Sgarabhaigh News - December 2016
Christmas 2016 Update
Where do the years go? This year with visitors from Australia retrieving some of our stones from the island
which we have had polished by a kindly "boat skipper" based up in the Menai Straights in North Wales. The
stones have polished so well we will be doing some more to allow us to put a real piece of the island in each
box. The Lewisian Gneiss that forms the rocks of Sgarabhaigh is some of the oldest rock in the world and has
been dated to 3 billion, (yes, three billion years ago) two thirds the age of the earth. So we are not only
blessed by having a plethora of wildlife but even the rock under our feet is beautiful and of important
Despite weather generally being poor in the islands this year we managed a great visit in October when we had
brilliant sunshine for two weeks and managed to see a great cross section of the wildlife and top up on some
vitamin D. There appeared to be more dolphins and porpoise around than normal and the eagles kept us entertained
but the otters were very shy, which means we did not see anything of them but their tracks.
We had a magician visit the islands ostensibly intending to stay on Sgarabhaigh to see what real magic looks like.
While the weather was great the wind was strong and driving in from the southeast which made accessing Sgarabhaigh
a little more tricky and as the magician couldn't magic away his seasickness he settled for trips around Harris and
Lewis and was amply rewarded with history, myth and legend on his annual "adventure". He also kindly gave a free
performance to the children at the school in Leverburgh in our name. The children and many parents enjoyed a
brilliant children's entertainer and we all enjoyed cake and tea made by the children at half time. It was lovely
to see the children, and the parents, having such a great time so thanks to Paul Brown of Magical-Mayhem for his
kindness and his time he is a very valued member of Friends of Sgarabhaigh..
Well with Xmas coming on apace we need to tell you that any Xmas gifts will need to be ordered by 12th December to
guarantee delivery by Xmas. The packages are bespoke and each one tailored to individual details and so take a little
time to prepare. So order now to avoid disappointment. Our sixpences are more simply despatched and can be purchased
for delivery up to 20th December.
I will be updating the photographs on the site early in 2017 to enable you to see much more of Sgarabhaigh and its
wildlife so pop back onto the site in early February to see much more of us!
I hope you all have a brilliant Xmas 2016 and a very happy New Year.
Kindest regards from Dave and Jane, Founders of Friends of Sgarabhaigh.
The Sgarabhaigh Silver Sixpence
The 1000th Sgarabhaigh Silver Sixpence has been minted. We took delivery of the last 100 coins to make the minting
of the launch sixpence dated 2005 to the magic 1000 coin total. While we are excited about reaching the milestone
target it was tinged with sadness as the person who produced the beautiful coins, Mr Colin Ashford, has retired.
The business, W Downing, is continuing under new management so we will still be able to produce our beautiful
sixpence but we are currently reviewing the date for the next minting.
The coin has received considerable recognition over the last ten years and is formally on deposit in the National
Museum for Scotland and the British Museum in London. A supporter who works with the Office of the Crown sent a
Sgarabhaigh Sixpence to the Queen and the coin is now part of the collection held under The Duchy of Lancaster,
the Monarchs Estate, ensuring that all future Monarchs of the United Kingdom will have one of our sixpences in
I am proud to announce that one of our new members of Friends of Sgarabhaigh is an eminent historian with world
class knowledge on the Vikings. He has a wealth of knowledge about the impact of the Vikings on the UK generally
but also their impact on the Western Isles an area which was under the control of the Vikings for many centuries.
I hope to get at least one article on the impact of the Vikings in and around the Sound of Harris and Sgarabhaigh
and its surrounding islands for the interest of us all.
Sgarabhaigh Welcomes ‘Royalty’
Sgarabhaigh hits the historic heights with the latest ‘Friend’ to join us. We are proud to announce that with our latest recruit Lesley Smith we not only get an eminent historian, expert guest from television’s Most Haunted programme, a custodian and Lessee of Tutbury Castle where Mary Queen of Scots stayed several times for enforced B&B and a delightful lady, we also get Mary Queen of Scots herself and many other characters of history including the magnificent Queen Elizabeth I. Lesley portrays these eminent women of history in an historically accurate way but with sufficient poetic licence to make her audiences enthralled, absorbed and entertained each and every time she appears. If ever there was a perfect way to promote history in a positive and entrancing way Lesley certainly achieves it each time she performs.
