Historical Lewis / Tuesday 17 September

Eilan Leodhais - the Isle of Lewis - is probably, with its peatlayer stretching from one coast to another, as close as one can get to a bog desert. However, Lewis harbours the only town on the Outer Hebrides, Stornoway. It also offers some splendid cliffy coastline, as well as beaches - especially the west and southwest of Lewis is fascinating in this respect. But there's more - Lewis has some of the most impressive historic remains, from the famous black houses to the Calanais standing stones, one of the four great stonecircles in Great Britain (the others being the Ring of Brodgar (Orkney), Avebury, and Stonehenge).

On the road again - the west coast

Leaving Rhenigidale YH, we decided to make the most of the rented car and headed straight for Stornoway through the drizzle, which ceased a bit later, making way for a splendid day with windswept clouds hiding and showing the sun. From Stornoway, we took the A857 across the endless moors, to the west coast. There, we would just do the typical tourist trail, visiting all the stuff that everyone comes to see. Now, the point of Ness might be the northermost etc., but we didn't go that far since I had another aim: Clach an Truseil, a large monolith which is... a large slab of stone. It makes quite an impression though. Then a u-turn and southwest again, where the first two stops put us in the middle of primitive Lewis - the Arnol Black House and the Norse Mill and Kiln.

Even further to the south, we stumbled on a most bizarre thing - the Carloway Broch. It looks like an ordinary midaeval tower at first sight, but it is in fact a bronze age fortress, dating back to 200-100 BC.

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Calanais (Calanish standing stones)

What can one say? These stones are among the most wonderful monuments ever seen. And the setting is great - don't take my word for it; just look at the pics. The rocks, made of ancient gneiss, show you exactly what "metamorphic rock" is all about.

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Garannan

Pretty intense today, but the best was yet to come. Since we had learned about the Gatliff Trust YH's when in Rhenigidale, we'd decided to try another one in Lewis. This YH is set in th restored black house village of Garannan, lying in a sheltered bay between rocky cliffs tortured by atlantic ocean waves rolling in from the west. It's a bit artificial, since most of these black houses have been turned into holiday cottages with a "modern" interior and nobody lives there anymore - so no smoky turf interior like in Arnol. This said, the exterior of the houses is restored to its original state (except for the added chimneys), which leaves you with a marvelous little site which has enough authenticity to it to merge with the surrounding impressive landscape. One of these houses is the YH, which offers no extreme luxury (in fact, some parts, like the shower, are in need of repair, but Gatliff is a bit short on cash), but loads of atmosphere. It was quite full when we got there (14 occupants, while the night before there apparently had been only one, so it's variable), but as the evening closed in around the little bay and the sun sank in the blue fields of western ocean, it was great to sit around the table in the primitive central room, chatting away until way past midnight. Before we went in though, we walked to the cliff top to look out over the land and sea (of which the large picture below shows a 180° panorama, centered around WSW). And it was there that all emotion about remote silent solitude of northwest Scotland focused itself in one moment of such deep and intense well-being that all that is left is experience of the environment. And a feeling of wanting to stay there forever, to which we return now and then in our minds when civilization gets to us in the small hours.

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On the 13:45 ferry Stornoway-Ullapool / Wednesday 18 September

The car returned, after a short wait, and now on the ferry, the weather's cloudy but ok - a bit grumpy, since the windows are so dirty that photographing the bulk that lurks on the horizon is impossible, not that it would be possible to give a pictoral impression anyway this is why it's called the Highlands i guess as the ship is halfway and a darkish cloudblanket over what is definitely an elevated landmass: as far as the eye can see mountaineous land rounded tops high peaks - the ship still it seems and this incredible mass of mountains floating towards us unprepared, to engulf us, absorb and lose us, let us loose in its innards, vast, looking from the ship as the beginning of the world, barely born yet old - and impossible for the nutshell to grasp and the last stage in our exploration

Away from home a mere two weeks, home that semingly never was also the mere idea that we're hardly halfway, I can feel a familiar feeling creeping up on me, not of the last stage, but of the past stage, gone again the comfortable feeling of knowing a place, Na Hearadh, Eilan Leòdhais, albeit far from thorough, and having to leave, with regret but with a sense of enough for now and again the oppsosite sensation of the vast new and unknown, wanting to go. Wanting to know, to see, to keep our senses addicted. Finally, we enter the Highlands. The landmass loses its uniformity - islets, islands, fjord-like sealochs, hillocks hills and tops in the clouds - and seems only to become vaster in the process and in a couple of minutes the shores of Loch Broom rise high on each side as the ferry slows down to turn for Ullapool pier. 16:30 How on earth are we going to start on this heap of land.

 

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