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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Stornaway

Lewis, Scotland.  Day 7, 5th July.

Stornaway

Stornaway

From St Columba’s Church I came back through Stornaway.  It is the largest town on Lewis and as a huge metropolis of 12,000 people it wasn’t high on my list of places to visit.  However, I did take a few photos on my way through.

Lews Castle

Lews Castle

This is the bonnie wee cottage of a successful drug dealer.  It was built between 1847 and 1857 by Sir James Matheson who had bought the whole island a few years previously using his profits from the Chinese opium trade.  It was closed for renovations when I visited so I didn’t get to go inside.  The blue sign you can just see indicates the renovations are funded from the proceeds of a public lottery.

The original castle in Stornaway was at a different site and it was destroyed by Cromwell. No trace of it remains.

Lews Castle grounds

Lews Castle grounds

I was curious to see Gallows Hill and I wandered around the castle grounds for a while but was unable to find it.  Apart from being a mediæval place of punishment, there is also the remains of a chambered cairn here.  The castle grounds is also the only place on Lewis you will see trees as they were planted here in the nineteenth century.  Lewis was originally forested but the trees were chopped down thousands of years ago, probably contributing to the formation of peat bogs and loss of soil fertility.

Stornaway

Stornaway

And on the way back to the car I took a few more photos across the river of Stornaway town.

Stornaway

Stornaway

Regular readers will have noticed a change in layout a few days ago and a larger one with this post.  Mainly, I wanted to distinguish the photographs from the text more while retaining a simple and elegant layout. I have a few reservations with the result but overall I think it’s a distinct improvement.  What do you think?  Any suggestions or comments?

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