Bank charges

To quote that infamous sign outside a farmer's field: "Access to this field is free, but the bull charges". And so do banks in the UK. One bank, I believe it's the Royal Bank of Scotland, charges for the following, to name but a few:

- depositing money into your account
- withdrawing money from your account
- writing cheques

I think it's a damned disgrace that people have to pay to handle their own money. The worst of it are the cash machines that charge you £1.50 just to make a withdrawal. Most ATMs in the UK do not levy this charge, but a substantial number do. A report earlier this week suggested that quite a few of these charging cashpoints are located in areas of economic deprivation. One Scottish bank has offered to install free cashpoints in such areas.

Irrespective of their location, I think ATMs should not charge to withdraw money from them. It's OUR hard-earned cash, and the banks make more than enough of a profit that they can afford to run charge-free ATMs in all locations.

Iolaire disaster 1919

Yesterday, I mentioned the correspondence in Scottish newspapers surrounding the sinking of HMY [His Majesty's Yacht] Iolaire in 1919. The image above shows the immediate aftermath of the disaster. At daybreak, at 9 am on New Year's Day 1919, one man was found hanging in the rigging of the mast. Seven others had been with him, but were unable to hang on and had fallen down, and had drowned. It is impossible to imagine the depth of grief that the loss of 200 young men brought to Lewis. Today, I was sent a transcript of an article from the Glasgow Herald of January 4th, 1919:

An old man sobbing into his handkerchief with a stalwart son in khaki sitting on the cart beside him, the remains of another son in the coffin behind --- that was one of the sights seen today as one of the funeral parties emerged from the barrack gate. Another, an elderly woman, well dressed, comes staggering down the roadway and bursts into a paralysis of grief as she tells the sympathisers at the gate that her boy is in the mortuary. Strong men weeping and women wailing or wandering around with blanched, tear stained faces are to be seen in almost every street and there are groups of them at the improvised mortuary

The islanders found it impossible to speak about the disaster. It was locked away in a cupboard. The last survivor died in 1992. A list of names, of survivors and casualties, was compiled by the Stornoway Historical Society, and can be accessed from this link. The following was the resulting feedback:

(1) A gentleman emailed me from southwest Scotland, saying: "I knew nothing of the Iolaire Disaster [...]. Very moving but tragic that more people don't know more about a large group of young men taken in such tragic circumstances. To have survived a war and then die within sight of home is beyond belief." Others expressed similar sadness.

(2) One lady contacted me from Ontario, Canada. Her ancestors came from Marvig (South Lochs). She gave me permission to reproduce their story.
"My grampa's younger brother, Donald MacLeod (7 Marbhig, then Stornoway),
died coming into harbour on the Iolaire. From the memorial in South Lochs I think two of my greatgrandparents' brothers were killed in the war, as well as losing Donald. My grandfather Alasdair was forbidden from fishing anymore for fear he'd drown too, after his family's losses. A torment for him, as he loved the sea and fishing. He drove for Lord Leverhulme then went to the shipyards in Glasgow to make some money. Her returned to Stornoway for a short time then came to Canada on one of the two ships
for which there were no passenger lists. Settled in our praries for a time (no water at all) then went west to Vancouver Island for the remainder of his lifetime... built himself a little boat and enjoyed it to the end in 1980. So fortunate I visited Stornoway last summer and saw for myself why Alaisdair chose looked so like Stornoway...
His mother I think suffered too much heartbreak for it all and was a lost soul in the sanatorium for the rest of her life. And oddly, when I've written lyrics all through my life they have been laden with images of water, and the sea...long before I knew of this event in my family's history. Funny how these things can follow you. I'd not be at all if it weren't for the Iolaire disaster...a ponderous thought, that."

(3) One correspondent mentioned that her ancestors came from Harris, but wondered whether any had been on the Iolaire.

(4) Another reaction bears out the extreme distress that the Iolaire Disaster caused within the islands: "I only found that my grandfather's first cousin [...] was lost on the Iolaire when I looked up his death certificate. The family had never mentioned or talked of him. I go to Harris and will post a photo of his headstone after my next visit. I only learned of how he died after my last trip to the island."

I very recently received this link, which carries more stories.

The Iolaire Disaster is little known outside the Hebrides, although its death toll exceeds that of the disaster with the Herald of Free Enterprise outside Zeebrugge in 1986. Another shipwreck, dating back to 1904, took place at Rockall. The Norge, on its way from Norway to America, foundered on this island, 225 miles west of Scotland. Hundreds perished; 9 are buried at Stornoway.

