Thursday, 31 January 2013

Foula in the '70s

Programmes in the series Look, Stranger have recently been shown on BBC Alba, including one about life on Folula in the 1970s. Here is a video clip focusing on the mail service run by the Gear brothers. Nothing came easily to this off-shore island.

Scottish Islands Explorer - grateful for the acceleration of communication

Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Go Slow

There was the old song - I'd Like to Get You on a Slow Boat to China - then Flanders and Swann's Slow Train and Bob Dylan's Slow Train Coming Album. In more recent times there is the Slow Cooking Movement and, now, Slow Holidays. The sheep on Hirta lead a life that's lacking in pace and on Fair Isle, where Iconoculture is promoting a holiday without hurry or hassle, there is the compensation of fast-moving birds.

Scottish Islands Explorer - often focuses on the go slow pace

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Small Parcel of Land

Cattle roam on what was a small parcel of land, in Old Norse terminology, and this derivation supplied Twatt, in Mainland Orkney with its name. In those parts of England where the Vikings settled, the place-name Thwaite became used to denote a comparably-sized area. The land use here was extended in 1941 when the Royal Navy Air Service airfield was established. Images of the place make it resemble an archaeological site, not that far removed from the prehistoric constructions on the nearby coast. They finished as permanent settlements many hundreds of years ago; the military installations at Twatt Airfield as recently as 1949. A detailed description of the installations is at the Canmore website.

Scottish Islands Explorer - feels junior in comparison

Monday, 28 January 2013

Road-to-Ferry Ratio

Here's a fine view for passengers approaching Papa Stour, Shetland, from the ferry. This could be the island with the lowest road mileage that has the services of a regular vehicular ferry. The waiting room (below)

is adjacent to the ferry terminal, which is about a mile from the air-strip (below) where the road ends.

Of course there are occasions when agricultural machinery is conveyed from West Burrafirth, on Mainland Shetland, to work the island's extensive fields, but there is virtually no network of metalled roads to provide routes for cars. There are some spurs to crofts adding, perhaps, another mile. Can anyone propose a lower ratio of, say, 2:1 on another Scottish island?

Scottish Islands Explorer - also a low ratio of readers here

Sunday, 27 January 2013

Cinderella Islands

Here's Davaar Island, at the mouth of Campbeltown Loch on the east side of Kintyre. In the 1960s there were stamps produced for visitors to mail items to Campbeltown where they would have to have Royal Mail stamps in order to go further. These local stamps are sometimes called 'carriage' or to philatelists, 'Cinderella' varieties. They continue to be produced for the Summer Isles and there was a brief spell when Great Bernera operated a service. The latter fell foul of the authorities. Insights will be welcomed into this type of commercial activity on other Scottish islands. It has also flourished on Lundy, in the Bristol Channel, and on the Calf of Man.

Scottish Islands Explorer - franked at Hastings by its printers

Saturday, 26 January 2013

Down to Earth

We come back down to Earth from speculating on Comet Ison and look again at the rotting wooden structures that feature along our coasts. This photograph, by Mavis Gulliver, is of the remains of the pier between Ellenabeich, Isle of Seil, and Easdale. She draws attention to how the ruins still indicate what must have been an impressively-sized original structure.

Scottish Islands Explorer - sells on Seil

Friday, 25 January 2013

Skye for Dark Sky

There are 50 so-called Dark Sky Discovery Sites in the UK and nine of them are to be found in Skye (above). They may not feature in our everyday lives at present, but come late November / early December there will be a demand for both telescopes

and vantage points for them because of Comet Ison. It's on its way, at some 100 miles per second, and will be an attraction flying relatively close to Earth. A full account of this phenomenon-to-come appears in the West Highland Free Press. Please note if you first heard Ison's name mentioned on this blog.

Scottish Islands Explorer - its news travels even faster by internet

Thursday, 24 January 2013

Going, Gone

The wooden pier stanchions are still there at Blackmill Bay, Luing, but in the days of photographer Iain Brown's grandmother, there was a ship off to Glasgow and a regular service to and from The Pier.

Scottish Islands Explorer - records from something to nothing

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Disappearing Piers

This man-made gorge gives a dramatic entry to Lochskipport, once a transport hub, on the east side of South Uist. It is now derelict, but yesterday's appeal for images of wooden piers has been answered. These photographs have come from a collection on a forum of UK Paddle Sports and there are three fine shots of the Lochskipport pier structures to be found on the Panoramio website provided by Reinder Herder.

Scottish Islands Explorer - always peering at the disappearing

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Corrugated Concluded

Richard Clubley submitted these two photographs and wrote, 'One of the images that first attracted me to the islands was that of the corrugated iron roofs on croft houses etc (also wooden piers). The roofs would often be painted red or green and would start to rust where water gathered in the dirt, just above the gutters. Here are a couple of photos from Eigg 1986 (not brilliant, I'm afraid, because I just re-photographed them out of the album) I like the one with the Sgurr behind though.'

