Yet another cruiseliner in today, but this time the vessel is anchored about 2 miles away on account of its size. This means I cannot read its name, but the Stornoway Gazette has a list of all expected vessels. As it's 21st July today, this should be the Prinsendam, a Holland America Line ship. It costs 4 to 12 thousand dollars to go on a 14-day cruise in her. Have a look on www.hollandamerica.com. As I want a picture of this boat, I hobble down to Holm Point, about 1/4 mile west of the Iolaire Monument near Lower Sandwick. This is a 38,000 tonne vessel which is carrying 736 passengers from 23 countries. A fleet of coaches is taking the tourists on trips. They are ferried to the pier at SY on tenders. On return from Holm Point, I'm invited by mrs B & son to join them on a drive round the West Side via the Pentland Road. We proceed across the island and start our excursion on the pier at Carloway / Carlabhagh. Check the thermometer (61 F / 16 C) and the barometer (30.1" / 1019 mb). These were installed in the 1880s, as a gift from the Met Office. The fishermen I speak to are the only ones left to operate out of Carloway pier. Next port of call is Gearrannan blackhouse village. This is being overrun by tourists from the cruiseliner. Take another look round the village, which I visited on May 2, and this time I see the weaving loom, a pedal-operated Hattersley loom, in operation. "DR" from Siabost is at the pedals and is more than eager to talk about the decline of the Harris Tweed industry in Lewis and Harris. I won't go into details, but one man's greed has brought it down. Whoever is left to work in the tweed industry is happy to sell a few lengths of tweed to Nike for trainers, for goodness' sakes. One of the pet lambs died, but Annie is turning into a very handsome young sheep. You can stroke her; normally sheep take off like a rocket if you try to approach them. Some of the restored black houses are available for self-catering. Rest assured: they are not equipped with a smouldering peatfire in the middle of the floor. The sun comes out during our bit of lunch, a bowl of soup with a roll. Waitress asks if I want to pay in US dollars. No thanks. Drove off to Upper Carloway, admire a cockerel with no tailfeathers.Down to Dalmore where we inspect inscriptions on gravestones. Mrs B's ancestors are from this area, particularly Dalmore and nearby Dalbeag, and it's full of benign ghosts for her.People are surfing off Dalmore beach, which is actually a dangerous beach. The system of sandbanks promotes strong undercurrents, which can sweep you out to sea or onto the stacks on the eastern side of the beach. The cloud returns whilst at Dalmore, and it gets a bit chilly. At Dalbeg, we admire the beach, which is getting less and less sandy, and the lily-covered loch. Quite a few of the island's lochs are now covered in reeds and waterlilies. We now proceed up the road into South Shawbost, from where you can actually see the Norse Mill. Pass through to North Shawbost and Bragar, Arnol and Barvas. A short excursion up Loch Street concludes our roundtrip. On return to town at SY, news is coming through of 4 failed bomb attacks in London. Mrs B goes out for dinner at one of her other son's to return at 11.20.
Day dawns dreich. All 3 of last night's guests depart during the morning, and I'm left trying to discern the Arnish hills through the drizzle and mist. Visibility too poor for off-road walking, so catch up with some writing. Temperature outside has gone down about 4 to 5 degrees in recent times, and the misty weather doesn't help. Cook a meal for mrs B & son, to wit: Savoy Cabbage Special. Recipe available from me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Finish the evening with a game of Scrabble, which I win by commencing with a first-word score of 47. I once started a game by scoring 74. Conceit? Nah.
