Sunday, 30 June 2013

An Away Day

You are looking at one of the most remote houses in Britain. However, yesterday it was visited by a group of about 50 people on an excursion arranged by the Islands Book Trust, following a book launch at the Uig Community Centre, Lewis. A convoy of  four-wheel-drive vehicles negotiated the nine-mile track to Hamnavay Lodge and then the group set off on the arduous two-mile return walk / climb / scramble to the house at Ardveg (above) built in 1934. This photograph was taken yesterday  by Marc Calhoun whose account of a visit, when on his own there several years ago, features on his blog. Former resident, Ina (age 78) walked there and back, recalling the time when she made the journey daily from the house to the Lodge during her time as a teenager, working as a side-school teacher before leaving home to train as a nurse.

Scottish Islands Explorer - made the journey, with some effort

Saturday, 29 June 2013

From Spring to Bore

The North Ronaldsay Lighthouse is high above it; the sheep are quite oblivious. However, the 60 residents of this Orkney island are aware that Scottish Water will be working this Summer to change and improve their water supply. It will be switched from a spring to a borehole source. The Orcadian reports and explains.

Scottish Islands Explorer - encourages information sources rather than bores

Friday, 28 June 2013

Sad End

On Wednesday I was crossing from Uig, on Skye, to Tarbert, Harris, and on the CalMac ferry met and talked with members of a group of twitchers. They were understandably excited about the prospect of a rare sighting, a white-throated needletail, a bird from a branch of the swift family normally to be found in Asia and Australasia. They were on-course to see a creature that was off-course. The ferry docked on time at around 15.40 and taxis were waiting to take the enthusiasts to a spot some two miles to the south-west of the town. Alas, the bird, capable of flying at up to 105 mph, died that afternoon when it flew into a domestic wind-turbine. The full story is carried on the BBC's Highland & Islands website.

Scottish Islands Explorer - aware of how enthusiasts will travel to far ends

Thursday, 27 June 2013

Story Ceilidh

Patience is required to create the simplest of constructions on land or at sea. Alexandria Patience (below) described as having 'a compelling storytelling presence', has devised a relaxed performance of Scottish traditional stories of the sea, second sight, witches, magic, love, loss and humour.

Live music for their Story Ceilidh is provided by Donald McNeill (below), a composer as well as performer,

and the show is on the road this week in the Western Isles. Look for the signs in Northbay, Barra; Solas, North Uist; Kershader, Ness and Stornoway, Lewis. If it's not possible for you to attend, consider the Second Portskerra International Storytelling Festival starting on 18 October 2013.

 Scottish Islands Explorer - plenty of scope for coastal themes

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Getting Carried Away

Do read the Comment by Nic on yesterday's blog for it's a timely reminder that misinformation can curtail sound planning. My journey to Rum was a customised one, but many visitors also have the luxury of being able to spend sufficient time ashore on a day-trip. The CalMac ferry timetable gives you the full details - while Nic supplies a succinct outline. Your schedule may be better suited by the Sheerwater of Arisaig Marine Ltd. Research is needed so that the new pier (below) is reached and your plans do not become 'castles in the air', but reality!

 Scottish Islands Explorer - aware that island-hopping needs planning

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Go Bella Jane and Xplore

Yesterday saw action in the form of a fabulous day-out with the company that runs real pleasure trips on the Bella Jane out of Elgol, Skye. Here are sightseeing excursions and wildlife observations on Loch Coruisk and its vicinity as well as fast rib journeys to Canna and Rum. I took the safe, speedy and stimulating excursion by AquaXplore to Rum and had sufficient time ashore to meet residents and visitors; tour the castle; look over the new, albeit temporary, hostel accommodation; take tea and, above all, talk. The other attractive feature of the day was ... sunshine.

Scottish Islands Explorer - Rum is covered in the current issue

Monday, 24 June 2013

AWOL Elgol

It's not exactly going absent without leave, but I am in Elgol, Skye (above), and the broadband connections, apparently fast in Walls, Shetland, are not allowing me to go far on the internet at present. Normal service will be resumed asap.

