Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Seal Commitment

Existing on North Rona is one thing; living as a family there is another. Frank Fraser Darling took this photograph of his wife 'Bobbie' and their son, Alasdair, in 1937 while engaged on research about grey seals and their habitat. A BBC item looks at the landscape, their home, and the seals, his livelihood. The Fianuis peninsula (below) to the north of the island would have been the view from their huts, now 77 years ago.

Scottish Islands Explorer - Like living over the shop?

Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Stacking Up

Yesterday saw readers on Stac Lee - 'virtually' - and today we go higher to the Soldier / Warrior, Stac an Armin (above middle and below) At 643' it is the highest sea-stack in the British Isles and has, believe it or nor, had long-term, but never permanent, residents. The longest involuntary stay was that of nine months by three men and eight boys in 1727/28. When they returned to Hirta (the largest island in the St Klda group) they discovered that they had avoided a devastating smallpox outbreak. The last Great Auk in the UK was not so fortunate and was killed here in July 1840. If you enjoyed visiting Stac Lee through YouTube yesterday, then here's a way of getting in and close to Stac an Armin today.

Scottish Islands Explorer - tries to stand out, but not have retail copies stack up

Monday, 29 December 2014

A Most Basic Bothy

It's prominent - at 564' - and on the outer edge of the already remote St Kilda archipelago - and is considered to be the most difficult of the Marilyns to access and ascend. It is Stac Lee. Pay a visit via a YouTube clip and then take a closer look at its most basic bothy, capable of sheltering two people in some stony discomfort. 

Scottish Islands Explorer - accesses remote parts and brings them closer

Sunday, 28 December 2014

An Dotair Mor

If you can, tune into BBC Alba on Monday 29 December at 22.00 for a programme, An Dotair Mor - The Big Doctor. It traces the work and times of Dr Alexander MacLeod and his his wife, Dr Julia MacLeod, on North Uist from 1932. In many ways it was a pioneering practice, with residents receiving care standards previously unavailable. The family's contribution to island life was remarkable, with their son, John, taking over and continuing to practise into the 21st Century. Full details are in a Stornoway Gazette item.

Scottish Islands Explorer - specialises in island-work, in its way

Saturday, 27 December 2014

No Ifs and Butts, Yet

A few miles to the south of the Butt of Lewis Lighthouse is the crofting community of South Dell and here a former missionary and teetotaller, David Hope, grows vines in polytunnels and produces wine. It all sounds improbable, despite the benign weather conditions of the Autumn of '14. Read about it in The Drinks Business, marvel how about 600lbs of Black Muscat grapes were grown and how some of them not sold in the local market were used to produce a few bottles of Chateau Hebrides. For the record, however, it is unlikely that the Butt (above) will be complemented by a butt from below (in South Dell). It measures 108 Imperial gallons or half of a tun.

Scottish Islands Explorer - cultivated and matured in eight weeks

Friday, 26 December 2014

Time Out

When the UK turned from the Julian to the Gregorian Calendar in 1752, there were people with reservations. Some refused to follow the herd like sheep and retained their calendars, at least locally. Two places continue to observe the old traditions. One is the Gwaun Valley, near Fishguard in West Wales, and the other is Foula, some 20 miles to the west of Walls on Shetland Mainland. So yesterday may have been a day of some significance there, but hang on until 6 and 13 January for the celebrations that count.

Scottish Islands Explorer - Gregorian on every page

Thursday, 25 December 2014

A Gnat to Present?

The tracks have virtually disappeared; the junction is still evident; the Flannan Isles Lighthouse continues to function; and the Gnat vehicle, which serviced the lighthouse, has become a museum piece. They were brought together in this blog on 29 June 2011 (just click on here) and yesterday an appeal was made that appears in the Comment section of that day. Someone wants to restore a comparable vehicle. Any offers of tracking one down and presenting it for display? Make someone's Christmas Day.

Scottish Islands Explorer - hopes the appeal is successful

Wednesday, 24 December 2014

In Need of Names

There was a time when these geographical features needed naming and the then residents of the Western Isles were ready to supply them. During 2014 babies were born in these locations and required names. The Stornoway Gazette has an item on the preferences of parents for their offspring.

Scottish Islands Explorer - has devised titles for various sections

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Say Yesnaby

A couple scan the distant cliffs of Hoy from Yesnaby and obviously feel positive about being in Orkney. It is rated the 47th best place to live in the UK, and the top in Scotland, in the new Halifax Quality of Life Survey that attempts to measure the 50 best places to live.

Scottish Islands Explorer - in the top 50 magazines? Maybe best on the Islands.

