Never on a Sunday…or a Monday for that matter! (Part 6)

29 Oct

Never on a Monday!

I have failed once more!  It was a bold idea, aiming to relate the whole of the events of our second day on Lewis in just one post…sadly it didn’t work out.  Enthusiastic verbosity won out yet again over concise brevity.   Hopefully you won’t mind too much…I’ll endeavour to make it as far as lunch time on this post, leaving the events of late afternoon and evening to Part7.



The Fatdog’s mood was as queer as it had been the previous morning.  An attempt at a pre-breakfast amble proved to be as unsuccessful as the day before with FD slipping her collar and stomping back determinedly to the safety of “The Tank”.  She wasn’t coping well with the change of routine.  On the other hand J and I were thoroughly enjoying some time away from the daily grind.

Having noticed the dearth of eating establishments in the area we enquired of our hosts whether dinner might be possible this evening, but alas they were both involved in injecting sheep all day so we would have to forage.  Through the open kitchen door I could hear joyful “moos” of relief from the remaining members of the Galloway herd in the fields beyond.  Anyway Sunday was past so it shouldn’t be too difficult finding a spot of grub at some point during the day.  But this series of posts isn’t called “Never on a Sunday…or a Monday for that matter!” for no good reason!

We had a rough plan for the day – a visit to the restored Black House at Arnol, then further along the road a quick stop at a reconstructed Norse water mill finally ending the morning at the Black House Village at Gearrannan.

The Black House (not shown) sits a few miles off the north end of the map

Our journey would then take us to the broch at Carlabhagh and from there a late(ish) lunch at the visitor centre at Calanais (Callanish).  The later part of the afternoon would be spent letting The Fatdog loose on the sands at Uig.  We hoped to have dinner somewhere on the way back but, in the knowledge that restaurants have a tendency to close on a Monday and we were now outside of the local tourist season, we weren’t banking on it.  The fallback was a trip over the moorland to the much bigger town of Stornoway, though that would be our least preferred option.

I have to say it went more or less according to plan…other than lunch…and dinner!

The first bombshell was dropped by Catriona, today’s Historic Scotland “minder” of the reconstructed Black House.  She reckoned the Callanish Visitor Centre was closed on Mondays!

“Bugger!”  Plan A scuppered.

Our disappointment soon dissipated as we became immersed in Catriona’s enthusiastic description of the last days of the Black Houses here at Arnol on Lewis’ west coast…

Left hand side of road - ruin of black house then cottage. Right hand side of road - restored black house then bungalow


While this has a vague similarity of construction to that of the gaelic it was, without too much exaggeration, the sound coming from my throat made as J and I ducked through the exceedingly low back-door of the Black House into the smoke filled gloom beyond.  Catriona had lit the peats earlier and by now the interior smelled like a bottle of concentrated Laphroaig but without the benefit of the alcohol.

After a couple of minutes our eyes gradually adjusted to the lack of light and we were soon able to wander around without bumping into anything of head splitting dimensions.  I peered through a door in a wood panelled interior wall into the living quarters of the house and that’s where the surprise came.


Our impression of the Black House from the outside was that of a medieval hovel…albeit a very well maintained  medieval hovel.  You can see from the photograph below that the furniture and possessions are most definitely those of a much more modern period.

So "modern" compared with the outside...

From what I can gather the last people living in the Black Houses moved out in the 60’s.  In fact the last occupants of the Black House through which we were currently stumbling moved out into their new bungalow (circa 1966) immediately adjacent to their old home.  Their daughter, then age 16, became the first custodian of the family’s previous house.  She retired 5 years ago.

Across the road a similar pair of old and new houses sat although of the Black House only the walls remain.  The couple who lived in the Black House built the cottage, moved in, reckoned it was too cold and damp…and promptly moved back into the Black House renting out the newly built house!

The smell of the peat smoke failed to lessen in intensity as we wandered around inside.  I felt well and truly kippered!  It was atmospheric though…and thoroughly lived in.  The peat smoke kept beasties from taking up residence in the thatch of the roof, but the thatch had to be replaced regularly to allow the smoke to filter though.  It appeared the thatch was due for replacement.

Happy, but still choking, we drove a few miles south and stopped at the Norse water mill near Siabost.  Total tranquillity would be a good description for this spot.  Through the binoculars I watched a heron stalk a nearby lochan while J took time out to sit in the sun…and do nothing.

