hit 16C / 60F tomorrow.

Spent a couple of hours in the library, looking at the two historical reports I mentioned yesterday: the 1912 Dewar Report (evidence from Lewis and Harris) and the 1902 Crofters Commission for Lewis. I also took information from the Croft Histories of the villages of Sheshader and Bayble in Point, some 6 miles east of here. I need the latter info to double-check my WW1 tribute site.

The island is bemused tonight as the freight ferry Muirneag is not sailing tonight due to bad weather. However, the forecast is not for bad weather. At least, not until tomorrow night. Some wag on Twitter was wondering whether it would be carrying the Olympic Torch to Stornoway in June. The Torch will come here, and like the Muirneag, it never goes out.

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Sunshine Colorado Notes

Our J-land community appears to have moved from blogging to Facebooking, but I somehow don't feel quite at home on Facebook. It seems to invite one-liners, just about as bad as Twitter. So, when I have something more to say than can be squeezed into the entry box on Facebook, I return to Blogger. Well, if you're a regular reader, you know I blog here every day.

This post is to highlight David Wheeler's blog Sunshine Colorado Notes. A few years ago, David very kindly sent me a copy of the book about the history of Sunshine, a small mining community, a few miles outside Boulder CO. It was probably typical of many a frontier town of that era (late 19th C) and area, with the go-ahead spirit that comes with that. It was almost as if I was there myself. And although I live quite a few thousand miles away, on the other side of the Atlantic, I felt as gutted as the village when I learned of the devastating wildfire of October 2010. It destroyed most of the houses. Apart from the loss of property, I guess it also ended, whether temporarily or permanently, a way of life for its residents. This was portrayed quite graphically when David had to let go of his faithful canine, Milo, who could not settle away from the village. I know property can be replaced, and the village can be rebuilt. But whether the people will return, and more importantly, its spirit remains to be seen. However, one day I may come across and look for myself. Better keep some of that homebrew ready, David.

Tuesday 21 February

Shrove Tuesday, and no, I haven't had a pancake today. I'm not a pancake eater, as I am full-up after just the one. Those that know me off-line are aware that I'm not averse to food, but pancakes are beyond me above a quantity of one.

Weather today was not very good, overcast and grey, with occasional drizzle. By 4.30pm a serious downpour passed over with rising wind. The forecast is for a gale tomorrow. The only redeeming feature of today's weather was the elevated temperature of 10C / 50C. The east of Scotland may see the mercury right up at 15C / 59F tomorrow. No such luck for the Hebrides, but I don't really mind.

I am sending off another five postcards for the postcrossing project, bringing my tally to 94 when they are all delivered. One is still in the mailsystem, bound for the USA. Over the year I've done this, two never arrived. One was headed for Taiwan, the other for Germany.

I have researched another handfull of men from this island who were lost in the First World War. I am making my way through the Stornoway, which will take me a wee while yet. Another project, equally large, is the transcription of the Napier Report from 1883.
In addition, I want to go and have a look at the findings of a successor commission, which went round the Highlands and Islands in 1902; as well as at the findings of the Dewar Commission of 1912, which led to the foundation of the medical service in this part of the world and contributed towards the setting up of the NHS 36 years later. Both reports (from 1902 and from 1912) are available in my local library, so it's only a 10 minute walk away.

Monday, 20 February 2012

Monday 20 February

After a windy night, the day started wet. However, the sun came out and the wind dropped after midday, leaving us with a mild afternoon. The mercury reached double figures, and it felt quite mild outside. Rather a contrast to yesterday morning's snow.

The thaw has spread across Europe, causing problems on the river Danube in Serbia. The ice has started to break up and move downstream, taking riverside accoutrements such as floating restaurants and ships with it. The cost cannot yet be estimated, but are reckoned to be substantial.

You may remember the case of the alleged murder of Liam Aitchison last November, which was the first murder in these islands in 43 years. Channel 5 presenter Matthew Wright and his team thought it was an appropriate subject for some off-the-cuff humour, but more than 2,200 people disagreed. They lodged an appeal with broadcasting regulator Ofcom, who have now ruled that the program was liable to cause offence. However, as apologies have been profuse and apparently sincere, Ofcom have now declared the matter resolved. No further action against Matthew Wright or Channel 5 will be taken. I will continue not to watch garbage like that.

It was pointed out in a letter to an on-line news website that it took our local council an awful long time (months) to join the campaign against high fuel prices, contrasting to the few weeks that it took them to join the campaign to retain reduced ferry fares for commercial vehicles. At least two councillors have vested interests in the fuel business in these islands. Anyone thinking of a word starting with C?

