Title picture: Cloudscapes, Stornoway, 1 February 2017

Saturday, 30 June 2012

Saturday 30 June

Starting cool and overcast, it did try to brighten up before the rain returned by late afternoon. We managed 14C, which is a darn sight better than the 40+ degrees that some places in the USA are currently experiencing. Severe thunderstorms resulting in extensive powercuts are the inevitable outcome, but the forecast shows no let-up in the extreme heat over there.

Heavy showers have also wreaked havoc over parts of England, causing severe flashfloods and all the attendant misery that that entails. I once cycled through a flood on a road, which rose to 50 cm (1½ ft). The water was murky, filthy and stank.

The Big Minch Swim has, so far, collected more than £13,000. Tonight, a raffle is being organised with prizes donated by local businesses. The organisers hope to bump their total over the £15k mark, which would be a fantastic totals. Anyone wishing to donate can do so on http://www.justgiving.com/thebigminchswim.

I posted a few pics on Facebook, which I shall also share on here.

Eyeing up the birdies


Stillness at dusk


Busy bee


We've got our rain back

Friday, 29 June 2012

Friday 29 June

A surprisingly warm day, with the mercury shooting up to 18C at 2pm, when the sun came out. It has been a fairly bright day with varying amounts of benign clouds. It was even possible to have lunch outside. I pity the folks south of the border who have suffered quite severe flooding, likewise those in south Belfast. It wreaked havoc on the railways, with a landslip at Tulloch, 20 miles east of Fort William, knocking a train off the tracks. It was a goods train, but due to the remoteness of the location (miles away from the nearest road) it will take a considerable time before the wreckage is removed. Passenger trains suffered incredible delays, with one service arriving into Glasgow at 3 am, having taken 15 hours to travel from London, a journey that normally doesn't take more than 5 hours.

And then there was this article on the website of Dutch broadcaster NOS, claiming that research showed that fish oils (omega-3) did nothing to reduce the risks of heart attacks. When I clicked through to the original article, I found that NOS had not read the article properly. The study had been to investigate the effects of fish oils in people with diabetes and at risk of heart attacks - effects that were no better than not taking fish oils. You can't generalise that into making out that this applies to the whole population.

Hurricane update - 29 June

No real hurricanes to report on, except for this tropical cyclone in the southern hemisphere. 21P formed southeast off the eastern tip of Papua New Guinea, but will not live beyond the weekend. The system is carrying winds of 35 knots, may strengthen to 40 knots before being torn apart by adverse winds in the higher atmosphere. The precursor to 21P existed in tandem with a disturbance across the equator, named 96W, which is heading west through Micronesia. The Joint Typhoon Warning Center in Honolulu is giving that system a high (> 50%) likelihood of turning into a tropical cyclone.

Further north, tropical storm Doksuri has made landfall in the estuary of the Pearl River, west of Hong Kong and will dissipate inland. Tropical cyclones tend to dump rather large amounts of rain (tell the people of Florida that, they've had 25 inches over the past week out of Debby), so I'm expecting that to happen in southern China as well.

Thursday, 28 June 2012

Thursday 28 June

Overcast, grey and wet sums up today. We had a few breaks in cloud and rain, but it is quite the reverse of the weather we've been having over the past two months.

Next Sunday, Calmac (our ferry company) is starting Sunday sailings from Tarbert (Harris) to Uig (Skye). That is the last service to the Outer Hebrides that was not yet operating on a Sunday. The Presbytery of Skye and Lochalsh (sic) has called upon Calmac to repent their sins, alluding to the Fourth Commandment. In doing so, they are ignoring the Fifth Commandment, which Calmac could invoke in justifying their Sunday service. For this ferry will make it easier for islanders to go to and from the mainland, in order to visit their families. I am highlighting the location of the Presbytery, as this is in fact a mainland community, and Skye (although an island) is not in the Outer Hebrides.

This morning, the Queen unveiled the memorial to Bomber Command in WW2, situated in Green Park in London. Bomber Command has been ignored for 67 years after the end of the war, because of the huge loss of life inflicted by some of its bombing raids on Nazi Germany, particularly on Dresden in March 1945. The raid on Dresden was authorised by Winston Churchill himself, yet Churchill himself did not award BC any campaign medals. A military man does what he is told to do by the politicians. It should be the politicians getting the stick, not the poor sods in the planes.

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Wednesday 27 June

Overcast, grey and sopping wet today. Uploaded videos and photos taken at yesterday's Big Minch Swim finale, and am pleased to find that there is a lot of interest in them. My pics don't normally attract  many viewers, but more than 30 for each pic within the one day is unusual. I'm equally pleased that quite a few team members are also interested. End of ego-trip.

Today, the Queen met former IRA commander Martin Mcguinness, now deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland. A historical occasion, as the IRA once murdered a relative of the Queen, and she was regarded as the enemy by the Republicans. I have always held the view that the only good thing to come out of 9/11 was the ending of the civil war in Northern Ireland. This because 9/11 showed Americans who supported the Republican movement in Ireland and thereby the IRA, what terrorism actually meant.

The Big Minch Swim

On Monday at midday, eight people started a relay by swimming away from Ullapool to reach Stornoway, on the other side of the Minch. One orca, one unidentified whale, quite a few porpoises and dolphins and 34 hours later, the group splashed ashore on the bit of beach between piers no 1 and 2 in Stornoway. The distance between Ullapool and Stornoway is 45 miles, but the group probably covered up to 65 miles. They were accompanied by the support vessel Cuma, a small boat that takes people out to islands off the west coast of Lewis and Harris, as well as by a canoeist in the water.

