View across the Outer Harbour of Stornoway

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Tuesday 17 December

Although updates on this blog have been rather intermittent of late, I am now switching to my alternate blog Shell Gallery, for the duration of a family visit to Holland. I intend to resume updates here on Wednesday 22 January 2014.

Sunday, 15 December 2013

Sunday 15 December

It's very wild here this morning and getting worse. Since 7 am, the wind has increased from 30 to 50 mph. Over at Eoropie, 25 miles north of here at the Butt of Lewis, the wind is pushing past the 100 mph mark. Angry white riders march across the harbour, and spindrift is flying, a sure sign that force 9 is nigh. A clearance is marching away east. All ferries from this island are cancelled today.

At lunchtime, the rain moved away east and was followed by sunshine and showers. The wind abated slightly and veered southwest, but remained at stormforce over at Eoropie.As the afternoon and evening wore on, the wind subsided to force 6, although heavy showers continued.

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Saturday 14 December

It's turned into a wild day here, with rain being blown along on this galeforce southerly wind. The ferry is staying tied up alongside today, both here in Stornoway and down in Berneray. The triangular service from Skye to North Uist and Harris will make a go this evening, when this gale is expected to subside. The weatherstation at Eoropie Tearoom is showing gusts to 80 mph thus far.

Wind appears to be dropping and the barometer is on its way back up again. Oh well, pity the sun is just setting. Anyway, better get ready for round two tomorrow, which will be a lot worse. The depression that will bring us stormforce winds tomorrow is projected to deepen to 944 mbar.As a result tomorrow's ferries around Lewis and Harris are cancelled.

Friday 13 December

Windy day here, with occasional showers and a force 7 from the south southwest. Tomorrow, we'll have a force 9; on Sunday it could be force 10. This obviously will give rise to disruption on the ferry service. Calmac text updates on this, and it would appear that nothing is going to go (in my neck of the woods) on Saturday.

Thursday 12 December

Awoke this morning to find the force 7 gone. That is just a breathing space. On Saturday as well as Sunday, we are up for a force 9.

Thursday, 12 December 2013

Wednesday 11 December

Quite a nice day today, with the mercury reaching 13C / 57F at lunchtime. The sun came out for a while. The wind remains a steady force 7, around 30 mph, from the south. The winds will increase by weekend, with stormforce conditions once again likely.

Tuesday 10 December

Greetings from Windy Nook, known in local parlance as Airidh na Gaoithe [Windy Sheiling]. It's doing a steady 35 mph from the south, and I didn't fancy the chap his job who had to go up the transmitter mast at Eitsal (outside Achmore) this morning. The mast stands a trifling 800 feet tall, starting 700 feet above sealevel and 350 feet above the village. I've been up the hill, but I get uncomfortable at ten feet above the ground, let alone that height... It's now 3pm and getting dark. Sunset at 3.40pm.

I was very pleased indeed to find that the WW1 Roll of Honour for the Isle of Lewis is now available for download on-line on:

Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela died on Thursday evening, 5 December, at the age of 95. Mandela, who was incarcerated for 27 years between 1963 and 1990, was a towering figure in the world, and the figurehead of the movement that finally brought about the end of apartheid in South Africa. He stood out for not being vindictive against the individual white people, or even them as a group, for jailing him, but for fighting the system. Nonetheless, Mandela was a fallible and in the end mortal human being. I am typing this a week after the event, and am not exactly pleased with the vast media coverage, and all the international politicians seeking to jump on his bandwagon - whilst not belonging there. Anyway, rest in peace Nelson, you did well and you did good.


This is the name of a pub in Glasgow, on which a helicopter crashed last Friday evening. About 120 people were inside, enjoying the band Esperanza, when a police helicopter crashed on its roof. In the end, the three people on board the chopper and six in the pub lost their lives. The aircraft did NOT catch fire, which would have led to a much greater loss of life. The friends and relatives of those lost, and those injured as well as the good folk of Glasgow remain in my thoughts this week.