Awoke to the spectacle of two cruiseliners in the harbour, one at anchor off Arnish, the other docked at Pier 1. The Deutschland, off Arnish, is a massive vessel, which is using its lifeboats to ferry passengers ashore. I'd have to find out how many sail in her. When I go into town later in the day, I find the smaller Black Prince tied up alongside the pier, with poor old Muirneag shunted out to pier 3, where the ferry normally docks. A piper stands at the bottom of the gangway, continually playing the same piece. The weather is showery, and apart from a stint on the library computer, I don't have much on the agenda. Showers pop across the Arnish moors, reducing visibility markedly. Although the sun doesn't set until 10.15 (we've lost 20 minutes since the solstice), it gets very gloomy at 9 o'clock. The cruiseliners leave at 8 pm. The Calmac ferry has to wait for the Deutschland to leave before it can dock. We have 3 guests in; a lady from Uist up for a hospital appointment and a jolly elderly couple from Angus, who have frequently visited the islands over the years.
Today, the last of the festival guests leave for the mainland on the 1.45 ferry, which is half an hour late. There is a phenomenal number of passengers on board. I'm catching up with reading Harry Potter - finished the book at 1.30 a.m. A fairly sunny and pleasant day.
We have a birthday girl in the house, who doesn't want too much of a fuss. So we don't fuss, apart from a meal in the town in the evening. After breakfast, the men in the house head off to South Lochs for a double walk. The weather is wet, but not all that bad. Noted on the way there that the village of Balallan stretches for 4 km along Loch Erisort. The run down the B8060 is a trip down memory lane, as I was staying down there over the winter period. We proceed to Cromor, in the far northeast of the district. After parking the car, we walk back through the village to the bridge across Loch Chromor, but almost at once turn left to proceed along a grassy lane. Pass through a gate and climb onto the moor. Have to take my 2 companions plus one dog into consideration, so progress is slow. Pass the broch of Dun Cromor. It's raining steadily as we continue southeast, parallel to the loch shore. At the end, we climb onto a ridge of Soval, the nearby hill (70 m) to look south across Loch Mharabhig and Marvig village. Return over Soval to the eastern shore of Loch Chromor. Nice view out to sea through the islands that lie off-shore. Finally drop down to the road-end in Cromor. A lamb had escaped from a field, but now wants to get back to its mum. The lamb finally made a mad dash past us, jumped 4-5 feet in the air, over the dog's head. Fingal was pleasantly surprised to see his lunch running straight into his mouth - not. On return to the car, at 3pm, we drove to Marvig, Calbost, Gravir and Orinsay. From Orasaigh / Orinsay we intend to walk to the deserted settlement at Stiomrabhagh, 1½ miles to the west. The weather was growing worse by the minute, visibility deteriorating and heavy rain in a strong southwesterly wind. First you go up some steps, then follow the waymarkers across the moor. Route leads to the south of Loch Shagachain, which is where I cancelled proceedings due to the conditions. Got some complaints for rushing - sorry, that's my normal walking speed. Returned to SY within an hour. Were presented with High Tea by mrs B - tea with cakes. Then it was off to town for dinner. Well, I've never seen such a shambles in my life. Four of the main restaurants in town were closed. It may have been busy due to the festival , and it being Sunday, but this was very, very poor. To cut a long story short: we went to HS1 on Cromwell Street, where there was an hour's wait. Three hours later, at 10.30, we still hadn't had a bite to eat, so we went back out again. We chatted to a Polish girl, Martina, who was out in the Laxdale campsite. She had come for the festival but didn't like the island, didn't like the town and didn't like the music. Why the heck bother to come all this way? We did offer her to join us in Newton, but by 10.30, some in the company were singing aloud, so I don't blame her for declining the offer. Food was prepared at Newton at 1 in the morning. Incidentally, I'm getting on fine with Fingal the dog; his master isn't that much to speak of when drunk. So is his wife, who tongue-lashes him about bedroom problems at the dinner table.
