Friday, 31 August 2007

One Orkney experience

...of many. I should admit to not writing the diary entries for the first 2 months of my actual Northern Trip until some 11 months after the events. Memories fade a wee bit. I should add that my traveling companion went her own way at the end of September 2004. We briefly met up again during my stay in Glen Nevis, but we sort-of lost touch earlier this year, when she was soaking up the sun on an Indian Ocean island. I will not give her name - she values her privacy as much as I do myself.

North Ronaldsay - 10/09/04
The North Ronaldsay ferry is scheduled to leave at 9.00 a.m.. Mr Eunson very kindly drops me off at the bank and the ferry terminal, at 8.20. You'd think that arriving 40 minutes ahead of departure time leaves you plenty of time. Nope. The quayside looks suspiciously empty, and there is this fast vanishing dot on the northern horizon, which is the ferry. We speak to the man in the Orkney Ferries shed, and he says that the ferry left as soon as everything and everybody that the skipper was expecting was on board. So he upped and left, 45 minutes early. This leaves me temporarily flummoxed. I hop on the airport bus from the bus station, and when I arrive there by 10 o'clock, my partner in travelling is already there. We book seats on the 4.50 plane, for just £12 return. We return to Kirkwall to lambast Orkney Ferries. She calls for the manager, and complains that she has had to forfeit a coupon on her all-islands travelcard. No problem. She gets two free returns to any of the North Isles for BOTH of us, although I just stood there, the manager concluded that I had also been financially inconvenienced. The company were in the wrong, and they knew it. We both went outside, walked up the street and fell about laughing. Two broad grins carried on through Kirkwall and went on a walk around the foreshore. Past the lifeboat station and the housing estate to the Bay of Weyland. Yesterday was very summery - today it's cold and grey. Carry on up the coast past Craigiefield, then head back into town. Next port of call is St Magnus Cathedral, where I'm plonked in a room to view a video presentation, whilst my partner yaps away to other folk. Right. Finally, after some shopping, we head back for the airport. The plane departs nice and on time,to deliver us to North Ronaldsay at 5 pm. A jeep is waiting to take us to the Bird Observatory, a mile to the south of the airfield. The hostel is a converted byre, two bunkbed rooms, a bathroom and kitchen. The lady and I seem to have conflicting habits in hostels, so that needs some sorting out. The NRBO also has B&B facilities, with a massive dining hall. This affords a magnificent view to the south and west. The managers have a playful dog. At the back of the garden lies a compost heap. A small windgenerator whirrs away, providing electricity.

Journals Tournament V

Kellen [irisheyes1929] is organising another Journals Tournament, the 5th edition. Registration opens on September 3rd at the JT Journal. I'm not sure if I'll participate this time round, but would encourage anyone to do so.

Hurricane update - 31 August (III)

Told you, it's hotting up down there. Tropical depression 6 forms east of the Windward Islands, which appear to be caught on the hop. Only the southernmost islands have warnings out, but the Hurricane Centre advises that St Lucia may get tropical storm conditions later tonight. Further details from the NHC. Their next update is at 8pm EDT, with the next full advisory at 11pm. My TC blog will not be updated until tomorrow morning.

Know anyone down there? Please relay!

Roast chicken

Here is a chicken recipe that also includes the use of
popcorn as a stuffing - imagine that!

When I found this recipe, I thought it was perfect for people like
me, who are just never sure how to tell when poultry
is thoroughly cooked, but not dried out.

Give this a try.

6-7 lb. baking chicken
1 cup melted butter
1 cup stuffing

1 cup uncooked popcorn

Salt/pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Brush chicken well with
melted butter, salt, and pepper. Fill cavity with
stuffing and popcorn (mixed together). Place in baking pan with the
neck end toward the back of the oven. Listen for the
popping sounds.

When the chicken's arse blows the oven door open and
the chicken flies across the room, it is done.

And you thought I couldn't cook.

Reaching Orkney

Public transport or how it should not run. When I traveled to Orkney, exactly 3 years ago, things went belly-up big time. Fortunately, it all landed on its feet. I should point out that the journey starts at Helmsdale on the east Sutherland coast.

To Orkney - 01/09/04
Train is supposed to leave at 9.47, according to the timetable. On arrival at the station a group of men are weeding the platforms and flowerbeds. The clock in the war memorial, where I had a look before going to the station, strikes 9.45. No train. At 10 o'clock, I ring the train control centre about my train. This is running 47 minutes late. Wow. The train, when it finally materialises at 10.40, is the same set of carriages that had problems at Dingwall yesterday. Passengers for the Orkney ferry are getting concerned about their connection at Thurso. Whilst we pass through the empty moorlands at Kinbrace and Forsinard, the conductor tries to sort something out. We arrive at Georgemas Jct at 11.20. Ferry passengers are asked to change into a bus, which is waiting outside the station. Arrangements were poorly made and fall to pieces. Initially, the driver is only goin gto deliver us to Thurso railway station. Furious exchanges by telephone ensure that we are taken right to the ferry terminal at Scrabster. We duly arrive there at 11.50. Too late. Although the ferry is not due to leave until 12.00, we are not allowed on board because safety procedures have to be carried out prior to departure. They require everybody to be on board 15 minutes before advertised sailing time. This would have left us stranded for 7 hours, if it hadn't been for a lady kicking a fuss. This resulted in a taxi, paid by the traincompany, taking us to the ferry terminal at Gills Bay, 3 miles west of John o'Groats. Two taxis took 6 passengers up the ocast. My taxi deviates into the countryside to drop an elderly lady off at her house. We arrive at Gills Bay ferry terminal at 1 o'clock, well in time for the 13.25 ferry. Was not aware of this ferry service, which goes out to St Margaret's Hope on South Ronaldsay. Names are taken down and £10 collected. The ferry looms up in the distance at 1.15, and meanders through the maze of off-shore skerries. After all the vehicles are discharged, footpassengers are allowed on board. The boat looks familiar. It's a bit of a rundown rustbucket, but when I ask the lady in the cafeteria, my suspicions are confirmed. A blast from the past: the Pentalina B used to ply the waters of the west coast as Iona until 1996. I sailed in her in the early 1990s, from Tobermory to Armadale and Mallaig. I even spent a night in her in an overnight berth at Mallaig in 1992. This was prior to a 5 a.m. ferry departure for the isle of Eigg on the old Lochmor as was. Back to 2004. We sail at 1.30, heading past the Isle of Stroma. This was evacuated in the 1950s, with everything left in the then state of affairs. Progress further north past Swona, with the cliffs of Hoy to the west. At 2.30, we dock at St Margaret's Hope. We make a 90° turn at a shingle bar at the entrance to the harbour. The Pentalina B looks dishevelled, poorly painted and rusty. Poor old Iona. At least she brought me safely to Orkney. Docked there too was the Claymore another ex-Calmac ferry in a dreadful state. A taxi appears to take two ladies and myself up to Kirkwall, the main town in Orkney. We have an interesting ride over the Churchill Barriers, and duly arrive in Kirkwall at 3 o'clock. I nip into the TIC, which I finally locate past St Magnus Cathedral. Gather in essential info, such as bus and ferry timetables. Then have a look inside the cathedral and the museum. Still have me rucksack on, so the tight passages in the museum are awkward to negotiate. Museum gives an interesting first glance at Orkney life. I then proceed up the road to the Youth Hostel on the Old Scapa Road. Am bundled into one of the dorms after the usual formalities. Head into town to get some food in. There is a large supermarket on the Pickaquoy Road near the busstation. Make a booking to stay in the hostel at Papa Westray for tomorrow.

Pictures August 18 - 24

Pictures August 25 - 31

A selection of pictures of the past week. I am not showing anything for August 28th, as I put those up on the day after my visit to the Broch at Carloway. I also already featured the picture for August 29th, being the 10,000th image I've taken with my camera. Hope you enjoy!

Afternoon notes

Weather here has turned out to be decidedly iffy. The sun is out most of the time, but gets interrupted by heavy showers. Summer (what's that?) is coming to a close tonight in a meteorological sense. No complaints about temperatures though.

The coalboat came in this afternoon. The Kielder, which was in before, will be discharging a load of coal over the next few days, which will serve to paint the town black. Another cargo boat was in the news today - the Aasheim, a regular visitor here during the winter months had lost engine power south of Oban and was drifting in the Firth of Lorn.

