Saturday, August 15, 2009


Gearrannan Blackhouse village, which is now a major tourist attraction, is sited on the Westside of Lewis, near Carloway. The village was lived in until 1974 and is thought to have been the last group of blackhouses to be inhabited in the Outer Hebrides.
After lying empty and derelict for many years, a trust was established in 1989 to undertake the ambitious task of restoring the entire village. The project took about ten years to complete and is now a great success. There is a Youth Hostel, a number of self catering cottages, cafe, shop and museum, as well as public toilets. The village sits in front of a pretty cove and there are wonderful views all around. It's a bit of a gem and I suggest you stop what you are doing right now, get on a bus/bicycle/train/ferry/plane/car/walk and come and see it. For more information about Gearrannan, go to

It's been a bit of a struggle this week. Most things that could go wrong have done. My car decided to break down with gearbox trouble and is now sat in a compound at the garage waiting for some obscure spare part to arrive from England. Goodness knows when it will be mended. There were no hire cars available, possibly because of the sheer volume of tourists we have on the island at present, but the garage staff came to my rescue and have loaned me a car until mine is fixed. That's very nice of them and they will get a Christmas card from me.

Went fishing a couple of nights ago and caught absolutely nothing, but the ten year old boy fishing with his dad at the side of me managed to pull enough fish out to feed the five thousand. Oh the shame of it. To rub more salt into the wound, he came over, told me my weight wasn't heavy enough and offered me his spare. Still caught diddly squat and then went home after thanking the boy nicely.
Have bought a pack of Icelandic cod fillets ( line caught and on special offer) at the co op tonight and I'm going to pretend I caught them when I eat them tomorrow.

Lost my wallet containing money, cards, driving licence etc a few days ago and slipped into blind panic mode until I found it some hours later, in the kitchen waste bin where I'd thrown it. Then discovered an empty baked bean tin in the kitchen food cupboard, so assume I must have descended into a fugue state at some point as a means of avoiding stress caused by expensive broken cars and clever boys who can fish better than me.

In a further off message moment, I managed to fill my petrol strimmer with diesel, but in a stroke of good luck, spotted my deliberate mistake before any damage was done. It's time for a lengthy holiday I think.

That fine provider of fascinating facts, the Registrar General, has published statistics showing that the population of the Outer Hebrides has dropped by about 5% during the last ten years and continues on a downward trend. There is much wailing and beating of breasts about this in the local press and I rather suspect that in ten years from now, if the doom mongers are right, there will only be me, the harbourmaster and my neighbour's cat left on the islands.
A local councillor blames it all on "the general downturn in the economy and migrant workers leaving the islands in the wake of the contraction of the fish farming sector". All the Polish plumbers, including the one who walked out of my house renovation leaving me in the lurch, have gone home because life is now more agreeable in Poland than it is here.
Do you know, that in 2008, there were 346 deaths here and only 256 births? Perhaps the way to develop the economy is to turn the Islands into one huge Las Vegas style gambling venue and develop a side industry of coffin making.

On the other hand, there might be a future in promoting the Outer Hebrides as a world centre for retreats and alternative therapies. Scaravay is a tiny uninhabited 40 acre island in the Sound of Harris which seems to be owned by a man who is marketing 'associate ownerships' and various 'heritage artefacts' connected with the island, to romantics with spare money. If desperate to fritter away your fortune, go to
Last week, a man described as a retired millionaire banker, cast himself away on Scaravay for a month as a means of doing cold turkey to withdraw himself from a thirty a day, forty year cigarette habit and to lose weight. There are no houses on the island and he is apparently living in a tent, eating tinned food and jogging regularly. He has taken a guitar with him to learn to play and is dispelling boredom by listening to books on his Ipod and playing with his mobile phone, both of which are solar powered.

News headline of the week - ' Unstable plane hits Benbecula airport runway.'

Must have been very upset to take such drastic action.

