View across the Outer Harbour of Stornoway

Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Wednesday 30 January

The storm that started yesterday evening only got worse after midnight. The winds rose at Eoropie, a mile from the Butt of Lewis, reaching a crescendo at 5.30 am with an unofficial highest windspeed of 112.8 mph or 181 km/h. Sustained winds had steadily crept up from 80 mph at midnight to that highest reading. The effects of the storm appear to have been moderate. The gable end of a house in Leverburgh and its windows were blown in; the ferry service was severely disrupted up and down the west coast and a few bits and pieces had gone walkabout. But no casualties, fortunately. Shared what information I had with people on Facebook and Twitter, some of which even made it onto Good Morning Scotland on Radio Scotland first thing in the morning.

As the day wore on, the winds very gradually abated, only dropping below galeforce at Eoropie after 6pm this evening. The highest windspeed measured at the airport was 52 mph sustained, with a gust to 78 mph. A bad one, and the second strongest storm of the eight years I have been in this island. As recompense, we were treated to a brief flash of a colourful sunset around 4.45pm.

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Tuesday 29 January

Another day of high winds, but of a more severe category than yesterday. The morning started fairly calm, but winds soon picked up and increased to hurricane force at the Butt of Lewis. At time of posting, the highest sustained windspeed measured at the nearby village of Eoropie was 84.5 mph, that is about 136 kph. Bus services stopped earlier than usual, at 6pm. The ferry tried to make the crossing from Ullapool, but was met with mountainous seas when emerging out of Loch Broom. The captain decided that the comfort and safety of his passengers took precedence over derring-do, so he turned back. Passengers are spending the night on the boat, or ashore, as arranged by the ferry company. The ferry service to Harris and North Uist is all up the spout, with only a return trip to North Uist tomorrow. On the roads, the council have temporarily closed causeways in the Uist, and to Point. All closures appear to have been lifted by now. Meanwhile, the causative depression is heading away to the northern isles, to liven up the Up Helly Aa celebrations in Shetland tonight.

Monday, 28 January 2013

Monday 28 January

A very wet and windy day, with a gale blowing through most of the afternoon. After the barometer dropped down to 968 mbar, the wind dropped away and as I type this (9.45pm), it seems to be fairly calm out there. Tomorrow, we are in for a repeat performance, but winds are expected to reach stormforce (force 10), with gusts topping 80 mph. Today saw quite a bit of disruption on our ferries; tomorrow will see a heck of a lot more. The peak of the wind will come around midnight, but winds will rise through the day.

This evening, Queen Beatrix of The Netherlands announced that she will be abdicating the throne on 30 April this year, three months after her 75th birthday, which will occur next Thursday. Beatrix will make way for her eldest son, Willem-Alexander, who will be 46 in late April. Beatrix is a highly respected figure in Dutch society. The annual Queens Day festivities have been cancelled; in 2014, King's Day will be held on April 27th, the birthday of the new king. It is for the first time in 123 years that a male will be the monarch in Holland. Willem-Alexander is a down-to-earth figure, who is expected to ascend to the throne with only a minimum of the required pomp and circumstance. He is married to an Argentinian woman, Maxima, and has three young children. His brother, Friso, has been in a coma since early 2012 following a skiing accident in Austria, when he was buried in an avalanche.


HS2 is the codename for the proposed High Speed rail link between London and the north of England. It is also the postal code for rural parts of the Isle of Lewis. When I read this tweet by Number 10 Downing Street, I could not resist the temptation for a bit of monkey business.

is a 'catalyst that will help secure economic prosperity & support tens of thousands of jobs' says PM

Fancy that. The rural villages of the Isle of Lewis the powerhouse of the British economy? The contribution, rendered by the good folk of the island recognised at last, after decades if not centuries of neglect, wilful or otherwise. Are they going to build a high speed rail link from the Butt of Lewis to Carloway, with a spur to Stornoway for good measure? And another line from the Butt to Stornoway via North Tolsta, carrying on to Lochs and Harris?  In a couple of years time, we'll be whizzing through the Clisham East tunnel, bound for Tarbert Central, or amble down the west coast, alighting at Bragar for Labost. Wonder what the fare structure will be like, with all those subsidies.

Ach, we can but dream.

