Scottish Islands Explorer 41: Jan / Feb 2017









Grey Seals


JAN/FEB 2017 £3.95







Plus: Sound of Harris - Seabirds - Shortest Flight - and much more ...





Exploring St Kilda, Mingulay, The Shiants, North Rona

and many other Hebridean Islands.

Small groups - maximun 12 guests • From long-weekends to 10 nights aboard.

Great Food • Birds • Cetaceans • Walking • Photo Opportunities

Call Michelle on 01599 555723

Gallery of Rust

Page 36

Scottish Seabirds New Marine Protected Area

Page 8

Page 20



John Humphries

01379 890270


Tom Humphries

Production Design

Deborah Bryce

Proof Reader

Melanie Palmer

Circulation and Enquiries

Steve Tiernan

01422 410615

Regular Contributors

Tom Aston

Roger Butler

Marc Calhoun

Richard Clubley

James Hendrie

Mavis Gulliver

Jack Palfrey

James Petre

Stephen Roberts

Andrew Wiseman


Ravenspoint Press Ltd

Kershader Isle of Lewis HS2 9QA

01851 830316

Published bi-monthly

Printed by Buxton Press Ltd

Palace Road Buxton SK17 5AE

01298 212000

Next issue on sale: 18 February 2017

©Ravenspoint Press Ltd

All rights reserved.

ISSN: 1476-6469


Warners Group Publications Plc

The Maltings West Street

Bourne Lincolnshire PE10 9PH

01778 391000

Front Cover

Image of an Atlantic Grey Seal

by Roger Butler


4 Editor John Humphries and Guest Columnist Terry Marsh

5 Vision for 2020 with A Town Walk, the Quiz and Collectors’ Copies

6 Insights One Books on Mapping, Imaging and Reflecting on Islands

7 Insights Two about Shipping Movements on the Sound of Harris

8 Scottish Seabird Islands - Part One

Richard Clubley focuses on the wilderness

13 House on the Point - Ullapool

Jack Palfrey experienced pleasures in all directions

15 Islands Beyond

Tom Aston looks south towards Laurie Island

16 ‘A Good Enough Day’

Alayne Barton on Rousay, 45 years after George Mackay Brown

20 New Marine Protected Area in Wester Ross

Lizzie Williams celebrates initiatives, but is cautious on implementation

24 Readers’ Opportunities One

Whisky, Warmth, Winter and Signage

25 Readers’ Opportunities Two

Ben Buxton has been drawn to Mingulay … are you?

26 Centrepiece

Stewart Dawber is keen to develop his sense of wilderness

28 The Atlantic Grey Seal

Roger Butler is inquisitive about them

32 A History of Lismore

Gordon Eaglesham learnt more

36 A Gallery of Rust

Seth Cook takes delight in the decayed

40 Apostle of Land Reform

Andrew Wiseman assesses John Murdoch of Islay

43 A Short Hop to Papa

James Hendrie takes the trip

46 Island Nurses

Tom Aston learnt from Catherine Morrison about Hebridean Heroines

48 Responses

Declan O’Byrne has re-created journeys to the islands

49 Crossword Sponsored by the Islands Book Trust

Tom Johnson confronts crossword-puzzlers with his 26th challenge

50 Island Incidents

Mike Heslop wonders whether clockwise or anti-clockwise around Seil


Editor’s Welcome / Guest Columnist


John Humphries

reacts to the word ‘No’

Although I relentlessly promote Scottish island-holidaying

and frequently go to them myself, albeit on business,

there are times when my behaviour is covered by the old

remark, ‘Don’t do as I do, do as I say.’ Back in the Summer, three

generations of my family rented a cruiser for four nights on the

Norfolk Broads. It was very different - in calmness of waters,

levels of landscape and numbers of craft.

Many positive aspects of journeying and the courtesies of

fellow-sailors were revealed to us as cruising novices - but one

feature filled me with disquiet, the plethora of warnings on

notice boards. Some sections of the banks are festooned with

signs indicating such prohibitions as - ‘No Entry’, ‘No Turning’,

‘No Mooring’, ‘No Wash’, ‘No Fishing’.

I suddenly realised that ‘notice’ and the very name of the

county itself both begin with that restrictive ‘No’! I was not,

however, filled with the rage of Harris, in Jerome K Jerome’s

Three Men in a Boat, who wanted to kill those responsible for

the ‘No Trespassing’ signs, slaughter their families, burn down

their houses and sing comic songs on the ruins. Eventually he

relented and promised not … to sing the songs.

There has to be a balance between admittance with

welcomes and preservation with warnings. The Scottish islands

have coasts and hills where freedoms of access are enshrined

in law, but where authorities need to continue vigilance

especially as certain places become increasingly popular. The

excesses of one generation can lead to diminished pleasures

for the next.

There is no formula for maintaining the appeal of an area - for

changes in taste make, as they say, ‘ancient good uncouth’.

However, places need to avoid anything comparable to that,

undoubtedly untrue, story concerning a Scottish newspaper

competition which announced: ‘First prize - a Week in Wick;

Second Prize - Two Weeks in Wick’!

John Humphries

For the Editor’s daily item on Scottish islands, go to

Guest Columnist

Terry Marsh on

contracting an

island condition

Late one warm Spring evening in 1967, I first

ventured onto the Isle of Skye. Tired, following a

long journey north, I drove onto the stony beach at

Camas na Sgianadin and slept in the car. Such was my

introduction to the Scottish islands.

The next morning, chill dawn air probing the

defences of the car, I watched the sky turn pink as the

sun eased into the eastern sky behind me, while

expectation, uncertainty and the aura of adventure

combined to fuel a quiet excitement. I was about to

encounter the briefest exposure to what Seton Gordon

called ‘The Charm of Skye’.

is induces a state of euphoria, longing and affection

that has come to be termed ‘Skye fever’ and it is an

affliction that not everyone will experience, but one for

which there is no cure. I have visited Skye every year since

… and I still have the feverish condition.

But what I also have is the knowledge that it is not

only Skye to blame. There are hundreds of islands

around Scotland’s coast, and the more I discovered

them, the greater I felt an obligation to seek out more,

to try to understand what Jim Crumley describes as

‘islandness’ … akin to a state of wanting, always, to be

on and among islands.

So it was with not one shred of doubt that in 1999 I

signed a contract to write e Magic of the Scottish

Islands, a coffee-table book that would lead my wife and

I, newly wed, to our honeymoon on Orkney. ereaer

we endured 15 months of island-hopping, visiting all the

island groups, getting on to as many as we could, some

more easily than others. St Kilda was a wild Force 8 ride;

Ulva by Mull a five-minute dash.

In the years that followed, I probed Scotland’s island

defences, and was rebuffed a time or two, but never to

such an extent that I lost my desire to explore. e

splendour of Scottish islands is there for all to see, but it

is not to eyes alone that beauty is revealed. e charm of

the islands is persuasive, and in that charm lies a magic

that will remain long aer we are gone.

Terry Marsh



‘Challenge Ordinary’ is the directive in advertisements by the private bank, Investec, on the

Waterloo & City Line, a section of the London Underground that is completely independent

of the rest of the network. There’s my New Year resolution - endeavouring to lift more of the

tasks that I do from the mundane to the special and hope that the end-products quietly

achieve the extraordinary.

A Town Walk

Walking tends to be a rural

pastime, undertaken by visitors

rather than residents. Urban walks

can form part of the daily commute,

although an increasing number of

enthusiasts like to take to the

pavements in order to take in

architectural features and social

history. Where better to start than

the largest town in the Western

Isles, Stornoway?

Stornoway from Lews Castle by James Hendrie

There’s a presence of 8000 people

in the vicinity and 5500 of them are

Gaelic speakers. So there is the

appeal of hearing the rhythms and

cadences of the language without

understanding the meaning of the

words. Lews Castle and its woods

and golf course, overlooking the bay,

is a place to start for it is the highest

point and the topography of the area

soon becomes evident.

Then move down to the harbour

and the town-centre, including the

main hall for events, An Lanntair,

before continuing to the other side of

the bay where trees are scarce and an

industrial aspect becomes evident.

Continue around to the broadcasting

and publishing ‘zone’ before passing

the Nicolson Institute with its 1000

secondary school pupils.

Behind the school are the older

residential districts that are served by

six Presbyterian denominations, a

range of Nonconformist chapels, an

Episcopalian and a Roman Catholic

church. Eventually you will be at the

fairly new Co-operative supermarket,

ready to walk back down Bayhead to

Cromwell Street, on to the Bus

Station and Ferry Terminal, perhaps,

to be transported away.

Copies for Collectors

The demand for back numbers

continues. I have been offered a

set of the editions of Scottish

Islands Explorer from September /

October 2004 until November /

December 2016. If you are

interested in them or have a long

run of consecutive numbers of the

publication, please contact

01379 890270

Quiz: Desert Islands

David Hoult writes: In the popular imagination, the phrase

‘desert island’ conjures up a picture of a tropical paradise

with idyllic white beaches lapped by an azure sea. The

reality is quite different, because in this context, ‘desert’

means ‘deserted’. So this category of island is one which

was once inhabited, but whose population has left. Identify

the following ‘desert’ islands around the shores of Scotland.

1. The most southerly of the Bishop’s Isles

2. A national nature reserve east of Bressay

3. A supposedly haunted island south of Gigha

4. An island in the Pentland Firth, north-west of

John O’ Groats

5. An island off Torridon, notorious as the former

site of biological weapon tests.

6. An island 44 miles north-east of the Butt of Lewis

7. Separated from Jura by the Gulf of Corryvreckan.

8. The largest island in the Firth of Forth

9. An island off Harris, well-known as the site of a

reality television series

10. An island in the Firth of Clyde, colloquially

known as Paddy’s Milestone.

Answers on Page 50




Index Header

Mapping, Imagining and Reflecting on Islands

Scotland Mapping the Islands

by Christopher Fleet, Margaret

Wilkes and Charles W J Withers

£30 Birlinn 978-1-78027-351-8

Islands, to visit, have their devotees; maps,

to pore over, have their aficionados. e

coastlines, alone, of the Scottish islands

have an immense length and the interiors

have long aroused interest. e authors

consider the science of cartography while

presenting examples of historical, colourful,

digital, diagrammatical and pictorial maps

and charts from Rockall to the oil-fields

of Shetland and all points south.

The Undiscovered Islands

by Malachy Tallack

£12.99 Birlinn 978-1-84697-350-5

‘Faced with the sky we imagine Gods; faced

with the ocean we imagine islands.’ e

author takes us on a journey to a range of

settlements which were created by individuals

or groups to impress others, to devise

make-believe homes, to deceive in order to

gain advantage or simply to be tricked by

erroneous calculations. e phantoms,

fakes and legends are here in a finelyprepared


The Love of Country

A Hebridean Journey

by Madeleine Bunting

£18.99 Granta 978-1-84708-517-7

Over the course of six years, the author

travelled extensively in the Hebrides

and connected intensively with the

landscape, history, people and attractions.

is book is not the re-telling of

well-known stories, but an exploration

of a part of the country where traditions

have grown, identification established

and the creative flair of numerous

writers and artists has been ignited.

