Thursday, 31 August 2006

Free books to legally download

Google Books are now offering a service where you can download - for free - books that don't have copyright issues surrounding them.

Am wondering if there are any studies out there of the true cost of downloading and printing a book, namely:

  • paper cost

  • toner cost

  • download cost

  • printer usage cost

It would be interesting to see how that stacked up against the costs of buying the same book online or out of a bookstore, from the customers financial perspective.

"Flowers" on Vatersay

One of the downsides of most online search systems is that incorrectly spelt text can get "lost" i.e. it doesn't get picked up by people who search using the correct spelling. Some services get around this by enabling you to search on "near same" spellings of keywords. Unfortunately, Flickr doesn't (yet), which is why the picture below originally passed me by; it's been tagged and named with the wrong spelling for Vatersay.


The picture is of some, ahem, "flowers" growing on the machair close to the white-sand east beach in the centre of the island. It is actually of a dangerous weed called Ragwort, which is toxic to certain types of animals.

This is one of a great collection of pictures by Flickr user Viche.

Thankfully, in Flickr, there are many alternative routes to getting to pictures. "Pools" and "groups" are two ways in which pictures on a related theme from several different photographers can be connected, thus making serendipity a frequent event when browsing.

Different beaches, different textures

After a great time away (mainly in Holland), I'm back in the Outer Hebrides.

Almost immediately, on the first web browse, a new picture of the beach at Uig appears:


That's from a photoset by Flickr user Commonorgarden. There's some other excellent ones in there, including this next one which show the diversity of material in Outer Hebrides beaches. And you thought sand was just sand...?:



Saturday, 19 August 2006

Silversprite is away...

What feels like the end of summer is here; I'm off on a short trip. Thus, no blogging for a bit ... but I'll be back.


By the time I get back, it really will feel like Autumn. The island kids are already back at school (early starts for the parents), the nights are rapidly drawing in, and we've had to light the peat fire on a few occasions of late. SWMBO has started muttering about "Christmas shopping", a few of the locals are muttering about "the first winter gale soon", the peas have been harvested, and the ferry timetable is gradually winding down to the winter timetable.  

On the plus side, it won't be long now until we start getting displays of the northern lights. Also, as the tourist season (which lasts all of six weeks here) is at an end, there'll be no more waiting for terrified people to figure out passing-place etiquette when on the roads. Or, road. Or, track. The winter bus and plane timetables will be kicking in soon which oddly I've found more convenient than the summer ones for getting around and getting to the mainland.

I've now blogged every day - sometimes several times a day - for the last 88 days. It's been a fun experiment, and I've learnt more than I need to know about blogging and all things related. It's also got me more wired into net culture. I've followed the rebirth of Rocketboom, watched YouTube go from niche to mainstream, and watched a plane land on Barra beach and an Asian girl take a picture a day for three years on the same; seen the blogosphere double in size, digg-ed, been dugg(!), played with just about every Web 2.0 application going (scary how many of them have disappeared in that 88 days), contributed to Wikipedia, followed the online rise of Snakes on a plane, added to my Flickr account, got into Second Life (an online multiplayer game with an emphasis on social networking), found that lots of other people were blogging about the Outer Hebrides, been on BBC national radio to talk about working online from here, and watched as the profile of these islands gradually increased online.   

I hope your summer was enjoyable, and your autumn and winter are pleasant too.

The picture of the sprig of seaweed on the beach at Berneray is by Rob Wakefield.

Friday, 18 August 2006

Still my favourite Hebridean beach

Though the beaches of Harris (especially Luskentyre), North Uist and Berneray run it close, my favourite beach is still this one, Traigh Eais, on the northwest point of Barra:


It's a huge beach, and I've never seen anyone else on it. In sunny weather, it's particularly spectacular to walk along. Here's a picture I took from the top of the small hill at Eoligarry that overlooks the beach:


Just behind here is the croft run by Angus MacNeill, our local MP. He's a cool dude. When not in Westminster harrying the government (it was he who discovered the obscure act of Parliament that says it's illegal to flog off honours for a quick buck), he's back on Barra shearing sheep and doing other crofty-things.