Sunday, 27 January 2013

Sunday 27 January

Some people make "putting foot in mouth" an artform, and none more so than Italian politician Silvio Berlusconi. At a Holocaust Memorial event in Milan, he said that Benito Mussolini had done a "lot of good things". Berlusconi wants to be reelected. I think he has blown that prospect. Italy deserves better than a dunderhead like that.

A day of mixed fortunes, starting dry and bright, but cloud soon covered the sky. It was not warm, 5C / 41F, but elsewhere in the UK, the rising temperatures caused snowmelt and with that flooding. These floods are set to get worse, and have already claimed at least one life. A canoeist was pulled from the River Swale at Reeth, but was later pronounced dead. The Swale is notorious for sudden rises in waterlevel, particularly when snow melts off higher ground; a footbridge outside Reeth was swept away some years ago during a flashflood.

And this evening, we were plunged into profound darkness for half a minute, when the power went off. With no streetlights, you really could not see a thing. The only light I had available was the screen from this PC, which runs off a battery. Fortunately, power quickly returned.

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Holocaust Memorial Day

Today it is 68 years ago since the infamous Auschwitz Birkenau concentration camp was liberated by Soviet forces. More than a million people, mainly Jews, were killed there during the Second World War. The process was conducted as an industrial process. To date, some of the goods left behind by the victims of the Holocaust remain on display. These include suitcases with name tags, spectacle frames, hair and shoes. I have never visited Auschwitz and am not likely to. January 27th is Holocaust Memorial Day, remembering all the victims of the Nazi's policy of extermination of all those they considered to be sub-human. We must never forget. Nor the victims of other holocausts, perpetrated around the globe before and after. 

Saturday, 26 January 2013

Saturday 26 January

The day started with glorious sunshine, but at lunchtime a veil of cloud rapidly moved up from the south. The wind picked up, and the rain started just after 3pm. The most remarkable feature has been the rise in temperature, to 8C as I type this (10.15pm). Meanwhile, out in the Atlantic, a very deep area of low pressure is winding up - the pressure at 6pm this evening was estimated at 933 mbar, or 27.5 inches. This sort of deep depression tends to spawn spin-off lows and several of these will whizz by us in days to come, giving us spells of very windy weather. The Atlantic is back in charge, and will let us know it is.

My project is progressing steadily (see Lewismen lost in the Great War) , and this afternoon I completed the section for the village of Borve, 17 miles north of Stornoway on the west coast. On the aforementioned site, I collate all the information I have managed to amass over past years onto one page for each of the nearly 1300 casualties from this island. Tomorrow, I shall proceed with the village of Brue, a mile west of Barvas. It consists of one road, stretching for a mile from the main A858 to the sea, and consisting of some 30 houses. The below image shows part of the village as seen from Barvas.


Friday, 25 January 2013

Friday 25 January

An overcast day with a cold southerly wind, but a bit milder than of late. Overnight, the wind reached force 7, but had abated a little by morning.

Crown Immunity

This concept precludes government agencies from criminal prosecution. It was used to prevent the Ministry of Defence from facing prosecution of the death of a 14-year old army cadet, Kayleigh Macintosh, at Loch Carnan, South Uist, in August 2007. It is an infamous case, and although the officer in charge has been penalised, Kayleigh's parents are embittered that no real further action looks set to be taken. Calls have been made to modify the concept of Crown Immunity, so that the MoD could be prosecuted over cases like Kayleigh's. I link to the article from the Stornoway Gazette for the full details.

Burns Night

Today is January 25th, so on the occasion of the birthday of Scotland's national bard, Robert Burns, I copy one of his poems in Scots:

A man's a man for a' that.
Is there for honest Poverty
That hings his head, an' a' that;
The coward slave-we pass him by,
We dare be poor for a' that!
For a' that, an' a' that.
Our toils obscure an' a' that,
The rank is but the guinea's stamp,
The Man's the gowd for a' that.

What though on hamely fare we dine,
Wear hoddin grey, an' a that;
Gie fools their silks, and knaves their wine;
A Man's a Man for a' that:
For a' that, and a' that,
Their tinsel show, an' a' that;
The honest man, tho' e'er sae poor,
Is king o' men for a' that.

Ye see yon birkie, ca'd a lord,
Wha struts, an' stares, an' a' that;
Tho' hundreds worship at his word,
He's but a coof for a' that:
For a' that, an' a' that,
His ribband, star, an' a' that:
The man o' independent mind
He looks an' laughs at a' that.

