Lewis Lines introduction

Lewis Lines contains all the diary entries from the former AOL Northern Trip blog. This edition shows the entries for 2005. Northern Trip was discontinued on AOL in October 2008, and moved to this site on Blogger.

The diary is presented in reverse chronological order, but the first entry can be found here.

Saturday 31/12/05 - New Year's Eve

A fairly late start after the equally late night before. After breakfast, which ended after midday, Kenny "There you go" MacLeod from Isles FM calls in to sell tickets for a raffle. They are expanding services to the other islands, as far as Barra, with coverage to Inverness and the west coast. Six transmitters are planned. They have so far this year raised £150k, but need £500k in total. Kenny sells us about £30 worth of tickets. Mrs B's son + girlfriend take me down to Grimshader for an hour or so. I already noticed at breakfast that steam was rising from the walls, and that is now condensing into fog patches. One drifts past Eitsal, another obscures Loch Leurbost - only to disappear at the blink of an eye. A stack of timber indicates the place where a house once stood. It blew apart in the hurricane last January. A nice garden path, the council bin, a phoneline, a toilet bowl and the barbecue - it's all still there, but no house. Return through Crosbost and Leurbost. A fog patch drifts across the road back to Stornoway. Everybody goes shopping on return to town. The sun sets on 2005 for the last time at 3.35 pm. Supper consists of sweet and sour chicken. After that, we're in eager anticipation of "the bells". We won nothing on the Isles FM raffle, or the National Lottery. At 11 pm, mainland Europe lets off its fireworks. One hour later, it's "charge your glasses" for the strikes of Big Ben at midnight.

2005 is history

Friday 30/12/05

We awake to rain and wind. Two hundred motorists are stuck in snowdrifts on the A1079 York to Hull road, and the fireservice and local farmers are digging them out. Mrs B's son has a girlfriend, who is coming up on the plane from Glasgow, which is 3 hours late due to technical faults. The rain here stops at sunset, and a few clearances move in from the west. Temperature rises to about 8C. Although it's the 30th of December, there will be a New Year's Firework display at 8pm. The town and his wife are about, thronging Newton Street, as well as the South Beach carpark. The display sets off with a loud bang at 8.10, and lasts for about 10 minutes. An old boat is backlit by fire and smoke. Picture taking is difficult, wonder about the outcome. We walk up to An Lanntair for a drink; the pipeband is just finishing in the carpark opposite. It's quite busy in the bar, until the performance starts in the auditorium. We walk back to Newton in the rain, for a very late night ceilidh, which finishes at 2.30. Good practice for tomorrow, which is liable to overrun ever more - it'll be New Year's Eve. Found that someone pinched the feed from the webcam, but as it was to promote Stornoway, I didn't object. Countries that have been to have a look include: Belgium, Holland, UK, USA, Germany, France, Norway, Sweden, Romania, Turkey, Spain, Saudi Arabia, New Zealand...

Thursday 29/12/05

It was an extremely cold night on the mainland. Aviemore reached down to minus 13C, and was only at -10C at 11 a.m.. The southcoast is also very frosty, Bournemouth was at -6C. Up here in Stornoway, it stays well above freezing, because of the strong winds. The webcam was offline last night because the server had broken down. Cloud gradually increases through the morning. The mainland mountains, visible at sunrise, slowly fade into the mist. The wind increases, topping force 7 by nightfall. Tiree has the worst of the winds, gusting there at 51 knots, force 10. Go out at 2.30 for a drive around Point. We go up the sideroads at Garrabost and Sulisiadar, which give nice views of Broadbay and the villages from Tong to Tolsta. Tolsta sits on the hills above Gress Bay. We head north to Portnaguran and its tiny harbour, beyond that to the road's end. We turn back to Port Mholair (Portvoller) and go to Tiumpan Head Lighthouse. It blows pretty hard out there, and it's perishingly cold. The lighthouse is on. The mountains on the mainland can be seen clearly, about 30 miles to the east. A man stands outside the old keeper's cottage, which is currently in use as a kennels cum cattery. He was due to pick up some dogs, but there is nobody about. We head down to Sheshader, to see the little house that Jerry had his eye on, back in November. Once we do find our way into the next village, Payble, the light begins to fail. Can just about snap a pic of the hill between Upper and Lower Payble. We go right through to the end of Eagleton, but then return to the A866. I go to the library to scan the pictures, which I mentioned in an earlier post. I have the cooker tonight, preparing carrots, potatoes, onions, mince meat balls. Goes down well, in spite of the very late hour of 9 pm. We were delayed watching a programme about Para Handy, Master Mariner, who was created 100 years ago by Neil Munro / Hugh Foulis. Snow falls between 9 and 10, which soon turns to rain.


