Monday, 11 August 2014

Harris & Lewis

Berneray Island, reached via a recently built causeway from North Uist, has onward ferry travel to the Island of Harris and Lewis
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Exquisite golden beaches and azure waters, are to be found at the southern end of Harris. Hardly a soul to be seen - it is pure magic
St. Clement's church on Harris was built by the MacLeod Clan Chiefs of Dunvegan and Harris as their burial place in 1520 but the church fell into ruins following the Protestant Reformation in 1560. It was rebuilt two hundred years later by Captain Alexander MacLeod, but sadly within three years it was badly damaged by fire. In 1873 the building was restored once more by the Countess of Dunmore. Inside is found one of the finest C16 tombs in Scotland - Alasdair Crotach MacLeod's Tomb.
The tomb is carved with images from the Bible but many of the carvings also demonstrate what was important to Alasdair in his life - a hunting scene with knight and two stags; a sailing galley; a castle (probably Dunvegan); the apostles; angels; Christ upon the cross; bishops; and a carved effigy of Alasdair in Armour lies below.
Crossing the border from Harris to Lewis a ring of stones with a great central monolith was erected during 2900 - 2600 BC known as Callanish or Calanais in Gaelic. However, within 5km of the main stone circle are at least 12 other standing stone sites.
A small burial chamber can be seen within the stone circle
The chamber was encased in a cairn and cremated bones and pottery placed within
We shall never know what inspired the stones' construction, but it is generally believed that Callanish functioned as an astronomical calendar associated with the moon. Although the true story is lost in time, its legacy lives on drawing people from around the world to see our ancestors hidden history
The circle of stones and the large central monolith
However fascinating the Standing Stones are, they are not the only prehistoric site worth visiting on Lewis. Dun Carloway is considered to be one of the best preserved Iron Age Brochs in the whole of Scotland. It lies high above a crofting township and is close to a large sea loch.
Brochs are amongst Scotland's most impressive prehistoric buildings - this stone roundhouse dates from about 2000 years ago. They are found mainly in northern and western Scotland, and were probably built to reflect the prestige and status of their inhabitants. They were primarily dwelling places with family areas, but would have also provided protection from the weather and against sporadic raiders.
The double-skinned drystone walls support each other and make possible a high building of relatively lightweight form. The roofing and interior structures of brochs are much debated
An impression of how Dun Carolway may have looked and been used
The Blackhouse, Arnol, Lewis
Two aspects of a blackhouse make it very different from a modern house - it was a residence for animals as well as people, and there were no chimneys. Animals living in the house had the advantage of making the house warmer and also meant that fewer buildings were needed. The smoke rising from the peat fire into the roof also had hidden benefits. It killed bugs, and the smoke-laden thatch, when removed, made excellent fertiliser for the fields. One wonders whatever it did to the lungs? This was the residence of a Hebridean crofting family and their animals until as recently as 1966.
mind your head as you enter!

The animal byre and stalls with a drain to the outside for the urine - it smells very, very, smokey in here!
Sleeping quarters
Now I know the reason why!
'The peat fire was the centre of family life and was never allowed to go out'
The thatch was made from oat straw, and replaced regularly. It was covered in a 'hairnet' of heather ropes, and weighted down with stones to prevent the wind and weather from blowing it away.
By the time we left the blackhouse everything about us smelt strongly of peat smoke, our hair, our clothes, and our bodies - poste haste to the hotel for us to take a refreshing shower

56 comments:

  1. Yes, I can understand your concern for the crofters' lungs! A little too claustrophobic for me. But a thick walled cottage, with windows, and a stout roof would be an interesting place to live up there, the scenery is just glorious. On those rare blue sky days there could be few places better.

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    1. It is interesting that as recently as 1966 people were still living in such difficult conditions. We were so fortunate on our visit as although the sun vanished behind the clouds from time to time - it was warm and dry for our visits to all eight of the islands.

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  2. Very interesting post, I see some simular matches with Ireland. Those islands are on my wishlist, have been to Scotland and liked it so much.