Meanwhile, volunteers for the local Coastguard have left the organisation in droves. This follows the summary dismissal of the leader of the Ness Coastguard team a few months ago. This man was returning home at 1 am from a search for a young boy (later found drowned) to a phonecall from head office, saying he had been relieved of his duties. In protest, quite a few others have resigned as well. The MCGA (Coastguard) have stated that safety in Lewis is not compromised, and that effectively they only have 1 vacancy at present.

Hurricane update - 31 August (II)

Developments speeding up on the hurricane front. A tropical disturbance is nearing the Windward Islands, and could be declared a tropical depression later this afternoon. Things could get rather wet and windy down there.

Tropical storm Henriette formed south of Acapulco earlier today, and (as I said one entry ago), could turn into a hurricane in 3 or 4 days' time, threatening Baja California.

Hurricane update - 31 August

First of all, a note of warning for the east coast of the US. A low pressure system off Atlantic City NJ could develop into a tropical depression before it moves northeast into Canada.

Secondly, a tropical depression could form just east of the Lesser Antilles and this has the potential to turn into something more potent.

In the Eastern Pacific, tropical depression 11E is skirting the southern Mexican coast and bringing copious amounts of rain. It has the potential to build into a hurricane and growl at Baja California in a few days' time.

Note of moderation: a tropical depression is not a hurricane; it brings winds up to galeforce and huge amounts of rain.

Friday notes

Today being 31st August makes it the 10th anniversary of the death of Diana, Princess of Wales in 1997. She remains the people's princess, and revered and missed by many.

Fairly bright morning today, and the last of the summer timetabled 3-a-day sailings of the ferry. It is due in shortly at 12.15, and will return this evening at around 6.30 and 12.45 after midnight. Summer has seen a flood of tourists, in spite of the less than favourable weather, and this will continue into September.

Gaelic is the second language of this area, and Microsoft is producing a Gaelic-language version of Windows Vista. It is the first time that the software giant has translated an operating system into Gaelic.

Thursday, 30 August 2007

Virginia Tech

I don't think I need to remind anyone of the tragic events at the Virginia Tech university on 16 April this year, when 32 people were shot by a deranged student before he turned the gun on himself. A report, out today, levels severe criticism at the university's handling of the crisis. It does state however, that loss of life was inevitable that morning after failures in the mental health care sector at the university.

I'm not going to comment on this - I'll just link to the report, as quoted on BBC News.

Hurricane update - 30 August

Whilst everybody is getting in a tizz over 4 tropical disturbances in the Atlantic, attention should really be on the Eastern Pacific. The Mexican coast around Acapulco is under a tropical storm warning (TS conditions likely within 24 hours) with attendant heavy rains of 4 to 8 inches, locally 15 inches. This is all brought about by tropical depression 11E.

Life-threatening flashflooding and mudslides are possible in the Mexican states of Oaxaca, Guerrero, Michocan and Colima.

Typhoon Fitow is making for Japan, which it will reach within 7 days with winds of 120 knots / 135 mph. No predictions on the area of landfall at this stage - keep an eye open.


Blogger blogs are subjected to viral attacks. Several hundred blogs have been updated with short entries, linked to infected download sites. Please read this article carefully, and if you have any Blogger blogs (I certainly do), check them, and delete anything you did not add. NEVER click the links in any unauthorised additions.

Please relay.

Book Festival

The second Hebridean Book Festival Faclan is being held in Stornoway's arts centre An Lanntair this week. Unlike last year, I am not attending any of the lectures, as I am unfamiliar with the names. I did have a look round the books on sale in the foyer of the centre, but only came away with a transcription of a lecture, given by genealogist Bill Lawson 10 months ago in Gravir, South Lochs. He asserted that Lewis was not as badly affected by the Clearances as other parts of northern Scotland. I don't agree with that.

It is immaterial whether a clearance leads to resettlement elsewhere in the island, elsewhere in Scotland or over in Nova Scotia, Canada. It remains a major upheaval. Whether the clearance was voluntary, engineered (through the tried and tested method of bumping up the rent deliberately to beyond the tenants' means), facilitated (passage paid for) - it cannot and should not be negated and belittled the way Mr Lawson does.

I am not a native of these parts, and perhaps can only sense from afar the distress and pain felt by those who were kicked out. I am currently reading a book I bought at last year's Faclan called The Crofters' Trail, which is about clearances all over Scotland.
The link to the present jumped out at me as I was reading a chapter about a clearance in North Uist. In 1987, the author, David Craig, visited the island just as many small island schools were being closed down. One islander complained to him: "It's just like the evictions, this closing of the schools over the children's heads".

I have mentioned that there was talk earlier in the week of another round of school closures. I was baffled by the attitude of some councillors, oblivious to their own islands' history, and the sensitivities involved. I was pleased that others were not so blinkered, and voted for consultation on the matter.

Thursday notes

I was going to write "a little brighter today", but that was before the clouds closed the covers on us. Hope it's going to stay dry. Incidentally, I think some people unfortunately took my piece on the ferry "proceeding by sail" too literally. The AIS-system, from which I gleaned my info, sometimes gets fed incorrect information by crews on board ships. This is a second error from our ferry - on a previous occasion it wasn't due back into port for 4 months, or something. It also showed a 25 mile jump back and forth within the space of a minute. Anyway, it was a good chance for some monkey business, and y'all replied in good humour.

More seriously, it is claimed that the world is facing an arsenic timebomb. Arsenic is a semi-metallurgic element, infamous for its use as a poison. It occurs naturally in the soil and the water, and can accumulate in plants. A very extensive article can be read here.

Still on the subject of poor health, a strong recommendation was made today for people to get vaccinated against typhoid. Many people in the UK travel to all sorts of exotic locations without getting the proper immunisation. Net result - they return home sick, suffering from typhoid, malaria or what have you. The incidence of typhoid has risen by 69% over the last few years. The advice is to investigate what vaccinations are required when travelling to that resort outside Europe (speak to your GP or pharmacist), and get them in good time. Some need several months to work, as the body only slowly builds up the required immunity. You can find out more here - this applies to the UK only.

Missing boatpeople found

The group of 59 Africans who were bobbing in the Mediterranean in a leaking boat have been rescued. Several other boats full of refugees were located in the area as well.

Orkney in September

By the time of this entry, I had been in Orkney for nearly 3 weeks. On September 20th, I was finishing my weekend in Westray and was now preparing to transfer to another island, Eday, which lies southeast of Westray. You can't sail directly; you have to do so via the Orcadian capital, Kirkwall. Not a bad wee place, redolent of Stornoway in some respects. You can view a map of the Orkney archipelago here.

To Eday - 20/09/04
Head off on the bus to Rapness. It's still blowy outside. Leave this very comfortable hostel with a certain degree of reluctance. The minibus picks me up at 11 a.m. to deliver me at the ferry terminal half an hour later. It's raining as we get there, so wait in the bus for the boat. This comes wallowing in through the swell, a little late. The two hour journey to Kirkwall is rather lively, particularly in that infamous maestrom west of Eday. There are white riders on the waves, and it's choppy. But at least the sun starts to come out, and once past the Galt Skerry buoy it gets positively exhilerating. Back in bonny old Kirkwall at 1.30. Make a quick phone-booking into the Eday Youth Hostel from the Orkney Ferries waiting room. Then I'm off to Safeways for shopping after a stint in the internet cafe opposite Tankerness Lane. Return to the terminal at 3.30 for the Eday & Stronsay ferry. Although the inward journey from Westray was bumpy this morning, things have calmed down since. As I sit on deck I get an emotional text message, for as much as such messages can carry emotion. This from a contact in South Yorkshire who is about to leave for Bangerland (no translation provided, sorry) to get hitched. I've been keeping her updated with progress of this trip since the start, but now I'll have to do without this moral support, at least until the end of the year. All morning, I've had messages to the tune that she was about to leave, but at 3 pm the time was there. I sit on deck in the sun, while the ferry cruises down the Wide Firth. It turns northeast at Galt Skerry, heads past the island of Muckle Green Holm and the south end of Eday, then it veers round to dock at Backaland Pier. I'm accosted by a lady with a minibus who tells me her name and that she's the taxi to take me to the hostelfor £4. Eday looks empty, with only the odd house along the road. We pass a nice beach and the island's airfield, then we pull up by some old barrack type buildings. This is Eday Youth Hostel, located next to the firestation. After Sue leaves, another car pulls up which turns out to be the hostel's manager. She shows me round the places, and after a few minutes' chat leaves me to my own devices. I arrived at 5 pm when the sun was out. This masked the fact that this place is actually freezing. As yet unaware of that, I go for a little walk down the road to the airfield.