Last night, at half past eight, I installed myself on Goat Island. The ferry came in and blasted its horn at the team as it approached Holm Point, the promontory at the entrance to the Outer Harbour. The lifeboat also came out and accompanied the team on its way. It was raining quite heavily, but there was no wind. A BBC cameraman was on Goat Island taking shots; his colleague from competing station STV had managed a lift in a local crab boat, and the two were exchanging good natured banter across the water.

At 9.30, the team passed the Arnish Lighthouse and approached Goat Island. Now within shouting distance, there was a lot of yelling and shouting going on, also as excitement rose on board the Cuma and in the water, now that the finishing line was in sight.

I quickly walked round to pier no 2, reaching there just in time to see the group, now all in the water, swim the last few dozen yards to shore, splashing onto the beach on the stroke of 10 o'clock. Champagne corks popped, horns hooted and sirens wailed as hundreds looked on at the excitement reached its peak when the eight stepped ashore.

This feat was accomplished to raise funds for the RNLI. When I just checked, £8,800 had been raised. Feel free to donate here.

I took a few videos, which you can see on the links below:
From Goat Island
Reaching land
Coming ashore

I shall post a separate entry with photos, which I have not yet uploaded.

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Tuesday 26 June

A bright day, which has now degenerated into spells of light rain, which have moved up from the southwest. I have spent the day (so far, it's 5.40pm) monitoring the progression of the group of 8 intrepid swimmers who are crossing the Minch from Ullapool to Stornoway. Other people take the ferry, but this lot take turns swimming the 45-65 miles. The ferry has been tooting at the team as they ploughed their way through the swell, and passengers on board have been asked to donate. The swim is organised to benefit the RNLI. A pod of killer whales came to check out one swimmer, who lost no time getting out of the water. A 20 ft whale is not something to trifle with, and orkas have those nasty, sharp teeth. The swimmers were south of Point an hour ago, and are expected into Stornoway between 9 and 11pm tonight. I'll keep an eye out for their support vessel, the MV Cuma, which will be cue to head out to the shoreline. I'll update later with pics of the team as they enter the harbour, something I can monitor from the window here.

Monday, 25 June 2012

Monday 25 June

Moving from overcast to bright and sunny through the day, although it did not feel cold.
News came through today that Count Robin Mirrlees, proprietor of Great Bernera, died in a Stornoway nursing home at the age of 87. His is quite a story to read, but I'll just refer to the link on Hebrides News.

A debate has been on-going for about a year on the subject of Scottish independence. The Scottish National Party have announced that a referendum on the issue is likely to be held in October 2014 or thereabouts, and have launched their campaign to pursuade the undecided to back their cause. The opposing camp, who have adopted the slogan Better Together, inaugurated their campaign as well. Think I'm with the latter. I'm not given to make strong political statements on this blog, but a number of issues were raised by the pro-Unionist camp that resonate with me more strongly than the SNP arguments. For a party that has been promoting independence for 80 years or so, the SNP appear to be markedly thin on the subject of the practicalities of independence. I also find their tenure negative, divisive and confrontational. That's my colours nailed to the mast, but to long-term readers of this blog and its predecessor, this should come as no surprise.

Sunday, 24 June 2012

Sunday 24 June

An overcast and grey day after some rain in the night. A local weather station reports just over 2 mm of rain, it still does not amount to very much. However, the humidity is quite high so the likelihood of wildfires will be much lower than of late, and neither is there much wind.

Continued with my researches into the WW1 casualties, this time those from Portvoller, the village closest to the Tiumpan Head Lighthouse. Port Mholair, as the Gaelic name runs, is in quite a scenic position by a loch.



Did I ever mention that virtually all the placenames in Lewis are of Norse origin? The people in Orkney and Shetland appear to regard themselves as the modern day Vikings, but the influence of the Scandinavians extends as far south as the Isle of Man. The name Stornoway means Anchorage (Bay of Steering), and only the village of Achmore (Big Field) is purely Gaelic in origin. Achmore lies 5 miles from the sea, 370 feet above sealevel. It is a practiced joke to trick people into thinking that there is a pier there.

Saturday, 23 June 2012

Saturday 23 June

An overcast day, during which the sun made a few efforts to burn away the low cloud. Unsuccessfully in the end; we are stuck with grey middle-level clouds. At 10 am, the cruiseliner Marina hove into view and dropped anchor just off the Arnish Lighthouse. She is twice the size of the ferry, at 785 feet (240 metres) in length. I went into town to buy stamps at the time, and a fleet of a dozen coaches were lined up at the disembarkation point for the tenders. That means about 700 people were about to be taken on tours of the island. Marina can have about 1200 passengers and has nearly 2000 crew. Her next destination is Ísafjörður, in northwestern Iceland.

Sometimes you buy a card and forget to look inside. And when you do, you regret buying the card. There was only one solution: cut off the offending half and hope it doesn't get noticed by the recipient.

Friday, 22 June 2012

Friday 22 June

The day started off wet and windy, but during the afternoon the wind dropped, the rain stopped and the sun came out. We managed 15C - and 5 mm of rain (one-fifth of an inch). We need more rain to really soak the ground and prevent the recurrence of those wildfires.

