Monday, April 25, 2011


All is well here at the Homestead. Following a demanding couple of weeks at work, I now have a weeks holiday and am enjoying doing a bit of sightseeing and taking it easy with the friend who is visiting. The weather has improved dramatically and it's 13 or 14 degrees most days, which suits me fine. The flowers are starting to appear and it was lovely to see the Machair on Barra covered in Primroses earlier this week. I've just got Daffodils and Narcissus in bloom in the garden, but there are Violets in flower on the croft, Marsh Marigolds in the ditches and Silverweed has just surfaced and is uncurling everywhere.
The birds are returning too. Although I've seen nothing unusual yet, the Wheatears are back and there is a Rock Pipit outside the kitchen window as I write this. The Gyrfalcon that has been spotted up and down the islands recently has not been to see me.

Way back in 1984, a couple from England bought the buildings of Eilean Glas Lighthouse on the Island of Scalpay, a short distance from Tarbert, Harris, some forty miles from here. The lighthouse is historic, very picturesque and potentially a great tourist attraction, but is in a woeful condition at present. It's in a lovely position overlooking the Minch and is one of my favourite places for walking and pottering about.
In the mid 90's, apparently after getting into difficulties with the mortgage on the property, the female owner set up a fake Charity called the Friends of Eilean Glas and over the next couple of years, attracted donations to the charity and then systematically stole more than £100,000, which others had given, believing it was being used to maintain and improve the lighthouse buildings, which it clearly was not.
Well, chickens come home to roost and in 2004, both owners appeared before Southampton Crown Court, when they were each jailed for three years for fraud, later reduced to two years on appeal. The Court was told that the money was used to purchase shares and premium bonds, to buy the council house of the mother of the male owner - said to be a financial adviser - and to pay the school fees of their son.
The couple did their time, were ordered by the Court to repay some of the fraudulently obtained money from their remaining assets and all went quiet for a few years.
Moving forward to the present, the local Community on Scalpay are interested in purchasing the lighthouse to restore it and develop its potential for the benefit of all. A fly in the ointment though, is that the lighthouse buildings remain under the ownership of the Friends of Eilean Glas Trust, which is now controlled by the son of the two individuals who were jailed for fraud in 2004. In an email to the West Highland Free Press, the son said that the Trust (he and his parents?) had their own plans to develop the lighthouse site and hoped to secure funding from Historic Scotland in the coming months to help them achieve this. He then went on to say that :
" We recognise the benefit of Community involvement in the management of Eilean Glas and efforts will be made to involve the community in the daily operations and long term strategy of the lighthouse"
Just in case you might think that I'm making this story up, there is plenty of information on the internet about Eilean Glas and the role of the owners who were imprisoned.
A spokesman for the community group hoping to buy the lighthouse made his own statement this week saying:
" The actions of the owners of the Eilean Glas Lighthouse led directly to their imprisonment and to the current lamentable state of the buildings. I therefore think it is difficult to see how any funding body or community group could have the confidence to support any organisation that has the managerial involvement of any member of this family."

Went to the museum in Stornoway a few days ago to see the twenty three Lewis chessmen which are on display here until September. I first saw them many years ago in London, but had forgotten just how beautiful and imposing they are to look at. They are spectacularly well carved and such an important exhibit for us to have back on the island where they were discovered in 1831. Strongly recommend a visit to see them if you possibly can.

It's a bit windy, but I need to use the time usefully before I go back to work, so we're off to cut some peats now.

Saturday, April 02, 2011


What an exciting week it's been here on Lewis.

A 4000 square mile area of sea around Rockall is designated as a Special Area of Conservation by the European Commission and fishing is prohibited within the area. This designation is intended to protect the habitat of many marine species, but particularly of a fragile and rare cold water coral known as Lophelia Pertusa -(great name for a Flamenco dancer?)
Well, on Tuesday, a Scottish Fisheries Protection Vessel, the Jura, arrested the longliner MFV Fuglenes, shown above, for fishing in the banned area. The Fuglenes, a 38 metre Norwegian fishing boat, was then escorted 300 miles to the nearest port, Stornoway, by the Jura, a journey which took 26 hours. On arrival at Stornoway, the skipper of the Fuglenes, Captain Johansen, was reported to the Procurator Fiscal for illegal fishing and the poor man was then hauled before the Sheriff at Stornoway Sheriff Court on Friday, where he pled guilty.
Captain Johansen, who was second in command of a Norwegian Navy U boat before he became a fishing skipper, told the Court that he had made a 'genuine mistake' and had inserted the wrong co-ordinates into the ship's plotter, which then gave him 'the false impression that we were fishing outside of the banned zone.'
The Fiscal told the Court that the Fuglenes was detained by the Fisheries Protection Vessel whilst she was fishing well within the prohibited area and the Sheriff observed that it was 'rather worrying' that a former First Officer of a submarine could get his plot co-ordinates so wrong.
Captain Johansen was fined £5000. His catch of fish, a holdful of Blue Ling, was weighed by Fisheries Enforcement Officers and a valuation of £31,500, after expenses, was agreed between them and the skipper . In a very generous gesture, Captain Johansen transferred that sum to his fishing agent before he left Stornoway and the money is now being donated to two Lewis charities, the Stornoway RNLI lifeboat and the Fishermen's Mission, both of whom expressed gratitude for this unexpected windfall.
Even as we speak, the Fuglenes is on its way back to Norway, where the skipper will sell his catch and presumably reflect on his navigational skills.

When I came to live here, more than five years ago, I brought with me three digital radios, two of which I had bought and one which was a gift. The FM signal where I used to live was rubbish and digital reception was great. I was particularly fond of listening to Planet Rock and BBC 7, which broadcasts lots of plays and repeats of old radio programmes from the 50's, 60's and 70's. Both of those stations were only broadcasting on digital, not FM.
Arriving on Lewis, I soon discovered that there was no digital radio signal here and no plans whatsoever to provide one. My digital radios were put in a cupboard and there they remained until yesterday, useless. From time to time, I thought about giving them away or selling them, but never got round to it. It has been a curious feature of life on Lewis that all of the shops selling electrical goods, including the Co-op and Tesco, have had shelves full of digital radios, when there has been absolutely no signal. A couple of years ago, I got the manager of the Co-op out of his office and asked him why he persisted in selling radios that could not be used here. The reply - ' I don't know. I just sell what head office send me. Perhaps people buy them as presents for relatives and friends on the mainland.' Perhaps, but an answer that infuriated me. Every few weeks since then, I have plugged in one of the digital radios to see if a signal has arrived while I've been asleep, but have always received a message saying 'No Digital Reception.'
Jump forward to this week . A local man wrote to the Hebrides Internet news site saying that he needed a new radio and bought an FM model which also had DAB. When he got it home and plugged it in, he was astonished to find that it tuned itself in to a number of digital radio stations. He then looked on the web and could find no information disclosing or boasting that we have been provided with a digital radio signal here in the Outer Hebrides. Eventually, he managed to find out that we started to receive a limited signal here on March 22, with no advertising or fanfare. In his letter, this man said he was receiving 11 BBC radio stations.
I have been playing with my radios this morning and find that I can receive 10 stations, all BBC, including the wonderful BBC 7. Sadly, no commercial stations, so no Planet Rock, but I'm grateful for what we've got.