Secret Scotland

If it's secret, and in Scotland…

Go to St Kilda from Skye

St Kilda isn’t the easiest archipelago to get to – you can read some of the items we’ve come across here: Secret Scotland – St Kilda

The distance (about 40 miles) means the journey takes some four hours, assuming the weather doesn’t delay you, and even if you set out in good weather, there’s a chance that things won’t be so good when you get there, and you might have to turn back with your goal in sight. Cancellation is a real possibility.

So, the arrival of a second regular service sailing there has to be good news.

Sailing from Uig on the Isle of Skye, the new service will compete with existing services operating from Harris.

Although described as a “new” service, it seems that the route is a historic one that operated many years ago.

Day trips

The service allows for day trips:

At the time of writing, these are on offer during May, June, July, August, and September, and other dates by arrangement. The cost is given as £230.

Departure at 7:30am, and return time 8-9pm, allowing approximately 4 hours on Hirta, main Island of the St Kilda archipelago.

World Heritage Site

St Kilda is a World Heritage Site (dual, both natural and cultural), managed by the National Trust for Scotland (NTS), and the potential increase in visitor numbers may be a cause for concern.

Paul Sharman, a ranger with NTS, said: “I think it is a good thing that people are coming to experience this unique world heritage site.

“But most people stay in the village area, which does cause some wear and tear.”

Via Historic St Kilda link to Skye restored

Further details of the service and other trips can be found here:

Go to St Kilda from Skye

Go to St Kilda brochure.pdf

The Good Old Days

I had a look for some recent pics of trips to Hirta, but I chose the pic below (from 1965) as a better example of ‘Compare and Contrast’ between then and now.

The owner’s original caption probably sums things up far better than anything I might add:

We had had an uncomfortable 17 hour journey from Mallaig in the fishing boat with only a National Trust for Scotland tea-towel displaying a map of Scotland and the NTS Properties for finding the route. It was good to be on the land although it seemed to be rocking and rolling for half a day.



August 11, 2013 Posted by | Civilian, Maritime, Transport | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Scotland/Stornoway plans to profit from Climate Change

I’ve been through more than my fair share of battles after being accused of nor believing in, or denying, the existence of Climate Change or AGW (Anthropogenic Global Warming). (Anthropogenic – man-made.) That’s because I’ve made no secret that I’m a Climate Change or Global Warming Sceptic.

Unfortunately, one of the tactics used by the genuine deniers, who seem to have some sort of politically motivated agenda, is to include sceptics in their numbers, and further confuse the subject.

I hope I don’t need to define ‘denier’ for you, but that to the deniers I do have clarify ‘sceptic’:

  1. Someone who is undecided as to what is true and enquires after facts.
  2. Someone who habitually doubts accepted beliefs and claims presented by others, requiring strong evidence before accepting any belief or claim.

For what it’s worth, in reality I’m no longer a sceptic, as I’ve seen so much tripe come from the denier’s camp as they distort and misrepresent the data now available (and  repeatedly attempt capitalise on mistakes and errors made in early work on the subject, repeating it today as if it was still valid, or had never been publicised) that I see little point in even giving them the time to hear their nonsense.

Deniers will deny the following, of course, but the rest of us who still have a brain cell or two left to rub together like having a look at this, it’s a handy summary:

119 One-Liners to Respond to Climate Science Myths | PlanetSave

Stornoway Port Authority considers Arctic port hub

Another nail in the denier’s coffin was driven in by Stornoway Port Authority (SPA) last month, when it announced plans to make its harbour a key destination for freighters, which it suggest could be stopping there to refuel:

Chief executive Jane MacIver said new jobs could be created for people living in the Western Isles.

She said: “The vision long-term is for Stornoway to become a European Arctic gateway hub for shipping.

“We are bang in the path of any ship that is coming from China or the Far East across the Arctic.”

Via Stornoway Port Authority in Arctic hub plan

The idea comes after a Russian tanker made the first commercial sailing direct from Norway to Japan via the Arctic Ocean.

The route is normally frozen for most of the year, and although it melts in during the summer and autumn, this is not usually sufficient to allow the passage of large ships.

