Wednesday, 31 August 2011

A Complete Change

HMS Hercules served the needs of the Highlands and Islands Emigration Society, a charity founded in 1852, which assisted 4000 people to move to Australia in the mid-19th Century. Take Tahay, for instance. It's close to North Uist, but part of the administrative district of the Isle of Harris, and its name means 'island with a prominent hill'. It's 213' high and 131 acres in extent. Around 30 people moved there from Pabbay in the Sound of Harris in 1846 and tried to make a living by fishing. It turned out to be a wretched existence and within ten years the familes of five MacLeods and one MacAskill were assisted by the Society, sailed in the Hercules and had landed in Adelaide to begin a new life.

Scottish Islands Explorer - reveals opportunities

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

All Quiet on Linga Holm

Midgarth Farm, here on Stronsay, overlooks Linga Holm, separated by a 700-yard-wide sound of potentially dangerous water. Six people lived on this Orkney island in 1841, but they had left by the middle of the 19th Century. The Rare Breeds Survival Trust purchased the island in 1973 and brought in a flock of North Ronaldsay sheep in order to protect the breed. This project attracted attention and annual visits by the RBST's volunteers. In 1999 the Scottish Wildlife Trust acquired the island and their interests focused on the welfare of its grey seals. Pictish house and ancient archaeological remains are still to be found. Does anyone know what happened to the sheep?

Scottish Islands Explorer - acting here as a shepherd

Monday, 29 August 2011

From Raiders to Traders

Fetlar is fertile. This image of a croft at Tresta encapsulates the potential of the place. Fetlar is the fourth largest island in the Shetland group and was possibly the first to experience the Viking raiders. Some settled; some moved on, but not before a source of steatite or soapstone was discovered and exploited. This malleable stone could be shaped relatively easily and soon artefacts made from sources supplied by a working quarry were being traded. The speed of adaptation in the 8th & 9th Centuries is impressive - as is the way in which the Fetlar Interpretive Centre digitised its exhibits early in the 21st, including archaeological finds, to cater for an audience from anywhere at anytime.

Scottish Islands Explorer - destined to be digitised

Sunday, 28 August 2011

Readership Increasing Fast

During the past week we have had two entries connected with names - for brands as well as for pets and houses. There has been a constant stream of references on this blog to the derivation of island names - from the Old Irish (with its early medieval alphabet, Ogham), to Gaelic, Old Norse, Norn, Pictish, Doric and, of course, the English interpretations and variations. Interest reached fever pitch in Edinburgh last week when the current issue of Scottish Islands Explorer was delivered to the house of Annette Tait and the home of Fetlar. All is explained by either looking at the magazine's Island Incidents page at the end of the publication or by clicking on Annette's name here ... or both.

Scottish Islands Explorer - readers include rabbits as well as hares

Saturday, 27 August 2011

Too Little of a Bad Thing

It's all a question of balance. Fire services for island communities are vital. Islanders, however, tend to be careful people and smoke alarms have reduced the number of serious incidents. Opportunities for 'live' practice are increasingly rare. Ageing populations mean fewer young people available for this type of demanding, albeit part-time, work. During the past week calls have gone out to raise the alarm about the need for more crew members on Foula, Shetland; Flotta, Orkney; Muck, the Small Isles. The near neighbour of Muck, Eigg, has recruited sufficient numbers recently. Here's the trend to follow.

Scottish Islands Explorer - aware of what matters on islands

Friday, 26 August 2011

A Name Game

These Skye terrier puppies need naming and, naturally, island associations come to mind. Kyleakin and Uig are possibilities here, as are Dun and Vegan. A reader of this blog researched the subject for his own pets and named his cats Inchmarnock and Skerryvore (Inch and Skerry, for short), while his border collie is Colbhasa or Col.  He once met two children in the Western Isles who delighted in their names - Islay and Rona. A friend of his gave his house the name, Skara Brae, without knowing its origins. Think of the dwellings called Iona and Ailsa. The Island Incidents article in the current issue of the magazine looks at how a wealth of island names went through the mind of the creator of .... cuddly toys. Keep them coming!

Scottish Islands Explorer - dwells on names

Thursday, 25 August 2011

Preserving Traditions

St Marnock lived an insular sort of life in the 7th Century, but his name is spoken daily while incorporated into the Scottish town of Kilmarnock, the Irish seaside settlement of Portmarnock and the Glasgow suburb of Dalmarnock. His monastic days were spent on the one square-mile Inchmarnock, photographed here from Arran with Bute behind. A former resident was the so-called 'Queen of the Inch' whose preserved skeleton has been carbon-dated to the Bronze Age. By the 8th & 9th Centuries, the monastic traditions were flourishing and the teaching of literacy to novices involved practising writing on slates. Inscriptions in Latin, Old Irish and Gaelic have been found together with graffiti. There are three farms on the island and, although only one is now worked, it does maintain organic standards.

