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Time travel and wilderness walking in the Outer Hebrides

Posted on Jun 20, 2011 by Wilderness

We had some unseasonal poor weather out on the Hebrides in mid May. Undeterred we changed the emphasis for the days activity from wilderness walking and wildlife watching to the far simpler process of time travel. Dead easy!

Our first port of call was Callanish stone circle, an awe-inspiring set of standing stones dating back some 4,500 years. Taking in the atmosphere we all took some time to appreciate the shapes and textures of the massive stones and to consider that they may have been for. No one really knows, and in todays knowledge obsessed times I find that deeply refreshing.

We set forth northwards and forward in time to the 1st century BC and pass the Dun Carloway Broch. The well preserved tower dominates the landscape over Loch Roag but we can’t linger too long.

We leap forwards in time to between 400 and 800 AD. This is the late Iron Age and at Bostadh on Bernera we find a reconstruction of the ancient houses unearthed here by a storm in 1992. Stepping through the low door into the gloom our eyes soon adjust to the light to reveal the painstakingly researched building. It’s surprisingly cosy and a welcome shelter from the storm battering outside. There is an open peat fire and we warm ourselves as we listen to the guide interpreting the house and the lifestyle in a gentle Gaelic lilt.

Our final visit brings us close to the present day. On the northwest coast of Lewis we drive off the main road and weave through a crofting landscape dotted with the ruins of thick walled low lying structures. Settlement here dates back over 2,000 years and we soon find ourselves by another peat fire. Arnol blackhouse was built to a tried and tested method in just 1880, and more surprisingly was only vacated in 1966! It remains in exactly the way it was in 1966 and is a fascinating snapshot of a lifestyle now largely gone.

Making our way back to Harris with the smell of peat smoke permeating our clothes  you can’t help but think about the human legacy these islands hold. People have been here for millennia and yet they retain a deeply wild character. Long may the wild- and the people- continue.

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