Ferry cancellations and a growing roar from oncoming storm force winds greeted Islanders across the Hebrides this morning (Sunday February 16).

There's a renewed and extended Yellow Warning for Wind from the Met Office to run between 10:00 (UTC) on Sunday 16 February and 11:00 (UTC) on Monday 17 February.

Ferry services cancelled include those from Castlebay, Lochboisdale, Eriskay, Lochmaddy, Berneray, Stornoway and Tarbert.  All services on the CalMac network are affected in some way.

Western Isles police warned that the Isle of Lewis might once again be cut off from Point after midday today but in the end the road link remained passable.

But Boradbay became a haven for stormbound vessels with two cargo ships and two large fishing vessels taking shelter there.

Storm Dennis will bring some very strong winds and transport disruption during Sunday and into Monday morning.

Gusts of 50-60 mph are likely quite widely within the warning area for much of the period. Gusts of 70 mph are likely at times, more especially across western Scotland on Sunday afternoon and evening, as well as in association with heavy showers elsewhere. A separate swathe of 70-75 mph gusts probably crossing the far north of Scotland and Orkney for a time early on Monday.

What to expect:
    •    Some delays to road, rail, air and ferry transport are likely
    •    Probably some bus and train services affected, with some journeys taking longer
    •    Delays for high-sided vehicles on exposed routes and bridges likely
    •    Some short term loss of power and other services is possible
    •    It’s likely that some coastal routes, sea fronts and coastal communities affected by spray and/or large waves

The warning extended the area affected further south into parts of south-west England, and north into Shetland.

Three Coastguard Rescue Teams were called to Shawbost on Saturday (15 February) to help recover a walker who had been injured a coastal path near the beach.

Scottish Ambulance asked for assistance around 11am after the woman called them. She had injured her leg during the height of Saturday’s bad weather and they were unable to lift her to the ambulance for further assistance.

Coastguard Rescue Teams from Bragar, Breasclete and Ness went to the scene and assisted the casualty using a stretcher, carrying her to the ambulance which then took her onwards to Western Isles Hospital.

Stornoway CRT was also tasked to bring their all-terrain vehicle (ATV) but were stood down before leaving the town area as the rescue had been achieved.

Stornoway RNLI Coxswain DI Murray was delighted to receive a donation on behalf of the local station of £1,000 from staff and customers of the Co-operative store, Macaulay Road, Stornoway.

Store Manager Steven Cooper and Co-op Area Manager Danny Simpson recently presented DI with the donation cheque, raised through a raffle, bag-packing, and in-store collection buckets.

The RNLI say: "Thank you to staff and customers for the fantastic donation!

"And further thanks to the Macaulay Road Co-Op store for hosting the Stornoway Lifeboat Fundraisers for three days in January as they held the annual RNLI SOS Raffle.

"A magnificent total of £1,074.50 was raised for Stornoway RNLI.

"Thank you again to staff and customers – Stornoway RNLI can’t do what they do without the funds raised by you!"

(photograph from left): Stornoway RNLI Coxswain DI Murray, Macaulay Road Co-op Manager Steven Cooper, and Co-Op Area Manager Danny Simpson.

Police are appealing for information to help trace a missing man who may have travelled to Stornoway.

52 year-old Michael Webster has been reported missing from his home in Ayr.

Police say enquiries have established Mr Webster was in Dingwall on Wednesday 5 February and travelled to Ullapool later on the same day.

He was seen on Ullapool CCTV and it is believed he may have travelled to Stornoway on the evening ferry.

Mr Webster is described as being 6ft tall and of medium build with brown hair.

He is a keen walker and is known to camp out or sleep rough.

Officers are keen to establish that he is safe and well.

Anyone who may have seen or had any contact with Mr Webster at any time since he was last seen is asked to make contact.

Anyone with information as to Michael’s whereabouts should contact 101 and quote incident no: 2450 of 05/02/2020.

The second phase of the Point and Sandwick Community Coastal Path project is about to begin, after Point and Sandwick Trust pledged the final piece of funding.

The community wind farm charity, which runs the Beinn Ghrideag wind farm, is to donate £9,000 towards work on the historic Shulishader steps – the 88 steps which lead steeply down to the geodha (Gaelic for cove), an old landing site for fishing boats which is enjoying renewed popularity as a wild swimming spot. 

To improve safety, the steps will be cleaned up and restored and a hand rail will be installed. An access path of around 300 metres is also to be created.

The work at Shulishader is part of a £1million project to create a clear walking route from Stornoway along the Braighe and all the way round the peninsula of Point.

Once complete, it will be 40km long and form part of the legacy of Point and Sandwick Trust’s community wind farm, as one of the key funders. 

The first phase of the path, carried out in late 2018, involved shoring up the sea wall outside Eaglais na h-Aoidhe and building a better path along the coastline towards Aignish. That phase cost £114,00, with £57,000 from LEADER and the remainder from the Beinn Ghrideag profits.

