Friday, 30 June 2006

Our first Outer Hebrides beach: Barra

Finally found a picture (by ejbaurdo) of our first Outer Hebrides beach:



This is on the Island of Barra; we sailed in, several years ago, on the ferry from Oban. Dumped off our stuff at a B&B in Castlebay, and went for a wander up the western road out of the town. Half an hour later, we find the beach pictured above.

We've been back several times since. There's an astonishingly ugly hotel at one end of the beach (how it got planning permission is beyond me) which has a quirky, but very good, bar restaurant downstairs with great views over the beach.

Thursday, 29 June 2006

Machair and beaches in Lewis

Another picture from the island of Lewis. Geographically, Lewis the largest of the Outer Hebridean islands, has the bulk of the population, and by far the largest settlement: Stornoway.

Stornoway has a staggeringly large 8,000 inhabitants, and it's a bit of a culture shock visiting there (we say "going up to the city"). Lots of traffic (you have to wait to cross the road), queues in the shops (note: both "queue" and "shop" in plural form there), and too much choice of what to buy. It's not really my kind of place; too built-up and cosmopolitan.



Back to a more quieter scene in the picture (from the Flickr set by Hockadilly). Machair is the unique type of land that you get out here, next to beaches and dunes. Here on Berneray, where the land is crofted (i.e. farmed, but not intensely), there is spectacular machair in the summertime. You can find it on various Hebridean islands, and pretty much all of the way up the west coast of the Outer Hebrides.


During the summer, the machair usually bursts into a riot of different coloured flowers. The picture above is from machair at the north end of Lewis, from the Flickr set by CJCampbell.

Wednesday, 28 June 2006


Eolaigearraidh is a settlement in the north of Barra, beyond the airport. There are three beaches in the area: Traigh Sgurabhal, which has views to South Uist; Traigh Mhor, on which the airplanes land; and Traigh Eais, which is my favourite beach in the Outer Hebrides:


This beach runs down the west side of the peninsular at the top part of Barra. At the south end, there is a five minute walk across the dunes to the airport beach. At the north end is what surely be one of the best picnic spots anywhere; the top of the 102 metre Beinn Eolaigearraidh hill. From here, you can watch the planes land and take off from the beach; get fuill views of all three beaches, and see other beaches on Barra, Eriskay, South Uist and beyond.


I've never seen anyone on this beach, apart from us.

Thanks to Flickr user Dowen for the pics.

Tuesday, 27 June 2006

Camas na Clibhe, Bhaltos, Lewis

Another beach on Lewis, and another picture from the excellent Flickr collection by Ian JC. This time, it's Camas na Clibhe, a small beach on the west coast:


The exact location is indicated on this Google map.

Monday, 26 June 2006

The beach at Loch Trolamoraig

Another picture from diamond geezer:


To get to this beach, you follow the footpath to Reinigideal, made by man and sheep. This tumbles down the hillside (try not to do the same) to the beach. Lewis has quite a few of these isolated beach coves, which aren't for the "drive up and sit in the car" brigade. 

From Loch Stacsabhat to the sea

Carrying on from yesterday's picture, here's another one from Flickr user Bluewave of Loch Stacsabhat, this time showing the land beyond and the beaches and sea beyond that:


One of the additional features of Flickr is that you can put "notes" on pictures, which can include links to other, related pictures. To illustrate; go to this picture on Bluewave's Flickr account, and move your mouse over the rectangles.

Sunday, 25 June 2006

Living in the Outer Hebrides (1) a bit of hush

The most frequent question I get, on visiting the mainland, is what is it like to live in the Outer Hebrides.

Sometimes, it's usually followed up by a question/statement a la "I bet it rains there all the time"; usually from someone who's never been here and is keen to share their entire (and usually wrong) knowledge about the place.

The first aspect of this place is how quiet it is here. Not just slightly quiet, but very quiet. Part of that may be because we moved into a detached house. Our previous house in the central belt of Scotland was semi-detached, in a pleasant rural town, but inhabited on the other side by a half-feral family and the worlds stupidest dog. Can't have it all!