Poacher’s Pilgrimage

An Island Journey

by Alastair McIntosh

£20 Birlinn 978-1-78027-361-7

ere are three levels to stimulate here.

One concerns a twelve-day pilgrimage

through Lewis and Harris with the

emphasis on the sacred aspects of

landscape. Another concerns the working

of the author’s mind on meanings of

existence, healing and rigour. e third is

about the place of Christian thought in

the third millennium. ese topics are

presented in lively and readable ways.

The Skye Trail

by Helen and Paul Webster

£9.95 Cicerone


When it comes to making a personal

journey of one’s own, then the more

arduous and challenging the more a good

guide is required. e authors have

devised a trail that runs (while you walk

or climb) from Rubba Hunish in the

north-east of the island to Broadford on

the inhabited shores of the Cuillins. It is

divided into seven stages, gives practical

advice and comprehensive information.

Take it to have at hand.

Baby Boomers Memories

of Post-War Shetland

by Erik Young

£12.99 e Shetland Times Ltd


Erik Young, born at Hillhead, Lerwick, in

June 1946, has experienced life in Shetland

and Edinburgh. His recall of childhood and

growing-up, sights and sounds, boats and

businesses, holidays and schools are brought

together in a fine journey down memory

lane through prose, verse and illustrations.

He has driven buses and so can assess people

and places effectively. Let him take you on

this trip to the past.



Page Index Header

Shipping Movements on the Sound of Harris

MV Loch Bhrusda on the Sound of Harris route from 1996-2003.

There is something about the Sound of Harris that is rather

special. For the past 20 years CalMac’s sailings have brought

it into the mainstream of car-ferry services in the Outer

Hebrides. Before then, carrying supplies and foot-passengers,

the Endeavour of Berneray plied from Newtonferry,

North Uist, to Berneray and onto Leverburgh, South Harris,

navigated by Neil and Domhnall Angie Macaskill.

These boatmen were well aware of the ebbs and flows of

this stretch of water where the confined sea of The Minch

meets the immense dimensions of the Atlantic Ocean. In

1858, Henry C Otter, Captain of HMS Porcupine, had written

about the different movements of the ‘neap’ (with a small

range between low and high water) and ‘spring’ (with a

large range) tides.


The CalMac routes for vehicle-ferrying between North Uist

and South Harris were on ‘triangular’ runs taking in

Lochmaddy, Uig, on Skye, and Tarbert. Then in 1996 the

MV Loch Bhrusda came into service, displayed manoeuvrability

with its propulsion system and drew attention with

its noisiness as it negotiated the shallows and rocky

features of the journey directly through the Sound.

The opening of the Causeway to Berneray in 1999 and the

building of the ferry terminal on the island gave the service

new impetus. In 2003, the MV Loch Portain, doubled the

capacity from the 18 vehicles and a new era began. Three

years later, there was a revolution in social history when

sailings started on a seven-day-a-week basis. The Sabbath

Observance culture was under threat.


Observance of the obstacles en route means that the ship

sails at nine nautical miles an hour, taking a circuitous

course. This has the effect of giving passengers the opportunity

to see approaching and receding islands from different

angles. Passengers also have to be aware that in addition to

reading the regular schedules, they need to consult the

smaller print for well-forecast variations in tide and time.

So crossing the Sound of Harris demands a particular

alertness by the captain and crew, with up to 20 changes

of course per sailing, and a different sense of awareness

by prospective travellers. It is well worth noting the

departure times, for there is much to appreciate about the

conditions and background of an historic passage that is

the key ferry-link on the journey through the Western Isles.


Scottish Seabird Islands - Part One

Scottish Seabird Islands -

Part One

Richard Clubley focuses on the wilderness

Many I speak to have never been to Scotland, fewer

have been to an island, fewer still have stood on

Ailsa Craig, Bass Rock, St Kilda or any of the other,

wonderful, teeming, raucous, smelly seabird-islands round

the Scottish coast. Almost no one, save a few lighthouse

men and mad adventurers have seen, let alone visited, Sule

Stack or Sule Skerry.

A ship’s captain once replied to my enquiry, “No, you

won’t see either of those, they’re rocks, they’re dangerous,

we steer well away them!” It is this danger to shipping,

inaccessibility from land, lack of facilities and (oen) sheer,

slippery sides that make sea bird islands just perfect - for

seabirds. ey are wildernesses in the true sense of the word,

a noun referring to an uncultivated and uninhabited area.

Birds can court, nest, rest and raise their young in peace.

ey are not hunted or squeezed out of their habitat by

town planners or anyone else apart, perhaps, from some

Outer Hebrideans who take 2000 gannet chicks, gugas,

under licence ever year from Sula Sgeir for those who relish

the delicacy.

In Decline

e islands are nurseries and sanctuaries for our seabirds.

ere is little threat on the islands yet many species, in

many places, are in decline. Ocean warming, ocean acidification,

over-fishing and plastic pollution, leading to

depleted or inaccessible or shied prey species are most

likely to blame.

ere are many voices calling for our act to be cleaned up.

e banning of plastic microbeads, the establishment of

marine special protection areas and fisheries regulation are

proposed. May I add my own, small voice to the campaign

for conservation of seabird islands?

One bright, calm day in May 2015, I stepped off a rolling

boat and clambered up some steep steps, cut into the side

of the cliff face on Bass Rock in the Firth of Forth. I was

very lucky to have been invited and luckier still the trip had

not fallen foul of the weather, as all previous ones that

season had.


Scottish Seabird Islands - Part One

‘ere is little threat on the islands yet many

species, in many places, are in decline.’


Old Prison

Our guide, Maggie Sheddan, from the Scottish Seabird

Centre in North Berwick escorted us through the rusting,

iron gate into the old prison fortifications at the lower level.

“Welcome to the Bass Rock,” she said, sounding like that

grizzly, unsmiling warden at the start of every prison film -

“Welcome to Shawshank”, “Welcome to Alcatraz.”

At the start of the gannet slopes, Maggie issued plastic riot

shields and instructed as to their use in fending off stabs from

gannets nesting next to the path (on the path). I looked up,

there was not a gannet-free inch of rock between me and the

summit. at turned out to be not quite true. Having run the

gannet gauntlet for a couple of hundred yards, we reached a

clear patch, just big enough for 20 individuals to put down

their rucksacks, eat lunch and take photos.

Border Disputes

This was the easiest bird photography I have done. Fishing

in a barrel would be difficult by comparison. Gannets

preening, billing, sky-pointing, taking off, landing, sleeping

- whatever you want - fill your lens. The colony is dense. It

follows the rules at all gannet colonies, each bird gets a nest

patch that keeps it just out of stab range of its neighbours,

but only just, for border disputes are common.

Take-off and landing are difficult. Take off requires a run

up, ideally down-slope and into the wind, but this may

require running over the heads of neighbours, at the cost

of more stabs. Landing is often just a controlled crash into

the throng - more stabs. Seabirds in decline? Not gannets,

not on Bass Rock. In recent years their numbers have risen

from a few thousand to 150,000.

When Sir David Attenborough visited a few years ago, he

was filmed sitting by an isolated bird with a wellestablished

nest close to the human area. The old bird and

its mate are still there, but now surrounded by hundreds of

others. Chris Packham said, and Sir David agreed: “This

has to be one of the wonders of the natural world.”

Monogamous and Loyal

So, why the gloom if they’re all doing so well? e plain

fact is that gannets are an exception. ey are powerful flyers,

swimmers and divers. ey can exploit a range of fish prey

species and can travel some distance from the colony to get

food. ey are long-lived, monogamous and loyal to their

nest sites. Eggs and chicks are not so vulnerable to predators,

such as gulls and rats, since one adult remains on guard while

the mate goes fishing. Gulls and rats are not equipped with

riot shields.


Scottish Seabird Islands - Part One

Manx shearwaters shear over the water in

flight, inches above the waves. Best viewed

from a ship they are dark on the back and

light underneath (Spitfires were sometimes

camouflaged this way during e Battle of

Britain). ey bank, first one way then the

other, and the observer will see these

alternating colours. Shearwaters are

fascinating to watch in a wavy sea as they skim

the surface, up and down the troughs and

over the peaks.

I have included them in this article as the

UK holds the bulk of the world breeding

population. Manx shearwaters nest in

colonies, in burrows, on grassy slopes above

the sea. ey are brilliant swimmers and

flyers, but very ungainly on land as their legs

are set too far back for easy walking. is

makes them vulnerable to predators at the

colonies such as gulls.

Wiped Out Colonies

Their defence is to stay at sea during

daylight and only land, to relieve their

mates on duty in the burrows, in the

darkest part of the night. They will fly past

the nest, call to go off-watch, then crashland

and shuffle below ground before any

harm can come to them. Unlike the gannet,

the Manx shearwater’s defence is its

burrow. This is fine protection from gulls,

but no use whatsoever against rats which

have wiped out colonies in the past.

In 1991, a team from Glasgow University,

led by Bernard Zonfrillo, deployed large

quantities of rat poison on the island of

Ailsa Craig. The rats were eradicated and

the shearwaters returned. During the

winter of 2015/16, a similar project was

conducted on the Shiants, aimed at

getting rid of the colony of about 3,500

black rats for the benefit of puffins,

shearwaters and sundry other birds,

invertebrates and plants.

So far the results look promising, but we

must wait at least a year for confirmation.

It only takes one pregnant female to have

been missed. Once confidence is restored,

attempts will be made to entice shearwaters

to re-colonise the islands. They do not like

to land where none of their kin are living so

recordings of their calls will be played to

break the ice. No one wants to be first at a

party after all.

[In the next issue: great skuas in Shetland,

kittiwakes in Fair Isle and fulmars on St Kilda.]

Further Information

The author would like to

thank Maggie Sheddan

and the Scottish Seabird

Centre for the Bass Rock

trip. The Centre - 01620

890202 - undertakes

excellent education and

conservation work and is

well worth a visit. Thanks

also to Jess Barrett and

Laura Bambini at RSPB

for photographs and

guidance (any and all

errors in the articles are

entirely mine, however).

Page 8 - Bass Rock - Mo Thomson.

Left: Gannet Morus bassan sitting on

Bass Rock by Andy Hay RSPB images.

Below: Manx shearwater taking

flight - Chris Gomersall RSPB Images.


Friday 13 / Saturday 14 January 2017

Whiskies from Islands and Peninsulas with ferry connections.

Carry 12 SCOTTISH a current ISLANDS EXPLORER or past edition of Scottish Islands Explorer for a discount.

See page 24 for further details.

House on the Point - Ullapool

House on the Point - Ullapool

Jack Palfrey experienced pleasures in all directions

This is bed-and-breakfast

accommodation with several

distinctive differences. It’s in a house with

bedrooms with views in three directions.

e North Room looks along Loch

Broom to the Summer Isles and can

command great sunsets. e West faces

across the loch to the iconic white house

at Altnaharrie - a residence that seems cut

off from the rest of the world.

I was in the South Room and

thoroughly enjoyed the movements

on the loch, whether tidal flows,

passing clouds reflected, boats

coasting, ships cruising or ferries

plying. The house is the ultimate one

of Ullapool Point, indeed a turning

point, where the quayside road ends.