Of course, if the deniers (NOT the sceptics! – remember the wardens on parade in Dad’s Army) are right, this plan will never come to pass.

Modern Antarctic Convoy

Modern Antarctic Convoy via SXC

Found an interesting pic for this one – wrong end of the World, but then again, for the moment at least, I’m hardly likely to come up with a pic something that is not happening… yet?: Ships positioning to make approach through 70 miles of Antarctic ice to deliver supplies to McMurdo Station, while refueling (sic) tanker is finding a place to sit in the ice.

Well, no refuelling tanker will be needed in the Arctic if the good folk of Stornoway get their way 🙂

August 5, 2013 Posted by | Maritime, Transport | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Bullet holed boat found off Muck set to be another unfinished news story

Bullet hole

While I have to be fair, and note that some stories seen in the news will never have a conclusion, it’s still unfortunate that many of them are never seen again or followed up.

One such story provides an example which I doubt will ever be heard of again, even if an answer is found, as the folk who though the original story will have forgotten all about by the time it is solved.

Last month, there was a story which was almost headline-grabbing, as it announced the discovery of a bullet-riddled boat somewhere off the island of Muck – the discovery was actually made back on July 3.

The RNLI said that the crew of the Tobermory has found the upturned 14-foot dinghy, and that it appeared to have bullet holes in it, and that an attached sticker indicated it was  a US Coastguard-certified boat.

In a statement, the MCA said: “It appears that the dinghy has a US Coastguard sticker on it and the level of marine growth suggests that it has been in the water for some time.

Via Owner sought for Muck’s ‘US boat with bullet holes’

I’m not complaining.

Rather, I’m seeking to make the point that it would nice if reporters were obliged to follow up all such stories, and find out if they were resolved in a reasonable time, or were closed out, and would never be heard of.

I read a lot of news articles, and over time, find it disappointing that I never learn of the outcome of most of them, even if they are vaguely intriguing, as in this case.

I could, and do, follow some of them up, but even with the capabilities of the various web search tools now available, all I usually come up with is confirmation that the most recent story on the subject is the original one, and nothing appears later, as a follow-up or answer.

July 7, 2013 Posted by | Maritime | , , , | 2 Comments

Over-active imaginations see Nazi links in new Northlink Viking logo

Northlink Logo to 2013

Northlink Ferries logo up to 2013

Sometime I have to recover from the effects of seeing some stories that make it into the news, either through having to wait for the fits of laughter to subside, or for the bandages to come off if I fell off my seat and landed badly.

I think both came into play when I looked in disbelief at stories of some really ludicrous suggestions made by  people who must have had some agenda or grievance against Northlink Ferries – this could surely be the only motivation, unless they are deluded and need to be locked away for their, and our, safety.

Seen below is the recently introduced Northlink Ferries logo.

To anyone reasonably same and rational, and still in possession of most of their marbles, this probably looks something like the popular vision of bearded Viking in his horned helmet, pointing the way… somewhere.

But according to some, that would be wrong.

What you are actually looking at (to them at least) is some sort of homage to, and symbolism of, Nazi beliefs.

Well, if ‘they’ say so, ‘they’ being Dr Victoria Whitworth from the University of the Highlands and Islands, a lecturer in Nordic Studies based in Orkney, and Gareth Crichton, chairman of the Orkney Tourism Group.

Me? I’d keep a careful eye on that pair if that’s what they see in the new logo.

I’m surprised they didn’t publish an analysis of the former logo, explaining how the ‘N’ follows from stylised ‘SS’ formed by the sig runes in the organisation’s insignia (I’m better at this lunacy that the professional). It wouldn’t take much effort to morph the stylised ‘S’ into the ‘N’ of the logo. And that has been around for years, yet not a cheep from anyone who has been offended, or any tales of people refusing to travel on a ferry sailing under that symbol:

SS Insignia

There’s probably little to be gained in explaining to either of them that the Nazi salute was carried out using the RIGHT arm (Magnus is pointing with his LEFT arm), and that anyone issuing such a salute by pointing rather than holding their hand flat with all the fingers straight and in line would have been shot. Well, maybe not shot, but probably disciplined for making such a sloppy salute which would have been considered an insult to the Fuhrer.

