Sunday, October 28, 2012


                                              BUTT OF LEWIS LIGHTHOUSE

Had a great day at the 150th birthday celebration event for the lighthouse last Saturday.The weather was wonderful and after listening to a couple of really interesting talks and then climbing the 168 steps inside the light, it was quite exciting to be able to wander round the external balcony at the top and potter about taking these photographs.
  All UK lighthouses are now automated and unstaffed and the Scottish and Isle of Man lights are monitored by remote control from the Northern Lighthouse Board offices in Edinburgh. Here in the Outer Hebrides, there is just one keeper/engineer who looks after the day to day routine maintenance of all the land lights on Lewis and Harris.  He conducted the tour around the Butt lighthouse and its buildings on my visit and told me that this was the first time the NLB have opened the light itself to the general public.

A few facts -  The Butt of Lewis lighthouse is situated at the most Northerly point of the Isle of Lewis and was built of red brick in 1862 by David Stevenson, who was engineer to the Northern Lighthouse Board at the time. It is 37 metres high, stands 52 metres above sea level and the brickwork remains unpainted, which I think is probably unusual. 
The beam flashes once every five seconds, the fog horn was discontinued in 1995 and the light was automated in 1998.

The light is powered by the bank of 12v batteries shown in the photo. They are charged from the mains and the keeper said that during power cuts, which occur frequently here in Winter, the batteries are capable of operating the light for 2-3 days if necessary, until power is restored.
The concrete owl in the picture is one of two on the balcony, placed there to deter birds from flying into the light beam. I have always assumed that many birds are killed by hitting the glass in lighthouses, but the keeper said that casualties are relatively few at the Butt and that the tiny Storm Petrel is usually the victim.

I think St Kilda may be about to lose some of its mystery. When I first visited there in 1987, there were no day trips, no cruise ships and few visitors apart from passing yachties, charters, work party volunteers and military personnel. Well, that seems to have changed. The National Trust for Scotland, who own St Kilda, have just issued figures which show that 4,081 people have visited this year, of whom 1400 were landed from cruise ships and more than 2000 souls arrived on day trip boats, mainly from Lewis and Harris. Day visits especially, are very weather dependent and May and June this year were particularly glorious.  Boat operators are obviously satisfying a demand from the public to visit St Kilda, but I can't help wonder what short and long term effects on the infrastructure, flora and fauna will result from ever increasing numbers of arriving tourists. 

Alcohol abuse is a real problem here, as in the rest of the UK and an interesting and welcome new initiative, promoting alcohol free musical evenings for young people, has just been announced. A series of 'Sober Island Nites' will take place during the next six months, where established and some locally famous musicians will play alongside new and young bands and singers. The events are funded through the Alcohol and Drugs Partnership and the Community Learning and Development office. A spokesman said 'Music brings people of all ages together and these music events provide an ideal setting for demonstrating that you can have a good time without alcohol.'

There is a great deal of poverty on these islands caused by unemployment, a reduction in welfare benefits and the extraordinarily high cost of fuel, especially oil, for heating poorly insulated homes. Benefit claimants and elderly people on pensions are most seriously affected and during the course of my work, before I retired, I regularly met people who were frequently having to choose between eating food or heating their homes. It comes as no surprise then to learn that a consortium of a local church, a charitable trust and the Western Isles Poverty Action Group are setting up a food bank to try and help address the poverty crisis facing many island residents. The 'Eilean Siar Foodbank' will provide three day food packages to individuals and families referred to them by local agencies.
I feel quite ashamed to live in a modern first world liberal society where this form of support is needed, but wish the project well.

Good news. In my last blog, I mentioned that I had commenced battle with the Royal Bank of Scotland after requesting £300 from a cash machine and only being issued with £285. The money was dispensed in £20 notes, but one of them was a £5 note, leaving me £15 short.
The local branch failed to respond to my complaint, so after waiting five weeks without contact from them, I complained to RBS head office. Yesterday, I received a letter from RBS Customer Relations saying that they agreed with my complaint and conceded that it is possible for mistakes like this to occur even though the cash is loaded into sealed containers. They have now credited my account with the missing £15 and an additional sum as compensation 'for the trouble we caused.'
I had fully expected RBS, as a huge organisation, to reject my complaint and had already prepared my letter of further complaint to the Banking Ombudsman.
RBS dealt with my complaint sensibly, fairly and  quickly and have averted the need for me to close my account with them.  A shame really that they have been so helpful, 'cos I was looking forward to a bit of an extended fight.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012



Life is a bit more active than usual at the ranch just now. I have a friend from the South staying for three weeks and he is particularly keen on fending off old age and remaining fit as long as possible. The weather here on Lewis has been fantastic for much of the last week and he has been dragging me out for a walk most days, although I confess to being reluctant on occasions. 
Following quite a lot of illness in recent years, including a broken leg which has limited my mobility, I have not been keen to venture far, especially as the leg still hurts when exercised. 
Nevertheless, I've had my walking boots on several times in the last couple of weeks and have to admit that I've thoroughly enjoyed getting out and about  and I have to concede that my leg has improved with this new burst of exercise. There are some wonderful walks with staggering views within a mile or two of the house and it's been good to have some company to do them with.

You may remember that I mentioned the local B&B owner who has taken on Tripadviser over their refusal to remove unsubstantiated poor reviews. Well good news and bad news on that front.
At Stornoway Sheriff Court last week, Tripadviser were forced to accept that they are subject to Scottish law and can be taken to Court on this side of the Atlantic. The bad news though is that the Sheriff has agreed to Tripadviser's demand for the case to be transferred to a higher Court. He ruled that the case involves contract law which is too complicated to be heard in a small claims Court. This ruling will require the B&B owner to hire a lawyer and be subject to the possibility of incurring unlimited expenses. Although he is appealing that decision, the B&B owner has said that if he loses, he cannot afford to fight his case in a higher Court and will be forced to abandon his dispute.
 So the probability is that Tripadviser will get its way, win by the exercise of might and continue to print whatever reviewers place on the website.

A sad event has happened here with the sale of the last herd of dairy cows in the Outer Hebrides. Competition from low priced supermarket milk and the high cost of farming on the Islands has forced the Lewis farm to sell its milking herd of 40 cows at Dingwall Market after 52 years of producing milk. The family who own the farm will continue to raise beef cattle and sheep, but we will be unable to purchase locally produced milk from now on. 

I've always had a bit of a thing about lighthouses and we are blessed in having a number of fine examples spread around these islands. One of my favourites is the Butt of Lewis lighthouse at Ness, a few miles North of here. The  Island Book Trust is organising a one day event next Saturday to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the light and myself and visiting friend have booked to go on a grand tour of the lighthouse and surrounding buildings and we are very much looking forward to that.

Finally, to finish off, I am engaged in a David and Goliath battle of my own just now with the Royal Bank of Scotland, with whom I have banked for forty two years without problem.
About a month ago, I withdrew £300, in £20 notes, from the cash machine at the bank in Stornoway,  only to discover that  one of the notes in the pile of money was a £5 note, meaning that I only received £285. I had no money in my wallet at the time of the withdrawal, so am quite confident that I have not made a mistake. As soon as I discovered the error, I went into the bank to report it and whilst the staff were polite and helpful, they appeared sceptical about the possibility that bank systems would allow this to happen. Having had no satisfaction from the local bank branch, I have lodged a formal complaint at RBS headquarters in Edinburgh and now await their response. More to follow.