The view from the car park for the Norse Water Mill...not bad view (for a car park)!

The Norse Water Mill in its idyllic setting

Norse Water Mill

J decides that a break from all this sightseeing is required. Who said it always rains in Scotland?

But doing nothing is not really an option when trying to sample all that Lewis has to offer.  It was time to go and see a whole village of Black Houses.

a wee bit of background

The Black House Village set in a horribly bleak landscape...

Amazing…was the best description for the setting at Gearrannan.

We trundled our way onto the coastal path, running through the village, up onto a viewpoint on the cliff tops.  Time for another sit down..  You don’t see views like this all that often.

...mind you, the view in the other direction is almost tolerable!

I met a wonderful old gentleman and his ageing, and somewhat overweight, golden labrador.  He was from just down the road on Harris.  Each year he would spend his holidays, 2 weeks here on Lewis and another week on the more southerly island of Uist.  I could have quizzed him about his choice of holiday location, but I could just imagine him saying, in his quiet lilting island accent…

“Och…I went to the mainland once…but I didn’t like it very much”

And who could blame him.  In the sunshine this was paradise. much for it looking like "ancient remains".

I haven’t talked about toilets for a while…so here’s a photo (of the outside you’ll be relieved to hear) of the spotlessly clean…and open…toilets at Gearrannan.

Will they flush?

OK…only one more place to visit then we’ll have a break for lunch…or at least we’ll try to have lunch.  Onward to the remains of the broch at Carlabhagh.

Approaching the broch

The Fatdog was banned.  That’s what the sign said.  Endless signs about dogs and dog poo I find somewhat irritating.  I realise there are irresponsible owners out there but there are also irresponsible parents and children out there too.  Take where we stay for example…every time I wander around the streets I see litter.  I can guess pretty much the demographic of the litter spreading population by what I see lying about.  What I don’t see are endless signs reminding children (and parents) to pick up their litter.  Given there is more litter covering the streets than dog poo there would appear to be an imbalance in signing.

Just thought I’d get a quick rant in…back to the broch.

The entrance to the broch

Unluckily we had arrived at the same time as another couple of car loads, which always detracts from the feeling of a place.  It was fascinating though watching this kid disappear  into a low entranceway…to suddenly appear seconds later from a hidden opening further up the internal wall.

Narrow corridors between the thick masonry walls allowed a wee bit of exploration of this well preserved broch which dates back to around the 1st Century BC.  J trotted off for a bit of fearless adventure…or at least as much adventure as you can have without doing anything particularly adventurous.

The climber of brochs

The view from the broch - crofting in Lewis

Ultimately hunger got the better of us so we trotted back to the car and headed for the visitor centre at Calanais fervently hoping Catriona had got it wrong…


Posted by on October 29, 2010 in The Islands


3 responses to “Never on a Sunday…or a Monday for that matter! (Part 6)

  1. Alex

    October 29, 2010 at 10:49 pm

    You were a lucky boy weather wise Ken..! Love the broch..amazing things.
    I spent some time camping in the dunes at Uig as it was nearer the hills but never got time to get further up the coast.My pal,now resident in Stornoway,is from Ness.Think we`re meeting up at Blackrock cottage in Glencoe in a fortnight for some minor swally 🙂

  2. Simon

    October 30, 2010 at 10:26 am

    I agree about the weather. The whole experience looks pretty good. I bet your school teacher didn’t set you the essay title ‘What I Did On My Holidays’ more than once 🙂 .

  3. fatdogwalks

    October 31, 2010 at 10:24 pm

    Luck was down to careful planning! Well to be truthfull it was more like “Where’s the sun supposed to be shining in the next few days?” “Let’s go there then!”

    Uig was superb…some photos to follow. 😀

    Hope you enjoy Glencoe Alex…more pub than hills I suspect 😆 !

    MrP 😀 It was a superb trip even though we didn’t do much by way of sustained walking. I would thoroughly recommend it for a bit of exploration. There seems to be lots of off road walks all over Lewis. We just didn’t have enough time this trip to investigate. There is a coastal walk linking the broch the black house viilage…and beyond, which looks a cracker.

    The award of “best dig at the blogger” goes to MrP for the comment about the teacher and essays 😀 😉 J liked that one…and is now telling everyone she meets! 😦


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