Sunday, 31 July 2011

Some Sight, Some Sound

The Corryvreckan Whirlpool, situated between Jura and Scarba, is the third largest whirlpool in the world. Its name derives from the Gaelic Coire Bhreacain, 'the cauldron of the speckled seas' or 'cauldron of the plaid'. The flood tides and currents can produce waves of up to 30' in height and the noise it produces can be heard up to ten miles away.

Scottish Islands Explorer -  it also endeavours to be heard

Saturday, 30 July 2011

Off the Rails

This is an often-taken photographic image with rail tracks stretching towards an engine, infinity or just the buffers. It comes from Orkney, not a railway centre, but where standard and narrow gauges were laid down, particularly in the war-years. Here is the scene at Lyness where the Visitor Centre displays the history of Scapa Flow, especially during the two World Wars.

Scottish Islands Explorer - tracking changes

Friday, 29 July 2011

Gavin Maxwell

Were Gavin Maxwell to be alive today, he would have celebrated his 97th birthday a fortnight ago. His restless spirit was evident from childhood days in Wigtownshire to university life in Oxford, to war service and then a spell with Wilfred Thesiger in the reed marshes of Southern Iraq. He is mainly associated with islands off-shore from Skye and with interests in wildlife, in general, and otters, in particular. The photograph below is of the bronze sculpture of his smooth-coated otter, Mijbil, on Sandaig, where the author spent his final years.

Scottish Islands Explorer - now in its twelfth year

Thursday, 28 July 2011

Not Always As Appears

In 1816 Robert Stevenson built this lighthouse on the Isle of May, in the Firth of Forth. It resembles a Gothic castle. In 1918, on the night of 31 January / 1 February, the lighthouse keepers were relatively close to the so-called 'Battle of May'. This involved the Royal Navy, but not the enemy. It consisted of a series of accidents in which eight collisions occurred, two submarines lost, three other submarines and a light cruiser damaged, and 279 men died. The full story was not made public for 84 years and the lives lost were commemorated with a cairn erected on the mainland, at Anstruther harbour, on 31 January 2002.

Scottish Islands Explorer  -  records news and events

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

On the Way to the Faroes

In June 2012 an Arcturus Travel expedition will be taking in the remoter islands of Scotland and then off to the Faroe Islands. There is something significant about linking these island groups - for in the Dark and Middle Ages the Irish peregrinatio somehow reached both of them in small boats during their pilgrim-wanderings. Comfort standards will be immeasurably higher on the Polar Pioneer.

Scottish Islands Explorer - constantly improving

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Built to Last

Mousa (from the Norse 'Moss Island') is about 15 miles south of Lerwick on Shetland. It has not been inhabited since the 19th Century, but its broch attracts visitors throughout the summer months. This remarkable round tower construction at 44' tall is the highest existing building of its sort in the world and was built around 100 BC. Visitors can climb to its top.

Scottish Islands Explorer - attracts visitors to all sections

Monday, 25 July 2011

Parable Island

Mid Howe Broch, on the Orkney island of Rousay, was built between 200 BC and 200 AD. The poems of Pauline Stainer in her collection, Parable Island, were published in 1999. She grew up in Burslem, Stoke-on-Trent, attended Oxford University, lived in Essex and then for a number of years on Rousay, before moving to East Anglia. Her poetry evokes the Orcadian spareness of land and the qualities of light experienced both on- and off-shore.

Scottish Islands Explorer - looks at old and new aspects of island life

Sunday, 24 July 2011

Remains Within Range

The Hebridean Rocket Range will remain in operation, for at least the next five years. The threat of closure and the loss of 200 jobs - on Benbecula, the Uists and St Kilda - are lifted. There is talk of this range becoming a test-area for civilian drones and aerial surveillance devices. Watch out!

Scottish Islands Explorer - endeavours to survey, not drone

Saturday, 23 July 2011

A Good Read Rocks

Sanaigmore Beach, on the north-west shores of Islay, would be on fine day a great place to settle down with a good book. At the other end of the island is Port Ellen, which on Saturday 3 & Sunday 4 September, will be hosting the Sixth Islay Book Festival. Crime, not high on the island, will feature at the festival, during which Ruth Rendell will be speaking.

Scottish Islands Explorer - read on beaches and benches, shores and sofas

Friday, 22 July 2011

Get Up There ... First

The shores of South Harris and the hills of North Harris beckon. Consider being among the first, by at least looking, at information on an innovative event, The Inaugural Isle of Harris Mountain Festival. Here are happenings - walks and workshops, talks and tours, challenges and climbs - taking place from 24 September - 1 October. A challenge for you is to look for Molingeanais (pictured below) on the map and find the details of the organised walk there - on Tuesday 27 September. It's both far away and ...  free.

Scottish Islands Explorer - not free, but featuring the far

Thursday, 21 July 2011

A Year for the Islands

Whether you are going to a popular destination with the public - like Staffa - or on a private trip to an island retreat, do remember that from Spring 2011 until Summer 2012  the designation Scotland's Islands refers to a year-long celebration of these special places. There are more than 95 inhabited islands to be reached by ferry, plane or bridge. They can be a world apart, but are close to home.