Spent a good part of the afternoon looking into the WW1 casualties from the village of Portnaguran. One family lost four of its five sons in the First World War. I wrote a blogpost about them on my local history blog Pentland Road. Portnaguran is a fishing village some 10 miles northeast of Stornoway, near the Tiumpan Head Lighthouse on the farthest point east in this island.


Portnaguran


Tiumpan Head Lighthouse

Volksbund

As part of my researches into the casualties of both World Wars, I sometimes access the website of the Volksbund, the German counterpart of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. Since I once submitted a query, related to the grave of a German submariner on one of the outlying Hebridean islands, I sometimes receive promotional material related to their work. This includes the promotion of reconciliation between former enemies or placing of flowers on wargraves of German soldiers abroad. A laudable aim, which I support by word only.

Today, I received a message regarding the 32,000 wargraves of German soldiers in the cemetery at Ysselsteijn, Holland who fell during the invasion and occupation of the Netherlands between 1940 and 1945. I shall leave it to German subscribers to the Volksbund to fund that project. I also adopt the same posture when German wargraves in other countries are concerned.

It is as a matter of principle that I shall not support the work of the Volksbund financially. I am quite happy to draw attention to their work, as in death, we are all equal, and most of the soldiers buried at Ysselsteijn just did what they were told to do, as soldiers. I am a former soldier myself, and know the score on that account. But for those left behind without their relatives, friends or ancestors, taken in sometimes extreme cruelty for no other reason than their religion or creed, by many of those now interred at Ysselsteijn and other places, I cannot bring myself to be more actively involved with the work of the Volksbund. As I said, that is up to German people to do.

I do not hate Germans, neither do I feel any animosity towards people from that country. During the past few years, I have met many German people and they are fine folk. In fact, Germans and British have a lot in common, in terms of character traits. I never refer to the years between 1933 and 1945 to them, although if broached, I will not fudge the subject. We all know what happened, but this is now the year 2012 and we should move forward - whilst being aware of the past, it should not rule our future.What happens if it does? Well, here are two examples.

In 1990, a war was started in the former Yugoslavia on account of the Battle of the Field of the Thrush in 1389 in Kosovo.

In 1969, a civil war commenced in Northern Ireland between Protestants and Catholics, which continued for more than 30 years until the atrocity of 9/11 demonstrated to the American backers of the IRA what terrorism actually meant. This civil war in Ulster was being justified by reference to the Battle of the Boyne of 1689 between Catholics and Protestants.

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Thursday 21 June

The summer solstice occurred at 9 minutes past midnight, and as you will have gathered from previous postings it was far from dark. In fact, 70 minutes later, when the darkest moment of the night occurs, it still was not fully dark to the north. Two hours later, day was breaking merrily, at around 3.20 am. Mind you, we're at 58 degrees latitude north, so we do get some darkness. You go to Shetland, at 60 degrees north, and it does not get dark, full stop.


Looking north at 1.23 am


Dawn breaking at 3.23 am

Our ferry had a spot of mechanical bother, meaning that the last of yesterday's and the first of today's return sailings to and from Ullapool (on the mainland) were cancelled. Apparently, people had to sleep in the ferry terminal or on the boat. The Isle of Lewis finally departed at 3.50pm, two hours late. As I type this (at 10.20pm), she is just docking.

I watched the address to both Houses of Parliament in London by the Burmese pro-democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi, who was recently elected to parliament in Rangoon after spending two decades under house arrest. Her father, it turns out, was instrumental in bringing about independence for Burma from the British in 1948. He was assassinated a year beforehand. Burma's democracy was toppled in a military coup in 1962, bringing in a junta that rules to date with an iron fist and unbridled cruelty. I hope, with her, that Burma can once more be welcomed into the fold of democratic nations, given time. It will certainly not be for lack of effort on her part.

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Wednesday 20 June

I went out late last night to take pictures of the longest night (well, the night before the longest night) and one of my pics was shown on STV weathernews this evening.



Today was another bright and sunny day, but high cloud is slowly moving in from the south. As of Friday, we shall see a complete change of weather. Although we had another wildfire in the Castle Grounds this evening, that is likely to be the last one and hopefully for a long time.

I have researched the WW1 casualties from Lower Garrabost today, numbering 16. One of them turned up in the census returns for 1901, in a household with seven female visitors. I shall probably never find out what the occasion was - a wake, perhaps?

Today is also the first day of the summer sailings, which see three crossings on Wednesday and Friday. However, the ferry promptly broke down on the way from Ullapool this evening, so the 19.45 departure from Stornoway was cancelled as was the 23.00 sailing back. As it's solstice at 23.09 GMT this evening, there will be people celebrating the solstice at the Standing Bollards of Ullapool pier rather than at the Standing Stones of Callanish. They both have the same amount to do with the solstice. Nothing at all. Callanish is a lunar monument, not (like Stonehenge or Maeshowe) a solar one.

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Tuesday 19 June

A cool but bright day, with the mercury still stuck down at 12C and no further rain to speak of. The grand total for this month is 6 mm, a quarter of an inch. However, the forecast is for copious amounts of rain later in the week, which gives us a chance to make up for nearly 3 weeks of drought. It may seem like an exaggeration, but people are complaining of football pitches that bear a resemblance more to concrete than a grassy lawn; grassy lawns that have turned brown and yellow; and low water levels in rivers. I also found out that on Saturday evening, a few hours after I visited the fire-stricken area near the Creed River, fire once more flared up. I could not help but notice that it felt warm near the Creed Bridge - warmer than in the Castle Grounds or along the nearby Arnish Road.

