Tuesday 30/05/06

The two couples disappear for the day - one heads for the Uists via Uig beach. Bit of a diversion. Apparently there is a kite-flying festival down there that I don't know about. The Swiss couple goes on the 9.10 bus round the West Side. It's a cloudy yet bright day. Still cold. Isles FM blunder by telling us that the Costa Classica cruiseliner was here yesterday rather than on Sunday. The barge is still dredging for hawsers and other discarded materials in the Glumag. It's taking rather longer than planned. Tropical Storm Aletta in the East Pacific is downgraded to a Tropical Depression, and the NHC is no longer issuing warnings about her. The Coastguard were busy this weekend rescuing people from the sea this weekend. A cruiseliner was detained at Harwich (Essex) because of a viral infection on baord. The lunchtime ferry brings an elderly couple from Amsterdam, who are over for a 24 hour visit from their campsite in Ullapool. They have been caravanning up and down the north and west of Scotland, and still have about 3 weeks of their holiday left. Mrs B's ovendoor gets seen to by an engineer, because it tends to pop open in mid-session. At 3pm, I go for a walk round the Castle Grounds as far as Cuddy Point. A heron is fishing in the Inner Harbour near the Stepping Stones. At Cuddy Point, there is a Marie Curie Cancer Care memorial garden. Return uphill behind Lady Matheson's Memorial and Lews Castle. As I walk back down Kenneth Street, I come across the Dutch folk, who are in danger of being overrun by cars. A large lorry is parked in the street, forcing drivers to mount the kerb. Somerfields is full of tourists. Americans asking the girl at the checkout if she needs to see their card, whilst paying cash. Erm? Later on, the MV Explorer hoves into view at Arnish Point. She is a small, 2400 tonnes, cruiseliner, which sails on cruises to the Antarctic. Explorer can take 108 passengers and has 53 crew. The boat measures 74 by 14 metres [246 by 46 ft], can do up to 13 knots and has several auxiliary craft. Some of those are used to ferry passengers ashore. Explorer leaves Stornoway before 11pm; a flying visit.

Monday 29/05/06

Our Australian guest heads out for the sights on the West Side. Gave him a timetable for his staggered journey, with stops at Callanish and Gearrannan. He is set to return to town at 5pm, to join the 5.30 bus to Tarbert. The weather isn't very good; as the morning wears on, a litany of showers pass through, one or two with hail mixed in. Is this really May 29th? Temperature (9C) would suggest something more like February. On the other hand, the National Hurricane Center in Florida announces the first tropical storm of the East Pacific season: Aletta. She is not very strong, just galeforce winds (35 - 45 kts). She is situated just under 100 miles west of Acapulco, lashing the coast with rain. An RSS feed to the NHC site keeps me abreast of developments. The pen I use for the written journal finally gives out after 5 weeks of loyal service. Today, two couples come to stay. The first arrive on the badly delayed ferry (it's 2 hours late for an unknown reason). They are Swiss, and don't have much English to show for themselves. Consequently, Mrs B calls on me to help them out by talking in either French or German. My French is rusted, so I carry on in German. The other couple call in at 5.15, after I had gone into town to buy a new pen and the Monday papers. I welcome the guests, as mrs B was delayed shopping. A new promotional paper has been printed, which tells me that the Cleitir Hotel at Sildinis [Balallan] has been renamed: it's now the Erisort Inn. The Cleitir was badly battered after the January '05 hurricane, two windows blown in and a good many slates off the roof. The evening ferry arrives at 9.30. Light fades at 11.30.

Sunday 28/05/06

A latish start to the day. Weather is changeable with the odd shower between some bright intervals. I have breakfast for 10, the Aussie guest has his at 11. I watch Landward on BBC1, as it featured a problem with foxes in the islands. Foxes are not native here, and cause devastation amongst both wildlife and farm animals. At 1pm, a large cruiseliner appears from the south. It's the Italian cruiseliner Costa Classica, on her way round the UK, with a complement of Italian passengers on board. They have come on a bad day - it's Sunday. Nothing is open, nothing runs (except for taxi's). Normally, cruiseliners arrive at 7am, and a fleet of coaches will ferry passengers all over the island. Not today. After the liner anchors behind Arnish Point, the tenders ply back and forth to bring passengers to the town - and back to the ship. The Costa Classica can carry up to 1,300. Tender upon tender disgorges passengers onto the ferry linkspan. As I walk through the deserted town centre (normal on a Sunday), the streets echo to the sound of excited Italian voices. They point to the 'cathedral' (just Martin's Memorial Church). The rain starts to fall and it's just such a sad sight. Nothing there for those poor folk. I find a webcam positioned on the bridge of the cruiseliner, and look back at Newton, 2 miles to the nroth. The Costa Classica is visible on my webcam. Heard that yesterday they were giving away compost bins at the Creed Industrial Park. Every household in Lewis is entitled to 3 bins. So, all Lewis pile up and down the A859, miles and miles of tailbacks (on the A859, unbelieveable), fraying tempers and the Highway Code in the compost bin. The give-away was halted, police closed the road and that was that. Mrs B goes up to Engebretsen's at 3.30. This is the only shop open in the whole of Lewis and Harris, and it's absolutely heaving. The last passengers return to the cruiseliner between 5 and 6. She weighs anchor at 6.10, and I watch her move out of sight, also using the ship's own webcams. Next port of call - Invergordon, 30 miles north of Inverness. Interesting to see Stornoway from a cruiseliner - she was anchored west of Holm Point. Oh, did I mention that Big Brother has started in the UK? Won't mention it again. Mrs B serves me a very nice dinner at 7pm, consisting of salmon and sirloin steak. Very yummy.