Scottish Islands Explorer - keen on normal service

Sunday, 23 June 2013

Where There Were Walls

Walls is well to the north-west of Shetland Mainland. It is a local centre, has some fine accommodation, such as Burrastow House (above) and is the terminal for the Foula Ferry. However, it has not been known for good mobile phone coverage, until now. Vodafone is experimenting with the innovative Open Fermo system and, within the vicinity of Walls, connections are brilliant unless too many people want to be online at once. The reasons behind the company's choice of this remote rural settlement  are outlined in a Shetland News item.

The day may be bright as is the lustre and appeal of this red phone box, once the mainstay of rural communications, but not its future.

Scottish Islands Explorer - aware of Voice / Data / Phone - the basis of Vodafone

Saturday, 22 June 2013

A New Bat on Bute

A Scottish Wildlife Trust trainee, Helen Simmons, borrowed the Trust's new device, an Anabat detector, when she went home to Bute for a weekend last month. When out practising with the device, she discovered the lesser noctule or Leisler's bat and recorded its presence at the farthest point north on the west coast of Scotland. It is found locally across Europe and into western Asia as well as north-west Africa, Madeira and the Canary Islands. There are a few colonies in England and Wales, with the occasional wanderer in Scotland. Sometimes known as 'the hairy-armed bat', it emerges after sunset to satisfy its appetite for insects and moths and has adapted to surviving in parkland and urban areas, having been primarily a forest dweller.

Scottish Islands Explorer - aware that Bute has long attracted seasonal visitors

Friday, 21 June 2013

A Great Way to Walk

There are always alternative ways to get to the top, but none is easier and more exciting than this account of the ascent of Toddun, north Harris, from the Walkhighlands website. The images and the text give you a full view of a walk which takes you up a perfectly-formed 'Marilyn' - one of the 2009 hills of over 492' (150 metres) in this category throughout Britain and Ireland. For accommodation nearby go to the Gatliff Hostel at Rhenigidale.

Scottish Islands Explorer - tries to make light of the arduous

Thursday, 20 June 2013

A Perfect Location

This seems to me to be a perfect opportunity for someone stimulated by my interests - Scottish islands, hostelling, meeting people, running a business and living somewhere attractive, that's something of a hub. The Am Bothan Hostel at Leverburgh, South Harris, now up for sale through Bell Ingram, appears to tick all the boxes. It is situated in some of the UK's most appealing landscapes and seascapes; on the spinal route through the Western Isles, constantly used by hostellers; in a place that is a hub for local shopping and services; a destination-point for people going to St Kilda on day-trips as well as taking the Sound of Harris ferry; with a name that is well-known to travellers and accommodation that is appealing for both the visitors and for the owners or wardens.

Think it over - for the price of a city centre flat, here is a source of income from being at the centre of activities which answer the needs of, and give pleasure to, many.

Scottish Islands Explorer - tries to answer needs as well as give pleasure

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Worth Waiting

Here's the entrance to the Pickaquoy Centre in Kirkwall. Its new swimming pool will be opening this coming Saturday - 22 June - a year behind schedule, but in time for the pleasure of a plunge or a paddle before the Longest Day. Local residents were able to look around their new facility last Friday and many would endorse the Council's view that it's been worth the wait, according to the report in Orkney Today.

Scottish Islands Explorer - the latest issue appears in the shops today

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

A Tale of Retail

Perhaps the islands were once backwaters in terms of retail. Now they are preparing for what has been termed 'Store Wars' with a new factor evident - delivery. Increased fuel prices have led many people to see the advantages of the retailer rather than the shopper providing transport. Asda has no shops in the Hebrides, but undertakes deliveries, albeit through third parties, to Barra as well as Lewis and Harris. Three times a week their own vans cover Skye from the Inverness store. Tesco operates home deliveries from Stornoway, but not an online shopping service. The one company with a presence throughout is, of course, the Co-operative. It will be interesting to see how it preserves established territories in fairly remote places. For this detail of retail go to the Stornoway Gazette.