Sunday, 19 February 2012

Sunday 19 February

A cold day, which started very white. Snow had fallen last night, and more fell through the night, leaving us with just a little under an inch on the ground. Most of it had melted by mid afternoon, in spite of a few more snow showers through the morning. The mercury is rising slowly, and is presently at 4C / 39F.

Cromwell Street after a hailshower, yesterday
I was bemused by the news of the two boxers who had a punch-up during a post-match press conference - and they had not even been in the ring together. One taunted the other and they had an off-the-ring bout. Everybody is crying shame, but they do it all the time inside the ring, so what's the fuss? Said he sarcastically.

A climber has died after falling more than 1,000 feet near the summit of Ben Nevis. The circumstances are as yet unclear, but police think it was probably just an unfortunate accident. Although the mountains in Harris are nowhere near as tall as Ben Nevis (the Clisham is shy of 2,700 feet), they are serious mountains. I remember people having to be guided off at dusk in December one year, after their undertaking to traverse the Clisham Horseshoe proved to be too lengthy for the 7 hours of daylight at that time of year.

Clisham Horseshoe, April 2005

Saturday, 18 February 2012

Saturday 18 February

And all of a sudden, winter is back. Heavy hail showers pepper Stornoway all day, leaving the place looking decidedly white at times. The strong northwesterly wind makes it feel very cold outside. The sun does compensate, and it is gaining strength every day. It is also rising higher in the sky.

The Dutch prince who was injured in an avalanche yesterday remains in hospital in Innsbruck, Austria, in a stable but as yet life-threatening condition. He is kept in an induced coma. His mother, Queen Beatrix, and his wife, Mabel, have been to see him at his bedside. Doctors say that no prognosis can be made for a number of days, until they lift the coma.

Locally, the ferry Isle of Lewis has finally taken up her duties again, after returning to Stornoway during the night. She sailed for Ullapool at 2.30pm, leaving the Hebridean Isles to complete its last morning run to and from Ullapool.

Friday, 17 February 2012

Friday 17 February

An overcast day with rainy spells at time. Not cold, but that is going to change. Tomorrow, we're in for wintry showers, which will bring 6 inches of snow to the mainland. Galeforce winds are likely to bring blizzard conditions to Highland Scotland. Not a nice day for being out and about.

Snow has caused a skiing accident in Austria, involving the brother of the Dutch crown prince. Johan Friso (43) was skiing off-piste when he was buried under an avalance. It took 15 minutes for him to be extracted, and he is currently in an artificial coma in hospital, dangerously ill. Dutch news media are reporting on the incident continually. The royal family has flown to Austria to be beside the prince's bedside.

Broadband service has resumed more-or-less normality, although there was another brief outage around midday. It appears that all of Stornoway and adjacent areas were affected, with even shops and banks being cut off.

Thursday, 16 February 2012

Thursday 16 February

After 42 hours, the broadband connection came back. And I'm not ashamed to admit that I suffered from withdrawal symptoms, of not being able to dash to the laptop to look this up and that up, continue my researches and go on Facebook and Twitter. Now, a lot of that is not exactly hyperimportant, but it does go to show how much the internet has taken over my life. Our lives.

Anyway, it was a nice sunny morning, until those showers put in an appearance after midday. Went for a wee walk to find a mansion along Goathill Road, but the name plaque had been removed from the house that was once called Gowancroft. Will have to ask around which one it was, I think no 3, as shown below

View Larger Map
I am interested, because I was asked about a former resident, who lived there 100 years ago and went away to serve in the Royal Army Medical Corps. For reference, the chap concerned did survive the war.

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Wednesday 15 February

The day started overcast and at times drizzly, but the sun took over after 3pm. On time to see the Hebridean Isles off on its late departure for Ullapool.

I have not been around (much) on-line today,due to a protracted broadband outage. I am posting this using dial-up, which is about 50 times slower than my usual broadband speed. There is no firm indication when this problem will be resolved, but hope to be back tomorrow.

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Tuesday 14 February

It's Valentine's Day today, so I hope all have had a nice romantic time of it today. Here in Stornoway, the shops have been full of the usual Valentine's paraphernalia, which will be gone by tomorrow. The next revenue spinner on the calendar will be Easter, this year on April 7th.

