St Clement’s Church, Rodel

Harris, Scotland.  Day 9, 7th July.

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St Clement’s Church, Rodel

St Clement’s Church at Rodel was built on the site of a much earlier church in the 1520s.

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I was running out of time when I came to this church and I did not climb the tower.  I had made the mistake of staying at an establishment that served dinner which was all very wonderful except that I had to be there from the other side of the island at 7pm.

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The near tomb is that of Alexander MacLeod, eighth MacLeod laird of Skye and Harris, who lived at Dunvegan Castle on Skye.  It dates from 1528.  He was also known as Alasdair Crotach or Humpback.  The far tomb is that of Alexander’s son William, who died in 1551, though a date on the tomb probably reads 1539.

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The oldest part of the church possible dates to the 13th century and it was renovated and extended in the 15th and 16th centuries.  St Clements was a Catholic church and fell into disuse in 1560, due to the reformation.  The roof was restored in 1784 and again in 1787 after a fire.  It was used as a cow byre for a while in the nineteenth century and restored again in 1873.

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Click to zoom in.

You can click any image to see it larger.  With this one I have included the full detail in case you want to see exactly what is carved in the tomb.

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Five grave slabs.  The left four date from the fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries and were originally on the church floor.  The far right one has a date of 1725 and the initials are probably for Roderick Campbell and his wife Anne MacSween..

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Another tomb under the window, probably belonging to John MacLeod of Minginish, the 10th laird.

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South Harris (south coast)

South Harris (south coast)

I headed back by a minor road along the south coast.  I was running very short of time and for some of these I merely stopped the car and took them through the open window.

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South Harris (south coast)

South Harris (south coast)

This is a very rocky region with little opportunity for agriculture.  Historically, most income must have come from the sea.

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South Harris (south coast)

South Harris (south coast)

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South Harris (south coast)

South Harris (south coast)

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South Harris (south coast)

South Harris (south coast)

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South Harris (south coast)

South Harris (south coast)

I remember taking this from the car window (though the car was stopped).

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Huisinis

Harris, Scotland.  Day 9, 7th July.

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After visiting Tigh na Cailleachan Dubha, I headed for Harris, an “island” at the south of Lewis though actually joined to Lewis.  Most of the images in this post are from a side road in North Harris to Huisinis and back.

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Huisinis (South beach)

At the end of the road in Huisinis, this is the sandy South Beach.

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Huisinis (North beach)

And this is the stony Huisinis North Beach.  There is a jetty here as well.

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Amhuinnsuidhe Castle

Amhuinnsuidhe Castle was built in 1865 for Charles Murray, the 7th Earl of Dunmore.  It is possible to stay there.  That is a Rolls Royce parked outside.

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Cannon outside Amhuinnsuidhe Castle

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Amhuinnsuidhe Castle

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A small waterfall near the castle

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Beach, South Harris

Harris is more mountainous than Lewis and has a number of impressive beaches.

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Beach, South Harris

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Clach Mhicleoid Standing Stone

This standing stone dates from about 3000BC.  It was originally at the centre of a large stone circle and there was a ditch beyond the circle.  A circular stony mound between the stone and the sea may be the remains of a burial cairn.

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Here is a reconstruction of what it may have looked like 5,000 years ago, from the information board at the site.

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Beach, South Harris

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Tigh na Cailleachan Dubha (The House of the Old Black Women)

Lewis, Scotland.  Days 8 to 9, 6th to 7th July.

Baille na Cille

Baille na Cille

This is the view from my bedroom window where I was staying at Baille na Cille, at a remote location on the north-west coast of Lewis.

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Baille na Cille

A somewhat wider perspective from outside.

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Baille na Cille

Baille na Cille

This is the ancient burial ground at Baille na Cille.   The oldest tombstones are simply uninscribed slabs of rock.  The people of the time were likely to be illiterate in any case.

According to local legend this place was originally bare rock until a man called Eidhean brought soil from a nearby hill Cnoc Eidhean and built a retaining wall to hold it in place.  There is said to be a pagan temple or dun under the mound.  There is the remains there of a very old chapel built after the mound was created.  At one time the burial place may have been for the exclusive use of males from the Macauley clan.

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Baille na Cille

Baille na Cille

The Lewis Chessmen were discovered under the sands at a beach near here.

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North-west coast of Lewis

A wild coastal view on a remote road in north-western Lewis.

