Saturday, 31 March 2012

Not a Fools' Visit

This Eriskay pony is unaware that tomorrow will see the opening of Kisimul Castle in Castlebay, Barra, for the new season. Apparently the Arnol Blackhouse on Lewis is also opening. The availability of things to do on the Sabbath has never been restricted in the islands south of Benbecula, but to be aware that a public attraction to the north is on offer still gives a slight shock of surprise. Fuller details are in this week's Stornoway Gazette and for a fine range of photographs of Barra, go no further than the gallery of the Tigh-na-Mara Guest House.

Scottish Islands Explorer - tries to capture the imagination through images

Friday, 30 March 2012

Take an 'Inch'

Inchmarnock takes its name from St Marnoc, a follower of St Columba who established a monastic settlement on the island. The excavation, in 1961, of a Bronze Age cist or stone-built coffin-like box revealed a skeleton buried in typically crouched position, along with a lignite necklace believed to be 3,000 years old. The find was dubbed 'The Princess of the Inch'. 

The collar together with other relics can now be be seen at the Natural History Museum in Rothesay on Bute. This is as well for the island was once noted as a notorious haunt of smugglers, relishing their treasures in a place that benefits from the warmth of the Gulf Stream.

Inchmarnock certainly enjoys a surprisingly mild climate. In the past it allowed barley as well as both seed- and early-potatoes to be grown. It all sounds rather exotic for Marnoc and his monks, who in turn sound like a '70s pop group.

Scottish Islands Explorer - relishing treasures, too   

Thursday, 29 March 2012

Scotland in Stitches

The first stitch is made in a project that is to cover Scotland ... well, at least its history. The threads of this story are displayed in a Stornoway Gazette article. Pytheas, the Greek geographer of the 4th Century BC, sailed around Britain and mapped as far out as Lewis. He was searching for what he considered to be the ends of the earth or Thule. The tapestry itself will stretch far and promises to be the longest in the world.

Scottish Islands Explorer - limited to 52 pages

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Describe Ascrib

The Ascrib Islands in Loch Snizort, north-west Skye, have that tropical island look from this image. At least the seals will be basking there and the indigenous group makes up 1% of the EU population. The Vikings were among the first people here and its name comes from their version of 'a ridge with a hump'. Two building projects interest me.One involved the monks who created chapels and whose burial grounds are called Cladh Mhanaich; the other is the proposed underground house to be built in the early 1990s, but which actually became a traditional dwelling when constructed. Where on the island is it and was it successfully acquired when put up for sale in 1996?

Scottish Islands Explorer - three owners in 13 years

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

About Our Origins

Scottish Islands Explorer came to life on Fair Isle in January 2000. The island has attracted people for countless generations, particularly in the days when journeys by ship were the only ways of crossing the sea. Fair Isle: through the seasons charts the annual sequences on this speck of land mid-way between Orkney and Shetland. It supplies a visual context of the geographical, historical and social while, incidentally, benefiting the Bird Observatory and the Community Association from its proceeds.

Scottish Islands Explorer - charting sea and shore, time and place, old and young

Monday, 26 March 2012

Go to Work on an Eigg

Yesterday's 'triangulation experience' brought a significant number of visits to the blog - 111 in all. The image of Alex reflecting on a trig point, with Muck in the background, made an impact. Here's the full story of Alex and Bob on Eigg as presented on their blog. It gives to a Monday morning a real weekend flavour of get-out-there-and-do-something-different.

Scottish Islands Explorer - trying to provide that get-up-and-go incentive

Sunday, 25 March 2012

Tempted by Triangulation?

Trig (or triangulation) points - and there are 6557 of them in UK - are in some compelling places, with the one above on An Sgurr, Isle of Eigg, highly-rated for its views, here towards Muck. They were established for the Ordnance Survey from 1935 onwards and it should be possible to see two other points from the one by (or on) which you are standing. Their functions have diminished owing to aerial photography and satellite mapping. There are, of course, enthusiasts for these concrete posts and 'trig-baggers' do ply their hobby across all terrains. One group set themselves a specialised task - of visiting the 749 points that mark each metre in height of Scotland. They went, for example, to Lady Isle, off Troon. What drives such men? You can guess that the only lady involved in this escapade was St Mary, commemorated by the chapel on the island that is six metres high - according to its trig point.