As long standing readers know, during my stay in Lewis, I have taken on board some aspects of the island's history. In the early hours of New Year's Day 1919, a boat, carrying 300 islanders returning from the First World War, was on its way from Kyle of Lochalsh to Stornoway. On the approach to Stornoway, it struck rocks on the Beasts of Holm, a small reef. 205 drowned, 75 survived. The exact circumstances of the grounding have never been cleared up. The naval reservists on board could, to a man, have taken the boat, called the Iolaire into port. An inquiry was launched, but no conclusions were drawn.

Earlier this year, I was given a list of names, and I gathered pictures of the men who died and of the survivors. One of my sources, a man from Aberdeen, is scathing (putting it mildly) about the attitude of the British authorities towards their conscripts, and towards those who perished on the Iolaire. I think it is understandable, if I give you these two quotes.

Prior to the inquiry, a number of national papers had an accusation to the effect that "the men drowned because they were Gaelic speakers who could not understand orders given in English". This false allegation was quickly dropped before the inquiry proper started. It was pointed out that many had been at sea for years, and non-commissioned officers &c during the war. The allegation infuriated many of the islanders and their shipmates who had served at sea. This letter was printed in the Glasgow Herald, a major Scottish newspaper, on 11 January 1919,

I should like to take exception to a remark made in the account given by a correspondent, of the above sad disaster in the "Herald" of the 6 inst. He says that probably a great deal of confusion was caused by the fact that orders were given in English at the critical moment instead of in Gaelic, which the men would have understood better. I am well acquainted with the people of Lewis in general, and have sailed with their seamen for a long number of years, and never yet met a Lewisman that could not speak and understand English equally as well as Gaelic. In the majority of cases, when away for long periods, as sailors are, they never speak anything but English. So I do not think it would make any difference at all whether orders were given in Gaelic or English. It seems apparent that the ship's boats could not withstand the storm and heavy sea which was raging at the time, and it was a case of "every man for himself." By the accounts given the Arnish Light was quite visible for a long distance out at sea, which was a sufficient guide for bringing the vessel into Stornoway Harbour, combined with the Beacon Light. If, on the other hand, the lights were obscured for any length of time, why was the vessel not slowed or stopped and navigated with caution when such a number of precious lives were involved? I am almost certain that the majority of these poor seamen, who were natives of Lewis, were quite capable of taking the vessel into the harbour had they been in a position to do so., and I am pleased that the Lewis people are demanding a public inquiry which I hope, will help to clear up the mist. - ---- I am, etc.. ONE WELL ACQUAINTED WITH THE COAST.

Sentient being

This story from BBC South Yorkshire tells the tale of Tee Cee, the cat who can sense that his master is about to have an epileptic fit. He sits close to him and stares him intently in the face, then goes to his master's wife to raise the alert. Tee Cee will then not leave his master's side until he has regained full consciousness.

Tee Cee, pictured above, has been nominated for Cat of the Year [2006]. He was dumped in a river as a kitten 10 years ago, but was rescued.

Internet gambler loses £158k in 50 minutes


You read it correctly. A 25 year old Internet gambler from Aberdeen [Scotland] went on line in the early hours of April 3, this year. Using his dad's 13 credit cards (who the heck has 13 CC's?) he initially won £90,000. His luck ran out though, and he start to run into deficit. One credit card after another was used to its credit limit, until proceedings stopped at just over £68,000. Taking the aggregate with the initial winnings, total losses ran up to £158,000. As I said, the young man used his father's credit cards. The £68K would have to be paid, unless the transactions were reported to police as fraudulent. The gambler tried to take his own life, but fortunately failed. He stood trial earlier this week; sentence was deferred for 4 weeks for reports.

I know very little about gambling on-line, or gambling generally. I just fell off my chair when I read this story in a Scottish newspaper. As the judge at the trial said, this scourge of the 21st century, Internet gambling, needs to be addressed. It only took 50 minutes for this chap to lose £68k. People who would not normally go into a casino have no impediments in place for going into an on-line casino. There are regular adverts for an on-line casino on satellite TV in this country.


There are a number of blogs that I follow here on AOL, and some others that used to be on here until AOL USA decided to add banner ads to its journals. One of them is Judith Heartsong's blog on Blogger, which carried a frighteningly open and outspoken entry yesterday. Everybody has "issues" (I hate that word), but that was a painful read.