This is called London Airport, named after the adjacent bay. It's a good one for a joke. Fancy London Airport with only one place a week. Proceed to make my dinner at the hostel, where the temperature is dropping like a stone. After nightfall, I switch on the heaters. That means: two large rings on the kitchen stove and electric heaters in the common room. There is no-one else here. The heaters in the dorm are all broken. Furthermore, the dorm is a high-ceilinged affair, with single-pane windows. Go to bed at 10 pm under a pile of 6 blankets, but any protruding bodyparts are perishingly cold. I don't sleep properly and in the end I relocate to the Common Room to be a tad warmer. Jayz!

Wednesday, 29 August 2007

Sailing ferry

Yes, it's official, our ferry is proceeding back to port "Underway by sail". I can just imagine it: the engines have failed, they've had to rig up some masts on the decks and tablecloths from the restaurants, quickly flung together by the stewarts and they are now racing back to Stornoway at 17 knots. Aye aye, cap'n, heave-ho, and a bottle-of-rum.

Spicy Chinese proverbs

Spicy Chinese Proverbs!   

*      "Virginity like bubble. . . One prick - all gone!"   
*      "Man who run in front of car get tired"   
*      "Man who run behind car get exhausted"   
*      "Man with hand in pocket feel cocky all day"   
*      "Foolish man give wife grand piano. Wise man give wife upright organ."   
*      "Man who walk through airport turnstile sideways going to Bangkok"   
*      "Man with one chopstick go hungry."   
*      "Man who scratches ass should not bite fingernails."   
*      "Man who eat many prunes get good run for money."   
*      "Baseball is wrong. . . Man with four balls cannot walk!"   
*      "Panties not best thing on earth. . . but next to it."  
*      "War doesn't determine who's right . . . War determines who's left."   
*      "Wife who put husband in doghouse soon find him in cat house."   
*      "Man who sleep in cat house by day . . . sleep in doghouse by night."  
*      "Man who fight with wife all day . . . get no piece at night!"   
*      "Man who tell one too many light bulb jokes soon burn out!"   
*      "It takes many nails to build crib . . . but one screw to fill it."   
*      "Man who drive like hell, bound to get there!"   
*      "Man who sit on tack get point!"   
*      "Man who stand on toilet is high on pot!"  
*      "Man who lives in glass house should change in basement!"   
*      "He who fishes in other man's well often catches crabs."   
*      "Man who farts in church sits in own pew."   
*      "Man who jumps from tall building, jumps to conclusion."   
*      "Crowded elevator smells different to midget."


I've added a new item to my sidebar, in the shape of a new weather sticker. I've labled it "Point Weather", as it shows the conditions from a weatherstation in the Point district of Lewis, some 9 miles east of here. I have a few questionmarks over their readings. Yesterday, during a sunny spell, their thermometer showed a reading some 4°C above comparable readings from Stornoway and Eoropie (9 and 25 miles away respectively).

Outer Hebrides Weather

Hurricane update - 29 August

The Eastern Pacific is half asleep on its waves as far as the hurricane season is concerned. Tropical storm Gil is barely above the lower threshold for a tropical storm, and won't get much stronger. Another system in the Gulf of Tehuantepec (south of Guatemala and El Salvador) might cook up something nasty, but that remains to be seen.

In the Atlantic, everybody is quivering in their boots over two systems prosaically designated 94L and 95L. 94L is headed for the Windward Islands, after which it may blow up into a tropical system. 95L is located 260 miles southeast of Charleston SC, and is drifting south. Neither of these are hurricanes, and it remains seriously unclear whether they will become anything at all.

In the Western Pacific, typhoon Fitow was barely a tropical depression 24 hours ago, but could be a category 4 typhoon in 4 days' time. It is headed in the general direction of Japan - I wouldn't fancy 130 knots / 145 mph winds actually.

29 August 2005 - 29 August 2007

Hurricane Katrina

Images courtesy,,

Mayday Libya

Falmouth Coastguard have issued a mayday message on behalf of a small craft, 64 miles off the north African coast, off Libya. An Ethiopian national reported that he had a call by satellite phone from the vessel, which holds 59 people. They do not have food, water or an engine. The weather is worsening in the area.

It is the latest in a series of ghastly incidents surrounding people traffickers around Africa. And it's not just along the Mediterranean coast, but also along the Atlantic coast. This picture gallery shows the craft that are used by people making their way from northwest Africa to the Canary Islands.

Picture 10,000

Well, this morning I took the 10,000th picture with my digital camera. As I said in previous entry, the weather isn't good this morning, so it's not glamorous. But still a bit of a milestone.

It shows the lifeboat on the slipway, as well as a fishingboat with plenty of colourful floats.

Wednesday notes

Rainy day today, not very good. Mind you, was awoken by the full moon shining in overnight. No hurricanes at present, except for a nascent typhoon in the middle of the Pacific. The Mexican Pacific coast will want to watch developments to their south; and there are two areas in the Atlantic to keep an eye out for.

A Spanish fishing boat, the Enxembre, has been released from detention at Ullapool harbour. The boat had been formally detained after crew complained that they had not been paid. An officer on board stated that he had not been paid for 4 months. A bond of £75k has been lodged with sollicitors by the various parties, to be held until the dispute is settled. This link gives the background, but please note it is 12 days old.

Tuesday, 28 August 2007

Hurricane Katrina

Tomorrow, 29 August, is the second anniversary of Hurricane Katrina's landfall at New Orleans. Although the storm had by that time weakened to a category 3 hurricane, Katrina would wreak unprecedented havoc across New Orleans and the adjacent Gulf coast. Direct storm damage was severe, if not total in several districts. The flooding in the Big Easy stuck in mind most prominently. And it brought about a distinct shift in my personal view of the USA, one that has continued to date.

I could not understand how a slab of concrete, with an earthen dyke on either side, is supposed to keep out a 15 foot storm surge flood. Why didn't they talk to the Dutch, masters at controlling water, to the English, who built the Thames Flood barrier? It was a humiliating disgrace. Humiliating, because not only were the flood defences pathetically inadequate, but the care for residents paltry. Those that could get away, did so. Those that could not - well, were left to drown. I cannot forget the image of the prison inmates on a freeway on-ramp, surrounded by water, exposed to the sun. I cannot forget the images of the wreckage of Biloxi - wreckage which was still there months later. I don't think much has been done for those who lost everything. I don't think everybody that was rehomed across the 52 states of the Union has returned to New Orleans and the rest of the Gulf Coast.

Hurricane Katrina was a powerful storm, and sometimes there is nothing man can do to counteract the force of nature. The flooding of communities like Biloxi was probably inevitable. But to see such a disgraceful flood defence, knowing that much better is available, and affordable to one of the richest and powerful nations on earth? To see how the authorities sat down and cried for three whole days, before they got their backsides into gear. To see how the poor and dispossessed were left to fend for themselves. What an utter disgrace that was.

Yes, this is a hard hitting entry, and uncomfortable reading to some. I have a lot of time for America, and admire the many achievements made in its 230 year history. That is probably why I write the way I did above.

Visit to the Isle of Eigg

Continuing my reprints of diary entries of years past, I am now in October 2004, and am spending a couple of days in the isle of Eigg, 15 miles southwest of Mallaig and south of the Isle of Skye. I have been going to the place since 1989, and have followed its trials and tribulations with interest. Another entry. Below map shows the island in details; ignore the numbers. I am linking to a webpage on the island's website.

I should explain that Brigg Lancaster died early in 2003 as a result of a road accident. He was driving home from a party at 2 am, when his landrover slid off a muddy track near Galmisdale House. It tumbled down an embankment, and Brigg was trapped in the vehicle for 8 hours. When he was found at 10 am that morning, his condition had deteriorated to such an extent that even the island's resident doctor could do nothing to save him. His young wife, whom I met (again) on the first anniversary of his death [9 months before this visit], still looked shellshocked.