I was amazed at the colours at sunset these past days. And at sunrise as well. Normally, I expect light to start to fail 25 minutes after sunset, but at this latitude this is extended to 40 minutes. I am not a native of the islands, but one of the reasons I have come here is the natural beauty. Whether it is in the images shown above, at a time of good weather - or in bad weather, as I showed in a much earlier posting about the November 11th hurricane.
Being caught up in a thunder, hail, snow, sleet (and kitchensink) shower back in January, whilst going down the
Lochs Road at Leurbost, with the bus driver being forced to reduce speed to a crawl. No snow or ice at the next village, Keose.
The many rainbows in the spring.
The joy at seeing the first green shoots, in April.
Hearing the first bleating of lambs in a pasture at Breascleit late in March. Walking the island in the bitter winds of February, and seeing the sad remains of the sheep that did not make it through the winter. Or the sheep that was knocked down at the Marybank cattlegrid in April, and was slowly decomposing in peace in the ditch that it was dumped in over a period of 6 months.
Seeing the days lengthen to an incredible extent, sunset at 22.30, with the light lingering to the nadir of the night at 01.30, then returning fully at 03.30. But also shortening of the days, with the present daylight hours of 09.15 to 15.35.
The howling of the gales, 4 in one week in November. Clattering of hail and thumping of the wind against the window at night - waking up in the middle of the night because there is no noise.
Watching the breathtaking coastal scenery at Filiscleitir, or the stunning mountain scenery from Rapaire, Teileasbhal, Mullach an Langa. Or beautiful Glen Langadale, where I'm forever fording that river under frown of Stulabhal. The little mouse on the slopes of that mountain, the one that allowed me to stroke it. The yellow grasses on the moors of South Lochs, finding your way in amongst a myriad of lochs, streams and bogs.
Loch nan Eilean, south of Garyvard.

Place seems to have gotten under my skin.

Wednesday 28/12/05

Another bright and sunny morning, but windy. Can see Skye and Applecross at sunrise. Go for a bit of shopping late in the morning, but there is a very keen wind blowing. Metcheck is back to reporting weather, rather than being a pseudo chatroom. Aviemore reports -7C at 10 a.m.. After lunch I accompany mrs B's son to Gress cemetery, where he visits his auntie's grave. She passed away in August '04. Afterwards, we go down the road to Back, where we pay a visit to his niece and her husband and children. We spend a convivial few hours in chat. At 5.30, we return to SY to pick up my latest pictures. I find I've got a problem with the low winter light in many of them, but there are some spectacular ones about. I'll post them on here in the next day or so. Supper consists of an excellent roast dinner.