Saturday 27/05/06

Fairly early start today, certainly for mrs B. Her first set of guests leave at 6.45, the young lady who is running the half marathon leaves before 8. And I'm at breakfast at 9.15. The half marathon starts at 10.00. I encounter the first runners on South Beach Street at 10.10. They have covered 1½ miles in 10 minutes, pretty good going. Police close off the streets. The course leads round to Sandwick, Moss End, across to the Castle Grounds to finish at the Porter's Lodge opposite the Coop. At 11 o'clock, I accompany mrs B to a very limited car-boot sale outside the Young Man's club on Bayhead. Only 6 cars present, and not a lot to be had. Our return to town gets interrupted by a heavy shower. We shelter in the Red Cross charity shop. Some very old and tired books there - e.g. the Guinness Book of Records 1986. The postcards are nice. Return to Newton at 12.30. The athlete's luggage is returned at that hour, but the young lady herself doesn't appear until 15.30, some 3 hours after her promised return. Tut tut. Another beefy few downpours close the afternoon. I spend the evening watching police car chases from the US. I win nothing on the lottery. Oh, an Australian man comes to stay the weekend.

Friday 26/05/06

After yesterday's nice evening, we're confronted with a wet and miserable day. A fine to moderate drizzle falls throughout the day. Willie calls in during the morning, as does one of mrs B's relatives, who is helping her with the ironing. One guest cancelled his stay, after he decided to leave for the mainland straight after his bikerun up from Tarbert. The other guest does turn up. She is an American student at Oxford, up here for the Half Marathon. Her luggage was mislaid at Edinburgh. Although it is not formally lost, it is no use to her as it cannot reach Stornoway until 12.30 tomorrow afternoon. The race starts at 10 a.m.. The young lady goes off for a flying visit to the Callanish Stones (grand total of 37 minutes there). Later on, I assist her in planning her trip south to meet up with a friend. Two problems crop up. (1) It's a Bank Holiday. (2) The prospective meeting place (Fort William) is packed out with folk attending the World Championships Mountain Biking. I suggest she travel through Skye. She won't arrive there until 9.40 tomorrow evening. A German / Spanish couple take the place of the man who cancelled. They had come to Stornoway, expecting to find a ferry leaving at 7pm. Not until the end of June, folks. BBC Island Blogging is off air all day, after a fault prevents everyone from logging on. The rain stops at 6pm, leaving a cloudy but relatively mild evening. Night falls at 10.40.

Thursday 25/05/06

Have a chat with Diana over breakfast regarding her work (fundraising for community owned forestry) and windfarms. She leaves for Harris later today, after a seminar in the Town Hall here. I clean up computer files, putting things onto CD-ROM. Saves a gigabyte or two. At midday, the cruiseliner Alexander von Humboldt puts in an appearance. She was in twice last year. Although the green funnel is the same, she seems to look different. The A. von H. can take 440 passengers, measures 12,331 tonnes and has come in from Invergordon this morning. This summer she will be around north Norway, moving to the Caribbean this autumn to end up around the Antarctic in March 2007. Prices of those cruises go up to 14,000 Euros, although they last up to 6 weeks. I go over to Goat Island at 3pm to view the Orinda, on which Mrs B's brother in law Willie sails Hebridean waters in the summer. Climbing on board is a bit hairy, as she is still on the slipway, so it's a high ladder. Eek. It's a neat little boat, 36 feet long, with all necessary conveniences. Afterwards, I head into town to get the Thursday papers. These are full of NHS scandals. The latest is the death of cancer patients due to a complete breakdown in communication between hospital and GP. The discharge summary for one patient took 8 weeks to reach the GP. The recommendation for further urgent tests was ignored, which led to the patient's death within 2 months. Absolutely beyond belief. At 6.30, I report to Goat Island again, where the Orinda is due to sail for an evening's cruising. It's a nice if cool evening. Departure is delayed due to engine and battery problems. First, the battery is flat. A pair of jumpleads, supplied by Willie's second helps to put life back into it. Once the engine runs, that'll recharge the battery. But the engine doesn't run. It releases a cloud of smoke into the cabin, and it turns out that the alternator belt is slipping. That is fixed, but now it turns out that one of the ball bearings on the alternator is kaputt. The engine will run, but it's not advisable to sail miles tonight. Another boat is also being sorted. The Sgoth (a traditional fishing vessel from Ness) lies moored in the Newton Basin as well, and is being used as a resting and defaecating place for Arctic Terns. One of the local GP's is sent in to clean up the mess. No, not in a professional capacity. At 7.30, we set off into Glumag harbour, round the Arnish Lighthouse (inside the beacon, thank you) towards the Tob [Leireabhat]. As we turn east towards Holm Point, the ferry crosses our bow. She is a big ship, travelling at a rate of knots. So, we get the wake, with waves of 3 to 4 feet (1 metre) high. I am warned of this, so I can hold on. Which I blinking well have to! Willie very kindly takes me to the Beasts of Holm, on which the Iolaire foundered in 1919. The coastal cliffs are relatively low and do not seem too difficult to climb up to from the sea. But I can imagine (and have seen) that in a force 9, it would be will-nigh impossible. I spare a second for the men of the Iolaire as we pass the marker of the Beasts of Holm and the monument for the disaster. We return to Stornoway past Stoneyfield Farm, Sandwick and Battery Point. Willie drops me off on the Goat Island pier, from where I make my way back to Newton past boats that stand 'slipped'. I have to be careful not to trip over the oily slipway, or not to knock any struts over. The Alexander von Humboldt sails at 8.30. Willie and his friend stay on the Orinda to sort the engine out. I make my way back to mrs B. She has taken in two workmen, who have been working down in the powerstation, a very messy job. I find a very interesting article in BBC Online, which tells of GPS-related devices (IPAQ's) which are activated in certain positions on Uig Beach. Once activated, they reproduce songs and stories. They work on Uig Beach, 37 miles west of Stornoway. This is the place where the Lewis Chessmen were found in 1831. They were made by 12th century Norsemen. The sun sets at 22.10. We're only 25 minutes short of the longest day, in terms of sunset times.