Today was a grey, overcast day, with a little rain during the afternoon. It was a bit breezy, but we've had far worse. The ferry Hebridean Isles is doing its best to cover the run to Ullapool, but it takes half an hour longer. The result is that it doesn't come back from its last call at Ullapool until 10.30pm, two hours behind schedule. Our usual boat is due back on service by the weekend.

Rangers FC has gone into administration, meaning it loses 10 points in the league table. I am not an expert in tax or bankruptcy law, but judging by the way things have been going of late, there appears to be a realistic prospect of the club being wound up. The ramifications of this would be far reaching.

Monday, 13 February 2012


It is 320 years ago today that the Massacre of Glen Coe occurred. Nearly 80 people were killed, either put to the sword or perishing of exposure in the open.

As a Dutchman, blogging in Scotland, I'm never too proud of the fact that King William was in fact William of Orange, who had come across from Holland to wed Queen Mary in 1688. His track record in England, Scotland and Ireland is poor; the Battle of the Boyne (in Ireland) continues to have ramifications in Northern Ireland. He was on a divine imperative to fight the Catholics, whom he duly defeated at the Boyne.

The demand for an oath of allegiance from the Scottish clans lay at the root of the massacre of Glencoe. The Macdonalds didn't manage to get the oath in on time, and the Campbells were brought in to stay with their arch rivals. The Macdonalds offered them hospitality - and were rewarded with death. Murder is bad enough, but murder under trust is (if possible) even worse. The following inquiry was a white-wash.

In spite of the 1692 atrocity, I do not believe there is any real ill feeling between the Campbells and the Macdonalds. Not on the scale of Northern Ireland, the other legacy of King Billy, at any rate.

Today, a dignified act of remembrance was conducted at the memorial at Glencoe.

From Wikipedia

You are hereby ordered to fall upon the rebels, the McDonalds of Glenco, and put all to the sword under seventy. You are to have a special care that the old Fox and his sons doe upon no account escape your hands, you are to secure all the avenues that no man escape. This you are to putt in execution at fyve of the clock precisely; and by that time, or very shortly after it, I'll strive to be att you with a stronger party: if I doe not come to you att fyve, you are not to tarry for me, but to fall on. This is by the Kings speciall command, for the good & safety of the Country, that these miscreants be cutt off root and branch. See that this be putt in execution without feud or favour, else you may expect to be dealt with as one not true to King nor Government, nor a man fitt to carry Commissione in the Kings service. Expecting you will not faill in the fulfilling hereof, as you love your selfe, I subscribe these with my hand att Balicholis Feb: 12, 1692
(signed) R. Duncanson
For their Majesties service
To Capt. Robert Campbell
of Glenlyon

Monday 13 February

Quite a nice day, which got increasingly bright. It did not feel cold, with the mercury at 8C / 46F. And we're rapidly gaining daylight hours; I'm typing this at 5.20pm and it's still light.

The local news is dominated by the problems on the ferry services across the Hebrides. Our ferry, the Isle of Lewis was coming out of drydock at Birkenhead when she hit the dockside and sustained damage. This meant that she had to go straight back in for repairs. Meanwhile, the Clansman, which had been covering for the IoL on the route to Ullapool, had to proceed to Aberdeen for her own annual refit. This meant that another vessel had to be dug out, the Hebridean Isles, which normally plies the route between mainland Scotland and Islay. They still have the Finlaggan, but the service there is a bit curtailed. Up here, we find that the Hebridean Isles is rather slower than the Isle of Lewis, giving rise to longer crossings. We're not expecting her back in port much before midnight.

One of the two major footclubs in Scotland, Rangers FC, has signalled its intention to appoint administrators as it is facing a tax bill running into 7 or 8 figures which it cannot pay. A formal decision to go into administration is to be taken within the next 10 days. It would lead to an automatic deduction of 10 points in the league, leaving Rangers 14 points behind their arch rivals Celtic. The supporters of the latter are laughing, with Twitter hashtags like #simplythebust. From a sporting point of view, being a very lukewarm football follower, I would be sorry to see one of Scotland's top clubs disappear.
However, the Rangers and Celtic rivalry stands for an ugly aspect of Scottish society: bigotry. Rangers are said to represent the protestants and Celtic the catholics. It is a reflection of Northern Ireland, and its troubles. Even this afternoon, this aspect reared its head in some of the internet postings on the issue.