Scottish Islands Explorer - celebrating eleven years of visiting islands

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Seeing Around the Hostels

There's a dramatic element about this image of part of the Gatliff Hostel on Berneray. There are now three hostels in the group - with Rhenigidale on North Harris & Howmore on South Uist - worth looking at as well. The Virtual Tour of them has been featured here before, but maybe it's time to take a second look ... around?

Scottish Islands Explorer - always looking around

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Open House for Heb Homes

The Glasgow-based company Hebridean Homes is having an Open Day on Saturday 23 July. Here is an opportunity to have an hour's free consultation with an architect about your own building project - to create the modern house for rural living. It could well be a matter of getting-away-from-it-all yet still having-it-all, with a whole-house system.

Scottish Islands Explorer - a timely magazine for timeless places

Monday, 18 July 2011

Getting Around Clachan

That North Uist section of beach, Clachan Sands, has an endless look. It is possible to spend the rest of this week touring it (and other shorelines) through the facilities of Panoramic Earth. If you fancy windsurfing instead of looking at the image above, then GoPro and hold tight.

Scottish Islands Explorer - touring, without a computer, from your armchair

Sunday, 17 July 2011

Is Callanish Manhattanish?

Last Wednesday, 12 July at 8.25 pm, traffic on 34th Street in New York City came to a halt and out came the cameras. It was the moment of a bi-ennial event, the so-called 'Manhattanhenge' with the setting sun over New Jersey becoming angled between the skyscrapers of NYC. On a more miniature and definitely prehistoric scale at the Callanish Stones, on the Isle of Lewis, the alignment of the moon with the distant heights of Clisham supposedly has a lunar significance. It is an Old World / New World comparison.

Scottish Islands Explorer - its publication is a bi-monthly event

Saturday, 16 July 2011

Outgoings Then Income

Saturday 20 June 1953 happened to be 18 days after the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II and appeared to be the end of permanent settlement on Soay, south of Skye. The 27 residents had requested being evacuated to Mull and left on that day. It may have marked the end of one variety of life for what had had a Gaelic-speaking community. However, newcomers appeared and the population in 2001 was listed as seven. Gavin Maxwell wrote about his endeavours to set up a shark fishing station (pictured above) there in the 1940s and Laurance Reed's The Soay of Our Forefathers considers the longer history of the island.

Scottish Islands Explorer - monitoring island changes

Friday, 15 July 2011

Look Out for the One Off

Earlier this year Scottish Islands Explorer featured Davaar, an island linked to nearby Campbeltown by a tidal causeway. A unique website is presenting among its 35 Scottish properties for rental, The Lookout on Davaar. It's certainly worth having a look at this rather special place on the Mull of Kintyre.

Scottish Islands Explorer - always on the look out for interesting places 

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Closed Signs

This photograph of the former post office, shop and telephone kiosk on Scarp serves as a reminder that it's 40 years since the last permanent residents left that island. Yesterday I received a request to list those Scottish islands that had been 'evacuated'. This is a strong word that puts emphasis on emergencies, casualties as well as forced mass migrations. Permanent settlement on many small islands just fizzles out because it becomes unsustainable or domestically difficult for key or last families. Sometimes an innovation - an automatic system to operate a lighthouse, for example - makes human involvement unnecessary. However, I did some research,  considering the past 200 years and islands larger than 40 acres, and came up with a total of 35, from North Rona in 1844 until Ailsa Craig in 1990.

Scottish Islands Explorer - open for business

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Ro-Ro Ratios

The MV Snolda that serves Papa Stour has relatively limited space , although not that much custom to and from this Shetland outlier.. What is the smallest vessel - and number of vehicles carried - that provides a roll-on, roll-off service in the Scottish islands?

Scottish Islands Explorer - tries to cover much ground

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Tall Ships; Small Planes

Tingwall Airport, Shetland, may not be large, but it is a hub for inter-island services operated by Directflight. Residents and visitors can connect with Foula, Papa Stour, Fair Isle and the Out Skerries. Recall how long journeys took to these outlying settlements in pre-aviation days. A bonus to passengers in mid-July will be to see the Tall Ships approaching, moored and departing from Lerwick.

Scottish Islands Explorer - an island hub in itself

Monday, 11 July 2011

Reverse Raiders' Route

It's 50 years since the Tall Ships' Races started, 12 since they were last in a Scottish port, and, appropriately, 50 vessels taking part this year. Tomorrow sees them off from Greenock, where they arrived from Waterford, on their way via The Minch to Lerwick, which they reach in nine days time. They then continue to Stavanger and Halmstad. This 2011 Race has been a reverse form of a Viking raid from Sweden to Norway, Shetland, the Firth of Clyde and Ireland. The size of a Tall Ship can be calculated from the image above and ships' positions can be checked on-line by various tracking services.

Scottish Islands Explorer - has a correspondent on board one of the ships

Sunday, 10 July 2011

Men of Letters

When Samuel Johnson and James Boswell visited the Isle of Muck on their famous tour of the Western Isles, this scene would have been evident, but without the yurt. The owner of the island did not like the name and tried to convince them that it was actually the Isle of Monk. His change of two letters did not convince these two men of letters. Consider what Muck offers today.

Scottish Islands Explorer -  Muck gets a mention in the next issue.

Saturday, 9 July 2011

Serving and Preserving

When Alan Stevenson constructed the Skerryvore Lighthouse, he was serving the needs of shipping. His work-force on Tiree required accommodation, which subsequently served the lighthouse-keepers' needs for a shore station and homes. They eventually became run-down. The Hebridean Trust was set up to preserve the buildings and to give them a new purpose. This re-construction is on-going, attracts many island visitors and deserves our attention.

Scottish Islands Explorer - searching for new insights

Friday, 8 July 2011

Something for the Weekend?

A correspondent has recommended Stornoway Fish Smokers, the last traditional smoke-house in the town, situated in the appropriately-named Shell Street. This was formerly a centre of the herring industry and Alasdair Fraser's establishment is renowned for its kippers and smoked salmon. Mailing services mean that this treat could be with you by ... next weekend.

Scottish Islands Explorer - also mailed to gourmets

Thursday, 7 July 2011

People Will Get Up and ... Go

Stroma is in the Pentland Firth and is part of Caithness. Its near northern neighbour, Swona, is part of Orkney. The population of the 1.45 sq mile Stroma once exceeded 500. In 1901 it was 375, but the appeal of working on the mainland was such that around 1962 the last two families left. A harbour had been constructed at the island's south end, barely in time to serve permanent residents and then to assist their departure.

Scottish Islands Explorer -  helping visitors discover what is off-shore

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Go to Sea, Be Quick

Tomorrow - that's Thursday 7 July - at 13.00 there is an opportunity for two people in Stornoway Harbour ... and beyond.  Rodney Jamieson has vacancies on a Sea Kayaking Trip and the cost is £45 each. Send him an email if you are in the vicinity and are interested. Full details are available with Adventure Hebrides that has recently been taken over by Rodney from Tim Pickering. Take a look at Surf Lewis as well for some comparable and exciting activities.

Scottish Islands Explorer - sometimes purchased on impulse

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Going to the Ends

Muckle Flugga marks the north end of Britain and appeals to those who enjoy endurance and extremes. Spare a thought today for Andy Strangeway whose Mission Rockall 2011 aiming for the UK's westerly extremity ended abruptly yesterday. Please consider going to computing ends and leaving a comment on one of the items on this blog. Earlier glitches have been eradicated and access is now easy.

Scottish Islands Explorer - going to the ends of ... Scotland

Monday, 4 July 2011

The Queen of ... Handa

In 1841, Handa, off the Sutherland coast, had a population of 65 on its 1.19 square miles. Within seven years, resident numbers started decreasing rapidly, owing mainly to a potato famine. Emigration took place, despite a social structure that included a daily parliament, similar to St Kilda's, and the elevation of the island's oldest widow to the status of 'Queen'. It is now administered by the Scottish Wildlife Trust.

Scottish Islands Explorer - rising numbers of subscribers

Sunday, 3 July 2011

Focus on Ravenspoint

This panorama view focuses on the Ravenspoint Visitors' Centre at Kershader in the South Lochs of the Isle of Lewis. Attention will certainly be on the extensions to the Centre which are being formally opened on Tuesday 5 July at 5.00 pm. Here will be an opportunity to see and sample the new cafe, with its views of Loch Erisort, as well as to look at the exhibition room and other facilities. There will be a presentation and discussion on rural transport technologies led by Dr David Corsar of Aberdeen University - at 7.00 pm. Do consider Ravenspoint - for it's a special place to visit.

Scottish Islands Explorer - Ravenspoint houses the magazine's back-office

Saturday, 2 July 2011


Mission Rockall 2011 is leaving on this D for Departure-Day after many months of planning. Its destination is clear; its estimated time of arrival will be in mid-July. The profile of this islet (taken here from the south side) is well-known. The breakers to the right, appearing mid-way up the sheer cliff-face, are of the mysterious Hasselwood Rock, some 200 metres to the north. It is 13 metres in diameter and is one metre above low water. Its geological composition has never been analysed. The only other rock nearby is Helen's Reef, some two kilometres to the north-east, skerries usually only visible as breaking seas.

Scottish Islands Explorer  -  highly visible

Friday, 1 July 2011

A Name to Conjure With

Daphne Desiree Charlotte Pochin Mould wrote a number of books on her passions - geology, Scotland, the Outer Hebrides and Roman Catholicism. Reprints of her work are still available, including West Over Sea - referred to by Across the Minch in a Comment on the blog Postal Outposts. The ways in which people venture into territories unknown to them make compelling subjects in themselves.

Scottish Islands Explorer - venturing far