So now, we don't hear any neighbours, or yampy labradors, through the wall in our house; bliss. In fact, of the four sides around us:

  • one is the sea

  • two contain uninhabited houses that are being done-up

  • one is a second house, let out as self-catering accommodation

 There's also a road nearby, which eventually goes to a dead-end. Most of the noise here is from:

  • fishing boats going in and out of the nearby harbour (very pleasant to hear and see)

  • residents further along the road cutting their grass (one couple are manic and very frequent grass cutters)

  • people saying "hello" to each other as they pass on the road

  • the seals making a wide range of noises on the rocks in Bays Loch

  • my cat meow-ing because she's about to jump on my head and wake me up

  • birds (there's a lot of them) tweeting away

When I go back to mainland, it's hell. I need a few days to adjust to the constant noise levels (both background and in your face), even in rural places. Foam earplugs from Boots have turned out to be a lifesaver (or sleep facilitator). In large parts of England, central Scotland and southern Wales, there always seems to be the distant (or nearer) hum of traffic. Plus people, machines, shouting, and so forth.

The quiet isn't for everyone. Regularly I meet visitors who cannot (or will not) adjust and who dislike it, or are afraid of it. A few people even shorten their holidays to return to their noisier home environment; I feel quite sorry for them, needing the reassurance of noise in order to function. [Insert your own cod-psychology theory here].

Don't get me wrong; I'm not "noise intolerant". There's just good noise (e.g. fishing boats, pleasant fiddle and bagpipe music, good singing, wildlife, the swish of someone paddling past the bottom of your garden) and bad noise (e.g. constant traffic, drunks who won't shut up, accordion "music", roadworks, labradors who are so stupid they bark at their own shadow). It's a quality issue.

Saturday, 24 June 2006

The beach at Loch Stacsabhat

It isn't just the sea around the Outer Hebrides where beaches can be found. This is Suaineabhal, which stands over a thousand feet high above Loch Stacsabhat:



And here's the view from the top. The loch is 10 metres deep (despite the dark blue colour); note the small loch beach:



Thanks to Bluewave (again) for these.

Friday, 23 June 2006

Big beach country

Scottish National Heritage have re-released a report from the 1980's about Scotland's 647 (yes, that many) beaches. It contains probably everything you ever needed to know (and a lot more) about these beaches. It's a 650Kb PDF file. Note that the data is some 25 years old, so due to erosion and the like some of it will be a bit out of date.


Some interesting facts in the report. The Western Isles (Outer Hebrides) has some 145 kilometres or 90 miles of beaches (though in their classification system, smaller beaches and coves aren't counted). Table 2.10 gives beaches with large bare sand areas; ten from out here are mentioned (though a bit confused as to why Luskentyre isn't on there, as well as Clachan Sands and a few others). Our very own Berneray is tabulated with 14 hectares of bare sand on the west beach.

The picture above is from Uig beach, Lewis. Plenty of sand there.

Thursday, 22 June 2006

Tràigh na Beirigh

Another beach from the west of Lewis:


Thanks to Bluewave for another fine picture from his Flickr set.

Wednesday, 21 June 2006

Valtos beach and Hebridean blogging

Another beach from one of the more remote parts of Lewis:


Thanks to Isles Pictures, based on the Outer Hebrides island of Grimsay.

Isles Pictures is a blog on the BBCs Island Blogging service, which is available for bloggers on Scottish Islands, and for readers and commentators worldwide.

Some of the blogs in the Western Isles section are, to put it mildly, quirky. The most well-known is the Calumannabel one, which focused mainly on a dating festival, in a fank (sheep enclosure), on Lewis. Some of the postings, including the notorious "Is there life on Harris?" one, received a lot of, erm, comments in response...

Tuesday, 20 June 2006

A new purpose for Berneray school building?

Berneray primary school closed about a year ago; the roll had dropped to 5, with no immediate sign of an increase. The parents of the kids themselves were keen for them to move to a larger school and get more social contact.


Since then, various ideas, movements and what-not have been undertaken in order to determine the future use of the school. The two options in the running recently were as a base for historical displays, and as affordable housing. The situation is somewhat fluid.

I propose a third option: a Krispy Kreme doughnut factory and shop.


As the loyal fanbase know, these are not just any old doughnuts. These are Krispy Kreme doughnuts, and people (especially in the US) will travel great distances to get said product. They really do taste exceptionally special.


The end product wouldn't just be for Berneray residents ("local doughnuts for local people") but would attract people from much further afield. Krispy Kreme shops are not always in cities, being increasingly found in more remote locations.


