Britain 09 - Day 25
We had one and a half days left of our Hebridean frolic and there was plenty to see and do on Lewis. The weather did not assist, by turning heavily overcast then wet, but the showers moved on later in the morning and we had a few fine spells. So we started by looking at the shops in Stornoway - books, maps, Celtic jewellery and souvenirs (and coffee of course). Then we drove around to the west coast to see black houses, rain, stone brochs, rain, Calanish Stone Circle,rain, pub lunch, rain, heather-covered hills in the rain, then Stornoway in the rain. But the evening was fine(-ish) so we walked into the heart of Stornoway and dined at the Digby Chick. This was an excellent choice, quite out of keeping with the rest of the town, and a restaurant that we highly recommend. Not up to the class of Chapter 40 in Killarney, or An Fulacht Fia in Ballyvaughan, but well worth the visit.
The Arnol Black Houses
These "black houses" were recommended in all the best tourist books (e.g. Loney Planet) but they remained a bit of a mystery. We had seen all the Black and White villages in Wales and Cheshire but these black houses were reputed to be different again. They could not have been more different. Their blackness comes from the tar that liberallly coats the insides of the houses from the smokely peat fires that burn in the open hearths. The houses are modelled on Viking long houses, and had proved ideal as crofter's cottages in the cold, wet climate. The remaining black house at Arnol was lived in until 1964, when the owners moved out and the house became a museum. It is now as much a museum as a memorial to the lives of the early crofters. Adjacent is an excellent interpretive centre.
Dun Carloway Broch
Dun Carloway is a large circular stone house or fort, built about 2,000 year ago. This type of structure is found mostly in north and west Scotland, particularly on the outer islands. The broch at Dun Carloway is particularly well preserved, with half of the wall almost intact. The walls are double, with stairs and accessways between, as well as being particularly effective for weather insulation.
Callanish Standing Stones
Callanish is THE tourist attraction on Lewis. It rivals Stonehenge for its engineering, layout and mystique. There are three sites, and many people suggest that Calanish II or III are even more amazing than Calanish I, which we visited in the misty rain. To our surprise, the visitor centre was closed, so we climbed up to the site without coffee or other sustenance. The standing stones are made of Lewisian Gneiss, quarried from a nearby site. As with all sets of standing stones, their exact purpose is unknown, but there are lots of theories (see this one as an example or this one).
Lunch and back to Stornoway
After we departed Callanish the misty rain returned. As we drove south, thinking about some lunch, we passed the Doune Braes Hotel on the shore of a small loch (Loch Dunain). So we stopped there in the warmth and had soup and toasted sandwiches, whilst watching a pair of ducks with 12 duckings play hide and seek in the shrubs outside. We took the high road (Rathad a' Phentland) across the high fens back to Stornoway. This rather desolate landscape (made worse by the mist and rain) has numerous ruins - the remains of the "shealings" where the coastal crofters brought their stock to graze in the summer.
Dinner at Digby Chick
Perhaps this restaurant is out of character for Stornoway, or perhaps most larger towns can support one good restaurant, but we decided to eat at the Digby Chick. The name did not inspire, being rather similar to a fast-food chicken outlet, but the food and service bore no resemblance to fast food joints. We had seen the online restaurant reviews (e.g. Tripadvisor), and as the weather had cleared, a little, we walked the few blocks to the restaurant. We were suitably impressed. Not the cheapest option in Stornoway, but definitely the best. Well worth a visit if you happen to be in town.....
Last updated: 26/06/2017