The recent snow and ice are just a receding memory here now, with photographs being the only evidence that the island was completely white two or three weeks ago. Although the temperature is rising slowly and we've had some gloriously sunny days recently, it's still too cold to predict that Spring is on its way. Having said that, the daffodils shoots have emerged this week and there are some early lambs about. I'm being a bit of a wimp though and confess to having just bought a bag of kindling instead of getting my backside into the freezing shed to chop some up myself.
Down in Uist earlier this week, I listened to a tirade from a colleague who was complaining that more money is spent here on 'Otters Crossing' warning signs than on road safety instruction and signage for local children. I don't know if that is true, but driving on the Eriskay Causeway a day or two later, I had just passed the first otter crossing sign when right on cue, an otter ran in front of the car and only narrowly avoided being squashed under my front wheels. After leaping on to the side wall of the causeway, the animal stopped to have a good look at me before gracefully hurling itself into the sea.
Wind farms are a big issue here and a couple of years ago, a famous battle was fought to prevent 181 turbines being built all along the Barvas Moor from Stornoway to Ness. The anti wind farm protesters won the day on that occasion but no one is under any illusion that that is the end of the drive to cover the landscape with windmills. As far as I am aware, the three turbines shown in the picture are the only commercial windfarm currently operating on Lewis, but not for long. A Mr Oppenheim, the owner of Eishken Estate, some 20 miles South of Stornoway, received approval about a month ago to create a windfarm on his land. His original application was for permission for 133 turbines, but the final approval is for only 33, which presumably, he believes he can make money from. It's being claimed that 150 full time equivalent jobs will be created for the construction phase of the windfarm and 1% of the ongoing turnover will be used 'to enhance the ecological and cultural heritage of the Eishken Estate'.
The Stornoway Gazette reports this week that the Western Isles Council has to make budget savings of £10 million over the next few years and proposes to cut the number of schools here by half, to 21. The targeted schools have been named, causing great anger among parents in those catchment areas. Local education provision is considered vitally important in helping these remote communities to thrive and attract young families. Opposition to the closure plans is being mounted all over the islands, but it seems inevitable that some schools will have to close eventually, meaning lengthy daily bus journeys for many children and continued depopulation in some areas.
Lochmaddy, in North Uist, with a population of about 300, has a bank, ferry terminal, shop, petrol pumps, two hotels, Post Office, Arts Centre and Museum. The school roll is currently 10, rising to 14 in August and an expected 20 pupils in the next couple of years. It's a lively, successful village, popular with holidaymakers and parents of school age children are outraged at the plan to close their school.
A man living in Stornoway, who has Prostate Cancer, has hit on a novel way of raising money for Macmillan Nurses. He has apparently worked as a brewer in the past and using his contacts in the industry, has persuaded the owners of a brewery on the mainland to allow him to use their premises and equipment to produce a strong bottled beer. He has called his 6.9% beer 'Brewers Swansong - A beer to die for' and describes it as a sweet valedictory mild. He is selling the brew now, the proceeds going to Macmillan. Not sure how much he has raised yet.
The new Lewis Distillery, Abhainn Dearg, is in production now and have announced that their first single malt whisky is to be bottled early next year in time for sale at the 2011 Royal National Mod. Visits to the distillery are welcomed. Further details from http://www.abhainndearg.co.uk/.
Finally, silly joke of the week.
Two snakes are moving through the jungle.
One turns to the other and asks 'are we venomous or constrictors?'
Second snake replies 'for goodness sake, why do you want to know that?'
First snake - 'I've just bit my lip.'