Scottish Islands Explorer - marking time in bi-monthly stages  

Saturday, 24 March 2012

Lighten Our Darkness

When asked which inventor contributed most to life during the last millennium, readers of Time magazine selected Thomas Edison. His electric light bulb has had a transforming effect upon day-to-day existence and extended activities in practical ways. Early tomorrow, daylight saving will 'lose' us an hour, but create more light. There are other forces at work, and the so-called 'Merry Dancers' (pictured above) have been producing some fine, late shows on Orkney. A report in The Orcadian gives details as well as an image from Rousay of a phenomenon, the Aurora Borealis, that is usually at its best between November and February.

Scottish Islands Explorer - occasional merriment; short on dancing

Friday, 23 March 2012

Water Transport

Yesterday, Richard Evans supplied the blog with an item and image about transporting a car across water. Today he has produced another piece and photograph, about transporting both water and people.  He recalls researching topics about the island of Belnahua and how his findings, made in 1984, drew an encouraging response from a number of individuals.

One such person who replied said she was born on the Isle of Luing in 1904, where her father was the doctor for the Isle of Belnahua and others nearby - Shuna, Scarba,and Lunga. Her father told her: ‘Belnahua's water supply was obtained by means of an artesian well, which during dry seasons was supplemented by barrels of fresh water collected by boat from the neighbouring islands of Lunga and Eilean Dubh. In the interests of water conservancy, it was also customary for the womenfolk to be rowed across to Eilean Dubh, armed with washtubs, soap and other necessary requisites, in order to carry out communal laundering - a task which apparently was completed to the accompaniment of much merriment and music-making.’

The next issue of Scottish Islands Explorer - due out on 18 April - carries a full-length, illustrated article on Belnahua written by Anni Donaldson.

Scottish Islands Explorer  - taking people places for pleasure

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Transported to the Past

Richard Evans has sent in another compelling item and an image that is courtesy of Archie Dix. 'From 1965 the crossing of nine miles from Leverburgh on Harris to Cul-Beinn-a-Chaolais Jetty on North Uist was made with a Hillman Minx in the fishing boat, the Concord, 26' long and not as wide as the car's length. It was driven on with bounced assistance and closed eyes!  The cost of taking the car to Uist, and back to Berneray, was a tentatively asked - "Will a fiver be too much?" Unbelievable nowadays.'

Scottish Islands Explorer - still less than that car-ferry fare-request!

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

An Elemental Substance

If you fancy a night-cap, then study this photograph of the Isle of Harris and pour yourself a whisky, but first view this video from Across the Minch. It should certainly provide the substance for a good dream ... of a future project.

Scottish Islands Explorer -  a dream without a dram

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

An 'AMC' in Your Family?

Fingal's Cave is well-known, as a name. It is less well-known as a place actually visited. The number of 'explorers' who scrutinise its interiors is limited to the intrepid. Iain Thornber has made some discoveries there and has presented a Press Release on his findings. If you can add information to his researches then make contact and if you had a family member with the initials AMC who was known to be in the area in 1890, then do come forward. If not, then enjoy the image below of the wide expanses of sky and water viewed from the confines of a famous sea-cave.

Scottish Islands Explorer - its inscriptions may be around in 122 years time

Monday, 19 March 2012

Mingulay and More

Do take a look at the article on Sailing to Mingulay in this issue of Hidden Europe. Here is a publication / website well worth looking into. It comes from Berlin and explores the remoter and more recondite parts of our continent.

Scottish Islands Explorer - focuses on a north-western section of Europe

Sunday, 18 March 2012

Changing Prices

Here is a fine photograph of Easdale and a reminder, sent in by Richard Evans, of its being up for sale just over a quarter of a century ago. This is what was offer:

The major part of this interesting  and accessible west coat island.
Recently Modernised Cottages, Restaurant, Bar and Museum
Various Buildings offering scope for conversion.
Ideal boat anchorage.
Valuable Salmon Netting Rights.
About 100 acres.