The top of this hill is a great place to sit. From here you can see many beaches on Barra, Eriskay and South Uist; here's the view looking roughly northwest: 


Plus, you can watch the planes land and take off at Barra airport on the next beach over to the one pictured.

All the pictures on this blog entry by me.

Thursday, 17 August 2006

West coast of Barra

One of the reasons I like Barra is that it is shaped like a saucepan. The handle-bit is where my favourite beaches are - see tomorrows pictures. However, there are also good ones around the rest of the coast. Conveniently, the main road hugs the coast, making it easy to reach dunes such as these:


There's plenty of dunes on the various beaches and coves on the west coast of Barra. Even on good weather days, the waves can be a bit rough; always struck me as a good place for braver surfers to visit:


Me, I prefer to find a nice bit of beach, unscrew a flask of something alcoholic and laze around for a while. According to the news recently, the warmer weather has meant an increase in sharks and other beasties moving this far north, so that may provide more entertainment when watching people attempting to surf.


All pictures by me.

Wednesday, 16 August 2006

Our first trip to Vatersay

Three pictures I've recently unearthed from our first trip to Vatersay; now, quite a few years ago. It was quite a scorching May day, and we both ended up a bit sunburnt. We walked from Castlebay on Barra with various supplies, over the causeway, and on the road that winds around the coast of Vatersay (there's also a regular bus service). Views of promisiong beaches soon open up around bends in the road:


This is the eastern one of the two beaches in the middle of Vatersay. Being more sheltered, it doesn't have the Atlantic waves crashing in of it's westerly neighbour. However, it also means that it's quieter, and the water is a bit warmer (or, not as chilling):


Vatersay is also a pleasant island to walk round; the hills aren't particularly steep or high, and from most points there are beach views. Here's the same beach, taken looking back along the clockwise coastal walk:


All pictures by me.

Wholefoods and lemon muffins

Nice Wee Sites, our web design outfit, has just launched another website. This time, it's for the Uist Wholefoods Co-operative. The website is at

This is a bunch of people down in South Uist and Benbecula who deal with a larger wholefood supplier based in Inverness. The catalogue of items is bewilderingly large, with many obscure items. And quite a lot of household stuff. We did our first order with them recently, and it turned up last week, delivered to our door by a friendly bloke with an enormous beard.

It didn't last long. Excellent muffin mix (currently eating a low-fat lemon flavoured muffin), various toppings and pancake stuff, and a whole loads of Green and Blacks chocolate. Yum and double yum. Though the diet and progress towards next years half-marathon attempt is looking a bit threatened.

It's doubly good when you do a website for a service that you both like and use. I think we'll be using the Uist Wholefoods Co-operative a lot more in the future...

Tuesday, 15 August 2006

Tangasdale Beach, Barra

For the next four days, pictures on this blog will be of beaches in Barra and Vatersay. Pictures seem to be loading a little slowly of late; this is due to the speed of Flickr, where they are stored. Just hang in there.

Tangasdale beach on Barra; I've mentioned this one, but have just come across this particular picture, taken near sunset. It's a great beach with a large dune area and the odd bench; ideal for picnic-ing.

Off one side, and in this picture, is a spectacularly ugly hotel (lots of concrete - how on earth it got planning permission is beyond me). However, it does have a good place to eat inside for non-residents, with views over this beach and towards the sunsets; it also has a good bar for those who don't fancy the two mile walk into Castlebay.


Picture by Redshift27.

Monday, 14 August 2006


Mingulay is an uninhabited island some way south of Barra. There are several in the area, marking the southern end of the Outer Hebrides archipelago.

Like many other islands, it was once inhabited; in this case, well into the last century. Many buildings are still partially standing. I haven't been to this island yet, but am told that the beaches are particularly good. To get there, hang around the harbour at Castlebay on Barra, ask around, and haggle with whichever fisherman expresses an interest in taking you over. Be bold; Barra fishermen have a reputation for driving a hard bargain.