Tuesday 27/12/05

Nice sunny morning, but with a little more cloud than yesterday. There is also more wind, which accentuates the low temperatures. 6 C is not bad, particularly in comparison to the -5 at Aviemore and the snow that blankets eastern England. Metcheck is awash with with people wanting to know to the nearest minute when their snow is going to start. And fill 75 posts with irrelevant chitchat. I therefore post a request to please stick to reporting, and discussion to be moved to the Forum. At 1.30pm, we go out in the car to Ness. Fortunately, nothing happens along the way, and we duly arrive in the area at 2.20. Drive to Port of Ness, then through Five Penny to Eoropie. Mrs B wants to have a look at the house of a friend, who used to live there. Then we walk to the beach. People are fishing. There is a magnificent swell, with rollers of about 7 ft high. It's cold though, the thin wind making it less pleasant. Next port of call is Port Skigersta, where I have not been before. As we are there, the sun sets in a blaze of orange. We head back to Stornoway along the Cross Skigersta Road. Speeddevils fly past us on the A857, people just don't learn, do they. In the supermarket, lots of stuff is marked down. Cranberries for 12p, instead of the usual £1.99. No papers left. A few strange stories from the general news. A group of youths went to the house of another youngster, to have a word. When his dad says he wasn't there, they set about trashing the family car. More humourously, a man had falled asleep at the Rangers Supporters Club, which contains a bar. He was not noticed by barstaff as they locked up, but he awoke at 5.25 a.m. He rang police to ask them to help out in his predicament, saying he was at the Sea Angling Club. The police got the manager of that place out of his bed, but nobody was found. The man was still locked inside the Rangers Club rang police again, sheepishly admitting that he was there, not at the SAC.

Monday 26/12/05 - Boxing Day

Brilliantly sunny morning, with the sun rising in a blaze of orange at 9.15. The mainland hills and Skye are visible over Arnish. Breakfast taken late, at around 10.30. We decide to head out to Ness, and we duly head down the A857 at 12.30. We're packed up with hot water, teabags, Lucozade and pastries. There is some traffic on the Barvas road, but as we near the village, the way ahead is blocked. Fire engines and an ambulance are parked on both carriageways. A car is sitting in the moorland beside the road, and after a while, firemen drape a tarpaulin over it. This indicates a fatality. (The BBC later reports on this accident - click here). The car is turned back, and we head for Carloway via the Pentland Road. A shortcut is taken from Laxdale to Marybank. Once there, the level of traffic is up on normal. Word will have gone round about the blocked road. Fantastic views in between drivers who don't pay attention to traffic. One of them fails to pull into a passing place, which forces us to back up a long distance. Great views over to the hills of Harris and Uig. At Carloway, we turn right to go to Dalmore beach. A slightly chilly snack on a picnic bench. Some hardy souls are out windsurfing. When they leave the water, they say they're actually sweating. The door to the gents' toilet cannot be locked. I hold the door whilst completing business, but when another gent goes in, the inevitable happens. A lady pulls up with a bucket and cleaning things, and opens the door. Oh oh. We drive nextdoors to Dalbeg to enjoy the beach and the surf, which spectacularly crashes in. The sun sets in a blaze of colour, which is even better on the way back to Carloway. Someone smashed into the busshelter at Dalbeg, which is a concrete edifice, and knocked one of the four wings off. We call into Callanish at 3.50 pm to watch the dusk creeping in over the ancient monument. The visitor centre is closed. In the winter, it only opens on Wednesdays through to Saturdays. At the stones, someone is pontificating to a group of Russian visitors. We return to Stornoway in the gathering gloom. A few fools decide to drive right on our tail, keeping no distance worthy of the mention. Signs at Garynahine and Leurbost advise drivers that the Barvas Moor road is closed. Boxing Day dinner consists of pasta, boscaiola, olives, bread, sundried tomatoes, peppers and much more. Very filling. Had fizzy red win alongside. Manage to draw out supper until 11pm, with tales of people of our acquaintance. Close the evening with coffee and chocolate licqueurs. Bed at 1.30 a.m.. Again.

