Life at the end of the road

February 5, 2011

Federal law forbids :-)

Filed under: boats, daily doings, pigs, shed/house — lifeattheendoftheroad @ 10:18 pm

Ahh, ‘peace in the valley’, all is calm and settled on the weather front, the wind steadily decreased all day and is now just a gentle breeze. It was a fine enough start to the day and the continual rain forecast by  UKWind proved to be nothing more than a couple of short but heavy showers. The last one of which drove me inside from my days fencing at 16:30, though by the time that I’d packed all my tools away and fed the pigs it was way after 17:00 and getting dark with the thick cloud that had crept in from the west.

The mornings feeding round brought with at six extra mouths to feed,

050211 009

or should I say, six extra mouths for Bracken to feed 🙂

050211 011

After feeding, first breakfast and a trip to Torran to check for storm damage we went up to the shed site to continue fencing, we being my boys pal and I, my boy heading off to Kyle for swimming 🙂

 050211 012

I got on with the serious matter of doing the fence whilst my helper ferried materials up to the site.

050211 017

050211 021

I’m not going to pretend that I’m any good at fencing but by the time I’ve finished this 180m stretch I will have encountered every obstacle that an experienced fencer is likely to have to deal with in his career. Only 180m and by the jobs end I will have put in FIFTEEN strainers, for today I discovered that I needed yet another 😦 I’m not kidding this little patch of ground has presented my with solid rock, boulder clay, peat, loose stones and more changes of direction than your average politician.

Speaking of politicians

  I am not a fan of most but there is one that I’m particularly fond of and she grounded on a Scottish rock some years ago. No I’m not talking of the ‘good ship Thatcher’ who foundered on the rock of Scottish ‘Poll Tax’ 🙂 I am talking of the Harrison Line, SS Politician that ran aground in the sound of Eriskay 70 years ago today

image image

That’s her in her peace time colours on the left and painted for war on the right, coincidently passing Eriskay on a previous journey without running into anything 🙂 This 8000 ton cargo ship would, had it not been for her cargo have been long forgotten like most of the shipwrecks around these shores. Her cargo however included over a quarter of a million bottles of whisky destined for the USA, the story of which was immortalised in the Ealing comedy ‘Whisky Galore’!_%28film%29 based on Compton Mackenzie’s 1947 novel of the same name.

image image image

Or if you happened to live in the US where the bottles were destined “Tight little island” 🙂

My good friend Neil King on the Azores has an excellent description of events on his blog

Me on the other hand came across the wreck in the early eighties whilst searching for scrap 🙂 sure enough I knew the story, and had indeed read the book and seen the film but my interest (at the time) was purely mercenary, for that’s what I did in my spare time. I scoured books, historical records and hydrographic charts for wrecks, wrecks that would yield treasures of non ferrous metals, souvenirs and scrap.

It was this lure of treasure that took me and a friend to Barra and South Uist in 1984 to search out the likes of SS Fingal, SS Thala, RFA Birchol, the tug Henrietta Moller, and of course the SS Politician.

 poly log 84

Even back then without reading Roger Hutchinson’s excellent book ‘Polly’ I knew that there was only the stern part of the ship and that had been dynamited to destroy the remaining 8000 cases of whisky that had not been removed.


Still that did not deter me from spending hours grubbing about in the pulverised wreckage for an intact bottle of ‘Old Polly’. My search was in vain for despite finding hundreds of smashed bottles of all different sizes, colours and shapes I never found an intact one. The bottles may have been many and varied but they all had one thing in common ‘Federal law forbids the sale and reuse of this bottle’ embossed on the shoulder. This was something that all post prohibition liquor bottles had to carry along with a unique number in a vain attempt to stop the bootleg trade from Canada and within.



What the ‘excise man’ and his explosives had missed the forty west coast winters in between had finished off and all I came up with was a bottle with the top broken and two broken crates.


The crate end I still have but the bottle is long gone 😦 I did however get a good price off the scrappy for the white metal prop shaft bearings with their high tin content 🙂

A fellow clam diver That I once worked with does have a full bottle in his display cabinet and a good friend from way back, Mike Armitage of lifted a dozen bottles after two weeks air lifting in 1985 or 1986. So imagine how I reacted when I heard this in the media in 1989,


“A NEW company is offering subscribers with a minimum of #500 a sporting plunge in a venture next spring in search of Hebridean treasure.

Directors of SS Politician plc believe the treasure is in No. 5 hold of the wreck of the cratur-laden Politician, which ran aground off Eriskay nearly half a century ago.

Subsequent exploits of the islanders, who helped themselves to thousands of bottles, inspired the book, Whisky Galore, by Compton Mackenzie.

The #1 Shares will be on offer from next Tuesday and the subscription list will close on December 12. A minimum of #500,000 is required to be raised and the firm has sent out 10,000 prospectuses which warn: ”S.S. Politician plc is a new and unquoted company. Investment in the company must be regarded as speculative and involving a higher than average degree of risk.”

If the bid to raise the #500,000 fails, the directors will be faced with a #65,000 bill. Investors will have their money returned.

Divers led by Mr Donald MacPhee, now a member of the company’s four-man board, brought up eight bottles of whisky two years ago. They went for more than #4000 at auction.