Picture by Redshift27.

Sunday, 13 August 2006

Back to Harris

About a month ago, we had a half-day over in South Harris. It's easy to get to; the ferry terminal is a mile from our house, and there's a bus waiting on the other side to whisk people off to the desired beach. In our case, we got off at the Seallam centre and wandered west, past various cows:



The first beach we came to was Traigh na Cleabhaig. The west end of this, as you can see, is a bit rocky, but the bulk of the beach is clean and (at low tide) quite expansive:



This was okay I suppose; good views. But then five other people turned up, as you can drive right up to the beach. Am not used to "sharing" a beach with other people, so we moved on to the next one. 

This turned out to be one of my favourite beaches in the Outer Hebrides. It's about a mile or so beyond the end of the village of Northton. It was a hot, sunny day when we visited, and was an uncanny reminder of a few deserted Greek islands I'd visited some years back.


There's several such beaches, sheltering under the somewhat steep hill before Toe Head. Each is individually pretty, clean, white sand and deserted. It was kind of odd, sitting on one of them and seeing that the main view is of Berneray, the island I live on.

Here's the view sitting on the beach on the right, looking towards Pabbay:


These pictures from my Flickr set from that day out.

Saturday, 12 August 2006

The dunes at Uig

Yes, I know there are umpteen pictures of the beaches at Uig on this blog; but it's one heck of a place. Big beach country indeed. There's also a new website for the area if you fancy a visit up there. This particular dune picture is by Flickr user Ian JC:


Friday, 11 August 2006

Not as isolated as you may think

Here's an interesting beach picture from Flickr user Bluewave. It's of a beach in Lewis; the one at Melabost to be precise:


Look on the horizon. Each one of those dots is actually a house. Some will be deserted; some will be second homes (let out as holiday homes, or just empty for most of the year); the rest will be lived in. Most of the population of the Outer Hebrides reside in Lewis, which around the northwest coast is surprisingly populated in places.

Thursday, 10 August 2006


First, a small request from me. I'm doing a bit of experimentation into blogs and blogging. If you run a blog, please can you make a link to this blog, even if it's just temporary. This is so I can see how and when systems such as Google and Technorati detect such links from one blog to another. Thank you. And now, back to our regular programme...

+ + + + +  

Another expedition to a Hebridean island. This one was to Boreray, which is about four miles to the west of Berneray. It's a quick sail over there on Donald's boat; we went over during the annual Berneray week. Getting onto the island requires a transfer onto a dinghy for the last few yards, followed by grounding on Boreray's only beach (you can see it behind Donald in the picture below, where he's preparing to drop anchor).


Boreray has a resident population of 1. Jerry lives in his restored eco-house, which is powered by wind turbines and solar panels. He's also restored another building, which is let as a self-catering place. (You don't need to sail or swim across; he'll pick you up in his boat from the south end of Berneray causeway).

Apart from the two buildings that Jerry has done up, pretty much all of the other buildings in Boreray are ruins. As with islands such as Pabbay, there was for many centuries a thriving community here. This can be seen in the many house walls still standing, and the remains of buildings such as the church:

(As we crested the hill and the church building disappeared from view, I'm sure I heard the distant voice of Sarah Beeny say something about "property developers dream", "just need to fix the roof and put windows in", or something like that...). 

Boreray has been inhabited by different races for many centuries; remnants of Viking and other civilisations are frequently unearthed. Remains such as neolithic burial chambers, dating back at least 5,000 years, have been discovered amongst the shifting sands of the dunes. A number of ancient standing stones are to be found around the island. After the end of Viking control of the island in the thirteenth century. the burial ground at Cladh Manach was used for the bodies of monks who died north of the isle of Eigg (those dying south were taken to Iona). There is a cup-marked stone next to a number of the grave mounds on this site.