After a late start, the others head off to Harris. I stay in town, as I have a lot to do. Start with a stint on the library computer, for which there is a heavy demand. I also buy a copy of the new Harry Potter book. Inititally I would have bought it at the Baltic for £12.99, but Woolies have it on sale for £8.99. Also bought qa small present for Mrs B's birthday tomorrow. Dropped everything off at Newton, where I also noticed that my boots are literally falling apart at the seams. So, back into town for a new pair, which I (luckily) found in Sportsworld. Had to do it all myself, level of service in there precisely zero. Was handed the bootsbox wrapped in a binliner. The lifeboat had an open day, so I went to its berth on Cromwell Street Quay. As I walked about on deck, a rgrey seal popped out of the harbour. Had a chat with the coxswain about the area that the boat covers, recent callouts etc. Saving lives is priority 1, saving abandoned vessels priority next. The last occasion they actually saved lives was in December '04, when a boat ran onto the rocks at Arnish and sank. Unfortunately, the skipper died. It seems the fishing boat had been left to leave the harbour on autopilot, whilst the crew were 'plotting a course' down below, with nobody above deck. The autopilot went wrong, and the boat crashed onto the rocks. At 3 pm, I went to the Lewis Games. There was a free shuttlebus to the playing fields at Tong, 4 miles outside SY. Very busy there. A lot of stalls selling various wares, varying from crafts to food. Three different bouncy castles dotted the area. A central arena had been cleared for the typical games, like tossing the caber, throwing a weight over a bar 12 ft above ground and lifting the stones. Actors staged a 10 minute play about the Stornoway cornmill. A man performed a 'one-man-and-his-dog' act with ducks, instead of sheep. I was not amused, it was faintly cruel. Left for town at 4.45. The afternoon turned nice and sunny later on. The rest of the day turns into yet another ceilidh, one that finishes at the slightly more decent time of 1 a.m..
Appear for breakfast at 11.30, much the worst for wear. Pop into town after Alison and her dad leave for home at 1pm. It's very busy in town, busier than I've ever seen it in the 8 months that I've been in the island. This evening, I'm going to a concert by Runrig in the Castle Grounds. The Peatbog Faeries are the supporting act. Mrs B cooks my food. Concert starts at 9. The Peatbog Faeries are disappointing, they should drop the blaring brass section. Safety messages appear on the screens either side of the stage. E.g., someone is wanted in the First Aid tent at once. The Faeries bog off at 10.15. It takes more than half an hour for the stage to be rearranged for Runrig, which makes the crowd restive. They go wild when they do arrive, starting with their song Morning Tide. Nice song, good supporting video. Although mobiles should be switched off, there is a forest of camera phones being held high. Even a video camera is spotted. Noise is quite high, but bearable. Runrig finish with their rendition of Loch Lomond, known by all. At 1 o'clock, we all file out and troop down the narrow road to the Bayhead bridge, into town. A few pubs are open, but I give them the go-by. A drunken woman shouts after me, but I ignore her. Return to Newton at 1.20, and continue with some sort of ceilidh until 2.45
Today, we were to have gone on a walk to the beehive dwellings under Scalabhal in Morsgail. Unfortunately, the weather throws a spanner in the works because of heavy rain. I know the route to be boggy at the best of time, so it would be a complete mudbath now. After lunch therefore, we hop off to the district of Uig, 30 miles west of Stornoway. When we leave, it's still wet and misty. Arrive at Ardroil Sands at 1.30. The continuous rain has now given way to heavy showers. Walk down the beach in the rain, right out to the tideline. A walk across to Carnish is impossible, because the tide is flooding a good part of the way. Return to the car for a little drive round Timsgarry, very familiar territory to me from previous visits. Proceed back down Glen Valtos to Miavaig, taking care not to knock down sheep in the road. At Cliobh, we stop to listen to a corncrake. As I train my binoculars on the meadow, I see a brown bird flying off low over the long grass. Drive round to Valtos Pier, where a family is fishing for crabs, using limpets for bait. Mum has been coming here for 38 years. You can see the crabs walking on the seafloor, 10 ft down. We carry on to Cnip beach, where the