One word can be used in its full and

expressive sense - ‘idyllic’.

e reality, however, is also attractive

for within a hundred yards there is a

fine inn, the ferry terminal, shops,

restaurants, cafes, banks and tourist

information. It is all so much part of a

place that is a hub. To the west is

Stornoway, served by CalMac’s most

recent member of its fleet, MV Loch

Seaforth. e Western Isles are now

accessed quicker and some turbulence

is off-set by modern ship technologies.

e hinterland extends to the north,

getting less and less populated as

Assynt and Coigach merge into North

West Sutherland and on to that

ultimate point, Cape Wrath. e A835

crosses open country to the east by

Loch Glascarnoch, to Strathpeffer,

Dingwall and Inverness. To the south

is Wester Ross with Loch Ewe,

Gairloch and Applecross among many

places calling out to be visited.

Not only do the rooms have views,

they are spacious with stylish decors.

Travellers’ needs are provided with

features that make storage easy.

Breakfasts, served in the rooms, are

appetising, filling and healthy. I

particularly liked the way in which the

table served dining requirements and

an office function. Wifi is there to

bring the internet world to the side of

Loch Broom.

So here is a place for pleasure as well

as for business. What matters above all

is that Angus Bruce and his wife, Jill,

are there to welcome you, provide

directions for touring and / or walking

and, if required, to give coaching and

advice about photography - for his

work is acclaimed and has appeared on

the pages of this magazine.

Opportunities abound at the Point and

around Ullapool.


Small-group expeditions to Arctic Norway,

the Solovetski Islands of Arctic Russia,

Greenland and Kamchatka.

• Arctic and Antarctic voyages by ship

• Dog sledding, cross country skiing, boating, kayaking,

hiking and wildlife trips

• Tailor-made Iceland and the Faroes - flights from Scotland

• Greenland - East and West coast:

Wildlife and natural history

• Wildlife of Russian Far East - by ship

• Wild Scotland: Oban - Aberdeen 13 - 23 June 2017

• Aberdeen, Fair Isle, Jan Mayen and Spitsbergen

22 - 31 May 2017

• Across the Artic Circle: Aberdeen to Longyearbyen

23 June - 6 July 2017

Please call for a full colour brochure


The polar arm of Far Frontiers Travel Ltd


South Zeal

Devon EX20 2PZ

Tel/Fax (44) 01837840640



Island of and Iceberg off South Orkney. Fotosearch

Tom Aston looks south towards Laurie Island

The image of South Orkney, with an iceberg blocking

some of it, is a reminder of how discovery, mapping,

settling and disputing took place in a vast, inhospitable

region within the past two hundred years. It was in 1821 that

an English- and an American seal-hunter, Captain George

Powell, and Nathaniel Palmer, discovered what was to

become Laurie Island, the second largest in the South

Orkney group.

Powell’s observations were used by Richard Holmes Laurie

to map the island and he was not backward in coming

forward when naming it. James Weddell subsequently

created another map, using an alternative name, Melville.

In 1903, the Scottish National Antarctic Expedition, led by

the formidable William Spiers Bruce (1867 - 1921),

produced a third map with ‘Laurie’, as we would say today,

as the username.

Bruce was a Scotsman who aspired to be an acclaimed

naturalist, polar scientist and oceanographer. In fact, he

founded the Scottish Oceanographical Laboratory in

Edinburgh. He was keen to set up a transcontinental

Antarctic march via the South Pole, but was unable to arouse

sufficient interest or funds. One of his problems was that he

lacked diplomatic skills and had a habit of creating enemies.


His voyage to the south was in the Scotia a fully-equipped

research vessel that had been converted from a Norwegian

whaler, Hekla, which set off from Troon on 2 November

1902 with an all-Scottish crew and scientific-team. Money

for the venture came from then long-established textile

company, Coats, that traces its roots back to Paisley weavers

in the late 18th Century.

It was on Laurie that he set up the first permanent weather

station with the stone-built Omond House. is

subsequently incorporated the first post office to be built on

the continent. However, his initiatives were taken too far

when he offered the meteorological facilities to Argentina

who accepted, rebuilt it as the Orcades Base and then claimed

sovereignty of the complete island.

e dispute would still be on-going today, but the

Antarctic Treaty has ensured, here with appropriate

language, that all sovereignty claims are frozen. e achievements

of William Bruce were quite remarkable, but aer a

period of ill-health he died comparatively young and

unrecognised for his work in the development of polar

regions and knowledge about them.

Their Original Presence

In 2014, there were 28 people stationed at Orcades Base,

probably aware that they were continuing the longest

continental tradition of compiling information about

weather. e Argentinian authorities are certain to know

that their original presence there was thanks to Bruce and

through his actions were given recognition as a nation with

Antarctic claims.

It is interesting to speculate how international histories and

events can hinge on the endeavours and whims of individuals.

When this Scotsman was actively setting up advanced

scientific investigations in the Antarctic, Argentina was on

its way to becoming the 5th largest economy in the world. A

prospering nation saw opportunities; as did an explorer with

entrepreneurial instincts.


‘A Good Enough Day’

‘A Good Enough Day’

Alayne Barton on Rousay, 45 years after George Mackay Brown

One fine summer’s morning in 1971, the Orkney writer, George Mackay Brown, took

a boat to Rousay in the company of a few friends. ey spent the day touring the

island, stopping oen to admire the scenery. On his return he noted, with ‘an Orkney

understatement’, that they had ’had a good enough day.’

45 years later, on a day equally blue and cloudless, but far colder, since it was April, not

July, my husband, youngest son and I made the same journey across the treacherous

Eynhallow Sound. First though, we had to reverse the car onto the ferry; a prospect made

more alarming by the large number of vehicles already in the queue.

e ferrymen briskly worked their magic however and within minutes the boat, its deck

a jumbled-jigsaw of cars, bikes, 4 x 4s and livestock trailers, was under way to Rousay which

lies less than two miles to the north of Mainland Orkney. e name comes from the Old

Norse Hrólfs-øy, meaning ‘Rolf ’s Island’ but has changed incrementally over the centuries,

becoming Rousay by 1549.

Surprisingly Self-sufficient

At 19 square miles it is the fih largest island in Orkney’s impressive archipelago.

Nowadays the island has a population of roughly 200 and is surprisingly self-sufficient,

boasting a primary school, doctor’s surgery, shop, pub/restaurant and even a fitness-centre.

e ferry service is frequent and cheap, allowing locals to work on the Mainland and

teenagers to attend school in Kirkwall or Stromness daily.

We drove off having elected not to travel widdershins, turning le onto the B9064 which

encircles the island, and headed for the first in the series of magnificent archaeological sites

which gives Rousay the nickname ‘the Egypt of the North’. Even in an island with more

than its fair share of wonderfully eccentric names, Taversoe Tuick stands out.

One of only two two-tier chambered cairns in Orkney, the 4,500-year-old tomb was

discovered accidentally in 1898 by Lt General Sir Frederick Traill-Burroughs. It appears

an unremarkable grassy mound from outside. However it is possible to enter the upper

chamber through a grille door and from there descend by ladder into the lower - claustrophobia


Notions Dispelled

Just along the road is another tomb, the Blackhammer Cairn, dating from 3000 BC.

A stalled-cairn with seven compartments, the tomb is accessed through a trap door in the

hillside, prompting thoughts of peerie folk and magical fiddles. Once inside however, all

such fanciful notions were dispelled by the prosaicness of the modern concrete roof.

At the Knowe of Yarso, a stalled-tomb dating back to 3500 BC, the remains of 29 adults

were discovered in 1934 with, strangely, those of 36 red deer. From the car park at Westside

we admired the stunning view across to the mysterious island of Eynhallow, summer home

to the treacherous Finfolk. It was the subject of speculation, in 1990, when two visitors

‘vanished’ on a Orkney Heritage Society trip.


‘Archaeologists believe that the living

would visit their dead in the tomb.’

Page 16 Top: View from Midhowe


Below: The two-tiered tomb at

Tavershoe Tuick.

Above: St Mary’s Church.

Opposite Top: View of the ‘Great

Ship of Death’ - Midhowe

chambered cairn.

Below: Ian Hamilton Finlay’s


Photographs supplied by the

author, Alayne Barton.

is is the start of the Westside Heritage

Trail, described as the ‘most important

archaeological mile in Scotland’; a figurative

journey from the Stone Age to the 19th

Century. Following the path downhill we a

came first to Midhowe Broch, which is

superbly preserved, featuring room partitions,

a fireplace with sockets and even a water tank.

An Imposing Sight

Built on a small promontory above the sea

more than 2000 years ago, the main tower

stands 13’ high and is surrounded by the

remains of smaller buildings which were

probably used as workshops. It must have

been an imposing sight indeed to early

seafarers. A few hundred yards away is what

resembles a huge agricultural shed, seeming

horribly out of place.

Inside however is a surprise; an enormous

chambered tomb, 100’ long, 30’ wide and

divided into twelve stalls. Above the tomb is

a metal walkway, so you can look down and

marvel at its sheer scale and ingenuity. When

this tomb was opened in the 1930s, nine

crouching bodies were found on shelves and

15 on the floor. Archaeologists believe that

the living would visit their dead in the tomb.

Leaving ‘e Great Ship of Death’ behind

we walked past the ruined medieval farm of

Brough and headed towards the next stop on

the path, the ruined St Mary’s church, which

dates to the 17th Century. A stroll around

the churchyard reveals the melancholy graves

of James Sinclair and John Reid, who

drowned when the mailboat foundered in

Eynhallow Sound in the autumn of 1893.

Close to the church are the remains of a

square tower, the only surviving part of a

grand medieval hall.


A stone’s throw away is the medieval

farmstead of Skaill, which was in use until the

mid-19th Century. It’s well-preserved with a

fine example of a traditional Orkney corndrying

kiln. Below the present buildings a

Viking farmstead lies hidden. Further on

there are excavations at the Knowe of

Swandro, a huge multi-period site dating from

the Early Iron Age to the Viking era, now in

danger from the encroaching sea.


‘A Good Enough Day’

e archaeological team hopes it will shed light on how

people survived here over the centuries, adapting to environmental

and climate changes. Westness Farm marks the end

of the trail, and we climbed back up to the car, dazed and

delighted by our millennial mile.

To the west, Querndale has a series of Bronze Age burnt

mounds, which, according to experts, were used for heating

stones in order to produce hot water. Local lore however, tells

tales of the ‘trowies’ who bide within. e area was the worst

affected by the Orkney clearances, carried out in 1845-59 by

landowner, George Traill. e haunting remains of cros and

farmsteads are visible across the lonely landscape.

High above the Bay of Saviskaill is a large, rectangular slab

of white rock, engraved with the words ‘Gods of the Earth /

Gods of the Sea’. is is the work of Rousay ex-resident, Ian

Hamilton Finlay, writer, artist and gardener. We savoured for

a moment the glorious views over to Westray, then followed

the road which clings precipitously to the hillside, skirting

the edge of Kierfea Hill.