In a way (and I use that expression in the widest possible context), it reminded me of a gentleman of my acquaintance who grew up in the Germany of the 1940s. His father, an industrial chemist, was sent to hard labour, cutting peats for his involvement in the production of some of the lethal substances used in the gas chambers. A long fall down from the relative affluence of the prewar and war-years. My acquaintance built himself a life, marrying into a shipbuilding family, who had done well in the war years, and did not have a price to pay after 1945, unlike his dad. Even though the German Kriegsmarine had also inflicted untold suffering. The resentment at losing privileges lingered and festered, reflecting it onto his in-laws. When his son died in his mid-thirties, at the threshold of becoming a surgeon, my acquaintance went to pieces. He felt he could not relate to his wife in his grief, and entered into an affair with another woman. With the tacit approval of his spouse. The man, now in his 70s, is living life in top gear, running up and down stairs, maintaining some unusual hobbies and travelling the world for them. The occult features, which is something that is outside my remit. As does alternative medicine. It is a way of coping with what happened in the past, but it actually does not solve anything. He tried to speak to me about his grief, but so much has gone wrong there that there is very little I can do. I can only listen.

Hapless drunk

A man had had one too much to drink and managed to drive his van off the A830 road between Mallaig and Fort William, in the West Highlands. The driver knocked on the door of the nearest house, a B&B. When the proprietor opened the door, the van driver said: "Listen, can you give me a lift? I've had too much to drink, and I've crashed my van. Please don't tell the bobbies, OK?" The man at the B&B said he couldn't take him in his car until he had dressed properly, so he asked the driver to wait. The proprietor went upstairs and changed into his full police uniform. He then proceeded to charge the driver, put handcuffs on him and placed him in the back of his police car, which had been hidden in the darkness beside the house. After a while, police from Fort William, 40 miles away, came and took the drunk away. The van meanwhile had been reported by motorists as blocking the A830 with lights blazing and keys still in the ignition. The hapless drunk was fined £500 and banned from driving for 18 months.

Small Isles

In 1992, I was leaving Eigg after my 4th visit there (I was to return there quite a few times until 2004). At the time the transfer between island and ferry was not effected by the ferry docking at the pier - no, you had to jump into a wee flitboat, which would chug-chug out to the larger ferry (at the time it was the Lochmor) and then a precarious step between the two boats would see you on board for the onward journey to the mainland or wherever.

That cloudy Monday afternoon saw me as sole passenger on board the Ulva when the engine cut. The two men crew looked at each other, tried to restart the engine, fiddled about and finally realised the diesel had run out. Cursing the man who had used the boat the day before, they went on the VHF radio. You have to realise that the VHF transmissions reach for several dozen miles. "Lochmor, Lochmor, this is the Eigg ferry. We have run out of diesel, can you come alongside us please". This must have been met with gales of laughter up and down the west coast, and the leers from the Lochmor crew spoke volumes. The ferryboat ended up on the wrong side of the big ferry, so I was left an unholy scramble to get on board. But not before the engineer had said to the ferryboat crew: "Now, now. Let's discuss TERMS for this diesel!"

The other story is not hilarious at all, it is quite sad.
It relates to the Isle of Muck, 3 miles south of Eigg. I first visited Muck in 1995, during a blazing hot summer. Like at Eigg, you had to reach Muck by ferryboat. The tides at Muck are even dodgier than at Eigg. So, when it came to departure time, I found myself in Port Mor [the harbour bay] at low tide. The ferryboat crew came down to the pier and told me to take my shoes and socks off and wade into the sea. I waded into the sea to the rowing boat, jumped in, this was rowed to the ferryboat, and the ferryboat went to meet the Lochmor. The master of the ferryboat, Brian Walters, was about 15 minutes early, so he threw a line with hooks into the sea to catch some mackerel. He caught none. Eight years later, news came through that Brian's fishing boat was seen going round in circles in the sea between Eigg and Muck. At nightfall that quiet September evening, the lifeboat went to investigate. Nobody was found on board. Brian was known to have gone out in her, on his own. An accident must have happened and he had gone over the side. He was never found.

Canna is an island in the Inner Hebrides. Have a look at the pictures on Cannablog on the BBC's Island Blogging project.

John Lorne Campbell, and his wife of many years, Margaret Faye Shaw, bought the island in 1938. In the twenties, Margaret came across from the USA on a cycling holiday through the island of South Uist, 30 miles to the west across the Sea of the Hebrides. She fell in love with the place and stayed on. When she met her husband to be John, they went on to establish a huge library of Gaelic literature and music, which is still in Canna House.

John Lorne Campbell died in 1996 in Italy. He was buried there, but as is customary in Italy, after 10 years his coffin would be transferred to a communal grave. This was not deemed appropriate by the National Trust for Scotland, who were gifted the island of Canna alongside with the library on JLC's death. They arranged for his remains to be transferred back to Canna yesterday, June 21st. Unfortunately, a summer gale prevented the ferry from sailing.

Margaret Faye Shaw lived to be 101, and she carried on living at Canna House until her death in 2004. She was buried in South Uist, amongst the people she had come to love.

As you can read from the entries in Cannablog, things in the Small Isles are always a bit quirky. In October last year, something happened that can only happen there - read on.

(from the Arnish Lighthouse blog)
The Isle of Canna has been suffering from an infestation of rats. Nobody likes them, and apart from being an outright nuisance, they are a threat to ground nesting birds in the island. Unfortunately, the National Trust for Scotland, who are looking after Canna, could not just dose the island with warfarin (rat poison). Because Canna is home to a unique species of mouse, which is slightly larger than your average mouse. Last autumn, a team from Edinburgh University spent some time on the island setting traps to capture the mice live and take them to Edinburgh for safekeeping. Whilst the mice were away, it wasn't the cats that were dancing, and certainly not the rats. They were going to be treated to a dose of poison. So, the dapper ship MV Spanish John II was chartered to transport canisters of rat poison to Canna, one day in October this year. As she was chugging round the Isle of Rum, a call came on the VHF radio. An American warship, on manoeuvres in the area, was warning a vessel on its portside to move away, as it was in its safety zone. The skipper of the Spanish John didn't take notice, because he was on the starboard side of the American vessel. However, he was the only one there. The warnings were repeated six times, with increasing urgency. The master of the Spanish John now began to panic, and he tried shouting at the USS Klakring, to no avail. Another message came through on the VHF, ordering the black vessel with the white superstructure to pull away. The Spanish John hasn't got a white superstructure, but the white drums with poison could be misinterpreted as such. Then another four verbal warnings came to the Spanish John to pull away, or else the Klakring would open fire. The skipper did pull away, but not sufficiently. Four loud bangs, followed by four red glowing dots moving at speed from the Klakring would indicate that four rounds had been fired. The Spanish John was not hit, and a Navy spokesman insisted that the American vessel was not authorised to fire live weapons. The manoeuvres had been widely broadcast and advertised, but may not have got through to the crew of the Spanish John. The latter vessel continued on its innocent passage to Canna, where the rats are currently being exterminated.
As soon as they're all gone, the mice will be returned. Let's hope there are no more manoeuvres in the Sea of the Hebrides for a little while.

Further information on the vessels involved (thanks to Sunday Mail):
THE Spanish John II was built in 2003 by Nobles of Girvan.
The ship - powered by twin 230hp Daewoo engines - is 18metres long by 6.5metres wide and carries a deck cargo of 40 tons. Its main use is as a cargo vessel and it transports vehicles, plants and livestock which are essential supplies in the Inner Hebrides and Knoydart. Fuel cargo is a speciality of the boat, which can carry 26,000 litres of diesel in tanks below deck. One of the strangest tasks the crew has undertaken was transporting an alligator to the isle of Rhum

USS Klakring is a guided missile frigate which escorts and protects carrier battle groups, amphibious landing groups and convoys. The 4100-tonne ship was commissioned in August 20, 1983, and built in Maine. It is 138 metres long and can travel at up to 28 knots and is capable of carrying two Sea Hawk aircraft. It is also fitted with two triple mount torpedo tubes and a rapid firing gun. It would normally house a crew of around 215 men. It is named after war hero Admiral Thomas B Klakring, who sunk eight Japanese ships during the Pacific war. He was awarded the Navy Cross with two gold stars

Tortoise dies at 175

This story caught my attention on BBC On-line this afternoon. A giant tortoise, named Harriet, has died in a zoo in Australia at the age of 175. The Galapagos giant tortoise is thought to have been taken there by Charles Darwin in 1835, on his epic voyage on board HMS Beagle. The age of the creature was determined by DNA profiling. Harriet died of heart failure following a short illness.


Until the 1950s, the majority of people in the Western Isles lived in a blackhouse. Picture 1 shows the outline on the ground, this being a ruin in the hamlet of Borrowston, near Carloway. The left-hand section would have been the living area. It's not very clear on the pic, but the exterior walls consist of two walls, joined together with clay. thickness, built of stones collected from the surrounding area. A thatched roof would cover it, with the roofbeams sloping down to the area between the two walls. Grass will grow there as well. Any rain drains away over the clay. The original blackhouse has no chimney, and the fireplace is actually a hole in the ground in the middle of the living area. Peats sit there, burning and glowing white-hot. It was the horror of any mother to think that a small child might fall into the fire - which did happen. The smoke simply rises up and dissipates through the thatch. If you visit the Arnol Blackhouse Museum at Arnol, you'll get an appreciation of what living conditions were like. The living area would have a "sitting room", with sleeping quarters at the very rear of the house. As you may be able to discern on the above picture, houses were often built on a slope. At the bottom of the blackhouse, on the other side of the entrance door, the animals would be housed. Any effluent would drain away through a hole in the exterior wall. The second section would act as a byre, storage area &c. From the 1920s onwards, the blackhouses [tighean dubh] were gradually replaced with houses of more common design. Translating the Gaelic [tighean geal] would yield "white houses". The Arnol Blackhouse faces a tigh geal across the road, dating back to 1924. It is afflicted with damp, its walls being made of rough-cast cement.