Scottish Islands Explorer - includes writing about ancient subjects

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Family and Folklore

Cara House stands out on the diminutive Cara, with Islay in the background. Ownership of this island is by the MacDonalds of Largie, a family that is in an unbroken line from the Lords of the Isles, who predate the establishment of the Kingdom of Scotland. At the extreme southern end of the 0.25 square-mile islet is Broonie's Chair, a rock formation that is, allegedly, a beneficial place to sit in order to have a wish granted by the resident brownie of long-standing, folklore tradition.

Scottish Islands Explorer - an unbroken line from January 2000.

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Brand Name Potential

The Pacific islands incorporated into Tuvalu have many distinctive features. One is that they have the internet abbreviation 'tv' and that brings business. Just off the south coast of Islay is the 600-yard-long Texa. It has its own fresh water supply, potential pasture and a history of settlement mainly of ecclesiastical origin, centred around the church pictured above. Its name, from the Gaelic tradition, is also used by a company specialising in vehicle diagnostics. Perhaps it's as well that there are no roads, just ruins, on the islet for there could have been a company-buyout for branding purposes.

Scottish Islands Explorer - a brand name among publications

Monday, 22 August 2011

Dial 76 .. and Read On

Gordon MacLean was brought up on Arran, but has lived in Bower - near Wick, Caithness - for the past 16 years. His second novel - 76 - is available through Amazon for Kindle and other applications at £1.00 or $1.50. Just go to the Amazon bookstore and type in '76' and 'Arran' and it will be downloaded, transporting you to this island as well as to Raasay. It's the author's second book to be available electronically, with Silicon Glen already published. The monument pictured above commemorates the Clearances on Arran, where his story begins before it develops and moves to other parts of the Highlands and Islands.

Scottish Islands Explorer - historical persectives included

Sunday, 21 August 2011

Farays Apart

If these sheep on Eday, Orkney, look seaward, they will see an island that is named after them, Faray. It's pronounced 'fairy' and comes from the Old Norse - faerey - meaning 'sheep island'. To confuse matters, the island is sometimes spelt Pharay and often is referred to as North Pharay or North Faray. This is to differentiate it from South Pharay or Faray some miles to the south in Scapa Flow. The population of North Faray was 82 in the Census of 1861 and then fell rapidly to eight families by the late 1930s. After the War and following the severe Winter of '47 it was down to two families and desertion was imminent. A detailed account is available in an issue of  The Orcadian. South Faray maintained a permanent, albeit small, population until the 1960s.

Scottish Islands Explorer - looking over islands

Saturday, 20 August 2011

Dreams and Schemes

This puffin is pictured on that most remote of islands, North Rona. In 1844 the islet's owner, Sir James Matheson, wished to present it to the British Government as a place for penal servitude. His offer was not taken up. Lord Leverhulme had his early 20th Century schemes for regenerating the Isle of Lewis. After the Second World War, Gavin Maxwell set up what became a short-lived shark fishing station on Soay, south of Skye. There is a tradition of people with notions and projects wanting to bring new life to isolated communities. Is there a case for a Scottish Redundant Islands Trust to take into care the abandoned and deserted?  The person below is on North Rona, perhaps pondering its future.

Scottish Islands Explorer - identifying island interests

Friday, 19 August 2011

Now Few in a Pew

On the exposed coast of Skiall Bay is St Peter's Kirk, Sandwick, Orkney. It is in the vicinity of Skara Brae and provides insights into its own era of history. It was built in 1836 to serve a more densely-populated area. In 1998 it was taken over by the Scottish Redundant Churches Trust and within five years was restored to its original. The pulpit, of gallery height, towers over the pews. These, in the kirk's heyday, could accommodate a congregation of 500, but this provided only 18" of space per person. Perhaps it's as well that numbers have declined.

Scottish Islands Explorer - still room for more readers

Thursday, 18 August 2011

Active at Ardvourlie

Close to the point where Loch Seaforth comes between Lewis and Harris are two features that attract attention. One is the newly-built stretch of road that makes cornering a pleasure. The other is the recently-refurbished building (photograph above) at Ardvourlie on the right-hand-side travelling south. It stands apart, looks impressive and offers all sorts of activities, both wet and dry, for people of all ages. The LHYCA needs looking into and the internet offers just that.

