Friday, 30 June 2006

NHC - Tropical weather system (Pacific)

An area of disturbed weather associated with a broad area of low pressure is centered about 1200 miles southwest of the southern tip of Baja California. This system remains well-organized and has the potential to become a tropical depression within the next 12 to 24 hours as it moves toward the west at about 15 mph.

This is in the open ocean, and does (so far) not pose a threat to land.


Problems - 2

I've got a strange favour to ask. Can anyone check if they are able to access AOL Email through their Internet Explorer browser (when not logged on to AOL), and leave me a comment. I can't, that's why, and have been unable to for a few days. AOL just give me stupid answers that don't help.


Well, it would appear that AOL have managed to pull themselves together. I am still having to run around in circles to get my pictures on the journal, and have to do it from the AOL software (which I normally don't use), but as long as it goes, it goes. What a torrid week.


Friday 30/06/06

Rain moves away overnight, leaving a bright day, with frontal cloud streaming in from the west. It's a breezy morning. I rake mrs B's grass from the backyard. At 1 pm, she, her friend and nephew as well as muggins head to the Woodlands Centre in the Castle Grounds for a spot of lunch. Have to wait in a queue for 20 minutes before we can place an order (it's very busy). I had a coronation chicken baguette, others had smoked salmon salad or a quiche. Very, very filling. So filling in fact, that supper just consisted of rolls. Coastguard reports that a group of archeologists had to be taken off Eilean Garbh in the Shiants (20 miles south of here, between Lewis and Skye). The isthmus to Eilean Tighe, where their camp is, had become flooded and they were marooned. As the accompanying pictures show, Eilean Garbh is a very inhospitable place. At 5.30, BBC On-line report that the Harris Tweed mill at Shawbost is due to be closed, with the loss of 30 jobs. KM Group boss Derick Murray (whose name is allegedly mud in the island) has stated that he'll try to reemploy these people at his one remaining mill in Stornoway. Local councillor says he's dismayed. He should be. The barge with the long turbine mast is towed out by a small tug at 8.15. Evening ends bright and sunny, with cloud streaming in again at 11pm.

Thursday 29/06/06

Another bright start to the day, which gradually turns cloudier. Temperatures reach 18C by mid-afternoon. Forecast temperatures for southern England are 34C by Sunday. We'll have a more palatable 18C. Mrs B takes unwell around midday, with a suspected TIA. I sit with her until it wears off; her nephew happens to call round too, and he joins me. By about 2pm, things start to improve, and she's happy to go out for a drive. First of all we go round to Arnish. Although 1 mile in a direct line, it is in fact a 6 mile drive by car. We are unable to see the barge sitting alongside the quayside from our position. We carry on a little way up the very rough track that leads to the Lighthouse. Then it's retracing our steps to the main road, and a 7 mile drive to Cameron Terrace (Leurbost). We can see rain moving over the hills from South Lochs. We continue west towards Achamor, then northeast, back to town. For the first 4 miles, the road rises steeply from the 108m above sealevel at Achamor to 149 m at Beinnabhuineadh, half way to the Pentland Road junction. This road is lined with small shieling huts. People used to go there "in the old days" in summer with family and a few animals, or to cut and collect peats. Only a few huts remain in a serviceable state. Peats are still cut, by a few, in May, and left out to dry. You'd be surprised to find how dry they become over a 4 month period. The Pentland Road is busy with drivers in a crashing hurry. We're taken round to a second-hand shop up Rigs Road, where mrs B wants to buy a grassrake and a bucket. I get the papers in, and we have a quiet evening. The rain starts early, at 4pm, and gets heavy. A guest comes off the 8pm ferry, and gets soaked on the 10 minute walk up from the terminal. It is very dark, and we put the lights on by 9 o'clock. The Swiss man missed his bus connection at Barvas. The bus from Ness to town is supposed to wait for the bus from the West Side, but didn't. I think he must have got a lift.

Note: I'll add the captions for the pictures later on.

Pictures 28/06/06 - retry


1 - Stornoway at 00.45
2 - The length of piping at Arnish
3 - Frontal cloud at lunchtime
4 - The busyard with widened entrance
5, 8, 9 - Welcome banner for the Hebridean Celtic Festival
6, 7 - Hanging baskets in the town
10 - Frontal cloud increased mid afternoon
11, 15 - Eveningtime: Sgoth off the CGS
12 - Yachts and the Sgoth
13, 16, 20 - 2-masted yachts
17, 18, 19 - Flowers in the boat along Newton Street

I can't add headings, so I'm doing a separate pictures heading :-(

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.

Thursday, 29 June 2006

Pictures 28/06/06

And I still cannot add pictures. We're NOT back to normal. When I try to add captions, the software stalls after the 5th pic, and I have to Ctrl-Alt-Del to crash it out. Latterly, when I try to upload pictures, it says "this feature is not available". I think I'm going to bed and see what they have managed to sort out overnight. I think the above image, taken at Achmore in Lewis, about summarises once more what my current feelings about AOL are. Icy.

Service restored to normal?

So, we're back to normal, are we? Well, it would seems so. Above feline summarises my feelings about earlier lack of service, and it's going to take some time to get my confidence back. It's been a torrid few days.

List of complaints

I can't add pictures to the journal, if YGP does get going it stalls the AOL software after editing 5 pictures.

AOL Hometown is not loading properly either, I am unable to load pictures that way.

My email account is inaccessible at times, leading to error messages and re-verification requests from those that try to reach me, which is a waste of my time and leads to a loss of faith of those concerned in me.

AOL get your act together.


Just to clear up a few things which may not be obvious to readers who recently joined me. I don't keep a B&B; mrs B, with whom I'm staying, keeps one. I'm fairly closely involved in it. I do act like an (unpaid) tourist guide, but I don't think I'd want to get paid for it. You probably think I'm mad, but that falls outside the remit of my stay in Stornoway. I've set it out a few restrictions on that for myself, to do with the background to it all. Don't wanna bore you.

I'm well p*d off with AOL, and they're lucky that I'm still paying the fees. I'm using a different ISP, which gives me none of the hassle that AOL does. I think that nightmaremom has summarized very nicely the way I feel about their service as well.

Anyway, here I am after a nice afternoon out in a car; someone drove mrs B and myself round for an hour so, just before the rain came. Had to keep an eye on that lady this morning, as she went through a TIA = transient ischemic attack. It's the brain's equivalent of angina, without the pain. Basically, you suffer the effects of a mild stroke, which then reverse back to normal. In a stroke, the effects cannot be (100%) reversed. Those with a medical background will understand, sorry if you don't.

Again, I'll post more later. This is only my second post today for reasons stated above.

Another day with AOL

It's still giving me problems, is good ole AOL. I cannot access journals from my browser, although it does work from the AOL software. Emails have the same problem. I notice that everybody is tearing their hair out over the useless service we're having right now, and the word screwy used by Joe the Journals Editor is quite appropriate. Will submit more later.