Norman Mackenzie, chair of Point and Sandwick Trust, said: “At PST we recognise the long-lasting value that the coastal path can bring to our area, both socially and economically.

“By providing easier access to our coastline, for the benefit of locals and tourists alike, the coastal path committee are making a real contribution to improving quality of life and opportunity in our area. By restoring the steps and opening access to the geodha at Shulishader, this second phase builds on the coastal protection work carried out at the Eaglais na h-Aoidhe site and ensures that a second historic site in our area can be preserved for the benefit of future generations.”

Point and Sandwick Trust’s community consultants, Alasdair Nicholson and Tony Robson, have been working with the Point and Sandwick Coastal Community Path committee on the phased project and are pleased to be embarking on phase two, which will also include marking out the walking route from the Braighe to Swordale – a distance of around 2km – with marker posts and putting in a number of gates for access.

Alasdair Nicholson said: “I am pleased that we are able to have put the funding together for this next step with support from PST, the Landfill Trust and a contribution from the grazings committee. These developments help responsible public access but also create new opportunities for crofting townships to diversify economic development.”

Tony Robson added: “It’s great to see this gem of a place being made more accessible.”

Work on the Shulishader steps and access track is likely to begin at the end of February and take around a month, with the handrail being made separately.  

In addition to Point and Sandwick Trust, a number of other groups and organisations have helped fund phase two of the coastal path. They include the Scottish Landfill Fund, which committed £7,000 and is administered locally by Third Sector Hebrides, and the Shulishader and Newlands Grazings Committee, which donated £4,000.

Erica Geddes, administration manager for Third Sector Hebrides, said: “Third Sector Hebrides are approved by SEPA to administer their Scottish Landfill Community Fund which distributes money from landfill taxes to support Scottish projects. This has enabled us to fund local community groups such as Point and Sandwick Coastal Community Path SCIO group with eligible projects such as Shulishader steps and community access pathway.

“We have supported Point and Sandwick Trust on a number of local projects and I am sure we will work on more over the next few years. These local projects allow public amenities to be restored, ensuring they are safe and also accessible to the general public. We have no doubt that this project will be beneficial to the local community and given its beautiful surroundings will also be enjoyed by visitors to the area.” 

Matt Bruce, chair of the Point and Sandwick Coastal Community Path committee, said: “I am delighted the plans to carry out more works to the community path can be put into place so quickly. The reaction from all parties involved has been so supportive and we are now able to carry out the maintenance and improvement works needed to allow better access.

“This is one of the many interesting local features which are easy to forget about – we should all be welcoming the fact that better facilities are coming to our neighbourhood.”

Iain MacSween, clerk to the grazings committee, said they were delighted the work would begin soon. “We’ve been talking about it for quite some time and it’s great to see it finally getting underway. The steps themselves are a historical landmark in Shulishader.”

He recalled the “great summer pastime” of launching smaller toy boats from the bay, as a child, but said it had been at least 40 years since any proper work was done on the steps.

He added: “We are extremely grateful to the Point and Sandwick Coastal Community Path committee for pushing this and we are proud to be associated with them in reinstating the steps and improving it as an amenity – not just for Shulishader but for the wider community.”

Donald Taylor, a resident of Shulishader, also welcomed the project, having campaigned for it for years. He also hopes to see a bench erected at the top of the steps in the future, in memory of a Aird primary teacher Chrissie Murray, whose croft ended there, and a picnic area down at the cove itself.

Donald, who spent a lot of time out in his uncle’s boat as a youngster, said: “I’m pleased to see this work… and I’ll be more pleased when I see it finished.”

To mark the occasion, a photocall was held at the steps recently, involving the various organisations and people involved in organising the second phase of the coastal path.

Wild swimmer Colin S Macleod, who runs the Hebridean Sea Swimmers Facebook page, came along with some friends to take a dip in the bay to celebrate the news.

Colin said: “I’m really pleased to hear that the 88 steps are going to be cleaned up and a safety handrail put into place in this historical sheltered bay.

“I’ve been wild swimming there a few times. It’s such a beautiful place with a fantastic coast to be viewed from sea level. We’ll definitely be back there again.”

The photocall was also attended by Donald MacSween, secretary of Falmadair, the North Lewis Heritage Sailing Trust, which endorsed the coastal path committee’s funding bid and hopes to hold future events in the bay, especially during the Year of Coasts and Waters 2020. As a community boat trust, Falmadair has sgothean in its curation similar to those that would have been in use when Shulishader was a working bay.




Pictures from the Shulisahder steps, by Sandie Maciver of SandiePhotos (please credit). 

Deputy First Minister John Swinney opened an exhibition in Stornoway detailing the creation of a powerful art installation commemorating the Iolaire disaster.