Sunday 25/12/05 - Christmas Day

Breakfast and presents at 11 o'clock, accompanied by a mixture of Spanish champagne and orange juice. I receive a jumper, socks and a diary. By 1.30 pm, we head out to Arnish to walk to the lighthouse. Today is overcast but perfectly windless, temperature about 7C. The boats shimmer in their own reflections. Over at Arnish, we walk along a rough track, which skirts the perimeter fence of the Fabrication Yard. There are huge pipes lying about, segments for windturbines. Should the Lewis Windfarm ever be built, then the turbines are to be built here. At the moment, they are building towers for a windfarm off the Caithness coast. When the Arnish Yard was built in 1975, an existing cottage was torched, and the hill it stood on bulldozed out of existence. You can still see where the hill used to be. There was also once a huge slipway, used to launch an oil platform, but that was landscaped out. Some Lewis ponies roam the area, they are small and quite friendly. On arrival at the lighthouse, you need to manoeuver around the keeper's cottage, through a mire of horse dung and mud. A small memorial stands on the hillside, a little distance to the south. It was erected in memory of a fisherman who drowned there on December 19th, last year. It would appear that after leaving port, the crew of his boat were all down below, with the vessel going on autopilot. This went wrong, and the boat went on the rocks. Two crewmen escaped, the skipper drowned. The memorial had a bunch of flowers sitting next to it, left from the first anniversary commemoration. After returning from Arnish, we call in to mrs B's sister's house in the town for a flying visit. Visibility quite reasonable today, saw a hazy outline of Skye and the mainland. Eilean Mhuire, the easternmost of the Shiants, could just be discerned off Kebock Head. Dinner is magnificent, with turkey breast, cranberry sauce, potatoes, vegetables and wine. Lit up by candles, it fills us up very well. The sweet is an icecream pavlova. At 9.30, we head down the road to one of mrs B's other sons for a Christmas ceilidh. We end up watching familie films from the 1960s, which show quite a few people who are no longer alive, and it all gets a little emotional.

Saturday 24/12/05

Start the day by going into Somerfields to buy the necessary for tonight's meal. It's total mayhem in that store, everybody making last-minute purchases. The weather today is not very warm but nice and sunny. A nice bunch of flowers, carnations and amaryllii, is delivered for me at midday. After lunch, prawn cocktail, we head by car to Latta's Mill at Willowglen. The wheel is turning, which means that the waterlevel in the milllake is about 25 cm / 10 inches down on normal. The mill is generating power, for the lights in the visitor centre. After dark, it will provide electricity for the lights all the way to Cuddy Point. We walk out along the millrace, and now the bridge across the burn is in place. Near the mill, the burn is 10 metres lower. After this, we call into the Coop for some additional shopping. I provide supper, consisting of leaks, spuds and meatballs. Sweet is cranberry sauce, freshly made out of cranberries, served with custard. As it's Christmas Eve, the thought turns to a church service. Enquiries reveal that there are two services on - one at St Columba's, in Lewis Street, one at the Town Hall. I decide on the first, and at 11 pm I set out with mrs B and her daughter-in-law. She leaves the family dog behind, a big black goofy labrador. Shortly after arriving at church, the service commences with a few carols. It's the usual culprits, which also applies to the readings from the Scriptures: Gospel according to St Luke, chapter 2. One lady sings a very creditable rendition of Ave Maria. As we sing another carol, the lights are switched off one by one, until we end up finishing the carol in darkness. The minister invites everybody to wish each other Happy Christmas, once the lights are back on. That applies not just to those sitting beside you, but also those behind and in front. Kisses and handshakes flying around. After the last carol, we file out which takes a bit of time because some of the ladies want to kiss the minister. We return to Newton on foot. At the corner of Island Road and Ferry Road, a car with boyracers comes screaming round the corner, barely missing a wall in the process. The dog is happy to be reunited with its owner, whose husband turns up a little later with the family cat in tow. This animal joins the dog on walks, all the way to Goat Island.