About six miles west of Arnol, a whole village of blackhouses has been restored. They do have chimneys, as was more customary in the 20th century, and look a lot brighter on the inside than does the Arnol blackhouse. Again, you'll find sleeping quarters at the top of the house, and a byre at the bottom.

Whoever you speak to in Lewis, they are glad to be out of blackhouses. Filthy, uncomfortable and dangerous. Out of date, in other words.

Blackhouses were common in the Outer Hebrides until the 19th century and were lived in as recently as the 1970s. A blackhouse was usually a long narrow building, sometimes parallel with other buildings and sharing a wall. The walls had an inner and outer layer of un-mortared stones with the gap between them filled with peat and earth. The roof was a wooden frame which rested on the inner wall, covered with layers of heather turfs and then thatched and held down with a net weighted with stones. The roof, traditionally, had no chimney. Animals lived under the same roof as humans and grain was also stored and processed in the same building.

There are a number of reasons for the name 'blackhouse'. With no windows or chimneys the smoke from the peat fire blackened everything and 'outsiders' called them black houses because of this. Another reason is that the name comes from a mis-hearing of the Gaelic. In Gaelic for thatch is 'Tughadh' while black is 'dubh'. Said quickly these two words could sound very similar and so the proper 'thatched house' could easily become 'black house'. The most frequently-quoted reason for the name is that it comes from the introduction of modern houses to the islands. These houses were coated with lime wash and were white, hence the terms 'whitehouse' and 'blackhouse'.


Adding to my earlier rant about commercials, I do not hold much of the satellite TV services being relayed by Sky. It's either Repeat Hell of the series of yesteryear, time and time and time and time again. I think they have restarted All Creatures Great and Small for the 10th time over. Which has killed off the stories of James Herriot for me. There is a limit to the number of police chases you can imbibe, particularly with the acerbic tones of Retired Sheriff John Bunnell who is forever castigating those on the rang saat of da laaaw. I get bored by randy tv (we all know about it and we all do it basically the same way, thanks), am not interested in sports (tonight's football was a complete turn-off, 16 yellow cards and 4 players sent off). It's just as well it isn't me paying the Sky bill, because it's a waste of money. I am, even the BBC channels do not have a lot to offer. Did I mention Big Brother yet? It is a Dutch Disgrace, which should have been kept off our screens this year. I have made a point of not watching, and the reports permeating beyond the screen made me shrink back in horror. What is the idea, trying to force people into a complete nervous breakdown? It's sensationalist TV, and in spite of its popularity should be axed.

I have access to Sky Television, with upwards of 500 channels. And every 10 to 15 minutes your program will be interrupted by a commercial break. Now, one or two ads are nice, and actually enjoyable. The vast majority are (deliberately) annoying, stupid or sometimes offensive. Afternoon TV is interspersed with endless ads for loan companies. Would you imagine the amount of misery people are in because of debt? I recently learned of a chap who had 13 credit cards. Not to mention store cards, loyalty cards and what have you. Plugging one hole with another, extortionate interest rates (30, 40 even 50%) and with a financial commitment of 25 years or what have you. In the UK, we have a group of channels who all seem to be sponsored by an on-line casino. Again, there is a huge problem in this country with gambling addicts, yet these ads carry on unrelentingly. But then, look at the length of time it took to get tobacco advertisements off radio, TV, newspapers and finally Formula 1 motor racing. Ads for alcohol products seems to have slipped the lead of "we support responsible drinking". Well, I know that each consumer has their own responsibility with regards their alcohol habits, and driving (or preferably not, afterwards). Doesn't mean we have to continue to plug them, does it. For a start, it gives a very bad example to young folk. Nonetheless, what really makes me howl with laughter are those advertisements which says that a product is NEW and/or IMPROVED. So, you have a new type of washing powder. What you've been using for years is now suddenly a waste of money and totally useless, is it? Come off it. Right, back to Sky Television. Less than 10 channels do not carry ads, all BBC offspring. But whether these are actually worth my £120 annual license fee? I don't think so.


