Friday, 31 January 2014

Discount and Premium

There's much to be said for hostelling and one factor is that a discount price will buy a premium product, sociability. Where better to sample this than the Raasay Hostel some two miles from the ferry terminal and with commanding views. The details are here on the SYHA site.

Scottish Islands Explorer - tries to be a value-for-money product

Thursday, 30 January 2014

Watch ... and Buy

There are markets for islands, for Scottish islands and now for Scottish Islands Explorers. 41 issues of the publication are being offered for sale on ebay and you are invited to click on, read the description, watch price movements over the next six days and even buy them. That's just under half of the issues published since the year 2000. Please take a look and make this particular secondary market flourish.

Scottish Islands Explorer - always pleased to be sold

Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Nab a Beach Now

Here, through the Stornoway Gazette, is a recommendation for a walk to one of the finest beaches in Scotland that's 'Not Accessible By Car' [NAB]. It's Traigh Mheilein, on the west side of North Harris, involving a five-mile round-trip trek from Huisinis. The views - of Scarp, to the settlements of Breanish and Mealasta (on Lewis and many miles away by road) and along to Cravadale - are impressive. Full information is provided by Mick Blunt of Hidden Hebrides.

Scottish Islands Explorer - prospects of Spring and Summer

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

F-Word Frenzy

It's Up Helly Aa today and tonight in Lerwick and the VisitShetland Beginners' Guide to the event gives the alliterative - 'Fire, feasting, fancy-dress and, above all, fun' - when Norse rituals come to life. The climatic background to this year's festivities suggests that the traditionally defiant cry of - "There will be no postponement for weather" - may be particularly meaningful. According to yesterday's Shetland News item, the current, local battering by the wind is the worst for 20 years. Will revellers be daunted?

Scottish Islands Explorer - tonight will be a subdued one of 'Down Here, Oh!'

Monday, 27 January 2014


Three weeks have passed since suggestions about New Year resolutions were posted on this site. However, the links created then have had to be re-set and so it could be a good time to re-solve. If you are striving successfully to achieve, like Lawrence MacEwen and his dog on the Muck hillside, then your efforts are as rock solid

as the islet of Ailsa Craig where passengers to and from Glasgow to Northern Ireland know they are well on their way to their destination. However, its quarrying business - particularly for curling stones - has been side-lined and the rail-system is in decay. If your intentions have faltered, then look again

at LifeEdited and, in particular, Five Ways to Think Less in 2014.

Scottish Islands Explorer - keen to be both effective and efficient

Sunday, 26 January 2014

Census Camping

The distance between Harris and Lewis ranges from a shared boundary to a short crossing, as the above view of Mealista (Lewis) from Scarp (Harris) indicates. Mealista Island has been inhabited and the sheep fank below was probably constructed from the ruins of the homes in a small community. The nuns who lived in the House of the Old Women in Black were resident long before an official census was taken, However, when the official responsible for counting populations made a visit to the 306-acre island in 1861, there was the crew of a fishing boat from Rosehearty, Aberdeen, including a female cook, camping. They were the last recorded 'inhabitants'.

Scottish Islands Explorer - accounting for items of island interest

Saturday, 25 January 2014

From Ninety to None

The 148-acre Isay, in Loch Dunvegan, Skye, was home to 90 residents in 1841 and within 40 years there was none. That's how it is today. It was the scene of a massacre by Roderick MacLeod following a banquet in the early 16th Century, was the topic of banter with Samuel Johnson in 1773, prosperity at the beginning of the 19th Century and then, despite fertile soil, the site of clearances which led to complete depopulation and to the grazing of sheep. The image below is a reminder of the one-time 'street' of 18 cottages and blackhouses.

Scottish Islands Explorer - has thankfully experienced growth

Friday, 24 January 2014

Second Best on Top of UK

It's Friday and millions are looking forward to fish & chips for lunch, tea or supper. What will be savoured by the staff of Frankie's Fish & Chip Shop, Brae (the UK's most northerly shop of its sort) is that they have been judged second best in the UK for their food. Read the Shetland News item to learn more, find out the winner and enjoy, not a meal, but a video about the shop and its supplies.

Scottish Islands Explorer - seldom used to wrap takeaways

Thursday, 23 January 2014

Vikings in Liverpool

The NorthLink ferry vessel, the Hamnavoe, has been to dry dock in Birkenhead for a re-fit and a repaint. Here it is passing through Liverpool on its way back to serving Orkney and Shetland. All being well - following a journey through the Irish Sea, along the western coast of Scotland, around Cape Wrath and into the Pentland Firth - it will be back in service tomorrow.