Via Northlink defends Viking ‘Nazi’ salute logo – Transport – The Scotsman

As you’ll see from the Scotsman article reference, Northlink have little or no time for the claims of this pair, and have brushed off their comments, pointing at their own research into acceptance of the new logo by people who actually matter – their customers.

I also let this story lie for a while, to mature and either have a follow-up, or never be heard of again. Looks as if the latter option has prevailed.

It also gave the Comments section which follows the story in The Scotsman to build up a decent number of responses.

It’s pretty clear that the general opinion of the Nazi link connection is one of ridicule and disbelief.

The Viking image myth

What is actually more interesting here is the continuation of the horned helmet myth, and how little interest that generated.

Although it was pointed out that this is a “schoolboy howler” in the original text, nobody has complained about it, such is the extent to which this image has been carried on through the years. It wasn’t until the end of the 19th century that people started drawing Vikings wearing horned helmets because the villains in a popular Wagner opera wore such helmets.

In fact, having taken a quick look at the background to the horned helmet (which can be traced even further back than I indicated above), it seems much of our concept of the Vikings, their habits, and their appearance is flawed, based more on imaginative writing an, more recently, Holywood, than on facts and reality.

Northlink Magnus

July 3, 2013 Posted by | Maritime, Transport | , | Leave a comment

Where did Boyd’s Tide Marker Tower model go?

(We’ve been informed, see Comment below also, that the model referred to in this appeal has actually turned up in the museum. Sadly, it’s reported to be a little bit the worse for wear after its years in storage, and has suffered from the damp, but it seems to be recoverable, and the builder has indicated its restoration will be a forthcoming project.

We wish both well.)

It’s been some years since we were first made aware of the significance of a white tower which stand on the southern approach to Irvine harbour, and how it was once vital to the town’s seaborne trade.

The tower is the last standing part of Boyd’s Automatic Tide Signalling Apparatus (not counting the associated float chamber in the nearby water), and is also referred to as the Pilot’s House. There is a more detailed description on the page given, but here’s a summary:


At the turn of the 20th century, Irvine was losing trade to the other Ayrshire ports. Unlike the competition, it had no railway pier, and the approach to its harbour was complicated by the presence of numerous sandbanks, necessitating careful navigation, use of tide tables, and careful timing to avoid grounding a heavily laden cargo vessel on the approach. The harbour master at the time, Martin Boyd, believed there was a better way navigate the approach and, in 1903, he was granted a patent for his design for an Automatic Tide Marker Station.

It took Boyd a further three years to finance and build his apparatus, which was officially commissioned on May 23, 1906, with the issue of a Notice to Mariners which informed them of its presence. At the same time, announcements were made in the local newspapers, and charts were issued to explain how the signals presented from the tower were to be read in order to determine the level of the tide at any given time.

In recognition of the value of his work, the sum of £60 was refunded to Boyd by the Harbour Commissioners.

Boyd's Signal Tower

Boyd’s Signal Tower Irvine Harbour © Brian Goodwin


During the day, the signal was displayed using a series of balls raised on a mast mounted atop a tower. At night, the same information was conveyed using a series of lights visible in apertures located in the seaward face of the tower. The lights were hidden, or eclipsed, in different patterns (and colours) to indicate the level of the tide.

The mast signal and the light signal were interconnected by cables, ensuring that both would always match, and were changed automatically by the level of the tide itself.

Their position was controlled by the movement of a float mounted in a chamber, located in the water and near the tower. Underground cables connected the float to the signals in the tower, thereby transmitting the level of the float to the signals directly, and setting them without requiring an operator to manually read the tide and set the signals by hand.

Only the tower building remains on the site, as the mast and signal mounted on the roof were removed after becoming unsafe after the signal fell into disuse in the 1970s.