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    1. Yes, you are right. I remember looking over to Scotland when I stood on the Giant's Causeway where it was possible to make out the southern Isles of Arran, Bute and Ailsa Craig. Harris and Lewis are at the top of this archipelago of islands and about 150 miles further north.

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  3. A fascinating post, Rosemary. I had no idea there were such well-preserved remains of ancient roundhouses, and they are amazing. It is incredible to think people were still living in them as recently as 1966! Like you, I would be concerned about the smoke, and I can't imagine one would live to a good old age in that environment. McLeod's tomb is charming, and very well-preserved, and that beach is gorgeous!

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    1. The black houses are about 200 years old - there are still some that are lived in but they have been totally modernised and make very nice homes. They have proper heating, floors and windows now, and some of them can be rented as holiday lets:- if you are interested to see inside an updated black house have a look here:-
      http://www.visitouterhebrides.co.uk/accommodation/gearrannan-black-house-village-p518361

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  4. Very interesting reading this post, Harris and Lewis I have to remember. The ring of stones looks amazing in that landscape and the roundhouses, never heard of them before. Photos are gorgeous!

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    1. Thank you Janneke delighted that you enjoyed reading about Harris and Lewis - it is interesting to think of man living up there so many thousand of years ago.

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  5. A post that brought back memories of visits to friends in the North of Portugal, many years ago. Their parents lived pretty much like the people of the round house. Except that it was not a round house. Built out of stone upon stone.. the roman way no cement, it was square.
    I had never seen anything like it. The chouriço/sausages were hanging to be smoked.. the fire burning all night and day, with a big black pot that they cooked in.. The family lived upstairs- and the animals down below. They had no heating,no sanitation. It was a very big cultural shock for me.
    I was later to find out, that they did not need heat it in the winter, because the animals kept them warm.
    I thought it must have been like that, in the stone ages.!!
    The Scottish roundhouses are so well thought out.
    The nomads of the Steppes still live like this.. but their animals stay outside.
    The Monolithic stones :- very interesting to read that they used the centre as a burial place, it made sense to them at that time. The stones carved and placed to face the moon.
    A fascinating post of Lewis and Harris.
    I have never been to Scotland . I enjoyed reading this post. Such fascinating history.
    Thank you Rosemary.
    val x

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    1. Dear Val - Thank you for your interesting comment. I am pleased that this post revived memories of your own visit to a primitive dwelling in Portugal. Seeing the way people lived until fairly recently is a cultural shock when you view it for the first time, and you question in your mind how they could possibly survive living like it. We are so used to being surrounded by our modern appliances that we cannot imagine anything different.
      The burial chamber within the central circle of the standing stones is not thought to be contemporary with the stones themselves, but was a later addition to the site.

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  6. Rosemary, What a magical place.
    The beach looks good. I don't often see a nice one from the UK :)
    Regards,
    Margaret

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    1. I don't often visit the coast myself Margaret but will have to make a point of showing you some other beaches sometime - there are lots of beautiful bays all around the country.

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  7. Oh how wonderful, loved your photos, i want to visit Harris and Lewis.

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    1. The Outer Hebrides archipelago of islands are quite remote, but surprisingly accessible if you plan the journey carefully.

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  8. Very interesting post Rosemary.Thank you.
    I've always said that if one was lucky enough to hit Scotlands' beaches during a heatwave - you would have the most idyllic holiday ever.
    Hope you have a lovely week,
    Liz x

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    1. Dear Liz - in the clear warm sun you cannot beat Scotland and its wonderful beaches, but if it was like that all summer I suspect there would be hotels all along the front, cafes and the usual paraphernalia that goes with tourists.

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  9. Dear Rosemary,

    You take us to the most fascinating places. I think the roundhouse makes a lot of sense for what must have been a very cold climate, though I would not have wanted to spend the winter with its inhabitants! But I do find the design interesting. It reminds me somewhat of the round barns that the American Shakers constructed, which a beautiful designs of functionality.