Let's have a theme of 'wooden piers' please. My memories of the decaying structures at Lochskipport, South Uist, remain fresh in mind, although they were first fixed there in the last millennium!

Scottish Islands Explorer - focuses on local features 

Monday, 21 January 2013

Corrugated Continued

Marc Calhoun, from Seattle, wakes of a morning, makes a coffee and then takes a look at this blog. Yesterday he responded to the corrugated iron theme by sending two splendid images. Above, is the exterior of the former laundry on Rum and below is of its interior and assembled ... clothes hangers?

Please feed the craving for corrugated constructions with a photo or two.

Scottish Islands Explorer - admires resilience in people and places

Sunday, 20 January 2013

Corrugated Construction

Buildings of a corrugated construction came and went, though some lingered. Corrugated galvanised iron was first devised in the 1820s and replaced by a steel version 70 years later. This shed was on a cycling route briefly described in the blog, Across the Minch. Any other examples from the islands? When did the most recent one appear?

Scottish Islands Explorer - not exactly historical either

Saturday, 19 January 2013

Climbing and Upgrading

When Tommy Eunson was born, the Sumburgh Head Lighthouse was 111 years old. Next year it will be 192, while he is now 80 and ... young enough to climb to the top of the tower. The Shetland Amenity Trust asked him to come back to reminisce some 45 years since he worked there. The Trust is spending £5.4 million refurbishing the buildings and creating a visitors' centre as well as preserving the lighthouse and improving the accommodation. What a position to choose for appealing facilities to be ready in 2014.

Scottish Islands Explorer - endeavouring to make lights shine

Friday, 18 January 2013

Braking News?

There was an incident in Bridge Street , Kirkwall, yesterday when this car struck a wall and became stuck. The account and picture posted on The Orcadian Online give a somewhat surrealistic impression of an accident that is free of both impact and interest. Stories of this kind are a reminder of the famous Claud Cockburn headline that he, as a sub-editor, prepared for an issue of The Times in the early 1930s - 'Small Earthquake in Chile - Not Many Dead'.

Scottish Islands Explorer -  behind with the news

Thursday, 17 January 2013

One Man Road

Calum's Road on Raasay took one man ten years to build in the 1960s & 70s. It is now falling into disrepair and needs what it had previously ... loving care.

It avoided cliff-faces, took in bends and presented passing-places. In the past it was used by more pedestrians and in recent years vehicles have taken their toll rather than paid it.

Scottish Islands Explorer - only a quarter the age of the road

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Dwelling in the Past

Yesterday's item on the Across the Minch blog features three compelling beehive dwellings on Sron Smearasmal, a short way beyond the road to Hushinish, and connects them with the settlement at Branndarsaig Bay (below). Well worth a visit on foot or via the easier route by finger control.

Scottish Islands Explorer - features, connects and reveals

Tuesday, 15 January 2013


The Monach Islands or Heisgeir, photographed here in 1887 by Erskine Beveridge, has had two phases of inhabitation. The first was from about 1000 AD until 1810 when a population of around 100 was maintained. Re-settlement took place and by 1861 there were 127 residents. However, by 1942 all had gone, bar the lighthouse-keepers. The village, just south of Ceann Ear, supported a school, post office and a missionary, but no shop. These priorities meant that goods had to be brought the six miles from North Uist or, as it was known, 'the big island'.

Scottish Islands Explorer - two phases; black & white from 2000-02, then colour

Monday, 14 January 2013

Make Mine Machir

It's a Monday, in January, and there are snow forecasts for the north. It will be necessary for many to get up and get out, but for anyone who can lie back, if only momentarily, it would be good to think of the machair meadows in summer. There are inviting seasons ahead, perhaps to be spent at Machir Bay where this photograph was taken for the Islay Blog?

Scottish Islands Explorer - ready for action, all-year-round

Sunday, 13 January 2013

Get Around

The vessel in the distance is the Hjalmar Bjorge of Northern Light Charters. It is in Loch Spelve, Mull, and was photographed by Mark Henrys, who is the owner of the company and who devises many itineraries to a range of islands. Information, images and insights are available on NLC's new website - launched only last Friday - and this invites us to get around the north-west virtually before, perhaps, making it in reality. Become a snowy owl (photographed by Michael Mckee) yourself, hover over distant destinations, scrutinise the many places and experiences, and, then, home in on what is on offer. Be aware, be wise!