Wednesday, 28 June 2006

Wednesday 28/06/06

Awake to the sight of a large barge over at Arnish, loading a 60 m segment of pipe, which looks suspiciously like part of a windturbine tower. Very bright morning, but the clouds indicate the approach of a weatherfront from the Atlantic. Temperatures rise quickly to a maximum of 18C / 64F in the afternoon, which is very respectable for Stornoway. Clouds close in by 4pm, winds pick up and it cools down. Rain commences at 9pm. Mrs B's nephew comes to call, and he is not a happy chappy. Personal problems on top of his health ones. He takes his auntie over to the Coop for a shop, and the saying "shop until you drop" takes a different meaning there. The place bears more resemblance to a building site than a superstore, with ladders, open ceilings, trailing wires and what have you all over. Not to mention the fact that tiles are being cut with an angle-grinder (this generates dust), and there is open food like bread and meat on the shelves. This is the first week that Calmac put on 3 sailings a day on Wednesday and Friday, which will continue until September 1st. Ferry leaves at 6.15 a.m., 12.45pm and 7pm, finally to return at a quarter to one in the morning. On mrs B's behalf I welcome a gentleman from Switzerland who is here until Sunday. His luggage had gone walkabout on Monday, but he is just nipping down the airport to pick it all up. Later in the evening, he comes down for a chat and some information on his trips in the days to come. Yes, I'm turning into a bit of a tourist office here LOL. His English is not very strong, he can't follow the presenters on the weather news on BBC. They admittedly gabble. Dinner consists of a nice stirfry from the butcher's, with a caramel custard afterwards. I hop out at 8.30 pm to picture two 2-masted yachts which are coming in. In the afternoon, I went into town to buy a new notebook. Had to go through 3 shops to find what I wanted. My old one will run out in 35 pages - I'm now on page 1165.

NOTE: AOL is playing sillibuggers and I can't add pictures. Will do as soon as they let me.


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 have managed to construct an artist impression of one of these turbines (only the mast height), as they would look if constructed at the Arnish Fabrication Yard, which stands 1 mile west of here on the other side of the harbour. This will be published on the Lighthouse Blog tomorrow, and I hope it acts as an eye opener. 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.

For reference: In the picture, the "mast" stands 480 ft tall, slightly taller than the projected 450 ft of the intended turbines. The building to its left is 80 ft tall and is 1 mile distant.


AOL Live Help - don't we all love it? Today, I have been unable to access AOL emails from my Internet Explorer browser - it's still accessible from the AOL software though. The hours wore on and I still got error code C0FE1801. I checked the FAQ, and it basically means there is a systems outage. I thought I'd enquire how long it was going to last, so I went to AOL Live Help. Well, it didn't help me an ounce. It was 27 minutes of wasted time. It was totally the wrong answer and the man didn't have the foggiest what I was talking about.

Note: In an earlier version of this entry, I had copied the conversation. Decided to withdraw that, I think we've all been there.

Spam emails

I have email accounts with several on-line providers as well as AOL, and the Hotmail one attracts an inordinate amount of spam. Most of it is the usual, West African money scams, on-line pharmacies, male performance enhancement, emails from banks I am not with. What a pity this email from the IRS was also fake. I would have loved to have pocketed that $63.80 that the IRS said I was due. I have never been to the USA (it's on my list though), have therefore not worked there, and have not had dealings with the Internal Revenue Service. Ach, what a shame. LOL.

Pictures 27/06/06

As promised: entry with pictures for 27 June - YGP is suddenly working. No comment.

AOL Problems 28/06/06

Right, as we are now unable to add pictures to journals (oh for goodness' sakes), I have now decided to use the roundabout way of putting them in. Remember we can permalink to pictures and insert them straight into posts that way? Just create an album through Pictures, add pictures and select each pic individually to get its URL. Bit awkward if you have loads of pics to add, but fine as a workaround. By the way, email through the standalone browser isn't accessible either, not even through AOL Germany or France. Fantastic service we're having this week

Anyway, check out my initial entry for 27 June; I have plonked the pictures into the entry. I have steam coming out of my ears now, grrr


Tuesday 27/06/06

Bright start to the day, although cloud moves across later. The wall around the bus garage in Inaclete Road has now been pulled down and new gates were being put in this morning. Mrs B is plagued by flies in the kitchen, which come in from the backyard. The insects are attracted by the ingredients for the fruitsalad - have a look at this recipe

Boil half a pint of water with 3 ounces of sugar
Allow to cool
Add the juice of half a lemon
Add the following fruits in cubed form:


Other fruits include peaches, mangoes, papaya and pineapple. Serves 4, keeps for max 3 days, but replace the bananas after 2.

A lady arrives off the plane who is due to visit the primary school in the morning. She is pointed in the right direction. I pay a flying visit to Somerfields. I'm not venturing outside, after this morning's one hour coughing bout. Dinner tonight is sweet and sour. Mrs B was expecting a guest, who does not turn up. He had booked into a cheaper establishment, but had not bothered to cancel his first booking. Nice. He was "doing" the islands by bike. May his punctures be numerous. We've had some fun and games with cyclists this summer. Won't easily forget the wimp that buzzed off on the ferry to his wife after a wet run up from Tarbert. At least that one did cancel. Evening passes quietly.

Postscript: I was going to add pictures, but now it's AOL Pictures that's having problems. OMG. I'll alert y'all when things are back to normal. Erm, June 31st?

Postscript 2: Promised I'd insert the pictures in the entry. Too much hassle. Made a separate entry. Sorry.

Tuesday, 27 June 2006

Journal trouble - sorted

Had a message from the Journalseditor that the problems surrounding Journals have now been resolved and everything's back to normal. You can read journals and post comments as per usual.

Have a nice evening. It certainly is up here.

Journal trouble

AOL  is still experiencing major problems with the journals today. You may be unable to access journals altogether, and even if you can you may be unable to leave comments. The problem first came to light earlier today at 1100 UTC (7 am EDT), when I (in Western Europe) tried to follow alerts - and failed. Only a few journals were accessible, but no comments could be left. We're awaiting full resolution of this problem. 

NHC Special Tropical Disturbance Statement

According to satellite and radar information, a small low pressure system could be forming about 140 miles south of Cape Fear, North Carolina. This could develop into a tropical depression at any time. The system will be moving north to northeast at 15 to 20 mph.

Residents along the NC coast should closely monitor the progress of this system today, as tropical storm warnings could be required at short notice, even if this system does not form into a tropical cyclone. Showers and thunderstorms accompanied by localised heavy rainfall and strong, gusty winds will gradually spread onshore into NC today and early tonight.

Further info:

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.

Monday 26/06/06

Cloudy and cold start to the day, but very little wind. Our cyclist has gone off on the bus to the West Side. There are some clearances in the clouds. Hardly a ripple on the basin. Slowly kicking off the last of the sinusitis, yuk. Help mrs B by cleaning windows, pulling ragwort and getting some of her shopping in. The cyclist was very grateful for suggesting the bus, he had a relaxing time. The grass is being cut by mrs B's son, who has a strimmer, goggles and all the gear. Makes a difference. Notice that I've taken 500 pictures this month, and 2,130 with this camera. Extremely clear evening.

Technical Problems

I don't know if this is going to work, but I seem to be unable to access anybody's journals this morning. Anybody else got the same problem?

Monday, 26 June 2006

Photo Scavenger Hunt #81

Val's Photo Scavenger Hunt continues with the search for things that make a sound. Well, what you see in the above images was VERY noisy indeed. It was a force 12 hurricane to which I actually devoted an entire journal because it was some storm.

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.


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.


Never thought I'd end up blogging about the WC football on in Germany at the moment. The abbreviation WC is entirely appropriate.

The only team representing the United Kingdom at the championships is England. Scotland, Wales nor Northern Ireland qualified. I am just plain appalled at the stupid and bl**dy minded attitude that pervades this country at the moment. Last week, a boy of 7 and a disabled man were severely beaten for wearing an England strip on the streets of Scotland. Last night, England flags were torn down from a house in Aberdeen (Scotland) and burned. Questions are being asked of Scots people if they support England. It is such an inflammatory attitude, which has already led to violence. England represents the UK, I would think. So, I would say it is only normal that people north of the border may want to wear an England strip, have an English flag on their cars or just show support for the team. It is everybody's prerogative, obviously, to support or NOT, as the case may be.

Generally, over the years, I have grown to dislike football. I am just heartily fed up with being bombarded with one footballer's broken metatarsal, or the endless litany of excuses why the match was lost. I enjoy a good match - but I think the modern day football player is a grossly overpaid pansy.

I mentioned in yesterday's diary entry that the Portugal - Holland match was not so much notable for its 1-0 scoreline rather than the shower of yellow and red cards - 16 yellow and 4 reds. Not much of a match, and I'm determined to see nor hear anymore from the tournament. Eugh.

Third rant in 24 hours... think I'm getting it all of my chest, what's next? LOL

Noah's Ark today

I would just like to link to this entry in journal Life & Faith in Caneyhead, for this very appropriate present-day rendition of Noah's Ark. I'm sure the same would apply in the UK today...

Sunday, 25 June 2006

Sunday 25/06/06

Very quiet morning. Our two guests from yesterday go out for the day, to fly home at 6pm. They were here to attend a funeral. A cyclist checks in at 2pm, after cycling up from Tarbert, 37 miles to the south. Apart from that hill at Ardhasaig (which required a 1 mile walk up), there was no problem. It is a nice day. Tomorrow he may cycle to Carloway via the Pentland Road. It's 16 miles. Lunch at 3pm consists of a salad with ham. The Norwegian supply vessel Far Fosna departs at 3.20. She was last in on May 6th. Half an hour later, I  go out for a short stroll  towards the bottom of Miller Road, then to return to the Coastguard Station via the foreshore. The tide is out. Big navy ship still off Holm Point. At the CGS, a few sights remain of the Open Day, yesterday. Plants and flowers now fill the old boat at the junction of Newton Street and the CGS access road. The cyclist worked at Camp Zeist in Holland at the time of the Lockerbie trials, a number of years ago. It is cool outside, with an easterly wind. Visibility is good; Skye, the Shiants, Kebock Head and Applecross all stand out clearly. Cloud retreats west, leaving a deep blue sky, of a hue I have rarely seen here before. Watch the disgraceful football match between Portugal and Holland (1-0), which is also noted for 16 yellow cards and 4 red cards. Why am I no longer watching this tournament? Eugh. A Royal Navy minesweeper, M352, heads out after fixing its problems. She signals to the larger vessel off Holm.


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.

Right, that was another rant. Sorry. It's now 10.55 pm, still very light up here on a cloudless night. It will not get dark tonight, and by 3.15 am, the light will start to return again. Today's diary entry will follow.

Tropical weather system - Florida

A broad area of low pressure stretches from the Straits of Florida to the Carolinas. There is a chance this could develop into a tropical depression; even if this does not happen, the low pressure area is still expected to bring heavy showers and scattered thunderstorms to the Florida peninsula and coasts through North Carolina. The heaviest storms are located over the Florida Keys.

Commercial breakdowns

I am going to have a rant here.


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.

End of rant.

Why Blackhouse?

A few comments asked why a blackhouse was called a blackhouse. Just quoting from this article on the Am Baile [The Village] website:

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'.

Previous entry

Just need to point out that I was forced to save the Lewis Blackhouse entry early, because of AOHell. I since added a few pictures. I also found there were a few mistakes in the first save, so better re-read.

The Lewis Blackhouse

This week's Photo Scavenger hunt #80 by Val and Krissy has as its theme out-of-date, old, or antique. I had to think about this for a while, not realising that the theme is all around me in the island.

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.

Saturday, 24 June 2006

Saturday 24/06/06

Fairly bright start to the day, cold is a lot better thanks. Showers pop up, but nothing to worry about. As yet. There is an open day for emergency services over a thte Coastguard Station, between 1.00 and 4.30pm. This includes the Coastguard Tug, which lies moored at no 3 pier. I go out just after 1pm, on time to watch the CG helicopter land. It's getting quite busy, and I join a queue to view the helicopter inside. There are loads of kids about. Available for viewing are a fire-engine, an aireport fire tender, ambulance - and of course the kids love to set off the sirens. After a while, a yellow air ambulance comes in to land. It's surprisingly spacious - relatively speaking. The SSPCA has a stand, the police is there with the Padded Man, giving everyone who wants a chance to have a bash. One young boy breaks down in tears at the sight of someone being hit, and the policeman agrees it's not nice to hit people. I have a wee chat with the Navy bomb disposal unit. They have a bomb standing by to be exploded. Apparently at least two pieces of live ordnance are being dragged out of the sea by fishermen around Britain's coast every month. Diving gear from today and yesteryear is on show. The coastguard's garage has all its gear on show. Inside the Station, there is a room full of posters and leaflets from organisations like SEPA. Upstairs, I visit the heart of the Station: The Ops Room. Four people man consoles, which show detailed maps of the area. A warning is being broadcast on channel 16 that an explosion will occur in Stornoway Harbour in 15 minutes' time - at 2.15. The clocks inside the room all show GMT, so it's easy to think it's only just after 1pm. All shipping should avoid the area. A dinghy is out there, prepping the bomb. A five-minute charge is set on it. Meanwhile, a Coastguard explains that the operational area for Stornoway extends to 61 degrees North (we're on 58) and 15 degrees West (we're on 7). The western boundary is shared with the US and Canadian coastguards. Head out at 2.15 to witness the big bang. We are duly warned that the bang will occur in 1 minute - not quite.


A spout of water jumps in the air. The coastguard boats leave their guard stations, which they had to assume to stop anyone entering the port. Next, I join the queue for a can of coke (60p). Then, it's on to the SAR exercise. Two man "have gone overboard". The lifeboat rushes to the rescue. A flare has been let off to mark their position. The two are retrieved in about 5 minutes. With the water temperature at 9C, you have 10 to 60 minutes to live. After this, I drift off to no 3 pier to view the tug. The Anglian Prince is a large vessel, with a very awkward gangway. Am allowed on to the wheelhouse. One of the crew discovers that a wee girl has managed to break the radar console. The tug escorts tankers through the narrows of the Minch, tows anything the lifeboat can't handle. The events were well attended, and Newton Street was packed with parked cars. A shuttlebus was available to go between the two sites. I miss the final flypast by a Navy Nimrod; it flies over very low, then roars away into the clouds. Meanwhile, mrs B's son has been preparing to put the wee boat in the water, which he finally does with the aid of his uncle's landrover and one of his boys and his pals. Before that, they consume a mountain of pancakes. Dinner is a large sirloin steak with sautéed potatoes, onions, broccoli and cauliflower. It's been a very good day, with plenty of sunshine and warm breezes. The evening closes with the sea as smooth as a mirror. The wee boat is pottering about around the basin and the inner harbour. The Atlantic and the Pacific are beginning to flex their muscles, with a few embryo weather systems that could grow into something nasty.

NOTE: The pictures from the Open Day are included in a separate entry.

Pictures of the Open Day

Apologies for the picture-less previous entry. Try again. AOHell, grrrrr.



A few days ago, I relayed a request for support for the lady who writes the blog Damaged Goods. She is now discharged home from hospital, but methinks support is still required, judging by the most recent entry.

Tropical weather systems - Atlantic

I am currently monitoring two weather systems in the Atlantic, which have NOT yet reached tropical depression status. One is located near the Bahamas, the other is 900 miles to the east of these islands. Both systems are drifting westnorthwest at 10 mph, and have the potential to develop into tropical depressions.

Anyone living in an area known to be affected by tropical hurricanes should closely monitor the output from the National Hurricane Center in Miami. You get the latest updates from; ideally through an RSS-feed.

Once a tropical depression, storm or hurricane forms, the NHC will issue public advisories on conditions to be expected and action to be taken, and also in which areas. These advisories are updated every 3 to 6 hours, or more frequently if conditions warrant. Separately, forecasts, graphics and wind predictions are also supplied through the same channel.

If you read this and know people living in a hurricane danger zone, please make them aware of this advice. It could save their lives.

Emergency Services Open Day 2006

Today, there is an Open Day at Stornoway Coastguard Station for all the emergency services. Twenty-eight organisations will be there, the Coastguard helicopter will be on the ground and open for viewing, and the Coastguard tug is also in port, open for visit. I'm going down there later this afternoon and will report in this blog. Meanwhile, have a look at

Friday 23/06/06

The workmen snore monumentally during the night, and require some knocking on their door to wake up. It's not until 6.50 that they drive off to the ferry, which is scheduled to depart at 7.15. Normally, you'd have to report your vehicle before 6.30, ahem. Anyway, I have breakfast a little later, as mrs B's helper comes round. There are 3 beds to be changed and 2 rooms to be cleaned. A French fishingboat calls in for a crew change at 10.15, to depart again at 12.15. Not much later, a Coastguard vehicle comes racing down from the station with blue lights flashing, to hare up Island Road. At 2pm, a Royal Navy Bomb Squad comes trundling down the Goat Island access road. A navy boat is bobbing about in Glumag Harbour. The weather is iffy today. The Coastguard report that 11 ships were detained in UK ports last months. Any ship calling into any port in the world can be inspected for technical deficiencies. If they are severe, i.e. potentially putting the crew's or passengers' safety in jeopardy, the ship can be detained. One cruiseliner, the Vistamar, was detained for 9 days with 26 deficiencies, such as unseaworthy tenders and a dirty engineroom. One ship was finally released from detention earlier this year after being held for 3 years. She was allowed out for a one-way trip to the scrapyard. Mrs B goes to the chemist to get me some decongestant nosedrops, as I'm feeling very grotty today. A box or two of Fisherman's Friend lozenges are guaranteed to blast anybody's airways clean. Dinner is chicken tikka massala. Am a bit miffed at, who allow spam to sit on their board but scrub my perfectly valid messages off.

Friday, 23 June 2006

Rock Ness

For fear of boring everybody to tears, another irrelevant snippet of news from the North of Scotland. World famous DJ Fat Boy Slim (quote from Radio nan Gael: Who is he?) is hosting a concert on the shores of Loch Ness at the village of Dores, south of Inverness tomorrow. The gig is expected to draw about 20,000 pop fans. Who will have a whale (or should I say: monster) of a time, wallowing through mud whilst listening to music. The B862, which leads from Inverness to Dores, was quiet today, but punctuated by yellow notices about parking and camping. It is not your average pop venue, but perhaps all the more memorable for it.


I am passing a couple of numerical landmarks with some of my Internet activities this week.

1 - My webcam has been viewed more than 20,000 times since I set it up on December 14, 2005

2 - I am going to pass 100 entries on this blog this month, June 2006

3 - The number of views of this blog since October 2004 will exceed 6,000

4 - I have made 150 entries on the VisitHebrides message board, helping prospective visitors to the Outer Isles. I have received a few emails of thanks for that - yes, I am flying my own flag.

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.


Well, the local Health Board, eh? That is a cesspit, no mistake.

The Lighthouse blog features quite a few entries on it, and reactions on it have been increasing hostile. The very first entry on the subject, dating back to last December, gives a flavour of what is (allegedly LOLOL) going on.

The issue of service reforms in the NHS in the Western Isles has dominated the news over the past few weeks. Without boring readers to tears, there are a few issues that influence the NHS in the Western Isles. First of all, only 26,500 people live between Ness and Mingulay. There has to be a fully equipped health service on the islands, in order to cope with any immediate emergency. We have a largish hospital in Stornoway, a medium sized one on Benbecula and a small unit in Barra.
It is common practice for complicated cases to be flown out to major centres like Inverness and Glasgow. Health professionals, such as doctors, have to maintain and expand their skills, and to that end usually rotate through different hospitals over a period of years. Because complicated cases are not normally treated at Stornoway (or Benbecula or Barra), there is little professional incentive for doctors to come here. In other words, it is desperately difficult to attract professional staff. The same applies to other health professionals, like nurses.

The Health Board has therefore been forced to get the necessary staff in as locums. These can cost as much as £70 an hour, and if they are on call (i.e. available to work, but not necessarily on the job), that can mount up.
At the moment, there is a vacancy for a psychiatrist after the previous consultant retired on December 6th. He announced his retirement in July, but the Board never took action until much later than that. The result is that no-one has as yet been found to replace the consultant in question, and another locum is probably going to be employed. At a considerable cost.

So, the NHS Board in the Western Isles decided on service reform to address this problem. In consultation with staff, the Board reached the conclusion that closing a ward, to release nurses for duties elsewhere in the NHS (not necessarily in hospital), would be a good idea. And that skills and responsibilities would be shared out to lower grades of professional staff than before. Training would be provided where necessary. An example: a general surgeon can be expected to perform a caesarian section. Psychiatric emergencies are expected to be dealt with (out of hours) by a community psychiatric nurse and a GP. Still with me?

Second problem is a serious breakdown in communication between management and staff. Allegations of bullying and harassment have been flying around, and are currently being investigated. People felt so intimidated and brow-beaten that they did not feel able to speak to their manager about any concerns or misgivings regarding the current round of reorganisations. They felt able to speak to anyone, apart from the management of NHS Western Isles. As a result, local councillors organised a meeting on November 30 for staff to air their grievances. And air they did. It was a damning indictment of the Health Board, which has been widely reported in the press. The Health Board itself put its case to the public the next day. When the opportunity arose for questions, several people voiced their concerns over service cuts and the problem of staff morale. The Chief Executive himself did not acknowledge or respond to the criticism - he mutely passed it on to one of his medical directors to answer. It was this same Medical Director who has gone on record today (16th December) as saying that any more criticism of the health board may well lead to its abolition. In other words, criticism is not allowed. That is also bullying. The Scottish Health Minister, Andy Kerr, has said that he is not interested in the bullying allegations. Whilst these in themselves may justly be seen as a purely internal matter, they very seriously undermine the credibility of the health board when it states that the proposed service changes were made in proper consultation with staff. It is speaking volumes that grievances can only be aired in public meetings, at the instigation of local councillors. Under normal circumstances, this should be thrashed out internally without the need to hang out all the dirty washing.

The third problem that surfaced were the facilities offered to Health Board managers not to have to live in the islands, but being able to commute from and to the mainland at the tax payers' expense. They were held not to contribute to the island's economy in a direct sense. Unfortunately, it would appear that (unlike e.g. elected representatives, such as councillors) Health Board managers are appointed, and are not accountable to the public they serve.

The hospital in Stornoway has always been 'of the people', built with the money of the people of Lewis and Harris. People are very proud of their hospital, and feel strongly about cutbacks in services.

To me, as onlooker, this smacks of an old attitude that used to be around in these islands. It reminds me of "A Shilling for your Scowl" i.e. do not criticise the man in the Big House - Laird knows best. It is an attitude I've never understood, yet it does keep rearing its ugly head.

I thought we had gone into the 21st century, not still stuck in the 19th.

Tropical system - Atlantic

A broad and disorganised area of low pressure is centered a few hundred miles northeast of the Bahamas. The system will drift westnorthwest, and may develop slowly in the course of the next few days. At this stage, the low pressure area is well short of being a tropical depression. Further updates as I get them.

Thursday 22/06/06

Got up for breakfast at 9.20. It's a dry and cloudy morning, yet fairly bright. There was a possibility of a tropical depression forming out in the Pacific, but the chance of that happening has receded. Whatever you do, don't buy canned spicy parsnip soup. It's spicy, but otherwise tasteless. After lunch, I go for a walk. Go down Inaclete Road, where they are replacing kerbstones. They have lowered them in front of the piece of wall that is going to be pulled down. Up Lewis Street all the way to Bayhead. The riverlevel has gone up with all the recent rains. Walk into the Castle Grounds to Cuddy Point. The clock in the Town Hall strikes 3pm. At Cuddy Point, new gates have been erected. Rhodondendrons line the route further south to the Creed River. A new seat has been erected at the mouth of the river. When I pass Sober Island, a training yacht can be seen manoeuvring alongside Muirneag. At the Lookout Point, a new, rough-hewn wooden bench has been erected, saving people from having to climb up the wee hill. After the usual twists and turns, I finally come out at the mouth of the Creed River. Big blobs of foam float in the water. The fountain by the bridge is in full flow too, but the water has this horrible sulphurous taste. It's getting increasingly muggy as I return towards town. When I pass the Woodlands Centre, the Town Hall clock strikes 4pm. Return to Somerfields via Kenneth Street. Notice the chairman of the Health Board standing on the pavement at James Street, waiting for a lift. I'm glad to be out of Somerfields, it was warm and close in there. Back at mrs B's, I take a shower and a change of clothes. Feel knackered. Read in the local press about yet another misdeed by the local Health Board management - they held a secret meeting over in Barvas, excluding several critical members. Although staff issues were being discussed, the personnel director was not there. Anyone who says it was anything else but an innocuous meeting between individual Board members can expect action to be taken - read: be taken to court for defamation. This includes the Stornoway Gazette. The Lighthouse Blog too has had an anonymous threat to that effect. Supper was currie. I go to bed at 10 o'clock, was too knackered. We have 3 guests in: a lawyer and two workers from a Glasgow company. The latter return from an evening out at 12.30, much the worst for wear, sticking their heads down the toilet.

Note about the pictures: You may find some of the pictures hazy. The light conditions this afternoon were very difficult. The sky was very bright, but because there was no direct sunlight it was relatively dark under the trees.

Thursday, 22 June 2006

Missing fishermen; body of one found

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.

Small Isles

Earlier today, I mentioned the Small Isles, see the map above. Canna had that funny story about the ratters, I have some funny but also tragic stories from other islands in the group. More than enough, actually, to fill an entire blog with. But as I consider myself to be under an Outer Hebrides remit I'll restrict myself.

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.

How much are you worth?

I am worth $1,385,032 on

Now, come on, show some guts and do this test. You don't have to answer all the questions, but it's a laugh. Oh, I disagree with the way they rate certain aspects, grrrr.

Tropical weather system (3)

The National Hurricane Center have revised their forecast for the tropical weather system at 15 N, 115 W in the Eastern Pacific. It is no longer likely to develop into a tropical depression.

Canna, and John Lorne Campbell

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

Wednesday, 21 June 2006

Wednesday 21/06/06 - p.m.

After lunchtime, the showers that showed on the Atlantic radar move across the island. The heavy weather is wreaking havoc around Barra. A number of yachts engaged in a race get into difficulty and call on the Coastguard for assistance. One yacht lost its sail and had to be towed into Castlebay by the lifeboat. Another yacht ran aground at Vatersay, just to the south. And people who were ringing birds on Dun, south of St Kilda, had to be airlifted to mainland St Kilda. Their tents were blown away in the gales and had been without much food or water for two days. It was impossible for the lifeboat to approach Dun. What??? The lifeboat CAN'T go somewhere??? Wow!!! The cancellation of the Small Isles ferry out of Mallaig means that the reburial of John Lorne Campbell on Canna has had to be postponed. JLC was the proprietor of Canna between 1938 and 1996. He was buried in Italy, but to prevent his remains being interred in a communal grave, the National Trust for Scotland had arranged this re-internment on Canna. His wife, Margaret Fay-Shaw, who died in 2004, is buried in South Uist. Back in 1924, she went on a cycling holiday there. Weather continuing very changeable. Mrs B's cooker is fixed, but the wall behind it is unsuitable for public viewing. It's the solstice, but nobody here will be able to see anything of the sun.

Tropical weather system (2)

The weather system in the Pacific I wrote about last night seems to be less inclined to develop further into a tropical depression, although the NHC still reckons it may do so in the next few days.

Gales (4)

As I'm writing this, the worst of Thursday's [12th January] gale appears to be over. Mind you, a force 9 gale with hurricane force gusts is quite severe. But the previous 2 gales were just as bad. Driving rain, treacherous gusts around buildings in the town, and on exposed routes. Spoke to a visitor in the town this morning who said he was heading for Harris. My response was to be careful in Balallan as it's binday there on a Thursday. Just over a year ago, I was heading down through the village on a bus in the middle of a gale on a Thursday. We had to slow right down and dodge all the bins that had been strewn all over the road.
I am, amongst other things, an amateur weather man and find this severe weather very interesting indeed. I post my observations on an internet site called Metcheck. Anyone can post there, you don't need instruments although it is helpful. So, there I am, relaying observations and readings to everybody in the country (and beyond) that wants to know. Judging by the number of hits on the webcam this week, people are interested in our lively weather. It's not nice to be out and about, it disrupts transport etc.

In the spring of 2005, I went out walking often to Glen Langadale, 3 miles west of the Stornoway - Tarbert road on the Lewis / Harris border. Having forded the Langadale river, I climbed the path which leads west towards Loch Bhoisimid. Instead of carrying on to the loch, I went north, up the slopes of a hill called Rapaire. It's not terribly high, about 1,500 feet, but offers some very good views of the Langadale mountains, as well as Loch Langabhat. On the day, a force 6 southwesterly wind was carrying showers in from the Atlantic. The clouds were scurrying along at about 2,000 feet, not far above my head. It was absolutely stunning to sit in a high place and see the weather passing by, only half a mile away. It's something you can't describe - you have to experience it. The mountain hare that lolloped away on my approached topped the bill.

The image below shows Glen Langadale from Mullach an Langa. Rapaire is the hill to the left of centre. Loch Langabhat lies below to the right.

Glen Langadale has some very nice mountain scenery. I believe the path from Bogha Glas has been improved recently, and there is talk that the bridge across the Langadale River is to be rebuilt. You can access some pretty high mountains from that valley, without too great an exertion. In April 2005, I climbed Teileasbhal, 697 m or 2300 feet above sealevel. You scramble up Gil Slipir - there is supposed to be a path. From the pass below Stulabhal, you can walk up the hill to the left and carry on along a high ridge to Teileasbhal. From Teileasbhal, it should be possible to proceed to the next summit, Uisgneabhal Mor, but that is along a very exposed ridge.

Near the summit of Teileasbhal

Looking west at Sron Scourst

Gales (3)

Writing this on Wednesday morning [11 January], which appears to be fairly calm. If look at the diary entries for yesterday and Monday, they are full of references to high winds. The strongest winds experienced yesterday was a hurricane force gust, 70 mph, towards midnight. That was nothing compared to the winds out on North Rona, some 60 miles to the north. At 9pm, they had sustained winds of 75 mph and gusts up to 111 mph. Still, not as serius as last year's hurricane when gusts went up to 134 mph. In the Western Isles, this sort of thing is not as rare as elsewhere in the UK. Yesterday evening, police relayed a warning through local radio for severe weather.

The advice was for people to take care.
Not undertake journeys or go outside unless absolutely essential
Keep an emergency pack ready containing a torch, a battery powered radio, candles, matches, canned food (in case of powercuts).
Continue to listen to local radio for further advice

The danger in high winds is not just being blown over, but also flying debris. During the hurricane last year, police stopped traffic after a lorry driver reported a sheep flying past his windscreen. A resident of Stornoway contacted the local radiostation, Isles FM, to ask an appeal for the owner of the gardenpond that was sitting in his yard - and it wasn't his! More seriously, the hurricane struck late afternoon, and people in the town had a job keeping their footing.
The worst incident took place further south, on the causeway linking South Uist to Benbecula. Five people drowned, when their cars were swept off the causeway by a stormsurge. They had fled their homes, which were pelted by pebbles from the sea, to shelter with relatives on Benbecula. Two of the casualties were young children; their parents and grandfather also perished. The funerals were attended by 1,500. Five hundred packed in the church, a further 1,000 listened outside to the service being relayed on loudspeakers. To put this figure in perspective, the total population of the area is 5,000. Damage as a result of the January 2005 hurricane was estimated between £5m and £15m. The causeways took a hammering, and have been rendered passable. But I am advised that much of the damage still needs to be repaired. Had this hurricane happened in a more populous area of Scotland or England, the damage would have been repaired within a month.

That is actually the problem from a political standpoint. The Western Isles have a population of 26,500 and one MP, as well as an MSP (Member of Scottish Parliament). The current MP is Angus Brendan MacNeil, a Scottish National Party MP. Although I have seen some good work from his part, the unfortunate thing is that the SNP is not taken very seriously down in Westminster, and therefore may not have the leverage. And he is a lone voice.

It's now just after 10 a.m., and heavy showers are sweeping in across the island. The forecast is for gale number 3 to appear on the scene later this afternoon or on Thursday. Gale number 4 is pencilled in for Saturday.

If you're in the islands: keep safe.

Gales (2)

On the day [10 January] we're having the second gale this week (two more forecast after this one), I thought I'd give some space to navigational aids. Arnish Lighthouse is featured in the header of this blog, but there are a few more round the island.
This is Tiumpan Head Lighthouse, at the northeastern extremity of Point

Everyone that has ever sailed between Ullapool and Stornoway will be familiar with it, and (if journeyed after dark) its two flashes every 20 seconds. Nice view from the hilltop behind it, over Portnaguran, Port Mholair, Aird and the villages across Broadbay. The buildings associated with the lighthouses in the UK are no longer required for keepers, as all lighthouses are now automated. A lighthouse keeper's cottage at Eshaness in Shetland is a summer home to an excentric American writer. The cottage at Tiumpan is home to a kennels and cattery.
The most famous lighthouse in Lewis is the Butt of Lewis lighthouse.

Very interesting place actually. The rocks that appear on the surface here are a mere 3,000,000,000 years old. Lewisian gneiss. The formations you see in the offshore skerries (off which I have not got a picture - yet) show the folding of the very earth itself under forces we cannot begin to imagine. Be very careful here. Before you know it, you stand on the edge of a 120 feet high precipice. The little cairn CANNOT be reached. It's a magnificent place in a gale

but don't venture near the edge of a precipice in those conditions. People are known to come to grief - a little way west of the lighthouse stands the demure memorial cross to someone who went over the edge, apparently during a ballgame.

Gales (1)

Severe weather is part of life in the islands. Yesterday (June 20th) was pretty atrocious; today (21st) it has shifted south, fortunately. Back in January 2006, we had a week of gales. I'll copy the entries from the Lighthouse Blog from that time, to give you a flavour.

Today, 9 January, is another red letter day for weather watchers in the Western Isles. A severe gale is howling through Stornoway as I type (midday), with gusts approaching force 11. There is heavy rain, the ferry didn't sail at 7.15 this morning and all manner of vessel is coming into port for shelter. What I do on a day like that is submit frequent reports on Metcheck, using data from the Met Office and my own eyes. The webcam showed this image just now:

Unfortunately, it does not adequately show the crests on the waves in the Newton basin.
Mind you, it could be worse. Just now I found this stunning image of Hurricane Emily, which battered the Caribbean in the summer of 2005, taken from space.

What annoys me at a time like this is the lack of interest from south of the border. Shortly after Christmas, there was a bit of snow in southern England. Hundreds of people on the Internet messageboards (like Metcheck) yapping on about the time "their" snow would appear. The moment it did appear, there were howls of despair over the disruption it caused. Similarly with the gales. Yep, the 1987 hurricane in southern England was severe. But so was the one in January 2005 in the Western Isles. It barely got a mention on the national news bulletins, even though 5 people lost their lives and there was a lot of damage.
OK, end of wail. I'll continue to enjoy the wild weather for now.

Wednesday 21/06/06 - morning

After a wild start to the day, just after midnight, the weather calms down. A friendly sun shines upon us at midday, but heavy rain, galeforce winds and stormforce gusts only 50 miles away. Have a look at the satellite and rainfall imagery from 12.30 today, above. The Central Belt [Glasgow / Edinburgh] is getting a walloping this morning. Looking at the latest weather reports, the barometer readings here (983 mbar) are the lowest in the country, which follows if you see the satellite image. The depression is sitting overhead. Ferries out of Mallaig and Oban are severely disrupted. Just after 1pm, Muirneag appears on the southeastern horizon, nearly 5 hours late.

Below a list of the cancellations to Caledonian MacBrayne sailings, as of 1 pm:

Today's 1340 sailing to Barra (including a planned addtional leg to Uist after yesterday's cancellation) has also been cancelled due to adverse weather. Next sailings are tomorrow (Thursday) at 0830 to Barra, and 1530 to Barra and Uist.

The 15.30 sailing to Colonsay from Oban has had to be cancelled due to weather. Next service is as scheduled ex Oban 09.00 Thursday

Claonaig service

Due to adverse weather conditions the 1200m hrs ex Lochranza and 1235 ex Claonaig have been cancelled.  The service will resume at 1315 hrs ex Lochranza weather permitting.  We apologise for any inconvenience this may have caused.

Mallaig-Small Isles service will be reviewed on an hourly basis with a view to there being moderation in the weather, will update at approx. 1015h. Still no moderation with the weather will update at 1130h re. a possible sailing today. Will update at midday! Update at 1300h, still no improvement with the weather. Contact Mallaig for further info. 01687 462403

Mallaig-Armadale service
The 0810h ex Mallaig and 0850h ex Armadale have been cancelled due to adverse weather. Will update at 0900h re the 0935h sailing. The 0935h ex Mallaig and 1015h ex Armadale are also cancelled. Update at 1030h. The 1055h/1135h departures are also cancelled, will update at midday re the 1215h sailing. The 1215h/1255h departures are also cancelled, will update at 1300h re the 1335h sailing. The 1335h/1415h departures are also cancelled, the 1455h/1535h are also extrmely doubtful the earliest sailing if at all will maybe be at 1615h. Will update later.

Brodick - Ardrossan
Due to adverse weather the 0820Hrs ex Brodick has been diverted to Gourock. The 0900hrs and 1230 hrs sailings ex Ardrossan and the 1030hrs and 1105 hrs sailings ex Brodick have been cancelled.  A decision will be made at 1300hrs regarding the 1330hrs sailing ex Ardrossan.  We apologise for any inconvenience caused.

Tuesday, 20 June 2006

Tropical weather systems

The American National Hurricane Center is confidently predicting the formation of a tropical cyclone in the Pacific, at latitude 15 N and longitude 115 W, 800 miles southwest of Baja California. The system is as yet below the threshold for it to become a tropical depression, but looks likely to pass that marker on Wednesday or Thursday. Current movement is Westwards, at 10 mph, in other words out into the open ocean. Will update if further significant developments occur.

Tuesday 20/06/06

After midnight, I went out for another amble to the Coastguard Station. Temperature dropped away quite sharply between 11.45 and 1.00 am - it's only 5C. It is cloudless and windless, with hardly a ripple on the water. What a contrast 9 hours later, when cloud has moved in, wind has picked up and rain starts to chuck down. The older couple leave on the lunchtime ferry today. They don't appear to have had a very good time in the islands; weather has been bad, and yesterday's trip round the West Side was a failure, after they didn't realise that the wee red minibus at Carloway was the one they were supposed to have taken. I did write down - change into MINIBUS. The Coastguard down in Barra have sent a lifeboat to the aid of a yacht with difficulties, but nothing major appears to have been the case. Weather turns nasty during the afternoon. Winds of force 6 to 7, with gusts to force 9 further south. Up here, it's only barely touching force 8. Venture out into the driving rain at 3pm, by which time the coastguard helicopter is out over the harbour and the town. Visibility is very poor indeed. Somerfields is full of wet and miserable shoppers. The rain continues unabated until 7 pm, after which we get a 2 hour dry spell. The sun even comes out. Wind and rain return with a vengeance at 10 o'clock. It's dark "early" tonight.

Support needed

Many of you are readers of Damaged Goods, but if you didn't get the alert: pay a visit. She's had to go to hospital after days of discomfort and pain. With thanks to Sugar.

Hapless drunk

This story had me falling about laughing today.

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.

No Eitsal no signal

That is about the level of service I am getting on my Virgin Mobile phone. The obvious reply to this complaint would be to change to a different provider. But I just want to demonstrate what mobile phone companies are like when there is not a lot of money to be made.

When I first came to Lewis in November 2004, I stayed in the small village of Kershader, South Lochs. From my position overlooking Loch Erisort, I just about did not have a signal. If I did get signal, it rarely lasted for longer than 15 seconds. To the despair of those who tried to get hold of me. Only SMS messages worked. I'll never forget the evening in early February 2005, when I needed to call someone, and had to make notes. Off I went to the phonebox. I could here the person on the other end of the line perfectly, but they could hardly hear me. I had to ring off and call back - from the mobile. I had to trudge up the hill towards Garyvard. At the highest point stands a stile, for stepping over a fence. I sat down, in a cold breeze, with a notepad, pen, torch (this was 9.45 pm) and the mobile pressed to my ear, as the wind made a lot of noise that night. For about 15 minutes, I conducted an interview out in the open air, with cars roaring past. At that location, I had a perfect view of the hill of Eitsal, pictured above, where the main transmitters are located.
Shortly after that, I relocated to Stornoway, where transmitters are positioned in the town, so no problems there. I started to make trips all over the island, and found that there was no signal anywhere on the west side, east of Carloway. Great Bernera and to a lesser extent Uig do have some coverage.
The funny thing is that other operators do have a fairly extensive network of transmitters. Closest to Kershader, there is a small relay mast at Laxay, across Loch Erisort, which carries other providers. Why can't companies talk to each other and share transmitters? Huh?

