Just back from a two-day break at the weekend in Harris and Lewis – first time for me for the latter; second time for the former (we toured around south Harris, from Leverburgh to Leverburgh via Rodel, Tarbet and the west side, on Easter Saturday). The weather was just gorgeous (sunny and with the beginnings of a real warmth to the sun), which helped, as did some excellent overnight accommodation on the west side of Lewis, at Barvas, just at the end of the road across the moors from Stornoway (and a place with as high a concentration of Gàidhlig speakers as South Uist).
Arriving off the ferry on Saturday late morning, and with a short delay caused by a non-working charger for the electric car in Lochmaddy (we needed to use the slow charger in Leverburgh to give us enough juice to get to Tarbert, where the rapid charger was thankfully working), there wasn’t time for a lot else on Saturday other than a visit to the excellently preserved and maintained blackhouses at Gearrannan.
It was also a good time to experience the ‘quiet Sunday’ still enjoyed by our northern cousins (and which I also recall of my own, very distant, hometown of my youth in the south of England).
Coming back south on the Sunday, we did a full run of the rest of the west-side tourist attractions – the Arnol Blackhouse, the spectacularly-sited broch at Dun Carloway and Callanish (I, II and III though there are several more). Being Sunday, nothing was actually open: the sites themselves are open access but Arnol was closed, as were the visitor centres at Callanish and at Dun Carloway. This was not unexpected – we knew beforehand that nothing was likely to be open – but I felt the loss of information that was the result more keenly since trips to Lewis are not that common. We don’t have many blackhouses (or whitehouses) left on Uist (an interesting thing by itself since, at least in this corner of Lewis, there are ruins (as well as restorations) a-plenty, and it would have been good to have explored that with knowledgeable staff); I know a little more about brochs having visited the sites at Mousa, on Shetland, and at Glenelg; but it would have been good to have found out a bit more about why Callanish III is billed as ‘one of the most interesting stone circles at Callanish’.
In the 20 minutes we were at Arnol, at least four other cars showed up: at £5/head that’s a sizable loss of revenue. I know it’s not about the money and you’ll find no argument from me about protecting workers’ rights or about the need for families to enjoy time together. It’s not uncommon in Europe for museums to be be closed one day a week – though Monday is often that day. And that is, obviously, a very different day to Sunday. But families are interested in trips out, too – and a custom which draws on the power of the church and which acts to inhibit people from finding out more about the way people lived their lives in the past because of the way (some) people choose to live their lives now never made much sense to me. That custom will change in time (indeed, it already is, bit by bit) and that has to be a good thing, although I can see increased traffic on a Sunday being a bit of an issue – many of these attractions are essentially at the linear end of someone’s street, or in the middle of their village. There’s always the internet, I guess – though finding out information on-screen, later, as opposed to asking an on-site expert is never a good substitute (and, nine times out of ten, will never actually be done).
Fortunately, on a Sunday there are natural wonders also to be enjoyed (although often these are also to be found only by travelling past the houses of people enjoying a ‘quiet Sunday’, as the picture below also relates): the legendary beaches on the west side of Harris never fail to disappoint on days like these. Here’s a view across turquoise waters to the smooth white sands, backed by marram grass dunes, of world-famous Luskentyre:
This is not quite the ‘money shot’ of Luskentyre – this one’s taken from the main road above Seilebost and on the way to Horgabost – although you can easily see where the money shot is: to the right of the little estuary adjacent to the main beach and thereafter down along the dunes, with the smooth curves of the estuary itself as a prominent foreground feature. (And, just in case, there are of course no filters being used here.)
And, this last Sunday, you (probably) wouldn’t even have needed your coat.