I have gathered further information on 13 WW1 casualties from Lewis, my on-going project. The total is 258 to date; just over 1,000 left to do. Another project is the indexing of the Napier Report, which will take me quite a while. For the moment, this is an Excel file; I'll have to think of a way to put this on the WWW.

Locally, a Russian cargo-ship was halted off the north coast of Scotland, apparently near the Western Isles. The Alaed allegedly carried attack helicopters, bound for Syria. The company had had its insurance cancelled, meaning that the vessel could not proceed on its journey. The British Foreign Secretary has now announced that the Alaed is on its way back to Russia. The last recorded position of the Alaed was 40 miles north of the Butt of Lewis, at 1.37 am yesterday morning.


Image courtesy www.vesseltracker.com

Monday, 18 June 2012

Monday 18 June

Quite a nice day, with only the odd drop of rain. However, at this time of year, that brings out one spoiler: the dreaded midges. And they certainly had a nip at me when I was outside for a spell this afternoon <scratches>. I have today done a few more entries in the long saga of the Lewismen lost in WW1, continuing my researches into the men from Upper Bayble in Point. Tomorrow, I shall make a start on the onerous task of indexing the Napier Report. Remember, 46000 questions and answers - some answers being pages long? 

A few weeks ago, I passed through the village of Steinish, when I came across the dried remnant of a bunch of flowers, left at the roadside near where a teenager had been left dead last November. Liam Aitchison had come north out of South Uist to start a new life in Lewis, only to find death. Two suspects have been bailed pending further investigations. The residents of Steinish have now set up a fund to help vulnerable teenagers in the island.

Whilst typhoon Guchol begins to fade in the Pacific, another system is threatening to form in the open Atlantic Ocean, northeast of Bermuda. Although this is only a threat to shipping, tropical storm Chris could still put in an appearance there. On the other side of the American continent, the remnants of Carlotta appear to be reforming into a new cyclone, some 270 miles west of Manzanillo in Mexico. This system is moving east. Its attendant heavy rains continue to pose a threat to Mexico, with potentially life-threatening flash floods and mud slides.

Sunday, 17 June 2012

Columba's Island Paradise

Loriana Pauli, who resides in and blogs from North Uist, posted this excerpt of a poem, attributed to St Columba on her blog. I take the liberty of reposting.

Columba’s Island Paradise (12th century, translated from the Gaelic)
in THE TRIUMPH TREE, Scotland’s earliest poetry AD 550-1350

Delight I find in an island’s breast,
on a rock’s peak,
that there I might often gaze
at the sea’s calm.

That I might see its heavy waves
over the brilliant sea
as it sings music to the Father
on its constant way.

Might see its smooth bright-caped strand
(no dismal tryst);
might hear the strange bird’s calls,
a joyful strain.

Might hear the shallow waves’ crash
against the rocks;
might hear the cry beside the graves,
the ocean’s roar.

Might see its splendid birdflocks
over the teeming sea;
might see its whales,
greatest of all marvels.

Than I might see its ebb and flow
in their sequence………

The poem concludes with the lines 

That this might be my name, a secret I tell
'Back towards Ireland'

That help of heart might come to me
gazing on it
that I might lament all my wrongs
hard to mention


St Columba, who died in the year 597 AD, was an abbot and a prince who had fled his native Ireland after standing up against one of that islands warrior kings. Upon fleeing, he decided to go to the west coast of Scotland. However, as he felt that seeing the Irish coast on the horizon would be an irresistible temptation to return, Columba (or Colum Cille) vowed that he would settle on the first island where he could not see Ireland on a clear day. That first island was Iona, off the west coast of Mull. Nonetheless, the yearning for his native land would be pulling his heart strings for good.

Sunday 17 June

A change in the weather today, with occasional showers - for the first time in weeks. The rainfall totals for today in Point (east of Stornoway) are between 1 and 2 mm, less than 0.1 inches. Nonetheless, a welcome dampening for our parched and tinderbox dry island. At least a recurrence of last week's wildfires now seems less likely.

The Greek elections appear to favour parties that want to retain the Euro, although forming a government is not going to be easy. Should a government be formed that does not want to abide by the restrictions, then Greece may be forced to leave the Euro, a move that will have serious consequences for Europe. Let's hope it does not come to that. However, the effects of the austerity measures have been shown in graphic details in recent news bulletins, with overt poverty and deprivation in abundance across Greece.

I could not get over the scenes at a tennis match, where one of the players kicked an advertising board, which injured a match official. The player, who was in a final, was promptly disqualified for unsportsmanlike conduct.

Saturday, 16 June 2012

Saturday 16 June

A fairly bright day today, with some more northeasterlies but also some rain around 7pm. Like earlier in the week, it was not warm, with the mercury only in the low teens, mid 50s F. Nonetheless, I'd like to think that on balance, we had the best weather in the country.

In the afternoon, I went out to the location of Thursday's wildfires. Two miles from the town centre, I came across a broad swathe of scorched earth, with blackened and scorched powerpoles. The fire had even threatened an electricity sub station after jumping across the main road to Tarbert. Local news reports mention that pumping water out of the adjacent Creed River left it waterless at the time. I shall post a handful of pics of the devastation I found. Was it me, or did it still feel hot in the vicinity?

Friday, 15 June 2012

Friday 15 June

Still a steady northeasterly breeze, but not feeling as cold as of late. And would you believe: we even had a little rain this evening. We're going to need a lot more if we want to stamp out the threat of more wildfires. Yesterday's fire is reported to have caused extensive damage, and came close to burning down electricity poles and an electrical substation.