Scottish Islands Explorer -  re-fitted every eight weeks

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Shetland Perspectives

The work of a photographer and his shop in Lerwick are being extended by an exhibition and a website. Dennis Coutts (above) is presenting a display of his work - Sixties Revisted - at the Bonhoga Gallery until Sunday 2 March. For insights into contemporary life and scenes in Shetland, go to the website of his son, John Coutts.

Scottish Islands Explorer - also involves a father-and-son partnership

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Not an End Game

From the darkness of the interior of Ensay House there is a view to the shores of South Harris. The island of Ensay was well-wooded when raided by Norsemen, who killed the inhabitants and burned the trees. This led to soil erosion. However, the 460-acres, which the Sound of Harris ferry passes on its way to and from Leverburgh, recovered sufficiently to be farmed efficiently in the 19th Century. A horse-drawn precision seeder was introduced when dibbers were being used elsewhere. The large house was built in Edwardian times and renovated in 1991, while the small private chapel of Christ Church has been restored. So the end did not come a thousand years ago with the raids and the Old Norse words for 'ewe' and 'island' have been preserved in the name. Here's a view back to the house from beyond the chapel.

Scottish Islands Explorer - aware of revivals

Monday, 20 January 2014

Residents 0 Visitors 32

This photograph, of a party of walkers on Texa, was taken in September 20111. The 48-hectare island to the south of the Laphroaig and Lagavulin Distilleries, Islay, rises to 157' and has not been inhabited since the early 19th Century. It has supplies of fresh water and is the home of both wild goats and otters. St Adomnan, the Abbot of Iona from 679 - 704, wrote about it and mentions that St Cainneach (Kenneth) left his crozier on Iona during a visit. St Columba blessed and threw the pastoral staff into the sea for it eventually to be washed onto the Texa shore and found by ... Cainneach. The island housed a religious seminary for a time.

Scottish Islands Explorer - aware of how items are lost and found

Sunday, 19 January 2014

Rocking and Falling

The Oa, Islay, has a road that ends at Lower Killeyan, where cars may be parked at the RSPB Reserve and from where some fascinating walks begin. Here are rock formations and waterfalls to explore. Details are on the Islay Blog which, as ever, presents images that attract.

Scottish Islands Explorer - where rocks and waterfalls are relished

Saturday, 18 January 2014

In Top Three

It's intriguing to think that the Hebrides have hit top spots in a survey conducted about UK holiday destinations, but not difficult to see why from the beach scene above. Go to the Stornoway Gazette to see the figures.

Scottish Islands Explorer - plenty on offer about the area that has much to ...

Friday, 17 January 2014

New Seafood Diet

Loch Fyne Oysters Ltd has acquired Hebridean Mussels and Hebridean Seafoods, certainly extending their range of operation. The details are in the Stornoway Gazette and restaurant diners should be aware that the dishes presented to them could have a distinctive Western Isles flavour.

Scottish Islands Explorer - sees food and likes it

Thursday, 16 January 2014

Water, No Air

The sight of an Islander aircraft crossing Hamna Voe, Papa Stour, and landing nearby during the next few weeks will not be possible. The horizontal water-mill, pictured here, depended on a constant supply of water; the airstrip on the island has been damaged by it. The details are available through Shetland News, but for those keen to make the flight for sight-seeing purposes there is a a fine series of images and a 13-minute video at Papa Stour & Foula by Plane presented by Modor-Dye. Take the opportunity now - for the next plane will be some time coming.

Scottish Islands Explorer - usually ready to take off

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Flight of Fancy?

The closure of Skye Airport for commercial flights took place some 25 years ago, but many harbour the 'flight of fancy' that civil aviation will return. Some students at Inverness College UHI have produced designs for the terminal buildings and details of these appear on the BBC website. Perhaps they are the shape of things to come?

Scottish Islands Explorer - designed bi-monthly on the Isle of Jura

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Cash in Sandsound

Marine scientists have mislaid two satellite tracking devices on Shetland's west-side. They were measuring the currents in the Fair Isle gap, but became caught up and washed off-course in the recent gales. The details of their approximate whereabouts - the hard-to-access beaches of Sandaound (above) - and the rewards offered for the beacons, are featured in a Shetland News item.

Scottish Islands Explorer - a reward in itself

Monday, 13 January 2014

Stone Age Hotspot

These visitors to the Ring of Brodgar and its henge are following a trail. In social terms this could have been a significant hub on Orkney Mainland from which a cultural 'Stone Age Hotspot' began a movement, starting 5,200 years ago, to the south as far as Stonehenge. Details of a remarkable theory is to be found in the journal Science and in an article by Clive Cookson in the FT Magazine.