Friday 23/12/05

Nice sunny morning with the odd shower passing in the distance. Isles FM has Joe the Fish on until 10 o'clock, after which they go on to automatic. Have all sorts of problems with internet which I won't bore you with. Nip into Somerfields to get the remainder of the week's papers. We take a drive out to Gress at 2.30 to look round that village. The district is overlooked by Beinn Barabhais, which I climbed in August. As the sun sinks over the village of Back, the sun sets the houses off against the white sky. After a drive through Gress, we cross the bridge and explore Back Lighthill, where all sorts of trails lead off into the moorland. We return to Stornoway after sunset at 4pm. Mrs B makes our supper tonight. The driver was her 2nd son.

Thursday 22/12/05

Very dark morning, pouring with rain and strong winds. Lighthouse is on all day, visibility very poor. Help mrs B put up the Christmas lights in the porch. They are stars in the shape of ice crystals, i.e. they get very easily entangled. Two bad road accidents in the area, one on Tiree and the other on the A82 Ft William to Inverness road claim two lives. The Gazette is full of reports on the crisis in the NHS Western Isles, with the Chief Executive threatening apres moi le deluge, in other words, if I have to go, NHS WI will go down with me. Some idiot sent a letter in to the Gazette, stating that the Third Reich was a nest of pussycats in comparison to Western Isles Council. This was ostensibly with reference to the windfarm issue. I disagree with the Comhairle on that (and many other issues), but that comparison is not called for. The rain stops during the evening.

Wednesday 21/12/05 - Winter Solstice

I am starting with this lovely image of the Skye Bridge, because its area features in the grounding of MV Blackfriars at Kyle of Lochalsh, a mile east of the bridge. More of that in a second. Today is the Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year. Sunrise at 9.15, sunset at 15.35. It's a nice sunny day, but colder than the 10C it was yesterday. At 9 a.m., SYY reports 6C. Rain- and hailshowers come clattering by at regular intervals, but they don't deter the birds from bathing in the resulting puddles. Starlings, finches, sparrows and thrushes all continue to spatter in the middle of all the hailstones. Mrs B goes out at 10.45 for a nativitiy play in the High Church. It is reported that the oil tanker MV Blackfriars ran aground at Kyle of Lochalsh at 9.20 pm last night. She was running in ballast, heading for Pembroke, South Wales. Conditions were said to be windy, southwesterly wind force 6 to 7.. This morning, the tanker manages to refloat under her own power at high tide, at 10 a.m.. She is presently tied up at Kyle for an inspection. The vessel, which measures 1,570 tons, is not thought to have spilt any of her 13 tons of fuel oil. Blackfriars hit rocks before, in 1999, in Wales. The map below shows the area around Kyle where the tanker went aground. I hope the seals on Eileanan Dubha didn't get too bad a fright. Last time I was there, in October 2004, the place was heaving with seals.

Map reproduced with kind permission of the Ordnance Survey of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, copyright 2005.

Found an image of the stranded tanker. And there is this ludicrous story of the cats' home in Dundee that was invaded by mice. Have a laugh on the BBC site, which includes a videoclip. The mice of course never went into the cats' cages. Went into town at 2pm, and bought an interesting book from 1960 about William Lever, later Lord Leverhulme, the owner of Lewis and Harris between 1918 and 1925. Also cashed in the Coop dividend voucher, all of £2. Last night, guests had been expected to arrive, but they went to the wrong B&B. They were up from Benbecula to visit relatives, but the list of B&Bs they had received from the hospital gave the wrong address with Mrs B's phonenumber. So they turned up at another B&B, which of course wasn't expecting them. To add insult to injury, although the other place did take them in, they were searched twice by police, because a mobile phone had been reported missing at that establishment, from the very room that family were in. When I walked back from town, I noticed a long line of vehicles waiting to board the ferry. This was at 2.45, and I thought they'd either missed the ferry or the boat was late. It was late, as it came round Holm Point just as I walked up Newton Street. One of the lorries contained a reindeer troup from Rossshire, who had taken part in a Xmas party at the Newton and Sandwick Community Centre last night. Showers continue on and off all afternoon. Have a nice and lazy evening.