Monday 9 December

An overcast and breezy morning. It has remained very mild through the night, with the mercury not shifting from 12C / 54F. It will remain mild and windy this week, it would appear.

I was thinking today was going to be another boring, grey, drab December day. But fortunately, the sun was sympathetic to my plight and put in a brief appearance. This is the land of cloudscapes.

Sunday 8 December

Overcast, grey, wet and windy. An hour and a half till sunset. Has it gotten light today? I'm surprised the streetlights haven't stayed on all day... Tomorrow's another day.

Completed the WW2 listings from the Southern Isles.

Barra & Vatersay: 55 (51 served in the Merchant Navy).
Benbecula: 6
Berneray: 4
Eriskay: 5
Grimsay: 3
Harris: 62
North Uist: 30
South Uist: 41
Total: 211 (there is a degree of cross-over between the islands)

1939: 4
1940: 44
1941: 36
1942: 25
1943: 19
1944: 20
1945: 11
and 4 died in 1946 and 1947
There are 48 casualties on whom I have very little information.

Of the 211 casualties:
121 were in the Merchant Navy
55 were in the Army, of whom 28 in the Queen's Own Cameron Highlanders
13 in the RAF
19 in the Royal Navy or Royal Naval Reserves
4 were women

Saturday 7 December

It's gotten quite windy again, force 6-7, and we're in double figures this evening. December is certainly turning into a seesaw - which is common for this part of the world. The Atlantic won't readily relinquish control over these islands. Have been busy this week with the WW2 casualties of the Southern Isles, closing today with the listing from Barra. Of their 55 casualties, 51 served in the Merchant Navy.

Friday 6 December

Nice layer of snow outside with the mercury around the freezing point. The sun is trying to peek through gaps in the cloud. However, another change is on its way in from the Atlantic, and it will become milder tomorrow: 10C. As the day wore on, the snow slowly melted. And as it's now within 3 weeks of Christmas, I decorated the Xmas tree.

Thursday 5 December

Was woken at 4 in the morning by a lively thunderstorm, accompanied by heavy rain, driven along by stormforce winds. Eoropie, near the Butt of Lewis, recorded a gust of 116 mph (185 km/h). This was followed by a marked drop in temperature, and bright skies with occasional snow showers. A layer of wet snow on the ground, and a layer of slushy ice on water-filled buckets. The bins fell over, so just been out to gather up all the stuff blown around the back.

Barometer has shot up 20 mbar in 8 hours, showing the pressure gradient giving rise to last night's storm. I notice that a storm surge is forecast for the east coast of England, and storm warnings flying for the northern islands of Holland. Be careful. Snow shower in Stornoway at midday. Temperature just above freezing, so the snow settles in shaded spots. Ice floating on water-filled buckets. Very cold in the strong wind. By evening, a more substantial fall of snow caused problems on the roads.

Wednesday 4 December

So we're going to get 90 mph winds tomorrow, combined with a high springtide (5.3m / 18 ft) at the height of the storm. Small wonder we've been issued with a flood alert. Westerly wind, force 6 (24-30 mph), and occasional showers. This morning, at 6.30 am, there was a very heavy hailshower, and there are still pockets of ice in secluded spots. Eoropie Tearoom, near the Butt of Lewis, is already recording sustained winds of 45 mph, gusting to 70 mph. Berneray is reporting a powercut this afternoon.

At 10pm, I ventured out for a couple of minutes, wind blowing at force 7, feeling like force 8 in exposed locations on Stornoway seafront. The rain was belting down.

Tuesday 3 December

Although today started very wet, the sun went down just over an hour ago under blue skies. It is noticeably colder today (6F / 43F) than yesterday (which went up to 11C / 52F in the evening), but with little wind. That is but a pre-amble to Thursday's stormforce conditions. Spent the last few days sorting somebody else's computer problems, which in the end boiled down to a faulty Ethernet cable.