Wednesday 24/05/06

Little change in terms of weather. Hailshowers in the distance (is this late May??) and a cold wind. Temperatures a little better than yesterday's miserable 8C; we're up to 11 C by lunchtime. The Canadian couple are at breakfast at 8.30. They head for Inverness on the 1.45 ferry, with an onward journey to the Clyde in the next few days. I am told interesting stories about life in Nunavik, the northernmost settlement in Canada. He helped to build the road to Alaska (the Mackenzie Highway). Nunavik is a fair-sized town of about 3,500. Temperatures in winter go down to minus 60C. The road had to be built on permafrost. They head into Stornoway for an hour or so before going on the ferry. A dredger moves about the Glumag after lunchtime.When I get my (useless) lottery tickets and the papers, it chucks it down. Mrs B's brother-in-law calls in to invite me for a trip in his wee boat tomorrow, after he puts it in the water for the summer. The boat is 36 ft long, provided with all mod cons. A lady comes to stay who talks to community trusts (like the Erisort Trust and the North Harris Trust) about forestry projects. She is not a forester, but mrs B's son-in-law is one, and he's happy to see the prospect of some work. Aline Forest in Kinloch is a mangy bunch of trees, as is the plantation near Gearraidh na h-Aibhne. The evening is punctuated by scattered showers and nice sunshine. A few yachts call into port.

Tuesday 23/05/06

Brilliant start to another cold day. The German couple leave for Skye this morning, on the 11.05 ferry from Tarbert. They had a great day in Harris yesterday, including a run down the infamous Huisinis road. On their return to Stornoway, temperatures went down to -1.5C on the open moor. Have a chat with the Canadians over breakfast at 8.45. They hail from Vancouver Island, from where the Mod choristers also came who stayed here last October. Today's visitors will be going round the West Side by bus, to see Callanish and Gearrannan. The gentleman, aged around 70, used to work in the Arctic north of Canada, in the MacKenzie delta. One of his colleagues went round a building one evening and was dragged away and killed by a polar bear. I tell the story of the Norwegians from Kirkenes whose dustbins were forever raided by bears, who came across the border from the Kola peninsula in Russia. Everybody goes their respective ways at 9.30. Mrs B's son has put his new boat in the backyard - there are now 5 boats sitting there, including a canoe. An osprey at Boat of Garten is reported to have hatched 3 chicks. Regarding the NHS here in the Western Isles, 6 out of 7 consultants now say that patient care is definitely suffering as a result of the financial and management crisis. Consultant 7, the Board's Medical Director, denies that this is the case. Write an acerbic post on the Lighthouse blog, which will be published later today. The Gress Councillor is now calling for the resignation of the Scottish Executive's Health Minister, Andy Kerr. He has allowed this situation to spiral out of control by saying it's a local matter. It cannot be locally resolved because of the culture of bullying and intimidation from the highest levels of the NHS Board. I've used the Lighthouse blog before to demand the resignation of Mr Kerr.
At 1.30, the cruiseliner Polar Star leaves port. She is a small ship, only 4,000 tonnes, which plies routes round both poles. She can carry 96 passengers, and cruises cost between £2,500 and £7,000. At least. In the afternoon, mrs B's nephew turns up. He is not too well today. He takes us into town to do a bit of shopping. I find out that the MacKenzie River in Arctic Canada is named after Sir Alexander MacKenzie, who was born in Stornoway in the 1760s. A memorial plaque is mounted on the Francis Street wall of Martin's Memorial Church. Between 2 and 3pm, it pours with rain. After 4pm, some very beefy showers turn up, leaving some fantastic cloudscapes. Mrs B's son reappears at 4.30, at the same time as I do, to work on his boat. Find several websites with live weather data, much like the Eoropie webcam. Mrs B cooks the lamb dish that is in my Recipe Book (see Journals links), but replaces the lamb with chicken. The showers relent during the evening. Find out that I have taken 2,000 pictures between April 2005 and May 2006. Sounds a lot, but I read in someone else's journal (sorry, it's a private one) that they had 11,000 pics on-line.

