Saturday, 6 June 2015

Lewis, Outer Hebrides

Lewisian Gneiss wall

Sheep, peat, water

Callanish Stone Circle

2700 million years younger than the child
Callanish Bunny

Gearrannan Black House village
Gearrannan self catering cottages

Barvas Beach
An Lanntair Arts Centre
Stornoway Harbour, Lews Castle in background

Herring Girl
It was only my third trip to the Outer Hebrides and, although here for work, I arrived early enough to hire a car for half a day so that I could make a tour of the west coast of Lewis. On my first visit we had cycled to South Uist and back, camping on spy beaches and on my last visit as an external adviser for appointing a Director I had climbed Clisham, the highest mountain on Harris in the evening. I had never explored Lewis with its peatlands, wild beaches, abundance of eagles, geology and historical legacies.

We have a water colour painting of Lewis in the house; its distinctive features are the telegraph poles and scattered cottages in the peatlands below sombre skies. I felt as if I was in the picture today when I drove across the brown peat moors which merged into the pale grey clouds on the way to Callanish. Here a circle of indigenous gneiss stones, the highest of which is 15 feet tall, were erected 5000 years ago. The central group of stones are surrounded by lines of stones to the west, east and south. To the north two lines of stones extend about a hundred yards towards the grazing lands of the crofts. There were quite a number of visitors so I took the opportunity to have a late lunch of tea and cake before returning to the stone circle after most of the other visitors had departed.

I drove north to Gearrannan where a a village of black houses tumbles down to a sea inlet. They were occupied until the late 1950's and have been restored by the Gearrannan Trust, supported by the Council with dollops of funding from Europe and expertise from Historic Scotland. It was evening and the museum was closing but I walked down to the sea and spoke to some cyclists who had rented the self catering cottages that had been fitted out by the trust.

Time was limited so I continued along the coast road to the junction at Brue, where the A857 meets the A858. Vehicles from Stornoway were moving at excessive speeds so I decided to avoid the crazy driving by turning off to Barvas where there is a beach at the end of a track that winds its way over the machair. It looked wild with the Atlantic waves crashing in, they had created a massive wall of large gneiss pebbles. Apparently it is a famous wind surfing beach which probably explained a couple of VW camper vans that were parked beyond the end of the track.

The road back to Stornoway was a long straight ribbon of asphalt through the peatlands. The peatlands have been artistically vandalised by pylons, wind turbines and telegraph poles and at least they punctuated the monotony of the Lewis Peatlands Special Protection Area. Fortunately the massive wind turbine farm proposed for this area was refused on the grounds that some 230 pairs of dunlin would be displaced by the development and 5700 hectares would be affected by disturbance and displacement. In addition there there is currently no interconnector to allow the export electricity to the mainland.

After a splendid night at the Digby Chick seafood restaurant with my learning set, I rose early and managed an early morning run through Stornoway and around the grounds of Lews Castle. I was surprised on entering the Lanntair Arts Centre, our venue for the day, to discover a hundred or so youngsters arriving for the local Mod. I wound up our session at 4pm and gave myself 20 minutes to charge round the town taking photos before catching a taxi to the airport for the flight back to Inverness. I really need to plan a proper visit to Lewis and Harris but when I looked earlier this year most of the accommodation was booked up and I am not sure that cycle camping would be appreciated any longer.

The flight back gave wonderful views of the Summer Isles and then the wild lands north of the Beinn Dearg group of mountains. We flew right over Ben Wyvis and I was able to pick out my route of a few weeks ago. Inverness like all the airports on the northern isle is a travellers dream. No queues, quick exits and no hassle. I had all my walking gear in the car and had intended walking the Fannaichs the next day but gale force winds and heavy rain were predicted so I headed home down the A9.

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