Scottish Islands Explorer - aware of the subscriber / shopper balance

Monday, 17 June 2013

Uncover and Go

It's Monday morning and your way of getting places - for creation (involving an element of work) or recreation (in the style of a pleasure-seeker)  - may well be by train, bus, car, bike or on foot. A few people will be on ferries and those going to the Isle of Ulva, off Mull, will be particularly welcomed. Its website indicates that it's 'A World Apart' - for that's part of the enchantment of going off-shore - especially when you attract the ferryman's attention by operating a colour-coded signal.

Scottish Islands Explorer - covers several worlds apart

Sunday, 16 June 2013

Fort Yields Facts

Windwick Bay, South Ronaldsay, Orkney was once the site of an Iron Age fort which performed a defensive and, perhaps, domestic function for centuries. Recent investigations, reported in The Orcadian, have yielded some interesting finds. A steatite or soapstone fragment of pottery suggests a Norwegian source and the discovery of a hearth which has been subjected to archaeomagnetic dating. These point to connections with the Norse people in 600 AD. Although earlier than the main influx of the Vikings, it shows that there were probably sporadic settlements and links from across the waters to the east. Full details of this, The Cairns Project, give insights.

Scottish Islands Explorer - copies will one day be unearthed

Saturday, 15 June 2013


Here's a tale of two vessels in comparable locations with conflicting conditions. Alan Rankin (above) set off for a six-week sail from Ullapool, but has become becalmed in Lerwick. A full account appears in Shetland News. However, The Orcadian reports on the four Norwegian rowers now expected in Kirkwall on Monday. They, battered by westerly-wind and stormy seas, dropped anchor at 03.00 yesterday in order to consolidate their progress on the trip described here in An Audacious Crossing.

Scottish Islands Explorer - encounters ever changing conditions

Friday, 14 June 2013

Work or What?

The population of Scarp, to the west of Harris, peaked at 213 in 1881, but even in the 1940s there were 100 Scarpachs living on this off-shore island. Everyone resided in the fertile south-east corner and the men would gather each morning in a 'parliament' to parley or speak about their work for the day. Similar conferring took place on St Kilda and Handa. Sometimes hours were spent on discussion and little was done. The women did not have these distractions, but continued to be industrious. The population dwindled and by 1971 the Census reported two inhabitants. By the end of that year there was none. The attractions of Hushinish (below) across the water were compelling, although the road beyond has its length and limitations as shown on a YouTube clip.

Scottish Islands Explorer - some partying; little parleying

Thursday, 13 June 2013

An Audacious Crossing

On Monday last four men set out from Norway to row the first leg of an unsupported journey to their native Iceland. They are expected to be in Kirkwall by the end of this week, before continuing to the Faroes.

Their boat is called the Audur and is named after the most famous Viking female rower, Audur Djupudga - literally the 'Audacious', who lived from 834 - 900, and whose exploits are worth reading about.

Her life is commemorated by this cross in Iceland, where she finally settled. The rowers intend to team up next year to complete the final stages of their North Atlantic Row - by following in the wake of Erik the Red and reaching Canada via Greenland.

Scottish Islands Explorer - goes places, differently

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

A Continental Shelf

Markets of a continental style, displaying European goods and produce, have been a feature of English towns and cities - especially those on the eastern side of the country - for some decades. The opening of the Channel Tunnel was a key factor. Now they appear in the far reaches, at least in retail terms, of what could be called, 'the continental shelf'. One opened under Fort Charlotte in Lerwick yesterday. It brings a new dimension to the end of Da Street or Commercial Street, the town's main thoroughfare. Those interested in the history, shops and images of this long-established road should go straight to Shetlopedia where you will not be disappointed. Below is a view of the other end of the street.