Monday 22/05/06

Breakfast at 8.40, with the German couple. They went to Great Bernera and Uig yesterday, all the way to Mealista (45 miles from SY). On Isles FM, the question was asked where all the sound effects came from that Kenny-there-you-go uses on his show. What sound effects? Birds singing, planes going overhead, cars driving past. Sound effects? He does his show with the backdoor open, so you hear the birds tweeting in the trees outside, binlorries going past and planes flying by. It's bitterly cold this morning. Mrs B has to go to Somerfields at 9 am and gets pelted with hail. Yep, it's May 22nd. Maximum temperature today 7 C / 45 F. It feels more like February. The two workmen return to Glasgow. Mrs B has a flood of booking requests. Two Canadians arrive from Tarbert at 5pm. They're here for 2 nights. A four-fold increase is reported in rates of MRSA colonisation at the Western Isles Hospital. The Health Board's Medical Director puts it down to increased numbers of patients passing through the hospital. The Coastguard tug is busy this afternoon. The grass is cut this evening. At 11.30 pm, it's still light.

Sunday 21/05/06

Sunny morning with the odd shower. The Germans are going to Harris today. Yesterday, they did not return until 11pm. The two workmen are staying over for the weekend. On BBC 1 Landward they discuss the South Uist community buy-out, as well as off-road biking on SSSI [Sites of Special Scientific Interest], which can land you with a £40,000 fine. It's not warm, barely above 10C. I walk out to Goat Island with no coat on, brr. There is this cold northwesterly wind. Mrs B's grandson and one of his mates go out in a dinghy, which requires continual bailing. Mrs B herself wants her grass cut, but that may have to wait. Good hay harvest though from there LOL. One of the workmen comes back from an afternoon on the town, just a wee bit the worst for wear. Mrs B has to switch his telly off, it's on at full blast.

Saturday 20/05/06

Bright morning with shower clouds, which do not give much rain. Breakfast at 8.40, in the company of the two Germans who want fish for their breakfast - so they get fish every morning of their 4 night stay. The two workmen are also still around, so mrs B has got a lot of dishes to wash - five people's. Muirneag comes in at 10, the Coastguard tug Anglian Prince at 11.45, just as the sun comes out. The afternoon has some nice weather. I go to Somerfields for papers and food. The Lottery draw, later that evening, gets interrupted by protestors on the studio floor. The main concern for the presenters was to get everything over before the Eurovision Song Contest. Big deal. It stays light until 1 am - i.e., it does not get dark.

Friday 19/05/06

Drizzle, mist and generally very dreich. Muirneag comes in at lunchtime. After yesterday's delays, the crew will have had to go for a lie-down before setting out again at sort of 4 am. I venture out for some shopping at 4 pm, but it's quite wet. Not windy though. Get the Gazette in, which is full of the usual, and also up to the usual standard of inaccuracy. Browse through the Coastguard website, with its litany of disasters at sea, wrecks under detention and boozy captains at the helm. And the chappy who thought he could smuggle 300 litres of sulphuric acid through customs at Dover. Slap slap. A German couple comes on the ferry for a 4 day stay. Receive a wee plastic duck through the post (you know who you are, quack, quack).

Thursday 18/05/06

Raining hard and blowing a gale this morning. One of our guests was going to a meeting up the road in the Council Offices. He had noticed the rain, so he put on a light coat and brought out a foldable umbrella. He stepped out of the door and brolly and himself nearly took off. It's a full, force 8 gale today, which is tearing the new leaves off the trees. A taxi was duly ordered to take our guest to his meeting. A fishing boat left port, but found itself battling huge seas. Later that morning, mrs B's nephew made two appearances, on the second occasion with his wife in tow. At 2.30, the tanker turns up outside the port, but the southerly wind makes it impossible for her to come in. The sun starts to come out after lunchtime. When I go to the shops, I hear that the Stornoway Gazette did not arrive, because poor old Muirneag had to divert in the face of the gale today. She was last heard of sheltering off Benbecula. There is a row on about the local hospice. In order for it to operate legally, it needs a doctor. The last one resigned from her position, as the practice she normally works for is no longer funding the post. NHS Western Isles put out a statement saying that it was not justified to fund a hospice doctor for a population of 25,000. That went down like a lead balloon. Now the MSP has called for the entire management team to quit, something that I have been shouting about in the Lighthouse blog for months. Muirneag finally came in at 4.10. I go out to no 1 pier to watch her dock. So did half the town. Eight trailer units (colloquially referred to as horses) were waiting to take the cargo away. The tanker calls for a pilot to come in at 8.45. Dinner was chilli con carne. Eorpa on BBC 2 Scotland had an item on the North Harris Estate. Only 800 people live on it. The evening closed cloudy but very quiet. It would appear that the causative low pressure system is now overhead. Western England and Wales are battered by force 10 gusts. Even Heathrow Airport has force 8 gusts.

