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.

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