These pictures were taken on a recent trip to Birmingham, where they have a Krispy Kreme doughnut factory and shop in the food hall of Selfridges.

Such a development would:

  • provide local employment

  • attract more visitors to Berneray and the Outer Hebrides (which helps e.g. local accommodation providers)

  • be a new line of local produce

  • create a positive media buzz about the place

  • would put the school building to good use

  • be a local and tourist attraction in its own right



So there you have it. A working use for the building, which is a combined tourist attraction, source of employment and source of local produce for purchase. Perfect.

Hey, noddy noddy (or something like that)

This Wednesday is the Solstice (longest day of the year). The following data is for our house (57.7154N, 7.1713W), and will be a few seconds different for other locations on Berneray.

Tuesday June 20th: Sunset will be at 10:37:08 pm. Civil twilight is up to 11:53:23 pm
Wednesday June 21st: Civil twilight is back again at 3:07:28 am. Sunrise will be at 4:23:23 am.

There's some entertaining information on what people around the world do on this day (especially the Finns) here:

What does all this mean here? It means that if you have thin curtains, it is difficult to get a good nights sleep here. It also means that, as I did last year, it is possible (weather permitting) to go outside and read the newspaper. Outside. At midnight...

We'll be celebrating the solstice by watching The Wicker Man tonight and drinking whisky from the Inner Hebridean island of Islay.

Monday, 19 June 2006

Do not adjust your sets...

...the sea around the Outer Hebrides really is this colour:


That's the view over to Taransay, an island off the west coast of Harris.

Taransay is most well-known for being the location for Castaway, a show from the turn of the decade when 30+ people were dropped in, with buildings and various supplies, to see what kind of community they could form during a year.

A few of the buildings remain on the island, and there is also a "pod" house that has been relocated to the Luskentyre road.

The picture is from the excellent Flickr photoset by diamond geezer.

Sunday, 18 June 2006


Another picture from Ian JCs Flickr photoset of his Outer Hebrides trip:


This is Bostadh on Great Bernera, just off the Isle of Lewis.

Luskentyre from the hill

A different view of the classic Harris beach:


This one taken from the hill above the west coast road that runs between Tarbert and Leverburgh. In the distance, more hills of Harris, and in the middle-left distance, part of the island of Taransay.

Saturday, 17 June 2006

Borve Guest House

As previously mentioned, one of the things we do is website design, training and publicity. This is done under the name Nice Wee Sites.  

We've just launched our second client website in as many months, this one for Borve Guest House. This is a small, but very high quality guest house in Benbecula. I've stayed there several times before, as it is very convenient for flying in and out of the nearby airport.

The dynamics of Nice Wee Sites have worked out better than I hoped. SWMBO prefers doing the website design; she's had several years experience of interface design and related topics, and also has the patience that I don't. I prefer dealing with the client, and publicising the finished website. So it's turned out to be a domestically harmonious mix of skills and interests.

Friday, 16 June 2006

Our second beach: Vatersay

The beach at Vatersay was our second beach, and first all-day experience, about six years ago now, of beaches in the Outer Hebrides. Vatersay is a small island at the southern end of the archipelago. Like Berneray, it is connected to a larger island (in this case Barra) by a causeway. Here's a picture from Ann E.'s Flickr set of Scotland pictures:


The island is shaped like an apple core; with two beaches where the bites have been taken out by the apple. This is best illustrated in this picture from Ejbaurdo's photo set:


The first time we went there, I made the assumption that as it was the Outer Hebrides it couldn't be hot. Wrong. I spent the rest of the holiday sunburnt and peeling.

Thursday, 15 June 2006

Crowded beach

This one is over in Harris; it's either Northton, or Luskentyre (anyone know for sure?)



Three people and two dogs. Must be the height of the tourist season :-) 

Wednesday, 14 June 2006

Luskentyre (again)

Huw is a BBC friend of ours who, at the merest hint of a story in the Outer Hebrides, is on a plane here to cover it. He was over in mid-april to cover the story about the first Sunday ferry crossing over the Sound of Harris.

Here's one of his pictures of the beach at Luskentyre, taken on that trip. Note the snow on the hills above the estuary.


Tuesday, 13 June 2006

Traigh Ghearadha, Lewis


Excellent picture from a Flickr photoset of Outer Hebrides pictures by Ian JC. And another beach on my long list to visit.

