Show me a Gaelic sign

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Who amongst us doesn’t love a Gaelic sign? You’ve doubtless got your own favourite but here’s mine. It marks the road running through the Bays of Harris on the island’s south east side to Roghadal and the ancient burial ground of the MacLeods of Harris surrounding St Clements Church.

Of course Roghadal’s also accessible via the A859, partly double-tracked thanks to EU funding and winding sedately along Harris’s picture-postcard, community owned west side. In summer that’s a trip along the kaleidoscope coastline of multi-coloured machair, golden beaches and turquoise-tinted sea celebrated in countless smartphone snaps on social media.

The Bays road doesn’t do sedate. Instead, it offers an altogether more Presbyterian driving experience, full of unforgiving hairpin bends, blind summits and sudden, stomach-churning rollercoaster plunges; a sort of Route 666 for the unwary traveller to be navigated with humility, unquestioning faith and no little trepidation. Continue reading

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Blurred Vision: Government’s Disconnected Support for Croft Housing

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THIS PHOTOGRAPH of my late father, Norman John Macleod, was taken in the 1950s. It shows him in Ardvie, the village in the Bays of Harris where he was born in 1926.  His parents were unmarried, a complicating factor in a Free Presbyterian childhood that led to him being brought up by his Aunt Kate on the croft of which she was the tenant and where he is pictured. Insofar as he belonged to anyone, my father belonged to her; a proxy filial bond cemented to the extent that everyone in the village knew him as ‘Tormod Ceit’ (Kate’s Norman). Behind him stands a tangible symbol of their shared existence; the croft house he built with help from a neighbouring tradesman and stone hauled from the seemingly endless supply in the quarry under Roineabhal’s shadow less than a mile away.

Harold Macmillan’s claim in 1957 that most of Britain had never had it so good was probably true in my father and great aunt’s case.   With two bedrooms, scullery, bathroom, living room and a spare room downstairs, their new home was positively palatial compared to the cramped and crumbling surroundings of their previous abode. Kate and Norman would have been living there still but for the Secretary of State for Scotland stumping up a loan of £1,150 under the terms of the Small Landholders (Scotland) Acts 1886 to 1931 to finance construction of their new house. Good times indeed. Continue reading

Beatlemania, Cuban Missiles and Hydraulic Lift Ramps: In Praise of MV Hebrides

MV Hebrides sailing from Tarbert, Harris.

MV Hebrides sailing from Tarbert, Harris.

It’s April 15th 1964.  Beatlemania’s at fever pitch, the Cuban Missile Crisis feels like a nuclear nightmare only recently averted and Scotland football fans are still weeping into their scarves a full three years after England put 9 goals past the hapless Frank Haffey at Wembley. None of this is uppermost in the minds of the crowd gathering on Tarbert pier today however.  Change is coming across the Minch to Harris at a top speed of 14 knots in the shape of the MV Hebrides on her maiden voyage and they want to be there when it arrives. Continue reading