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Nessie's Loch Ness Times

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Established December 3rd, 1996
         Saturday 24th February 2001
Issue No 220

Flannan Isle Mystery Anniversary Passes

The mystery of what happened to three lighthousekeepers on Flannan Isle was commemorated recently, 100 years after sudden disaster hit the mist shrouded island.

Descendants of one of the missing men observed a minute's silence at Breasclete on the west of Lewis as did officials of the Northern Lighthouse Board, the Edinburgh based government body which still maintains the lights around Scotland's coast. One of the men who so mysteriously disappeared was Donald Macarthur, whom was from Breasclete, then a bustling fishing port. The others were head keeper James Ducat and Thomas Marshall. Now 100 years on, the mystery remains and no definite proof has emerged to show what sudden calamity happened, causing them to run out from a set meal and leave a single upturned chair. It was in December 1900 that a passing ship, the SS Archer, reported that the Flannan lighthouse, designed and built just a year before by David Stevenson, was unlit. The keepers were doing 14 day stints tending the Flannan light, on the main one of seven small isles which are 19 miles west of Gallan Head on Lewis, but bad weather had delayed their relief. When the weather finally broke and a party on board the lighthouse support ship SS Hesperus went to investigate from Breasclete on Boxing Day, they found the island deserted. No flag was flying. No one was to be seen to welcome them. The jetty showed signs of having been battered and rails were twisted. No one responded to their whistle. Inside, a meal was set on the table. One report said a starving canary was found. The log kept by the men showed there had been a storm on December 14, but it was recorded that it had abated by the following day. December 15 was the final entry. Since then, historians and storytellers have puzzled over these clues, and the theories they have come up with include a pirate raid, a sea monster and ghosts. According to the legend that has grown up around the true facts, three black shags or cormorants are said to have dived off the rocks as the Hesperus arrived at the jetty. Ghosts stories abound. Even superstar Phil Collins and his colleagues in the band Genesis penned their own album track with their particular slant on this most puzzling and chilling of modern maritime mysteries. Alasdair Macaulay, a reporter with BBC Radio nan Gaidheal in Stornoway, who also hails from Breasclete, has been researching the soundness of the various theories that have surrounded the mystery. He said: "I have heard about a woman at Crowlista in Uig who had been hanging out her washing on that day, December 15. She was said to have told of having seen a massive wall of water coming in from the west. "She apparently ran back to the house as this large wave hit the shore. "When she came back outside afterwards, she said that her washing and washing line had been swept away." Mr Macaulay believes that her account fits in entirely with his own theory that it was a surprise tidal wave which swept the three men away. He has also found, in addition to accounts of the anecdotal evidence of the Crowlista woman, a report in the BBC archives of islanders on St Kilda having spotted a body floating in the sea clad in oilskins of the distinctive blue colour of the lighthouse service. "The sea was too rough for them to recover it but this was apparently seen some days after the men went missing." Two of the men's three oilskins were found to be missing. In Breasclete School, villagers and community leaders gathered in a packed ticket only event to remember the three men who were lost. Stornoway Young Musicians were there with their own special adaptation to music by local music teacher Richard Hill of Wilfred Wilson Gibson's poem of Flannan Isle, a haunting if not entirely faithful account of what the relief crew found on that winter's day 100 years ago. The staff and officials of the Northern Lighthouse Board observed a minute's silence for the three lost men. The board also had an In Memoriam notice inserted in some newspapers recording the loss of their three named former lighthousekeepers.

Great Wall Challenge

Adventurers from the Highland Capital are being called upon to take part in a fundraising challenge to fly a Scottish flag from the Great Wall of Chins. The Scottish Autism Society has launched the Bravehearts to Beijing appeal to find 100 Scots willing to take a St Andrews Flag from Scotland to Chins and carry it 100km along the Great Wall. The sponsored trip takes place in September and each participant must raise 2500. The charity hopes the event will raise over 80,000 for the community support team which helps families affected by autism all over Scotland. Event organiser Gillian Leslie said: "The Great Wall is one of the most incredible constructions on earth. This gives people a chance to experience it while raising funds for a worthwhile cause at the same time. "We want to see 100 Scottish flags flying proudly from the very top of the Great Wall - so we are encouraging the people of Inverness to join us.