This is a plant, officially classified as an "injurious weed" by the Department for Food and Rural Affairs in the UK as an injurious weed. Ragwort is poisonous to horses, ponies, donkeys and other livestock, and causes liver damage, which can have potentially fatal consequences. Under the Weeds Act 1959, the Secretary of State may serve an enforcement notice on the occupier of land on which injurious weeds are growing, requiring the occupier to take action to prevent the spread of injurious weeds.
Defra have published a
webpage, giving information.

This does not just applies to land on which animals are actually grazing - it applies anywhere. Ragwort grows up to several feet tall, flowers with pretty yellow flowers, and releases its seeds in puffballs that float on the wind, and can be carried for miles.

If you want to know what it looks like, Defra have published an information leaflet which gives an accurate description. Note: this is a PDF-file, for which you require Acrobat Reader on your computer; if you haven't got the Reader, you can download a free copy off the Acrobat website.

Ragwort should be eliminated where found, ideally at this time of the year, before the plants start to flower. They should be pulled out, root and all, and destroyed by burning. It is a very pretty plant - but lethal to lifestock. If you find it in your garden, get rid of it. Remember, if you don't, there are circumstance where you could conceivably be forced by law to do so.

Beach safety

I didn't tell about the two young girls who got blown out to sea a few weeks ago. Their dad had put them in an inflatable dinghy on a beach here in Lewis. A strong off-shore breeze combined with the run of the tide quickly blew them away from the beach. Dad swam after them, shouting frantically to them to row, using the paddles. They sat like stones. Another man on the beach jumped in the water too and swam close, calmly telling them to row towards him. He managed to tow the dinghy back to the beach, as their dad could not manage.

Only goes to show: be very careful with inflatables on beaches, particularly with offshore breezes. You cannot judge the state of the tides, or the strenghts of currents.

Skye Serpentarium

News came through that a breeding unit at the Skye Serpentarium in Broadford, Isle of Skye, was hit by fire last night. An electrical socket is thought to have shorted, starting the blaze. Although the owners of the Serpentarium rushed in to try to save as many snakes and amphibians as possible, thick black smoke made this virtually impossible.

The breeding unit was separate from the main Serpentarium building, and was used for housing 600 unwanted creatures and some rare species. After the fire brigade put the fire out, they brought out the dead snakes and tortoises, some of whom had been in the owners' possession for 20 years. The main Serpentarium remains open for visitors.


The Isle of Lewis is due a windfarm development. 190 windturbines, each standing 450 ft / 135 m tall, are due to be built over a 40 mile stretch of land, within a few miles of habitation. Although objections were raised by about 4500 people, these were swept aside by Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, the local council, as their priority was the economic benefits. A fierce debate has raged in Lewis for the past 2 years, sometimes bordering on the NIMBY. I am not opposed to wind energy perse; I am not happy to have monsters that size hopping around. Why didn't they put more time into developing wave power? The same Arnish Yard is also making units for wavepower; for export to Portugal. Tidal energy is being harnessed at the Isle of Islay, further south. This is a very political entry, but I think the eggs are all in one basket. And somebody has said that nuclear energy is an acceptable alternative. Nope. We have not sorted out the waste problem, have we? Every month, radio-active particles are discovered on a beach near Dounreay, on the far north Scottish coast, close to a nuclear power station.

Don't drink and drown

News came out from the other side of the UK that a young woman drowned in the sea at Folkestone. She had been drinking with friends on the seaside, then went into the water. Emergency services were called out when she was seen in difficulty in the sea, but a sea and air search failed to locate her. The body of the young woman was later recovered from the water. With the forecast hot weather this weekend (temperatures forecast to be above 30C / 90 F), the Coastguard want to urgently stress


Drinking alcohol and then participating in sailing, swimming, or any other waterborne activities can be a recipe for disaster. Excessive alcohol impairs judgment and reaction times which can lead to tragic and, in this case, fatal accidents. Our message is please dont drink and drown.

Temperature warnings

40 degrees- Californians shiver uncontrollably. People in Scotland sunbathe.

35 degrees- Italian cars won't start. People in Scotland drive with the windows down.

20 degrees- Floridians wear coats, gloves, and wool hats. People in Scotland throw on a T-shirt.

15 degrees- Californians begin to evacuate the state. People in Scotland go swimming.

Zero degrees- New York landlords finally turn up the heat. People in Scotland have the last bbq before it gets cold.

20 degrees below zero- Californians fly away to Mexico. People in Scotland think about a light jacket.