Quite a snip at offers over £250.000

Scottish Islands Explorer - not fetching that amount .... yet

Saturday, 17 March 2012

Walk High

This view of Sheep Rock from Hesswalls, Fair Isle, is indicative of the coast on one of Britain's remoter islands. It is a good place for walking. If you want to consider doing something that will take you high on the Northern Isles, look at the details of the 19 Shetland Marilyns that are there to be climbed.

Scottish Islands Explorer - getting people high and excited

Friday, 16 March 2012

Good Cause; Good Course

Some people go to extremes to promote a good cause and Bill Honeywell is one of those enthusiasts. His cycling around many islands off the West Coast of Scotland will undoubtedly bring benefits to him, his team, those who meet him and Cancer Research UK. The Stornoway Gazette will have full details at the end of the week.

Scottish Islands Explorer - re-cycles news of the islands

Thursday, 15 March 2012

A Special Trip from Oban

There's an extraordinary cruise being arranged by Yacht Corryvreckan from Oban to Inverness and back. It's actually about repairing the yacht and the Caledonian Canal is the route from around 15 until 24 April. The price will be fixed at about £200. So if you are interested, contact the company. Mention this blog, please.

Scottish Islands Explorer -  drawing attention to something special

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Extending Nordic Studies

Links between the University of the Highlands & Islands and Oxford, Cambridge and Nottingham Universities have been announced. These will involve Nordic Studies, in general, and field-work on Orkney, in particular. The Viking invasions that caused terror 1200 years ago, continue to arouse interest.

Scottish Islands Explorer - continuing to monitor changes

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

An Island Writer

Lillian Beckwith (1916 - 2004) was attracted to islands in both real life and fiction. She was born Lillian Comber, in Ellesmere Port, Cheshire, where her father ran a grocery business. She chose to live at Elgol, Skye, and on nearby Soay. Her range of books is extensive, although her inventiveness and characterisation caused misgivings in the community and was a factor in her to moving away ... to the larger and distant Isle of Man.

Scottish Islands Explorer - tries to separate fact from fiction

Monday, 12 March 2012

Down to Ten

The ferry approaches Canna to find that there are just ten people living there permanently. A report in the Sunday Herald highlights this downturn. The school, below, will have to be mothballed, again, and the National Trust for Scotland will have to devise new strategies for re-population.

Scottish Islands Explorer - aware of the needs for participation and growth

Sunday, 11 March 2012

Getting into Deep Water

The French company, Technip, is expanding its presence in and around Shetland and deep beneath its waters. The Lerwick Harbour authorities have responded by providing further facilities. The North Sea continues to provide the UK economy with  resources and revenue.

Scottish Islands Explorer - interested in the off-shore waters as well as land

Saturday, 10 March 2012

Settle for, and in, the Scenic

Here is part of the beach at Luskentyre and it has, obviously, proved to be attractive for a long time. However, there were dramatic declines in population in this, and neighbouring areas, during the 20th Century. Then two years ago the West Harris Trust completed a community buyout. The trends indicate a rise in population, in housing and jobs available and they are featured in this week's Stornoway Gazette.

Scottish Islands Explorer - aware of trends

Friday, 9 March 2012


Stargazing by Peter Hill so impressed our regular contributor, Richard Evans, that he has submitted this review:
'Just finished reading this fine book, second-time-around. When Peter Hill, a student at Dundee College of Art, answered an advert in The Scotsman seeking lighthouse keepers, little did he imagine that within a month he would be living with three men he didn't know, in lighthouses on Pladda, Ailsa Craig and Hyskeir, small remote islands off the west coast of Scotland.  Hill was 19, it was 1973 and, with his head fed by Vietnam, Zappa, Kerouac, Vonnegut, Watergate and Coronation Street, he spent six months on various lighthouses, 'keeping' with all manner of unusual and fascinating people. Within 30 years this way of life was to have disappeared entirely. The resulting book is a charming and beautifully written memoir that is not only a heartfelt lament for Hill's own youth and innocence, but also for a simpler and more honest age.'
Scottish Islands Explorer - also 'keeping' - in its way 

Thursday, 8 March 2012

An Era of Installations

Margaret Gartside is a regular reader of this blog and is seen here at Kinlochourn, the nearest mainland settlement to the virtually insular Knoydart. The petrol pump must have been one of the last to be situated during that era of creating a national network of installations for motorists. Anyone able to feature anything similar?