It is reported that 6 of the 91 Lewis Chessmen will come 'home' once the new museum opens in Lews Castle in 2014. The six Chessmen, figurines carved out of walrus ivory, could be alternating pieces. At present the collection is held at the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh and at the British Museum in London. Last year, several Chessmen were taken to Stornoway to be exhibited at the Western Isles Museum on Francis Street, and six pieces were taken to Uig Museum, a mile from the supposed location of their find in 1831.

I was bemused about the furore surrounding the school dinner blog, written by a 9-year old girl from Lochgilphead, Argyll. It's a pity that it was all sparked off by a newspaper, calling on the dinnerladies at the school to be fired, after the young lass voted down some of her dinners. However, she was just commenting on the food, not on those serving it. I wonder when someone in a hospital will do the same about their food - hospital food has this unfortunate reputation for being awful.

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Thursday 14 June

Another bright and sunny day, with a stiff breeze and low temperatures. So far this month, we have had all of 3 mm (0.12 inches) of rainfall, and the results were plain to see this afternoon. A huge brown and white cloud billowing behind the Castle Grounds, signalling that last Friday's fire had flared up again. Fire crews battled for several hours to bring the blaze under control. The fire had reached the main road south from Stornoway, prompting its closure. The diversionary Pentland Road, a single track road leading out to Achmore, Breasclete and Carloway, was very soon gridlocked, prompting police to divert southbound traffic north through Barvas. That is a diversion of 40+ miles. At rush hour, Stornoway was gridlocked, with cars clogging up the main thoroughfares - by all accounts. I did not go out to watch, but my Twitter and Facebook contacts kept me posted. The road closures were lifted after 7 pm. The below image shows the smoke from the fire at 2.30pm, twenty minutes after it was reported. The picture is taken near the ferry terminal in Stornoway.

Hurricane update - 14 June

Tropical storm Carlotta has formed in the Eastern Pacific and is expected to strengthen into a hurricane within 36 hours. The storm poses a threat for southern Mexico, specifically around the Gulf of Tehuantepec. This is to the east of Acapulco. Carlotta will make landfall at 70 knots (a category I hurricane), weaken overland and reemerge over water near Acapulco, then hang around near there as a tropical storm.

NHC have 6-hourly updates, always refer to those for the latest information.

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Wednesday 13 June

Not warm at all today, with the mercury barely above 10C and that continuing northeasterly wind. At 9.30 this morning, I accompanied my father to the airport where he took a flight to Inverness and onward to Amsterdam. He reported to have reached home at 5 o'clock (UK time), in good order in other words. I walked back from the airport to Stornoway, a distance of about 3 miles. A shear line passed over me, with showers in evidence over the Harris and Uig hills, as visible from Sandwick. No rain fell in Stornoway, worthy of the mention. Returned to town at 11.30, an hour after leaving the airport. Spent the day attempting to upload several hundred photographs, which I took over the past week whilst out and about. The process is on-going as I type, as Flickr.com is singularly slow. An upload rate of 40 kb/second is antediluvial.
Tomorrow, I shall post entries on here with pictures of the expeditions I undertook with my father.

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Tuesday 12 June

A cool day, but with good spells of sunshine. Went across to Uig on the postbus, and was driven through a considerable rainshower on the way. Reached Timsgarry at 1.30, after dropping off mail at people's houses along the B8011 (M). Walked over to the Community Centre at Erista for a bowl of leek & potato soup, then continued down to Baile na Cille for a walk to Uig Sands. Came off at Ardroil; had wanted to proceed further west towards Carnish, but the tide was in and covering a large area of the strand. Returned to Timsgarry in time for the (pre-booked) bus back to town. It was a case of "Home James and don't spare the horses".

Uig is an area of stunning natural beauty, but only sparsely populated. The schoolbus at 4.45pm only dropped off 4 kids from the Nicolson Institute in Stornoway; and my father and I were the only ones going back to town at 5.10pm.

Today was the last day of my week of showing my dad around Lewis. He is flying back to Holland tomorrow.

Monday, 11 June 2012

Monday 11 June

A cold day with a chilly northeast breeze. The day started early for some in Stornoway, as the Olympic Torch passed through between 6.30 and 7.30 am. I was still asleep at that time. At 10.10, I took the bus west to Great Bernera, an island just off the west coast of Lewis. Visited the Norse Mill east of Breacleit, then returned to that village for a cup of soup in the community centre. Proceeded to go on a walk to Valasay, Tobson and Bosta. It was there that the sun came out, making it a pleasant 15 minutes on the beach there. On the way back, we were kindly given a lift from Croir to Breacleit. We settled down for a cuppa and some cakes, chatting to the staff who were very friendly and welcoming. A coach party also turned up from one of the two cruiseliners in today, the Minerva and the Expedition. It was on their behalf that the lady who usually guides people round the Iron Age House at Bosta had to stay on an hour or so longer than usual. Nonetheless, the cruise ships provide quite a bit of business in this island.

Sunday, 10 June 2012

Sunday 10 June

Fairly sunny, but that northeasterly wind did keep it cool. As I type this, the sun has set (at 10.30pm) and the cloud has covered the sky. Today is Sunday, so no public transport. I took my father for a walk round the Castle Grounds, and found one of the places that was ravaged by fire on Friday evening. It would appear to me that someone built a fire, it went out of control and burned half the island at the mouth of the Creed River, after which the sparks were blown onto the moor behind. When moorland catches fire, you've got a devil of a job to put it out. The fire may continue to smoulder in the peatland underfoot for days if not weeks, particularly in the continuing dry conditions. Tomorrow, some showers are forecast, but we could really do with a good dousing.