Scottish Islands Explorer -  has sailed on the Hjalmar Bjorge

Saturday, 12 January 2013

Brief Exposure

Our Iron Age predecessors created sea-shore settlements for both living and burial. A few years ago a skeleton was found at Skaill Bay, Orkney (above). A few weeks ago the pre-Christmas storms briefly exposed human remains and a dwelling at Channerwick, on the east coast about mid-way between Lerwick and the main Shetland airport at Sumburgh. Shetland Amenity Trust has full details of the finds which came to light after some 2000 years and which within days were buried again in a rockfall.

Scottish Islands Explorer - always ready to reveal

Friday, 11 January 2013

Hoy Presto!

Here's a photo of a ship, the Hoy Head, beginning to load passengers at Houton, on Orkney Mainland, for the Southern Isles service to Lyness and Longhope on Hoy as well as to Flotta. Now take a look at the account in The Orcadian of the vessel having a new 13-metre section fitted in order to increase capacity. Later this year it will be back in service, a modern-day Viking Longship, or a rare case of 'Hoy Presto! - a Longer-ship.'

Scottish Islands Explorer - remaining at 52-pages

Thursday, 10 January 2013

Single-Figure Killers

When island populations shrink to single-figures, there is understandable alarm. That warning is apparent, too, when a group of killer whales is involved. The now five female and four male members of the only orca family permanently resident in British and Irish waters are nine-strong (or weak) and it's some time since breeding took place. Follow what is presented on the BBC website from the Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust.

Scottish Islands Explorer - hoping for five-figure numbers, eventually

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Take Nothing, But Photos

Let's move on to Sule Stack. It is here in the foreground, with Sule Skerry in the distance. Getting there is not easy and the days have to be as benign as these first two images indicate.

However, once there it, is best to regard everything as being protected. The recent discovery, close to the summit, of an unexploded shell from Royal Navy sources would have been handled carefully. The 100 dozen eggs from the two islets, on sale in the market at Stromness as late as 1890, were soon to become products of illicit trading. The occupants of this boat below would have to take considerable caution as they approached a possible landing site.

Careful planning and preparation for an assignment to the island led to a fine series of images being taken by Orkney photographer, Charles Tait.

Scottish Islands Explorer - intrigued by isolation

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Record Remoteness

Here's a lighthouse that appears in the Guinness Book of Records for being Britain's most remote manned lighthouse during this phase of its operation from 1895 until automation in 1982. It is on Sule Skerry, 40 miles west of Orkney mainland and 35 miles north of the Sutherland coast. Heavy seas and short hours of winter daylight meant that it was built over two years under the supervision of David and Charles Stevenson. The islet is some 35 acres in extent and rises to 45'. This compares with the 140' Sule Stack, four miles to the south. An attempt to establish a pigeon post for the keepers did not succeed. The rails used in its construction and supply system were successful.

Scottish Islands Explorer - also uses systems without the assistance of pigeons

Monday, 7 January 2013

Erne Returns

Shetland News reports on the return of the erne, the local and Norse-derived word for, in this case, the Norwegian white-tailed eagle. It was an established feature of the area in the 19th Century and so the sightings of the past three weeks have been particularly exciting. This eagle was mobbed ... by black-backed gulls and hooded crows. Both these images are from Norwegian sources.

Scottish Islands Explorer - appeared in Shetland since its inception there in 2000

Sunday, 6 January 2013

Lighthouse Spotlight

Here is an aerial view of Ushenish Lighthouse on the east coast of South Uist. It is not easy to reach on a mainly pathless route from Lochskipport to the north. The lighthouse was built in 1857 by David and Thomas Stevenson and was among the first to be fully automated, in 1970. It was then that the keepers' houses were demolished. A photograph of the solid rock foundation taken by Ian Cowe, who walked there, taking some two-and-half hours, is a compelling image.Although getting there can be arduous, a way that will be stimulating as well as relaxing for those on board is the Northern Light Charters' cruise to the Lighthouses of the Western Isles, departing from Oban on Tuesday 6 August.

Scottish Islands Explorer - accessible and keen on access

Saturday, 5 January 2013

House and Islet

Still looking ... if not for a house, at least at properties which are for sale? Here's one in Finsbay, Harris, which has been an art gallery and which has quite a number of additional features, including an islet in a nearby loch. The village is an interesting one, with the Holmasaig Gallery and The Mission House Studio as established concerns displaying several aspects of the landscape as well as being part of it.

Scottish Islands Explorer - senses the excitement of a hub

Friday, 4 January 2013

Sale on Stour

If you have followed the blog's short series of items on remote properties, here's one that's up for sale. The auction of Hurdiback on Papa Stour in the Shetland group will be at 18.30 on Thursday 31 January. The guide price is £120k and this includes a five-apartment farmhouse, a three-apartment bunkhouse, a range of outbuildings, 120 acre coastal croft and 60 additional acres of free grazing. Bidding is in person, on-line, by phone or through commission bids.

Scottish Islands Explorer - keen to learn what happens