Pilot’s House model

Purely by chance, we came across a picture of the tower, or Pilot’s House, online (while reviewing some other pics added to out Flickr pool), only it was not the original item, but a rather well executed model of the structure, complete with the mast, rigging, and signals which would have sat atop the original, as shown below:

Pilot's House Model

Pilot’s House Model © Brian Goodwin

We’re grateful to the model maker (Brian Goodwin) who provided the pics, and additional information regarding the history of the appratus, which we were able to add to our page (as mentioned above.)

However, when we enquired after the model itself, the news was not so good.

Having been donated to the Scottish Maritime Museum some years earlier, it seems a later request regarding its location brought only news that the model appeared to have been lost while in the museum’s care.


So, the bottom line is that this posting is really an appeal to anyone that may have information regarding the fate of the Pilot’s House model.

If you know anything about it, or can shed any light on its fate, you can leave a note in the Comments section below (which I might add is effectively anonymous.)

It would be shame if it really had been lost, or worse, destroyed.

And better still if it turned up under a dust sheet in some a dark and seldom visited corner.

Here’s a last look at the tower, as it would have appeared just after completion, as probably indicated by the presence of the crane to its right:

Boyd Tower

Boyd Tower courtesy of Brian Goodwin from a period photograph

June 29, 2013 Posted by | Appeal, Maritime, Transport | , , , , , | 2 Comments

MV Balmoral Fund appeal 2013

At the tail end of 2012, Waverley Excursions Ltd  – which operates both the paddle steamer Waverley and MV Balmoral – announce that Balmoral would not be sailing during the 2013 season.

In a letter to Waverley and Balmoral stakeholders, Kathleen O’Neill, chief executive of Waverley Excursions Ltd, said:

Balmoral’s operation has been hampered increasingly in recent years by extreme weather conditions. This has led to many cancelled or disrupted sailings, which has had a significant impact on that ship’s contribution to operating results. Waverley’s timetable is less susceptible to such disruptions.

Clearly, we are unable to predict the weather for 2013, but none of the forecasters is predicting a significant improvement over recent years. After taking a wide range of considerations into account, we have decided, reluctantly, that it would be too great a risk to operate Balmoral next year and that doing so would increase the threat to the future of both ships.

Via Waverley fleetmate ‘won’t sail in 2013’ – Local Headlines – The Buteman

Balmoral was built in 1949, near Southampton, and is being looked after on a care and maintenance basis during 2013 by volunteers in Bristol.

Appeal web site

In order to return to her job of providing pleasure cruises in 2014, some £350,000 is needed to fund essential survey and refit work.

Those concerned have raised further fears. Since there are few vessels using their facilities, there are concerns that if Balmoral does not return to service in 2014, then pier owners will have little incentive to maintain them, and if they and Balmoral lose their certification,  the chances this ever being restored could be slim.

An appeal web site has been set up, with further information and donation details:

MV Balmoral Fund Ltd


June 21, 2013 Posted by | Appeal, Maritime, Transport | | Leave a comment

Marine Biological Research Station Millport closure threat alleviated

Although it has taken a few months, news regarding the future of the University Marine Biological Station Millport has appeared, and the news is good, confirming that the station’s closure is no longer an option, following the withdrawal of its funding from the University of London.

Ownership of the station, its building, and the surrounding land have been transferred to the Field Studies Council (FSC):

Field Studies Council, FSC, is the only environmental education charity dedicated solely to providing informative and enjoyable opportunities for people of all ages and abilities to discover, explore, be inspired by, and understand the natural environment.

Established in 1943, FSC has become internationally respected for its national network of learning locations, international outreach training projects, research programmes, information and publication services,  and wide range of professional training and leisure courses.

Via Field Studies Council (FSC)

Regarding the transfer, FSC Chief Executive Rob Lucas said:

This is an exciting opportunity for the FSC. Our vision for Millport field centre is for it to become a flagship for field studies in Scotland, building on its reputation for high quality field research and university teaching.

The marine location will provide the perfect complement to the field studies we have been developing at our FSC Kindrogan field centre in the Highlands over the past 10 years.

According to Education Secretary Mike Russell, the agreement will ensure the long-term future of the station, which he said has suffered years of under investment while in the hands of the University of London.

