Life at the end of the road

October 20, 2013

Radars, blubber and hydro on Harris :-)

Bit of a mouthful I know, and probably a little disjointed to say the least. I really, really did try very hard to keep the blog going during our wee holiday but there was just far too much going on. The days were short on the daylight front but long on the ‘doings’ and by the time we’d get back to our luxurious digs at Maraig I was generally too tired to post.

Whaling on Harris

Sat at home on Raasay now it all seems a bit of a blur, but from memory, on Friday morning we headed over towards Govaig to look at another old hydro turbine that our host Richard had told us about.

Whoops, looking at my pictures it looks like we went to Rhenigadale first

1986 OS Map as the road passes quite close to our B&B. I’ve always had an interest in the place since reading an article in the WHFP some 25 years ago. I can’t find any reference to it but it always reminded me of Arnish and I’ve often thought about visiting. The links from the BBC’s ‘Doomsday project’ above capture essence of it marvellously, and even more poignantly, speaking to my ‘back to back’ today he has friends and relatives from the area.

Anyway, I posted some pictures taken from there so I’ll move on.


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Move on to the burial ground, just a mile or so along from the B&B  at Meraig on the shores of Loch Seaforth. Here, amongst the many other graves lies one of Donald Ross McGuffie, 18 year old son of James who died at Eliean Glas lighthouse on Scalpay in 1897 aged 18. James was still working on the light during 1901 but I wonder how his youngest son died? The grave, whilst well overgrown has some beautiful cast iron posts and chain around it that are still clearly visible.

Then we went to Govaig, taking the turn off at Ardishaig


Map picture

towards the old whaling station at Bunavoneader.

Built around 1904 for a Norwegian family it was bought by Lord Leverhulme in the 1920’s and operated until just after his death in the late twenties or early thirties when ‘Lever brothers’ (Unilever) shut it down. In 1950 it reopened to process whale carcasses landed by the ex German whaler Unitas V, that was seized by the ‘Ministry of War Transport’ in 1945 at Flensburg.

Whaling boat with dead whale

The whaling ship, the ‘Empire Unitas V’ with an eighty-five foot blue whale in tow at Loch Bunaveneader, Harris, Inverness-shire, May 1952. The seas around Scotland have populations of rorqual whales that were too large to be caught by the early Arctic whalers. It was only with the advent of steam boats and harpoon guns in the late 19th century that it became possible to take these giants. You can see the gun that fired explosive harpoons to kill the whales at the bow of the ship. The whale is in the process of being towed to the flensing slip, where its blubber will be stripped and cut up.

Empire Unitas V

Empire Unitas V was a 341 GRT whaler which was built by Bremer Vulkan Schiff- und Mashcinenbau, Bremen. Completed in 1937 as Unitas 5 for Jurgens Van Den Bergh Margarine Verkaufs Union GmbH, Hamburg. Requisitioned by the Kriegsmarine in 1940. Seized in May 1945 at Flensburg. To MoWT and renamed Empire Unitas IV. Scrapped in 1954 in Port Glasgow.

Much of the old factory still remains including one chimney






some of the old sheds and the old iron pipe that supplied its hydro turbine. They do seem to like their hydro turbines on Harris Smile

We had actually planned to stop and visit on our way back from looking at the old Govig water turbine but an old hitchhiker distracted us, more on that later.


Now, I know its only a bit of old iron pipe with a valve in it but I got quite excited about this, one thing Harris has in abundance is sites for wind and hydro turbines.


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This one I’m guessing was used to supply the estate of Amhuinnsuidhe castle just along the road 


Whilst the turbine and generator had certainly seen better days the ‘pelton runner’ was still clearly visible


and the site clearly still has potential.

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Judging by the more recent bits of pipe and debris someone has had a half hearted attempt but clearly lost interest. However it does like like the community based ‘North Harris Trust’ are seriously investigating Govaig, Bunavoneader and others .

After a brief walk along the shore at Govig


we picked up a retired fisherman and gave him a lift into Tarbert. I never got the sexagenarians name but he’d retired and sold his fishing boat three years ago and was a wealth of knowledge having lived on Harris all his life.


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Consequently we never got chance to wander around the castle or whaling station but it was well worth it for the craic Smile


Not to mention the black pudding from Munro’s in Tarbert, for we’d diverted a couple of miles to give our ‘ride’ a lift into town, consequently I’d spotted these beauties hanging in the store at Tarbert Smile

The stones

Our next stop was some thirty miles or more away to the north west at Callanish, the stones that predate both Stonehenge and the pyramids have had reams written about them so I’ll not even bother trying . This will be the third time I’ve visited them in three decades and each time I return they look more impressive.