Monday 2 December

It's been one of those typical December days, grey, dark, windy and mild. Had to have the lights on from before 3pm. Worked on the WW2 tributes for Benbecula and South Uist; will carry on with the WW1 tributes for South Uist tomorrow - they entail a lot more work than the virtual C&P exercise for WW2. The latter is mostly a case of putting the information in a better presentation. You may have noticed that my websites are all Blogger based; works very well for this sort of purpose. That explains why I have 70 blogs on my account!

Sunday, 1 December 2013

The power of the WWW

I am currently researching the WW2 casualties from North Uist, but one query left me puzzled.

The North Uist war memorial refers to F/Sgt Donald C Maclean, RAF, late of Lochmaddy, who was lost in WW2. However, when I pass his details through CWGC, it would appear that he was the son of John MacLean, and of Margaret MacLean, of Castlebay, Isle of Barra. The Barra & Vatersay war memorial at Nasg, however, does not mention him.

Last known address in North Uist: Lochmaddy
Son of John MacLean, and of Margaret MacLean, of Castlebay, Isle of Barra.
Service unit: 279 Sqdn, Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve
Service number: 1571094
Date of death: 7 November 1945 at the age of 21
Memorial: Runnymede Memorial
Local memorial: North Uist

Who will describe my delight when my posting on a Barra genealogy page yielded this reply from his niece Fiona:

He was my uncle although I never met my Uncle Donnie. The family lived in Lochmaddy, my grandfather John Maclean was from North Uist and he was the postmaster in Lochmaddy. My grandmother Margaret Maclean nee Macfadyen was from Barra. The family home was in Borve, my grandmother came back to Barra after my grandfather died which was about a year after Donnie went missing. I have the telegram (I think) the information my mother, Anne Maclean, gave me was the Lancaster bomber that Donnie was in went missing over the North Sea ( they flew from Teesside ) no wreckage or bodies were ever found, my grandfather died of a broken heart Mum used to say. My nanna is buried on Barra - John and Donnie are mentioned on her headstone.

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

In clear contravention

It is a duty of our elected representatives to make decisions on our behalf, sometimes going against public feeling. Our elected representatives have more information than we, as individuals, may have. A council, like Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, has established policies to deal with (e.g.) planning applications for windfarms. To just throw those policies to the winds leaves the council, to my mind, with serious questions to answer. But will anyone ever ask those questions?

I am referring to the decision by the CnES planning committee to allow 14 turbines, each standing 126 metres (just over 400 feet) tall, to be built inland from North Tolsta, between Tolsta Glen and Diridean.
The scheme:
  • is too close to habitation
  • breaks the Western Isles Development plan
  • carries significant impacts on landscape, amenity and homes
  • endangers golden eagles at its northernmost point
In spite of that, a letter campaign by 53 residents (with only 1 against) was sufficient to sway the decision against all of this. The community was held to be unanimously in favour of the scheme. Councillors also stated that objections from people faraway should not be given much weight.
To my mind, having observed the saga of windfarms on Lewis over the past decade, it wasn't the popular vote that swayed the planning committee. It was the fact that the scheme and its 42 MW output would provide the electricity needed to make the proposed interconnector to the mainland economically viable. SSE, who have spent this year dragging their feet over the issue, is due to make a decision before the end of December.

As ever, full council is expected to rubberstamp the planning committee's decision later in the week. Oh, the community benefit will amount to a mouth-watering if not eye-watering £294k per annum.

Saturday, 23 November 2013

Pairc buy-out

I have received information regarding the amicable buy-out of the Pairc estate, which was agreed to at a public meeting last Thursday (21st). One line stood out like a sore thumb.

The present Landlord will only consider the amicable purchase of the estate providing he will still benefit from any wind farm development post purchase, as if he was still the Landlord.

There is an interposed lease between PRL (Pairc Renewables Ltd) and SSE regarding the proposed windfarm. The SSE part has been taken over by the neighbouring Eishken Estate. Do not forget, in this context, that the Eishken Estate already has a windfarm (Muaitheabhal) ready to be constructed. They now stand to gain even more, once the Pairc Windfarm is up and running.