The widely praised and much-visited ‘Sheòl an Iolaire/The Iolaire Sailed’, was commissioned by Stornoway Port Authority and installed on the town’s South Beach ahead of the 2019 centenary of the tragedy.

The sculpture, designed by Torcuil Crichton and Malcolm Maclean, was envisaged as a temporary installation, but in response to enormous public demand, the Port Authority has applied for planning permission to leave the installation in place as a permanent reminder of one of the worst maritime tragedies in United Kingdom waters.

The exhibition in the ferry terminal comprises photographs, time lapse film, aerial films, poetry and paintings  of Sheol An Iolaire from its conception to its installation. Malcolm Maclean thanked all of those whose work was on show in the exhibition and the many hundreds of others who were too numerous for inclusion. He went on to commend the ferry terminal as potentially a great new venue for Stornoway and hoped this would be the first of many exhibitions, music performances  and and other events that could be held there in the years to come. 

Mr Swinney also met Inverness-based businessman Stewart Graham who is driving plans to establish a world class Iolaire Visitor Centre not far from the art installation.

The HMY Iolaire struck rocks outside Stornoway harbour on 1 January 1919 when it was taking WWI veterans back to the Isles of Lewis and Harris – 201 of the 280 men on board perished.

The 189-foot-long installation reproduces the dimensions of the ship and located in the harbour where it was due to berth. It features 280 wooden posts – one for each of the men on board the fateful voyage – with 79 painted white to represent the survivors.

Each post is lit with a waterproof footlight and at night, and when covered by the tide, the outline of the ship can still be seen beneath the waves.

It formed a highly visible part of the Iolaire centenary commemorations last year and has become a hugely popular site for both residents and visitors, while online images have attracted thousands more to the Iolaire legacy. There has also been a tremendous artistic response, some of which has been curated into an exhibition in the Stornoway ferry terminal.

Sheòl an Iolaire has been recognised by the Stornoway Amenity Trust’s Community Public Service Award for the individual or the group which has done the most to promote the town in 2019. It has been registered as a war memorial by the Imperial War Museum and has been listed for a John Byrne award.

Murdo Murray, chairman of Stornoway Port Authority, said: “We are extremely grateful to Mr Swinney for opening the exhibition telling the story of Sheòl an Iolaire which is a poignant and innovative commemoration of an event that had a huge impact on our community.

“We feel it should now remain as a permanent memorial alongside the new visitor centre as a legacy of the centenary events. Together they will tell the powerful and moving story of this terrible tragedy which should never be forgotten.”

Torcuil Crichton paid tribute to fellow artist Malcolm Maclean from Uig, as well as Stornoway Port Authority and their engineers, Wallace Stone and Stornoway Trust, who quickly grasped the potential of the idea.

“That Sheòl an Iolaire is still standing, is testament to their skill and ability to turn a concept into a real construction”, he said.

He added: “Sheòl an Iolaire tells the whole story of the tragedy in the simplest way possible, we brought the ship home.

“But on such a sensitive subject people bring their own memories and emotions to the site which changes with every visit. The incredible artistic response, some of which is in the walls of the ferry terminal, is part of that. The public response has been amazing and shows what can happen when people are left to make up their own minds”.

The Port Authority and Mr Graham, as well as the Stornoway Trust; An Lanntair arts centre; Museum nan Eilean; local historical societies and others, are part of a working group that has proposed the visitor centre.

Stewart Graham, founder of the international Gael Force Group which began life in his home town of Stornoway, said: “The Iolaire Centre will mark the maritime disaster at Stornoway’s Number 1 pier.

“Following consultation with the community in 2018, there was strong support for a visitor experience to commemorate the tragedy and its impact on the islands in the following period.  The vision for the centre is to create a space that tells, not only the Iolaire story, but that of the wider context of the island’s maritime history and war involvement.

“The centre will seek to tell the story sensitively and with due respect, over a century after the tragedy. It is expected that the centre would be both a lasting commemorative introspection and a world class visitor experience that supports a major, transformational, economic boost for the Islands.”

Music at the opening was provided by singers from the Dìleab project and Willie Campbell who sang ‘My Time Was Not At Hand’, one of the songs performed when Mr Swinney was among the audience at Celtic Connections recently.  Mr Swinney spoke at the opening event about how moving he had found the original Dileab event in December 2018 which he watched on-line and the entire Iolaire commemoration as it developed.

The event in the Stornoway Ferry Terminal building is also seen as pioneering the use of the terminal as a venue for performances and exhibitions with the audience being impressed by the excellence of the acoustics.

Top photograph: John Swinney (centre) with artist Malcolm Maclean (left) and local MSP Alasdair Allan

Middle photograph: The artform,the artist and the minister. Photograph by Chris Murray

Lower middle photograph: Willie Campbell with singers and musicians from the Dileab event