80 degrees below zero- Polar bears begin to evacuate the Arctic Scottish Boy Scouts postpone "Winter Survival" classes until it gets cold enough.

100 degrees below zero- Santa Claus abandons the North Pole. People in Scotland throw on their Big jumpers.

173 degrees below zero- Ethyl alcohol freezes.. People in Scotland get frustrated when they can't thaw their kegs.

460 degrees below zero- ALL atomic motion stops. People in Scotland start saying "chilly, you cald an aw?"

500 degrees below zero- Hell freezes over. Scottish people think about supporting England in World Cup!!!!

6 6 6

06/06/06 (6 June 2006), comes very close to 666, the Number of the Beast, more concisely: the Devil. I'm supposed not to be superstitious, so I'll touch wood, cross fingers, avoid walking under ladders, do not go near houses that have black cats in them (had one myself for 15 years, poor old Tom) and throw salt over the requisite shoulder if I spill some.

Visit Hebrides

One of the things that keep me occupied during the day, apart from looking out of the window at either the weather or passing ships, is going on the messageboard on the above website, The messageboard is there to help those that wish to visit the Outer Hebrides. I think I know the place well enough to help prospective visitors out with queries about camping, accommodation, sights to see and routes to travel. One person sent me an email today (Monday 5th) to thank me for my efforts.

Hi there,
Just wanted to thank you for the useful info&insights you gave via your weblog and the VisitHebrides site about Stornoway and The Islands.

I have been checking in for quite a few months since I first decided to go out there on my bike, which was when via the Hebs site you sent the link to your weblog. I persuaded a pal to join me on the strength of what I knew - which is what I knew from you mostly - and we had a great cycling holiday, going from Vatesay - our fave place as it turned out (or was that Berneray?), up to Lewis between 21-30 May.

We found your info to be reliable and it helped shape a very memorable trip.We arrived in Stornoway knackered on Sunday last week after cycling 45 miles over the dreaded Clisham from Luskentyre. Encountered hail and snow up on top of there as we huddled together and ate noodles from our stove,in a bus stop in the mountains above Harris listening to Radio 4! Its the most inspiring and funniest holiday we ever had - either of us. Stayed in The Royal Hotel in Stornoway on Sunday night last week as the Stornoway hostels in the Rough Guide we had seemed shut down.Needed night under bricks,not canvas! Cost more than the the rest of trips' accommodation put together, but fantastic to have a shower and be in a real bed with real TV and lights! In all, including the Inverness-Ullapool stretch we did 265 miles. Amazing for 2 amateurs who just cycle to work&back in Liverpool.Made me laugh to think you were somewhere nearby as we sat in an icy wind on the quay,waiting to get on the ferry to Ullapoollast Tuesday morn by Somerfield..!

Many, many thanks and here's to you fullfilling your own goals as you have helped us fullfil ours on our trip to the Outer Hebs which will hopefully be the first of many.


Ach, makes it all worthwhile, doesn't it :-)

Missing at sea - June 2006

2 June 2006
Reports came in this morning that the fishing vessel The Brothers, registered at Banff (eastcoast), but operating out of Gairloch, was overdue. She had left the west coast harbour of Gairloch at 2 am on Thursday to fish for prawns. Her return had been anticipated for late Thursday evening, but the alarm was raised when The Brothers did not return. Coastguard, five fishing vessels and a lifeboat are scouring a huge area of sea between Kyle of Lochalsh and Cape Wrath in the east and the Western Isles and Skye to the west. An oil slick and wreckage were found at Gairloch, but are not though to be related to the incident.

Unfortunately, the fishing industry is the least safe industry to work in. In the 18 months that I've been in Lewis, several fishermen have gone overboard, and were never recovered from the sea. They usually wear oilskins, which will quickly weigh you down. The seawater temperature of the Atlantic varies between 9 and 14C (48 and 57 F), which gives you a survival span of 45 minutes. Other men have suffered injury and have had to be airlifted off their boats, up to 200 miles west of Lewis.

The search for the fishing vessel The Brothers was called off at 6pm tonight (June 2nd), when the weather closed in. Realistically speaking, there is no chance for the men to be found alive, unless they managed to gain the shoreline. Will update tomorrow, Saturday. View this report on BBC Online

3 June 2006
The search for the missing fishermen was resumed early this morning (Saturday). At 5pm this afternoon, it was announced that the wreck of their boat, FV The Brothers, had been located in the water near Eilean Trodday, just north of Skye. Unfortunately, there has been no sign of the two crewmen. One of them was due to attend his grandmother's funeral yesterday.