Scottish Islands Explorer - a modern-day, picture-post

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Past Sell-by-Date

The rainbow over Balfour Castle on Shapinsay has disappeared and the sale of the Estate has long gone. However, Richard Evans sent in this account as well as this remarkable Sales Brochure from 2008 /2009:

The expansive estate on the isle of Shapinsay in Orkney includes a 13-bedroom 'A' listed castle built in the mid 1800s and acres for wildfowling. The castle's large formal rooms are decorated in a Victorian style with elaborate fireplaces and intricate ceiling work. It was run for years as a hotel and the land includes three cottages and a farmhouse.

Part of the sale included Helliar Holm see page 7 on the attachment.

Scottish Islands Explorer - a different kind of brochure

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Statistical Snapshots

Now that 300 items on this blog promoting Scottish Islands Explorer have been posted, here are some glimpses about where our visitors originate and gather. Today will see the 16,000th visitor to the blog. The most popular page previewed, with 210 specific clicks, is Are You Pulling My Fin?  followed by Open House for Heb Homes with 170. The sites that provide most access are and with by far the most searched keywords being 'pilot whales'.

83% of visitors use Windows; 9% are Macintosh; 3% Linux and 1% view on iPads. The geographical split so far is 10,000 from the UK, 2000 from the USA, 500  from Germany and 350 from Russia. These are followed by Spain 300, Canada 250, Netherlands 225, Italy 200, France 150 and Australia 100.

The virtual blue yonder of broadband is no match for the reality of this photograph of White Strand, Iona, taken by Ruth Fairbrother.

Scottish Islands Explorer - keen to be known

Monday, 5 March 2012

Origins of the 300

This is Balfour Castle, built on Shapinsay in the mid-19th Century, but deliberately conveying the look of a fortified building of the Middle Ages. The 2001 Census showed that this Orkney island had a population of 300. The origins of these residents were analysed. 'Of the island's 300 inhabitants, 283 were born in the United Kingdom (227 in Scotland and 56 in England). Seventeen were born outside the United Kingdom (four elsewhere in Europe, four in Asia, four in North America, one in South America and four in Oceania).'

This is the 300th item on the blog and the breakdown of the origins of our visitors will be analysed tomorrow. In the meantime do tell others about our existence. Some days we attract over a hundred people - there were 126 yesterday - and it is very rare for there to be under 50 who come on board for a daily 'island fix'.

Scottish Islands Explorer - ancient islands in modern presentations. 

Sunday, 4 March 2012

Hot Desking on Lewis

An old Harris Tweed Mill on Seaforth Road in Stornoway will be opening as a Media Centre later this month. On the ground floor will be the headquarters and studio of MG Alba, operators of the Gaelic digital channel, BBC Alba. On the first floor there will be seven office units and 32 hot-desks. This is an exciting development that gives opportunities for small companies and individuals to be creative and inter-active. What would the 'former residents' of Lewis, depicted below, have made of such moves?

Scottish Islands Explorer - ready for new opportunities

Saturday, 3 March 2012

Benefits All Round

An Edinburgh-based company, Aquamarine Power, makes these Oyster devices in a factory in Fife and looks forward to installing up to 50 of them off Lewis. They have been tested off Orkney. These electricity generators are, perhaps, the shape of things to come and their size is shown below in comparison to the work-force that generates them.

Scottish Islands Explorer - tries to generate interest

Friday, 2 March 2012

Elves and Earthquakes

This bright red fungi, Scarlet Elf Cap, was spotted and photographed in woods on Islay by David Clugston. It's only the second time that the variety has been recorded on the whole of the Hebrides. This was reported by the Islay Natural History Trust on 28 February. A day later, on the 29th, the earth itself moved on parts of the island, was recorded on the Richter Scale at a Northern Ireland seismological station and is reported on the Trust's blog.

Scottish Island Explorer - reports and records

Thursday, 1 March 2012


Living on Lewis can lead to longevity as this life and death story of Methuselina indicates. Listen to the account by her owner John Maciver and sense something remarkable.

Scottish Islands Explorer -  hoping to emulate her.