Eigg - 11/10/04
I went out earlier than before, and tootled across to the Pier to start with. From Kildonan Farm House, you can actually short cut to the Pier via the cliffs. Of course, you must cross some fences :-\, but they're there to keep the sheep in. I finally reached the point opposite the pier, and came across Lady Runciman's Bathing Hut. No longer up to spec, as several planks were missing from the walls, and Lady R would have been severely embarrassed changing in there. Whether she actually did go for a dip in the days of yore, history does not recall. My attempts to cross Pier Bay were thwarted by deep and wide streams. And the sea of course. I had to wind my way around the obstacles and found myself outside Shore Cottage. No problem, I just walked round to An Laimhrig. There I partook of a cup of Nescafe, 50p, and chatted to a yachtswoman who was over with her family out of Ayrshire. Later that day she would sail, with hubby, young boy and dog, to Soay, 15 miles away under the Skye Cuillins. Apparently 2 people live there, but the Arisaig boat
Sheerwater delivers their mail. Why the Western Isles (Mallaig based) or even the Bella Jane (Elgol, right opposite Soay) cannot do that, nobody knows. Later on that day, the golden labrador would bite Diesel, the Carr's dog, for mischievous behaviour. The lab behaved impeccably. Diesel, a lil monster, did not. I marched up Pier Hill, past Galmisdale and up the path to the Scurr. That is well eroded and little better than a mudchute. I did comment on that to some people, but did not receive much of an active reply. Once underneath the Scurr ridge, I diverted to Lochan nam Ban Mora (Loch of the Big Women) to find the bench, which had been placed there earlier in the year in memory of Brigg Lancaster. He had died early in 2003 in a road traffic accident on the island, when his jeep left the road at Sandavore, and it rolled over. As this happened at 2am, he was not found for another 8 hours. Although he was still alive when he was found, he succumbed to his injuries. Brigg, aged 31, left a wife and a one-year old girl. The plaque on the bench simply reads 'honesty'. A bottle of whisky is commonly left at the bench, for people to have a dram. Unfortunately, the Famous Grouse had been smashed. I just sat there in complete silence, looking over the water of the lochan. Later on, I went on my way. I met Brigg only once, before he got married to Tasha Fyffe. He seemed a decent enough person.

Although I have visited Eigg for 15 years, I still managed to get lost amongst the lochans. I had to get the map out (disgrace) to remind myself of their location. Next stop: Lochan Nighean Dougaill, Lochan of Dougal's Daughter. Her lungs were alleged found floating on the surface of the lochan after she was abducted from the nearby township of Grulin. The abductor was a kelpie, one of the good people, of whom we cannot speak. Grulin was cleared in the 1850s, and now only ruins and the bothy remain. With some difficulty, I managed to wind my way around to the Twin Lochs, at an altitude close to 1,000 feet. Corra-bheinn towered some distance to the northeast, above its ownlochan, which I could not see. I had to stay that high because of Glen Charadail, which cuts deeply into the hills here. The Twin Lochs can be crossed at midpoint, but be prepared for wet feet. The traverse to the western end of Lochan Beinn Tighe is a nightmare, 2ft high tussocks of heather and boulders. I disturbed 3 sheep, missed by the shepherd George Carr, so he has a job to go and retrieve them lol. Clambering over more boulders round the shoulders of Beinn Tighe, I finally managed to reach reasonable terrain at 3.15. I collapsed on the shores of the lochan and took a 45 minute break. Then followed a fairly speedy descent towards Laig, but not without the infernal barbed-wire fencing. And when you ignore clear warnings in the terrain that you're standing above a cliff, well, you have to clamber. Dont you. LOL. Reached Laig at 17.30, and the main road at 18.05. Although it's only a mile, there were plenty of blackberries to distract me. I came across Liz Lyons and Morag MacKinnon, outside's the former's pigsty - sorry, yard. Morag's cows were blocking the road further on at the summit of Bealach Clithe, so that was an interesting exercise in shooing the damn creatures to the side. Arrived back at Kildonan at 18.55. A good, long day, and I was well knackered. Asked for a rum coke - for those who don't know me, I hardly ever touch liquor.

Postscript: I met Liz Lyons 9 months before this visit, when she pulled invited me into her house. Four hours later, I managed to get out again. By that time, 6 pm, it was long dark. As I walked back to my digs, Colin Carr came the other way in his landrover to look for me - he thought I'd fallen into a bog.

How do you beat negativity

This is something to think about when negative people are doing their best to rain on your parade. So remember this story the next time someone who knows nothing and cares less tries to make your life miserable.

A woman was at her hairdresser's getting her hair styled for a trip to Rome with her husband. She mentioned the trip to the hairdresser, who responded: "Rome ? Why would anyone want to go there?  It's crowded and dirty. You're crazy to go to Rome . So, how are you getting there?" "We're taking Continental," was the reply. "We got a great rate!" "Continental?" exclaimed the hairdresser. "That's a terrible airline. Their planes are old, their flight attendants are ugly and they're always late. So, where are you staying in Rome ?"
"We'll be at this exclusive little place over on Rome 's Tiber River called Teste."
"Don't go any further. I know that place Everybody thinks it's gonna be something special and exclusive, but it's really a dump, the worst hotel in the city! The rooms are small, the service is surly and they're overpriced. So, whatcha' doing when you get there?"
"We're going to go to see the Vatican and we hope to see the Pope."
"That's rich," laughed the hairdresser, "You and a million other people trying to see him. He'll look the size of an ant. Boy, good luck on this lousy trip of yours. You're going to need it."

A month later, the woman again came in for a hairdo. The hairdresser asked her about her trip to Rome "It was wonderful!" exclaimed the woman, "Not only were we on time in one of Continental's brand new planes, but it was overbooked and they bumped us up to first class. The food and wine were wonderful. And I had a handsome 28-year-old steward who waited on me hand and foot. And the hotel was great! They'd just finished a $5 million remodeling job and now it's a jewel, the finest hotel in the city. They, too, were overbooked, so they apologized and gave us their "owner's suite at no extra charge!"
Well," muttered the hairdresser, "that's all well and good, but I know you didn't get to see the Pope."
"Actually, we were quite lucky, because as we toured the Vatican a Swiss Guard tapped me on the shoulder and explained that the Pope likes to meet some of the visitors, and if I'd be so kind as to step into his private room and wait the Pope would personally greet me. Sure enough, five minutes later, the Pope walked through the door and shook myhand! I knelt down and he spoke a few words to me."
"Oh, really! What'd he say?"
He said, "Where'd you get the shitty haircut?"


This video clip was taken from a reversing bus, a full-size coach, along a single-track road in the village of Bragar this afternoon. The driver found his way blocked by heavy plant, so he decided to back up a little way... not so little way actually, and dived down a backstreet to resume his normal itinerary. Hold on to your seats!


Visit to the Broch

Basically dry afternoon, but overcast and actually feeling cool in the wind, if not cold. Went on the 2.30pm bus to Carloway, which is a 50 minute ride. Jumped off at Doune Carloway, about 2 miles southwest of the main village, and walked down the half mile access road to the Broch. There is a small visitor centre, which attempts to recreate life in the Broch. A Broch is a very large house, the edifice standing over 40 feet tall, which contains everything a family could need. It is NOT a fortification as such. The Carloway Broch stands on a prominent position with views all round. The photo album above also contains pictures taken from a moving bus on the return trip to Stornoway.

Ròineabhal - 02/12/04

Also climbed lesser hills in Lewis, such as Roineabhal, near Balallan. I took the above pictures on 27 April 2005, on a trek around the hill.