Wednesday 17/05/06

Bright morning, which sees the departure of all 3 guests - Karen from Australia as well as the two workmen. The latter are due to be replaced by two colleagues who are travelling up from Barra today. That is an 8 hour journey by road. Mrs B's brother-in-law calls in for coffee. Have not seen him for a while. As he is leaving, I spot a group of canoeists rowing up the harbour towards the town. Apparently, some start from the pier at Crosbost to row the 8 miles to Stornoway. One of the French fishingboats comes in for a crew change. Within 90 minutes it is leaving port again. At 1pm, the sun is out. It's set to be a nice afternoon, although tomorrow's forecast is pretty dismal. Yesterday, Eoropie had 26 mm (1 inch) of rainfall. That is a lot - it equates to 26 litres (6 gallons) of water on every square metre (11 sq feet). Go out for a walk and some shopping at 2.30. Walk up Island Road and Smith Avenue, where the sun makes it quite warm. It is just 13C / 55 F on the thermometer. Blossoms and leaves are out all over the place. Carry on down Goathill Avenue and Church Street right down to Cromwell Street. Pop into the Hebridean Jewellery Shop at the corner of Church Street for a book about a walk all the way down the Western isles, from the Butt of Lewis to Vatersay - 230 miles. Somerfields have abandoned their Saver card scheme, which will speed things up enormously at the tills. Back in Newton, mrs B is inundated with requests for accommodation. After 4pm, cloudcover increases and odd spots of rain begin to fall. The major fall commences at 6.35, when a wall of rain quickly moves across from Arnish.

Tuesday 16/05/06

Pouring with rain today, low mist obscures the Arnish hills. Dreich in other words. Since last night, two workmen are staying with us. I discover a reference to mrs B's accommodation in a Swedish report from a holiday company. It is basically someone's travel diary in Swedish. Out of sheer curiosity I drag it through an on-line translator. I find it contains an oblique reference to myself, but the details are mercifully incorrect. The rain continues through the afternoon. It's cold outside, with a northeasterly wind. This causes a groundswell out in the Minch, and when a wee boat goes out, it encounters some rough conditions. Sun peeps through the clouds once or twice. On the whole though, it remains wet and miserable. Late in the evening, news comes through that foxes have been sighted on the island. They are not a native species, and if really present, will cause slaughter amongst sheep and lambs - it does not bear thinking about. Who would want to bring a fox here, for god's sake?! Mrs B gives me a recipe for cranachan, see pics in gallery.

Monday 15/05/06

Cloudy but dry today. Muirneag comes into port at 8.30. My breakfast is rather later. Karen heads out for the day, for a walk round the Castle Grounds and a drive to Ness. She has now taken about 800 pics on her trip. At 4.30, a gastanker comes into port. It's called the Gas Pioneer this time round. At 7pm, I take mrs B out to An Lanntair to view "14 days in Great Britain". This is a condensation into 92 minutes, of 139 hours of footage shot by David W. Gibbons. This chappie toured the UK in August 2005, visiting 14 towns in 14 days. His format was simple: talk to ordinary people in the street, take their picture and an interview if they are agreeable. The subject: life in general. Questions like "What do you want from life, what advice would you give the next generation". It is followed by a Q&A session, finishing at 9.45. It was half an hour late in starting. The start was billed for 7.00 pm, but for an obscure reason, they played the same song 6 times over and started the show at 7.30.

Sunday 14/05/06

Breakfast at the unbelievably early time of 9 a.m.. I have a chat with our Australian guest, who is interested in the Arnish Lighthouse. She leaves at 12.30 for a look round. It's bright and sunny if cold day. The blackbirds and sparrows all have nests with young and are frantically looking for food. One sparrow is in and out of the bushes at the front, looking for spiders. The blackbirds are raiding the worms. For the second time this spring, a bird is pictured in the paper, nesting in the amber light of a traffic light in Glasgow. Nice underfloor heating, the green light having a nice long phase. This picture shows the bird incubating, a later pic clearly shows 3 chicks. A little rain falls after 8pm and a rainbow ends at one of the gun emplacements at Arnish Point. Not staying up late tonight.

Saturday 13/05/06

A very late and lazy start to the day at 11.30. A helicopter flies low over the basin, just as we sit down to breakfast. I try to wash an upstairs window, but not very successfully. Part of the glass has deteriorated. I head down to a busy supermarket. The wind is very cold today. We receive a new guest today, a lady from Australia who is going to be here for 4 nights. Mrs B has an addition to her kitchen equipment in the shape of a coffee machine which can also make espresso and cappuccino. We try it out, but it all boils down to proportions. Espresso cups, for instance, are only ¼ the size of an ordinary coffee cup. Machine makes eye-watering strong espresso. Go out for an amble at 9 pm to picture the town against the setting sun. At 1 a.m., we head out to picture the lingering light at the deepest point of the night. And yes, once at the end of Seaforth Road, there is still some light over Broadbay. On the way back, we encounter two friendly moggies.

