Monday, May 16, 2011


There are 93 of these 12th Century walrus ivory and whale tooth chess pieces, which were found in Uig, Isle of Lewis, sometime around 1831. Most of them are normally kept at the British Museum in London, with a few living in the National Museum of Scotland. The piece shown above, which I photographed at the weekend, is one of a number currently on display until September, at Museum nan Eilean in Stornoway. They are being housed in secure thick glass cabinets, which makes it difficult to do justice to the exquisite carving and workmanship of each piece in a photograph.
Best of all, the exhibition of chess pieces is absolutely free.

I'm not a fanatical bird watcher, but I do value the tremendous richness of bird life here which is absent in many other parts of the UK. During a memorable 2 hour period whilst driving from Lochmaddy to Eriskay last week, I saw two hen harriers, two short eared owls, several eiders, a flock of lapwings, a sea eagle, any number of shelduck and heard a cuckoo at the ferry terminal. To cap off a good week, I spent yesterday afternoon watching a pair of golden eagles which have an eyrie nearby and are busy feeding a single chick, hatched recently. There is a vantage point, a good distance from the nest, where the birds can be watched through a telescope without disturbing them.

Friend from the South has gone home now, but we managed to take advantage of the recent good weather to cut a substantial number of peats whilst he was here and they are now drying out on the moor. I will turn them this coming weekend and bring them home to stack when family visit in a few weeks time. Not sure when they will be used though because my stove is temporarily out of action. It started smoking ferociously a couple of weeks ago, suggesting a blockage, but when I investigated, part of the flexible flue liner came away and appears to have pitted and corroded through as if eaten by acid. It's only three years old and was very expensive, so need to find someone who knows about chimney problems and their solutions, not easy here.

Still having trouble finding someone who wants to provide estimates for replacing the croft fencing. They are either too busy, don't want to travel to this part of the island, or simply don't turn up when they say they will. It's not an urgent job, but until the fencing is replaced, I've got stray sheep from all over the village wandering about the croft. They are past masters at exploiting any weaknesses in the fence or jumping over in places where the fence sags.

Uist seems to be experiencing something of a tourist boom just now, which is causing me problems. It may be because of the Monty Hall effect, reduction in ferry fares because of RET or recent mentions on Countryfile, but there are visitors everywhere which means that most of the available accommodation is fully booked. I have to go back to Uist and Barra for a few days tomorrow and spent this morning phoning round trying to get somewhere to stay. My usual B&B has no vacancies and after phoning 15 separate guest houses and hotels, all of which are full, I've had to book into a bunkhouse for two nights. Oh well - cheap and cheerful.

I'm just coming to the end of reading a recently published book called The Blackhouse, by Peter May. It's set here on Lewis and is a detective novel about a brutal murder. The author is new to me, but the blurb says he is a long established writer with fifteen novels to his name and this one is excellent and enjoyable. I shan't give the story away, but it's very gripping, well written and I thoroughly recommend it. You can get a copy cheap from Amazon, with no postage charges.