Via Agreement reached over Marine Biological Station on Cumbrae

Millport biological marine station

Millport biological marine station © Richard Webb via geograph

June 13, 2013 Posted by | Appeal, Civilian, Maritime | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Info sought on 1972 exercise to repair Rockall beacon

The site has received a request for help in location information relating to a small military exercise which took place on Rockall some years ago.

In 1972,  a group of marines were taken to Rockall on board RFA Engerdine, and tasked with repairing/rebuilding the damaged beacon which had been placed on the islet.

One of those involved would now like to find any information relating to this operation, to pass on to his grandchildren.

As ever, any information would be greatly appreciated, and passed on to the originator.

Rockall is not the best environment for any sort of beacon to be expected to survive in, and it seems the beacon referred to was one of four which have been established there over the years.

The last attempt seems to have been in 1998, but that too had failed by 2005, and current information is that no further attempts to mark the rock with a beacon have followed.

Via Michael’s List of Scottish Lighthouses: Section T

The picture of Rockall, dating from 2008, actually shows the latter beacon, just visible on the summit of the islet.


Rockall © Andy Strangeway via geograph

June 7, 2013 Posted by | Appeal, Maritime, military | , | Leave a comment

Arctic Convoy exhibition opens at Edinburgh Castle

A reminder that the War Museum at Edinburgh Castle is hosting a special exhibition about the Arctic Convoys – admission is included with admission to the castle.

The date seems to have changed slightly compared to the advance news of the exhibition, when the opening date was given as May 24, 2013, and the date given now is today, May 29.

The museum’s web page does not indicate when the exhibition ends, but it was previously given as March 2014, so you don’t have to rush.

Then prime minister Winston Churchill admitted the mission to keep the supply lines of munitions, tanks, lorries, fuel and food open was “the worst journey in the world”, and they were dubbed the “suicide missions” by many of those who served on them, as the convoys had to run the gauntlet of submarine, air, and battleship attacks in harsh sub-zero conditions through the Arctic Ocean.

Arctic Convoys: 1941-45

Open daily 9:45–17:45

Material has been gathered from numerous sources, including private collections, loans from the Imperial War Museum, and museums in Russia. The exhibition will also include recordings of personal testimonies from surviving veterans of the convoys. It is often forgotten that many of those who took part in the convoys were not actually in the Royal Navy, but were simply merchant seamen or fisherman who had been called up for duty.

Those involved with efforts to establish a permanent museum to the Arctic Convoys, to be located at Loch Ewe, where many of the convoys formed and departed from, have also helped with contributions to the Edinburgh exhibition.

Jacky Brookes, manager of the Russian Arctic Convoys Museum Project in Loch Ewe, said: “We’re delighted the exhibition is happening and hope it will help raise the profile of getting a permanent museum”

We have had occasion to mention the museum project at Loch Ewe before:

Ross-shire museum call for Arctic Convoy veterans

HMS Scylla, a Dido-class cruiser of the Royal Navy, served with the Home Fleet on Arctic convoy duties, and is seen below while anchored on the Clyde:

HMS Scylla on the Clyde

HMS Scylla on the Clyde

Click on the image below to see a British Pathé short, shot in Scandinavian waters, and showing various shots of ships in a large convoy en route to Russia where:

Aboard the cruiser ‘Scylla’ Lieutenant-Commander McKean in a fur hat keeps a running commentary on the battle for the benefit of the ship’s company.

A column of black smoke rises into the sky after one of the ships is hit. The Scylla draws alongside the minesweeper ‘Harrier’. The two ships are lashed together while travelling at speed as the Scylla and takes on survivors of a torpedoed freighter.

The escort Commander, Rear Admiral Burnett, is put in breeches buoy and slung across to a destroyer so the Scylla can go ahead with survivors. C/U of Burnett on a ship, smiling and looking through binoculars.

May 29, 2013 Posted by | Maritime, military, Naval, Transport, World War II | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Local brewery backs Maid of the Loch

Back in March, we mentioned the renewed funding campaign for the restoration of the Maid of the Loch, and her 60th anniversary which lands in 2013.