Sunday, 12 January 2014

New Year; Old Ways

Last night - Saturday 11 January - was New Year's Eve in the Gaelic tradition. Oidhche Challuinn [The Night of the Calendar] was celebrated, for example, in Berneray, North Uist. where the Julian Calendar date remains recognised by some residents. However, that custom takes place on Foula, in the Shetland group, tonight. The reason for this discrepancy is because Foula residents failed to observe a leap year in 1900 and are consequently one day out. So a distinction between Gaelic and Norse ways in a detail of Julian time-keeping was established. The irony is that Julius Caesar had no idea about these lands and islands to the north of his conquered territories where his methods of counting days, months and years were introduced.

Scottish Islands Explorer - appears regularly every two months

Saturday, 11 January 2014

Walking The Border

There are many exceptional places to visit and among the compelling is the boundary between Lewis and Harris, at Ardvourlie. Explore in the company of Mick Blunt whose itinerary of this route is presented in the Stornoway Gazette and whose wide range of walks is to be viewed at Hidden Hebrides.

Scottish Islands Explorer - enjoys boundary marking and border crossings

Friday, 10 January 2014

Aurora Alert

Some pupils in Orkney were eagerly anticipating the opening of their new school building yesterday. Many pupils of Shetland residents were widened last night to see the Northern Lights following an Aurora Alert. An item in Shetland News was a timely reminder to look up and, perhaps, be impressed.

Scottish Islands Explorer - usually impresses when regarded from above.

Thursday, 9 January 2014

Back to New School

It was back to their old schools for many pupils in Orkney on Tuesday. However, the 770 who attend Kirkwall Grammar School will be starting their new term in the new building from today and tomorrow. The Orcadian has the details.

Scottish Islands Explorer - hopes that appreciation levels are high

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Winter Panorama

Here's a winter panorama of crofthouse, croft, crag and clouds in South Uist. Take a look at the gallery of images and links on South Uist News. They will help transform your day.

Scottish Islands Explorer - taking the wider view

Tuesday, 7 January 2014

A Booming Textile

As several retailers report a downturn in their seasonal returns, here is a producer - of Harris Tweed - indicating a 25% increase towards the end of last year. This will provide a strong platform for trading in 2014. Read more in the Stornoway Gazette.

Scottish Islands Explorer - where buoyant results are to be found

Monday, 6 January 2014

Harbouring Thoughts

Stroma Harbour, off the Caithness coast, is normally very quiet, serving a de-populated island. However, for one day in the summer it's thriving when it becomes the venue for a ceilidh attracting local musicians. Watch the images and listen to some of the music from the 2012 visit via YouTube. It's worth harbouring thoughts in the depth of winter about convivial occasions that will surface in the summer.

Scottish Islands Explorer - looking forward to future events

Sunday, 5 January 2014

Resolutions for 2014

The Pod Hotel in Singapore, close to its major shopping district, may be far from the Scottish shores, but a similar pad could be fun as an island base. Do take a look at the LifeEdited website for more details and images of this minimalist accommodation. If you want to take another tact and reflect on resolutions for the first Sunday of the year, then go to Five Ways to Think Less in 2014.

Scottish Islands Explorer - its editor gives maximum attention to minimalism

Saturday, 4 January 2014

Some 5,500 Years Apart

The Barn, Westray - 'the jewel of the archipelago's crown' - provides fine accommodation for hostellers in the largest of Orkney's northern isles. A short distance by ferry or plane is the oldest preserved house in northern Europe, the Knap of Howar, a Neolithic farmstead built in around 3500 BC on Papa Westray.

There's more than houses on offer here - such as extensive beaches like Grobust, Westray, where sand, sea and sky offer that attractive element, space. See more of these islands through their website.

Scottish Islands Explorer - fills 52 pages of space with information

Friday, 3 January 2014

Five-Star Accolade

Self-catering is not new to Eriskay, but a five-star award is innovative. The Stornoway Gazette carries an item on this property, named Eriskay Lilt, which certainly has eye-appeal. The judges were particularly interested in that other three-letter e-word - 'eco'.

Scottish Islands Explorer - certainly worth some stars

Thursday, 2 January 2014

John Who?

In case you don't know, this is 'John Coe', who belongs to the West Coast Community of killer whales. Four of them, including John, who was first spotted in 1992, were sighted off Dunvegan, Skye, a week before the festive season started. The details are to be found through the website of the Hebridean Whale & Dolphin Trust which is based in Tobermory, Mull.

Scottish Islands Explorer - only a fraction of his age 

Wednesday, 1 January 2014

New Four; New Year

Cymbals to herald the New Year? No, a newly-discovered clam from the deep waters around Rockall. In fact, two varieties of clam, one large sea snail and a marine worm - four in total - have been recorded by Marine Scotland as creatures discovered for the first time. It's astonishing and presented by a BBC Website item. Plenty more in 2-0-1-4?

Scottish Islands Explorer -  endeavours to have variations on a theme