At the Heritage Centre, we learnt that 5000 years ago the

climate and supplies were Mediterranean and so plentiful that

people had to work just half the week. e MV Eynhallow

rattled onto the slipway and we embarked. Soon the green

hills of Rousay shrank in the distance, but not in our

memories and, like George Mackay Brown in 1971, we had

had ‘a good enough day.’

He Comes to Life

Turning le to Faraclett, we found the petrified giant,

Yetnasteen. Legend has it that each Hogmanay, on the stroke

of midnight, he comes to life, walks down to the Loch of

Scockness, and takes a long refreshing drink, before resuming

his eternal watch. We looked at the Victorian, B-listed

Trumland House, famous for its magnificent gardens.

New Marine Protected Area in Wester Ross

New Marine Protected Area

in Wester Ross

Lizzie Williams celebrates initiatives, but is cautious about implementation

The kayak offers a perfect vantage point to view the

water. As I glide off from the shore, all seems shades

of brown: kelp, wrack and mud. Yet it is still above the

perpetually yet unhurriedly moving water, and there’s a

pearlescent periwinkle in the arms of a kelp forest, a bundle

of sea hares in a hermaphroditic embrace, an iridescent comb

jelly going nowhere.

Our destination on this midsummer evening is the one

Summer Isle I have never visited: Càrn nan Sgeir, about 4.5

miles from the shore below our home in Achiltibuie and

about a third of a square mile in area, rising to only 92’ above

sea level. It looks so vulnerable out there, exposed to the wild

south west, that I sometimes wonder why it hasn’t been

washed away.

As we paddle out from Acheninver we pass Horse Island - a

regular otter spot. Today, instead of that splashy delight,

there’s a coarse screech above me and I look up to a single

Arctic tern - its nubile white body with sleek black cap and

looping, nonchalant wing-beat. en come pairs, and as we

near Càrn nan Sgeir the sky is a-frantic-chatter with them,

hovering, swooping, plucking prey from just beneath the

water’s surface.

Quietly Circumnavigate

I have been wondering for years if terns are breeding in the

Summer Isles - and here they are, dozens of pairs on the

shingle isthmus between the Island’s two rocky bulbs. Like

the Manx shearwater and Storm petrel which breed on

neighbouring islands, Arctic terns have an ‘amber’

(‘unfavourable’) conservation status and are easily disturbed,

so we decide not to land and instead quietly circumnavigate

the tiny island.

Pink Torridonian sandstone cliffs are topped with clouds of

bird’s-foot-trefoil. en there is a cautious encounter with a

common seal and a pair of porpoise passing shyly by -

heavenly! And there’s good news, the seabed beneath us is

safe at last from the worst ravages of modern fishing.

e ‘Wester Ross Marine Protected Area’ (WRMPA) -

encompassing the waters around the Summer Isles stretching

south to Loch Ewe - was declared in July 2014, but only in

March 2016 did the Scottish Government agree that

‘Protection’ should mean significant restrictions on destructive

bottom-towed fishing gear.

Destroying Habitat

‘Bottom-towed fishing gear’ here includes trawling for

beautiful big pink prawns (‘langoustine’) and dredging for

scallops. A dredger is a heavy rake towed along the sea bed

pulling up scallops, ploughing up habitat in its wake. It

produces cheap scallops, but at what wider environmental

cost? It is, arguably, a preposterous way to take food from the

sea and it provides no local jobs.

Establishing Marine Protected Areas in Scotland has been

a long process. A decade of campaigning by environmental

groups led to the 2010 Marine (Scotland) Act, requiring

Scottish Ministers to, among other things, designate a

network of Nature Conservation MPAs providing protection

for important marine habitats, wildlife and geology, while

permitting ‘sustainable economic activity’.

e basic premise of an MPA is that, if a patch of sea is given

a rest from destructive fishing, it will start to recover and this

rebounding life will spill over into the surrounding seas. As

well as being crucial for nature’s sake, it is of course socioeconomically

important - for instance, enabling sustainable

jobs in wildlife tourism and low-impact fishing such as static

gear (prawn creels), hand diving, and angling.


‘As well as being crucial for nature’s sake, it

is of course socio-economically important ...’

New Marine Protected Area in Wester Ross

The Glacial Past

e WRMPA was designed specifically for the conservation

and recovery of certain ‘Protected Features’ - species providing

valuable habitats. Maerl (a slow-growing coralline red algae

whose delicate skeleton locks up carbon and provides a nursery

bed for many species including scallops); burrowed mud

(habitat for economically valuable langoustine); kelp forests;

flame shell beds and Northern feather star aggregations;

together with ‘geodiversity’ features from the glacial past.

Once a line has been drawn and agreed on a map, you might

expect the seas within a Marine Protected Area to be ‘Protected’

but - fascinatingly and infuriatingly - the original ‘Management

Approach’ for the WRMPA prohibited dredgers and trawlers

only from tiny patches surrounding these ‘Protected Features’.

It is ‘Business as Usual’ permitted all around, an approach which

seemed absurd. How could such restrictions be enforced or

policed? ere are no fences on the sea.

Furthermore, with such miniscule specifications, how could

the wider seas recover? And crucially, how could we be sure

that there are no more of these ‘Protected Features’ elsewhere

in the area? ere has never been a comprehensive survey of

the seabed. e plans were based on information cobbled

together from various surveys conducted since the 1980s. To

assume the rest of the area is safe to trawl and dredge is to

defy the ‘Precautionary Principle’ - one of the key elements

for policy decisions concerning environmental protection

and management.

Signed by Hundreds

Fortunately for the sea, there are people with the dedication

and know-how to challenge the traditionally powerful

lobbies. Environmental NGOs continued to work together

(the Scottish Environment LINK’s Marine taskforce), and

launched a national campaign to ensure proper Protection -

‘#DontTakeeP’. A local group was formed called ‘Sea

Change’ and submitted a petition ‘For the Protection of the

Sea Bed’, signed by hundreds of local people in the communities

around the proposed MPA.

is was a powerful message to take to MSPs and the then

the chair of the Rural Affairs, Climate Change and

Environment Committee, Rob Gibson, agreed with the logic

of our argument. Eventually, aer a second round of consultation

and devoted lobbying, the then environment secretary

Richard Lochhead declared that the whole area should be free

from dredgers, with trawlers restricted to certain less-sensitive

areas. Creel fishing for prawns and hand-diving for scallops

(employing more fishermen in this area) continue as before.

Jubilation! Here was a triumph of sound science, common

sense and long-term vision. However, now the MPA needs

to be managed. Given that the State instigated the process,

one might imagine that the State has a practical, affordable

plan to ensure MPAs work. But in this era of financial

constraint, there is no budget for such luxuries as a baseline

survey, or management of the remaining fishing effort.


New Marine Protected Area in Wester Ross

The Sea’s Recovery

Coinciding with financial constraint is an

era of ‘Community Empowerment’ and so

it’s now down to ‘The Community’ to make

this work. Again, luckily, there are

dedicated, determined people such as the

‘Sea Change’ group now working on a plan

to monitor the seabed (in collaboration

with experts from Glasgow University) and

promote economic regeneration. This will

involve many local people, including the

static gear fishermen who will benefit most

directly from the sea’s recovery.

Meanwhile, the Scottish Wildlife Trust’s

Living Seas programme is getting people

beside, on and into the water, exploring

shore-life, boarding the Hebridean Whale

and Dolphin Trust’s research boat and even

squeezing into neoprene for the newlylaunched

North West Highlands Snorkel

Trail. This is all helping the people on the

fringe of the MPA to get to know more of

our awesome nature, to respect it, and

maybe even to love it. We take care of what

we love.

As I sit in my kayak swamped by this

paradisiacal scenery, there’s a rumble in my

sternum. At least I know it’s not the

resonance of a dredger’s engine ... but it is

the dispiriting knowledge that a multinational

fish farm company has applied to site

a huge new salmon farm in this wild place.

The MPA status may not have any influence

if the Environmental Impact Assessment

shows that the farm will not directly impact

on the five specified ‘Protected Features’.

Unique Environment

It’s difficult for such a farm would provide jobs

in this economically struggling area. Yet this

industry has multiple environmental impacts -

from local pollution to the global issues of

fishmeal sourcing. e Scottish Government

has pledged to double aquaculture by 2030. Is

this more industry-pleasing policy at the

expense of our unique environment and the

truly sustainable jobs it could provide?

e Summer Isles are not alone in this

conundrum; others in Skye and Arran are

facing similar challenges. Fortunately, these

island-based groups do not have a complete

island-mentality for we recognise that by

working together our voice can be heard

above the waves.

Page 21 Top: Underwater

perspective (Lizzie Williams).

Below: Dolphin calf (Noel


Left: Paddling home

(Lizzie Williams).

Below: Comb jelly (Noel Hawkins).




Index Header


Whisky, Warmth, Winter and Signage

The advertisement on Page 12 shows

opportunities to stay, dine and taste at a

fine country house hotel, the Best

Western Plus Grim’s Dyke Hotel, in

Harrow. Its second Whisky Festival is

being held there - with the Friday Night

Dream ticket at £90 for readers (instead

of £99) and the tasting sessions on

Friday night and Saturday for £17.50

(reduced from £19.50). The Editor will

be there to meet and greet.

Whisky was, and remains, a form of

bodily central heating. An ultimate layer

of insulation, however, is provided by the

remarkable goose-down jacket from

Sherpa Adventure Gear (

in its new

Nangpala Hooded range. This

garment for men and women

features a snow-lion taffeta

liner and the jacket has a

soft, compressible feel.

Winter will not be the

same again for owners.

It’s that time of giving, which is not

difficult, although the choosing of gifts is

never easy. Pickle Pie Gifts

( has a range to

explore and for that traveller in the family

a personalised leather luggage tag

could be particularly appropriate. The

items are handmade in England, come

in seven colours with a choice of four

metallic shades, plus a lift-up flap for the

name and address details.

Winter Safari is from the Royal Robbins ( range of

this American-based apparel clothing company set up by acclaimed

climbers, Royal and Liz Robbins. Take a look online at their 100% two-ply

nylon Field Guide Vest with 13 exterior and four interior pockets. They are

so plentiful and well-placed that the garment could act as an additional

suitcase that does not attract an extra fee!



Page Index Header

Ben Buxton has been drawn to

Mingulay many times and now

his 22-year-old book has been

published in a new edition.

Hunting basking sharks ... the

only case of forced-labour

known in Scotland ... fisticuffs

between lighthouse keepers ... a

Norse settlement ... these are just

some remarkable recent discoveries.

They are in the history of Mingulay

and its two neighbours, Berneray and

Pabbay, south of Barra at the southern

end of the Outer Hebrides. The

findings are detailed in the new edition

of Mingulay an Island and its People

by Ben Buxton.

Mingulay was originally published by

Birlinn in 1995. It was the first book on

the island and was winner of the

Michaelis-Jena Ratcliffe Prize for

Folklife in 1997. Over the past 20

years, archaeological fieldwork and

research in newly-available documentary

sources have transformed our

knowledge of the histories of

Mingulay and its neighbours.