There is a particularly interesting geo (a small inlet) on the northwest side of the island. It is possible - with care - to scramble down to a tiny beach at the bottom. Birds nest on both cliff faces. Unfortunately, clegs (I really hate clegs) swarm at the bottom of the geo, so I had to quickly scramble back up while they extracted several pints of blood from me:


In around 1460, the island was acquired by Clan MacLean of Ardgour. The MacLeans were to remain until the early nineteenth century. Evidence of the considerable works to improve Boreray's infrastructure - roads, walls, pier and a drainage system for Loch Mor - is still discernible. Few people would actually have lived on Boreray during the MacLeans' stewardship, but there was plenty of work for day-labourers from North Uist.

The thirteenth MacLean of Boreray finally left the island in around 1810. and it was divided into twenty crofts. The population grew quickly; the census of 1841 recorded 181 inhabitants. Many of the numerous ruined houses on the island date back to this particular era:


Despite the efforts of the Free Church of Scotland, who provided a fine church and schoolhouse in 1880, over-cultivation and the collapse of the kelp trade contributed to a gradual population decline until, by 1925, the last islanders were evacuated. One family - descended from the MacLeans - decided not to relinquish their tenancy, and the single, existing croft was created; the remainder continues to be used as common grazing land by crofters from Berneray. Boreray was finally abandoned in the 1960’s.

Various signs of previous work are scattered across the island. For example, on the west side there is a narrow causeway which seperates the largest loch from the sea. Items from around the world that have e.g. fallen off boats are periodically washed up on the bank of the causeway; when we visited, the skeleton of a large sea creature (dolphin or small whale) was present:


Several residents of Berneray - especially some of the MacLeans - are direct descendants of Boreray residents. It is widely said that one of the grandparents of Neil Armstrong, the first man on the moon, was a resident of Boreray, though firm evidence is lacking.

It was an enjoyable few hours on Boreray, though that was probably enough time. The island doesn't have the dramatic presence, atmosphere and views of Pabbay; on the gloomy day we visited Boreray, it appeared to be relatively featureless. On a much brighter and sunnier day (and one with less clegs) it would probably have been better, especially as several of the sweeping North Uist beaches are visible from the islands.

Pictures on this blog entry by me; thanks to Jerry Cox for some of the text.

Wednesday, 9 August 2006

Telephone for Donald MacDonald

We still have the old-style phone boxes out here, though even these are getting slowly replaced. Thankfully, not with the open-front cubicle style boxes I've seen on the mainland, as these would not be too great in a Hebridean winter gale. Here's a picture from Flickr user BlueWave of the telephone box at Crossbost in Lewis:


Tuesday, 8 August 2006


One of the great things about the airports on Hebridean islands is that you can check in, then if there is a bit of a wait, go to the beach. Islay is good for this (a cracking beach a mile from the airport); and Barra is even more convenient, as the beach is also the runway.

Here's one example of a near-airport beach on the island of Benbecula. This island is quite small and flat, so it's easy to get around:


The airport at Balivanich is relatively big for out here, as it serves the nearby military base as well. It's also our "local" airport for Berneray, being about a 40 minute drive away.

Here's another picture of the same beach, taken from a bit further back:


Thanks to Ian JC for the pictures.

Monday, 7 August 2006

Pabbay: my favourite Hebridean island

For a change, some pictures from me. These are of Pabbay, an island off the northwest coast of Berneray. We visited it on September 15th 2005, as part of my plan to spend every birthday on a different Hebridean island or beach.

We sailed out in Donald's boat. Him, me, SWMBO, and Ursina the potter. Getting ashore involved Donald paddling madly in a dinghy while SWMBO kept a lookout.


Pabbay is quite a spectacular island. It's roughly oval, and has one hill that is an almost perfect cone, rising near the middle of the island. There are no permanent residents, though the owners and their friends and family come over and stay in one of the two restored/new buildings.