5 June 2006
Police divers searching the wreck of FV Brothers have found no trace of either crewman in it. Local info in Stornoway suggests the boat was damaged, and the escape hatches were open. The strong tidal currents in the Minch account for the liferings to be 35 miles away from the wreck, and may well have carried both men away as well. Hope has all but been abandoned to find them alive.

22 June 2006
Early this month, I reported the sinking of the fishing-boat Brothers, which had left the small harbour of Gairloch on 1 June, never to return. Her wreck was found at Eilean Trodday, north of Skye. The two crewmen went missing, but the body of one of them, 40-year old David Davidson, was found washed up today at Mellon Udridge, in Gruinard Bay, some distance to the northeast. The other man, 39-year old Neil Sutherland, remains missing.

Details courtesy BBC Online.

Isle of Rum and Kinloch Castle

Kinloch Castle is what's known as a folly. It was built in 1897 by George Bullough, an industrialist from Accrington, Lancashire (England). He had money to burn, and no expenses were spared in the construction of this red sandstone pile. It's not just the grand scale of the castle, it's the interior that take your breath away. It was designed to so in George Bullough's day, and still does. The bathroom had 14 different showers and douches, the bedrooms were laid out in the best finery money could buy. The ballroom has a grandpiano from 1902, which I played myself in October 2004. The piano stands on a tiger skin. It is surrounded by a gruesome sculpture of a monkey eagle, Japanese vases standing 8 feet tall. An orchestrion, which can play a number of musical instruments mechanically, is installed. It's one of 6 remaining in the world, and the only one that'll still play. Until World War 1, there was a heated conservatory which housed an alligator, seaturtles and tropical birds. A hydroelectric plant (still in use) provided the power required. After the Great War, the conservatories fell into decay. The alligator was shot, the turtles released into the sea and the wee birds died of cold. The last descendant of the Bulloughs, Lady Monica, died in 1957, aged 97. She followed her husband the 8 miles to the family mausoleum at Harris, on the southwestern face of Rum. Over the shoulder of Fionchra, past Salisbury's disastrous dam. It's a rough track, which takes 3 hours to walk and 3 hours to drive. Efforts to improve the road fail, precisely because of its calamitous state. These days, the castle is plagued by damp and rot. The former servants quarters are in use as a hostel or hotel. As I indicated, I visited Rum in October 2004 (see the relevant entry in the Lewislines 2004 journal). I'm sad when I think of Rum. None of its indigenous residents remain, they were all forcibly removed in 1826, and Rum has since been the domain of red deer. After 1957, SNH (Scottish Natural Heritage) took over, and Kilmory Glen (on the northern side of the island) became the focus for behavioural studies of the deer. Thirty people, all SNHor castle employees, live on the island. Plans are afoot to boost this number to 80, unrelated to SNH.

Rowan Trees

The rowan is said to have magical properties. In these islands, when a new house was built, a rowan was planted beside it to ward off evil spirits. The rowan was said to be wise, and was privy to everything that happened in the house. It celebrated the births and the marriages that took place, and mourned those that passed away in the house.

In the 19th century, thousands of people were evicted from their land. Others left of their own volition, seeing no future in the West of Scotland. The house would remain, and slowly fall into ruin. The rowan tree would remain, and mourn the disappearance of its inhabitants. It would recount the happiness and the sadness. And forever sigh in the wind, hoping for the people to return.

Robert Burns wrote a poem about the Rowan Tree:

The Rowan Tree.

Oh! Rowan Tree Oh! Rowan Tree!
Thou'lt aye be dear to me,
Entwined thou art wi mony ties,
O' hame and infancy.
Thy leaves were aye the first o' spring,
Thy flow'rs the simmer's pride;
There was nae sic a bonny tree
In a' the countrieside
Oh! Rowan tree!
How fair wert thou in simmer time,

Wi' a' thy clusters white
How rich and gay thy autumn dress,
Wi' berries red and bright.
On thy fair stem were many names,
Which now nae mair I see,
But they're engraven on my heart.
Forgot they ne'er can be!
Oh! Rowan tree!
We sat aneath thy spreading shade,

The bairnies round thee ran,
They pu'd thy bonny berries red,
And necklaces they strang.
My Mother! Oh, I see her still,
She smil'd oor sports to see,
Wi' little Jeanie on her lap,
And Jamie at her knee!
Oh! Rowan tree!
Oh! there arose my Father's pray'r,

In holy evening's calm,
How sweet was then my Mither's voice,
In the Martyr's psalm;
Now a' are gane! we meet nae mair
Aneath the Rowan Tree;
But hallowed thoughts around thee twine
O' hame and infancy.
Oh! Rowan tree!