Friday 12/05/06

Early morning rain leaves off before breakfast, and the day becomes nice if cold. Mrs B's nephew and his wife take her and me for lunch at the Woodlands Centre. I have a very nice vegetarian pasta-bake. After finishing this at 2.50, we run a few errands around the Anderson Road area before closing proceedings outside Somerfields. I walk back to mrs B's without a coat; my woollen jumper keeps me warm enough. I find in the news that a girl of 11 is due to give birth, having fallen pregnant whilst drunk. Her mother is very proud of her (WHAT??) and the boy that did it to her (aged 15) is due in court for rape. On E4, I watch Wife Swap, but switch off after 20 minutes. I'm totally disgusted. First of all, the two women concerned were dramatically opposed. One was a non-socialite who had set up home in Shawbost (here in Lewis) and had no friends. The other was - well, beyond description. I began to feel sympathetic towards the Lewis resident, but her attitude and falsehoods about Lewis destroyed that. Nearest take away is not 40 miles away; Stornoway is 18 miles from Shawbost. And you don't come here for the take-away. Next week: Big Brother 7 is due to pollute our screens. No thanks. Anyway, spectacular sunset and moonrise around the 10pm mark, see gallery. It remains light until AFTER midnight.

Thursday 11/05/06

Fog persists through the night, to lift by morning. The sun comes through hesitantly, after a few drops of drizzle around the 11 a.m. mark. Yesterday's gardening waste is shifted by mrs B's son. Her nephew and niece call in sequentially. Her niece returned to live in Lewis after a 9 year absence. Mrs B's son puts in a second appearance later in the afternoon, so it's a lively time. Three new guests from America turn up; they originate from Montreal (Canada) but currently live in Arizona. They have 'done' Lewis and Harris today and will be off to Skye, whence they came, tomorrow afternoon. The warm weather is over for now, and it will get a lot colder. Snow is forecast for the mountain tops. The captain of MV Muirneag is reprimanded by the Coastguard over his decision to sail on November 11th last year in the face of an imminent gale. He was forced to divert 60 miles off course, trailers and goods on board were damaged and one passenger injured.

Wednesday 10/05/06

Another bright and sunny day. Two of our 3 guests leave today, to be replaced later on by a chap who is here for a job. I assist Mrs B in the removal of windblown rubbish from her backyard and weeds from the front garden. Backyard needs a makeover - as shown on pictures from the last few months. We close garden proceedings by having a drink in the sunshine out the back. Somerfields was not busy, neither were the lottery tickets busy. Evening meal was spaghetti bolognese. Our new guest is late coming in as his job has overrun. At 4.30, the Eoropie webcam (http://www.eoropaidh.co.uk) shows that the sea haar [fog] has blown in. This makes its way east, and by early evening is covering the tops of the Arnish hills. The fog descends on the Inner Harbour, but does not extend to the Outer Harbour, which I overlook.

Tuesday 09/05/06

Wall to wall sunshine this morning, not a cloud in the sky. Mrs B's youngest grandson comes in for an hour or so. After he goes away, I notice that the Cuma, which has been living on the Goat Island slipway for 3 months has finally left. At 2.15 I head for town with mrs B and her nephew to go on the bus to the West Side for a spot of walking. As I wait for the bus to leave, I notice two policemen approaching someone lying in the flowerbeds under An Lanntair. They have some difficulty rousing him from his slumbers, and take him away to sober up in the cells. The bus driver and other bystanders laugh their heads off. We head out towards Callanish and Breascleit. I alight at the southern road end of Tolsta Chaolais. I'm going to mark out a walking route. It's very warm. Many sheep with their young lambs about. The walk is very scenic, T.Ch. is a nice wee place. After about 40 minutes, I've passed through the village. A few people are about, but otherwise it's very quiet. A goose lands on the village loch. Turn left at the top and find an improved path leading to the Doune Braes Hotel, the local watering hole. After that, it's a 1 km jaunt along the main road to Dun Carloway, where the renowned Broch stands. The Broch has a visitor centre, which is worth a visit to see how life is thought to have been led about 2,100 years ago. An older couple is there as well. Nice view from there. You can see Old Hill, Aird Uig and the nearby Loch an Duin. As I go down the hill again, I notice the northbound bus passing along the main road. I therefore return to town on the 5pm bus, which goes back the way I came. Arrive in Stornoway at 5.45.