They now have, at last a dedicated visitor centre, cafe and of course gift shop Smile Still, it is very tastefully done Smile


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They really are magnificent.



Well, that took us right up to dusk and time to eat in Stornoway, after which it was back to the digs, a glass of wine and bed.


Inspired by our visit to Renigadale we’d set Saturday aside to walk the ‘postman’s path’ from Urgah to at least the summit of whatever its called to look down on the village.


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This would be the tortuous path that the Renigadale postie would walk three times a week prior to the building of the road in 1990, something that resonates well with one who lives at Arnish and is married to a postie. OK, my postie has a van but not that long ago one would walk all the way from Brochel castle to Rona light as well as row across Kyle Rona three time a week, something that the Renigadale  postie was spared Smile



Not a walk and a bit of a cheesy tune but it does give you some idea of what it’s like on a good day.

Posties path

From the 1931 OS map series, just look at the villages other than Renigadale, there’s Molingnish and Garyaloteger!!

After the misty morn


we headed north, then west to Lewis and then over towards it’s western shore at Uig

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passing Loch Roag along the way.


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A remote corner of Lewis kept alive by the ‘Scottish Salmon Company’ various boats running out to St Kilda  and some clam divers with a sense of humour    Smile 


Some thirty minutes later we arrived at a beach to rival any in the world


and it was probably quieter than most Smile




What can I say ????


Priceless Smile


and check out the ‘back drop’

Uig sands

Uig sands Lewis, well worth a visit with a bucket and spade.



Not only that but it’s where the ‘Lewis chessmen’ were discovered .

Anyways, after our walk and paddle we continued on the road a few miles to the old Radar station at Islivig  the next one in the ‘chain’ from Rodel



This is one of the old air raid shelters and this


one of the generator bases, you can tell there are no ‘tinks’ on Lewis as the copper cable is still there after 70 years Smile

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Just imagine being posted from Aldershot to here in the winter of 1942 Smile



mind you, you don’t get scenery like this down there


OK, perhaps you do in Cornwall but then you get all the tourists too Smile





and you could clearly see the Flannan isles some twenty miles to the west the place where three lighthouse keepers mysteriously disappeared in 1900 .


After that it was on to Stornoway for dinner at An Lanntair which I’m guessing is Gaelic for lighthouse.

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Not often that you can dine in the same building as a ‘Fergie’ and a peat stack but I’m too tired now to explain Smile



  1. Just as a FYI ‘An Lanntair’ is ‘The Lantern’ …it’s shaped like one if you look from the ferry terminal! Looks like you managed to pack plenty in to your few days. We tried to do the same back in May but still missed a lot. Good excuse for another visit though.

    Comment by Irena Krasinska-Lobban — October 20, 2013 @ 11:15 pm

  2. tut tut, Paul, you’d better mind your language !! … “you can tell there are no ‘tinks’ on Lewis as the copper cable is still there after 70 years”

    anyway, obviously this is my next foray into northern Scotland sorted, you ought to be working for the tourist industry … I’ve wanted to visit Callanish for years but you’ve given me a lot of other interesting stuff to think about

    Comment by cazinatutu — October 21, 2013 @ 4:07 am

  3. Donald Ross McGuffie’s death certificate on says that he had been suffering for two years from a back condition called psoas abscess. It is very rare and apparently very painful: nowadays it could have been treated with antibiotics.

    Comment by Iain — October 21, 2013 @ 7:56 am

    • Thanks for that snippet of info Iain,poor lad must have been in agony 😦

      Comment by lifeattheendoftheroad — October 21, 2013 @ 8:40 pm

  4. what can i say paul, very interesting stuff. loving the history…

    Comment by The Peoples Republic of Northumbria — October 21, 2013 @ 4:42 pm

  5. “Lewd” I don’t know whether laugh or cry…..

    Comment by SOTW — October 21, 2013 @ 5:14 pm

  6. Hi Paul what a few days you and the wife have had. hope you enjoyed it. The pictures you have put on are brilliant Rodel church was very nice to see, as when we got there to have a look round a coach load of tourists turned up, so never got inside. Also the whaling station we knew what it was but you’ve put a bit more meat on the bones so to speak. Thank you for taking us back to the early noughties, wife remembers it well after breakfast at b&b in Tarbert went to post office and when came out she was sick as anything reason unknown but was fine after that.

    Comment by Stan — October 21, 2013 @ 5:50 pm

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