Monday, February 28, 2011


Seaweed is still collected on the foreshore and used as fertiliser by crofters throughout the islands. It's easy to obtain, free and effective.

A quick update for those interested in the progress of goings on here:

a) Recently arrived grandson smiles all day, feeds well and sleeps all night. No problems whatsoever so far and his big sister loves him. Following due deliberation, parents have decided not to send him back to the shop.

b) Boiler is working fantastically well since the engineer came and spoke sternly to it a few weeks ago. Have now almost decided to spend the money earmarked for a new boiler on replacing rotten croft fencing.

c) Little lighthouse at bottom of the croft is flashing regularly again since the man came and changed the bulb. I suppose it's churlish of me to observe that the light now has a slightly orangey glow to it rather than the previous bright white offering, which I preferred.

From time to time, I've written about the Uist Wader Project, which has been trapping and relocating hedgehogs, believed to be responsible for decimating the native wading bird population here by eating their eggs. The project, which started eight years ago, was reported only a few months ago as having been successful in increasing the number of ground nesting wading birds. Oops! Scientists from Scottish Natural Heritage are now saying that may not be the case and that 'there is no statistically valid evidence that the Uist Wader Project has resulted in an upturn in wader populations.' The scientists now speculate that the real culprits predating on the waders might be gulls, or chemical fertilisers applied to the machair, which may be upsetting the ecological balance. A SNH spokesperson said 'in retrospect, it would have been useful to have monitored gull numbers in more detail.'
Much of North Uist has been cleared of hedgehogs and the plan was to move the trappers into South Uist where the animals are still plentiful. Now that the SNH scientists have spoken though, that plan has been put on hold for four years while they search for evidence to discover if hedgehogs are innocent or guilty. The scientists now intend to monitor a patch of land by Loch Bee in South Uist, where there are lots of hedgehogs and compare the results with a plot in Benbecula, where there are few hedgehogs, but where flocks of gulls are present. SNH are seeking further funding of £100,000 for this new research and monitoring -- That's on top of the £1.3 million already spent on the Uist Wader Project, which has trapped and removed 1622 hedgehogs so far, at a cost of £800 per hedgehog.
On a positive note, the SNH spokesperson also said that the Uist Wader Project has brought benefit to the islands by creating employment and through wildlife tourism, said to be worth £130,000 a year to the local economy. Well there you are then.

Regular readers will remember that I have previously mentioned that the Stornoway Black Pudding Producers Association are making a bid to the EU for their puddings to receive protected status, to stop unscrupulous butchers on the mainland passing off their rubbish products as being 'Stornoway style' puddings. Others, such as Champagne, Melton Mowbray pork pies and Arbroath Smokies, have already received this coveted Protected Geographical Status and the Stornoway Black Pudding case will be considered by the EU in the near future.
Well, a twist in the tale. It is a little known fact that in addition to the four or five Stornoway butchers who make black puddings, there are at least two other long established black pudding makers here on the islands, away from Stornoway itself. One of those is at Cross Stores in Ness, about twenty five miles North of Stornoway, while the other is the butcher in Tarbert, Harris.
A week or two ago, at a council meeting in Stornoway, Councillors apparently tried to include these other pudding manufacturers under the Stornoway brand, for the purpose of the EU application.
Hell hath no fury! Almost immediately, the two independent butchers responded robustly with comments amounting to ' Not on your life mate, on your bike.'
The butcher in Tarbert, AD Munro, said he would fling out any suggestion that he should relabel his acclaimed Harris pudding as a Stornoway product. -- 'We sell all the Harris puddings we can make, no bother.'
Mr Morrison of Cross Stores in Ness said, ' We would rather retain the Ness black pudding identity than have it lumped in with the Stornoway label '. So there.
There are six or seven independent makers of black puddings here on Lewis and Harris. Wouldn't it be lovely if tourists started making pilgrimages here to sample each one of the puddings on a Western Isles Black Pudding Trail, just like they do with whisky on the mainland.