Monday 08/05/06

Brilliant day today, but still a bit hazy. The Russians disappear to the West Side; I declined their offer to join them. I am advised that the first cruiseliner of the season, the Black Prince, has docked. After snapping some pictures of flowers in the garden, I go into town, and decide I can go without a coat. Pity about that cool wind. Other residents in Newton are sitting out in the sun and out of the wind. The Black Prince is moored alongside pier no 1, where the Muirneag is normally docked through the day. Muirneag herself has relocated to the far side of the ferry terminal. I return to the town centre to buy papers, including a copy of “Back in the Day”, which is a look back at events earlier in the 20th century here. Back in Newton, Mrs B receives two lady guests. The Black Prince sails at 5.30, heading for Norway. A few local people joined her this afternoon. Another ship hovers off Arnish Point, but then disappears after half an hour. A glance through the binoculars shows it’s the Dutch fishing vessel SCH 302. One of the Russian guests briefly reappears to drop off the hire car. By 7pm, the third guest turns up. He is an elderly gentleman, whose wife is in hospital here. Prospects are not good unfortunately.

Sunday 07/05/06

Grey start to the day, sun tries to poke through the clouds but doesn’t make it. Three young Russians come to stay. They want to go to a beach. Nearest one is at the Braighe, 6 miles away behind the airport. They’ll need a taxi to go there. It’s Sunday, so no buses. They are going to walk back from Melbost along the main road. How nice. Mrs B tries to organise a car for them, as they want to tour the West Side tomorrow, prior to travelling down to Tarbert. They regret stopping in Inverness for 3 days (a waste of time by anyone’s standards), as they now only have limited time before flying back to Moscow on Friday. The haze persists through the afternoon, and by 5pm mrs B starts to worry about her Russian guests. She sends her son and myself out to look for them along the Braighe road, but just as we pass the airport, she rings in to say the wanderers have returned. Yuri, Yakov and Anastasia ask me if I’ll join them on a spin up to Tolsta Beach. I say yes – something I’m going to regret. They first of all go to HS1 for a meal, but end up eating at the Balti House because HS1 was full. Jacov drives the 4 of us to Tolsta, but appears to be remarkably oblivious to the rules of the road. He doesn’t pull up at the stop stripes at traffic lights and commits a frightening mistake on the roundabout by the Coop. He has to turn right there, which in the UK means you go ¾ round the roundabout. Not our driver. He cut straight through against the flow of traffic, ending up facing a jeep head-on which stops well short of the roundabout, to allow us to disentangle us from this mess. I tell him in no uncertain terms never to do that again. He is extremely lucky that there is hardly anybody on the road, let alone police. No further mishaps as we crawl up the road to Tong at 30 mph, in an area where the limit is 60. OK, on to Garry beach, which is very quiet. Just one camper and a field of rams. They are very placid. I’ve heard stories of a car being attacked by a ram, leaving the bodywork well dented. The mist lifts as we walk onto Traigh Mhor. Return to Stornoway at 10pm, with another hairy moment on Sandwick Road, as our driver forgets to turn right.

Saturday 06/05/06

Today, we're off to the races - a duck race to be precise, at Borve, 17 miles north of Stornoway. Head into town just before 11, where mrs B attends a craft fair in the Town Hall. The bus for Borve leaves at 11.45, but mrs B can't find her buspass. The driver lets her on. The bus, heading for Ness and the Butt of Lewis, carries a few tourists who want to visit the Butt. Alight at Borve at 12.22, outside the minimart, which supplies us with a drink. We then amble down to the bridge, where the fun is due to start at 1pm. It's fairly bright with a lot of high-level cloud. This puts a halo round the sun, which persists for quite some time. Towards 1pm, a lady comes down to the bridge where we're sitting, to sell us some ducks. It would appear that out of the 260 ducks only 9 are available for sale. Or their numbers are. I take up position on the riverbank, where a barrier has been erected to catch the ducks as they come downstream. Kids are playing in and around the water while a sizeable group of adults assemble on the two bridges. Then the sack of ducks is emptied into the river, about 150 yards upstream. A number of volunteers shove the things downriver freeing them from rocks and shallows. They are only 5 - 7 cm big. After the first one reaches the barrier, the rest is scooped up with nets &c. There is a second race, but a straggler comes downstream. Once the second race is over, the barrier is dismantled and all and sundry troop into the home next to the Borve Pottery place. Bottles have been incorporated into a fence. Tea and cakes, quiches and a lot more are available for £3 pp. hear that the race went well, but last year it was nearly impossible because the river was too low. The proceeds go towards the cost of a new community centre, the Clan MacQuarrie centre, to be built on the southern side of Borve. The name is taken from a ship which foundered on the rocks here during the hurricane of 31st January 1953. This same storm sank a ferry in the Irish Sea, caused widespread flooding in East Anglia and drowned 1,850 people in southwestern Holland when the sea defences were swamped by a tide, 5 m above normal. After lunch, watched over by an old pussycat and an old dog, we head off for an amble down the river towards the sea. The path is muddy, and mrs B, not very nimble at the best of times, nearly ends up in the river. We pass the remains of a few watermills, and see sheep with their lambs on some verystoney crofts. The wind is cool, but otherwise it's a very nice day. After a lazy hour or so, we return to the Pottery. It's been there for quite a while, but is professionally laid out. The bus back is a few minutes late, but manages to return to Stornoway 5 minutes early. The driver puts his foot down, and races from Barvas to Newmarket in 9 minutes. Very summery in Stornoway, lots of folks out and about. We have the lunchtime rolls for dinner, as they were not required at lunchtime.