Monday, 12 June 2006

A better beach

My obsession with Flickr continues. In my classification system for beaches, the Outer Hebrides rides higher than the Maldives, Seychelles, Barbados, California and various other well-known places.

However, there is one place which has a good chance of out-pointing the Outer Hebrides. It's a small group of islands off the Norwegian coast, and a good bit further north than the Arctic Circle.

The Lofoten Islands.



The Lofoten Islands have been near the top of my "must visit" list of places for some time. The pictures from Reinhard Pantke are pushing me towards buying an airline ticket and going there tomorrow.



Reinhard has got a heck of a lot of cracking pictures of these islands, plus Norway, Sweden, Iceland, Greenland, Canada and remote Scotland (all places I want to visit) on his Flickr account. And they are all so sickeningly good I think I might just chuck my camera away.

Elsewhere on the web, a few searches reveal other pictures of beaches in the Lofoten islands, such as:




Sunday, 11 June 2006

Hot and grassy

The heat is considerable, as it was yesterday. Worse, I've returned from my (sweaty) trip to the mainland to find a very overgrown lawn that is very much in need of a cut. SWMBO refuses to cut it as (officially) she cannot figure out how to use the strimmer (aye, right) or (unofficially) it cuts into her Big Brother / The O.C. viewing time.

When Fred built An-Caladh, he put in a weaving shed in the back garden, as well as other features and levels. Which makes our garden interesting; but also torture to mow quickly; too many things to go around. Last year I got away with cutting it just twice. One of our near-neighbours cuts their lawn several times a week, usually starting within 5 minutes of returning from any trip away, much to the amusement of several other residents.

Sod that; I've got a life. Cutting grass is an ultimately pointless activity, like shaving, as it'll just all grow back. Anyway, blogging is a displacement activity from mowing, so had better stop typing and start cutting.

Saturday, 10 June 2006


It's taken me over 18 months of living on Berneray before I saw my first otter. Footprints in the sand, many times, but no otter. And then, a few weeks ago, one such animal was swimming lazily past the bottom of my garden. Amazing.

I'm never going to get a photo of one of these unless I am exceptionally lucky, so here's a picture taken, on Berneray, by Flickr user Chris Barker during a trip to various Hebridean islands last month:


Thursday, 8 June 2006

Place names I like (1)

From the Isle of Harris, across the Sound from us. The names of places that I like. It's a smorgasbord of Gaelic, Norse derivative and English, and some are onomatopoeic. You can see (and hear) why language scholars get very excited about the Outer Hebrides.

  • Drinisiader 

  • Geocrab (no, really, there is a place called that)

  • Horgabost 

  • Huisinis

  • Leac a' Li

  • Losgaintir / Luskentyre

  • Plocrapol

  • Roghadal / Rodel

  • Scadabhagh

  • Scalpaigh / Scalpay

  • Sgarasta / Scarista

  • Seilibost

  • Taransay

Wednesday, 7 June 2006

(Not) nice weather for ducks

I'm currently off the island, and having a pleasant time at a rather badly organised conference. The usual reactions when it comes up in conversation where I'm from; bemusement, followed by some variation "It must rain there a lot".


The first winter we were here, we had frequent showers, hail, and wind for days on end. Last summer was somewhat patchy.

However, last winter was surprisingly dry. And the weather this spring, going into autumn, has been excellent. Crofters are optimistic of good crops, while the machair isn't the collection of puddles that it was last year for some of the time.


Where does this misconception come from? Probably the TV; the last two programmes I have seen about the Outer Hebrides have focused on dire weather, or made some passing comment on this. Whereas the truth is a little different. Basically, the weather can be the same as the mainland UK, only a little more extreme in either direction. When we have a sunny spell, it can be baking hot (on our first trip, I was sunburnt while lying on the beach at Vatersay). But when it is windy, by heck it is windy. And Tiree, an Inner Hebridean island not a million miles from here, often takes the UK record for the most sunshine in a year.

What to expect when you visit? Whatever time of year, I recommend wet weather gear, but also swimwear and sunblock. Just don't bring an umbrella.