Audiences not only learn much about the lives of the women portrayed but they also feel the pathos of the loss of a child, the joy of the funnier aspects of history and much about the passion of the woman portraying each and every character be it Nell Gwynn, Anne Boleyn, Mrs Shakespeare, Boadicea or Britannia and several others. We hope that Lesley will fulfil her wish to come up to the Western Isles and share some of her persona’s her expert knowledge and joy for history with the children of the islands and perhaps to let Mary Queen of Scots walk on the hallowed hills and meadows of Sgarabhaigh.
Lesley has also helped us spread the word about the project promoting our now famous Sgarabhaigh Silver Sixpence which is now not only in the National Museum of Scotland but is also to be introduced as a formal deposit of the British Museum in London. In addition Lesley has kindly, on our behalf, presented one of our sixpences to Her Majesty the Queen and which is archived in the Queen’s Duchy of Lancaster Estate an entity that is a discreet holding of the Monarch. Lesley has also offered to help us with fund raising for the project by holding an ‘Evening with Mary Stewart’ (nee Queen of Scots) donating the evening’s proceeds to Friends of Sgarabhaigh. Certainly we are very lucky to have Lesley as a ‘Friend’, a friend and an advocate for the project and we hope that when we do manage to hold a ‘Gathering’ in the future up in the islands that Lesley will treat us to one or two of her other persona’s as part of the event.
Help On Your Visit
As the year rolls on we would like to welcome a new and exciting company, Your Tour of Scotland (see www.yourtourofscotland.com ) to our links page. The company will enrich visits to Scotland with their expert guides who will make your visit north not just a beautiful experience but an informed one too. This exciting new company offers everything from bespoke trips for the individual up to full guided coach trips to the area of your choice. As well as bringing alive the rich history of Scotland they can also arrange themed trips concentrating on subjects like literature, culture and language. There is nothing to rival the company of a guide who is eager to share historical fact supported by an entertaining tale or two excitingly embellished with the wealth of myth and legend for which Scotland is famous. When listening to these stories you should always bear in mind the old saying that “a good story is never the worse for getting better”.
So if you are a nervous traveller in need of help and support in arranging a trip or a seasoned traveller who just wants to wring out every ounce of value out of your trip to Scotland or anywhere in between Your Tour of Scotland is the partner for you, you’ll not be disappointed.
‘The’ Place to Stay
Well we have just returned from Sgarabhaigh and some of the most stunning weather we have experienced in the islands. Clear blue skies, little wind, good company and a real treat of a place to stay all underpinned by a warm welcome and accommodation equipped for the Queen – even on her Diamond Jubilee. The place is called Shalom the website is www.shalomcottage.co.uk and its location cannot be bettered, the house sits perfectly on the lower slopes of the mountains of Harris looking south onto the beautiful Sound of Harris. The hosts Kathryn and Raymond and Campbell provide both a warm welcome and full support and advice throughout your visit. The house itself focusses your attention on the beautiful view from the living area windows and the spa bath provides therapy for anyone who overdoes the walking. It really is one of the most beautiful locations in the whole of the islands and the house and hosts live up to the billing. Do your best to book early for any visit as it will be booked if you leave it too late.
Good Luck News for One of Our Sixpences
This is the essence of an email I just received from a friend in Australia regarding one our Sgarabhaigh Silver Sixpences:
“I have received the Sgarabhaigh Silver Sixpence and I believe it has already given us a run of good luck. On the Monday we received the coin, we had an email from our estate agents who are dealing with a property we own in Scotland, the property has been rented out for the past two and a half years and up for sale all that time with not much interest from people to buy it but that very day we had an offer secured on the house. The next day we had a rebate (tax) payment from the Australian Government of a reasonable amount, which I had no idea we were owed. As if these two things weren't enough good fortune I was contacted with a big contract for March and another contract for a quite large industrial clearance for next week……all these things since I received the sixpence. I know that there may be some people who would say that it’s just coincidence but I am sure that these things happening in such a short space of time proves there is more to it. I thank you again for the coin and I’m sure that good luck comes with it and I wish everyone the same good fortune.”