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    1. Dear Mark - I should imagine that 2000 years ago the Broch was a very desirable building to live in. It is thought that they probably belonged to the leaders of tribes. I wonder how other people were living at the same time. It is a wonderful construction when you consider both its remote location and age.

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  10. Oh, I must go back to the Scottish islands again. There are many that I haven't actually visited. Looking at your photos I suddenly remembered not just the look but the feeling of "being there" - in a wild northern place with so few people.

    I would probably choose to go in Spring - only because of the insects. I seem to have been increasingly allergic to them recently.

    And the tomb - amazing. Well, Harris is on the list.
    Thanks for a rather inspiring post, I did enjoy it.

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    1. I know so well what you mean Jenny - the islands are places that you have to experience to know those feelings. I certainly feel that it has helped me to put our whole British Isles into a different context now that I have visited so many of our islands over the whole of Britain. My biggest omission to date are the Shetlands - they will be next.

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  11. SO interesting to read this and view the pictures, Rosemary. Thank you for once again taking us on your travels. I was particularly taken by the thatch roof and 'hairnet' structure. How clever. And really it makes a lot of sense. I was wondering too (as everyone else does I suppose) how those monolithic stones were shuffled around and into place.

    The animals in the first level must have also added their tantalizing odors to the smokey mix. :) Though I imagine the people who lived here would have grown up accustomed to it and probably would have taken little notice over time.

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    1. The large monothic stone in the middle is at least 5 m high the smaller ones 4 m and so you ask the impossible Yvette. It would surely be a major undertaking to try and move into place these very large heavy stones even today remembering that for them to have stood straight as ramrods for the past 5000 years they go down into the ground for at least another 3 m. They are a conundrum for us today to understand how and why.

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  12. Brilliant post on these buildings which I have really enjoyed reading about. I guess they didn't live long enough to worry about lung conditions anyway!

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    1. I must admit that I don't really know the average age of the crofters - the thing that was to their advantage was that they lived in fresh pure air, unlike Edwardian workers in mines, mills and factories surrounded by industrial pollution. They also had a pretty healthy diet of oats, vegetables and meat, so pretty low fat which must also have helped.

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  13. I daren't how this beautiful post to my husband - he longs to escape to such a place. And he's not the least bit worried about primitive living conditions!

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    1. I follow a blog of a couple who have sold their home in Sheffield and are going to live in the Shetlands. It is fraught with difficulties as you can probably imagine. The Shetlands isles are incredibly expensive to buy a property because of the oil, so stick to the Outer Hebrides, it is cheaper.

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  14. Fascinating structures. The stones look almost like petrified wood. Amazing all these stones have survived for all these years.

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    1. Yes, 5000 years since they were erected by man is rather mind blowing isn't it, and how did they do it? The stones are Lewisian Gneiss - Precambrian metamorphic rocks and are a lovely shade of grey with an interesting texture which is encrusted with crystals and lichens.

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  15. Dear Rosemary, Another fascinating post. So interesting to see how people lived and how they sought refuge in the most unique ways... places to live and sleep...safe from marauding animals and people.
    Your excellent photographs tell this story well. ox, Gina

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    1. Thank you Gina for your kind comment - this trip was so interesting from beginning to end something we will always remember.

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  16. In guess the need for shelter out weighed the sense of smell! I do wonder how cold that water is at that beach?
    Very informative post! janey

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    1. I should imagine that the water would be too cold for you, or me, for that matter.

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  17. These homes are amazing - true basic living but beautiful at the same time. I have never been that far north - it seems I have been missing out. Most interesting post.

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    1. Isle of Skye was my limit previously, but so glad that we ventured up to the top of the Outer Hebrides this year.

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  18. Beautiful islands Rosemary! I had to look them up, because I had no idea at what side of the Scottish coast I could find them. Hope to visit them one day.

    Madelief x

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    1. I do hope that you do Madelief - it is such a lovely driving experience crossing the sea by bridge and causeways, catching ferries and having the roads to yourself - it is really a bit of an adventure.

