Monday, 29 September 2014

Hebrides 23: Black Houses

Callanish is justifiably famous and a beautiful location, but the effect was rather ruined by the number of tourists trudging about.  The view was good, though, unless you had the misfortune to be the poor dog who was tied up while its owners saw the sights.

Eventually we gave up on the main monument and went to "Callanish 2": a small set of stones about half a mile away from the main circle.  Pleasant enough in their own right, but not a patch on the real thing.  After a brief detour to the Hebridean Soap Company, we decided to visit a Brough which was just up the road.  We didn't stay, though, as the coach had followed us and was currently disgorging exactly the same set of tourists we'd just run away from from at Callanish.  Time to execute "Plan B"...

A quick word with the coach driver resulted in us missing out the Gearrannan black houses (which had a cafe, and hence were the coach's lunch destination).  Instead we went on to the other black house museum at Arnol, run by Historic Scotland: good news for us, as it happens, since membership of English Heritage got us in free.  This was a fascinating place, feeling very much like the long houses in Orkney, with that wonderful all-pervading smell of peat smoke.

At the recommendation of the lady looking after the Arnol black houses, we went to visit Rare Bird Designs: a shop run by a family from Bolton, of all places, making beautiful items out of Harris Tweed.  The proprietor pointed us towards Norman on the Left: one of the locals who was still making Harris Tweed at his home, and who was always happy to demonstrate his craft.  Very interesting indeed, and Norman (Mackenzie) was a lovely guy to talk to.  The experience took me straight back to my childhood, since my father had spent his entire life working in the wool industry, and Norman's Hattersley loom was made in Keighley - only a few miles from where I grew up.

Eventually we headed back to the Gearrannan black houses, knowing that the coach would have gone back to Stornoway by now.  Phew!  The black house museum was interesting enough, although rather dominated by a chap who sat in the main house and effectively stopped us looking around independently (or, indeed, from taking any pictures).

While driving back across the moor we spotted this rather beautiful shieling up on the hill which still appeared to be used.

On arriving back in Lemreway, it was obvious that the weather was much clearer than it had been on previous days, and we could see the Shiant Islands, Skye and the Scottish mainland.  We drove to the end of the road in Lemreway; and, using binoculars, we were able to make out dolphins and minke whales swimming in the flat calm water between Lewis and the Shiants.  What a treat.

The hot, calm weather had now set in, and was to dominate the rest of our stay on Lewis.  I confess that we weren't expecting 26+ degrees and glorious sunshine - even in July - but it certainly made a change from the horizontal rain of South Uist!