Ròineabhal - 02/12/04
This morning started very cold, with rime on the pavements and ice on the puddles. Took the bus to Balallan, in order to climb Ròineabhal, a hill of 281m / 940 ft altitude. The name is pronounced Roynyaval. The altitude quoted is not very high, when compared to the giants I climbed around Fort William in October and November, But it should afford quite a nice view over Lewis. Walked down the track that actually starts at the busstop in Balallan, and had to branch off left at a fork. Took the left hand track, as this appeared to lead straight towards Ròineabhal. Found myself at a ford, and I was about to cross it when a mighty splashing in the water stopped me. The stream is only a couple of inches deep, and this fish was jumping through the ford. When I approached the point where it was resting, it splashed down the stream, the Abhainn Mhòr, out towards Loch Erisort. When I spoke to local people later in the day, they told me it was very late for salmon. I kicked myself, because with some adroit handwork I could have picked it. Fat chance, I can hear some readers say. Anyway, the track ran out shortly after the stream and I was left to my own devices to cross the moor and reach Ròineabhal. I merrily did so, having to cross only one fence and this one not crowned by barbed wire. The moor undulated around me, and I could see Loch Stranndabhat to the south, where it stretched out towards the A859. By 11.15 I was starting on the foothills of Ròineabhal itself, and the more serious business of gaining altitude began. I had already hugged upper contours on the way in, and now I started up its southern ridge. Not too complicated, until I reached the second escarpment. If you check the map at gridreference NB230210 to 237210, you'll see several of these escarpments, and it would have required a very uncomfortable 15 foot scramble onto rocks. And I'm not into that. So I wandered along, looking for a more amenable gap, which I duly found. Still not straightforward, and I kept looking back to make sure I would be able to find the way back. Reached the summit shortly before 12. Fantastic view, you see the interior of Lewis from there, which you would normally never see from the road. Just quoting from the map: Lochs Langabhat and Trealabhal. These are not ordinary lakes, but intricate mazes of water, bound together by narrower or wider channels, stretching out the entire distance between the hills of Harris in the south and southwest and the Barvas Hills to the north. One could wander for days in there. There is actually a fantastic walking route, which I hope to do when the days are longer. It starts at Morsgail Lodge and leads right through the wilderness to the Huisnish Road in Harris. Distance as the crow flies about 15 miles, but probably nearer 20 on the ground. As there are effectively only 8 hours of daylight (the sun is above the horizon for only 7 hours right now), this is impossible. In the wilderness, you average 2km/hour (1¼ mph) on foot. There is an alternative start at Ard a Mhulainn, on the Tarbert Road, where you go straight west towards Stuabhal, then turn abruptly south. A tent might by a solution, but bearing in mind current temperatures (8C by day, 0C at night), not for a novice like me. The east coast was fairly clear as well, Loch Odhairn (Gravir) and the inlet by Lemreway to the southeast, leading through to the Eye Peninsula (east of Stornoway) right up to Tolsta. I forgot to mention it was blowing hard (force 7) on the summit of Ròineabhal, and the temperature was a mere 5C, compared to 8C at the foot of the hill. This is sheer windchill. Had lunch in the shelter of a small stone circle that crowns the summit of the hill, then went down again. Not via the same route, I should add. I wanted to get out of the wind as soon as possible, so headed east rather than south. I did find a way down, but quite tricky and slippery. Had to stop one slide by putting my mitt into a bog. Nice. Returned to the busstop in time for the 2.50 to Kershader


This afternoon, I'm going to visit the Carloway Broch, 25 miles west of Stornoway. Hope to dodge the showers!

Tuesday notes

Pretty decent morning, with chinks through the clouds. The cruiseliner Kristina Regina came into port an hour ago, apparently on its last voyage into Stornoway. She is an old lady of the seas, having been built in 1960. When she resumes her last voyage, the KR will make for Londonderry. That is about 250 miles south of here.

The Comhairle has decided to defer a decision about school closures whilst having discussions with the Scottish Executive. Although the Councillor who had proposed the closures described this decision as a "black day for the island's education system", I rather think that the opposite is true.

Read that many young people suffer poor and insufficient sleep because they have computers, games and mobile phones on in their bedrooms.

Monday, 27 August 2007

Stob Ban

Before I came to the Outer Hebrides, I spent a few weeks in Glen Nevis, near Fort William, climbing mountains. One of them was called Stob Ban, and blimey, that was hairy. Pictures of a climb of same hill, undertaken by others in 2000, can be viewed here.

Winter in the mountains - 09/11/04
Today was allocated to serious hillwalking. At 8.20, I left the hostel for an attempt to climb Stob Ban, a 999m high mountain to the south of Glen Nevis. The weather forecast looked rather dire; showers, as snow above 2,000 ft. Not to be daunted, I ambled the 40 mins down the Glen Nevis road to Mamore Grazings by the Lower Falls, where I turned onto the path leading towards Stob Ban. At 9.05, I started the climb, and got the first of many showers. The path was very wet, boggy and waterlogged. Had fun and games traversing some of the streams, and nearly ended up in one of them. Wobbly boulder. Just after 10 o'clock, there was another shower, and I looked around what was going on. There was a funny noise on my hood, it didn't sound like a raindrop. No. It was snowflakes. They settled on my mapcase, the rucksack, everything. Temperature had dropped to 5C. Staggered at the presence of the snow, I nonetheless carried on. The fact that it was still above freezing meant that the snow would not settle. Wound my way up the hillside and got seriously high. At 11 o'clock, just under two hours after starting the climb proper, I reached the pass at altitude 750 m (2,500 ft). Fantastic views. Stob Ban reared up high to my right, only to immediately disappear into a snow-shower. Another Munro loomed to the left. And the paths did NOT conform to their location on the map. To the south I saw Loch Leven and the Lairig from Kinlochleven to Lundavra. Absolutely breathtaking. Sat out the snowshower, which I did NOT enjoy. It's very cold now (+3C), particularly in the wind. Once the shower had passed, I started the climb towards the peak, which initially was a steep but simple and straightforward ascent. At altitude 850m (2850 ft) things got a little more complicated. The grass disappeared and the path went into a hillside covered by boulders, white stone as it happened. I got an increasing feeling of exposure, due to the steepslopes falling away on either side. Having taken stock of my position, the time (11.30) I decided to carry on into the scrambly bits. However, by this time, wisps of cloud began to rise from the hillside to the south. Those wisps blew up in size and obliterated the view. That was the point where I thought to myself: "Not happy with that". I still had about 100m to climb, in (for me) difficult terrain. If one of those clouds came over and obliterated the view again, it could take a long time to clear. I'd seen the peak wreathed in mist for a considerable period of time. So I took the decision at 11.40 to retrace my steps. I went back to the cairn at the crossing of paths where I'd come up from Glen Nevis, then proceeded onwards to the little lochan a few hundred yards east. An inviting path wound its way up a hillside to the next Munro, 1,001m high, but then the third snowshower commenced. It meant business. Temperature dropped to +2 at my location (800m) and the snow settled just above my height. Lunch was freezing cold on the edge of the lochan, I've never felt so cold on a walk. Not enjoyable at all. IT WAS SO COLD. I went down towards Glen Nevis again, and found the temperature rising as I went down. Was overtaken by a very fast walker at 2pm, and two not so fast ones at 2.30. Got down to the road at 3pm, after a very wearying slog downhill. Reported my safe return at 3.50 in the hostel, then went into town for the shopping. Returned to a virtually empty Glen Nevis YH at 5.45. Met a lady from Taiwan who was quite rude about the staff in the Tourist Office in Fort William. She wanted to stay on a working farm. Yep. In November, oh please, get real. They'll be out with their sheepdogs, sure! Small wonder the TIC couldn't help. I made a few suggestions, but to no avail, I think. A farm at Invergarry, she was looking at (30 miles from here) or Spean Bridge (12 miles). And she wanted to know at what time breakfast was served. Only to groups. Get some cereals from reception. Sorry, I'm not normally that rude about fellow hostellers, but this lady just did not realize she had come at the wrong time of year.

Bird reservation

A day or so before I came to Lewis in November 2004, I visited the RSPB Bird sanctuary at Balranald, North Uist. At the time, I was staying at the Uist Outdoor Centre UOC, and my memories of that place are mixed. However, I'll focus on the excursion instead. I updated the journal on Monday morning, November 15th, from the cultural centre of Taigh Chearsabhagh. The people in the restaurant there, where the Internet access point was located, were driven to distraction by my furious rattling of the keyboard keys. I was in a rush, as I had to catch a bus.