More Scope

A 2.5 million helicopter air ambulance was officially handed over to Raigmore Hospital in Inverness recently. The Eurocopter EC135 will help Highland paramedics cope with some of the harshest conditions in the UK when dealing with medical emergencies. In 1999-2000, the Scottish Air Ambulance Service flew 2,645 missions - an average of seven missions a day. The new machine could increase that and also allow more medical procedures to be carried out during flights. With a top speed of 160 mph, moving map display, single pilot instrument flight rules and cutting edge navigation and flying technology, the new aircraft will deliver patients with greater comfort and in a shorter time over a longer range. A second EC135 air ambulance is to be introduced by the Scottish Ambulance Service in Glasgow by the end of the year. The French designed helicopter, the first of its type in the UK to operate as an air ambulance with such specifications is operated by Aberdeen based Bond Air Services. It will enable patients to be stretchered on either through the back or sideways. The Bolkow air ambulance it replaces was smaller and could only be entered through the back. Another advantage of the new helicopter is that its engine does not have to be stopped while patients are taken on and off, as the specially designed carbonfibre rotors are high up and the back rotors are enclosed to prevent anyone from touching them. The new aircraft has space to carry an extra patient. It also gives paramedics more access to the injured and is equipped with facilities which will allow more procedures to be carried out in the air. The air ambulance is linked by computer to the hospital so that a doctor can confirm a diagnosis or tell the team how to respond in more serious situations.

Unacceptable Deals on Castle

An influential Scottish conservation group recently criticised a 13th century Highland castle's owners for attempting to bypass a public enquiry into their restoration plans. The Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings in Scotland said behind the scenes deals over the future of Castle Tioram were unacceptable and it is demanding a public hearing. But a spokesman for Ayrshire millionaire Lex Brown's Anta Estates company said a court ruling had shown the inquiry system to be flawed, and its involvement could result in lengthy legal battles to the detriment of the castle's structural safety. The company wants to restore the one time seat of the Lord of the Isles, standing on a rocky outcrop in Loch Moidart in the Moidart Peninsula, providing living accommodation for Mr Brown and a clan museum. It is seeking a meeting with Scottish Executive ministers in an attempt to persuade them to overrule objections by one of their agencies, Historic Scotland, and set a timetable as to when work might start. Despite Highland Council endorsing the proposals, the agency has refused to sanction scheduled monument consent to allow it to go ahead. And unless ministers decide against calling in the application, an inquiry, probably at Acharacle, would follow. But the company says the whole issue is now in limbo as ministers await the outcome of a High Court appeal after their public inquiry procedures were found to breach the European Convention of Human Rights because they were not independent and impartial. The society strenuously opposes Anta's plans, claiming restoration is not the only viable alternative. If allowed, it has the potential of setting an immensely damaging precedent for the care of Scotland's ruins.

Glencoe Agreement

Clansmen have vowed to fight on despite agreement being reached by two parties in the long running war of words over a proposed visitor centre for Glencoe. Community councillors say they are close to a truce with the National Trust for Scotland after the trust agreed to cut back commercial activities in the proposed centre to meet the concerns of businesses. But Alistair Sutherland, a member of the Glencoe Action Group said: "We are still totally opposed to any development and will fight on." The trust, owners of 14,000 acres of the glen, already has planning consent - granted without dissent three years ago - to demolish its existing visitor centre at Clachaig Flats and replace it with a new clachan type complex at Inverigan nearer Glencoe village. Since then business leaders with the support of Ballachulish and Glencoe Community Council, have claimed the trust misled them over the size of retail and catering facilities, which they argued would adversely affect their own businesses. Local Highland councillor Drew McFarlane Slack, who is also area planning committee chairman, was asked to intervene and negotiate reductions in the level of commercial activity. The trust has now agreed to reduce its retail area by 25%, restrict catering to snacks, and reintroduce educational facilities which will be available for community use. Mr McFarlane Slack said: "I was asked to raise several issues with the trust on behalf of the community council and I am pleased that these have now been agreed and endorsed by both parties." However, the action group is maintaining its opposition on commercial grounds and that the development desecrates one of the massacre sites, a claim disputed by the trust.