The outgoing Landlord will receive the same income from the 26-turbine windfarm as the Pairc Trust, namely £330,000 per annum. In spite of the fact, that (as outlined above) he no longer owns any land. £330,000 is not a small amount of money for you and me, but actually only amounts to £1,000 per person per year. That won’t go awfully far if we’re talking about economic regeneration. Two individuals will become very rich, gaining £8.4m over the 25-year lifespan of the project.

There are currently only 26 windturbines in the planning, but if the community wants more (thereby increasing their revenue), they can get more.

This is all depending on the construction of the interconnector (the sub-sea high-voltage electricity cable to the mainland). I am told informally that this is a done deal.

I feel, very strongly, that the people of Pairc have been sold down the river for a chest of beads and mirrors.  How on earth, after all these years of obstruction, divide & rule and non-cooperation from the Landlord, could people acquiesce to such terms?

Friday, 22 November 2013

Friday 22 November

I am currently looking into WW1 casualties from the Uists. By Uists I mean all islands from Berneray to Vatersay. However, of the 12,266 people in the 1911 census of the Uists, 426 (3.4%) lost their lives in the Great War. That was 7% of all men.

For Lewis, out of a population of 29,629, losses amounted to 1,285 (4.3%), equating to 9.4% of all men.

For Harris, out of a population of 4,849, losses amounted to 126 (2.6%), which was 5.6% of all men.

Small wonder these islands were referred to as the Isles of Sorrow...

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Wednesday 20 November

An overcast and very windy and cold day. We had a northerly gale all morning, with frequent showers. The mercury did not make it above 5C / 41F all day.

The Attorney General for Northern Ireland has suggested an amnesty for all the crimes committed as part of the sectarian fighting in the province before Good Friday 1998. The suggestion has met with a frosty reception, both in Ulster and in London. Some 3,500 people were killed by the various factions in the province between 1969 and 1998. The hurt of that continues to date, and will continue for a long time to come. Northern Ireland has been basically at peace since 2001, but the memories will remain. If anything, the atrocity of 9/11 had one good outcome; it showed the American backers of the IRA what terrorism actually means, and what they were sponsoring. I agree that those who have committed atrocities in Ulster should be held to account, irrespective of the passage of time. The fact that Germany established itself as a respectable nation in the aftermath of World War II does not mean that the war criminals of the Nazi era should not be brought to justice.

Sunday, 17 November 2013

Sunday 17 November

After a sunny start, we are now (12.40pm) having rainshowers and the wind is picking up. The temperatures are on a downward slide, and we'll bottom out at 4C / 39F by Tuesday, with a probability of some snow. This being the Hebrides, we'll quickly bounce back to 9C later in the week, thanks to our warm blanket otherwise known as the Atlantic Ocean.

I was amazed and annoyed by a report that the UN has criticised the phenomenon of Zwarte Piet (Black Pete) in Holland. Yesterday, Sinterklaas (St Nicholas or Santa Claus) arrived in Holland for his annual visit, and his entourage consists of dozens of Black Petes. These are people with their faces painted black, making them look like negroes. They caper around, scattering sweets and little presents to young children, if they have been good; if they have been bad, they're going back to Spain with Black Pete and Sinterklaas. St Nicholas was the Bishop of Myra (Izmir in modern-day Turkey), but when the Muslims took over the city, his bones were spirited across the Mediterranean to Spain. For a while, Spain was occupied by the Moors from North Africa, who are very dark-skinned. I hope you can now see why Sinterklaas and Zwarte Piet are the way they are. It has nothing to do with racial discrimination, although, if you wish, you can of course read that into it. Black Pete is referred to in Holland as Sinterklaas's footman, so it is very easy to play the slavery and race cards. In the Netherlands, people are very annoyed at this inference, particularly as it seems to come from people who don't know the first thing about the festival.

Saturday 16 November

A grey day out here, but the sun is trying to put in an appearance. Strong southwesterly winds bring in spells of light rain, with unseasonably mild temperatures of 13C / 57F. In a few days' time, we can take off the leading "1" in the Celsius reading for our daytime max as we get our first blast of winter.