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  19. Both more ancient and recent periods of history must have been fascinating, although probably only to us, not the inhabitants of those times I don't suppose! It is something that I wish that we knew more about in general and that I knew more about, but I have no wish to go back and live in those times. Lovely to see your pictures and very interesting to read your words. xx

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    1. Thanks Amy - I am glad that you enjoyed seeing the building from the Iron Age and the more recent one too.

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  20. I have never been to the islands so I enjoyed this visit tremendously and I'm always so impressed by your research. Your blog is a jewel ! By the way, this is the Silver Bunny, I have a new url now : the freshstartblog.blogspot.fr ; I thought I'd let you know as you so kindly show my mediocre opus on your sidebar. All the best from Paris !

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    1. You are too kind Silver Bunny, but may I ask, are you still Silver Bunny? I am so very pleased that you let me know - looking forward to our continued friendship.
      You will have to be careful - the url that you gave me took me to another new blog that I thought was you, I think that it was because you left the first word off the url i.e. "a"

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  21. Bardzo ciekawe
    Pozdrawiam serdecznie:)

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    1. Dziękuję - Cieszę się, że cieszył się czytanie w słupek

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  22. This post is another of great interest to me, Rosemary. My ancestors built such black houses when they came to Cape Breton in the late 1700's. Remnants and reproductions can be found at Iona on Cape Breton, where a visit to Taigh Dubh is a real treat and a lesson for the children. The thought of building such a structure with the few tools the settlers were able to take,and then the thought of a wild Cape Breton winter in such a place - almost more than I can imagine.

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    1. Last week I watched a programme on BBC 2 called (Coast Series 9:4. Offshore!) It was all about how thousands of Scots set sail from Cromarty for Nova Scotia and Cape Breton and the hardships that they endured after being at sea for 6 weeks. The presenter rowed over to a sea inlet on Cape breton to meet descendants of the MacNeil clan. It was a really interesting programme which I am sure that you would find fascinating if you ever get the chance to see it.

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  23. What a fascinating post Rosemary and your pictures really place me right there! Life must have been very challenging back then, by comparison we live like kings and queens :)

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    1. It is lovely to hear from you Rosemary - each day must have been a trial which was fraught with difficulties, but I suppose it was the same for all and they knew nothing different. We should appreciate just how fortunate we are today.

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  24. Love this Rosemary. As for those beaches, I just want to be there.....bliss! Suzy x

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    1. The beaches on a glorious sunny day cannot be bettered, as you say they are bliss.

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  25. Hello Rosemary, Fascinating to learn about and experience (for us at second-hand) a way of life that is so remote. It is very lucky that the area has not undergone extensive growth and development, allowing for the survival of all these fascinating antiquities.
    --Jim

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    1. Hello Jim - nothing much changes in the Outer Hebrides, indeed if someone from several hundred years ago was to return, I am sure that they would readily recognise it. The transport links are obviously much better, the little homesteads now have modern amenities, but the coast and scenery remain pristine.

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  26. It must have been interesting to visit those islands where you can see edifices and buildings from different eras of history from prehistory to the crofts of recent times and feel the special atmosphere in each place.

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    1. The Callanish stones and the blackhouses I was aware of having seen them in books or on TV, but the brochs were buildings that I knew absolutely nothing about until our visit.

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  27. Stone circles is one of the greatest mysteries archaeologically in Japan, too. They seem to be from the period between AD 145 century to AD 30 century. The sacredness of stone seen in stone circles and strength of fumigated wood are interesting cultural similarities together with ancient burial mounds, to name a few.

    Yoko

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    1. It is strange how many societies in the ancient world built similar cultural sites even though they had no contact with one another.

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  28. The pre-historical remains of northern and western Scotland and the Isles are so impressive and I really enjoyed your description and images, Rosemary. We think of our far ancestors as primitive but in some ways they were very sophisticated and I still marvel how they moved and installed those standing stones. As for the black houses, I think the inhabitants' lungs must have been black too. My asthmatic chest feels tight at the mere thought of constant smoke. :(

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  29. I was very impressed with the Iron Age Brochs - they were an unknown quantity to me before our trip.

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