Mealastadh

Highland cattle, Mealastadh

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Mealastadh

Highland cattle, Mealastadh

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Mealastadh

People have lived in this remote area for thousands of years and the Vikings also came, first to raid and then to settle.  There are several ruined villages nearby vacated by the clearances, and the last was abandoned in 1838.

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Tigh na Cailleachan Dubha

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Tigh na Cailleachan Dubha

This is the place called Tigh na Cailleachan Dubha, ‘The House of the Old Black Women‘.  There is a strong local tradition that this was an ancient nunnery and it was mentioned as such in the early nineteenth century.  However there has probably never been a dig here and there appears to be no direct evidence to support the identification.

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Tigh na Cailleachan Dubha

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Tigh na Cailleachan Dubha

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Mealastadh

Mealastadh

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Mealastadh

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Mealastadh

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Mealastadh

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Dun Carloway Broch

Lewis, Scotland.  Day 8, 6th July.

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I was heading off along the north coast of Lewis towards the Butt of Lewis and stopped in at Dun Carloway Broch.  But the weather was closing in so I took a few shots and decided to return on the way back.

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The roofs in the foreground are of abandoned croft houses which may have been built with stone plundered from the broch.  You can also see the commanding defensive position of the broch.

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The weather had cleared when I returned in the later afternoon.  This is a view that very clearly shows the characteristic double-walled structure of the broch.

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The view from in front of the broch with the countryside stretching out into the distance.

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Dun Carloway Broch was one of the first ancient monuments in Scotland to be protected.  An act protecting it passed in 1882 and the State assumed responsibility for its care in 1887.  It had been pretty much complete as late as the 16th century.

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There has been a considerable effort at consolidation of the broch.  In its original round form it would have been well protected against the wind but with sections exposed, winter gales can work stones loose.  This requires maintenance by skilled masons and some use of metal bars for bracing.

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This of course is the internal stairs of the broch, a feature common to all brochs between the two walls.

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Dun Carloway Broch is thought to date from the first century BC.   At around 500BC on Orkney, prior to the first brochs, there were roundhouses with massive walls.  Roundhouses probably also existed in other places though they have not been discovered elsewhere so far.

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Brochs would have contained an internal wooden structure and often been roofed over.  The voids we see here would have distributed heat from the central fire to keep the galleries between the walls dry.

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Building in stone is no doubt very labour intensive but stones were not a scarce resource.  The same cannot be said of the wood for internal structures, which may have had to have been imported.  This is why some have said that brochs were a form of conspicuous consumption for competing with the neighbours.  Conversely, it may simply be a behaviour we are increasingly familiar with today where available resources are exploited ruthlessly until the resource supply situation becomes untenable.

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North East Lewis

Lewis, Scotland.  Day 8, 6th July.

Clach an Trushal monolith

Clach an Trushal monolith

I drove off along the north-east coast of Lewis with rain threatening and before too long the threat became a reality.

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Clach an Trushal monolith

Clach an Trushal monolith

Clach an Trushal is the tallest standing stone in Scotland at around 6 metres high.  It was originally the largest stone in a stone circle.  It is also thought to have had some function in guiding navigators at sea.

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Remote abandoned farmhouse

Remote abandoned farmhouse

I took some obscure side roads near the monilith that petered out and discovered this abandoned farm house.

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Remote abandoned farmhouse

Remote abandoned farmhouse

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Butt of Lewis

Butt of Lewis

This is the wild northern tip of Lewis, the Butt of Lewis.

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Butt of Lewis

Butt of Lewis

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Butt of Lewis

Butt of Lewis

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Steinacleit

Steinacleit

On the way back from the Butt of Lewis I stopped at Steinacleit.  This is an image of an aerial photograph on the outside display board, obscured somewhat by raindrops.  You can see a smaller central area and there is also a larger circular zone above and to the right of it.

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Steinacleit

Steinacleit

It might be thought that this is the remains of a burial cairn or a stone circle.  However, it is thought to be much rarer than that, the remains of a prehistoric settlement (with a central ring 16 metres in diameter) and an associated stock enclosure.  In 1930 some pottery, flint and bone was discovered at the centre though these have since been lost.

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Steinacleit

Steinacleit

Behind the stones of the ancient settlement you can see a small loch in front of some houses.  In the middle of the loch is the remains of a broch (or circular prehistoric fort), about 2,000 years old.