Monday, 22 December 2014

Size Up on Shillay

Sunset from Leverburgh shows how the conical Pabbay (also below) stands out in the Sound of Harris. To its right is Shillay - from the Norse for 'seal island'. Around 100 - 150 grey seals are born here annually, but Hamish Haswell-Smith notes in his The Scottish Islands how Martin Martin was particularly impressed, in 1695, by the largest horns he had ever seen on sheep. In 1946 a lobster was found nearby with the following dimensions - length 35"; circumference 15.5", cutting edge of scissors claw 7.5", empty shell weight 10.75 lbs. Something in the water?

Scottish Islands Explorer - appears as a consistent 52-page-size magazine

Sunday, 21 December 2014

60 Degrees North

Lea Gardens, West Shetland Mainland, was started in the early 1980s and now occupies two acres with 1500 different species from all over the world. It is planted to maintain all-year round interest and is famed, at least locally, for its shelter. An item in Shetland News puts its conditions of this December into context. The image below, from the Gardens, is an appropriate reminder that once today - with the fewest hours of daylight, especially at 60 degrees north - is over, then Summer Is Icumen In ... eventually.

Scottish Islands Explorer - planning for future seasons

Saturday, 20 December 2014

Off to Oz

From Village Bay, St Kilda towards St Kilda, Victoria, or even Kangaroo Island, Australia, was one of many routes taken by emigrants. Bill Lawson, of Northton, South Harris, has recently published his 73rd book - on islanders going to other parts of the world.

Scottish Islands Explorer - ready to follow routes and readers

Friday, 19 December 2014

Back from Beyond

The image of Haltadans Stone Circle requires explanation - to be found at the Fetlar Aerial Photography Blog - and a certain imagination to picture a ring of dancing trolls around a fiddler and his wife. Moving on from what was probably the Early Bronze Age to the present day and we have another circular shape - in the form of a CD. It is produced by the Haltadans music group of fiddlers anchored by guitar and bass. They were formed in 2012, went last year to Foula as part of the Back from Beyond project and have now released a recording of their music. Discover more through Shetland News.

Scottish Islands Explorer - goes beyond and gets back every other month

Thursday, 18 December 2014

Waders Galore

The Redshank stands out on the stone; the Lapwing is camouflaged in the machir. North and South Uist are apparently the places to see British farmland waders with some 9000 pairs taking advantage of the islands' lack of predators. The Stornoway Gazette carries a report on these birds by RSPB Scotland.

Scottish Islands Explorer - would welcome a comparable number of new readers

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Sunsets Staggered

Someone once pointed out to me that the term 'Shortest Day' is misleading as all days are the same in terms of time. Yesterday matters became more complicated when I was told about the variations in the Solar Day. This refers to the length of time between sunrise and sunset. Apparently it is not consistent at both ends - so that we are now at the point when the earliest sunsets occur. From tomorrow the evenings will begin to draw out, although the sun will be rising later to give the 'shortest periods of daylight' on 21 December. Add to this the differences in latitude and longitude and the picture becomes even more varied. Sunset times today are as follows:  Penzance 16.20; Ipswich 15.44; Stornoway 15.34; Lerwick 14.56. Puzzled? Then just enjoy seeing the sun setting (above) at Scatness, Shetland, from the photoblog at Phatsheep Photography.

Scottish Islands Explorer - to be viewed from times of daylight to candlelight

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Long Coast; Large Map

The Sumburgh coastline at the south of Shetland Mainland is extensive. However, it did not prepare a householder for the dimensions of a map discovered in the cellar of his home at Sand Lodge. It measures 5' x 15'. Read about this 75-square-feet of cartography at Shetland News.

Scottish Islands Explorer - produced in more manageable proportions

Monday, 15 December 2014

Wild About Wildcats

These Scottish Wildcats may look tame enough, but they are a threatened species. National Lottery funding has set aside almost £1 million to help preserve them in six specific sites. An island close to Morvern - one of the six designated areas - where efforts have previously been made to protect them is Carna, in Loch Sunart. Read the details about the funding on the BBC website.

Scottish Islands Explorer - not a threatened publication

Sunday, 14 December 2014

Weather Bomb

These two images from Orkney are indicators of calm conditions. For the past week the elements have been anything but benign. The BBC website video clip of a so-called 'weather bomb' is a reminder of what happens when natural forces encounter man-made objects.

Scottish Islands Explorer - will hit the streets and doormats this coming week.

Saturday, 13 December 2014


Vatersay is linked by causeway to Barra and Uinessan is a tidal island accessed from the north-east of Vatersay with views across to Castlebay. The ruin of St Brendan's Chapel (above) is still evident, just, and tales of Mary of the Heads, buried nearby, remain in circulation. Discover more by reading the informative blog and seeing the impressive photographs presented by Marc Calhoun.