Sunday, February 13, 2011


My faith in Lewis tradesmen has been partially restored by the heating engineer who has sorted out my central heating oil boiler.
The boiler broke down while I was away over Christmas and New Year and when I got back, it took me a few days to find a heating engineer who was willing to come and fix it. He arrived, took the boiler to pieces, replaced a part and it burst back into life. Just as the house was warming up and I began to feel secure again, it stopped and nothing I did could persuade it to work. Back came the engineer, who, with good grace, spent a lot of time trying to identify the new problem, before replacing a different part, which seemed to effect a cure. This time, the boiler functioned well for two days before having another breakdown, which I was also on the verge of suffering. I was embarrassed to call the engineer again, but did so and he was surprisingly enthusisastic about returning, on the grounds that these repeated breakdowns were a personal challenge and an affront to his professional skills and workmanship. Another part was replaced and away went the man with fingers crossed. Oh dear. This time the boiler only worked well for a couple of hours before breaking down. By now, I was at my wits end, but the engineer took the news in his stride and came back to the house quickly and cheerfully.
On this occasion, he brought his son, also a heating engineer and the two of them spent the best part of an afternoon stripping the boiler down, making all sorts of adjustments and replacing another part.
The boiler has now been working again faultlessly for over a week and I'm just beginning to relax and consider the possibility that the problem has been solved.
Everything about this engineer impressed me, but two things stand out. I was so fed up with the unreliability of the boiler that I was ready to ask him to rip it out and replace it with a new one. He wouldn't hear any of it and said that once he'd discovered the cause of the problems, the boiler should function happily for a good few years yet. Secondly, he absolutely refused to give me a bill for the visit by himself and his son and has since phoned to check that the boiler is still working. His attitude, good humour and desire to resolve the boiler faults have been impressive and I'm happy to provide his details to any reader who needs a Stornoway based heating engineer.

I like constancy in my life and am pleased to have a small working lighthouse on an islet in the sea loch at the bottom of the croft. It flashes every five seconds throughout the hours of darkness and I find it reassuring and welcoming.
In the New Year, it stopped without warning and no one locally I spoke to seemed to know why. I phoned the Northern Lighthouse Board hotline - really- and they denied any knowledge, but said they would look into it. The nice man on the other end of the phone was not willing to speculate on whether the light had become the victim of budget cuts, or just needed a new bulb and a service.
Nothing happened for several weeks and I began to think the light was gone forever. Well, imagine how pleased I was to be lying in my bed last night, when I noticed that the light was flashing again and reflecting in my bedroom off the wardrobe doors.
It's the little things that matter and make life good.

It is now possible to do a degree at Lews Castle College in Stornoway and at a variety of remote venues throughout Northern Scotland, which means that young people, and older folk, no longer have to go South for higher education unless they wish to.
Thirteen colleges and educational institutions offering both specialist and general courses have grouped together and were awarded official university status as the University of the Highlands and Islands on 2 February 2011. UHI is now Scotland's 15th University and offers courses by distance learning or personal attendance. Students can do BSc's in Renewable Energy, Sustainable Rural Economy & Archaeology in Stornoway, a BA in Gaelic language and Culture in Skye, a BA in Scottish History in Shetland and a BA in Theology at Dingwall. There are dozens of other degree level courses on offer as well and I'm thinking of enrolling for one myself when I retire in the next year or two.

A couple of years ago, myself and a friend were out fishing when a man appeared with a rifle and started shooting and killing seals that were feeding off the mackerel we were trying to catch. I wasn't traumatised by his behaviour, but I was angry that it was legal and he could just shoot these animals whenever he liked.
A new law now makes it illegal to kill seals at any time unless a special licence is held or there are compelling welfare reasons to end the suffering of an animal. Some annual licences have been issued to those who need to manage seal numbers to prevent seal damage to fisheries and fish farms, but killing a seal without a licence can now lead to six months in jail and/or a fine of up to £5000. I'm very pleased about that.

The Free Church of Scotland does not have a history of hymn singing or use of musical instruments in its services, but has a 100 year old strict tradition of instrument free, psalm only singing. The singing of psalms during a service is led by a Precentor, with the congregation responding. This traditon is threatened by a recent decision of the Church Commissioner's to allow hymn singing and instruments into worship for those Free Church congregations who wish to introduce them into their services.
A North Uist raised Minister who now preaches in Glasgow, is so opposed to the proposed change that he has decided to leave the Free Church and to seek a post as a pastor in another Scottish Presbyterian Church. There are rumblings that some congregations who want to maintain the status quo might also think of breaking away from the Free Church to form a new denomination maintaining the old traditions.