Saturday 13/11/04 - Balranald
Back in Taigh Chearsabhag in Lochmaddy to update the journal. On Saturday, I took the postbus out to Balranald, located on the west side of North Uist. This is an area of working crofts, but world famous as a nature reserve. The RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds) manage it. The little postbus rattled out at 11 am, after I had done my weekend shop. The shop here is quite dear, £6 for just a few groceries. On driving round the northern side of the island, the wide sandy beaches spring into view after passing the Berneray road-end. Once you turn the northwestern corner, beyond Sollas, St Kilda hoves into view. This group of islands, with cliffs of over 1,000 ft high, was abandoned in 1930. The inhabitants at the time asked to be taken of because of disease and starvation. Starvation contributed to by neglect by government, allegedly. The isles lie about 45 miles away, but stand out like a set of snaggled teeth on the western horizon. Another notable sight is Scolpaig Tower, set in the middle of a lochan, with a causeway leading up to it. Arrived at Balranald at midday. It was quite empty, but the day is bright. A nature trail leads up to the coastline. Not many birds about, just some swans and some starlings. Sat on the rocky foreshore with my back to the strong northerly wind and my face in the warm sun. Bliss. Temperature 12C. Spent an hour of lounging about, watching showers pass by into Benbecula and observing the tall lighthouse on the Monach Isles. The latter was actually found abandoned in 1900. When the light was never extinguished during the daytime, a boat was sent across to investigate. A table was set with plates and food, and lights were still burning. The three men tending the tower were nowhere to be found, and have never been recovered. It is assumed that they had to go out and were swept away by a huge sea. Walked back to the Visitor Centre and the road end to wait for the postbus back. Although this departed at 2.30, it would not return to Lochmaddy much before 4pm. The reason being that it had to go round the houses to deliver mail. The usual spectacle developed of postie (a lady) being splattered with mud by overfriendly dogs, gates having to be opened and mail left just inside the front door. One door was locked, so the mail was left inside a Volkswagen Beetle on the drive. Like you do. We also called at the home of the island's proprietors, the Boulmers (?). And at a farm, near Scolpaig Tower, where a 95-year gent still lived on his own, albeit with home help. Postie was only inside for 2 minutes, a record fast visit. Being the local gossip, he wanted to know all the news. One other gentleman, it transpired, had recently passed away, and the community was saddened by their loss. Returned to Lochmaddy at 4, and spent the rest of the evening in the UOC.

Water's Edge

Notice to those who read my Water's Edge blog (private): I've put a few more entries on. Want to read it? Drop me a line.

Papua New Guinea and AIDS

This story is as horrifying as it is tragic. Papua New Guinea, an island state north of Australia, is in the grips of a severe HIV/AIDS epidemic, with at least 2% of the population thought to be infected. The number of new cases has risen by 30% per annum.

Relatives of AIDS sufferers are reportedly burying the victims alive, when they can no longer look after them, or are afraid to become infected themselves. This was apparently witnessed by a health worker. Sexual violence is widespread in PNG, and one of the main transmission routes for the HIV virus is sexual intercourse.

There is widespread ignorance of the disease in outlying districts, and some believe it is the result of witchcraft. There is little formal education on HIV in remoter areas, and no training for those that help.

More here: another contents warning is in order.

NFL star suspended indefinitely

Michael Vick, an American football star accused of involvement in illegal dog fights, has been suspended indefinitely without pay by the NFL league. At his trial, the judge has warned him he could face a five year jail term.

American readers are all too familiar with this story, which is why I feature it. For UK readers, there is a summary here.

Contents warning: The story contains very unpleasant descriptions of the cruelty perpetrated against dogs by the ring that Vick is alleged to have been involved with.

Evening notes

Been busy this afternoon with a carpet cleaner - three lots of 2 gallons of soapy water into carpets up- and downstairs. Does leave you whacked. It is quite strenuous to pull a heavy machine which is digging into the carpet. But it IS rewarding.

I was approached by a Gaelic Media Service researcher about the Iolaire Disaster, and she wanted names and contacts of people whose forefather survived the tragedy (75 out of 280 did); I've taken it upon myself to dig out as many people as possible, including those whose ancestor did not survive. If there is anybody out there reading this (this is one of two on-line appeals) who has this dreadful episode in their family history, please leave a comment. I can then forward details to GMS.

Monday notes

Bright, fairly sunny day, although not terribly warm - only 14C. I think I prefer that to conditions in Greece, where 40C / 105F has contributed to the fire disaster.

Here in the islands, the Western Isles Council [Comhairle nan Eilean Siar] will debate proposals tonight to close 11 schools across the island chain. The issue is related to a revision of the national curriculum. At the moment, junior secondary school pupils on outlying areas are taught at their local primary school in special secondary classes. After the first two years, they all go to the Nicolson Institute in Stornoway. Proposals are for all secondary units to close, with pupils going to the Nicolson, to Linaclete School in Benbecula or Castlebay School in Barra respectively. In the next few years, several small primary schools will be closed down altogether. Names mentioned are Bragar in Lewis, Cliasmol in Harris, Stoneybridge in Uist and Craigston in Barra.

The proposals have caused uproar in local communities. The junior secondaries were put in place to allow youngsters to be taught closer to home, rather than having to face hour-long (if not more) bus journeys each way every day. The discussion in the Comhairle debating chamber up the road promises to be a lively one tonight. The Scottish Executive, when advised of the proposals last week, reacted with surprise if not anger.

Sunday, 26 August 2007

Windy walk

In December 2004, I did not carry a camera. At the time I was based in South Lochs, at Kershader. I took pictures on 22 July of this year, 2007. At that time, I went out for a walk every day, in the most appalling weather conditions at times. This is the description of a jaunt to Cromor, 10 miles to the east. And it was blowing a hoolie!

Cromor - 9/12/04
Was woken in the night by ferocious winds juddering the windows and doors. When I looked out of the window at 9am, it was blowing a full gale. The sheep nearly blew out of their woollies, the grass lay flat and Loch Erisort had white riders on the water. Walked out at 10 o'clock, just after the bus had left, and headed east along the road. The wind made walking difficult at times, and also tried to wrest my mapcase from me. No such luck. A dog came out to greet me, I said hello, and it went on its way again. Passed through Gearraidh Bhaird / Garyvard, and turned left at the Cabharstadh / Caverstay turning. Reached the road end at 11 o'clock, and was left to my own devices to find a way onto the moors. Bit tricky; there are lots of fences about, and no gates. The first opening left me being buffeted on the edge of a precipice, and having to negotiate some loose wires. Not advisable. So, I backtracked and managed to get into a field with very friendly sheep. My mapcase looks to those animals like a bag of feed, one of them even came right up to me to nuzzle the case. Nah, no luck love. Better go to your ram, he's right behind you... Squeezed through a very narrow opening beside a broken gate and gained the moors. The wind is a hindrance, which makes it force 8. As it is forced up over the hills, it will finally go down towards the loch below at quite a speed. On one of the summits I was nearly blown over, which means it's force 10. Force 9 just makes it impossible to walk. Headed through the hills, at first close to the coastline until the lochan at 371205, then in an eastsoutheasterly direction to a small lochan at 384197. The distance is a little under a mile, but it took me nearly an hour. After that, I finally reached a metalled road at Torasdaidh at 12.15. Wasn't quite sure which way to go, but turning right was the right decision, as this got me onto the road to Cromor - stress the last syllable. Headed northeast battling with the wind. Cromor has streetlights, powered by solar power. The road leads along the inlet of Loch Thorasdaidh, which you'll see on both sides. I headed west at the phonebox, intending to go to Crobeag. Someone let some plastic bags fly out of his hands, they ended up in the sea. Had quite some bother climbing over gates, as the wind was determined to blow me off. Reached the end of the road at Crobeag, and followed the track down to the shore. At low tide, this provides a causeway across to Eilean Chaluim Chille / Columba's Island. The tide was in, so I couldn't go across. Found a sheltered spot for some lunch. Whilst sitting there, I noticed that the wind was blowing the crests off the waves, a sure sign that it is approaching stormforce 10. At 1.30, I recommenced my battle with the elements, as I found myself heading straight into the teeth of the gale. For 2½ miles, up to Eishal Junction, I was walking with great difficulty. There is a walkway across to Marbhig / Marvaig, but I wanted to leave that until a day with less wind. Finally reached the junction at 2.45, and the remaining 3½ miles were a lot easier. Reached Kershader at 4pm, just as it got dark. Yep, the sun had set at 3.35. No, didn't do a lot after that. The total distance was about 15 miles, but the wind had made it just that little bit harder!

Sunday evening notes

In response to some questions about my Artsy Essay - in December, we get as little light as we get nighttime in June. Sunrise: 9.15 am, sunset 3.35 pm. On cloudy, overcast, rainy days, the streetlights do not even go off through the day. I've seen them on at 12.30 in the afternoon.

Back in December, I wrote a piece about Diana, Princess of Wales, who died 10 years ago this week. It appears to have been picked up by her admirers, as I am getting a steady trickle of comments alerts in tribute to the late Princess. I am glad that the Royal Family has seen the light and that Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall (Rothesay here in Scotland) will not be attending Diana's memorial service on Friday, the anniversary of her death.