Looks as if our old freight ferry Muirneag has found her regular run, from Samsun in Turkey to Gelendzhik in Russia. This is rather a longer run than her old haunt in the Minch - 18 hours across the Black Sea. We wish her well.

Friday 15 November

This week has been dominated by the aftermath of typhoon Haiyan, which swept across the Philippines as a category V storm, with winds up to 200 mph / 320 kph. It has left thousands dead in the archipelago, and the survivors without food, water or shelter. An aid operation is slowly swinging into action to alleviate their plight, but it will be a long time before everything is back to normal out there. Another tropical cyclone, prosaically named 03A, has claimed several hundred lives in the Puntland area of northern Somalia, but that news was completely snowed under on Monday.

Thursday 14 November

Wednesday 13 November

We have a gale today, with gusts to about 55 mph at the Butt of Lewis. Who had the beans last night?! Anyway, plenty of cancellations and disruptions on the ferries, with our ferry stormbound at Ullapool until this evening; she is due to come back at 8.20pm. I know of at least one person who was supposed to come on the now cancelled lunchtime service.

It is two years ago this month that teenager Liam Aitchison was found murdered at Steinis, a mile or two outside Stornoway. BBC Alba's Eorpa dedicated a programme to the tragedy. It had a major impact on the community, particularly because people in the Hebrides pride themselves on the caring and community aspects of their islands. It is felt that this somehow fell by the wayside in this case; without negating the primary blame, borne by the two convicted murderers.

I am continuing my additional research into the WW1 dead of North Uist, and have reached some interesting conclusions. Unlike Lewis, the vast majority of casualties from North Uist served in the Army, particularly the Queen's Own Cameron Highlanders; I have, thus far, not come across many Royal Naval Reservists. Yesterday, I found a man quoted as being from Leriva. That was a corruption of Eilean Leireabhagh, a small island a few hundred yards south of Lochmaddy. A house still exists there, according to the Ordnance Survey map. His place of birth was given as Stromban, Sron Ban, the nearest township on the road to Clachan.

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Tuesday 12 November

As many of you know, I keep a close eye on hurricanes, typhoons, tropical cyclones (all the same things) around the world. Following their tracks, build-up and decline over a period of hours, days and sometimes weeks is one thing. Seeing the impact that such a system has upon striking land is something else. Last year, it was hurricane Sandy, bringing the city of New York to a standstill. This year, it can't be anything but supertyphoon Haiyan, which has claimed tens of thousands of lives, and caused immeasurable destruction and suffering in the Philippines. It brings it home what you're dealing with. Mind you, I'm not into calling a weather system a "monster" storm. They are inanimate phenomena, brought about by the sun, evaporation and condensation of water and the rotation of the earth. A typhoon is a giant safety valve, which serves as a conduit of heat from the equator to the poles. However, we're talking about forces on a planetary scale. To demonstrate that, the power of all tropical cyclones in the northern half of the Pacific Ocean this year would power the USA for 50 years.

Sunday, 10 November 2013

Remembrance Sunday

I was watching the ceremony at the Cenotaph in London this morning, mindful of Armistice Day tomorrow. It prompted me to post pictures of the nearly twenty war memorials in the Isle of Lewis. That is a huge number, bearing in mind the population of this island being 30,000 in 1911 (it's 20,000 today). The number of casualties in the First World War was 1,250; one out of every five that joined up. The total for the Second World War stands at about 450. Lest we forget.

Pairc, Kershader

East Loch Roag, Callanish

North Lewis (Ness), Cross


North Lewis, Borve

Tolsta Chaolais

Kinloch, Laxay

West Side, Bragar

Great Bernera

North Tolsta

North Lochs, Crossbost

Uig, Timsgarry

Lewis War Memorial, Stornoway

Branahuie & Melbost

Harris, Tarbert

Iolaire, Holm Point

Point, Garrabost