Sad to say that the campaign is seeking to raise some £4.9 million to complete the restoration of the much-loved paddle steamer, which means she is unlikely to return to steam in time to mark that 60th anniversary with a sail on the loch, which would have been nice.

We went into more detail in March and you can read that post here.

Almost £5 million is a big goal, and according to the Maid’s own web site, the work completed to date, which has been carried out by volunteers, has cost less than £2 million, which makes the current target look even tougher to meet.

One of the thinks that has been apparent in past years has been the lack of any backers – in terms of a corporate name.

That has now changed, with a local brewery having given its name to the effort:

Loch Lomond Brewery has produced a 60th anniversary Maid of the Loch beer, and owner Fiona MacEachern has pledged a percentage of sales of the drink towards restoring the ship.

She said: “We live in the area and the business is on the loch, so we’re keen to see the Maid run again. It’s a big part of Loch Lomond’s heritage and hopefully its future, so any way we could help we were keen to.”

Loch Lomond Brewery
Block 1, Unit 5
Lomond Industrial Estate
G83 0TL

P: 01389 755698
email us:

Via Maid of the Loch campaign backed by Lomond brewery – Heritage –

While it may seem that the project has taken a long to get to this stage, it must be remembered that the Maid lay derelict and vandalised for many years after being withdrawn from service, while no-one had any idea what could be done with her. During that time, her interior was gutted for scrap and souvenirs. In part, this turned out to be helpful, as the souvenir hunters (the good ones at least) responded to appeals, and returned original parts to help with the restoration work.

See also Maid Of The Loch, Loch Lomond, Scotland,

May 28, 2013 Posted by | Appeal, Maritime, Transport | , , , , | Leave a comment

Arctic convoy veterans return to Loch Ewe once more – but short of one member

It’s become something of a tradition to mention the annual journey of the surviving veterans of the Arctic Convoys of World War II, who meet at Loch Ewe, the gathering point for many of the convoys just before they departed for the freezing waters on their way to deliver their cargoes to Murmansk. Between 1941 and 1945,  crews kept supplies, weapons, and ammunition flowing and through German blockades to their Russian allies in Operation Dervish, the first of the convoys in 1941.

Five years ago, it looked as if the gathering was set to end, as numbers had fallen from 70 in 2002, to 13 in 2008, and the journey to Loch Ewe was becoming a strain for some of the survivors.

This year, the Russian Arctic Convoy Museum, Aultbea, has organised the reunion as part of its Arctic Convoys Week, which run until Saturday, May 11, 2013.

View Programme in PDF HERE

Russian Arctic Convoy Museum Aultbea

It seems that more than 40 veterans, all of whom are about 90 years old, are set to gather at Loch Ewe, some of whom have not been back to the  Wester Ross sea loch since the end of the war.

Via Arctic Convoy veterans to gather at Loch Ewe – Top stories –

Arctic Convoys campaign veteran Jock Dempster dies

There will be one significant absence from the gathering this years, as Jack Dempster passed away last Sunday,  just days before he had been due wear his Arctic Star medal at a public ceremony for the first time. He had also planned to wear the medal during the traditional remembrance commemorations in November, at the Cenotaph.

Mr Dempster, from Dunbar in East Lothian, had fought for decades to win official recognition for those who had taken part in the Arctic Convoys, who were considered to have been forgotten.

They had been given awards from the Russians, but the rules on such things meant they were not able to wear them at official events.

His campaign ended in success when Prime Minister David Cameron presented the newly created Arctic Star to a group of 40 veterans in March of 2013.

Via Arctic Convoys veteran who campaigned for recognition dies aged 85 | News | Edinburgh | STV

Also Arctic Convoys campaign veteran Jock Dempster dies

The funeral, in Dunbar, of Mr Dempster was also reported:

Arctic convoy veteran Jock Dempster who campaigned for medals laid to rest | News | Edinburgh | STV

A memorial lies at the north west corner of Loch Ewe, near Cove, overlooking the entrance into this sea loch, where many of the convoys gathered and departed from.

May 7, 2013 Posted by | Maritime, Naval, Transport, World War II | , , , , , | 2 Comments

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