Scottish Islands Explorer - on sale in Da Street

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Opening Up

This photograph and an account from The Times shows the sort of view that's on offer to passengers on the Stagecoach open-top bus service from Fort William out into the hills and glens. The plans are to extend the experience to routes on Skye and Orkney. The blog has now had references on consecutive days to travel experiences involving getting to and getting out of Skye, with today's on ways of really getting into the scenic countryside as well as the prevalent weather conditions.

Scottish Islands Explorer - intent on coming out again ... next week

Monday, 10 June 2013

On Getting Out

Village Bay (below) is often featured whenever St Kilda is presented. However, the number of people who reach this island is comparatively few. New services are always attempting either to satisfy or to create demand for getting there. Now Integrity Voyages is offering day-trips as well as two- and four-day camping trips there from Uig on Skye. Yesterday's item was about proposals for flights into Skye; today's concerns a way of getting out - to one of the most aspirational destinations in the UK. So it's a full 12 hours for the outward and inward journeys including four hours there. Yet reaching Uig does not involve a ferry crossing from the Mainland. From Skye it could well be plain sailing.

Scottish Islands Explorer - discovering new ways of exploration

Sunday, 9 June 2013


The perfectly appropriate word - le mot juste - comes to mind when considering the meanings of airport (all-purpose), airbase (military), airfield (grass-based for amateur use), airstrip (remote, sometimes with island associations) and aerodrome (not having fulfilled all the criteria demanded of an airport). Ashaig at Broadford, on Skye (with its sign above and location below) comes into this last category, but this may soon change.

FlySkye is campaigning for the re-introduction of services to and from Broadford as was operated until 1988. Recent developments are reported on the BBC website. So in 2014 there may be some fine vistas available to passengers as they journey there from different destinations. Flights to and from the north may pass over the Old Man of Storr (below)

and those able to climb above the clouds should be rewarded, as the name of the campaign implies.

Scottish Islands Explorer - keen to reach Skye with elevation and elegance

Saturday, 8 June 2013

A Limited Lease of Life

Helliar Holm Lighthouse was built in 1893 and vacated, when it became automatic, in 1967. It is technically on a tidal island off Shapinsay, but it has to be a really low tide before it can be accessed on foot. The Northern Lighthouses Board has recently passed the lease, and responsibilities, to the Orkney Islands Council for reasons outlined in this item from The Orcadian.

There is unlikely to be a new lease of life for the accommodation linked to what is now a navigation light. The account of the recent history of the house, to be found in the Orkney Image Library, is worth reading. It conveys - especially in the Comments section - how the decline in a way of life and the decay of buildings can happen so quickly.

Scottish Islands Explorer - tries to combat decline and decay

Friday, 7 June 2013

Growing on Unst

Two large gardens on Unst, the most northerly of the Shetland Isles, could soon be flourishing. One has already reached that state - the Unst Market Garden, developed by Sarah McBurnie - while the other is set to grow with lottery funding as reported in Shetland News.This community garden for residents in sheltered accommodation at Uyeasound is a pioneering care scheme. The former grows chemical-free produce and supplies residents, local shops and hotels.

Scottish Islands Explorer - enjoys growth in the islands and beyond

Thursday, 6 June 2013

Walking from Nowhere

If you have four minutes to spare and want to have at least the illusion of a walk, then go from the Bridge to Nowhere at Tolsta in the Isle of Lewis. You will be taken by YouTube around the north coast of the island to the Port of Ness and onto South Dell.

Alternatively, look more closely at Filiscleitir Chapel, on the cliff edge to the east of Ness, and wonder how congregations were attracted to this desolate spot until the 1930s.

Scottish Islands Explorer - keen to make nowhere become somewhere

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Big at Sea

They could be massive, floating in deep-water sites and producing a lot of power. Two sites have been singled out for testing mega wind-turbines and they are both in the Shetland area, off Rova Head and Kebister Ness. The story behind this proposal and the prospects of quadrupling energy supplies from sources of this kind are outlined in Shetland News.

Scottish Islands Explorer - aware of powerful forces at work and play