Sunday, 12 February 2012

Sunday 12 February

An overcast day with some chinks of sunshine in the morning.
The ferry service to Ullapool is now being carried out by the MV Hebridean Isles, as the Clansman is due to go for refit in Aberdeen tomorrow. I thought something was different when I saw the ferry sailing by at 2.30pm this afternoon. The Isle of Lewis is still in dry-dock in Birkenhead, near Liverpool.

I spent the afternoon following someone's ancestry, which spreads from Stornoway to Stonehaven; the latter town is about 10 miles south of Aberdeen. His great-great-grandmother was the wife of the local chief constable, who held the position for more than 20 years, having worked up his way through the ranks. I also dug out a picture of his great-uncle; Am awaiting reply.

Whitney Houston has died. That is sad, and a loss to the world of popular music and showbiz. But does it merit top-spot on the news? I'd think that the Greek crisis is rather more important. By Wednesday, Greece could be out of the Euro and the EU in crisis!

Saturday, 11 February 2012

Saturday 11 February

With nearly 2,000 hits from Mauritius, the people there appear to be flocking to my Tropical Cyclones blog as TC Giovanna is grumbling away, 250 miles to the north of that island. The storm is at present a category III hurricane with winds of 120 mph near the centre. It will gradually strengthen as it moves away west towards Madagascar and Mozambique.

Today was a pleasant day, although the sun remained shrouded behind cloud. It felt relatively mild, certainly when compared to the overnight lows of -15C in southern England. We're having spring tides at the moment, leaving us with very low ebbtides. Went out to the Newton Basin and collected 3 oysters and 2 scallops. As I type this, that area is now under 16 feet of water.

I am disgusted with the petulance of grossly overpaid footballers who do not know the meaning of the word sportsmanship. Manchester United played Liverpool (winning 2-1), but beforehand two players from both teams refused to shake hands as they had an on-going feud. My suggestion is to sack both players on the spot for gross professional misconduct. That'll teach them.

The RNLI lifeboat passing the lighthouse

Scallops and oysters

Low tide

Friday, 10 February 2012

Friday 10 February

An uninspiring and grey day, with rising winds and occasional drizzle. The clouds lie low over the hills, sometimes dipping down to 200 feet. Nonetheless, I prefer this to the freezing rain that has affected parts of England, turning streets and pavements into ice rinks. It will be our turn next week to get wintry showers, as a strong northerly airflow comes blasting down all the way from north of Iceland.

Two hurricanes about in the southern hemisphere. Jasmine is running out of puff to the southwest of Fiji, but Giovanna has wound itself up to hurricane strength within 24 hours of actually forming as a tropical cyclone in the Indian Ocean. The warnings on that system are only issued every 12 hours, so the interval could well have been shorted. The people in Mauritius and La Reunion are turning to my wee tropical cyclones blog for information; 500 so far today already. Giovanna will bypass them far to the north as it barrels towards Madagascar on Sunday or Monday. Having traversed that island, the storm will regenerate in the Mozambique Channel.

Thursday, 9 February 2012

Thursday 9 February

A quiet day, with not much wind and feeling mild with the mercury at 8C. The overnight low in the North York Moors was minus 8C overnight, so that's quite a contrast. The cold air over England is set to be pushed away over the next few days.

This crow has managed to prise a shell from the seabed, after the sea receded with low tide. It drew my attention after I heard the shell clattering noisily to the road. I went down to the bottom of the Newton basin to look for scallops, but the one I found did not look healthy so I threw it away.

I noticed this clutch of whelk eggs at the edge of the water. As I type this, there will be 16 feet of water over it. It's called high tide.

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Wednesday 8 February

Grey, overcast and very windy today, with galeforce winds for most of the day. With the temperature at 6C, this made it feel unpleasantly cold. I went into town this afternoon, and hardly anything stirred. The ferry only made its afternoon crossing, the morning one having been cancelled. As I type this, at 9.15pm, it is due in at 10 o'clock, 2 hours late. Other ferry services along the west coast have also been disrupted by the weather.

Looking 600 miles to the southeast, keen disappointment is being felt across Holland after a major 125 mile ice skating race was called off. The Eleven Cities Race through the province of Friesland is a rare event, run over frozen canals and waterways. The ice thickness required, 6 inches, was not universally achieved, some places only managing 2½ inches. As a thaw is expected to set in this weekend, the organisers have decided to pull the plug on the event for now. Last time round, in 1997, some 16,600 people took part. The Netherlands has seen its share of continental cold over the last week or so, with the mercury plunging to -20C / -4F last weekend.