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Arnol Blackhouse Museum

Arnol Blackhouse Museum

As well as the Gearannan Blackhouse Village, there is the Arnol Blackhouse Museum, further on up the coast.  This is the inside of a room by available light, showing the box for a bed, simple furniture and a wall blackened by smoke.  There were no chimneys, the smoke made its way out as best it could through the thatch.

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Arnol Blackhouse Museum

Arnol Blackhouse Museum

The houses themselves are quite large because they would have housed animals as well as humans during the winter.  The large mounds you can see in the foreground would be covered piles of peat.

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Arnol Blackhouse Museum

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Arnol Blackhouse Museum

Arnol Blackhouse Museum

Not all of the old houses there have roofs.

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A modern farmhouse settlement in the bleak landscape.

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A couple of sheep nearby.

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Shawbost Norse Mills

Shawbost Mill and Kiln

This is the Shawbost Mill and Kiln, used up until the 1930s.  It is known as a Norse Mill but this is a misnomer, more accurately a Celtic or British Mill.

Norse, Celtic or British?

Actually, the Celtic designation is a misnomer as well.  The Celts were a people from Central Europe with widespread influence in prehistoric times.  They had very significant influence in the British Isles and Gaelic is the language of the Celts.

Nonetheless, they did not settle in Britain in significant numbers and the prehistoric people and their descendants are more accurately described as Britons. After the Act of Union  in 1707 when Scotland and England united to become Great Britain, Britons was not deemed an appropriate term for the Gaelic-speaking original settlers because it was too close to British, which included the English.  So Celtic came to be the term generally used though the logic for it was somewhat wanting.

However, who the Britons were before Roman times, whether they were several different ethnic groups, where they came from and how they changed over time is largely a matter of conjecture.

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Gearrannan Blackhouse Village

Lewis, Scotland.  Day 8, 6th July.

Gearrannan Blackhouse Village

Gearrannan Blackhouse Village

Gearrannan Blackhouse Village is on the coast not far north of Calanais.  It comprises nine traditional dry stone dwellings.  These were abandoned by their traditional owners in 1974 and subsequently reconditioned.

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Gearrannan Blackhouse Village

Gearrannan Blackhouse Village

The cottages have the traditional thatch roofs weighed down with stones.

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Gearrannan Blackhouse Village

Gearrannan Blackhouse Village

You can elect to stay in one of them, four are available renovated to a modern standard with electricity and appliances.

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Gearrannan Blackhouse Village

Gearrannan Blackhouse Village

There being virtually no trees on the island, the traditional form of heating was from burning peat.

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Gearrannan Blackhouse Village

Gearrannan Blackhouse Village

An elaborate mechanical loom, likely dating from the nineteenth century.

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Gearrannan Blackhouse Village

Gearrannan Blackhouse Village

Loom on the right, carding machine on the left.  Carding is a process of disentangling, straightening and incorporating the raw fibres to make them suitable for further processing.

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Gearrannan Blackhouse Village

Gearrannan Blackhouse Village

Although there have been people in the area for thousands of years, the village dates from the 1600s.  Moreover the houses here today date only from the end of the nineteenth century, though their form is ancient.

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Gearrannan Blackhouse Village

Gearrannan Blackhouse Village

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Gearrannan Blackhouse Village

Gearrannan Blackhouse Village

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Calanais (Callanish)

Lewis, Scotland.  Day 7, 5th July.

Calanais II

Calanais III

Towards the end of the day I came back to Calanais where I was staying for the night.  There are several stone circles in the vicinity and this is Calanais III, smaller than the main one.  Not all of the original stones remain standing.

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A certain amount of bull

A certain amount of bull

Just beside Calanais III, this is a gate I passed through to photograph an old house.

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Old house near Calanais II

Old house near Calanais III

I would guess this is from the nineteenth century because it is not a dry stone building; it has a regular construction using mortar.

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Old house near Calanais II

Old house near Calanais III

There are probably any number of stories associated with this house but if so, I don’t know of them.  Another renovator’s dream.

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Behind the old house near Calanais II

Behind the old house near Calanais III

This is a structure behind the stone house.  I can’t remember whether it appeared intended to house people or animals.

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Calanais I

Calanais I

I was very lucky to arrive at Calanais I at sunset in perfect weather with very few people around.  This stone circle is older than Stonehenge, having been erected some time between 2900BC and 2600BC.  There were clearly astronomical and ritual associations with the circles.

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Calanais I

Calanais I

This image and the two succeeding are after sunset.

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Calanais I

Calanais I

There is also a small chambered cairn in the middle of the stone circle.

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Calanais I

Calanais I

There is also an avenue of stones you can just see here in the back ground and other stones in the form of an overall cross, though the circle is thousands of years before Christianity.

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Calanais II

Calanais II

Several days later I was passing by and stopped to see Calanais II, quite close to Calanais III.

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Calanais II

Calanais II

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Bostadh Iron Age House

Lewis, Scotland.  Day 7, 5th July.

Great Bernera

Great Bernera

In the mid-afternoon I drove out across the wild and remote island of Great Bernera towards the Bostadh Iron Age House. Here is another dry stone building on a small loch, either Loch Tana, Loch Gea or Loch na Mailne.

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Great Bernera

Great Bernera

Perhaps there might have been a family of eight living here but I rather doubt it.  A fishing shack I suspect.  Click on the image if you like to see it larger and note the huge stone lintel above the door and the size of the large stones used in the construction.

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Bostadh Iron Age House

Bostadh Iron Age House

In 1993, a storm wiped away layers of sand to reveal stone structures.  Archaeologists discovered a Norse settlement and five Celtic “jelly baby” or “figure of eight” houses underneath.  This is a recreated house in an area free of ancient remains.  The entrance is recessed to provide protection from the weather.  The prehistoric settlements were covered back up nearby.

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Bostadh Iron Age House

Bostadh Iron Age House

Here is the remains of a croft with the iron age house in the distance.  There is also an old cemetery straight ahead in the distance, from the time when people used to live and die here.  If I had had more time I would have gone for a walk to see the remains of a deserted village nearby, in this case a relic of the clearances.

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Bostadh Iron Age House

Bostadh Iron Age House

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Bostadh Iron Age House amd ovine caretakers

Bostadh Iron Age House and ovine caretakers

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Great Bernera

Great Bernera was the site for the first successful resistance to the clearances, known as the Bernera Riots.  In 1874, the Factor, Donald Munroe, sent a Sheriff to the island with fifty-eight eviction notices.  The local crofters pelted the bailiffs with clods of earth and drove them away.  After three crofters were arrested, hundreds of crofters from the island marched to Lews Castle and demanded an audience with Sir James Matheson (he of the opium fortune, owner of Lewis).  Matheson disowned Munroe and later sacked him.  Moreover, when the three crofters came to trial they were acquitted, unprecedented at the time.

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Great Bernera

Feudalism in Scotland

Feudalism is a system whereby all land is held by the Paramount Chief or King and the local “owners” of the land have to pay fees or supply services in war to retain it.  Feudalism in England was abolished in 1660 with the Tenures Abolition Act.  Feudalism in Scotland was abolished – wait for it – in 2004 when the Abolition of Feudal Tenure Act (2000) took effect.

However, this only applies to freehold land.  Crofters usually are tenants and don’t own anything no matter how many generations they have been on the land.  They may still need to obtain permission from their Feudal Lord even to make minor improvements.

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Great Bernera

This is what enabled the clearances in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries to be so vicious.  If the lairds deemed it necessary they would expel their tenants with little or no notice and burn the roofs of their houses.  In a countryside with little timber, rebuilding was often impossible.    However at least they were less likely to be subject to ruthless expropriation after the passage of the Crofters’ Holdings (Scotland) Act 1886.

This history and current reality also explains why all of Scotland votes Labour or Liberal Democrat.  There are virtually no Tories in Scotland unless they are lairds themselves.

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St Columba’s Church

Lewis, Scotland.  Day 7, 5th July.

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This is the Church of St Columba, on the outskirts of Stornaway, the main town in Lewis.  Lewis, if you don’t know, is the largest island in the Hebrides, to the north-west of the Scottish mainland.

The church was built in the late 14th century on a site of a cell said to occupied by St Catan, a follower of St Columba.  It was extended in the 16th century.  (St Catan is presumably pronounced with a hard C and not to be confused with St Satan).

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This is a view inside the church, into the larger section which has no roof.

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Here we have a view that shows us the perspective of the previous image.  It is taken from the end of the larger newer extension, which is open to the air, looking towards the original church building which has a temporary modern roof for reasons of conservation.  The previous image was taken across the church, right down the other end near the far door.

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A gravestone on the ground.  As best as I can make out the bits I can read it says:  “In Memorium Margaret” … … “Departed this life as of April 1??5 aged 18 Years” … … “of her son” … “McLeod”

The date I think is either 1605, 1665, 1805 or 1865.  The church was last used in 1821 so it can’t be 1865 and I think the stone is probably quite old.  1605 is perhaps the most likely date because the MacLeods were the ruling lairds on Lewis until they were supplanted by the MacKenzies in 1597 after many feuds and much bloodshed.  Margaret is presumably Margaret MacLeod and if the date is 1605 she is probably the wife or daughter of a supplanted MacLeod chief.

Grave slab for Roderick MacLeod VII (Died 1498)

Grave slab for Roderick MacLeod VII (Died 1498)

This is the grave slab of Roderick MacLeod VII.  I think the VII means he was the seventh MacLeod chieftain of Lewis rather than that he was the seventh Roderick.  He would have had nominal allegiance to the Lord of the Isles in Islay until 1493 when John MacDonald forfeited his land and titles to James IV of Scotland.  Roderick would have sworn allegiance to James IV in 1493 though Lewis remained effectively independent.

In 1507 his successor Torquil MacLeod was exiled after his castle in Stornaway was successfully besieged because he was sheltering Domnal Dub, pretender as Lord of the Isles.  The McLeod lands in Lewis were forfeited for a few years but restored after Torquil died.

Grave slab for Margaret McKinnon (died 1503)

Grave slab for Margaret MacKinnon (died 1503)

Margaret MacKinnon was daughter of Roderick MacLeod VII and mother of John, the last Abbot of Iona.

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This is the gravestone of a 6-year-old child and a 12-day-old baby, from the beginning of the 19th century.  It may also be of their parents but the first lines are not legible.  Sadly, it is also inscribed with numerous graffiti.  Unfortunately, it is most unlikely that the perpetrators were arrested and publicly shamed.

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Inside the church looking out.

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Outside the church looking along the uncovered section to door of the original building.

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An old gravestone so covered with moss and fungus that no lettering is visible.

Ardvreck Castle

Scotland.  Day 6, 4th July.

Ardvreck Castle

Ardvreck Castle

Back on the main road and heading south towards Ullapool, this is Ardvreck Castle on Loch Assynt.

Ardvreck Castle

Ardvreck Castle

Ardvreck Castle was built in the late 15th century by Angus Mor III, Lord of the Isles, based in Islay and semi-independent from the Scottish throne.  Originally it was a simple square tower rather like Castle Varrich and extended about a century later.  However, the local lairds were the MacLeods, based in Skye, and it was the MacLeods who lived there for the first couple of centuries.

Ardvreck Castle

Ardvreck Castle

In 1650, James Graham, the Marquis of Montrose, sought refuge in the castle.  He had been trying to foment a general rebellion against the Scottish government of the Covenanters on behalf of Charles Stuart, the Old Pretender, but had lost at the Battle of Carbisdale.  However, he was handed over to the Government and subsequently executed.

Ardvreck Castle

Ardvreck Castle

In 1672, the MacKenzie clan successfully beseiged the castle and took it over together with the surrounding lands.

Ardvreck Castle

Ardvreck Castle

The castle was effectively ruined when it was hit by lightening in 1795.

Ardvreck Castle and Calda House

Ardvreck Castle and Calda House (background)

Several ghosts are rumoured to haunt the castle.  One is a young woman said to have thrown herself from the tower after being betrothed to the Devil in attempt to save the castle.  Another is a man in grey.

Calda House

Calda House

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Calda House

Calda House

The MacKenzies constructed Calda House in 1726 as a more modern residence to replace the castle.  However, building the house and their extravagent lifestyle plunged the family into debt and they were forced to sell to the Earl of Sutherland.  The house burned down in 1737 because retainers of the MacKenzies preferred to see it destroyed rather than family of the Earl of Sutherland move in.

Calda House

Calda House

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Calda House

Calda House

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Ullapool & District Pipe Band

Ullapool & District Pipe Band

In Ullapool for a meal later that night, I encountered the local Pipe Band marching through the town.

Ullapool & District Pipe Band

Ullapool & District Pipe Band

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Ullapool

Ullapool

Ullapool is a fishing port as well as a ferry terminal.

Ullapool

Ullapool

This looks towards Ullapool from where I was staying.  The next morning I caught the ferry to Lewis.