By Elly Welch
On a quiet croft on the island of Grimsay, North Uist, there’s a purr of machinery spinning through the spring breeze. But this is no unwanted 21st century intrusion. This is the quiet song of century old pistons, brought out of retirement to hum new hope for a place that the wool industry forgot – but whose people never did.
As you travel the single track circling Grimsay you can’t miss the cheerful green roof of Uist Wool, a community-managed spinning mill and brand new visitor facility including a shop, viewing area, and workshop and training space.
And travel to it you must this summer, for this place, now open to the public for the first time, is exciting. It’s not just immensely creative, it’s practical too - like a good friend, which it looks set to be for the crofting, artistic and visitor communities of the Outer Hebrides.
The idea for a new woolen mill based in Uist emerged in 2008 when it became clear that native wool had little or no value. Fleeces were being burnt, or thrown away – no longer worth the cost of transport to mainland markets. Concerned locals began to investigate ways to bring the industry back and, soon, the idea for a new mill was formed. Among its hard working volunteers was Uist Wool’s current director, Dana MacPhee.
By Eilidh Whiteford
Celebrating 15 years of business this year, the Hebridean Soap Company has sumptuous new products on the shelves for visitors and islanders alike to treat themselves this summer.
Established in 2002 as the first commercial soap producing company in the Western Isles, owner Linda Sutherland delivers a world of all natural ingredients and fragrances when customers step into the company shop and workspace in Breasclete, Lewis.
“I'm amazed already this year how many people have been in so far,” Linda said in March. “And we're looking forward to welcoming many more with a busy summer ahead.”
A former IBM systems programmer, Linda was working in Germany and travelling to and from the UK every two weeks prior to embarking upon her 'new challenge in life'.
By Katie Macleod
More and more British footballers are moving 'across the pond' to play in the USA – and among them are two island players making a name for themselves in the American soccer world.
31-year-old Ally Mackay, from Lewis, and 25-year-old Robert MacGillivray, from Benbecula, both took the scholarship route to US football careers, one that saw them attend university in the States, play for their university teams, and move into the professional football industry after graduation.
Both Ally and Robert now live in Florida, working ‘behind the scenes’ in the ever-growing industry that is soccer in America. Ally works in Orlando as an agent for Global Premier Management, a role he took on when he returned to the US after getting his MSC in Sports Management from the University of Stirling.
By Eilidh Whiteford
As islanders, residents of the Outer Hebrides are used to the odd unusual object washing up on the shore – but an entire oil rig platform, which ran aground at Dalmore Beach in Carloway last year, was still something of a surprise!
The semi-submersible drilling rig, 'Transocean Winner', was being towed by tug from Norway to Malta in August 2016 when the tow-line snapped during a storm while on passage west of the Hebrides.
And Carloway residents woke up on the morning of Monday, August 8th, to discover an oil rig sitting on the rocks at Dalmore.
By Katie Macleod
Visitors to the Hebrides looking for a real taste of island life need look no further than Ness in Lewis, the location of Donald ‘Sweeny’ Macsween’s croft tourism venture, Air an Lot.
Air an Lot – Gaelic for ‘on the croft’ – offers tourists and locals alike the chance to experience the day-to-day happenings on an island croft, from feeding the animals to cutting peats. “It just depends how hands on people want to get,” says Donald of the activities available.
“Generally people will come and have a wee tour. If you want to just look at the animals and don’t go near them, that’s fine, but if you want to get stuck in and spend a bit more time, you can muck out the hen house, help feed the sheep, stuff like that.” By next year, visitors looking for a real taste of the islands will even able to stay on a nearby croft in the Port of Ness, where Donald is currently renovating a self-catering ‘Air an Lot’ holiday cottage for tourists.
Through Air an Lot, Donald also sells fresh eggs, meat boxes, and sausages, and is starting to branch out into areas such as sheepskin rugs and wool, too. “I enjoy working with animals on a daily basis, and I think it’s important that they’re valued as well. If that animal has had to die to produce food, then it’s only right that we make the most use possible out of that animal.”