Sunday, May 24, 2009


Several people have contacted me to express concern about my welfare after I announced last week that I'd lost my favourite jumper. Well, cease worrying. I turned this house upside down for days in a fruitless search for the missing garment. Eventually, after a serious sulk, pennies and pounds were gathered from beneath sofa cushions, cupboards and under the bed and a new jumper was bought from a shop in Stornoway. Guess what happened then? I've been cutting up logs in the shed recently so that I can survive next winter and when I went back in there last night, there was the missing jumper, draped over my workbench. Joy of joys. My heart skipped a beat at being reunited with an old friend and the realisation that I'm now a two jumper household makes me feel quite decadent.

For those believing that this is an idyllic problem free place to live, here's a sobering thought. New statistics just published show that the Outer Hebrides had the greatest increase in Scotland of the prescribing of anti depressant medication between 2006 - 2008. Prescriptions of such drugs rose by 7.7% during that time. Why? I'm not sure. Perhaps It's connected with alcohol abuse or unemployment. Maybe there are fewer alternative treatments available or could it be that GP's here are just more ready to prescribe pills for unhappiness or other symptoms of depression than their mainland colleagues.

During my first visit to these islands in the seventies, there were seaweed processing factories operating at Sponish, near Lochmaddy in North Uist and at Keose here on Lewis. They sold the dried and milled seaweed for pharmaceuticals, cosmetics and putting the head on beer, among other uses. The industry eventually collapsed in the face of price undercutting from competitors in Chile and elsewhere. In recent years though ,the economics of seaweed have changed and the Hebridean Seaweed Company are in business again near Stornoway, where they employ eight workers to process the weed before sending it off to customers around the world. They have thirty freelance cutters collecting the seaweed for them around the islands. In an innovative move, the company has just purchased a Canadian made seaweed combine harvester which crawls along the submerged shoreline slicing and gathering seaweed from just under the surface. The company say their new harvester produces higher quality, cleaner weed than manual cutting does but also say they will retain the human harvesters and no jobs will be lost.

In a previous blog, I mentioned the furore over the Royal Bank of Scotland's refusal to accept cheques written in Gaelic by a Stornoway man. Good news. Following representations from the Gaelic Development Board and others, the bank has made a complete U turn. RBS now say that they have changed their minds and in future, will accept cheques in Gaelic from the complainant and any one else who cares to write them.

Sunday, May 17, 2009


When I went to bed last night, the rain was pounding against the windows and the wind was blowing so hard I fully expected to wake up this morning and find the roof off. It was a joy then to pop my head out earlier to find that it's a beautiful, still, clear and sunny day. There are times when our fierce unpredictable weather gets me down a bit, but days like today make living here all worth while.
Taking a walk down the croft to have a look at the sheep and the flowers a little while ago, I sat down on a rock to take a snap of the view in the picture and have a drink. I have a little vacuum flask and enjoy looking down the Hebrides from the point where the croft meets the sea loch, with a cup of hot coffee in hand.
Even on a calm Sunday morning, there are a variety of sounds to listen to if you sit quietly. The sheep were bleating, bees buzzing, geese honking and a distant fish farm generator humming away in the background. Gulls called raucously and rock doves were cooing . Perfect.
Most of the flowers have yet to appear, but a few have popped their heads above ground. The Thrift is pretty and a few stalks of Cotton Grass sway in a light breeze. There are no Orchids yet, but the carnivorous Round Leaved Sundew is growing strongly again this year in the sphagnum bog. The Marsh Marigolds are a lovely golden yellow, the Silverweed is out and a little Daisy like flower is cheerfully colonising the area around the house.

A very welcome new social enterprise company in Stornoway is now trading as a producer of high quality hand made chocolates. Hebridean Chocolates , operating from a redundant bakery, has been created by the local volunteer agency, Voluntary Action Lewis. The business, which has been two years in development and has involved an investment of £200,000, will aim to become a sustainable concern making chocolates for tourists, local people and worldwide sales. In addition to producing chocolates commercially, Hebridean Chocolates- - will provide training, placements and employment for 14 people, including seven adults with learning disabilities.

The new Lewis distillery - Abhainn Dearg ( Red River in English and pronounced something like 'avven jerrag' ) -over in Uig, is in action and producing whisky, although I don't think they have any ready for sale just now. They have no visitor centre or shop yet, but say they welcome visitors to their modest premises to see how the whisky is made. Go to for further information.