Whilst I am not claiming any special powers for our beautiful coin it clearly can reach the parts that other gifts cannot! On a more serious note it is good to hear that a friend has had some good luck in these hard times so let’s hope there is more to come for everyone certainly Australia has had its share of bad luck recently.
More Travel Support
We have now also exchanged links with Globester a travel company in the USA to help our American ‘Friends’ to find great travel deals. So visit www.globester.com and get some of the best, if not the best, travel prices so let them take the hassle out of the travel part of your visit to your special place in Scotland, your own island in the islands. You now have the necessary links to ensure a seamless journey to ‘special’ place in Scotland.
October Seal Pup Census Trip
Well early October came up trumps this year as the weather settled and it gave us three beautiful days on Sgarabhaigh without wind and some beautiful sunshine. The trip started with a Sea Eagle welcoming us to the Sound of Harris as we turned into the Little Minch from Rodel Harbour. It sat proud and regal on the rocks and after a pause treated us to a measured and serene flight onto the coast showing its huge wingspan.
Onward to the island and we unloaded our kit onto the rocks and then Billy, Hamish’s brother, and another real gentleman took us out into the bays to catch tea which we managed in about five minutes. We caught a few more good Pollack but returned them to the water complying with the catch and release initiative being implemented in the islands.
On our sweep of the island and return to the cove we could see the island was packed with seal pups ranging from new born to well grown and losing the white baby fur. We set up camp and set out to see what joy was in store for our visit. We did a complete tour of the beaches as best we could to avoid disturbing the seals and counted sixty three seal pups many of which we filmed and that will appear here in the Gallery in due course. On our way back past The Rocks on the north-east side of the island my companion for the trip and a good friend pointed out a good pod of porpoises breaching some 300-400 yards offshore. They circled the island for much of the afternoon and reappeared each day for a Sgarabhaigh fish lunch and it was our pleasure to provide it!
The sea otter put in two appearances and it was heartening to see how established it appeared to be on the south side of the island. They are shy creatures and you have to be quick to film them when they appear, we only got two very transient shots I’m afraid but they’ll be here on the Gallery too.
With a competent fisherman and climber as a camping companion we risked scaling the cliffs to get a good fishing spot as the beaches were out of bounds because of the seal pups. What a good option it turned out to be as we set up and within minutes had caught some good fish to 6lbs with ease. Again we used the catch and return approach as the pollack are due to spawn in the next few months and we at least want to conserve stocks ………. even if the seals don’t agree!
October clearly has its benefits if its seals you crave there were loads and all on the rocky doorstep. The still water gave up its secrets as all surface movement was easily visible hence the brilliant otter, porpoise and dolphin sightings. It really is a magical place when the weather is kind and if you have not yet visited these beautiful islands then put a date in your diary and go and see first hand what money cannot buy.
Sgarabhaigh's New Link to 'goscotlandtours'
We are pleased to announce that we have exchanged links with a brilliant Scottish tour company www.goscotlandtours.com. They not only do generic organised tours of Scotland but they also organise Private Tours organised to your own requirements which is very useful for our visitors to Sgarabhaigh. If you want the effort taking out of a trip to the Western Isles then talk to goscotland and they'll take the strain. They can also provide an additional dimension to your visit to Sgarabhaigh by adding extra days taking in other wider parts of both the Western Isles and Scotland.
2010 Visit Succeeds …….. eventually!
We managed to pick a particularly lively week for weather for our summer trip up to the Western Isles and Sgarabhaigh with the winds registering a constant 30 mph with gusts to 50 mph for six days solid. The wild seas were wonderful but access out to the island was a complete non-starter.
This was all the more disappointing as we had two new ‘Friends’ who had come up to visit our island for the first time and they had to put up with distant observation from the south east tip of Harris. We did however have the chance to share some time and a lovely home cooked meal with them before they had to beat a retreat and shoot back home for a family wedding. They departed saying “well we have had good time despite the complications of the weather and there is always next time”; that is the benefit of a ‘perpetual’ heirloom it will always be there next year, and the year after and so on down the ages.