In summary, Diana left the Ritz Hotel in Paris in a chauffeur driven car in the early hours of 31 August 1997. She was in the company of Dodi Al-Fayed and chauffeur Henri Paul. It is alleged that Mr Paul was called upon to drive the couple at short notice, and that he had been drinking earlier in the evening. He drove down the Alma Tunnel at 60 mph and lost control of the vehicle. It crashed, killing Henri Paul and Dodi Al-Fayed instantly, and inflicting fatal injuries on Diana. She died 5 hours later. An inquiry found no conclusive evidence that the so-called paparazzi were in close pursuit, neither that they at any time hindered efforts by emergency services to assist the occupants of the wrecked car. I have to stress the words "conclusive evidence", and express no opinion on that fraught issue.

Her death was met by an unprecendented outpouring of national (and indeed international) grief, and the Royal Family nearly lost public support after it took HM the Queen three days to go out to meet the crowds of mourners outside Buckingham Palace.

Lunar Eclipse

Europe is going to miss out on this eclipse, as it occurs during our daytime. The further west you are in the Americas, the better the chances of seeing it. Further details in this Skywatcher alert. The eclipse occurs just before dawn on Tuesday, August 28th.

Call for support

Jeannette's [jeanno43] 2-year old grandson Daniel has had to be admitted to hospital, and is currently receiving intravenous antibiotics. He may have to stay in for a number of days. Please call round.

Don't use cruise control in the rain


I wonder how many people know about this? A 36 year old female had anaccident several weeks ago and Totaled her car. A resident of Kilgore ,Texas she was traveling between Gladewater & Kilgore. It was raining, thoughnot excessively, when her car suddenly began to hydro-plane and literally flew through the air. She was not seriously injured but very stunned at the sudden occurrence! When she explained to the highway patrolman what had happened he told her something that every driver should know -
She thought she was being cautious by setting the cruisecontrol and maintaining a safe consistent speed in the rain. But the highway patrolman told her that if the cruise control is on when your car begins to hydroplane and your tires lose contact with the pavement, your car will accelerate to a higher rate of speed making you take off like an airplane. She told the patrolman that was exactly what hadoccurred. The patrolman said this warning should be listed, on the driver's seatsun-visor - NEVER USE THE CRUISE CONTROL WHEN THE PAVEMENT IS WET OR ICY, along with the airbag warning. We tell our teenagers to set the cruisecontrol and drive a safe speed - but we don't tell them to use the cruisecontrol only when the pavement is dry. The only person the accident victim found, who knew this (besides the patrolman), was a man who had had a similar accident, totaled his car and sustained severe injuries. If you send this to 15 people and only one of them doesn't know about this,then it was all worth it. You might have saved a life. NOTE: Some vehicles (like the Toyota Sienna Limited XLE) will not allow youto set the cruise control when the windshield wipers are on

Ground Control and Pilots...

 Actual exchanges between pilots and control towers

Tower: "Delta 351, you have traffic at 10 o'clock, 6 miles!"
Delta 351: "Give us another hint! We have digital watches!"  


Tower: "TWA 2341, for noise abatement turn right 45 Degrees."
TWA 2341: "Center, we are at 35,000 feet. How much noise can we make up here?" Tower: "Sir, have you ever heard the noise a 747 makes when it hits a 727?"  


From an unknown aircraft waiting in a very long take off queue "I'm bored!" Ground Traffic Control: "Last aircraft transmitting, identify yourself immediately!" Unknown aircraft: "I said I was bored, not stupid!"  


O'Hare Approach Control to a 747:
"United 329 heavy, your traffic is a Fokker, one o'clock, three miles, Eastbound."
United 329: "Approach, I've always wanted to say this... I've got the little Fokker in sight."  


A student became lost during a solo cross-country flight. While attempting to locate the aircraft on radar, ATC asked, "What was your last known position?" Student: "When I was number one for take off."  


A DC-10 had come in a little hot and thus had an exceedingly long roll out after touching down. San Jose Tower Noted: "American 751, make a hard right turn at the end of the runway, if you are able. If you are not able , take the Guadeloupe exit off Highway 101, make a right at the light and return to the airport."  

Tower: "Eastern 702, cleared for takeoff, contact Departure on frequency 124.7"
Eastern 702: "Tower, Eastern 702 switching to Departure. By the way, after we lifted off we saw some kind of dead animal on the far end of the runway."
Tower: "Continental 635, cleared for takeoff behind Eastern 702, contact departure on frequency 124.7. Did you copy that report from Eastern 702?"
Continental 635: "Continental 635, cleared for takeoff, roger; and yes, we copied Eastern... we've already notified our caterers."  


One day the e pilot of a Cherokee 180 was told by the tower to hold short of the active runway while a DC-8 landed. The DC-8 landed, rolled out, turned around, and taxied back past the Cherokee. Some quick-witted comedian in the DC-8 crew got on the radio and said, "What a cute little plane. Did you make it all by yourself?" The Cherokee pilot, not about to let the insult go by, came back with a real zinger "I made it out of DC-8 parts. Another landing like yours and I'll have enough parts for another one."  


The German air controllers at Frankfurt Airport are renowned as a short-tempered lot. They not only expect one to know one's gate parking location, but how to get there without any assistance from them. So it was with some amusement that we (a Pan Am 747) listened to the following exchange between Frankfurt ground control and a British Airways 747, call sign Speedbird 206 .
Speedbird 206: "Frankfurt, Speedbird 206 clear of active runway."
Ground: "Speedbird 206, taxi to gate Alpha One-Seven." The 747 pulled on to the main taxiway and slowed to a stop.
Ground: "Speedbird, do you not know where you are going?"
Speedbird 206: "Stand by, Ground, I'm looking up our gate location now."
Ground (with quite arrogant impatience): "Speedbird 206, have you not been to Frankfurt before?"
Speedbird 206 (coolly): "Yes, eight times in 1944, but it was dark-- and I didn't land."  


While taxiing at London's Gatwick Airport, the crew of a US Air flight departing for Ft. Lauderdale made a wrong turn and came nose to nose with a United 727. An irate female ground controller lashed out at the US Air crew, screaming "US Air 2771, where the hell are you going? I told you to turn right onto Charlie taxiway! You turned right on Delta! Stop right there. I know it's difficult for you to tell the difference between C and D, but get it right!" Continuing her rage to the embarrassed crew, she was now shouting hysterically: "God! Now you've screwed everything up! It'll take forever to sort this out! You stay right there and don't move till I tell you to! You can expect progressive taxi instructions in about half an hour, and I want you to go exactly where I tell you, when I tell you, and how I tell you! You got that , US Air 2771?"
"Yes, ma'am," the humbled crew responded. Naturally, the ground control communications frequency fell terribly silent after the verbal bashing of US Air 2771. Nobody wanted to chance engaging the irate ground controller in her current state of mind. Tension in every cockpit out around Gatwick was definitely running high. Just then an unknown pilot broke the silence and keyed his microphone, asking "Wasn't I married to you once? "

Sunday notes

Cloudy day, with some breaks in the clouds. The fire situation in Greece is worsening, with the ancient city of Olympia under threat. Enough of fire.
Still quiet on the hurricane front.

Now, how can you see nothing? As in, there is absolutely nothing there. Not matter, not light, nothing at all. And it measures 1 billion lightyears across. You know, the distances you measure in 10 to the power of 24. Well, they've seen 'nothingness'. Have a read.

And I scoffed at the report that air pollution could boost asthma risk. For goodness' sakes, anyone that knows the way asthma develops could have worked that out ages ago. I'm sorry, I was told about that 20 years ago and more.

Saturday, 25 August 2007

Fires in Greece exact mounting toll

Fierce forest fires on the Greek island of Peloponnese continue to claim lives, as they run out of control. Gruesome stories are emerging from the island, where for instance, people burned to death as they were stuck in a traffic jam, resulting from a collision between a fire engine and a car. Burned-out houses are found behind the fire front, containing burned bodies.

Two hundred fires are reportedly raging there, with 70 new ones starting just today. Forty-six people are confirmed dead, with an unknown number trapped, surrounded by fire. The dense smoke reaches as far as Athens, 330 km (210 miles) to the northeast, blown on by strong winds. High temperatures and dry conditions have fuelled the fires, which are spreading rapidly on the wind. Arson is also reported.