Monday 19/06/06

Still wet this morning, but my cold has cleared up it would seem. The weather shows no sign of improvement for the rest of the week. A sailing yacht leaves port, which is a training vessel for teenagers - the Eastend Endeavour. The ferry is an hour late coming in, just after 2pm. This morning she was an hour late leaving for Ullapool. Went into the library to correct the list of names of people on the Iolaire. I also pop into a small exhibition by the Stornoway Historical Society (irreverently referred to as the hysterical society by some, tut). It's raining on and off, but fortunately, the sun does come out later in the evening. By sunset, 10.36 pm, it's still very clear and light. Go for a walk round to Goat Island and into town between 11.10 and 11.45. Great pictures to be had. Supper was left-over lasagna from yesterday - still very good.

Two days short of solstice

Just wanted to share these piccies, which I took tonight (June 19th) at around 11.30pm.

Pictures 19 and 20 were taken around 1 a.m., 90 minutes later.

Monday, 19 June 2006

Lightning safety

Came across this page regarding lightning safety on the National Weather Service page. Cautions apply to anyone, not just those in the USA.

Summer is the peak season for one of the nation's deadliest weather phenomena— lightning. Safeguarding U.S. residents from dangerous lightning is the goal of this Website. The campaign is designed to lower lightning death and injury rates and America's vulnerability to one of nature's deadliest hazards.

In the United States, an average of 66 people are killed each year by lightning. In 2004, there were 32 deaths attributed to lightning, down from 44 thanks in part to increased education and safety. In 2005, there were at least 43 deaths confirmed deaths and 172 confirmed injuries. The injury number is likely far lower than it should be because many people do not seek help or doctors do not record it as a lightning injury.

People struck by lightning suffer from a variety of long-term, debilitating symptoms, including memory loss, attention deficits, sleep disorders, numbness, dizziness, stiffness in joints, irritability, fatigue, weakness, muscle spasms, depression, and an inability to sit for long.

Lightning—The Underrated Killer

In the United States, there are an estimated 25 million cloud-to-ground lightning flashes each year. Lightning can be fascinating to watch, but it is also extremely dangerous. During the past 30 years, lightning killed an average of 67 people per year in the United States based on documented cases. This is more than the average of 65 deaths per year caused by tornadoes and the average of 16 deaths per year caused by hurricanes. However, because lightning usually claims only one or two victims at a time, and because lightning does not cause the mass destruction left in the wake of tornadoes or hurricanes, lightning generally receives much less attention than the more destructive weather-related killers. While documented lightning injuries in the United States average about 300 per year, undocumented injuries caused by lightning are likely much higher.

Lightning Safety Awareness: Education is Key

Few people really understand the dangers of lightning. Many people don't act promptly to protect their lives, property and the lives of others because they don't understand all the dangers associated with thunderstorms and lightning. The first step in solving this problem is to educate people so that they become aware of the behavior that puts them at risk of being struck by lightning, and to let them know what they can do to reduce that risk. Coaches and other adults who make decisions affecting the safety of children must understand the dangers of lightning.

Watch for Developing Thunderstorms

Thunderstorms are most likely to develop on warm summer days and go through various stages of growth, development and dissipation. On a sunny day, as the sun heats the air, pockets of warmer air start to rise in the atmosphere. When this air reaches a certain level in the atmosphere, cumulus clouds start to form. Continued heating can cause these clouds to grow vertically upward in the atmosphere into "towering cumulus" clouds. These towering cumulus may be one of the first indications of a developing thunderstorm.

The Lightning Discharge: Don't Be a Part of It

During a thunderstorm, each flash of cloud-to-ground lightning is a potential killer. The determining factor on whether a particular flash could be deadly depends on whether a person is in the path of the lightning discharge. In addition to the visible flash that travels through the air, the current associated with the lightning discharge travels along the ground. Although some victims are struck directly by the main lightning stroke, many victims are struck as the current moves in and along the ground. While virtually all people take some protective actions during the most dangerous part of thunderstorms, many leave themselves vulnerable to being struck by lightning as thunderstorms approach, depart, or are nearby.

An Approaching Thunderstorm: When to Seek Safe Shelter

Lightning can strike as far as 10 miles away from the rain area in a thunderstorm. That's about the distance you can hear thunder. When a storm is 10 miles away, it may even be difficult to tell a storm is coming.


The first stroke of lightning is just as deadly as the last. If the sky looks threatening, take shelter before hearing thunder.

The 30-30 Rule

Use the 30-30 rule where visibility is good and there is nothing obstructing your view of the thunderstorm. When you see lightning, count the time until you hear thunder. If that time is 30 seconds or less, the thunderstorm is within 6 miles of you and is dangerous. Seek shelter immediately. The threat of lightning continues for much longer period than most people realize. Wait at least 30 minutes after the last clap of thunder before leaving shelter. Don't be fooled by sunshine or blue sky!

If it is cloudy or objects are obscuring your vision, get inside immediately. It is always safer to take precautions than to wait.

Outdoor Activities: Minimize the Risk of Being Struck

Most lightning deaths and injuries in the United States occur during the summer months when the combination of lightning and outdoor summertime activities reaches a peak. During the summer, people take advantage of the warm weather to enjoy a multitude of outdoor recreational activities. Unfortunately, those outdoor recreational activities can put them at greater risk of being struck by lightning. People involved in activities such as boating, swimming, fishing, bicycling, golfing, jogging, walking, hiking, camping, or working out of doors all need to take the appropriate actions in a timely manner when thunderstorms approach. Where organized sports activities take place, coaches, umpires, referees, or camp counselors must protect the safety of the participants by stopping the activities sooner, so that the participants and spectators can get to a safe place before the lightning threat becomes significant. To reduce the threat of death or injury, those in charge of organized outdoor activities should develop and follow a plan to keep participants and spectators safe from lightning.

Indoor Activities: Things to Avoid

Inside homes, people must also avoid activities which put their lives at risk from a possible lightning strike. As with the outdoor activities, these activities should be avoided before, during, and after storms. In particular, people should stay away from windows and doors and avoid contact with anything that conducts electricity. People may also want to take certain actions well before the storm to protect property within their homes, such as electronic equipment.

Helping a Lightning Strike Victim

If a person is struck by lightning, medical care may be needed immediately to save the person's life. Cardiac arrest and irregularities, burns, and nerve damage are common in cases where people are struck by lightning. However, with proper treatment, including CPR if necessary, most victims survive a lightning strike, although the long-term effects on their lives and the lives of family members can be devastating.


Lightning is a dangerous threat to people in the United States, particularly those outside in the summer. With common sense, we can greatly reduce the number of lightning deaths. When thunderstorms threaten, get to a safe place, stay there longer than you think you need to, stay away from windows and doors and avoid contact with anything that conducts electricity