Monday, 31 December 2012

End-of-Year Trip

As a year-ending treat, let's take a video trip with Hebrides Fish 'n' Trips to Mulhagery and Valamus, on the shores of The Pairc, Lewis, and relish seeing two of the most remote former-settlements in Britain. The image above is of the house, corn drying kiln and horizontal mill at Mulhagery or Mul Thagaraidh, occupied in 1891 by John MacKenzie, a gamekeeper, and that below indicates how plant-life remains tenacious when human-life has disappeared.

The Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland has this aerial view of the house completely isolated from the road system. It has that end-of-the-world feel.

Scottish Islands Explorer - greeting all our blog-readers at the end-of-the-year

Sunday, 30 December 2012

Rain, Rain Go Away

This Islay blog image was taken by Armin Grewe after a rainstorm, back in November, on the road between Gruinart and Loch Gorm. It symbolises that end-of-year feeling and the prospect of lighter days emerging from the bleak mid-winter.

Scottish Islands Explorer - anticipating 2013

Saturday, 29 December 2012

Seeking Shelter

Last night's forecast indicated that sailors and residents would be seeking the safety of shelter throughout the Outer Hebrides - from the Butt of Lewis (above)

to the Port of Ness (above) the most northerly settlement, situated a couple of miles along the coast,

and down the chain of islands to the lonely road crossing the machair to the westerly headland of South Uist, Ardivachar.

Scottish Islands Explorer - a quiet read

Friday, 28 December 2012

Bottled Varieties

The year 2012 saw the opening of the Mareel Centre in Lerwick, while 2013 could be the time when Lerwick Brewery comes into existence. The Mercer family is connected with the Rearo gas supply company which was established in 1974. A new use is proposed by self-employed chemical engineer, John Mercer, for its former gas depot in the old North Road and that will centre around specialist bottled beers. If the type of micro-brewery equipment below were installed by February, then the long summer days on Shetland could be accompanied by its products. That's being 'cash positive' a little quicker than the proposed whisky enterprise from the Isle of Harris featured here earlier in the week.  

Scottish Islands Explorer - a different type of brew

Thursday, 27 December 2012

Leftovers Unlikely

Here is a photograph of Sula Sgeir, taken at dawn by Stewart Hinley. The most publicised of its visitors are the men of Ness who have the rights to collect 2000 young gannets or gugas from the islet in the autumn. The birds are considered to be delicacies, but it's unlikely that any are being served today. Were they to have been the dish-of-the-day on Tuesday last they do not appear to be the sort of festive fare that keeps on coming, such as turkey or goose. Their preparation is described in detail on a website called Homeschool on the Croft  where the immaculate kitchen contrasts with the bothy (below) in which gugas are stored ahead of being brought back to Ness, the most northerly settlement in Lewis.

Scottish Islands Explorer - continues to be served

Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Model Messenger

Both the model on the beach and the messenger bag promote and display Harris Tweed. 2012 has been a good year for the weavers as they have exceeded a million metres of cloth production, the highest figure for 15 years. The exported cloth finds its way to some very different destinations and is used for a variety of clothes and adornments. However, before the revival of the popularity of the products is lauded too highly, it should be noted that in the 1960s there were annual outputs approaching seven million metres. Now were Santa to switch from his customary single shade to the subtle flecks of colour from local vegetable and lichen dyes, there would be a boom time in the northern Outer Hebrides. Even reindeer accessories in the tweed would do!

Scottish Islands Explorer - most copies delivered on time

Tuesday, 25 December 2012

Seasonal Greetings

High points of Jura stand out, with a meteor visible to the left, and seasonal greetings conveyed from this island - where Scottish Islands Explorer is designed by resident, Deborah Bryce, and where the photographer, Konrad Borkowski, is based. Her work is evident in the magazine six times a year; his can be seen by considering the image above and his website and gallery on the internet. Take a look at the latter; consider taking the former. Happy Christmas!

Scottish Islands Explorer - enjoyed every day of the year

Monday, 24 December 2012

Bring on the Barley

Tarbert, the island's main settlement, is planned as the production centre for the Isle of Harris Distillery that has recently announced funding by investors for its plant to open in 2014. It will be some years before the 'cash positive' state is reached, but all being well 20 jobs and a process will have been created. Although barley will probably have to be shipped in, there are plans to test grow the crop locally.  The images below show the two types of container for production ... and consumption!

Scottish Islands Explorer - is in a mature phase of production

Sunday, 23 December 2012

Emerging Light

There is something significantly symbolic about this image of Machir Bay, Islay, that was taken in November, but presented on the Islay Blog on Friday 21 December 2013. This is, of course, the day with the shortest hours of daylight; it was a day of rough weather in various parts of Britain with high winds and rough seas around Shetland, heavy rain bringing flooding to parts of the south-west of England; it was also the day when some doom-mongers were in their element prophesying the 'End of the World'. Apparently heavy rain fell soon after this photograph was taken, but those who have survived since then can appreciate the ways in which light emerges from the dark background.

