Friday, September 19, 2014


The Callanish Standing Stones on the Isle of Lewis
For years I've known about the Standing Stones in the north of Scotland and today I visited this 5000 year old site. It is located on the top of a fat peninsula that juts out into a large sea loch on the northwest coast of the Isle of Lewis. The day was overcast and grey – moody, misty, and mysterious. The site is huge, one of the most significant in Europe with a central circle (above) and stones that
radiate out east, west, north and south in a cross. The stones have defeated archeologists' ideas of what they were for or represented. That the site is powerful and sacred to its builders is not in doubt. In 3000+ BCE, the weather was warmer and the sea levels lower. The land and sea teemed with game, fish, and shellfish, and supported many individuals. When the stones were discovered 1.5m of peat had to be excavated to reveal them. There are times every 18.6 years when the moon appears to dance along the stones. Some gneiss stones have weathered into strange, striated shapes. I saw many visitors touching or stroking them.

The experience here was eerie, enigmatic, and set the hairs up on the nape of my neck.  Silent, sacred maybe, and certainly amazing.
The village lies above a cove
on the Atlantic coast

Next up was the restored Black House village at Gearranan up the coast. This has been a village since the 1700s and supported twenty weavers of Harris Tweed in the 1950s who were also crofters. As the younger generations left to pursue a different lifestyle, the inhabitants aged to the point that they had to be relocated.

The village was eventually restored and now has four or five self-catering thatched cottages with all mod cons and two are interpretive centres. One cottage has been returned as it was in the 50s, and when I saw it, a peat fire was burning in the grate. There were two small bedrooms, and a living room/ kitchen. I didn't see a bathroom, so assume the privy was out back.

The peat burns slowly and produces a huge heat. Once the three foot stone walls have warmed up, they radiate the heat back into the living space. Peat is still cut and dried here on the Isle of Lewis for fuel and there was a huge stack of it outside, as well as the hand cart used to carry it back to the village. It smells strong and I found it unpleasant, but had to remind myself that peaty water is what makes whisky great.

On the other side of the cottage's low front door, is the working space/workshop with a pig sty, and today it had a weaver working at the mechanized loom. Once set up to make the tweed, the weaver just works two pedals rather like a bike. He also demonstrated the mechanized wool spinner. The tweed roll was growing daily and was the colour of early autumn bracken – golden orange.

The other cottage that is open to the public has explanations and photos of the previous era. It also shows a film about how Harris Tweed is made by crofters. Most of it is made in their homes. It is an incredibly complex job to set up the loom, then it is relatively easy to peddle away and see the cloth grow.

I wanted to see much more of the northwest coast of Lewis, but wasn't over my bad cold and needed some extra rest. Tomorrow I leave Scotland with much regret and cannot recommend the Hebrides highly enough. They are fascinating isles, all with a distinct character, friendly citizens, and some of the best seafood I ever eaten.

IMAGES: © Photos by Pharos 2014. All rights reserved.