This afternoon, I called in to see a gentleman in the town to give me more information about one of his ancestors, who was killed in the First World War. The story was, as can be expected, a sad one. His uncle and his intended had planned to marry out in Canada, where he was employed with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. However, some idiot fired a shot into an archduke at Sarajevo, which meant that thousands had to line up to face near-certain death on the field of battle or out at sea. John Macaulay joined the Royal Naval Reserve in his native Britain, and got married at Stornoway in January 1917. Fourteen months later, he was lost when his ship, the SS Kenmare, got torpedoed off Anglesey. His wife Catherine never spoke about this again - she died in 1961. Whether she commissioned the adornments to John's grave at Balrothery, Ireland is not known. The adornments included such as railings and the additional inscription "Not dead but sleepeth until the day break and the shadows flee away". A tribute website can be seen here.
On 2 March, I shall remember him on the 94th anniversary of his death. Alongside his nearly 1300 comrades who also never returned.

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Tuesday 7 February

A bright day, but with increasing amounts of cloud and rising wind. As I type this, just after 10pm, it is blowing a good force 7 and the rain has started. The mercury has hovered around 7C today, but the strong winds made it feel unpleasantly cold. We are on warning for severe gales overnight.

Over the next few days, we are going to see some extreme tides. The difference between high and low tide will exceed 16 feet, meaning that the Sound of Harris ferry cannot sail at low tide. Its schedule has been revised to accommodate the tidal conditions. Conversely, the plane that lands at Barra Airport can only land at low tide. So, at high tide the plane can't fly and at low tide the ferry can't sail. Long live the Hebrides!

A lady, only days away from her 111th birthday, has died in Norfolk. She was the last person alive who had been actively involved with the First World War. Florence Green was a mess-steward in RAF bases; the predecessor of the RAF was established during the Great War.

Although it is mid-winter, the southern hemisphere is at the height of summer. This means that tropical cyclones are haunting southern latitudes. A storm, equivalent to a category III hurricane, is on its way between the islands of New Caledonia and Vanuatu. The southernmost islands of Vanuatu are on a yellow alert for possible winds to 110 mph; the Loyalty Islands of New Caledonia are on an orange alert for cyclonic weather. However, the peak winds, of 130 mph, will stay well away from land. Another tropical storm, Cyril, brought windy weather to Tonga some 24 hours ago, but is now falling apart in the South Pacific.

Monday, 6 February 2012

Picture post - 6 February

Monday 6 February

A sunny and nearly cloudless day, which saw the mercury soaring to 9C/ 48F. It tempted me out for a walk of just over 4 miles to the Iolaire Memorial, outside Lower Sandwick. Recent heavy rainfalls have left the ground sodden, but otherwise it was fairly easy going. I'm uploading pictures as I type this entry, but will post a selection in a later entry.

It would appear that Syria's president has taken heart from the veto at the UN Security Council from Russia and China, against a motion of censure against his regime. His forces have been shelling civilian areas of several cities in his country. I really wonder what the difference is between Muammar Gadaffi and Hafez al-Assad. Why could Gadaffi be bombed out, and Assad cannot?

The disused water tower at Knockaird in Ness (here in Lewis) has been offered for sale for a bargain price of £19k. All services will have to be laid into the edifice, and it is an extremely exposed location, on the top of the hill above Port of Ness.

Sunday, 5 February 2012

Sunday 5 February

The weather today was of variable clouds, and occasional showers, temperature the same as over the past few days. Replenished the birdfeeders with seeds and peanuts, which kept the sparrows, starlings and collared doves happy. Judging by the plethora of white splodges on the grass below the feeders, it all seems to go straight through them.

I have continued my researches into the WW1 casualties, a topic that has been on my agenda over the past five years this coming May. I try to gather up as much information as possible about each of the nearly 1300 casualties from this island and give each man his own page. This will then show a portrait photograph (I have more than 400 of those), any tributes from the local paper, a summary of his service record, specific medals and tributes - and a picture of his gravestone, if one exists in a local cemetery. The website I am putting it all on is a bit of a mess, so I'm keeping it private for the moment.

Saturday, 4 February 2012

Saturday 4 February

The day started off with galeforce winds and heavy rain. The wind subsided, followed by extremely heavy rain, with hourly rainfall rates of 16 mm (3/4 ins) reported on the Stornoway and Aberdeen rainfall radars. By 2pm, the sun came out and it remained bright and sunny, and not too cold at all. What's all this fuss about winter, I wonder?