Several European countries are sending firefighting aircraft. A state of emergency has been declared, campaigning for the general election has been called off and the poll itself is likely to be postponed.

A more detailed report can be accessed here; the imagery is graphic.

Artsy Essay

Jumping in at the deep end of Judith Heartsong's Artsy Essay for August. The theme is Squeezing every last drop of sunshine out of Summer.

Summer in the Western Isles of Scotland does not mean warm days by the seaside. It does mean long days, with even the nights not wholly dark. During the three years I have spent in Northern Scotland, since August 2004, I have never ceased to be amazed by this phenomenon. Stornoway, from where I post, is located just north of the 58th degree latitude north. The weather can be savage, particularly in winter. It can be savage in summer too. But the dominant theme is light. My essay shows the small town of Stornoway, wreathed in the ghostly light of the gloaming. The all-night dusk, or is it all-night dawn? For reference, the sun rises at 4.20 am and sets at 10.35pm on the summer solstice.

Stornoway Town Hall in the evening of the solstice, 2007

View north at 1.10 am, in mid July.

The Callanish Stones at midnight on June 29th, awaiting the Lunar Standstill, pictured below.

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Standards of education

With a steady trickle of murders by young people on the streets of the UK (last night, a 23-year old man with learning difficulties was beaten to death in Sunderland by a group of youngsters), the Edexel examination board has voiced concern over the sickening level of violence in essays written by GCSE students. The most common title was "The Assassin", apparently. Apart from the violence, the essays excelled in shallowness, with little plot or character development. Worse than that, the examiners failed to comprehend the high marks awarded to such poor work by schoolteachers, who, in some cases, appeared to grade the work according to quantity, not quality. High marks were awarded to essays, riddled with spelling, punctuation and grammatical errors. Finally, plagiarism remains a problem as well, but schools do appear to be on the ball there.

I feel that this places the high percentages of passes in A-levels into perspective. I do not want to denegrade (sic) the genuine achievements of students, but I agree with the Edexel board that standards are there to be maintained by teachers. If they pass 'slasher' essays with high marks, because a pupil has filled A4 upon A4 with murder and mutilation, then that is a cause for grave concern.

Finally, it was reported in the last few weeks, that employers are despondent of school leavers who have insufficient command of the three Rs: reading, writing and arithmatic. This whole issue is demonstrative of a larger problem, which extends beyond unruly pupils pupils, poor teaching or truancy.

Mountain ascent II

Another mountain I conquered was Mullach an Langa, standing 2,000 feet tall. It sits at the western end of the Clisham Horseshoe.

Saturday 23/04/05 - Mullach an Langa
Sunny day to start with. Went south on the Harris bus at 10.20. Just before the Grimshader turn, 3 dead sheep lay in the verge of the road. Somebody is guilty of mass slaughter. I got off at Vigadale Glen, and it felt stifling. Walked as far as the cairn, then a little way on the southwestern branch. From there, I traversed along the higher reaches of Glen Langadale, until I gained the pass at the head of Glen Scaladale. There is no wind today, and it’s quite warm in the sun. Reach the pass at 12.30, and commence the ascent of Mullach an Langa, a hill of 614 m (2,014 ft). This proves to be a slightly tricky proposition. It’s steep and littered with rocks and bogs. Have to zigzag my way up, but that’s no problem. Problems start on the higher slopes. Mullach an Langa has a rockstrewn crown, and I have to do some scrambling over rocks and boulders. The ascent is done from the northeast; the northfacing slope is precipitous; the western slope plunges down into the valley between Mullach and Teileasbhal. Reach the summit cairn at 1.15. Views are hazy but still good. Loch Langabhat, Rapaire and Stuabhal to the west. Teileasbhal and Uisgneabhal to the southwest. To the south, the beaches at Losgaintir, Seilebost and Northton; Ceapabhal and Pabbay beside the latter. Further on south and east: Mullach fo-Thuath and Dheas, An t-Isean and of course piece de resistance: An Clisham. Toddum is visible through a gap in the hills. The ridge to Clisham is beyond me. I could conceivably gain Mulla fo-Thuath, but I’d have considerable trouble with rocks and a sense of exposure. Climbing Clisham this way is a major expedition, requiring (a) an early start (b) stamina (c) scrambling skills (d) head for heights (e) settled weather. The oppressive feel to the weather is born out by a very weak weatherfront obscuring the sun after 2pm. I teeter my way down that hill again, reaching the valley at 3 o’clock. See a herd of deer below Mo Bhigadale, and I am to encounter all 14 of them a few times on my way east. I keep an altitude of 1,000 feet to enjoy the mountain scenery. A coastguard helicopter circles the Clisham. The frontal clouds touch the summit not long after. This mountain is ‘only’ 799 m high, but deserves the respect of a major Munro. I go sharply downhill just before Mo Creag, in order NOT to fall down this 500 ft escarpment. The lochan of Loch Misteach is the warning marker across the valley. Once at the very bottom of the valley, a path will materialize to sort of take you back to the main road. “Sort of” because the path is boggy and ill-defined. At any rate, I return to the A859 at the Scaladale bridge and walk the 1½ miles to Bogha Glas. It’s not good road walking, because this is the section with the road works on it. No work is being carried out today though. Pass Scaladale Outdoor Centre and Aird a’Mhulain castle. Mo Creag rears up in the west. Return to Bogha Glas, past some Highland cattle, at 4.55. While I wait for the 5.05 bus, a few drops of rain fall out of a grey sky. A woman is on there with her kids. They’ve been on the go since 6.30 a.m., probably out of Glasgow. From Balallan, the South Lochs service takes over. The driver kicks his kids unceremoniously off in the village. The woman nearly falls through the window on the Co-op roundabout in Stornoway, only my knee against her thigh prevents a disaster. Return to town at 5.50.

First World War - a story of internment

October 1914 - Antwerp, Belgium.
First Lord of the Admiralty, Winston Churchill, orders reservists from the Royal Naval Division to bolster the British Expeditionary Force holding the port of Antwerp against advancing German forces. They have to retreat west, towards Ghent and are to join a train at St Niklaas. The train is gone, and the route back to Antwerp is cut off when the bridges across the river Scheldt are blown up. The commander of three battallions orders his men north, across the border into Holland. Once there, they are taken into internment. Holland is neutral in the First World War, and combatants from either side are held for six years, or until the end of the war, whichever occurs first.

1 March 1916 - Groningen, Holland
The 1,500 men of the Royal Naval Division have been interned in this northern city since late 1914. Among them are just over 100 men from the Isle of Lewis. Donald Macleod is one of them.
He was born in the village of Gearrannan near Carloway in December 1891. Donald was in the 1st Royal Naval Division, Benbow Battallion. His former schoolmaster at the Nicolson Institute, Mr Gibson, wrote him a Christmas card at the camp in December 1915. Donald replied on 2nd January 1916, extending best wishes to teachers and pupils at his school. He also expressed the wish that Holland would go to war, which would release his companions in Benbow Battallion and himself back into service for Great Britain.

On 1 March 1916, Donald was lying ill in the University Hospital. He dies of pleurisy that day. A collection is held among the burghers of Groningen to buy a huge Celtic cross, out of sympathy with this lad of only 24, who died so far away from home. His mates from D company, Benbow Battallion have organised a huge wreath, in the shape of an anchor. On passing along Groningen's main street, people stop and bare their heads. Shopworkers stand outside their premises, residents outside their doors, including maids and servants. The cortege finally pulls up at the Southern Cemetery, where Donald is laid to rest.

Donald's wish was not to be granted. Benbow,Drake, Collingwood and Hawke Battallions were to remain interned until the Armistice, in November 1918. Those that returned to the island after the war would not readily speak of their experiences. They felt it a matter of shame that they had led the 'cushy life' of an internment camp, where their fathers, brothers and sons had fought and died in the trenches or in the North Atlantic.

Two more Lewismen would not return home, but lie buried at Groningen: John MacLeay, of Shader, Barvas and John Smith of Lower Bayble. A fourth, Angus MacLeod of Portnaguran, was discharged home for being unserviceable - suffering from pulmonary tuberculosis. He died at Plymouth.

There are suggestions that four internees from Lewis perished in the Iolaire disaster of 1919, when the ship returning them to the island foundered outside Stornoway Harbour.

Note: I realise that the text under the pictures is not very legible in the picture viewer.