Scottish Islands Explorer - plenty to anticipate

Saturday, 22 December 2012

The Shetland Airlift

Eleven lorries were waiting at Aberdeen to take supplies to Tesco's Shetland stores in Lerwick, but successive cancellations, owing to adverse weather conditions, have led to some serious re-routing this morning. The vehicles have been driven to Livingstone for a chartered Hercules freight aircraft that's ready for an 11.00 am departure to Sumburgh. The convoy of produce will then be on its way to the stores for what will be a welcome delivery and ... a busy afternoon of selling from currently depleted shelves. As the superimposed image above declares - 'Every Brussel Helps' - and full details of the delivery come to you courtesy of Shetland News.

Scottish Islands Explorer - not subjected to such deadlines

Friday, 21 December 2012

Think Durty

If this is your idea of pleasure - climbing or running around mountains of high dimensions and swimming in seas of low temperature - then Durty Events are inviting you to take part in the Hebridean Challenge 2013. 'The Heb' returns and those who like this sort of endurance test of multi-athletic skills should consider signing up now. The latter act is at least effortless - that's the signing, not the swimming!

Scottish Islands Explorer - goes the distance, metaphorically

Thursday, 20 December 2012

Get Out, On Shetland

Shetland may seem distant and remote to some people, but it's relatively close and absolutely welcoming. Two new companies are ready to make your 2013 trip there both stimulating and memorable.Shetland Walking and Wildlife is based at Walls in West Mainland, while Unseen Shetland is to be found in Burra to the south of Scalloway. Both organisations are operated by people who have knowledge and experience of areas that are compelling.

Scottish Islands Explorer - get going and go remote

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Skoon Art

Last week an item was featured on the Scalpay Community Shop and Cafe. An image of the interior was incorrectly captioned for it was actually of the Skoon Art Cafe on the east side of Harris. This has winter opening hours of 11.00 - 16.00 on Fridays and Saturdays and here is exclusively displayed the work of resident artist, Andrew John Craig. His Bays of Harris picture, above, is a reminder of the nearby coast and his Luskentyre Blue, below, reveals how different the scene can be across the island on the ocean side.

Scottish Islands Explorer - more aware of variations in cafes and on coastlines

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Bus Business

There was a time that they talked of the Man on the Clapham Omnibus, meaning the average person, but now, on Shetland, they are referring to Lowri Evans, a performance artist from the National Theatre of Scotland, as the White Wife, a person whose business is talking on the bus. Her story is about raising awareness of people's relationship with the vehicles in which they are travelling. Pictured below are three buses, backing onto Sullum Voe, waiting patiently at their depot for Lowri to come on board and engage passengers in her engaging gear.

Scottish Islands Explorer - ready to traverse the islands and converse about them

Monday, 17 December 2012

Ends of Europe

The seasonal decorations in Stornoway have been inspired by those from Moldova. There is something intriguing about the connections here for the former is on the Atlantic Ocean edge while the latter is landlocked at the eastern extremes of Europe. Read more in a Stornoway Gazette item of how a style of decorative design has migrated from one end of a continent to another.

Scottish Islands Explorer - ready for exporting to Moldova, if required

Sunday, 16 December 2012

Mail and Male Matters

Here is an 'end-of-the-road' image with a bus stop and post box showing that there is human activity on Vatersay, at the southern and western end of the Outer Hebrides. The box below, close to the island's post office, is the most westerly in Britain and a letter posted here has been tracked and featured on the BBC website in time for the busiest part of the Royal Mail's year. There's an interesting connection in the item about the number of males and the amount of mail.

Scottish Islands Explorer - mailed out to subscribers last week

Saturday, 15 December 2012

Airport Poll

The Stornoway Gazette carries details of a poll for the world's most stunning airport for which Barra has been short-listed.

So compare the Hebridean facilities with the other contenders - Amsterdam's Schiphol, Hong Kong, Cape Town, Rio de Janeiro and work out where you would like to land or take off, bearing in mind that there are obstacles as well as scenery with which to be stunned.

Scottish Islands Explorer - has yet to experience Rio

Friday, 14 December 2012

Supplies Assured

These cats on a sea-wall in Shapinsay are unaware of the new subsea pipeline that now brings water from Mainland Orkney. The £3.2 million, two-kilometres of installation by Scottish Water will mean that the island will no longer have to rely on shipped-in supplies during the summer months. This is a place where straight roads, fields and boundary-lines are to be found - symbolised by the image below of the strata effect of cultivation.