A prince can mak a belted knight,
A marquis, duke, an' a' that;
But an honest man's abon his might,
Gude faith, he maunna fa' that!
For a' that, an' a' that,
Their dignities an' a' that;
The pith o' sense, an' pride o' worth,
Are higher rank than a' that.

Then let us pray that come it may,
(As come it will for a' that,)
That Sense and Worth, o'er a' the earth,
Shall bear the gree, an' a' that.
For a' that, an' a' that,
It's coming yet for a' that,
That Man to Man, the world o'er,
Shall brothers be for a' that.

Thursday, 24 January 2013

Thursday 24 January


This was the sight that greeted me this morning: the basin across the street had frozen over in a -6C overnight frost. Don't forget that this basin is tidal, connected to salt water etc. There was no wind first thing in the morning and a waferthin layer of ice had formed at high tide. The water dropped as the tide went out, leaving rocks, ropes and buoys clad in a gossamer layer of white. Just before midday, the wind started to pick up and the temperature rose from -2C to +4C (and stayed there all day), meaning the ice had gone after lunchtime.

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Wednesday 23 January

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Day started fairly cloudy, but opened out to a gloriously sunny afternoon. I have made my opinions clear on political developments and won't say more about that in this post. I have continued work on my wee project Lewismen lost in the Great War and also spread further awareness of the Iolaire Disaster of 1919. The WW1 project has now progressed to the village of Barvas, and I'll continue with Borve tomorrow.

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Out of the union

A couple of days ago, I set out my opinion on the referendum on Scottish independence, which is to be held sometime in October 2014. The SNP party is seeking to secede from the United Kingdom, after 306 years.

Today, Mr Cameron, British prime minister and (more importantly) leader of the Conservative party in the UK parliament, announced that he would call for a referendum on EU membership of the UK - if he is reelected at the next general election, which will be held in May 2015 at the latest. Mr Cameron, in my opinion, has nailed his colours to the mast, and probably shortened the lifetime of his coalition with the Liberal Democrats, who are strongly in favour of continued EU membership. However, in recent months, the UK Independence Party has gained a lot of votes in various elections. There is the long-standing aversion to the EU within the Conservatives, something that toppled Margaret Thatcher out of government in 1990.

From an area of the UK which has benefited greatly by EU membership, I find this stance sheer and utter lunacy. The EU is not just about the euro, which is admittedly not the raging success it was set out to be on its launch in 2002. The EU is not just about regulations - it was founded in 1957 to facilitate trade between member states. It took many years for the UK to be admitted to the EU, and has been a pain in the neck ever since. However, Great Britain has more to lose from ending its EU membership than the EU itself, more than many people, including the so-called Euro-sceptics, realise.

Like Alex Salmond's proposed secession of Scotland from the United Kingdom, the UK itself will be greatly diminished upon getting out of the EU union. Mr Salmond, however, appears to be desparate to be part of the EU. Will a vote against Scottish independence now mean a vote against continued membership of the EU by a continued UK?

Tuesday 22 January

Continuing dry but cold and variable amounts of cloud about. The wind appears to have eased a little, but is still not helping the temperature. Nonetheless, I'll be the last to complain, if I look at the amount of snow and ice that is plaguing the rest of the country. The easterly wind is still a bother for the ferries, but late tonight, I did spot the Muirneag venturing out for the first time in days. Our freight ferry is very susceptible to being blown off course by high winds, particularly when docking. I vividly remember the occasion when a jogger on the coastal path in the Castle Grounds had to take evasive action to avoid the bow of the Muirneag; it also tried to dock below Lews Castle one day, at a place where there's no dock.

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Monday, 21 January 2013

Monday 21 January

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Another cold but dry day with a keen easterly wind, that played havoc with our ferries. MV Isle of Lewis was blown away from the quayside when it tried to dock at lunchtime; it did not go out again for its customary second run to Ullapool. MV Finlaggan experienced similar problems on its route from Skye to North Uist, so did not venture out at all.

Meanwhile, the snow and ice continue to wreak havoc around the country; elsewhere in Europe, they have similar problems. The Dutch railways are running a halved schedule, and the winter weather also put paid to the Fyra trains, which started shedding parts along the Amsterdam - Brussels highspeed  line due to the frost. Belgian railway company NMBS promptly banned the €20m trains from its tracks.