All three islands were inhabited from

prehistoric times until the early years

of the last century, when isolation in

stormy seas drove the islanders to

seek better lives by settling, illegally at

first, on the less remote island of

Vatersay. Documentary sources have

revealed that the islanders were the

victims of the only known case of

forced-labour in Scotland.

In the 1830s MacNeil of Barra, the

clan chief, evicted the people and

replaced them with more profitable

sheep. This was common enough

during the notorious Clearances, but

MacNeil went a stage further and set

some of the people to work in a

factory he had built on Barra. The

factory processed kelp - seaweed -

but the venture bankrupted him, and

the people returned to their islands.

Archaeological surveys have shown

that during the Iron Age, around 2,000

years ago, Mingulay had several

domestic dwellings, but no defensive

building, unlike the other two islands

which each had a defensive dun.

Mingulay had a Norse settlement,

Suinsibost, one of only two known

Norse settlement names in the

Barra Isles, also known as the

Bishop’s Isles.

The surveys also show that peat was

dug on an almost industrial scale in

the 19th Century - as indicated by the

300-odd stone platforms for stacks of

cut peat. It was at around this era

when the population reached its alltime

high of 160 permanent residents.

In 2000, the National Trust for

Scotland bought the islands in

recognition of their outstanding

cultural and natural heritage as well as

coastal cliff scenery. A brief account of

this period brings the story up-to-date.

The new edition also has an extended

plate section, including some

photographs from 1909.

Further Information

Mingulay an Island and its People is

published by Birlinn at

£12.99 and three readers will receive

free copies of the book. In

50 or fewer words tell the Editor at;

what draws / has drawn you to

Mingulay. Closing date 31 January 2017.



Stewart Dawber - keen to develop his sense of wilderness

Isle of Canna from Skye at sunset.

The first time the Isle of Skye caught my

eye was from a Kyle of Lochalsh hotel

window after a long journey from my Devon

home. After researching where to find the wild

and elusive Lutra lutra, the Eurasian otter, I

had come to photograph it for my university

wildlife photography degree course.

It was obviously the place for a professional

wildlife photographer and so my

wife and I moved up. We are now in our

seventh year of magical seasons surrounded

by my subject-matter. Photography here is,

essentially, about creating new angles with

neither impact nor disturbance.

We are fortunate to have many red deer on

the high land, whooper swans, golden and

sea eagles in the sky, otters on the shore,

dolphins and trout in the water - in fact, nature

all around. These are the all-year foundations

of my business Skye High Wildlife.

I now run bespoke trips for up to four

people, give personal tuition in photography

and use my field-skills to help clients

achieve the picture they may have sought

for years. This year I have teamed up with

the only ‘keepered-estate on Skye -Fearann

Eilean Iarmain - giving access to the hills

with an all-terrain vehicle.

We explore and seek out wildlife in

unobtrusive and natural ways, then return

to a private bothy in the glen to enjoy a

dram of whisky while experiencing the heat

of a wood-burner. If you want to learn more,

then please access

phone 01471 855643 / 07809 580253 or


White-tailed eagle.


Golden eagle in flight during winter.

Common dolphins .

Red deer stag.



The Atlantic Grey Seal

The Atlantic

Grey Seal

The Atlantic grey seal is the largest carnivore in

the British Isles and one of the world’s rarer

seal species with total numbers fewer than 400,000.

They only inhabit the north Atlantic, the Baltic Sea

and the Barents Sea, but almost 40% of the world

population - which translates into 95% of the

European total - lives and breeds around the islands

and coastlines of Scotland.

eir scientific name, Halichoerus grypus, is derived

from Greek and means ‘sea-pig with a hooked nose’.

Anyone close to a beautifully mottled male might

disagree with the reference to pigs, but will probably

have spotted the proboscis-like snout. e old

Shetland name is ‘haaf fish’, since these were the seals

seen at the deep ‘haaf ’ fishing grounds though in the

Northern Isles, seals are oen referred to as ‘selkies’.

Other names include ‘ron mor’ in Gaelic and the

more prosaic ‘horsehead’ in Canada. An old

Scottish legend says they are the daughters, cast

forever under a spell, of the king of Lochlinn from

distant Scandinavia. Their attractive eyes supposedly

originated from royal blood and they were

known for the sad songs they sang on the far

beaches of the Hebrides.

Thought to Speak Gaelic

e haunting melodies were so beautiful, it is said

they could prompt humans to leave their land-locked

life by diving to join the bobbing offshore colonies.

Tales on Mull described how seals were from remnants

of the Pharaoh’s army, overwhelmed when the Red

Sea, parted for the Israelites, fell back upon their

pursuers. ey became seals and, though highly

unlikely were thought to speak Gaelic.

Grey seals were known to love music and it was said

they would listen to the sound of the bagpipes as it

Roger Butler is inquisitive about them

dried over the islands. One Hebridean story

indicates the seals would always sing once the salmon

had drunk three mouthfuls of spring water, deemed to

be a sure sign that summer was on the way. And the

seasons play a key role in the life of the grey seal.

Most of their time is spent at sea, but they come

ashore to breed in the autumn as well as for the annual

moult in late winter. In July and early August the seals

are fat and well fed and the mature bulls start to make

their way towards long-established breeding grounds

to create territories which are defended against any

later entrants.

Define a Territory

e bulls generally arrive before the cows, which

come to give birth - usually in less than 30 seconds!

Cows can bear their first pup at five years of age and

can continue to give birth up to the age of 35. Bulls

are mature by the age of six, though it is oen another

four years before they are bold enough to define a

territory and they seem to have a shorter life span than


Grey seals use two different types of breeding islands

in the Hebrides. In the Inner Isles sites are characterised

by seaweed-covered erosion platforms, exposed

as the tide falls, and small beaches which can be as

much as a quarter of a mile from the open sea.

Channels allow the cows to move to and from the

water while the bulls remain on nearby rocks.

In the Outer Hebrides, subject to the incessant

pounding of the Atlantic, only east-facing beaches are

used for breeding. Alternatively, grassland on top of a

low island will be used, with access via gullies or

shelves of rock. On remote North Rona, where gales

could easily sweep away a new born pup, births take

place on grassy patches as much as 250’ above sea level.


The Atlantic Grey Seal

‘Grey seals were known to love music

and it was said they would listen to

the sound of the bagpipes as it dried

over the islands.’


The Atlantic Grey Seal

Aerial Photography

In the more sheltered waters around Orkney many pups are

found on the shores, though sheer numbers mean that some

spend their first few weeks on the highest grass. More than

40,000 pups are born in Scotland every year and their

numbers at the main breeding sites - called rookeries - are

now surveyed using aerial photography.

Two colonies in Shetland each produce more than 1,000

pups per year and, in summer, Sumburgh Head is always a

good place to see large numbers at the base of the cliffs.

Opportunists also gather around the fish processing factories

at Lerwick. e seals are also found along the east coast as far

south as the Firth of Forth and the Isle of May.

Hebridean colonies which yield more than 1,000 pups each

year include those on Oronsay, north Islay, Iona, the

Treshnish Isles and South Uist. e sandy beaches of the lowlying

Monach Isles, once inhabited by 100 people then

abandoned in the 1940s, host the largest colony in Europe

and in autumn grey seal numbers can total 35,000.

Suitable Camouflage

is means fights between bulls can be vicious but, when

the fuss has died down, around 9,000 new pups are born here

each year. ese have a white coat at birth and it is thought

this is an evolutionary throw-back to the time when births

took place on ice and suitable camouflage would have been


Growth is rapid and the pups, fed by fatty milk, can gain

up to 3lbs per day while developing strong biting teeth within

two weeks. e cows suckle their pups for up to three weeks

before leaving them in order to mate with the bulls -

pregnancy then lasts for a full eleven and a half months.

is leaves the pups vulnerable to skuas, gulls and other

predators and because their fur is not yet waterproof the

young seals are unable to swim until it is shed. ey then

depart in search of food, but the bulls will stay put for up two

months before returning to the sea to feed during the last few

weeks of the year. e usual diet consists of fish, crabs, squid

and even sea birds.

Roman Nose

Grey seals vary in colour from dark brown to grey or

black, with blotches, and females tend to be paler than

males, which can weigh up to 650lbs and grow to well over

six feet long. They have bulky shoulders, heavily creased

necks and a distinctive Roman nose. Females are somewhat

smaller and weigh up to 340lbs.

They dive for short periods in shallow waters, usually for

no more than ten minutes occasionally to 30. Fishing trips

to deeper water can last for five days and may cover


distances of over 200 miles. Man has long

hunted the grey seal for meat, blubber and

skin and, until paraffin became a source of

light and fuel, the oil was used in isolated

island communities. The Grey Seal

Protection Act of 1914 was the first

legislation to fully safeguard a mammal in

the UK.

Entanglement with fishing equipment

remains one of their biggest threats, while

the impact of offshore windfarms may be

another cause for concern. The debate

about their impact on fish farms continues,

although stronger net design has reduced

problems. It seems St Columba had a soft

spot for them and his monks on Iona

claimed ownership of those which calved

on nearby islands and skerries.

It is possible to observe seals from cliffs

and headlands, boats and kayaks and, of

course, through binoculars. Care is required

to avoid agitation or the risk of separation

between mother and pup, particularly

during the breeding season. Seals are more

welcoming when in the water, but any

approach by boat should be made slowly to

assess their response. Usually they, too, can

be quite inquisitive!

The Common Seal

Pages 28-29: Grey seal pup - one of

40,000 born in Scotland each year.

Opposite: A buoy in the Firth of

Forth, west of the Isle of Inchcolm,

makes an unusual hauling out point

for four grey seals.

Above: Grey seals basking on a

sandbank. The large wedge-shaped

head is always a key identification

feature. By Hugh Venables -

Creative Commons Licence ©

Left: Common seal pup - note the

more rounded head and the snout

which is often described as

resembling a labrador.

The smaller common seal is also seen in Scotland. These are

sometimes called harbour seals and prefer more sheltered stretches

of coastline. High densities are located on the east coasts of Islay

and Jura, the Ross of Mull, Coll, Tiree and parts of Skye. Further

north, large clusters occur around both Orkney and Shetland. Current

estimates put common seal numbers in Scotland at around 23,500,

which is almost 90% of the total population in the British Isles. The

common seal has a more rounded head and remains largely silent

when ashore - in contrast to the haunting ‘song’ of the grey seal.


‘Clear signs of domestication

occurred in the Iron Age.’

A History of Lismore

A History of Lismore

Gordon Eaglesham learnt more

There are few Scottish islands which boast a

heritage as rich as that of Lismore. It is truly

steeped in history, with remnants of a 13th Century

cathedral church, an Iron Age broch, Bronze Age

cairns and a Stevenson lighthouse, to name a few.

But when did Lismore’s story begin?

Geologically speaking, that would be 470 million

years ago, when ancient limestone was thrust up into

the middle of what is now known as the Great Glen

Fault. ese rocks were formed when life on Earth

was primeval. Its unique geology shaped the

landscape, still utilised by its residents.

Unlike much of Argyll, the Inner Hebrides and the

Western Highlands, the soil on Lismore is very

fertile owing to its limestone-based composition.

is nutrient-rich ground is a precious resource for

farming. Its Gaelic name, Lios Mòr, translates as ‘e

Great Garden’ for good reason. e soil’s inherent

value had far-reaching implications on conflicting

ownership claims.