His investigation persuaded the directors there could still be 24,000 bottles of whisky in the hold and six cases of Jamaican currency. The Politician was en route to Jamaica, when she came to grief on February 3, 194l.

Director Mr Jeremy Brough, 34, said at a news conference yesterday: ”I think we want everyone to go into it appreciating the risks inherent in the operation. We wouldn’t consider it a gamble, however. It’s to be seen as a high-risk investment.” “

That quote is from but it was all over the media at the time 🙂 I even remember hearing some guy on Radio Two saying that they were just about to ‘break into’ number five hold where all the whisky was, I nearly fell over laughing 🙂 This wreck was lying in 7m of water, so smashed up with explosives and Atlantic swell that the prop shaft (which went through No 5 hold) was off its mountings and they were just about to enter it 🙂 Needless to say, after months of work the 8000 cases turned out to be 24 bottles, the company went t1t5 up and any investors were left short 😦



The above image comes from a fantastic feature at Liverpool museum to commemorate the event and which I’ve just discovered and not had time to read :-( 

hermit crab

This is about all the bottles of ‘Polly’ are good for these days 🙂



  1. I couldn’t find the movie in the US, so I imported it from Amazon UK. A classic.
    Haig & Haig! I’ve only heard of it by the family legend wherein my teetotalling Ohio grandmother, upon her Scots-descent husband’s death in 1944, poured all his bottles down the sink. Their son, my uncle, half-joked that he didn’t know if he cried more for the loss of his father, or of the whisky.

    Comment by Flora — February 6, 2011 @ 2:09 am

    • Hi Flora,

      the story of the whisky and your uncle had wifey and I in tears 🙂 The walled area is an old garden that was a traditional place for planting potatoes as it gets good sun. The wall was to keep the sheep out 🙂

      Comment by lifeattheendoftheroad — February 6, 2011 @ 10:40 pm

  2. PS And what is that long stone wall in the last picture? A sheep pen?

    Comment by Flora — February 6, 2011 @ 2:24 am

  3. Hi, Paul

    Talking about whisky, you mentioned ‘Monkey Shoulder’ earlier this year, which seemed to be rare in this shores. I saw two bottles in a local Tesco yesterday, so maybe the monkey has escaped.

    Maybe this government should try prohibition as a solution to what they call ‘binge drinking’. The consequences, if they followed as they did in the US at the time of prohibition, would be interesting, including gangsters, speak-easies, shipwrecks for divers like you…

    Glad that Bracken had a successful farrrowing and well done with your fence. The old dry-stone walls make sense in the light of the terrain, but would probably be no easier to build.



    Comment by Sue — February 6, 2011 @ 9:54 am

    • Hi Sue,

      a wee tipple of ‘Monkey shoulder’ would have been nice on the anniversary of the ‘Polly’ but I was quite pleased with the ‘Le XV du President’ 🙂 As for dry stone walls, I wish 🙂

      Comment by lifeattheendoftheroad — February 6, 2011 @ 10:46 pm

      • Yes – I didn’t say ‘and too expensive’ etc. I had such a wall built round a plot in North Yorkshire over 20 years ago and it cost an arm and ten legs, even using a local waller that I knew. Glad the XVm hit the spot.


        Comment by Sue — February 7, 2011 @ 8:44 am

      • Aye Sue, the drystone walling is indeed a skill, there were many on Raasay that had it, Hugh Mackay, John Macleod, Murdoch Nicolson and Donald Eyre to name but a few. They were just the ones that I knew personally who’s work will stand a testament to them for generations. Sadly they’re all gone now with few left with the skill.

        Comment by lifeattheendoftheroad — February 9, 2011 @ 8:32 pm

  4. I also saw Monkey Shoulder in Sainsburys in Oldham yesterday. Very pricey for a blend. I hadnt seen that book of Rogers before, another one for the birthday list.
    Got any names for the piglets yet. You could readers to sponser them for a bottle of monkey!

    Comment by simon — February 6, 2011 @ 10:58 am

  5. Another interesting blog. Thank you.

    Well done Bracken, another litter of beauties.

    Comment by Rienza — February 6, 2011 @ 12:45 pm

    • Hi Rienza,

      fine piglets indeed and they’re all doing well 🙂

      Comment by lifeattheendoftheroad — February 6, 2011 @ 10:48 pm

  6. Thanks for that Paul, the Politician is on my list of wrecks to dive (not that there’s much left of her now), shame you didn’t get a full bottle, still the crate makes a great souvenier.

    Have you ever dived the Breda?


    Comment by Rich — February 6, 2011 @ 12:53 pm

  7. Paul that Hermit Crab pic is brilliant !!!
    I remember you directed us to the Breda and a fine selection of sandals, paint brushes and bottles of sauce were found.
    But I also remember you finding that Camshaft from a Tiger Moth.
    On a similar note last week I cycled across Upottery Airfield where “Band of Brothers” began. Interesting pics at
    They have made the main Guard post into a memorial to the guys that didn’t return and have a service there every D-Day

    Comment by chrisb — February 6, 2011 @ 5:25 pm

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

Blog at

%d bloggers like this: