The attraction of the Outer Hebridean islands of Harris and Lewis rests in the natural beauty of the landscape and a multitude of ancient and historic sites.
|Loading the ferry from Uig to Tarbert.|
We traveled by ferry from Uig on the Isle of Skye to the main town on Harris, Tarbert. It was rough crossing the Little Minch, an area of wild and changing currents, in winds up to 35 miles per hour,
|Rough seas and the lighthouse near Tarbert.|
but not as rough as the crossing a few years ago over to the Orkney islands.
|The small village of Tarbert on Isle of Harris.|
While we expected to be awed with the ancient stone circles at Callanish, we had not expected the show nature puts on in the islands. First, we found [Well, others had seen it before, obviously, but it was a discovery for us.] a series of cascades or small waterfalls on a river on Lewis.
Right along the side of the road we stopped to photograph the picturesque river and falls. Next, we were surprised by the beaches of Harris and Lewis. Anne and I live in Oregon only an hour away from the Pacific Ocean, we had lived for four years in Brookings on the Southern Oregon coast, and we’d seen the beaches of southern California and Hawaii. We didn’t expect to be too impressed by the island beaches even though people had said they would be quite an attraction.
|Two beaches on Harris.|
|Surf was high on this windy day on Harris.|
People were correct: the beaches of Harris and Lewis are big, spectacular, and empty. With a warmer climate these beaches would create a tourist industry on their own. As it is, the beauty is there for those intrepid travelers willing to drive for hours on small roads, make a lively sea crossing, and drive again for hours on even smaller roads.
|Two photos of the Bosta Beach on Great Bernera island (Lewis).|
At one beach, Uig Sands, we stopped for a look, then drove several miles to another beach lookout. We got out of the car thinking we were seeing new sands only to discover we were now in the middle of the same beach. Absolutely huge and almost empty!
|Butt of Lewis Lighthouse.|
Our next adventure took us to my main reason for venturing onto the Outer Hebrides,
|Callanish Stone Circle from Callanish II, about a mile away.|
the Neolithic or Early Bronze Age Callanish Standing Stones and Stone Circle on Lewis.
The stones, Tursachan Chalanais in Gaelic, are a set of standing stones in a cruciform pattern with a central stone circle of thirteen stones with a monolith (five meters tall) near the center.
|The chambered tomb at Callanish I.|
This circle has a diameter of about twelve meters with a chambered tomb in the middle. Five rows of standing stones connect to this circle and two of the rows run parallel north to northeast forming an “avenue” of nineteen stones.
|Looking at the circle down the "avenue."|
The circle dates back to between 2900 and 2600 BC, with shards of Beaker pottery dating the tomb to about 2000 BC. No one knows for certain the purpose of the Callanish stones, but a widely suggested purpose is that the circle and rows form a lunar observatory. Most researchers agree that whatever else Callanish was used for, it certainly had ritualistic or gathering purposes.
|The light begins to change as we get nearer to sunset.|
To see the stones on a pleasant day was awe inspiring, but we returned to the circle at sunset. That visit was even more magical. We had had to fight crowds during the day (including two bus loads of tourists),
|The sun is ready to drop behind the hills surrounding Callanish.|
but in the evening there were only six of us who braved the near freezing temperatures and chilling winds to watch the setting sun light up the stones and then disappear slowly behind the mountains and the stones.
Besides the main stone circle of Callanish, called Callanish I, we saw three other large stone circles (II, III, and IV)
|Ceann Hulavaig stone circle, also known as Callanish IV.|
all visible from the main stone set, as well as a small set of standing stones
|Three stones and the Bridge Over the Atlantic.|
near the Bridge Over the Atlantic to the Great Bernera Island, and the largest standing stone in Scotland
(Clach an Truiseil) at over 22 feet tall.
From Callanish it was a short drive to dun Carloway, a broch built between 100 BC and 100 AD.
|The broch's inner passage.|
|The courtyard of Dun Carloway.|
I could climb into the broch through a narrow passage and have views down to the courtyard. We’ve seen other brochs in Scotland, but this was the most complete we’ve seen.
The village of Gearrannan on Lewis is a Blackhouse village that was occupied until 1975. Blackhouses are stone crofts with double wall dry-stone walls with thatched roofs. Floors were generally flagstone or packed earth.
Originally each house had a central hearth for fire (heating and cooking), but no chimney for smoke—instead, smoke just made it way out through the thatched roof. Modernized Blockhouses now come with real fireplaces and chimneys. At one end of the house was accommodation for animals including sheep and chickens.
A friend of John Clifford’s (our B&B host), John Angus, was actually born in one of the Blackhouses in this village. We’ve met John Angus several times at Merlindale B&B, and now we’ve seen where he was born. Today, the village is in the care of a trust and includes seven or eight complete Blackhouses, a few in ruin, a museum, and a tearoom (good egg mayo sandwich).
|Cut peat--the fuel supply used in the Blackhouses.|
The name Blackhouse may mean “inferior” as opposed to the upper class “white houses.”
We’ve only scratched the surface of what the Isles of Harris and Lewis have to offer in the way of natural beauty spots as well as ancient archeological or historical sites. The ferry ride back to Uig on the Isle of Skye was even rougher than the trip over had been—winds this time were over 40 mph. Both of us though, only slightly green around the gills, were firm on one thing: we’ll get back to Isles a Harris and Lewis and we’ll get to some of the other Outer Hebrides on future trips.
Our trip is at an end. We leave in a couple of days for home. The next post on the blog will come when we've gotten rid of jet lag.