Scottish Islands Explorer - not tide-dependent

Friday, 12 December 2014

High Winds; Heavy Seas

The week in the Scottish Islands has involved high winds and heavy seas. The figure in the sign at Birsay, Orkney, looks relaxed about taking the footpath to Skiba Geo. Walkers would not have been, given the conditions captured on film from the BBC website. Consider the forces that are unleashed.

Scottish Islands Explorer - considers the forces at play

Thursday, 11 December 2014

Good Timing

You can see from the image that Mid Yell is fairly exposed. So with the high winds that are featuring this week, the Shetland township is taking a battering. However, the timing for having a wind turbine installed at the Mid Yell Hall has been superb. It will produce a feed-in-tariff of around £7k a year as well as generate electricity, operating even in light winds, as reported in Shetland News. A paradox is that yesterday all schools were closed in the north islands, including Yell, on Whalsay and the North Mainland of Shetland owing to ... an extensive power cut.

Scottish Islands Explorer - not blown off course, yet

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Storms and Shelter

For isolation in the UK (apart from Rockall), it is not possible to get further away than North Rona. The aerial view of Toa Rona and its lighthouse, weather station and helicopter-pad is where storms and wind-speeds are measured. Take a look at what is expected there today by clicking on here. Despite the current low pressure it is unlikely to reach the 134-mph gust recorded in January 2005. There is little shelter on the island, although the ruined sanctuary (below) of St Ronan's Chapel has minimal cover. It is allegedly the third oldest surviving place of Christian worship in Britain and has withstood many storms since Ronan died in 737, some 1,277 years ago.

Scottish Islands Explorer - impressed by survival and longevity

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Little Colonsay

Little Colonsay is situated between Ulva, off Mull, and Staffa. It has similar columnar basalt formations as the latter, but not in such dramatic forms. The 217 acres rise to 200' and the number of residents in 1841 - 16 - fell to just two within 90 years.

The only residence, a Victorian house, has been restored and, like the rest of the island, has an idyllic look. However, Little Colonsay is somewhat exposed to the the south-west gales coming in straight off the Atlantic.

Scottish Islands Explorer - presents idyllic images; is conscious of storms

Monday, 8 December 2014

Special Offer

Here are two of the images that feature in the newsletter of the Tobermory-based Islandscapes. Request a copy from the company, giving details of the 2015 courses that may be booked at 2014 prices if secured by the end of the year. Take advantage of, at least, seeing what is on offer.

Scottish Islands Explorer - has maintained subscription prices for four years

Sunday, 7 December 2014

Au Naturel

Yesterday saw the launch by The Orcadian of its new publication, The Orkney Book of Wildflowers. Today's blog enables you to see these wildflowers on the edge of Loch of Harray and by clicking onto Shutterstock perceiving them in a more realistic state.

Scottish Islands Explorer - tries to bring nature to life

Saturday, 6 December 2014

250 Miles; 20 Crossings

The Digital Scotland Superfast Broadband Project passed a crucial stage on Thursday when 20 seabed crossings by 250 miles of fibre-optic cables were completed. When the land-based cabling and the network are finished, in 2016, some 84% of the Highlands & Islands will have state-of-the-art connections. The Stonoway Gazette reports.

Scottish Islands Explorer - broadband-dependent

Friday, 5 December 2014

NHS to Holiday Express

Plans have been put forward to convert the former NHS Headquarters in Lerwick to a 125-bed Holiday Inn Express together with serviced offices and apartments. The details are outlined in Shetland News.

Scottish Islands Explorer - no getting away from the chains

Thursday, 4 December 2014

Watery End

This aerial view of Whitehall, the main settlement on Stronsay, Orkney, indicates the extent of sea water here. Pilgrims would have passed through the port on the way to Mill Bay (below) where three mineral springs were to be found. One of them, the Well of Kildinguie, had special healing qualities - especially when its waters were taken with dulse or sea lettuce flakes from nearby Geo Odin. Alas, quarrying works in the 1870s reduced the flow of water to a trickle before it, and the pilgrims, disappeared. The Well had been regarded as the source of a panacea, with one exception - the curing of the Black Death.

Scottish Islands Explorer - has restorative qualities, allegedly

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

A Whisky Weave

The connections between these images are not immediately evident. However, read the BBC website item and matters will become clearer. Then think of the ways in which whisky-drinkers have, in the past, tried to conceal aspects of their habits. It's a turn-up for the blend!

Scottish Islands Explorer - as yet unable to to convey aromas

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Take in on Fair Isle

There's plenty to take in on Fair Isle. The Kirk framed by Sheep Rock, above, and 'Love on the Rocks', below. These come from Fair Isle - a blog with a stunning range of images. Innovative things happen on this island where Scottish Islands Explorer was founded on 2 January 2000.

Scottish Islands Explorer - a month short of its 15th birthday