Friday 05/05/06

Nice sunny start to the day after the overnight downpour. In Arisaig, south of Mallaig, lightning hit a telephone pole. This fried computers and any electronic equipment linked to the phoneline. After lunch, I accompany mrs B to Sandwick Cemetery, where she wants to visit the grave of her husband, who died 13 years to the day. He suffered a heart attack at the age of 60. She planted some ivy shoots round the headstone. It's a brilliantly sunny afternoon, with great views over the Minch. The houses in Lower Sandwick are basking in the afternoon sunshine, and the sea rolls over the pebbles on the nearby beach. Mrs B tells me of some of the families whose ancestors lie buried here. It shows that in the early 20th century, merchants ruled the roost in Stornoway. Nowadays, it's hauliers. We leave at 3.30. As on the way in, we are greeted by friendly cats along the way. Return to Newton on time to show a video of Wednesday's gale on the webcam - with nobody watching. Go to Somerfields to do the weekend shop. No guests expected in the days to come. Sunset at 9.25, preceded by some very strange cloud formations. It's still light in the north at 11.15, and even at midnight the light still lingers. Maximum temperatures today at 15C.

Thursday 04/05/06

Our American friends depart on the 10 a.m. bus for Tarbert. It's a brilliantly sunny and fairly mild morning. Temperatures rise to about 15C by early afternoon. Medium level cloud increases rapidly after lunch. I head into town for a haircut. The first shop says the gents' hairdresser has just gone home for the afternoon, so I proceed to the next shop. The meaning of the word 'smile' should be looked up there. Nonetheless, the haircut is good, so no real complaints there. When I go back out into the street, the sky has grown quite dark and it comes on to rain. Mrs B's nephew pays us another visit, as he waits for a repair on his car. It gets muggy and misty, and also quite dark. We need the lights on by 5 pm. At 9.30 a thunderstorm passes, and at 10.05 the electricity trips out for a minute. Glasgow is having a hellish night with a ferocious thunderstorm. One man was apparently left waistdeep in floodwater at a busstop. The rain continues into the night. Although the drains were supposed to have been fixed, there is a sizeable puddle at the corner of the street.

Wednesday 03/05/06

Very windy day today, gusting to force 9 all day. The seas crash over the causeway and at 11 o'clock I go to the Coastguard Station for pictures and a video. The Americans leave at 9.30 for an all Lewis day, in the pouring rain. They don't mind. At home, they only get blue skies and sunny days, and they're here for a bit of weather. Rick has to go back to work on Tuesday, but Catherine has another week in Scotland. Employers, don't you love them. Mrs B's nephew calls in again to collect the shopping he forgot to take home yesterday. After lunch I go to the library to scan in some pics that the SHS Secretary left there for me. At 5.40 pm, I notice our good old freight ferry coming back from refit in Liverpool. The weather is unkind to the poor old tub. It's so windy that she can't dock, so the skipper takes her out into the Minches, where she's going round in circles for a few hours. The tanker, the Border Heather, also hovers outside port until the wind dies down by about 8.30 pm. The wind also gets the better of a wee sparrow. A strong draft carries the poor creature nearly into a pedestrian and slaps it onto the roadsurface. It sits there, stunned, for a few moments, then bravely flies off again. My pictures reappear on the Island Blog. Another Island Blogger, Mad Lamb, was apparently interviewed on the Radio Cafe on Radio Scotland yesterday afternoon. I don't listen to that program. Once the ferry is in, the Border Heather and the Muirneag both follow. Rick and Catherine return from their trip to the West Side, Ness as well as Uig. Tomorrow they're going out to Lochboisdale on the bus, an 8 hour trip.

Tuesday 02/05/06

A cloudy start to the day, with a bit of wind. I head to the library at 10 a.m., expecting to meet the Secretary of the Stornoway Historical Society. He had promised to hand some pictures to me. Unfortunately, I didn't see him during the 50 minutes I waited, so went out again. The hairdressers has closed down, the Post Office resembles a can of sardines and the Baltic Bookshop charges me the earth for a ream of paper. When I leave Somerfields at 11.15, it starts to rain. Two American guests arrive at 12.40 after an 18 hour journey from Arizona. It's pouring with rain at that point. The Arizonans had a bumpy flight up from Glasgow. Mrs B goes out shopping with her nephew. I inform the new guests about where to eat and much more. Their jetlag catches up with them on their return from An Lanntair and they flake out until about 10pm. Rain ceases at around 8.15 and the sun comes out at 8.25. I put together a travel itinerary for our American guests. Our Skye friend of fire-extinguisher fame turns up for another week's work in SY.

Forgot to mention that the ferry came into port at 7.45. As it approached the beacon, a wee fishing boat was in the channel. The Isle of Lewis imperiously blew its horn and the boat scooted off into Sandwick Bay.