The only thing you'll usually notice moving are the deer. There's a large group of them on the island, which provide hunting/sustenance for the owners. They'll spend more time watching you than you spend watching them:


There are many ruined buildings on Pabbay. The island was populated up to 1846, when (as legend goes) it was cleared under the excuse of illegal alcohol distillation being discovered. Some of the people who were cleared moved to Berneray, North Uist, Harris and to Australia; many moved to Cape Breton in Canada. Residents of that area who have ancestors with the surnames MacKinnon, MacLeod, Morrison, MacAskill, or MacKay may have a Pabbay connection.

The remnants of many houses scatter the sides of the hill:



Quite incredibly, at the time of the 1841 census, there were 65 households on the island, with a total resident population of 323. The island and it's inhabitants had close connections with Berneray, using the church on that island - one door was used by Berneray residents, the other by Pabbay residents.

The view from the top is excellent, whatever the weather. You can see all round the island, and so can follow the progress of the deer. To the west you can see Shillay, a smaller island where seals come to bask:


There are several streams and springs on Pabbay, which flow past some of the ruined buildings. Other sustenance for residents would have come from sheep and fishing, and trading with residents and relatives on other nearby islands. Martin Martin (yes, that's a real name), one of the earliest travel writers to wander these islands, wrote:

"...the soil is sandy and fruitful in corn and grass, and the natives have lately discovered here a white marle. The west end of this island which looks to St. Kilda is called the wooden harbour, because the sands at low water discover several trees that have formerly grown here."

It certainly wasn't an easy life, with weather periodically damaging even the sturdy stone houses. The storm of 1697 is particularly remembered for destroying most of the houses, as well as burying a village under sand on Berneray.



All the pictures by me; there's more on the Flickr photoset.

Sunday, 6 August 2006

Outer Hebrides sunsets

Yay! Another bonus of living out here are the frequent great sunsets over the sea. Wherever you live in the Outer Hebrides you are never more than a few miles from the sea, and rarely more than that from a beach. So sunrises and sunsets over the sea are easy to observe. Very useful for that "let's have a barbeque" moment.


That particular picture is taken from Bhaltos beach on Lewis, by Kirstie Anderson. Picture taken on June 5th 2006. The one below is a sunset taken from the west beach of Berneray; it's currently the header on this blog. Picture taken by Wolfgang Bergius.


Here's one from Flickr user Saint.Tobias, of a sunset in the Uists:


Here's one from Barra, taken by redshift27:


...and two from Ness at the top of Lewis, by James Morrison:



Lake - but where?

Another Flickr picture from Ejbaurdo. A good photographer, but unfortunately his pictures are a bit lacking in descriptiveness or tags. I thought this might be a small lake on Lewis that I've seen somewhere else, but am not sure - anyone else have any information:


Saturday, 5 August 2006

Oot tae sea

Another picture from Rob Wakefield. This one is taken on the west beach of Berneray in December, looking out to see. Next stop Rockall (and if if you miss that, Greenland).


I've got a liking for Outer Hebrides beaches in the winter. Part of it is the clarity; often totally clear skies during day and night. Part of it is because you you know that it will be dark by late afternoon, in which case a roaring peat fire, whisky and some good food await back home.

And the best reason of all is probably the Northern Lights. Once seen over Berneray - especially from a beach - never forgotten, and always wished for again. Roll on the winter and the dark nights...

Friday, 4 August 2006

Last sunset of the year

I quite like some of the pictures by Rob Wakefield, who looks to have hit a good patch of winter weather during his visit here.


This one is of the sunset on December 31st 2005. I think it's taken from near Berneray Youth Hostel. This is, for many residents, the longest day as seeing in the new year involves visiting everyone else's houses after midnight. This usually carries on till breakfast on January 1st. Not much work gets done on New Years Day on Berneray.

Teleworking, Berneray style

Here's a picture of me, on the west beach of Berneray. I'm the one strolling along with a handheld games console, trying out a game (part of what I do for a living is evaluating the effectiveness of digital games in curriculum-based education). Sensible, as I get work done, and burn a few calories at the same time. The only danger of this kind of working is of not keeping too close an eye of the waves/tide coming in, and getting a bit wet.


Occasionally, you'll be strolling along and see someone perched up on a dune with a laptop, working away (some people use I think its Vodaphone broadband so they can roam around and be online).