Scottish Islands Explorer - certainly straight at the edges

Thursday, 13 December 2012

New & Noted

There's something new in store at Scalpay where the Community Shop and Cafe has recently been officially opened

and which could well become a retail model for other islands. The astonishing fact is that Scalpay, with its current population of just over 300, had a dozen shops at one time. These started closing in the 1970s and by 2007 the final one in that phase of decline shut its doors. Now this business may well start attracting shoppers across the bridge and into the community. Here's the sign to guide you there.

Scottish Islands Explorer - will try to be on sale there soon

Wednesday, 12 December 2012


Diffraction occurs when waves encounter an obstacle. In the case above it was when light waves met droplets of water or ice crystals over Tarbert, in Harris, resulting in a rare sighting of iridescent clouds. The image here was captured by Donald Hodgson and published in the Stornoway Gazette.

Scottish Islands Explorer - appreciates the rare as well as the remote

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Tale of Two Villages

There is an interesting series of insights on a recent Across the Minch blog in which two relatively close villages - Maraig and Rhenigidale - are featured. One has attracted families with children; the other has not. Above is a compelling photograph of part of Maraig, North Harris, with Clisham, the highest point in the Outer Hebrides, behind. Below is of the large sign for a comparatively small place.

Scottish Islands Explorer - interested in high and low points

Monday, 10 December 2012

New Views of Data

Here's a view from a Berneray beach at dusk. For views of records from earlier census returns and notes - particularly those of individuals and families who lived on Berneray, the Isle of Harris and St Kilda - go to the recently upgraded Hebrides People reference material. In a way it's a method of resurrection.

Scottish Islands Explorer - aware of generations past  

Sunday, 9 December 2012

Resting on the Sabbath

This photograph of a seal in a restful and playful mood, swimming in Loch ba Greagorry, South Uist, was taken by Shelagh Davies, of Lochboisdale, and was selected by the Stornoway Gazette for their weekly feature. On a pre-Christmas Sunday when many humans are striving to shop in parts of the UK, it's good to see, on the Sabbath, an animal relaxing in the Outer Hebrides.

Scottish Islands Explorer - strives to sell every day of its eight-week cycle.

Saturday, 8 December 2012

Stopping Places

It 's 25 years since a 19-year-old German, Mathias Rust, evaded Soviet surveillance and flew his flying club's light aircraft to the heart of Moscow and landed close to the Kremlin. His first stopping point on the zig-zag journey from home was Shetland. He stayed for a day and then flew on to the Faroe Islands and Iceland before changing course completely. Read more of this epic journey that caused consternation in what was seen as a fortress nation, although its foundations certainly were crumbling. Four years later, on Christmas Day 1991, the USSR was dissolved. Rust had earlier exposed a chink in its armour. Does anyone recall his calling at Sumburgh or Tingwall?

Scottish Islands Explorer - aware of changes

Friday, 7 December 2012

Being Controversial

I am going to be controversial here, but why is it that a headteacher of a Gaelic-medium school in Inverness has not been recruited after three years? Investment has been made on promoting the Gaelic language during the past decade and I am sure that the salary for this attractive-sounding appointment is quite mouth-watering. Is it the same reason why successive British governments have spent billions of pounds on education budgets and yet so many students appear unable to read, write or calculate effectively. Taxpayers are not, it seems, getting value in these areas. Over to you, Socrates!

Scottish Islands Explorer - tries to give value for money spent

Thursday, 6 December 2012

Revive an Old Route

This ferry that's leaving Mallaig for the Small Isles could be on its way further to finish at Lochboisdale on South Uist, pictured below,

if there is sufficient demand. First, there is an on-line survey that's referred to in a BBC item and so here's a way to revive a route that has appeal. Then it could make getting to the Western Isles via the recently-upgraded Fort William and Mallaig road something of a different experience. Here is access to the Survey and there is a hamper promised for one fortunate respondent.

Scottish Islands Explorer - finding different ways without offering a hamper, yet!

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

FT at Fair Isle

Liz Musser and her family have been running the Auld Haa Guest House on Fair Isle for six years and tales of their hospitality are in circulation - thanks to her blog as well as to such items as an article in last Saturday's edition of the Financial Times. Time to consider taking a break there on the four-by-two mile-wide island south of Shetland, to which it belongs, and north of Orkney. Sheep have a tendency of looking down on properties while people are always looking them up, at least on the internet.

Scottish Islands Explorer - shares a passion for island enthusiasms

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Skye's the Limit

Deliveries to the kitchens of the Hermitage Hotel in Monte Carlo do not usually come via the establishment's front door, above which is its iconic name, but

there have to be exceptions, especially when the van has travelled from Skye to the fabled Mediterranean skies. George MacRae set off last Monday to drive produce from Lochalsh Butchers and arrived on Wednesday. Details of what was dispatched and digested are to be found in this West Highland Free Press item and evidence of the delivery service is provided below by the Daily Record.

Scottish Islands Explorer - not present at the banquet, on this occasion