Wednesday, February 27, 2008


The British Airways Twin Otter shown above arrived at the Traigh Mhor beach on Barra whilst I was working on the island last week. I just love hearing it in the distance, getting closer and closer, then landing and sending up spray everywhere. It seats about 18 people and flies scheduled flights to and from Glasgow and Benbecula daily.

More importantly, the plumber is working well, albeit only on Saturdays and I can now begin to see the end of the road as far as the renovation is concerned. When finished, the house will still be an empty shell, which will take months to decorate and fit out. Still, I'm really looking forward to that bit, which will at least be under my control, rather than that of the builder and plumber.

The weather has been vile this last week, with continual torrential rain and gale force winds.At the back of the flat, there is a hill with a stream coming down, which falls over a ledge to form a waterfall. This morning, the wind was so ferocious that it picked up the stream from the ledge and blew it into the air, stopping the waterfall completely. This was an amazing sight and looked just like a large plume of smoke rising above a chimney. Winter storms are regular occurrences just now, but the days are getting much longer and I can now go to work and return home in daylight.

The windfarm issue is still not resolved, with the Scottish Executive announcing this week that it will take more time before reaching a final decision about whether it should go ahead. There have been many more written objections than supporters, but the pro lobby, consisting of International Companies and the local council, are fighting hard to persuade the Executive in Edinburgh that the island and Scotland will be better places if the turbines are allowed.

Another topic currently exercising the good folks of the Outer Hebrides is the high cost of ferries to the mainland.The expense prevents many island residents from travelling regularly, limits the number of tourists who visit and is generally considered to be a barrier to economic growth on the islands. The return cost for me to travel alone with my car to Ullapool during these Winter months is £142:90, which rises to £181 after March 20, when higher Summer fares are introduced. A family of four will have to pay £274 return this coming Summer. This is for a journey of about 42 nautical miles taking two and three quarter hours. As a result of long term complaints about ferry costs, the government is about to start a pilot scheme involving something called 'Road Equivalent Tariff'. This is an initiative pioneered by the Norwegian government which involves setting ferry fares for remote communities on the basis of the cost of travelling an equivalent distance by road. The Scottish Government announced today that it is going to operate a pilot scheme on all ferries operating to and from the Outer Hebrides. The scheme will start on 19 October of this year and will last until the Spring of 2011. The formula that will be used is that cars will cost 60 p per sea mile plus a fixed flat fee of £5 for each journey. Passengers will each pay 10p per mile plus flat fee of £2. A quick calculation suggests that I will be able to make the return trip from Stornoway to Ullapool with my car for £72:80 instead of the current £142:90 winter fare. This is tremendous news , which will almost certainly hugely increase business, domestic and tourist traffic to and from these islands. Logic dictates that the cost of goods brought here by road should also become cheaper, but we'll see. Unlike the present Air Discount Scheme, which is only available to island residents, the RET initiative will be available to everybody who visits here by ferry.


Sometime in the 1970's, a misguided man in North Uist decided to import hedgehogs to put in his garden to eat the nasty snails and slugs that were chomping their way through his Hostas and Delphiniums. The Outer Hebrides had previously been a hedgehog free zone. The effect was catastrophic and has lasted to this day. These islands have large numbers of ground nesting birds which have been decimated in recent years by hedgehogs eating their eggs and chicks.These lovely spiky animals are prolific breeders and during the last thirty or so years since introduction, have spread to all of the populated islands here and caused chaos. The birds most affected are dunlin, ringed plover, redshank, snipe, oystercatcher and lapwing. In the last few years, almost, if not all, of the Hedgehogs in North Uist have been trapped and removed so that the Island is now essentially hedgehog free. Initially, they were humanely killed, but there was such an outcry by the animal welfare lobby, that volunteers from St Tiggywinkles and elsewhere now remove the hedgehogs after they have been captured in live traps by Scottish Natural Heritage. They are then translocated to the mainland of Scotland and England to be released and who knows, the hedgehog in your garden might have been born in Uist. Well, following the success of the North Uist trapping scheme, funding has been obtained to extend the project to Benbecula and SNH are now seeking field workers and senior fieldworkers to catch the critters . Should you wish to apply for the jobs, the fieldworkers will conduct daytime live trapping and occasional night time spot lamp searches under the supervision of the senior fieldworkers. Experience of wildlife management and outdoor work is a prerequisite for those posts. The senior fieldworkers have the responsibility of supervising the fieldworkers and ensuring that all of the trapping is carried out in accordance with agreed animal welfare and legal protocols. Fascinating stuff.
Sadly, I can't tell you at this stage what the salaries will be but if any of you are desperate to know before putting in your applications, contact me and I'll find out for you.

Sunday, February 17, 2008


The plumber problem may be resolved. All work on the house stopped a couple of weeks ago causing desperation in my beating chest. Both myself and the builder phoned many plumbers, none of whom were interested in doing the work at short notice, or at all. The most frustrating aspect of it all is sitting here in someone else's flat, having to pay rent and all the expenses of my own house, without knowing when I can go home. The builder says that the renovation would have been completely finished by now if these plumbing difficulties had not arisen. Well, whilst swimming around in despair on Thursday, I had the idea of using the work intranet and sent out a message to hundreds of people asking if anybody knew of an available plumber.
Result! I had loads of replies giving me information about plumbers who might be able to help. Some of them gave details of people I had already phoned and others eventually came to nothing. A colleague spoke to her plumber brother in law, told him of my plight and he has agreed to help. He and his son, also a plumber, came to the house a few days ago to look at the job, gave me an acceptable estimate and they both started work at 9 o'clock this morning. So far so good. The only problem is that father and son are both working full time elsewhere, so can only do my work on Saturdays ( no Sabbath breaking ) This will delay the job a bit but even so, with two of them working together, I'm hopeful that progress can be made quickly now. Obtaining a plumber has improved my mood dramatically and maybe I'll get my house back in a month or two, fully renovated, without further difficulties. Maybe.
All of a sudden, the weather seems better, the grass is greener and the birds are singing louder. The Golden Eagles are to be seen every day now above the flat using the thermals to circle and soar. The days are getting longer and my dark Winter blues are lifting. Even saw a patch of miniature daffodils in full bloom yesterday. Just need my house back now and all will be well with the world. Am very much looking forward to being able to have friends visit this year when the house is finished.
Have been working in Uist and Barra this week and the weather has been wonderful - dramatic pink sunrises and warm rainfree days. Rare events here in February.
Came across a dead otter on the causeway between North Uist and Benbecula on Wednesday. They tend to use the same routes constantly, don't have very good eyesight and get killed now and again by speeding motorists. Although there's a healthy population of otters all around the coast of the Outer Hebrides, we can't afford to lose them like this and it's always sad to see them dead on the road. There are plenty of 'Otters Crossing' signs, but car drivers don't seem to take any notice of them.
No further news on the windfarm issue yet. The developer, Lewis Wind Farms, have put in a revised application to the Scottish Executive proposing to build the turbines in stages - some immediately, some more in two years time and the remainder two years after that. Same plan spread out over a lengthier period. For some reason, they think they will kill fewer birds and do less environmental damage with this new idea.
Oh somebody save us from the collective brains of powerful international companies.

Had to smile this week when I received an email from a friend who is outraged that fuel at her local garage in England has just risen to 106 pence a litre. She wants me to sign a petition protesting at the increased cost and to boycott all Shell and BP petrol stations. We have neither of them on the island, but I now have to pay 120 pence a litre for my diesel at the local petrol pumps.