Thursday, 3 August 2006

Cockle bay at low tide

At low tide, you can cross the cockle bay that is on the south part of Berneray. Actually even at higher tides you could probably swim across. Not surprisingly, considering the name, residents, visitors, fishermen and other people into seafood can be seen scrabbling around for various shellfish during the very low tides.


Picture by Rob Wakefield.

Wednesday, 2 August 2006

Sand or Snow?

A picture of some dunes in shadow. The white sand of many of the local beaches is partially attributed to crunched-up shells. Not exactly sure where this photo was taken - the Flickr tags attribute it to Berneray and North Uist. Storms, and especially the hurricane of January 2005, have a way of reshaping the dunescape of these islands.


Tuesday, 1 August 2006

Taransay and Luskentyre

A particularly moody shot of Taransay (on the left in the background) and the beach of Luskentyre (on the right). From cjcampbell:


Nudists, clegs and Google

One of the things I like about Wordpress (the blogging system I use) is the data you can look at regarding how many people viewed entries on your blog, and how they got there. It's not too detailed (which is good, so you can't get lost in it), and is calculated to the minute.

The most entertaining data is that of the "Search Engine Terms". This shows the phrases that people put into e.g. Google and Technorati to bring up a load of results, one of which (an entry on this blog), the searcher decided to check out. Below is the last seven days of search engine terms for my blog.

I think what this shows is that biting insects, and pictures of naked people, are especially popular with the Internet crowd. Some of these must have come away disappointed; for example, whoever was searching for 'Hot Koreans in tight jeans'...


  • campsites outer hebrides 

  • clegs 

  • hebrides beaches 

  • nudist beach 

  • picture of clegs 

  • scottish naturism 

  • outer hebrides climate 


  • nudist 

  • outer hebrides midges 

  • cable snapping stock footage 

  • nudist sites scotland 

  • The West Highland Way Official Guide july

  • hotspot stornoway 

  • "clegs" 

  • outer hebrides beaches 

  • clegs 

  • cleg bites scotland 

  • calmac ferry lewis pictures 

  • gaelic name design 

  • liam neeson nude

  • beaches on uist 

  • insect sting pictures bruise 

  • what are clegs..... 

  • elderly nudist villages 

  • nude beaches norway pictures 

  • Beaches on South Uist 

  • naturist on flickr 

  • treatment of cleg bite 

  • scotland girls naked 

  • for sale austin allegro 

  • naturist blog pictures 

  • nude swim scotland 

  • most remote beach


  • outer hebrides 

  • what are midges 

  • cleg bites 

  • Uist beaches 

  • Outer Hebrides holiday beaches 

  • clegs 

  • silversprite 

  • scotland's clegs 

  • midges 2006 

  • "Fishing/Utility Boat" 

  • treatment of midge bites in scotland 

  • midges + clegs 

  • Hot Koreans in tight jeans 

  • flickr review 

  • Jennifer Aniston Beach Papparazi Photos 



  • valtos western isles 

  • Britains best deserted beach

  • "traigh eais" pictures 

  • camas uig 


  • campsite harris lewis 


  • mv isle of lewis first day at stornoway 

  • stornoway wireless hotspot 

  • scarista harris hebrides 

  • scotland midges heatwave 

  • who do clegs bite 

  • Luskentyre 

  • clegs 

  • Barra, Scotland in the Outer Hebrides



  • outer hebrides beaches 

  • traigh ghearadha 

  • Loch Stacsabhat 

  • google earth unusual sights 

  • papparazi pictures 


  • sunrise outer hebrides uk

  • location of traigh ghearadha 

  • "Borve Guest House" 

  • valtos beach 

  • "wearing flippers" blog photo 


  • Outer Hebrides beaches 

  • lofoten satellite picture 

  • outer hebrides webcam 

  • Midge forecast 

  • remote lewis harris 

  • borve guest house 

  • mystery by the beach 

  • pics of people and seaweed at the beach 

  • Molinginish map