Well, there was this overnight low of -20C / -4F in eastern Holland. As I type this (7.30pm UK time), it has already gone down to -15C there. Reports of heavy snowfall all over England, with possible overnight lows of -12C. I'm glad it is not affecting our neck of the woods for a change. In fact, we're doing very well, thank you.

I enjoyed having a look round the site for innkeepers in Stornoway in the 19th century. I have summarised the findings on my local history blog Pentland Road. I also found out what a tidewaiter was. He was a customs official who would attend incoming shipping. The one I encountered on the 1851 census was also an innkeeper. Are the two jobs compatible? Well, at around that time, an official in the Lews estate, Donald Munro, managed to balance 32 different hats - few of them compatible with each other.

Friday, 3 February 2012

Friday 3 February

Another bright day, but cloud gradually increased through the day, leaving us with some rain by nightfall. As I type, the temperature in eastern Holland has crashed to -15C, not far above zero Fahrenheit. Here in the Western Isles, we have held on to +5C / 40F all day. It is quite windy today.

Earlier this week, representatives of Scottish Fuels, which supply fuel oils to the north of Scotland, were in town to meet with disgruntled islanders who are complaining bitterly about the price of fuel. At the moment, it's about £1.55 a litre, for my American friends, that's more than $9 a US gallon. No clear answers were forthcoming, and what I heard about it, it was more an exercise in passing the buck than answering questions. The fact that a local councillor is high up in the hierarchy of the company doesn't help proceedings.

Thursday, 2 February 2012

Thursday 2 February

Another bright and fairly sunny day, but remaining cold. I should not complain, as the 5C on the thermometer is probably above average for the country. As I type, Altnaharra, on the north coast of mainland Scotland, is rapidly approaching -8C. However, eastern Europe would find that positively balmy, as their daily max is well below -10C. Reports from Serbia speak of 11,000 people cut off in their remote villages by snow. Our forecast, here in the islands, speak of the mercury going back up to 9C in a few days' time.

Thirty years ago, Argentina invaded the Falkland Islands. They were expelled after a brief but bitter war, which claimed several hundred lives on both sides. The Argentinians continue to claim sovereignty over the islands, a claim augmented by the presence of oil reserves under the South Atlantic seafloor. Prince William is currently on a tour of duty in the Falklands, something the Argentinians have taken quite badly. I don't think it serves any constructive purpose to be antagonistic from either side.

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Wednesday 1 February

It was fairly bright today, with the chilly southeasterly wind continuing. It is associated with a very strong area of high pressure over Siberia, 1065 mbar. That's equivalent to a whopping 800 mm on the old mercury barometers. The all-time record stands at 1085 mbar, 814 mm. The result is a surge of extremely cold air into eastern Europe. The temperature in northwestern Russia went down to minus 36, and not much warmer elsewhere in eastern Europe. The frost will be halted by the North Sea, and I am in the mildest place in the United Kingdom, in matter of fact.

Today, I was contacted by the Hebridean Archives service with a question about the wargrave of a German submariner. He had washed up dead on a now-derelict island off North Uist, 70 miles south of here, and was buried by islanders back in 1918. Otto Schatt was 31 when his U-boat was sunk off Malin Head. His remains were carried 200 miles north to end up on Heiskeir. In death, all are equal, and I have no qualms about including Otto Schatt in my remembrance of the Great War.

31 January 1953

Yesterday, it was 59 years ago since the ship MV Clan Macquarrie ran aground at Borve. All its crew were saved from the vessel thanks to the breeches buoy.

The hurricane force winds that drove the Clan Macquarrie on the rocks at Borve also blew out the window and frame of a house in Barvas, and is rumoured to have demolished the water tank for that village.

The storm brought catastrophic flooding to southern parts of England and southwestern Holland, claiming 300 lives in England and 2000 in Holland. A further 133 lives were lost in the North Channel, when the MV Princess Victoria was sunk, en route from Stranraer to Larne. The total death toll stands at 2554.

My father remembers the night of the stormflood. He lived at Arnhem at the time, and was trying to cross the bridge across the river Rhine in the city. He had to hold on to the railings to make it safely across.

It was low tide at 6pm on Saturday 31st January 1953. The people on the southwestern coast of Holland found the water at the top of the dykes protecting their towns. Six hours later, the 17 foot storm surge slammed through the dykes in dozens of places and proceeded to inundate the islands of the southwest. Film footage from the time shows the nightmare that followed. I refer to this search result of Google for a selection of images. The word watersnoodramp means stormflood disaster, and is the name given to this catastrophe in Holland.