Monday, August 03, 2009


This chimney, a few nearby ruins and some scattered whale bones are all that remain of the old whaling station down in Harris. It was operated by the Norwegians between 1903 and 1920, when Lord Leverhulme took it over and it continued to be run by his soap and detergent company, Lever Brothers, until it closed down in 1929.
The whaling station was successful for quite a long time, but in common with other more recent fisheries, became a victim of over fishing, leading to total collapse of the whaling industry locally.
When the station was fully functional, the whales were harpooned out at sea and then taken individually to the shelter of Village Bay at St Kilda. They were then towed, four carcasses at a time, back to this whaling station for processing. Boats took the whale products to Glasgow and returned full of coal for the whaling ships and the whaling station boilers.
The whaling station reopened between 1950 and about 1959, but the venture became uneconomic again and the operating company concentrated its efforts on catching whales around South Georgia in the South Atlantic.

Now we're on a whaling trip, we'll continue on the same theme for a while away from the Hebrides.


Having taken a couple of years to master the fairly basic skill of loading several pictures at a time on to this blog, I'm on a bit of a roll and thought I would dig out some other relevant photos I had tucked away and show you these.
As a child, I read Moby Dick again and again and was always fascinated by the adventures of explorers such as Scott, Amundsen and particularly Shackleton.
A few years ago, I decided to get off my backside, take myself to the verge of bankruptcy and go to Antarctica and all points South. I had an unfulfilled ambition to pay homage at Shackleton's grave at Grytviken, South Georgia, was quite keen to see a penguin in the flesh and was interested in the wildlife and recent military and social history of the Falkland Islands.
Well, leaving day came and with a fresh crease in my trousers and newly polished shoes, off I went skipping gaily to the airport.

Grytviken is an amazing place. Many Hebrideans have worked in the whaling industry there. The whaling station is now abandoned and is just decaying very slowly. The whaling boat shown above, one of several along the shore, looks as if the crew simply walked away one day and left it to its own devices. Which, I think, is exactly what happened. The whaling stopped and the men went home, leaving South Georgia to the penguins and seals.

Whale boat propellors. Elephant seal snoozing in the middle.

I'm not absolutely sure, but I think these engines powered the boilers which rendered the blubber and purified the oil.

A very moving experience to see where the great man is buried, but spoiled a little because these other tourists from a different ship refused to move to allow me to get a clear shot. There were a lot of visitors that day and my boat left first so this was the best I could manage.

A very sad story to this picture. The grave, a few yards from Shackleton's last resting place, is occupied by Felix Artuso, a young Argentinian sailor. He was a Petty Officer on the Argentinian Submarine 'Santa Fe' during the Falklands conflict. On the 25 April 1982, the Santa Fe was sailing close to South Georgia when it was attacked by a British naval anti Submarine helicopter with depth charges. The Santa Fe sustained extensive damage in that attack and limped into the jetty at King Edward Point, Grytviken, where the crew abandoned ship and surrendered to British forces. On close examination by the captors, the submarine was found to be in a dangerous condition, primarily because it was leaking oil and chlorine gas and was losing buoyancy. There were also ready to fire live torpedos on board which were a concern.
A major headache for the British was that the submarine was moored at a jetty needed for other ships from the British task force and it was considered imperative that the vessel should not be allowed to sink at the jetty.

During the next few days, essential maintenance was carried out on the Submarine by some of the Argentinian crew, including Petty Officer Artuso, under armed British guard. The guards were not familiar with all the equipment on the sub and at some point during 30 April 1982, Felix Artuso was seen to move swiftly towards a valve which the guard thought was used to flood the boat with water. Believing the Submarine was about to be scuttled by the Argentinian sailor, the British guard shot him dead. When the valve was then examined, it was found to have a completely innocent purpose and could not have allowed water into the submarine.

The enquiry that followed found that the guard, acting under great pressure and with wrong information about the purpose of the valve, had killed Petty Officer Artuso mistakenly.
Felix Artuso was confirmed as having acted completely innocently and he was given a funeral with full military honours by the British and buried in the little cemetery at Grytviken, where he remains. Twelve of his comrades were present at the burial.
The Santa Fe was later towed out to deep water and sunk by the British.

I have been unable to find out if the Argentinian Government accepted the findings of the enquiry and have no idea why Felix Artuso's body has not been repatriated closer to his family in the Argentine.
The full Board of Enquiry Report into the death of Petty Officer Artuso is published on the Internet and provokes thought about the pressures and circumstances faced by participants in wartime.
In the background of this photo can be seen old whaling ships, whale oil boilers and the Norwegian whalers church, which is maintained in pristine condition and is used regularly.