Scottish Islands Explorer - take a look

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Change of Lifestyle?

The appeal of space, size and style - perhaps a complete change of lifestyle - is yours or mine for what is now a relatively modest sum - £150k. It's a 20-acre smallholding on Egilsay, an Orkney island that has a long history, a fine setting and a regular ferry service. This property certainly has something about it - indeed plenty to offer - from a smallholding-to-cultivate, a remote-office-hub to create and on to a place in which to settle, with a horse, of course!
Scottish Islands Explorer - presenting something different.

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Walking on Water

There's safety in numbers - and even more security by first finding out about the tides - when walking across to Vallay on the north shores of North Uist. This tidal island was purchased by Erskine Beveridge in 1901 and money was lavished on what was then a state-of-the-art house, with central heating and 365 panes of glass to give all-around-views. Beveridge had inherited his father's successful linen-producing company in Dunfermline, but is now remembered as an enthusiastic antiquarian, historian and photographer who died in 1920. His son, George, inherited and lived in the house, but, perhaps, loneliness and drink affected his lifestyle and sense of judgement - for he made a fatal error when rowing home in November 1944 and drowned. The house is now a ruin that is visible from a great way off.

Scottish Islands Explorer - cares about getting to islands

Monday, 15 August 2011

Consider a Miniature

Arran has been described as 'Scotland in miniature' because of the varieties of landscape within this Firth of Clyde island of 167 square-miles. It has its 'Highland' and 'Lowland' areas divided by the Highland Boundary Fault that traverses Scotland from north-east to south-west. The geological and historical elements of the island attract much attention, but its linguistic traditions are now just preserved in written form. Gaelic, in a variation particularly influenced by Old Irish, was widely spoken here at the beginning of the 20th Century. However, by the 1990s the last of the native speakers died. The local newspaper, The Arran Banner, claims the highest saturation of readership in the UK - by some 97% of residents.

Scottish Islands Explorer - aiming for a high saturation of readers

Sunday, 14 August 2011

A Far From Deserted Island

Kirsty Young presents the Desert Island Discs programme to all parts of the UK, including its deserted islands. The Portree-based Cuillin FM covers the whole of Skye and Lochalsh within its range. Skye is far from devoid of people and its population has recently risen, bucking the trend. Many people - including residents, visitors, observers and listeners - will be participating in the forthcoming Atlas Arts event on the second Saturday of September. More information about this sound and spectacular occasion will be broadcast here.

Scottish Islands Explorer - making waves

Saturday, 13 August 2011

The Pull of a Place

Here's a small image of a very small school. It's on Sanday and also serves the community of Canna that's just across a nearby footbridge. The pupils can be counted on the fingers of one hand. The place does have a pull, quite literally. Compass Hill, at the north-eastern corner of the island, has a sufficiently high iron content to distort the compasses of passing ships.

Scottish Islands Explorer - has some attractions, too

Friday, 12 August 2011

Home for a Gnome?

On Hoy, Orkney, there's a Neolithic burial chamber that's called Dwarfie's Stane. It was, allegedly, the home of a troll. However, other legends indicated that it was contested between a giant with a large wife and a rival man of gargantuan dimensions. It is considered to have been a rock deposited by a glacier and then worked on by Early Man. The interior has been hewn by hand and is the only example of a rock-cut tomb in Britain It's worth a traipse across the moor.

Scottish Islands Explorer - for people of all dimensions and temperaments 

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Accommodation for Autumn

There's something special about a fine garden in Autumn and there's something remarkable about the Gothic design of Mount Stuart House on Bute. They are open until 31 October for visitors and at all times for receptions and meetings. Full details of these facilities as well as accommodation provision are worth acquiring through   However, not all rooms are on the scale of the hall below!

Scottish Islands Explorer - in its way, impressive

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Changing Perceptions

Loch Skipport, situated on the north-east side of South Uist, is a lonely place. It was a port used by cargo ships until as recently as the 1950s, but its facilities are now derelict. One of the magazine's subscribers took the above photograph and there is a benign quality about it. Many people find the place to be somewhat eerie, even on a sunny day. Do any blog-watchers have views of, or about, this backwater harbour approached by hairpin bends that has seen busier times?

Does anyone recall hearing about such ships as the MV Loch Carron, photographed below calling at Loch Skipport, or of any comparable remote outposts handling relatively large cargoes?