First Farming

The first settlers are understood to be of

Neolithic origin, with the earliest archaeological

evidence being a polished stone axe-head from

3500BC – discovered at Balnagowan in 1974.

Evidence of the first farming activity from this

period was found in peat core samples taken at

Balnagowan and Fiart lochs.

ese showed a sharp decrease in tree pollen and a

substantial increase in grasses and cereal crops.

During this time, much deforestation took place,

transforming the landscape into what we see today.

e fact this happened is by no means unusual, but

the speed in which it evolved was extraordinary.

e most notable traces of subsequent Bronze Age

habitation come in the form of 14 burial cairns. All

but one are to be found in the south-west of the

island, with the exception of Cnoc Aingeal (Fire

Hill), which lies around three miles from the

northern end and is thought to be one of the largest

in Argyll.


Other Bronze Age relics include two intact cists -

burial chambers constructed of stone slabs - high up

on Barr Môr and Aon Garbh and a bronze-socketed

axe from the former. Little else from this age has

survived, or yet been unearthed, which is surprising

given the length of the period.

Clear signs of domestication occurred in the Iron

Age. en striking features appeared such as the

broch at Tirfuir, denoting a Pictish presence on

Lismore. It also happens to be one of the best

preserved examples of a Pictish broch in the country.

e most impressive Bronze Age find by far is a

bronze armlet discovered serendipitously during a

house renovation. Having been dated to around the

1st Century AD, its rarity earned it permanent

residence at the National Museum of Scotland, in

Edinburgh. A replica can be viewed in the island’s

Heritage Centre.


A History of Lismore

Monastic Centre

The ruins of Lismore’s six duns - fortified stone

farmhouses - are further evidence of Iron Age Settlement.

Lismore would soon enter arguably its most significant and

transformative epoch between 350 and 850 as the early

Christian era permeated along the west coast through the

teachings of saints, including Moluag who established a

monastic centre on the island.

ose 500 years would also see Lismore’s inclusion into

Dalriada, their language and culture shiing from the Proto-

Celtic to Gaelic and a first involvement in international trade

as well as sporadic conflicts among competing kingdoms.

is led to the unification of the Scots and the Picts with the

subsequent tumult arising from Viking raids.

According to contemporary accounts, they immediately le

their mark in the most devastating manner, by barricading

monks in the chapel and setting it alight. Norse artefacts

uncovered include a pin and boat rivets at Tirfuir –

indicating they probably took over the broch. A piece of gold

jewellery was discovered at Kilcheran.

Two Imposing Castles

Landmarks of medieval origin include the ruins of Coeffin

Castle and Achinduin Castle, both built in the 13th Century.

is coincided with Lismore becoming the Seat of the

Bishopric of Argyll. But why the need for two imposing

castles in close proximity to each other? One theory suggests

they were needed to protect the only lime source on the

western seaboard.

is period also saw construction of the cathedral on

Lismore, thought to be completed around 1350, but little

documentation exists to verify this. e present-day parish

church sits within the walls of the cathedral choir, yet traces

of the original building are scarce. e modest legacy of the

cathedral can be seen on at least 15 late-medieval, unique

carved gravestones.

e timeline around 1750 was in an age of upheaval. e

decades following Culloden saw an incessant feud between

the small tenants and the Campbell landowners, who now

viewed the land as a commercial commodity. ey wanted a

fast financial return made impossible when growing cereal

crops in Lismore’s wet climate. A more polarised society was



Around this time, farming was not the only industry to see a

marked intensification. Until 1800, lime-burning had been a

cottage industry, but its value soon caught the attention of the

estate owners who would go on to rent out numerous kilns at

five sites on the island, with Sailean Quarry being the largest.

is in turn caused a considerable increase in the population

of the island from 500-600 to over 1750. An emerging flax

trade was also a contributory factor. e first significant lime

kilns were constructed to support the local economy and a


A History of Lismore

Roman Catholic Highland Seminary based at

Kilcheran between 1801 and 1829.

Other temporary sources of income for the

islanders from the late 18th to the early 19th

Century came from the herring trade and the

illicit production of whisky. e latter is

thought to have saved many residents from

absolute poverty. Despite this productivity, the

ensuing land clearances would decimate the

island’s population.

Arable to Livestock

This was when the farming sector was

already struggling to recover from recession

following the Napoleonic Wars. Those who

remained endured much ill-health and

hardship as the farming model shifted from

arable to livestock, and this would have a

profound effect on the island’s economy

and landscape.

Even with this adaptability, the complexities

of land ownership and occupation

contributed to further agricultural declines,

compounded by a collapse of markets for

native food in the 1920s and ‘30s plus a lack

of investment and infrastructure. However,

farmers on Lismore were to then enter a

period of greater stability during the Second

World War.

Suddenly home-grown produce was a

precious resource that required more investment.

Later in the final quarter of the century,

the population would once again rise - to

around 180. e arrival of mains electricity in

1970 played a pivotal role in this and caused

a chain-reaction of improvements across the

island to improve living conditions.

EU membership boosted income through

subsidies, and gradually, more interest was

generated in turning cros into family

homes. Lismore now finds itself entering a

time of regeneration, embracing the latest

technologies, yet staying true to its fertile

agricultural roots.

Page 32 Top: Abandoned village.

Below: Island geology.

Left: Castle Coeffin.

Below: Loch Fiart.

Bottom: Sailean limestone quarry.

Photographs taken by the author,

Gordon Eaglesham.


A Gallery of Rust

A Gallery of Rust

Seth Cook takes delight in the decayed

Visitors to the islands gaze at stone ruins, but rarely give metal remains a glance.

However, for some of us, what might otherwise seem to be only a road to Mud End

has great promise. It may lead to a heap of agricultural machinery, something between a

scrapyard and a museum, a gallery of rust. Even if not, there may be something in the bracken

forest at the edge of a field, something visible only when the colour of the foliage is not also

the colour of rust.

Scattered across the islands are oat-grinders, turnip-slicers, corn-drills, grass-seeders, thistlereapers,

rollers, disc-harrows, hay-rakes, retired tractors, trailers, balers and all the remnants

of once enthusiastically-embraced progress in agriculture. en there are the unknowns,

either so rusty or fragmentary or unfamiliar that they are enough to puzzle even experts. ‘I

like photographing old machinery’ - may seem an eyebrow-raising response to the puzzled

croer who wonders why you are peering into his field. Yet it is true.

Anyone talking about potato-spinners is obviously harmless. It may be my favourite with

its distinctive spidery rear - for identifying the front from the back of some machines is not

so easy. Small, square, squat, clearly born in the horse days, the old film-clips show them to

be rather delicate seeming in the way they nudge potatoes from earthed-up rows. Arms spin,

spuds and clay are lied aside and all trail behind to pick out the crop. Generations of school

kids followed a spinner in autumn.

The Rise and Fall

e great spin started in the mid-19th Century and developed when well enough designed

not to turn potatoes into mash without the intermediate step of cooking. It was a good run

that took in the shi from horse to tractor and only ended when the spinners were

themselves pushed aside by machines that dig and collect. eir presence in numbers tells

us how welcome they once were. ough picking up is backbreaking, it is better than

forking. Forget the rise and fall of clans; remember the rise and fall of the spud-spinner.

‘Dedicated spotters ask questions about

what may be very rusty, in parts, and, like

some fossils, far from complete.’



Dedicated spotters ask questions about what may be very

rusty, in parts, and, like some fossils, far from complete. It

may be puzzling even when complete, although you may have

a good chance of spotting a hay rake. On a trip to Inch

Kenneth, while others looked at the grave of the lyricist of

Over the Sea to Skye, a chapel containing memorials of chiefs

or the modern house once owned by the Mitford family,

I was more interested in a hay-rake pushed against a wall.

Similar to portable bike-racks, with wheels at the sides and

what look like smaller half-wheels in between, they gathered

hay, spread it for drying then le it in small lines or pre-baled

shapes. Hay-rakes look rickety, unlike the frequently far more

puzzling balers that can have a military quality, like lost

battleships in a sea of bracken. Oen only the shooting end

sticks out. Ask people to identify what they are looking at

and they may ask about military hardware, when, actually,

only bales were fired.

Hard to Read

Sometimes plates have fallen off. Sometimes the name is hard

to read. Sometimes there are only serial numbers. e pleasure

is in finding names, which can feel like passing a test. If you are

lucky there will be clear view of a name, such as Sheriff and Co

on a grass-seeder; Wallace and Sons on a thistle-reaper. One of

my favourites is an oat-grinder sprouting flowers that resides


A Gallery of Rust

next to a redundant satellite-dish. People

comment on it. One day they may comment

on the ugly dish. Still clearly visible is E H

Bentall e Mill.

Why here? This is a question about why

the machine was originally brought to the

farm, another is why its kind declined in

use and so could be expected to sink into

the ground somewhere. Hay-rakes lost to

devices that pick up as well as bale, spinners

lost to that which digs and gathers.

Another question focuses on the exact

spot. General themes of history become

specific. Not farmers, but specific farmers.

Not disc harrows, but this disc harrow.

Sometimes machines outlast sheds. Roofs

blow away, outbuildings fill up and new

machinery needs to be kept dry. So old

machines are dragged outside, one by one,

and left like lonely exiteers from the Ark.

There is no point dragging them further

away for where would the ‘further’ be?

Possibly that rocky spot on part of the

farm that was sterile for cultivation? There

they are. Sometimes, more poignantly,

they were left overnight on a spot by a

farmer who died. They mark an

interrupted job.

An Abandoned Clachan

Sometimes they find their way into cottage

ruins. ere may be no roof, but if you stow

the machine inside, the farm looks tidier.

I once looked into a house in an abandoned

clachan that has a spectacular view of Ben

More. I saw the upturned undercarriage of a

vehicle inside, taking up much of the space.

e doors were small, so the move would have

involved heavy liing machinery. Maybe the

question, “You did take that old thing away

didn’t you, to smarten things up?” was

returned with an otherwise expressionless nod.

Fortunately tidiness is not an overriding

concern, so we have the pleasure of seeing the

once horse-drawn at the roadside le behind

by history, though in a picturesque spot.

By the area where boats from Inch Kenneth

landed on Mull, there is my favourite hay

rake, which I suspect was once landed on the

island and parked by the road in order to be

picked up later. It is still waiting.

One day someone will find a machine with

no make, no serial number, no obvious

function, no adjacent field, no farm - only a

barely visible ‘...and sons’ on an arm

sticking out. And we will gather around

it like some old stone circle.

The photographs were taken by the

author, Seth Cook.

Apostle of Land Reform

Apostle of Land Reform

Andrew Wiseman assesses John Murdoch of Islay

Like many an exile from the island of his

upbringing, John Murdoch only periodically

returned to Islay. Of those many men and women

who appear in the annals of the Highlands and

Islands, Murdoch deserves to be counted as one of

the most revered and respected.