New Label

Whisky distilled for the Scottish Parliament will now also be available with Gaelic labels. Welcoming the announcement, Minister for Gaelic Alasdair Morrison said: "These labels will certainly raise the image of Gaelic, not only here in Parliament but also among those who visit our buildings. "I'm sure they will appeal not only to Gaels but also to the wider Scottish community and visitors and tourists from abroad." The Parliament's Gaelic officer, Alex O'henly said the new labels were symbolic for the Gaelic community. "I am delighted the Scottish Parliament corporate body has agreed to have Gaelic labels on our whisky bottles," he said. "It's important for the Gaelic community to see products in their own language when they come to the Parliament and I will be looking to develop a wider range of these in the future, aimed at visitors of all ages." The labels will appear initially on the Parliament's blended whisky, which is distilled by Inverarity Vaults of Edinburgh.

Friend for Life

A pining donkey whose soulmate died recently has received another companion. Nairnshire couple Alastair and Joanna McGregor launched a nationwide search when one of their donkeys became ill suddenly and died at Rosevalley Farm, near Croy leaving its mate lonely and forlorn. "Donkeys simply love company and when Clover died her mate Crocus was left terribly distressed," said Mrs McGregor. "We had almost reached the stage where we were going to send her to a donkey sanctuary in Devon when we managed to find a companion for her." Mrs McGregor said they had always kept a pair of donkeys on the family farm and they got Clover a year ago as company for Crocus after another of their donkeys died at the age of 45. "Clover took ill and died within 24 hours. There was nothing the vet could do and when she died Crocus showed all the classic signs of being very distressed. She had been braying all the time and was trotting up and down the fence line. She wouldn't settle in her stable and was constantly visiting the cows looking for her mate." The McGregors immediately began their search for another donkey. "I advertised from Hereford to John o'Groats and eventually tracked one down in Sutherland. Donkeys bond for life and they need a companion so they are very hard to come by. "We were fortunate to find someone who had several donkeys and could let us have one." The new arrival has already settled in well at Rosevalley Farm. "The change in Crocus has been quite noticeable," said Mrs McGregor. "She's already looking a lot happier and the two have been grazing side by side in their field."

Charity Event

A group of brownies showed kindness and consideration for other children by keeping silent for a whole hour. But the 'silent night' was not a ploy by their leader to give her a bit of piece. It was a fundraising idea the brownies themselves organised to collect cash for the children's ward at Raigmore Hospital. Drakies Brownies raised 280 through their silence and their families and friends were more than happy to sponsor them. And the caring youngsters used the money they collected to actually select toys for the ward themselves. Sister Wheeler of the children's ward said: "The work of the brownies is very much appreciated. "It was great they raised such an amount of money. The children are delighted and the nurses are delighted."

Political Roundup

Funding Plea for Shinty

Three Highland members of the Scottish Parliament argued strongly recently for more funding to secure the future of shinty. Fergus Ewing, the Inverness East, Nairn and Lochaber SNP MSP, secured a Parliamentary debate on the future of funding of shinty. At the same time John Farquhar Munro, Liberal Democrat MSP for Ross, Skye and Inverness West, and Argyll MSP George Lyon also called on the Scottish Executive to increase spending. Mr Ewing said funding for the sport has been maintained at about 15,000 over the past five years, while other sports received larger sums.

Highland Weather Forecast

Saturday Afternoon
Snow showers, but some bright/sunny periods too. Winds fresh/strong NW'ly. Temperature 0c to 4c.
Saturday Night
Wintry showers. Clear periods. Frosty. Winds mod/fresh NW'ly. Temperature -5c to 0c.
Cold and cloudy. Occasional wintry showers dying out by afternoon. Overnight frost likely. Light winds.
A cold and cloudy day with occasional sleet and snow showers but bright spells too. Mod/fresh winds.


This is Caledonia ( Caley for short ) A Ness-Scape family member and mascot. She is a White German Shepherd. Caley has decided to take over the editing of Nessie's Loch Ness Times, and she's sure she'll make a good job of it. What do you think?

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