Scottish Islands Explorer - in the mainstream when possible

Monday, 8 August 2011

Timeless Appeal

This image of a pillar box on the Shetland island of Yell is by the acclaimed photographer, Martin Parr. His work includes the capturing of the affection the British have for their coast and its resorts as well as his recording of simple, everyday objects that have, in his judgement, a timeless appeal. Yell is home to around a thousand inhabitants who reside where their predecessors' generations survived from Neolithic times. Existence has not been easy with memorials to, and wreckage from, accidents at sea and in the air. It has what was allegedly the most haunted house in Scotland. Otters, however, have proliferated in the many voes or inlets. Yell is also a transport hub with its two roads linking the ferry terminals to Shetland Mainland, Unst and Fetlar.

Scottish Islands Explorer - something of a hub 

Sunday, 7 August 2011

The Outdoor Life

When Little Bernera, between the sea lochs of West and East Loch Roag on the west side of the Isle of Lewis, was populated, it was the preferred burial ground for people from across the loch at Carloway. The cemetery at St Donan's Chapel, below, is closed. However, there is now life before death for many of its visitors, being well-positioned for sailing or kayacking from Great Bernera (population 300) and having idyllic spots for camping. Look at this slideshow to sense the pleasures of the outdoor life.

Scottish Islands Explorer - endeavours to provide pleasures

Saturday, 6 August 2011

From One Thing to Another

Yesterday I happened, while working on behalf of the Gatliff Hostels, to encounter a Scottish Islands Explorer subscriber. We exchanged emails and her incidental mention of Papa, one of the Scalloway Islands in Shetland, led me to try to find out more about this once inhabited place that was home to at least one priest. The internet then led me to discover John Slater, above, who went there in the Summer of 2010 on his first visit to find out more about his ancestral origins. Then came the surreal part - finding a YouTube trip towards that island - that certainly gives the sensation of a voyage.
Scottish Islands Explorer - tries to discover

Friday, 5 August 2011

Three Grades of Route

Eriskay, probably from the Old Norse for 'Eric's Isle', is approached from South Uist by a fast route over its ten-year old causeway. A single motor road takes traffic through the 2.5 x 1.5 mile island to the terminus for the Barra vehicular ferry. The rest of the island is accessible by mountain paths and tracks. Choose your grade and be aware of gradients as well as of otters.

Scottish Islands Explorer -  views the ups and downs

Thursday, 4 August 2011

A Head Matter

Teachers need stimulation. If it's not there, then their working lives are dull and they become unfulfilled, living restricted lives. Earlier this year the headship of Foula Primary School, pictured above, was on offer and many people would have been deciding whether to apply. The negatives of such an appointment are that it's insular, there's no getting away from pupils or parents in term-time and the number of pupils are usually counted on the fingers of one hand. The positives are a manageable and influential position, facilities that were constructed only 20 years ago, a house supplied and an annual salary approaching £50k with 12 weeks holiday. Would you, were you suitably qualified, have applied?

Scottish Islands Explorer - posing occasional questions

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

What Have I Been Missing?

This is the view of Seaforth Island to which I am accustomed while travelling on the Stornoway to Tarbert road. Below is the description of its loch made by Hamish Haswell-Smith in his The Scottish Islands  -  'Loch Seaforth is a long narrow loch wedged between high mountains and towering cliffs. The winds whisper through the peaks, build up their strength, meet in the corries, and then without warning sweep savagely down the mountain sides and flatten the waters of the loch with unpredictable ferocity.' What have I missed being a seasonal traveller to these parts? This small image of Loch Seaforth gives an indication of large movements in the skies.

Scottish Islands Explorer - travels well regardless of weather conditions

Tuesday, 2 August 2011


Papa Stronsay, one of the Shetland group, has the ruins of an 8th Century and an 11th Century monastery. In 1999 the Golgotha Monastery was built by a traditionalist Catholic order, the Transalpine Redemptorists. Here is provision is for 25 monks and, last weekend, two of them returned from New Zealand. Their homecoming appears on another blog.

Scottish Islands Explorer -  appears and re-appears two months later

Monday, 1 August 2011

What a Difference!

What a difference a half-century or so makes. This photograph of young women carrying peat was taken in 1950 at Scaliscro on the road towards Uig in the Isle of LewisConnected Communities has recently announced that full internet services are now available at Scaliscro as well as at nearby Gisla, and also at Rhenigidale at the very end of a long road on North Harris and Cleur at a southerly point of South Harris. From broad baskets to broadband in two generations.

Scottish Islands Explorer - carries new technologies