Here in Stornoway, our feathered friends very gratefully took advantage of the birdseed and peanuts put out in the feeders. At one stage, nearly 30 sparrows, a dozen starlings, up to five collared doves and even a racing pigeon gorged themselves. The fresh water in an empty pot was also much appreciated. The ginger cat that popped round yesterday missed out on today's feast.
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I have continued my project, which involves putting together all the information I have on the casualties from this island who were lost in the First World War. Their number is just shy of 1,300, and includes those who lie buried in Lewis. Today, I gathered up the data, pictures and tributes for the men from the village of Ballantrushal, located some 14 miles north of Stornoway on the road to the Butt of Lewis.

Hurricane update - 21 January

Hurricanes? Well, the southern hemisphere season is in full swing, and my tropical cyclones blog is kept busy. I give a brief summary.

Garry: a tropical storm, giving bad weather to American Samoa, and headed for French Polynesia. It will see that system at hurricane force.

Oswald: a tropical storm over the Gulf of Carpentaria in Queensland, Australia, but about to make landfall in the Cape York peninsula. It will continue to grumble there, feeding off tropical moisture over the Coral Sea to the east.

93S: a tropical area of low pressure off the coast of Western Australia, and expected to become a tropical cyclone (in this case at tropical storm strength). The main effect will be rain over the desert area of the Pilbara.

94S: another tropical low, this time off the coast of southern Africa,165 miles north of Maputo in Mozambique. This system (which the local hurricane centre in La Reunion is yet to wake up to) will intensify over the warm waters of the Mozambique Channel, and could give the island state of Madagascar a headache later in the week.

Sunday, 20 January 2013

Sunday 20 January

Although we started with some early sunshine, cloud very soon took over, leaving us with a bitterly cold southeasterly breeze. The same breeze that has been with us for much of last week. Although the thermometer shows us barely above freezing, we have had no snow. The mainland hills are very white on the distant horizon, and elsewhere in the UK, snow and ice continue to cause travel disruption. Yesterday, snow claimed 4 lives in Glencoe, 15 miles south of Fort William, when an avalanche swept a group of climbers off a 3000+ foot high mountain.

I was saddened to hear of a teenage boy in Albuquerque who had used a firearm to kill two adults and three children. Does the right to bear arms really justify having military-style firearms freely available? Please. Yes, there will always be nutcases, cranks and criminals determined enough to lay hands on weapon. But if they are not so freely available, wouldn't it at least lessen the chance of another mass-shooting happening again?

Applecross Forest at dusk

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Saturday, 19 January 2013

Saturday 19 January

A beautifully sunny day - but with a bitingly cold southeasterly wind. We just about managed 5C / 41F in the afternoon, about the highest max in the country. Elsewhere, much travel misery through snow and ice, with major disruption at airports. I've seen Terminal 5 at Heathrow turned into a refugee camp before (early 2009 in point of fact), and it's horrible if you're in it. Went for an amble to the site of the old Nicolson Institute (our local high school). The old buildings have now been removed, and have been replaced by a parking area for staff and buses. All pupils from rural Lewis are bussed in every morning (and bussed home in the afternoon). They are usually dropped off outside their respective doors.

Following yesterday's gales, Calmac ferry services are slowly returning to normal; but not immediately on the Uig - Lochmaddy / Tarbert triangle. This will resume normal service on Sunday. The service between Lochboisdale / Castlebay and Oban had to play catch-up, after no ferries were able to sail after Tuesday.

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Friday, 18 January 2013

Friday 18 January

A bright and sunny day, but with a strong southeasterly wind which made it bitingly cold. The mercury remained pegged down at +3C / 37F. Nonetheless, I'm not complaining, when I see the reports of deep snow in southern England and Wales, causing all sorts of problems. Went for a wee amble round the bay to sample the day, and it was nice enough. But for that wind.

The ferry was cancelled at lunchtime due to the strong southeasterly winds, which makes docking hazardous here at Stornoway; the bay faces southeast, and is therefore exposed to today's winds. The freight ferry Muirneag isn't sailing for the same reason.

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Gun control - Gov Perry (TX)

I found this statement from Texas governor Rick Perry, in response to Barack Obama's executive actions, in the aftermath of the mass shooting in Newtown CT.

I have never seen such a horrifying exercise in ostrich policy. Mr Perry, with all due respect, seems to be unaware that the excessive availability and presence of guns in American society, coupled with a poor caring system for those with mental health problems, has brought this (and other similar events) about. I don't think anything will change, in spite of (what I personally see as) the good intentions of the president. I wonder what Gov Perry would have said if his kids (presuming he has any) had been mowed down in a shooting at school.

However, looking at Gov Perry's Facebook page, he has the full support of his populace. 

Thursday, 17 January 2013


The Scottish National Party was established in 1934 with the express aim of achieving secession of Scotland from the United Kingdom. In itself an aim I don't disapprove of. However, you'd imagine that the SNP would have spent the last 79 years thinking what it would take to run a country. Or at least the last 5½ years, during which they were in government. Not so.

Each and every time a major policy issue turns up, we find out that the SNP has to go away and think about it. Rather than looking forward, I get the distinct impression that the party has spent its time looking back. To all the times that Scotland was allegedly wronged by the English. Unfortunately, if you look closely, the historical fact turns out to be that the Scots were given a raw deal by other Scots. The Clearances are a case in point.

It is for that reason that I would not vote YES in the independence referendum in October 2014. Independence, yes. But not under the SNP.

Thursday 17 January

A very cold day today, or at least the wind made it feel bitterly cold. Those out and about in town this morning were all wrapped up, and commenting on the cold. The temperature value, 6C / 43F, was purely academical - but one of the highest in the country. Further south, major problems with snow are expected tomorrow. Meanwhile on the continent, the thermometer will remain below zero in the daytime over the next few days. No such problems here in the isles, where the Atlantic keeps the electric blanket on. The downside of that is high winds, which are currently disrupting ferry services in the southern Isles.

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Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Wednesday 16 January

The day started windy and wet, but by midday it had dried up and it was a bit brighter. I compiled nine more profiles of WW1 casualties from Arnol, one of them a lieutenant-colonel - but him no better or worse than the humble privates and sailors who lost their lives elsewhere and at other times.

What shocked me most of all today was the helicopter crash in Vauxhall, south London. I switched on the TV at 8.30 am, half an hour after the crash, and fell straight into the immediate aftermath. It soon became clear that two people had lost their lives and about a dozen were hurt. Bearing in mind location and timing, it was an absolute miracle that the casualty toll was not much higher.

US president Obama has announced the first steps to control guns in the States. Many people are opposed, viscerally so, and by constitution all Americans are allowed to keep and bear arms. However, if 10,000 people a year are killed by guns (compared to 250 pro rata for European countries), something is wrong. Maybe America never got out of the 19th century.

This heron flew off just as I was trying to take its pic.


Tuesday 15 January

Another cold day, with some remnants of overnight frost in the shade. The day dawned fairly bright and remained so. Upon returning from the shop, the mainland hills, bathed in sunshine, stood out from 50 miles away on the eastern horizon, resplendent in snowy white. We have had no snow, and are not expecting any. The Atlantic is keeping us warm, if you want to call 3C / 37F warm. However, with all the snow problems elsewhere in the UK, I'm not complaining.

Confirmation reached us today that the man who fell off a cliff in Point yesterday died after reaching hospital. In a small place like Swordale and Knock, everybody knows everybody else. The man who died had returned to the island to look after his elderly mother, and had been trying to rescue his brother's ram when he fell. My sympathies with his family, friends and the community in his village.

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Monday 14 January

A day of fast changing cloudscapes as a plethora of showers came through the area. At one stage, a dozen different anvil clouds lined the horizon all round. If anything did fall in Stornoway it was of rain. Elsewhere in Scotland, falls of snow were reported. Further south, in England, heavy falls of snow caused problems, but nothing major.

Just before 4pm, a man fell from a cliff in Point, near the village of Swordale, after he tried to retrieve a ram that had also fallen. The man, in his forties, fell 70 feet to a shingle beach at the bottom. RNLI and Coastguard helicopter attended and took the man to hospital in Stornoway, a few miles to the west. Latest reports indicate that he unfortunately died of his injuries. People have been reminded of the dangers of cliff edges, particularly in wet and windy conditions.

It was reported today that the Scottish government have earmarked £1 million for the restauration of the country's 5,000 war memorials. A million pounds sounds like a lot, but divide it by 5,000 and you're left with an average of £200 per memorial. Bearing in mind that some of them are not in a good state, the sum leaves something to be desired, I'd imagine. Lewis has nearly two dozen memorials, most of them erected in the past 20 years. Even those will need to be touched up, as the paint has suffered in the harsh Hebridean weather.

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