Isle of Lewis

Isle of Lewis on the Outer Hebrides & Highlands tour

Monday, 2nd September 2019

Today’s itinerary is a journey, by coach, around the north of the Isle of Lewis.

After breakfast at 08:00 we depart from the hotel at 09:30 with our local guide, Chris Ryan, and our driver John Murdo, from Lochs Motor Coaches,.

Chris provides a running commentary as we travel throughout the day, interspersed with humorous interjections from John Murdo: a very good double act.

As we travel north we pass the peat diggings in the crofts. On the left are the mechanised ’sausages’, on the right the rectangular manual diggings.

At the Butt of Lewis we visit the lighthouse at the top of the island, which is unusual as it is a red brick construction, rather than being painted white.

We look at the view across the Atlantic to Canada in the distance.

We take in a visit to the northerly Port of Ness.

As we travel down the westerly side of the island we stop to visit the Gearrannan Blackhouse Village. The village is now a museum.

The Blackhouse Village features traditional blockhouses. The village has recently been preserved having fallen into disrepair when the residents moved out into more modern council-provided housing nearby.

The houses are thatched and have double stone walls. There was no incentive for the residents, who had rented the properties, to make any improvements to the buildings as they did not have secured tenure. If they had made improvements the landlord could potentially kick them out and then rent the improved properties for more money.

The traditional crofter lifestyle included weaving tweed.

What I found most fascinating about the buildings is the turf. The walls are double skin dry stone with soil in the cavity between them. The soil provides the insulation for the building. The soil is only effective if the soil is kept moist (not waterlogged). So the thatched roof is supported on the inner skin of the dry stone wall. When it rains [a daily occurrence in the Outer Hebrides] the water runs off the roof on to the turf growing on top of the soil between the walls. Some of the water flows through the grass and keeps the soil moist, the rest flows over the soil and down the outside of the wall. Therefore the grass is used to regulate the dampness of the soil, stopping it from drying out, by evaporation, if ever there should be a sunny day.

From the blockhouses we moved on to visit Dun Carloway Broch which was probably built in the first century AD. It was built as a stronghold.

Our next stop was the Callanish Visitor Centre, where we stopped for a pleasant two course meal.

From the visitor centre we went up the hill to see the remarkable Callanish Standing Stones.

The Callanish Stones are an arrangement of standing stones placed in a cruciform pattern with a central stone circle. They were erected approximately 5,000 years ago and are believed to have been a focus for ritual activity during the Bronze Age. The site is evidence of the skill and tenacity of the people who moved the stones to build it, probably using only rollers, wooden frames and sheer force of numbers. The motivation for creating these standing stones is lost in time: many such sites are aligned with key astronomical events such as midwinter or midsummer sunset and sunrise but the effort and time invested in the act of building would have surely helped to create a sense of community and shared purpose.

Travelling back via a scenic route, we saw salmon-rich rivers . . .

. . . and peat-covered hills, with fresh water lakes.

Oh, and did I mention rain, mist and more rain!

Dinner was served at the at hotel at 19:00.

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