clouds break to let the sun out. It transforms the area into a completely different place. We pass A'Beirigh farm, Riof and Uigean on the way back to Miavaig and points east. The dark wall of the rainfront can be seen moving away east awsw we drive back along the familiar route of the B8011. We come back to Stornoway via the Pentland Road at Achamor. This route sports a number of delapidated shieling cabins. The dead sheep is still rotting in peace beside the cattlegrid at Marybank; the carcass has been lying there since (at least) April 11th. At 7 o'clock, the other guests head off to the Hebridean Celtic Festival concert in the Castle Ground, where Van Morrison is due to play. Queue apparently stretches right back from the harbour. When mrs B, Alison and myself take the dog for a walk, the music echoes round the streets. The quayside along Cromwell Street is thronged with people on foot, in cars, on boats all listening for free to the music eminating from the marquee across the water. The music follows us on the way back to Newton. At 11 o'clock, Alison finds a hedgehog in the garden. Mrs B, myself and Alison play games of draughts and a memory game before that. The concertgoers return at 1 am, and a ceilidh ensues, heavily laced with drink. One person drops off to sleep at 2.30, but the hardened souls press on until 4.30, when it gets light again. As I watch the dawn breaking, I see the lone figure of a female tottering along the pavement. She stops opposite Island Road to attempt to operate her mobile phone. When Fingal pops up from the foreshore, she comes to her senses (somewhat) and wobbles on.
Following a late start, I go into town where things are starting to liven up. After my stint on the library computer, I come across a little piece of street theatre, performed by local artists. It depicts the choices forced on islanders in the 19th and 20th centuries. After that, I cross to the Castle Grounds, where this week's concerts are to be staged. They are to take place in a large, blue marquee. A security fence has been erected to keep out all those without valid tickets. Tickets which consist of a wristband. Have a drink on a seat at Cuddy Point, where some kids are packing up following a canoeing expedition. I climb up the hill behind Cuddy Point to have a close look at the refurbished Matheson Memorial. Make my way to nearby Lews Castle, where the portaloos are positioned. Return to town via the usual route. Last night, I was drawn into a pubcrawl, which I cut short after 2 pubs and 2 half-pints. The other two returned outrageously drunk, which did nothing to improve the atmosphere in the house.
This week, there are two major events in Stornoway. The Hebridean Celtic Festival (music and culture) and Sail Hebrides. In the context of the former, there are Gaelic lessons in Pointers Cafe on North Beach Street. Nothing happening there though. I visit the library and Somerfields on return. Weather not very good today, cold, windy and wet. I was invited to join the other guests in a sight-seeing expedition to Great Bernera and the West Side. We set out in two vehicles at 2 pm. The trip to Tobson beach, on the western shore of Great Bernera, takes 50 minutes. Aquatic wildlife was found in rockpools, as well as a dead seal which was perched fairly high up a rock. It had two bullet holes in its lower body. Next stop: Bostadh Beach at the northern tip of Great Bernera. I notice that the machair flora is in full bloom. It is absolutely covered in daisies and buttercups. large number are on the beach and in the Iron Age house behind the beach. Someone is camping on the dunes. Nice views out towards Old Hill to the north. This 80m (270 ft) high island can be seen from as far away as Galson, way up towards Ness. I walk to the narrows that separate Great from Little Bernera. On return from there, I go into the Iron Age house. I've visited that twice during the winter months, when it was closed and under 4 inches (10 cm) of water. The house is now dry and open, with a local lady explaining about life 2,000 years ago. At 4pm, we return to the cars. The guide jumps on the bus home. Our little group proceeds to the Callanish Stones, very familiar to me. We had a cuppa and some cakes, then had another look round. Scientists were scanning the exterior of the stones using laser beams. This would yield a lifelike image on-line. Return to town via Carloway and Barvas, arriving back at 7.20 pm.
Bit of a bad day, really. At lunchtime, two other friends of Mrs B and her son came off the ferry. We end the day with a very boozy ceilidh.
