Saturday, 5 June 2010

And the weatherman says it will be another sweltering day....

And the Weatherman says it will be another sweltering day……

Everywhere except in the far north of Scotland, specifically Stornoway! It’s Sunday. A day of rest. A day for putting your best suit on and going to the “Wee Free” church. They still do that in rural Harris. Everything is closed- garages, shops (Ian can’t even get his Sunday paper, no ferries, no football matches…Weather again not so good today, so we decided to explore part of Lewis.
There are a number of archeological sites on Lewis so we made for two which are quite close together- the Callanish Stones and the Carloway Broch on Lewis’ west coast. There’s lots more to see but with so little time left, we had to select.
The Callanish Stones I, II, III are three groups which you can walk between, but the tallest and most impressive are group I. Set on raised land above remains of “lazybeds”, a form of strip planting peculiar to the Hebrides, where peat was dug and lifted to one side, creating furrows, for growing potatoes. Approx 30 standing stones of Lewissian gneiss, some extremely thin are placed in the shape of a cross. Approx 5000 years old, they are considerably older than Stonehenge and almost as grand. In the central burial chamber household objects and jewellery were excavated, which presumably helped in the dating of the site.
About 6 miles on from there at Carloway is one of the best preserved examples of an Iron-age Broch. This was a home for tribal elders, which was well-defended because of it’s shape, a bit like a walnut whip. It dates back to 2000 years, to the Pictsand the Celts, who the Romans tried and failed to subjugate. They gave up when they got to the far north, because they found the terrain and the people so hostile! Probably missed the fine wine and cultured company of their homeland!
The walls of the broch are 3metres thick, with an inner and outer wall, a bit like cavity-wall insulation, but with the gap between wide enough to build a stair-case to the two upper floors. Ingenious! There’s even enough remaining to walk up to what would have been the second floor, in their footsteps. The doorway is quite short, so you have to crouch down to get inside. It must have been quite snug, dark and warm, but smelly! The ground floor was for sheltering animals, the first floor was the main living space and then the second floor was likely used for smoking herrings over the peat fire. Looking out from the broch we could see high piles of peat drying at the rear of the houses nearby, ready for burning. On the road over the moors, we’d seen numerous channels of freshly dug peat “bricks” waiting to be collected. Peat is still a major source of renewable fuel here. Most of Lewis is founded on peat, which makes for very boggy walking, unless you decide to climb it’s biggest hill Clisham/An Cliseam at about 800m. Maybe next time we come!
Then on to Stornoway on the east coast, and the largest town and port on the island. Michael, Kate’s boyfriend still has an uncle living on Lewis. Some of the family left and went to Australia and some to US, but he still has family crafting in a little coastal town called Tolsta on the east coast. It gets a great write-up in the guide as having some of the finest beaches on the isles, near the picturesque Bay of Geiraha. Make a note to go and see next time. Historically Michael’s family descend from the Macivers, who along with the Macleods, the Morisons, Macauleys and Macraes of Uig, were some of the most troublesome clans on Lewis. It seems that there was a lot of inter-clan fighting on Lewis, whereas Harris was a much more peaceful land. It’s not hard to see on a day like today why they were so bad-tempered. Life must have been extremely hard back then- weather, potato famine, the Clearances to simplify just a few hazards!
You drive off massive open moors with a couple of little- populated areas, the closest to total isolation, and then you drop down to Stornoway and its port. Nothing happening because it’s Sunday, but a couple of pubs open, defying religious convention. Actually we haven’t seen any pubs on the islands. I presume bars are attached to hotels, because it’s perceived as being less lewd, drinking with food in a hotel, rather the swilling back pints in a pub! The thick mist and hill fog lifts temporarily and we get a view of this quiet sea port. We turn around and head back to Tarbart, where we plan to rough camp on the car park by the ferry to catch the 7.15am sailing. On the way cack we get glimpses of An Cliseam towering over the Lochs area, which is said to be worth a visit, but we haven’t time today.
Although there’s a cold wind we decide to get togged up and leave the van at Tarbert and cycle over the hills to the bridge across to the island of Scalpay. The wind’s behind us to start, but there’s some really testing hill climbs and neck-breaking descents before we cross to Scalpay. Another small island, school, church, community centre and small village. It’s nice to visit, but you’d have to be mentally quite resilient to live in such an isolated spot. Or you’d have to take up the Good Book! There are fantastic views over the surrounding islands across The Minch, and we even managed to see them. A lung-bursting, hill cycle ride back to the warmth of the van. A night spent waking and dozing listening to the wind outside and the cuckoo saying it was time to wake up.
We arrived in Uig, on Skye at 9am, and drove onto Portree for some supplies. Then on to a walk we missed last year. It’s only about 3mls, but quite steep, up to and around the Old Man of Storr and other dramatic rock formations and buttress walls, created by glacial erosion. Awesome stuff and it’s clearing up, with brief glimpses of sunshine. Laura’s ringing us about buying furniture and telling us it’s boiling in London! Kate was playing golf in the hot sun of Leeds yesterday, and we’re togged up in waterproofs, warm gilets, gaiters etc.. Our time will come.
Parked up and paid for two nights at the Sligachan campsite, where we came last year. Stunning views all round of the Cuillins, and the nearby pub.

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