The most momentous and potentially far reaching event of the week here has been the announcement from Caledonian Macbrayne ( Calmac ) that they intend to commence operating scheduled ferries to the mainland from Stornoway on Sundays, for the first time ever. Only a few weeks ago, Calmac were saying that they would not consider running a Sunday service from Lewis until the recently introduced subsidised ferry fares are reviewed in about two and a half years time.
Well, out of the blue, Calmac has put out a statement saying it has been challenged by the Equality Commission over the lack of seven day sailings to the island. The company have sought legal advice which says they are legally obliged to implement a Sabbath breaking Sunday sailing. Calmac have said that the advice they have received is that under the 2006 Equality Act, with-holding a Sunday ferry out of respect of traditionalist's views could infringe the rights of residents. Consequently, they have made the decision to run Sunday ferries and say they are now only consulting interested parties to decide on logistics and a start date.
Both of the lobbies for and against Sunday ferries are very vocal. The pro Sunday ferry lobby claim that the majority of people living here do want Sabbath sailings, while the Lord's Day Observance Society are equally adament that most residents do not want change. I can't gauge where the truth lies, but what is likely though, is that Sunday ferries will probably precede the opening of shops on Lewis on Sundays and life in the Outer Hebrides will never be the same again.

Final snippets:

Diesel has now gone up to 114 pence a litre here.

Two Avocets have been seen in Uist and Two Common Cranes were spotted near Stornoway this week.

A Californian reader of this blog emailed me to say that the temperature is expected to reach 102 degrees Fahrenheit ( 39 degrees Centigrade ) over there today. It's warm and comfortable short sleeved weather here at 19 degrees. Can't imagine what 39 degrees feels like.

I can recommend the Jamaican Ginger Cake recipe from Levi Roots' Reggae Reggae Cookbook.

Joke heard on Radio Scotland -
Which are the only biscuits that can fly?
Answer. Wee plane ones of course.

I've lost my favourite jumper and can't find it anywhere.

Thursday, May 07, 2009


The weather here deteriorated rapidly last night and most of the inter island ferries were cancelled today because of high winds. I've been working on Uist and Barra for the last few days and thought that my flight back from Benbecula this afternoon might be cancelled too. Oh no. Our intrepid pilot decided that nothing, especially a bit of wind, was going to stop him getting home tonight. With his reassuring words "it will be a bit bumpy, but don't worry, just hang on to something " ringing in our ears, we took off. The next half an hour is best forgotten and I have no idea how I managed to keep my lunch down. The pilot made a good landing at Stornoway though, bless him.

I'd like to tell you that life improved then, but not so. Got to my car in the airport car park to find that I had a puncture. Changing the wheel in a high, stinging wind was not amusing. On the way home, a very annoying little dash light came on suddenly to inform me that one of my doors was open. Stopped the car just as it started to rain stair rods, horizontal ones at that. Nothing wrong with any of the doors, just a faulty warning light. Got soaked to the skin in about twenty seconds, so good humour disappearing by the minute. Did matters get better at home? Regrettably not. Drove down the drive to the house to find a flock of sheep had leapt over the three foot fence separating my garden from the common grazings and had eaten everything they could find growing, including eighteen strawberry plants I've lovingly tended for the last month.

Lewis, Harris and North Uist are Protestant, but South Uist, Eriskay and Barra remained Catholic after the Reformation. The very beautiful thirty foot statue of Madonna and Child, known as 'Our Lady of the Isles' and shown above, keeps watch over South Uist on the Hill of Rueval, near Gerinish. It was carved out of white granite by Hew Lorimer, erected in 1957 and consecrated the following year. It's a wonderfully imposing piece of work, especially at close quarters and well worth climbing a very long and steep path to have a good look at.

A Stornoway man is unhappy that his bank is refusing to allow him to write his cheques in Gaelic. For twenty years, he was a customer of the Bank of Scotland, who happily let him sign his name and insert the amount in Gaelic, on cheques issued by them. Earlier this year, he moved his account to the Royal Bank of Scotland, who have now told him he must complete all his cheques in English in future. RBS apparently give him cheque books and statements printed in Gaelic, but are insisting that the date, amount and signature are only acceptable in English. An RBS spokesperson said :

" It is necessary when customers issue cheques that they are written in English because in the UK, that is the language understood by all those through whose hands the cheque may pass from the time it is issued until it is paid. We must be able to verify that the amount written in words is the same as the amount shown in figures. English presents no difficulty for our staff, but if Gaelic is used, that would require having Gaelic readers at every place where Gaelic cheques may be presented for payment. For practical reasons, that is not possible, so we must insist that cheques are written in English."

This from a huge Scottish bank with a long established branch in Stornoway. I wonder why cheques written in Gaelic were no problem to the Bank of Scotland?