Went for a walk this afternoon, just for a change. Up Island Road and Smith Avenue, past the Nicolson Institute. Then across Goathill Avenue and into Leverhulme Drive. This has a roundabout halfway down. At the end I turn right into Westview Terrace / Barraidh nan Rop. This brings me out on the Perceval Road, which I follow east for a short distance. Then I turn into Sand Street, which brings me down onto the sands between Stornoway and Tong, the Cockle Ebb. This is a large area of tidal mudflats, through which the Laxdale River and a few minor tributaries flow down to the sea. The Ebb is dangerous, because the tide can rise very quickly, and there are patches of quicksand. I found that the Laxdale River is easily fordable. I reached there at 3.15, at low water. The river held about 25 cm (10 in) of water. Kept the boots off for the rest of the walk to Tong, 2 miles to the northeast. It's a wet area, with one or two little streams. However, the ground was firm underfoot, not unlike the Wadden Sea off Holland, Germany and Denmark. The traverse took about 40 minutes. Just before reaching Teanga Thunga, the long sandspit stretching south from Tong, there was an area of what felt like quicksand. The spit is used as a racetrack for bikes. It offers nice views across to Steinis and Mealabost, as well as the airport. Spoke to a local man who had been watching my approach. He advised me that I could cross the moors adjoining the Ebb to Newmarket. Well, that was a nightmare. Wet, fencing at inconvenient locations, a river and a forestry plantation. The river wasn't too difficult, but the forestry plantation had soft ground, deep runnels and what not. Was knackered by the time I reached the outskirts of Newmarket. Returned through Laxdale and Perceval Road, the same route I used for coming out. The other guests had taken themselves off to Garry Beach, north of Tolsta.
Today, mrs B's son arrives with a friend who also brings his young daughter. They are here to attend next week's Hebridean Celtic Festival. Another couple is due on Monday. One other paying guest is staying here, a lady from the far northeast of Scotland.
Continue to monitor the news regarding yesterday's bomb attacks in London. Nip into the library to continue with the old journal. Mrs B's granddaughter singles me out for an extensive chat about friends and foes at Sandwick Primary.
Four bombs explode on the London Underground in the rush hour. That surfaces at 10.20 a.m., and keeps me glued to the television for the rest of the day. Horrendous. Updated the journal for last summer.
Today, London was awarded the Olympics in 2012, which gave rise to celebrations both in Singapore and in Stratford, East London, itself. There was senseless rioting in and around Stirling, with the M9 being blocked. Fairly warm and sunny weather, better than further south at any rate. Pop into the library, but the broadband modem manufacturers have no solution to Mrs B's broadband problems
Unremarkable day, where I went into town after lunch for some work on the library computer. By nightfall, there was a large tanker offshore. A coastguard RIB dashed out to the vessel, which had a bright light shining on its bow. The tanker moves off shortly afterwards, its bridge section brightly illuminated.
Nice sunny if blustery day. The two climbers depart for Lochmaddy. I head for town after lunch, for a short walk. It's actually quite warm, as the wind seems to have dropped from its force 6 at the start of the day. After a session in the library, I set out along Cromwell Street and Bayhead. Nip into the Bayhead Convenience Store, where a door collides with people coming in and out. Set forth along the golfcourse to Willowglen Road, then up the street to the War Memorial. It's a lot more pleasant there today than it was on New Year's Eve. Nice view across North Bay and Tong Sands, northern suburbs and the rest of Stornoway. Sit in the sun with the sun just off the memorial tower. This is apparently in a dangerous state, so it's not possible to climb to its top, at 26 metres. Pity. Return to town via Stewart Drive, Macaulay and Matheson Road. Later in the evening, well after midnight in actual fact, I go for a walk to the Coastguard and Power Stations. It's still very light indeed at a quarter to one in the morning. A double red light can be seen just to the left of Gallows Hill, possibly the mastlights on the transmitter at Eitsal. Fishing boats come chugging into port, and lights of others can be seen out in the Minch.
