Posted by: christinelaennec | August 12, 2010

Isle of Harris 4: Lewis, and leaving

On Thursday we drove to Lewis, to take a friend of the Dafter back up to her family’s holiday home.  Although Harris and Lewis are both “the Isle of…” in fact they are completely conjoined.  There is merely a line across the map that separates them – no water at all.  But they are also separated by history, culture, accent and variations in the Gaelic they speak.

Friday’s rain made the weather earlier in the week seem quite dry in comparison:

driving across Lewis at 2:00 in the afternoon on a very wet day

(Of course, our inconvenience with the heavy rain was just that – our lives weren’t in danger, unlike the poor people of Pakistan at the moment.)

We went to see the blackhouses (thatched cottages) at Gearrannan, on the west coast of Lewis.  I’ve been told that the reason the traditional thatched cottages were given the name of taigh dubh (black house) was to distinguish them from the finer houses built on the islands in Victorian times by the few who were well-off, for example the minister or the banker.  These people didn’t live in low cottages, but in houses built of bricks and mortar, usually with a light finish – these were the “white houses”.

Some of the blackhouses at Gearrannan. In the near field, you see part of a very large peat stack. The village is nestled into a cove on the coast.

Gearrannan is a great place to go on such a thoroughly wet day.  We weren’t able to enjoy the beach, or the walk up along the cliffs, but there is a lot to do under cover.  There’s a restaurant, gift shop, and two of the blackhouses are museums.  In one of them we saw a film and exhibits about the history of the village, which was inhabited until 1974.

The other is a cottage that’s been restored to what it would have been like mid-20th-century.  The entire cottage slopes, with the animals’ byre at the bottom end of the cottage – presumably to aid drainage and smells?  The top part of the cottage is made into three rooms, and the day we were there the peat fire was most welcome:

The Dafter warming up at the fireside in the restored cottage in Gearrannan. Through the door you can glimpse the area of the cottage where the animals were kept.

A number of the cottages in Gearranan have been beautifully restored (no animal byres) and are available to rent as self-catering accommodation.  It must be nice to be there on a beautiful day, once the tourists have left.

And on Saturday it was time to go home.  We watched the ferry approach Tarbert:

MV Hebrides heading in to Tarbert

I just had time to photograph this beautiful wild mimulus growing near the waterfall that comes from under the main street of Tarbert:

The yellow and red flower on the left is wild mimulus. Tarbert, Isle of Harris.

In case you are impressed that I can identify mimulus, it was a complete coincidence that on Friday’s Gardener’s World they featured a non-wild mimulus – an AHA moment for me, as I’d been wondering what that pretty plant by the waterfall was.

Soon we were all – lorries, buses, caravanettes, cars, dogs, and who knows what else – on the ferry and pulling out of Tarbert:

Goodbye Tarbert and Harris - for now!

Before I leave the subject of Harris (for the time being), I want to tell you that there is a gifted young photographer on the island, Stefan Davies, whose photographs we had the good fortune to see while we were there.  He has a website, Harris Hebrides Photography, where you will see some really spectacular views of the island.

We enjoyed the misty Scottish scenery on the way home:

Driving past the "Five Sisters," Kintail. On the way from Kyle to Loch Ness.

We stopped to have a picnic tea in the picturesque village of Drumnadrochit (Gaelic: Druim na Drochaid – the ridge of the bridge).  Drumnadrochit is a few miles from the famous Urquhart Castle on Loch Ness, and on the village green they have recreated the castle (mostly) from plants!

Urquhart Castle made out of plants - Drumnadrochit, near Loch Ness

We arrived safely home after screeching to a halt in the dusk, while two very sweet and lost fawns wandered on the road.  I was so glad that neither they, nor any of us crazy people driving huge metal boxes at 60 miles an hour, were hurt.

It was great to be away, and it’s great to be home again.  Back to “normality”!



  1. My Uist grandmother told me that the black house was so called because of the effect of peat-smoke on the insides – I believe many of the original houses had no proper chimney. Maybe the real reason is lost and each community has its own theory……

    • Dear Fifiquilter,

      That sounds like a very good explanation for the name! On another visit to the islands we went to the Arnol Blackhouse in Lewis, and you’re right, there isn’t a chimney as such in that house. The smoke goes out a hole in the roof – or rather, it seemed to us that it was meant to go out the hole in the roof but mostly stayed in the house. It was hard to breathe in there, even if you like the smell of peat.

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