For our part we managed to outstay the wind and on the Friday got out onto Sgarabhaigh and with our arrival came the sun to add to the calm conditions. We spent a wonderful few hours on the island along with other first time visitors and then we shared a traditional tea party at Café Sgarabhaigh. As we floated languidly in the bay on the north side of the island drinking tea and eating homemade cakes Hamish, our boatman, gentleman and entertainer explained how he had filled the fish box with some 150lbs of fresh Pollack while we were just wandering the island. We topped up the fish box with a few more fish after Hamish’s daughter and son-in-law collected half the box from us following another exciting open sea encounter as we were approached and boarded for some of our haul. All in all an excellent day spent with special friends and adding another page to our rich personal history of the island.
During one visit to the Rodel Hotel for some lunch we met Andy Strangeway an energetic adventurer also known as Island man because of his exploits having slept a minimum of a night on 168 Scottish islands mainly over 40 hectares (that’s about 100 acres to us oldies). His next venture is to try to land and spend a night and re-erect Her Majesty the Queen’s plaque restating the UK claim to Rockall a single tiny rock 162 miles to the west of the Western Isles out in the wild North Atlantic. He admitted that getting on and off Rockall is set to be a very scary adventure but that’s how he lives his life and we wished him the very best in his next venture. If you want to know more about Andy have a look at his website www.island-man.co.uk it is well worth the time. His energy and enthusiasm for what he does made a wet windy lunchtime a pure delight ………. thanks Andy!
Earlier in the week we visited the many visitor attractions of Harris and Lewis including the natural attractions of white shell sand beaches soaking up the energy of wild waves racing in from the North Atlantic. We strolled wind swept hills, watched sheep being sheared, met and broke bread with friends old and new. We all had the benefit of good food, good company and wild weather with a taste of calm what more could an adventurous group want from a holiday in God’s Country! We now look forward to our next opportunity to visit our rare and spiritual place perched on this bastion of the British Isles.
I am in discussions with two film companies regarding the potential to do a documentary about this project Friends of Sgarabhaigh. I hope that we can cover its origins, motivation and reality as well as reinforcing how beautiful the wider Western Isles actually are. It is a case of watch this space as these matters take a little time to evolve. In the meantime I am producing my own short film which should be available as a DVD on the website early in the New Year. I have to thank ‘getmapping’ for their kind donation of an aerial photograph of the island for our use for the project.
The Sgarabhaigh Silver Sixpence
Interest in the sixpence continues to grow with the coin being sold worldwide and being increasingly bought by collectors, brides for weddings, parents for the ‘new born’ and many other people as just a very unusual and unique gift.
The sixpence, based on a coin from the Union of the Crowns back in 1603, has already caught the eye of the National Museum of Scotland and both it and its story are now a formal deposit of the museum ensuring its place in the future history of Scotland and the Western Isles.
The coin continues to introduce people to the project that is Friends of Sgarabhaigh as well as providing a beautiful family heirloom, an interesting addition to family folklore and an exceptional piece of ‘fine’ silver to grace every occasion. So if you have any special occasion coming up and want a special gift steeped in Scottish history ‘old’ and ‘new’ then we would be pleased to provide it for you.
Some of our first 'Friends' have sent their reaction to the 'Holding'. Click here for details.
The following press articles have been published. Click on the title to read the article.
'The Journal' - July 2004
'The Tamworth Herald' - 15 th July 2004
'The Hebridean' - 29 th April 2005
'The Scottish Islands Network Newsletter - May 2005
'The Shropshire Star' - 8 th August 2005
'The Advertiser' - 12th August 2005
'The Tamworth Times' - 1 st September 2005
'Stornoway Gazette - 15th March 2007
'Sunday Express - 18th March 2007
'The Journal' - September 2007
'Island Eye' - November 2008
'Stornoway Gazette' - 28th June 2011
'The Scotsman' - 16th June 2011
Please feel free to phone, write or email me with any comments you may wish to
make about the project - if you want to email just click here.