Saturday, 9 June 2012

Saturday 9 June

An overcast day with a continuing northeasterly breeze, making it feel quite chilly. Stornoway temperatures were pegged back to 12C, but I was in North Harris where the sun came out, courtesy the Clisham. Took the 9.35 bus to Bowglass [translates as Grey Cow], on the Lewis border. An 11 mile path leads through Glen Langadale to Loch Bhoisimid and Meavaig nam Beann on the coast. We only went as far as Glen Langadale, which is my no 1 favourite place in this island. It is surrounded by some magnificent mountain scenery, with names like Stulabhal, Rapaire, Tealasbhal and Mullach an Langa. Those who have followed by blogging from the start, specifically from February 2005, will remember those names. The track gradually rises to 600 feet above sealevel, then to drop down to 160 feet in Glen Langadale. A wooden bridge has been provided for crossing the river, where before you had to jump from rock to rock or wade the waters. We ascended the path under the frowning crags of Stulabhal as high as 600 feet (the summit is at 1100 feet), then retraced our steps back to Bowglass over several hours. Encountered several other walkers, two cyclists and one runner. By 3pm, the sun came out, making it feel warm again.

Friday, 8 June 2012

Friday 8 June

I don't think I should moan about the weather, when it has been mainly dry and I even spotted the sun for a few minutes this afternoon. But that strong northeasterly wind, blowing at a steady 25 mph, made it feel quite cold when we jumped off the bus at Lower Shader to visit the Steinacleit homestead. Didn't hang about for long, but doubled back to the village and walked through to the shore. Headed southwest along the shinglebank, crossed the Shader River and ended up at Ballantrushal. Why they don't get rid of all the scrap cars and trucks in that village is beyond me. Visited the Trushal Stone, where a friend of mine broke an ankle last September. Could see the stones that brought them to grief. Proceeded to the moor beyond and headed due west to a fenceline. Had to walk for nearly half a mile to find a stile to cross the barbed wire, then continued southwest, broadly parallel to the coastline. Initially quite high up, about 150 feet above the pounding waves, then gently descending towards the strand off Barvas. Walked the curve of the beach as far as the outflow of Loch Mor Bharabhas. Was amazed to find an array of machair flowers already out in bloom, something that reaches its peak in July. Once at the outflow, an old green bus had been parked, and we had to turn round to regain the paved road at Loch Street, going straight into the teeth of the wind. Had to wait for a bit to catch the 4.20pm bus back to town.

I shall post pics in a separate post in a few days' time.

Thursday, 7 June 2012

Thursday 7 June

Yesterday, my father arrived by plane and for the next 6 days I'll be showing him places in the island. This morning at 10.10, the bus took us to Callanish where we saw three of the stone circles, including the main one. There are 20 stone circles within a 3 mile radius of Callanish. Came across a chap who was holding a Harris hawk. Pics to follow. After having a bite to eat outside the visitor centre, another bus took us to Carloway, with a minibus connection to Gearrannan, where the Blackhouse Village sits. From there, we walked the two miles (and a bit) to Dalmore, but it is rather up and down along stunning clifftop scenery. The highest point we reached was not far off 100 metres / 330 feet. Dalmore beach was reached at 4pm, and another 20 minutes of tedium brought us to the main road. The final bus took us back into town at 5.45pm.

It was warm (15C) in the bright sunshine we had today, although a screen of cloud is moving up from the southeast. Weather elsewhere in the UK is rather autumnal, with heavy rain and strong winds. May it stay well away from here - and apparently, it will.

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

16 years ago



A simple image, which some of my regular readers (you know who you are) will recognise. The track, paved with ground-up seashells, the leafless trees, although in bud, and the pale-blue sky of early spring. Nothing out of the ordinary, but what prompted the post was the wee cat in the roadside. The picture was taken on the Dutch island of Vlieland in April 1996. I have images of the same location from much more recent years, but the wee cat will no longer be in it - or around. Things change.

The same applies to this old pic from Stornoway, taken on 31 July 1996.

Only the Caledonian Hotel and adjacent buildings are still standing. The Maritime Building was demolished in October 2007, and the sheds on the quayside were removed well before I came to Lewis in 2004.

The below image, from April last year, shows a side-on view of the same area, pier no 1.

68 years ago today

Today in 1944, an armada of ships brought an invasion force to the beaches of Normandy, spelling the beginning of the end for Nazi Germany. After some hard fighting, the march through France, Belgium and Holland did not falter until they reached the Rhine bridge at Arnhem in September that year.

A list of those from the Isle of Lewis who fell at Normandy and the month following the invasion.

Seaman NORMAN MACDONALD
Last address in Lewis: 30 Knock, Carloway
Service unit: Royal Navy HMMM 7
Date of death: 07/06/1944 at the age of 34
Killed in action in D-day Invasion of Normandy

Chief Petty Officer ALEXANDER MORRISON
Last address in Lewis: 8 North Tolsta
Service unit: Naval Auxiliary Personnel (Merchant Navy) HMRT Sesame
Date of death: 11/06/1944 at the age of 41
Lost off Normandy

Private KENNETH JOHN MACDONALD
Last address in Lewis: 2/4 Kershader
Service unit: 7th Seaforth Highlanders
Date of death: 28/06/1944 at the age of 24
Killed in action at Caen, France

Fusilier ALEXANDER ROBB
Last address in Lewis: 15 Cross Street Coulregrein
Service unit: 6th Royal Scots Fusiliers
Date of death: 29/06/1944 at the age of 30
Lost in German counter attack at Manvieu

Leading Seaman DONALD MUNRO
Last address in Lewis: 6 Knock, Point
Service unit: Royal Naval Reserve HMMM 1019
Date of death: 02/07/1944 at the age of 37
Lost off Cherbourg

Hurricane update - 6 June

A tropical cyclone has formed in the Southern Hemisphere, more than a month after the season ended. Tropical storm Kuena is 600 miles east of Madagascar and will strengthen gradually as it moves over Agalega, an outlying island under the jurisdiction of Mauritius. The system is expected to veer northwest, passing through the archipelago of the Seychelles. Kuena will be weakening at that point, and is not expected to survive to the coastline of mainland Africa.


Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Tuesday 5 June

Quite a nice day, in spite of the lowish temperatures of 11-13C. Not much wind, so it felt reasonably nice. At the moment, we are having springtides, with high tide peaking at 5.0 m and the low tide at 0.6 m. That's a tidal difference of nearly 15 feet. It is odd to see the mudflats in the basin at low tide at 2.30pm, and come back 6 hours later to realise they are under 14 feet of water. Where on earth (literally) did all that water come from - and where does it go to??

The Jubilee celebrations have come to a close, and I managed to miss today's excitement. I came across this image, showing the Queen sitting on the throne - a hollow one. Next instalment of Britishness (or should I have omitted the capitalisation?): the Euro 2012 football championships in Poland and Ukraine. I think they start in about 10 days' time. And on July 27th, the London Olympics commence. Mind you, over in Holland they are even crazier about the football, with half the country turning orange (orange being the national colour in the Netherlands).

Tomorrow morning at 4.23, the sun will rise and it will be obscured by the planet Venus. Well, 0.1% of it. The forecast is not favourable, and I'd have to walk miles out of town to have a clear view of the northeast. I think I'll stay in bed.

Over the next few days, you'll see less of me than normal as my father is coming to visit. Where are my waterproofs?

Monday 4 June

A change in the weather, with mainly overcast skies and still cool. The day started with a large cruiseship docked alongside the ferry pier. The Silver Cloud left just after 3 o'clock, headed for Douglas, the main town in the Isle of Man.



During the afternoon, I continued my project of looking up further details about the WW1 casualties from the Isle of Lewis. This information is admittedly limited, such as a date of birth and family details from the censuses. I completed the village of Lower Bayble, which lost quite a few names. Next one will be Upper Bayble, next-door.

At sunset, at 10.15pm, the beacons were lit in the Western Isles (and beyond) to celebrate the Diamond Jubilee. One was across from my position at Arnish Point; others were at Ness and on the top of the Clisham. I walked out to Oliver's Brae to check whether I could see fire on the Clisham, but the distance (30 miles) and the fact that the Arnish beacon was already out by that time meant there was not a spark to be seen.

The below image was taken just after 11pm on Oliver's Brae between Stornoway and Sandwick.

Sunday, 3 June 2012

Sunday 3 June

A bright and sunny day, although feeling cold in the easterly breeze. We once more managed 11C / 52F. However, I think I prefer our weather to the pouring rain that is coming down on the Jubilee Pageant. It is currently coming to a close. A spectacular cavalcade of boats, large and small, sailing down the 7½ miles to Tower Bridge. Many thousands are lining the riverbank, in spite of the weather.

Here in Stornoway, Sunday means quiet, and on a half-hour walk through the town, there was only the odd car and the odd pedestrian. Streamers of bunting are out on the railings along James Street, South Beach, the railings along the quayside of Cromwell Street, Matheson Road from Church Street down to James Street. Next Monday, June 11th, the Olympic Flame will be carried along many of those streets between 6.30 and 7.30 in the morning. I gather that someone got a visit from CID for saying something rude about the Olympic Flame passing through another Scottish town. Must have been very nasty prompt such a visit.

Saturday, 2 June 2012

Saturday 2 June

Ooh, we had two drops of rain early this morning. Otherwise, another bright and sunny day, with a biting northeasterly wind keeping the temperature around 11C all day. Bit warmer darn sarf [down south], where HM the Q attended the Epsom Derby horse race as a start to her Diamond Jubilee weekend. There was a streetparty here in Lewis (at least one I know of) in Laxdale, with another one planned for next Wednesday in the town area of Stornoway. On Monday, we'll be watching the lighting of beacons.

I was pleased to hear that former president Mubarak of Egypt was sentenced to life in jail for complicity in the killings of people 16 months ago in Cairo, when his regime was overthrown. He could have been executed, but that would have made him a martyr. Isn't it odd though, how certain figures crash from favourite to outcasts in a matter of weeks. Mubarak and Gadaffi are certainly good examples. As a classical music afficionado, I am only too familiar with Carl Orff's rendition of Carmina Burana, and the first excerpt of that piece:
The wheel of Fortune turns;
I go down, demeaned;
another is carried to the height;
far too high up
sits the king at the summit -
let him beware ruin!
for under the axis we read:
Queen Hecuba.


Friday, 1 June 2012

View of an island

I found this posting from my old Northern Trip blog among my files in Google Drive. It summarises what kept me in Lewis, after arriving there in November 2004. This revised text dates back to late December 2005. Before you ask, the same reasons still apply. 

I was amazed at the colours at sunset these past days. And at sunrise as well. Normally, I expect light to start to fail 25 minutes after sunset, but at this latitude this is extended to 40 minutes. I am not a native of the islands, but one of the reasons I have come here is the natural beauty. Whether it is in the images shown above, at a time of good weather - or in bad weather, as I showed in a much earlier posting about the November 11th [2005] hurricane.

Being caught up in a thunder, hail, snow, sleet (and kitchensink) shower back in January, whilst going down the Lochs Road at Leurbost, with the bus driver being forced to reduce speed to a crawl. No snow or ice at the next village, Keose.

The many rainbows in the spring.

The joy at seeing the first green shoots, in April.

Hearing the first bleating of lambs in a pasture at Breascleit late in March. Walking the island in the bitter winds of February, and seeing the sad remains of the sheep that did not make it through the winter. Or the sheep that was knocked down at the Marybank cattlegrid in April, and was slowly decomposing in peace in the ditch that it was dumped in over a period of 6 months.

Seeing the days lengthen to an incredible extent, sunset at 22.30, with the light lingering to the nadir of the night at 01.30, then returning fully at 03.30. But also shortening of the days, with the present daylight hours of 09.15 to 15.35.

The howling of the gales, 4 in one week in November. Clattering of hail and thumping of the wind against the window at night - waking up in the middle of the night because there is no noise.

Watching the breathtaking coastal scenery at Filiscleitir, or the stunning mountain scenery from Rapaire, Teileasbhal, Mullach an Langa. Or beautiful Glen Langadale, where I'm forever fording that river under the frowning face of Stulabhal. The little mouse on the slopes of that mountain, the one that allowed me to stroke it. The yellow grasses on the moors of South Lochs, finding your way in amongst a myriad of lochs, streams and bogs. Loch nan Eilean, south of Garyvard.

Place seems to have gotten under my skin.

Friday 1 June

Another day of the bright and sunny variety, with some cloud out and about. The northeasterly wind continues to make it feel cold outside, although in the lee and in the sun it does feel quite pleasant.

The news is dominated by the Jubilee Weekend. Here in Stornoway, bunting has been strung along the railings along South Beach, the main street on the seafront. I'm not aware of anything major being organised here (I stand to be corrected), although a streetparty has been organised in Laxdale. On Monday, beacons will be lit on the Arnish Point peninsula as well as in Ness and on the Clisham, our highest hill. Her nibs is having a do, it would seem. Unfortunately, the temperature in London looks set to take a nosedive, with rain and 10C forecast for Sunday. Think I'll watch it all on the box.

Although I did not attend, this week saw the Local Mod. As you may recall from my blog postings in October of last year, the Mod is a showcase for Gaelic culture in this part of the world, and I found a large group of small children outside the Town Hall, where they had been performing. The performances include singing, dancing, declamation and instrumental performances, e.g. the melodeon, clarsach and others. Five years ago, I attended some of the prelims and recorded the results. You can hear some of those recordings from this page. I never cease to be amazed by the gusto and confidence with which the tiniest tots (as young as 5) strut their stuff on the stage, in front of an audience of more than 100 at times.


Hurricane season 2012

Today, June 1st, is the start of the North Atlantic hurricane season. However, we have already seen two named tropical storms. Beryl dissipated two days ago; Chris is the next one on the list. As regular readers of Atlantic Lines know, I take an active interest in the subject of hurricanes and blog summaries warnings and advisories on a separate blog, Tropical Cyclones. 

Hurricanes, typhoons and tropical cyclones are all one and the same thing. It is a phenomenon which, on a planetary scale, serves as a safety valve to vent excess heat from the tropics to temperate latitudes (above 30 degrees north or south). Simply put, the processes of evaporating and condensating water transfer energy from the ocean to the atmosphere. When the circumstances are right, this can give rise to an area of low pressure, accompanied by intense thunderstorms which reach up to 10 miles up into the atmosphere. A tropical cyclone needs water temperatures of at least 26C / 80F to form, and uniform windspeeds and wind direction throughout the atmosphere. The rotation of the earth spins the system and also propels it to higher latitudes. Wind speeds near its centre can go as high as 150 knots (170 mph), with gusts to 180 knots or 200 mph. Both path and central windspeed are not easy to forecast.

For reference, storms are named once their windspeeds reaches or exceeds galeforce, 35 knots or 39 mph. Names of storms that have been particularly devastating are usually retired, never to be used again. Katrina is an example of a retired name.

Around the world, several specialised meteorological centres have been set up to monitor tropical cyclones. The main ones are at Miami (North Atlantic and East Pacific Oceans), Honolulu (Central Pacific), Tokyo (Northwestern Pacific), three in Australia, La Reunion (Southwestern Indian Ocean), New Delhi (Northern Indian Ocean) and Nadi, Fiji (Southwestern Pacific Ocean). The Joint Typhoon Warning Center in Honolulu monitors the Northwestern, Southern and Southwestern Pacific Ocean as well as the whole of the Indian Ocean basin. Tropical cyclones rarely form in the southern Atlantic or southeastern Pacific Ocean.

Personally, I frown at descriptions of hurricanes as "killers" or "monsters". The effects of these natural phenomena are certainly devastating, and sometimes claim many lives. However, the advent of the above mentioned monitoring centres has served to increase warning times to those that live in the paths of hurricanes, preventing more damage and loss of life than in the past.

Stay safe.