Saturday, October 18, 2008


A very satisfying week. Brother in law has been and gone, having done lots of work while he was here. He set to and completed the half finished tiling in the kitchen that the tiler left when he disappeared a month or two ago. The joiner came and the wooden floors downstairs are now fitted and looking good. The stove is burning nicely and for the first time, the house is beginning to take on the feel of a home. There is no work left that I need tradesmen to do and the next few weeks will be spent finishing small jobs and finding furniture. The only recent disaster - a small one - happened after I'd put the third coat of paint on some newly made coat rails. I was just admiring my handiwork when an open roll of fibre glass loft insulation, placed precariously on a shelf by me, dropped off and fell on to the wet rails. It made a complete mess and I've no choice now but to strip the rails back to bare wood and start again. I tried letting the rails dry and sanding them down, but they looked awful, so back to the beginning again.

A local wag has raised a smile on the island by installing furniture on a small islet in a loch near Stornoway. Somehow, the culprit has managed to get a sofa and kitchen table onto the islet, probably by boat. As a nice finishing touch, two or three wine bottles have been attached to the top of the table. A flickering candle and open fire would have made the scene cosy and homely. It's hard to tell whether this is just a humorous jape or a statement on the possible consequences of the credit crunch and mortgage situation.

Stornoway black puddings are famous world wide and particularly here. There was outrage this week when it was reported that butchers in the central belt of Scotland are selling copy cat products marked 'Stornoway style black puddings'. Hell hath no fury. The MSP for the Highlands and Islands has taken up the cudgels and plans to take on the nasty imitation puds. -- ' The reputation of genuine Stornoway black puddings must be protected. We don't want other butchers taking advantage by using the Stornoway product name.' ---- He has tabled a motion in Parliament about this issue - truly, I jest not - and now plans to consult with European Parliamentary colleagues to see if Protected Geographical Status can be obtained for the puddings to stop the evil interlopers from marketing inferior counterfeit rubbish. There are precedents for this move with Melton Mowbray Pork Pies and Arbroath Smokies now having such protection.

At long last, the Government backed reduced ferry fare structure for the Outer Hebrides comes into being from Sunday. Fares to the main land are dropping significantly for an initial three year period. The Stornoway-Ullapool journey will cost approximately £90 less for a car and driver next week than it does now. I'm planning to celebrate by making a pre Christmas trip to Inverness for household goods, gifts, a change of scenery and a pint or two in a decent pub.

Saturday, October 04, 2008


This attractive tower, sometimes known as MacLeod's Folly, sits on a little islet in Loch Scolpaig on the Noth West coast of North Uist. It was built about 1830, by Dr Alexander Macleod, who was then factor of the North Uist Estate. MacLeod is said to have erected the building using local labour, as a means of providing employment for famine relief. It's an Octagonal two storey structure, with a parapet and seems to have had no practical purpose other than to sit well in the landscape and be stared at. When the water level is low in Summer, the tower can be reached easily via a stone causeway. Over the years, the weather has taken its toll and it is now in a sorry state of repair. A group of admirers of the folly has recently been formed to raise money to restore it to its former glory, before it falls down.

Living here, it is tempting to believe that this is one of the wettest places on the planet. A lot of the year though, we do have dry and sunny periods, but over on St Kilda, they've had a serious drought over the summer. A prolonged spell of dry weather led to the fresh water supply on Hirta running out and although 20 tonnes of water were shipped in from Stornoway, that lasted only one week. The situation became so serious that the 30 resident Ministry of Defence and National Trust workers had to evacuate the island for a while. The boffins got their heads together though and helicoptered in a number of experts to meet round a table on Hirta and come up with a solution. Consequently, Project Aquatine was created. This is a public private partnership between Scottish Water and Veolia Water, formed to supply water from a desalination plant, under contract to the MoD for 25 years. The new desalination unit arrived at St Kilda by barge last month, taking 14 hours to reach the island from the mainland. It removes salt and other minerals from sea water by pushing raw water through filters at high pressure in a process known as reverse osmosis. Please, please, don't ask me any techie questions about this, 'cos I won't know the answers. I haven't a clue how it all works, I just read about the project and thought it was interesting. All parties involved in Project Aquatine have declared it a success and claim that drinkable water will always be available from now on, whatever the weather. The plant has been designed to be removable, so that it can be taken off the Island if St Kilda was to become permanently uninhabited again in future.

The application to build a whisky distillery on Barra received planning approval from the local council last month and is expected to get under way soon. The new Red River distillery here at Uig on Lewis has already started production. The Tenants of West Harris are considering a community buy out of the West Harris Estate from the Government, under right to buy legislation. If that plan comes to fruition, one of the suggestions for development of the estate by the community is to start a distillery of their own to generate regular long term income. Hey Presto! Within a few years time, we could have three distilleries in the Outer Isles and tourism might increase through the creation of a new 'whisky trail'.

No real traumas here at the Chateau recently, other than a couple of easily fixed water pipe leaks resulting from the shoddy work of the plumber. I've been a lazy slob for the last week or two and the house is a bit of a tip, but my brother in law is coming back for a week, on Wednesday, so a big tidy up operation is underway. The joiner returns on Tuesday to fit the wooden floors and skirting, which I'm hoping will only take three or four days, because he's being paid by the hour.

Winter is almost upon us, the temperature is dropping rapidly and we've already had masses of heavy rain, which is a good test for the new access road and drainage channels. The road, which is becoming much admired and something of a local tourist attraction, is standing up well so far and is bedding in nicely. It's flat and well compacted, so I've no problems with ponds appearing, as they have each Winter since I arrived. The drains are flowing like rivers into the burn along the boundary and knowledgeable neighbours tell me that the front part of the croft will dry out nicely next year and become more usable.

A man in a cafe in Stornoway told me that we are going to have a harsh cold Winter and as he had a pleasant, honest and convincing face, I've stocked up with fuel on the strength of his prediction. Not sure if this is a better method than consulting the BBC long range forecast, but the coffee was good and I'm a trusting soul. The central heating oil arrived yesterday- now 60p per litre - and I've also bought in coal and logs for the multifuel stove, because I hate being cold inside the house.

A reader asked me how the mink trapping is going. Well, it seems to be progressing quite nicely, thank you. The trappers are working their way North and are currently in this part of the Island. Scottish Natural Heritage have advertised in the Stornoway Gazette this week for another Mink Trapper and are paying a salary of £14120 per annum. What is interesting about this is that the advert states explicitly that the mink project aims to eradicate every last mink from the Outer Hebrides, rather than to just control them.