Born in the farmhouse of Lynemore in the

Nairnshire parish of Ardclach, on 15 January 1818,

he was the second child and eldest son of the

family of nine children to John Murdoch and Mary

MacPherson. Three years later, the family moved

to Atholl, Perthshire, and then on to Islay in 1827,

where they settled. Having spent his formative

years there, John Murdoch considered the island

to be his home.

Recollecting the journey between Perthshire and

Islay, Murdoch notes: ‘And well do I remember the

voyage on a small sloop to Port Askaig on the Sound

of Islay. e steamer Maid of Islay was off the station;

and, there being no wind, we were at the mercy of

tides for I do not know how long. It was summer

when we reached the ‘Queen of the Hebrides’ … No

doubt the island was elevated to the status of ‘Queen’

on account of its superior fertility - not on account

of its beauty.’

Beyond the Island

In order to get on, as with so many other places, ‘it

was accepted as a matter of course,’ as Murdoch

himself was later to admit, ‘that any lad of intelligence

and proper ambition should look beyond the

island for his sphere.’ In 1838, at the age of 20,

Murdoch moved to the mainland and, somewhat

reluctantly, became a Civil Servant in the Excise

Department of the Inland Revenue, a career where

he served for 35 years.

Posted to Armagh in 1839 and subsequently to

Lancashire, Murdoch witnessed at first hand the

plight of those Catholics in Ireland who, with their

demand for Home Rule against the British, were

forced into poverty and famine. In Lancashire he

came under the pervasive influence of Chartism with

its range of political, social and economic demands

for parliamentary reform.

Such injustice and suppression clearly pricked

Murdoch’s conscience and so he took his campaign

for social justice into newsprint and through the

writing of pamphlets. Murdoch had a personal

knowledge of tyranny for, in 1845, his father was

tragically killed in a shooting accident. To make

matters worse, a factor then took advantage of the

situation in order to evict his grieving mother and

her children from Claggan Farm.


Far from being embittered by these turn of events,

it would seem that Murdoch became even more

radicalised than before. A short time aerwards he

returned to ‘a Ride’ in Islay, and was soon involved

with a group of like-minded fellow-radicals in

discussing such issues as science, history, poetry,

theology and politics.

Before long, however, he was destined for service

in Kintyre, Dublin, Shetland and Inverness. While

engaged in Dublin as an Excise Officer in 1856, he

was active in an agitation for improvements in the

pay and conditions of his fellow-officers. Such

experiences were bound to inform his political

philosophy. Murdoch observed the range of landlord

oppressions and social, economic and agricultural

crises along with the Clearances there.

In Dublin, too, he contributed articles to such

newspapers as e Nation on a wide variety of

agricultural topics. ere he met and married Eliza

Jane Tickell, 14 years his junior, with whom he had

six offspring. He was a practical land improver as well

as a political agitator and knew well the effect of

putting pen to paper as a powerful propaganda tool.


Apostle of Land Reform

The Crofters’ Cause

Retiring from his career in 1872, Murdoch

moved to Inverness where the following year

he founded e Highlander. It was a

monthly publication and continued until

eventually floundering owing to financial

difficulties in 1881. As a progressive

newspaper, it promoted the croers’ cause

during the Land Agitation.

Under Murdoch’s radical editorship he

gave the Gaelic Language Revival

Movement a distinctly political and

inevitably nationalist flavour. In short, he

provided an incisive voice for the oppressed

Gaels and in his first editorial announced:

‘We this day place in the hands of

Highlanders a journal that they may call

their own. is we do with the distinct view

of stimulating them to develop their own

industrial resources and of encouraging

them to assert their nationality, and

maintaining that position in the country to

which their numbers, their traditions and

their character entitle them.’

Murdoch’s achievements were many.

For instance, he was an early and active

member of The Gaelic Society of

Inverness, to which he contributed a few

articles to its transactions, and which

continues to this day. At one dinner, he was

described by William Jolly as ‘a true

Highlandman, with high, outspoken,

honest purpose, working well to rouse his

people to real self-help and independence.’

Wrote Elegantly

In essence, John Murdoch was an agitator.

He combined the plight of the crofters

with the struggles of the Irish and of the

urban working class. He wrote eloquently

about trade unionism in The Highlander,

linking these issues as well as raising the

visibility of crofters and their conditions to

the wider world.

Over and above this, Murdoch’s connections

with the trades union movement

were growing, and, as seen during his tour

of America over the winter of 1879–80,

his positions on Home Rule and Land

Reform were part of wider, radicalised

thinking. It was Murdoch who chaired

the first meeting of the Scottish Labour

Party in May 1888, at which Keir Hardie

was present.


Apostle of Land Reform

By this stage of his life, Murdoch

was residing in the Lowlands, but

continued to engage in political

activities at both local and national

levels. But what motivated him? His

primary concern was never for his

own welfare as his campaigning made

him a persona non grata to those in

authority. That made sure his

advancement in the service never

went beyond that of supervisor.

Guiding Principles

Religious conviction was the reason

why he set out on his course. ‘I had no

right to hoard money,’ he wrote of one

of his guiding principles in life, ‘no

right to think of myself as anything

better than an instrument of God to do

whatever good came my way.’

Murdoch died, aged 85, in Saltcoats,

Ayrshire, on 29 January 1903 and was

interred in Ardrossan Cemetery. He le

a detailed, if unfinished, autobiography,

penned between 1889 and 1898, and

which has yet be published in full. A

close friend commented, ‘He has le,

we believe, a series of reminiscences of

his varied and interesting story … to

present, as far as is now possible, an

adequate record of his lifelong, selfdenying

and public-spirited career.’

Never one to conform, Murdoch’s

political evolution was most

unusual. 20 years prior to his death,

he moved left, and not to the right

as would, perhaps, have been

expected. Murdoch was many things

to many people: an active temperance

reformer, a land reformer, a

journalist and editor, a champion of

the Gaelic language, a collector of

Highland folklore, a founding

member of the Scottish Labour

Party and, perhaps most telling of

all, he was a humanitarian.

Here was a man who possessed the

vision to allow people’s potential to

flourish if the right conditions could

be set in place and the right type of

practical philosophy applied.

Murdoch was far ahead of his time as

are so many other visionaries before

and since.

Further Information

Page 41: Photographic Portrait of John Murdoch c. 1890s

and Claggan Farm, Islay.

Above: The Highlander.

James Hunter (ed.) For the People’s Cause: From

the Writings of John Murdoch Edinburgh 1986.


A Short Hop to Papa

A Short

Hop to Papa

James Hendrie takes the trip

Ifinally managed, last summer, to tick off one of my ‘bucket list’, namely to be a passenger

on the ‘world’s shortest scheduled flight’ - from Westray to Papa Westray. It is famous

for this accolade and a mere two minutes is the scheduled time allotted to make the short

1.7-mile hop between the two Orkney islands.

This was the second occasion, having been thwarted two years earlier by a dense

Orcadian sea mist which enveloped Kirkwall airport and most of the island when my

wife, Gillian, and I were due to travel. If the mist had lifted the flight would have left

immediately, but sadly it did not.

There was no such problem this time and with no baggage, the check-in process

was swift and much more relaxed than customary. Being a plane-spotter in my

formative years, I had already spied the Britten-Norman Islander aircraft that was

likely to be our plane. When ‘Delta Victor’ taxied towards the terminal, I was

proved right.


A Short Hop to Papa

Further Information

Page 43: ‘Delta Victor’ being

prepared for our flight at Kirkwall


Below l-r: A bird’s eye view of our

landing at Westray; map in the

terminal on Papa Westray, which

shows quite strikingly the close

proximity of the two islands; the

Islander aircraft carries eight

passengers and a pilot.

Photographs by the author,

James Hendrie.

Right on Time

e pilot, sporting a distinctive yellow high-viz

vest entered the terminal buildings and went to the

restaurant to grab a coffee! While this may have

appeared an unusual thing to do, clearly, as we were

to find out, flying in Orkney was different. Right

on time he returned to the door with ‘Inter Island

Air Service’ sign and called us all forward.

Once through the door it was a short walk across

the airport apron to our Islander G-BLDV. My

desire to capture as many pictures of the plane and

our walk to it, meant we were the last of the eight

passengers to board … with the two seats immediately

behind the pilot. We had a bird’s eye view of

the take-off and aerial aspects of the islands.

e flight to Westray itself is less than 15

minutes and so even if it were possible to offer

in-flight services on board our tight-for-space

Islander, there would not have been the time.

Our briefing from the pilot was short and to the

point, before he checked we were all strapped in.

Stalwart Service

e Islander is a high fixed-wing twin-propeller

plane flown by a single pilot and has proved

most suitable for stalwart service to many island

and remote communities throughout the world.

It is highly robust, with a short take-off and

landing capacity that makes it versatile on

limited, occasionally rough-terrain, airstrips.

Our plane, built in 1984, had been flying for over

30 years. All too soon, we landed at Westray and

there was activity as some passengers disembarked

and some joined. Our pilot le for a short time,

but was soon back onboard as we prepared to

continue on the flight to Papa Westray.

Just before we departed I checked with him

so it would be in order to film on my phone

our short flight, assuring him that I had turned

it to ‘flight safe’ mode. Aer he agreed,

I realised the plane was that old that it would

not have had any of the newer technologies

liable to interference.


A Short Hop to Papa

Flying Time

From the engines starting on Westray to their being

shut down on Papa Westray, the time of my video was 4

minutes and 14 seconds. The actual flying time was

around two minutes as we barely lifted into the air and

flew at a low level towards Papa before banking to the

left to align with the runway and land.

We taxied towards the small single story concrete

terminal building. Gillian and I were getting off as we

had planned our flights around spending some time

there to explore. Two fire-fighters performed the roles

of safety-staff as well as baggage-handlers and a female

post-office worker doubled her day job by being airport


We were to discover these same people there when we

returned in the afternoon. For us the flight was a tourist

trip encouraged, since 2011, by Loganair, the service

provider. For the islanders, most of our fellow passengers,

this flight is a vital link for people, food, mail and

goods as well as an ambulance service in emergencies.

At the Controls

One pilot, the now-retired Stuart Linklater, made this

journey more than 12,000 times. He was at the controls

on the record-breaking flight of 53 seconds. While during

his 24 years of service Stuart flew to the other destinations

in the northern islands, it appears he became

synonymous with the ‘worlds shortest scheduled flight’.

He managed to chalk up 1.3 million air miles for the

company. The cost of the tickets for this flight, like some

others, is subsidised and there has been discussion

recently about the linking of these and other islands by

bridges, tunnels, or causeways. Feasibility studies and

investigations have taken place, but decisions will be in

the distant future.

We found the whole experience unique, learned that, not

surprisingly, a lot depends on wind direction to determine

how fast the flight will be, and that certificates are available

to record the fact that you have made this trip. Despite, for

some reason, Gillian and I forgetting to collect ours,

memories of the complete excursion are still very vivid.


Island Nurses

Island Nurses

Tom Aston learnt from Catherine Morrison about certain Hebridean Heroines

The focus of this publication from e Islands

Book Trust is on the four decades from the

1940s onwards, although aspects of a hundred years

of social history are embodied within it. e

Queen’s Nursing Institute Scotland was established

in 1889 and the nurses it trained played a vital role

in the Highlands & Islands Medical Service from

1913. e era of the District Nurse had started.

