Lewis and Harris
These ‘pretend’ to be two islands, but in reality are one. The northern bit is Lewis. The southern bit is Harris. Allthego asked a youngish lady from the north if there was any difference in the people, she suggested the ones in the south were a little loopy. They seemed about the same to Allthego. We had arrived on Lewis and were staying in a Shepherd’s Hut at Mangersta on the west coast, in an area known as Uig. It is a relatively remote spot on farmland beside the sea. The farm grazes about a hundred sheep and an undisclosed quantity of Angus beef cattle. It is a rocky hilly place, but with plenty of green grass between the boulders. Totally unlike grazing lands in Australia, except perhaps for the south coast of NSW. As a base it is a good location because it is about equidistant from the east, north and south. An hour and half or so in either direction. In our 2 days on the island we went from one end to the other.
At the top, known as the Butte of Lewis is the unique red brick lighthouse blinking out into the Atlantic. The cliff tops here were the home to great flocks of Fulmers and Gannets, the northern cousins of the birds we saw along the Great Ocean Road in Victoria. The area going north is the locale of many of the ancient pictish brochs and standing stones sites. The stones at Callanash are the standout, high up on a hill overlooking a loch they dominate the skyline. Also, buses flock here and people wander among the stones looking them up and down and wonder why they are there. The stones look the people up and down and wonder why they are there. We are at the stones on the very day of the summer solstice and there are a number of vans parked near the site. Later, we hear that there is to be a celebration that night at the stones and all are welcome. One character suggests that they might even ‘put someone in a wicker basket and burn them’. Back at the Shepherd’s Hut our host tells us that her daughter was at the celebration, we saw her driving back the next day. May have been a wild night, Homealone didn’t want to try it out.
The Lewis Chessmen were supposedly found in the sandhills of one of the beaches at Uig. Quite a lot is made of this find of 12th century chess pieces made from bones. Chess sets of various sizes in most of the craft and tourist spots. We saw a set made of concrete, about 2 feet tall, at the Lewis Castle in Stornoway. Stornoway is the major population centre and were the ferry ports. We have also been extremely lucky to see among the boulders and grass a rare short eared Haggis. Lewis and Harris are believed to be one of the last remaining places were the short eared Haggis can be found in small numbers, a delightful little creature. The long eared haggis is much more common and is farmed on the mainland to supply the trade with meat.
Down in Harris is the strip of white sand beaches and rocky headlands one sees on postcards and calendars. It is quite a drive there and back through the boulder strewn hills and along the coastline. We stopped off at the Harris Golf Club, a nine hole links course ruining along the sea shore and headland. Great views over the beach at Scarista.
One of the features seen driving around are the ruins of many ‘blackhouses’. These were dwellings that many crofters lived in up until the early 1950s. Stone walls to about chest/head height, with blocks of peat on top of these and a thatched roof supported by wooden frames. Animals lived in one end during the winter and the family at the other. There was a central area with a fireplace, the main fuel being peat. It was very smoky inside, a small hole in the roof to let smoke out, no windows and therefore dark. We had a look through a replica of one of these, rather humbling experience. They were replaced in the 1950s by what are known as ‘white houses’ more substantial dwellings of stone and sloping thatched roofs and later slate. There are also ruins of these around, a number being renovated and modernised. New buildings are also modelled on the style.
It was hard to drag ourselves off Lewis and Harris, on our last day the sun had come out for us showing the colours of the island in a different hue. It is now back to the mainland and along the north west coast and around the top to John O’Groats.