Tuesday, 6 June 2006

101 uses for a compost bin

In possibly not the best example of joined-up thinking, the council gave out compost bins last saturday to residents of Stornoway. This is part of a Scottish Executive scheme to encourage recycling. The aim is laudable; the logistics were not. Some advice for next time:

Firstly: do not tell everyone to come and get them at a very narrow time. Especially one that coincides with the Stornoway half-marathon. There's only one event a year in Stornoway that takes up the roads, and that's it. Result: traffic chaos in Stornoway; probably the first time ever the town has been gridlocked.

Second: why not deliver them? Negates the resulting traffic chaos. Let's hope that this year the environmental benefit of all those compost bins outweighs the damage caused by hundreds of cars burning petrol and stuck in gridlock trying to get hold of them.

Third: need. Two or three large compost bins per household? Many folk are crofters, or gardeners with existing compost areas. Offering multiple free, durable, large, outdoor-suitable storage devices to anyone who is passing means that many will not be used for the intended purpose.

Anyway, they are going to have a second go at distribution. Hopefully not on Lewis, but maybe on the other (sometimes forgotten) islands further south. There is life beyond Stornoway...

Monday, 5 June 2006

Flickr pictures of the Outer Hebrides

I've been using Flickr for a while, mostly as a browser but more recently as a contributer. I find it about as effortless as humanely possible for getting your  pictures up online.


The grouping function seems to work quite well, where communities of people with similar photographic tastes come together and pool whatever pictures they want. The picture above is of Traigh Rosamol on South Uist. It's from the pool of the Outer Hebrides group, which has an excellent collection of beach, mountain, island and sea shots.

Sunday, 4 June 2006

Online shopping: the race (4)

The Boots order turned up yesteday, making it five working days since ordering. That's good, and a heck of a lot better than last time.

The downside is that they've made a mistake and instead of shower gel there is some kind of weird perfume. It can't be sent back in the post (being an aerosol), so the delivery carriers will be back to take back the unwanted items. So lose a few points for inaccuracy.

Saturday, 3 June 2006

Online shopping: the race (3)

And the winner is Dell. PC arrived yesterday. Three working days to get assembled, and shipped from Ireland to mainland England, up to Inverness then over to Berneray in the Outer Hebrides. That's good going. SWMBO has set it up already - 19 inch screen, nice sound system, and it's on broadband. Bit-torrent a go-go...

In second place: - one of two items arrived in the post yesterday.

No sign of Boots order and the online tracking doesn't have anything to add. Boo!

Friday, 2 June 2006

Midge alert

There's a recently deployed online service that gives a "Midge forecast" for Scotland. The midge is a tiny creature that at certain times of the year, and in certain conditions, rises from the ground in swarms and can give irritating bits.


Okay, some limitations. Mainly, that this online service is primarily to promote a midge obliteration machine that is being sold by the sponsors of the website.

The other main limitation is that there are many different kinds of midges. Different kinds bite different people. For example, I'm relatively unaffected by the Berneray midges, but have been bitten half to death by the midges on the north east side of Barra. The reverse will happen for other people. It makes a bit of a nonsense on the forecast to say "Stornaway 1" (spelling the town name incorrectly) when some folk will be affected, and others not, by the different kinds of midge in the Stornoway area.

Also, the best forecast for midges is the weather forecast. The nippers tend to come out when its overcast, a bit damp in the air, and its very still. The one thing they can't handle is wind; one breeze and they're gone.

Thursday, 1 June 2006

Online shopping: the race (2)

The online shopping race continues. Monday was a bank holiday, so the race effectively started on tuesday. Day three summary.

1)  eBay item. No sign of it; as it is coming from California, not expecting it soon.

2) items. No sign of those and can't track online. The items were despatched on tuesday.

3)  Boots online order. Hmmm. The order was quickly put together and whizzed up to Inverness, where it arrived on Wedneday at 1:36pm. Then, same as last time, there's a number of curious entries e.g. "Unable to deliver: held". This morning at 5:32am, the package was given to a "Third-party carrier". No further updates on the tracking website since then. Maybe it's on the way here, maybe it's going back to the Boots centre; who knows. I have a bad feeling - based on previous Boots online shopping - about this one.

4)  PC. Most impressive so far. The online tracking is very thorough, and we've watched it being built (not literally, of course) and moved from the factory in Ireland, over the sea to Wales, and then to Coventry for sending up north. It left Coventry yesterday (wednesday) afternoon at 4:07pm.