Saturday, 11 March 2006

Tragedy - South Lochs

In the 1960s, a boat left Stornoway bound for Marvig, 10 miles further south in the Lochs area of Lewis. It was carrying a large amount of timber. A young couple were going down to the village to build themselves a new home, and the young woman's uncle went along to steer the boat. Barely out of port, the engine failed and a storm blew up. It was some storm. They were unable to turn round, and gradually the boat was blown onto the reef of Sgeir Mhor, between Newton and Lower Sandwick. The uncle decided that he should jump overboard with a line, as this had been the way in which 75 people were saved on the Iolaire, in 1919. The other passengers thought the better of following him. Screams for help from the terrified woman could be heard in houses in Lower Sandwick. Finally, the lifeboat managed to come in and saved the couple by breecher's buoy.

The storm blew itself out, and the next morning the sea blinked innocently in the sunlight. The boat was sitting high and dry on the Sgeir Mhor. The body of the uncle was found on the shingle of the beach, in amongst all the timber. In the afternoon, people could walk out to the vessel as it sat on the reef. It was unbelievable that just 12 hours before a raging storm had made it impossible for any but the lifeboat to come near.
Sgeir Mhor and Arnish Light from Sandwick Bay
Forty years before, people from Marvig were involved in another tragedy, this time to the south of their village. Again, a young couple were taking the contents of their house and some timber around to Steimreway. This village was vacated in the Clearances of the 1830s, but they wanted to rebuild the houses. It is located along the coast, about 3 miles west of Lemreway, on the shore of Loch Shell. The boat was caught in a storm and foundered, drowning all on board. Although Steimreway was reoccupied between 1921 and 1945, this tragedy did little to inspire confidence. When central government refused to provide amenities like a school and a road, the villagers abandoned Steimreway for a final time at the end of the Second World War. You can still visit the site of the settlement by walking 2 miles across rough moorland from Orinsay. It is a very pretty location, but my attempts to reach it foundered in bad weather.

The story of Steimreway is told in an article on the Lochs Community website.

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