Catherine Morrison assesses the fundamental roles

played by these nurses in providing sound medical

care, improvising on many occasions, serving

communities and winning both respect and

affection. e background of the islands has

something of the pioneering element of comparable

conditions in Australia and Canada.

Open-air Conditions

e Outer Hebrides had been inhabited for

thousands of years and its people were natural

survivors. Conscription for war, improved

transport facilities and awareness of the world

beyond through popular newspapers and radio

were factors in a population decline. Smoke from

domestic and tobacco sources had a serious effect

on health, however ‘natural’ some of the open-air

conditions appeared.

e introduction of the NHS in 1948 heralded the

building of new health centres and multi-disciplined

practices, but they were slow in coming to the

Hebrides. e day-to-day work of the District

Nurses involved walking across moors at night, the

carrying of heavy bags, arduous journeys in small

boats and contending with the wind and the rain.


ere were linguistic barriers with, in the early

days, monoglot Gaelic speakers; unconventional

practices; oen somewhat primitive housing for

nurses; no standard form of transport or conveying

the seriously ill or injured. Nurses were supposed to

retire when married. ey had to establish close

working arrangements with GPs. Nothing was

straightforward and yet there was a considerable

sense of fulfilment.

e author trained as a nurse in Glasgow, learnt

midwifery skills in Renfrewshire, spent time

working in Stirlingshire, saw new dimensions of the

profession in Canada, returned to work as a ward

sister in a neuro-surgical unit, became the district

nurse on Bernera, Isle of Lewis, a community

nursing manager before taking up a teaching fellowship

on the Stirling University Campus.

Analytical and Anecdotal

In ‘retirement’ she took a PhD at the University of

Manchester and her thesis is the backbone of this

analytical and anecdotal account which is forged

from her own experience as well as through

interviews with many of the ‘Hebridean Heroines’

themselves. It is a thoroughly readable book that

brings to life those strands of human ingenuity in

having to deal with life-and-death issues.

Here is a ‘frontier’ and the training of those

Queen’s Nurses included the very elements which

help Mankind tame its perilous state - sanitary

reforms, the promotion of personal health; ventilation,

drainage, water-supply, diets, the feeding of

infants and the care of the new-born. is book

shows how personal resilience, improvisation,

dedication and a sense of humour helped.

Further Reading

The Islands Book Trust has a new website and Island

Nurses [978-1-907443-73-2] will be featured and on

sale there for £12.99 plus postage.

A miscellany of photographs from the Islands Book Trust




The west coast of Scotland, from

Shetland in the north to Arran in

the south, presents sailors with some of

the world’s best cruising grounds -

notable for scenery, culture, weather and

navigation. At sea, islands have looked

too similar to seafarers for millennia. Not

far offshore, the scene is 90% sea and sky

with an outline of land defined by significant

peaks and shapes that have been

essential to navigation since earliest times.

Early charts were based on memory,

the compass and latitudes derived

from angular sun-measurements with

astrolabes, octants and more recently

sextants. Longtitude was a mystery

defined by estimated speed and distance.

Tobermory: An aerial view of Tobermory by Iain Thornber.

This is where Declan O’Byrne pulled in ‘for supplies’.

Declan O’Byrne has re-created journeys to the islands

In more recent times more accurate

charts, thanks to such as Murdoch

MacKenzie and his triangulations and

to John Harrison and his accurate sea

clock, were developed and saved lives.

Minutes and Metres

When I first sailed here in the 1970s, I

remember scanning the Hebridean

skyline for features to confirm our landfall

aer lots of course and tide estimations.

Recently we landed on St Kilda without

a care, using satellites on our iPhones

pinpointing arrival to within minutes and

metres. ese technologies have increased

safety, and I suppose, opened up these

journeys to many more with less risk.

However, the weather can change

rapidly and knowledge of tides, currents

and awareness of shipping is essential,

albeit assisted by apps and the AIS

system to provide detailed information

about potential threats. Accessing

islands from several anchorages, a

privileged experience, gives a unique

view of the geology and fauna. Coming

ashore always feels like a new discovery

and different perspective. What has

changed and what is new?

Last year we sailed the North Sea,

feeling like the Vikings. We swept on to

Stromness, Orkney, where, in the 19th

Century, the Hudson Bay company

ships took on supplies before adventures

in Canada. We went through the

Pentland Firth, imagining the early 20th

Century whaling ships coming back

from Greenland, and around Cape

Wrath following the Norsemen on their

9th Century raids down the Minch to

the Irish Sea.

Experienced by All

From peaks of granite in Assynth to

e Shiants, we then passed Skye to the

Small Isles, and on to Mull and

Tobermory for supplies of water, food

and fuel. ese journeys may be experienced

by all, if not on a yacht, on the

CalMac ferries and smaller vessels willing

to take visitors to interesting islands and

sights. All can use some the sailing apps

to understand the weather they may find

and seas they may encounter.

Avoid areas open to prolonged gales,

watch for strong winds against tides

and select journeys with settled

conditions. Passage-planning can be

fun and opens the mind to how the sea

and weather affect these islands.

e added benefit of a more

pleasant journey is, indeed, a bonus.

Alternatively, use technology by going

to this article in the digital edition of

this magazine and enjoy the author’s

YouTube videos of his journeys.

Further Reading

For access to these YouTube videos go to

the entries for Monday 17 and Monday

24 October 2016 on



Page Index



by Tom Johnson

When you have solved the crossword, transfer the letters from some of the numbered squares

into the small grid and so reveal a prosperous Shetland isle.


1. Hit with whip at largest village on Arran (7)

5. Former administrative seat of Sutherland (7)

9. Orkney terminus of the Pentland ferry from Gill’s Bay (2,9,4)

10. On the hour (1,5)

11. Nigerians or Kenyans, eg characters in a scarf, maybe (8)

13. Otherwise expressed “tender name” (10)

14. Sign of tiredness (4)

16. Royal burgh and former county town of Caithness (4)

18. Forced displacement of Highland tenants during the

eighteenth and nineteenth centuries (10)

22. Village in south-east Yell near where a Catalina

aeroplane crashed on January 19th 1942 (8)

23. Shout out about redhead in Caithness burgh (6)

25. Dammed waters supplying Mossford power station (4,11)

26. Love cruise arranged to Sutherland village, “the place of

the wood” (7)

27. Gave money to a charity (7)


1. Island in Loch Linnhe where St Moluag founded a

monastery c561 AD (7)

2. Spoke indistinctly (7)

3. Pointer cut cleaning lady at village at the head of Loch Long (8)

4. Area used for deep-sea fishing, in Orkney and Shetland (4)

5. Where Bonnie Prince Charlie’s standard was raised, thus

indicating that the Jacobite Rebellion had started (10)

6. Scottish girl from the (a)Isles! (6)

7. Proportionally (3,4)

8. Ralph Waldo …, US poet and essayist (7)

12. Improve matters (10)

15. Another learner crashed at village south of 16 Across (8)

16. Shakes like a jelly (7)

17. Liqueur flavoured with peel of bitter oranges (7)

19. Village on Loch Harport near to the Talisker Distillery (7)

20. Placated or assuaged (7)

21. Firework or old car (6)

24. Non-alkali (4)

Solution to Crossword 25

Send your answer from the small grid to: or text to

07510 127014 or by mailing it to SIE Elm Lodge IP22 1EA

to enter the competition for a free year’s

membership of The Islands Book Trust.

Small grid answer to Crossword 25 was Elgol

Winner of Crossword 25: Andrew Wragg



Mike Heslop wonders whether clockwise or anti-clockwise around Seil

Looking out over Ardmaddy Bay the islands of Seil

and Luing looked like one peninsula. How often

Hebridean Islands can appear to fuse into one, hiding

their individual form. But Seil is an island and an attractive

circular day trip for a group of ten sea Kayakers from

Bassenfell Christian Centre in Cumbria. Clockwise or

anti-clockwise, does it matter?

It is the tides that guide the decision. For our trip it had

to be clockwise. We left Ardmaddy Bay on mirror flat

water heading for the gap between Torsa and Seil, a gap

clear on the map but looking like continuous land. Once

between the islands we noticed changes in the water

surface, not the ripples of a breeze, but upwellings of

green glassy water showing something was changing

underneath us.

On Our Way

As we turned into the Sound the sea began to feel like a

river. Increasingly strong currents forced involuntary sideways

movements on our kayaks. Speed continued to increase as the

Sound narrowed. e flooding tide and south easterly breeze

helped us on our way to Easdale Island. No crowd, but

yesterday was different as it was the World Stone Skimming


We settled for a private competition, but still using

the rectangular slate block on the edge of the flooded quarry

that is used for the World Championships. On leaving

the slate-lined harbour we experienced the opportunistic

spirit necessary for island life. e owner of a powerful rib

encouraged us to book a one-way trip, kayaks as well, to any

island of our choice.

Good idea, but not for us as the tide was still moving along

nicely. Across the Sound of Insk we noticed an interesting

cave with a glazed window and water catchment system.

What stories here? We headed for Eilian Duin where at high

water the plan was to cook supper. Local goats watched our

landing before quietly moving away. Were they really

survivors from a wrecked Armada ship as locals told us?

A Dark Line

Out of the kayak hatches came stoves and food. In twos and

threes we cooked our evening meal. During washing-up, eyes

were drawn to developing colours over Mull. So yellows

and oranges changed to blood reds followed by magenta with

a final dark orange. e heavens were declaring the glory of

God as light faded. And the tide? A dark line of wet rock by

our kayaks showed the tide was ebbing.

Our clockwise route would again be helped by its flow. is

direction with the tides had been right, given a good day. Slate

was certainly a thread through the day, from industrial history

to quirky stone skimming. Ferries, wheelbarrows and

powerful ribs had shown aspects of island transport. All this

in the setting of island landscapes and the tides that wash

their shores. Sea kayaking doesn’t get much better.

In the Next Issue …

Postal Services -


Penal Colonies - Islands

Frank Fraser Darling -


Photograph supplied by the author, Mike Heslop.


Attraction - Puffins

Clyde Island - Cumbrae

Distilleries & Breweries

- Cheers!

On Sale 18 February

1. Berneray 2. Noss 3. Cara 4. Stroma 5. Gruinard 6. North Rona 7. Scarba 8. Isle of May 9. Taransay 10. Ailsa Craig


Scottish Islands Explorer Store

Stocked with items for you,

family and friends

• One-year subscriptions from £24.97

with discounts for longer terms

• Back numbers for £4.00 each

• Archive CD from 2000-2015

• DVDs on islands , areas & topics

• Binders at £12.45 (inc. p&p)

01379 890270 or 07510 127014

Cheques to ‘Ravenspoint Press Ltd’

c/o Elm Lodge Garden House Lane

Rickinghall Diss IP22 1EA


Richard Kershaw

For UK residents aged 18 or over. Your voucher can be used against your first order of

£99.99 or more. Cannot be used in conjunction with any other offer. Full terms and

conditions are available at:

More magazines by this user
Similar magazines