It is an unseasonably windy day, with a full gale blowing in from the southwest. Apart from a scattering of heavy showers, it's not a bad day at all. I head for a church service in the Church of Scotland on Matheson Road. On the way there, all sorts of things are blowing about. Dustbins, cones, you name it. There is nobody about, apart from the odd minibus ferrying people to church. I am unfamiliar with the CoS service format. On entering the church, one of the church elders shakes me by the hand and gives me a hymnal. I sit down about halfway down the church; everybody sits as far back as possible. Only the back half of the church is occupied, along with seating on the balcony. We set off with the minister entering the pulpit. His good morning is echoed back by the congregation. Two psalms are sung, the singing incidentally accompanied by an electronic organ. I don't know the tunes, but manage fine in my parroting act. Parish notices are read out, then the children are set out to their separate Sunday School. We sing a paraphrase, which is a section of Old Testament, set to music. Readings ensue from the New Testament, and most of the congregation read long out of their own bibles. After a hymn, the minister launches into his sermon. He does a good job relating the scriptures to everyday life, even cracking a joke: How do you know St Peter was a Christian? He asked for his mother-in-law to be cured. Minister Black also gave a gentle dig to his brethren in the Free Church, regarding Sabbath Observation. Quite good. Have a brief word with several members of the congregation on the way out, at 12.15, and thank the minister. It's still blowing hard on the way back to Newton. The other two guests have gone out to Arnish lighthouse. I head out to walk to the Iolaire monument at 2.15. Take pictures of the crashing waves and conclude it's blowing a steady force 8. Go round the coastguard station, then down Millar Road and round the shore to Lower Sandwick. Beyond that village, I head across country to the monument, where I arrive at 2.50. It's quite spectacular, with big, 10 ft high, waves rolling in off the Minch. The wind touches force 9 on the headland. It's a mild afternoon, with the temperature at around 17C. I sit down for about 15 minutes to admire the scenery. I think of the 205 sailors who drowned there 86½ years ago, and how close to shore they were. If you ever go there, you'll see a pillar about 20 metres off shore, which is where HMY Iolaire went down early on New Year's Day 1919. Return to Newton along the road, then a shortcut past a slightly rundown farm. Don't recommend that particular route, you run into problems with fencing and barbed wire. On return I have to wash the salt off my specs. Mrs B cooks me a nice meal with lamb chops. The gale finally subsides during the evening, leaving a steady force 6 through the night.
Today's weather deteriorates into pouring rain after 3pm. I go into town at around that time to revisit the Western Isles Museum. Two guests arrive who originally arrived on the island last night at a quarter to one. They spent the night on a campsite at Coll, 5 miles up the road. I do not understand why they didn't go to the campsite at Laxdale, which they pass on the way to Coll. The gentlemen in question are keen climbers from Lomondside, who have quite some experience in the hills of Central Scotland. Interesting chat.
The early leavers nearly got run over by a speeding motorist. Mrs B has problems with her broadband connection which I am no longer able to resolve. Shame. In the evening, I go to a classical / gaelic concert in the Town Hall. Central performer is a cello player who moved to the island back in September 2004. He is accompanied by a pianist on an electronic instrument. There is also a solo singer, a girl member of the group Teine (Heat). Everyone announces their own pieces, except for the singer who just mumbles her way through the English translations of her Gaelic songs. Concert is attended by a shameful 35 and finishes fairly early in the evening at 9.15.
Weather today is iffy, cloudy with rain later. Temperatures have climbed nicely to about 17C. Spend the day updating last summer's diary, with the aid of maps in the library late in the afternoon. Three guests in at the moment, all from one Glasgow company. Two of them return from a night out very late and quite inebriated. And they are to leave for the ferry at 5.15 a.m.